Arc: A Blood-thirsty Lieutenant's Bed Time Stories (a collection of sometimes bloody bedtime stories in the Bleach 'verse for various folks but mostly bloodthirstylt)
Characters: Komamura and Hisagi
Rating/Warnings: PG-13 for violence and language and, well, spiders
Summary: Hisagi and Kumamura answer Yamamoto's call to deal with something in the Deep Dark Woods
Word Count: 3876
Author's Note: This one is for bloodthirstylt for her birthday, which is actually today. For once I'm not impossibly late with a birthday fic. She requested "Shuuhei and the Wolf" a long, long time ago and asked for it for her birthday. So here it is, unbeta'ed so all the mistakes are my own. Many thanks to the folks that showed up at the war today... you really helped me get this started.
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or its characters. I do not make money off these writings.
Once upon a time there was a deep dark wood where there lived a Big Bad Hollow with lots of little Hollows by its side.
Now no one went into the woods, as everyone in Rukongai said, "There is a Big Bad Hollow that will wrap you up like a spider wraps a fly. It will then eat your heart, suck your marrows, and grind your bones for bread."
When the stories of the Big Bad Hollow reached him, Yamamoto-soutaichou would not stand for it to be there, so he gathered up his Captains, gathered up his Vice-Captains, and gathered up the rest of the Gotei 13.
He stood before them all and asked, "Who is shinigami enough to go cleanse a Big Bad Hollow?"
Hands shot up all over the place.
"It is in the 69th District of Rukongai," he added.
Many hands went down.
"It is in the Deep Dark Haunted Wood at the base of Black Mountain."
All the hands but two went down.
The hands left belonged to Komamura-taichou and Hisagi-taichou.
They looked at each other and nodded. The black-haired, scarred fukutaichou bowing lower to the giant wolf of a Captain.
"We will go, Genryuusai-soutaichou." Komamura-taichou said with a rumble.
"Take your Divisions with you," Yamamoto-soutaichou added, and both bowed low and left.
So the Captain and the Vice-Captain each took their own divisions with them. They were good men and women, shinigami from the Academy, who had been through the most rigorous training in Soul Society.
Most of Shuuhei's people were Rukongai-raised, street-smart and good at showing their colors when it kept others off their backs. The tattoos didn't hurt either. Komamura's folks bunched together uncertainly as they reached the less than safe areas of the slums of Rukongai.
Most of the streets quietly emptied as they approached. Occasionally there was the furtive glance from a quickly closed shutter, the child who hid behind a dumpster to watch them go by, and a woman who posed against a broken wall with heavy eyes. Shuuhei saw the flutter of laundry drying, a fall of dust from a concealing doorway, and a telltale glint from between the gaps in a fence.
He hand-signaled his Division. His men and women nodded, a few shunpo'ed to the roofs, others disappeared into dark alleys, comfortable with this kind of hunting.
He moved close to the Captain, and stood on tiptoe to reach Komamura's furry ear to whisper, "Ambush."
Komamura growled, so lowly Shuuhei could only feel the vibration of it through the shoulder he had used as a support.
The Seventh Division all looked up, and without even a signal, a few followed Shuuhei's folks into the darkness. A good number still followed the center track, with a more alert stance. The dozen or so that could moved to the edges and released their shikai.
The gangsters that jumped them had to be reiatsu-blind, or they'd have had enough warning to turn anyone with enough brains, thought Shuuhei. The flankers of Shuuhei's Division cut through their targets quickly, coming in from their outside position and using surprise to good advantage. The supposed easy marks proved anything but easy to those that threw the ambush.
It was a tough fight, and there were wounded. They had to be field dressed, and some of the able would have to go back with them as a guard back through the Districts. This was not a place they could stay to wait for the rest of the Division members to come back.
Shuuhei was overseeing the medics when his First came up to his shoulder and murmured, "You have to come see this, Hisagi-san."
He looked at her, and she looked gravely back. He glanced at Komamura and she gave a slight shake of the head. He sighed and inclined his head, and she paced off into one of the dark alleys. She opened a door, and seemed to stiffen a bit before she walked in.
The smell hit him like a blow when he crossed the threshold, and the low sounds of despair and anger made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. There were cages lining the walls, and in the cages were what he first thought were dogs. Then, as he got closer, he saw that they were wolves, gaunt and panting, yellow eyes gleaming in the darkness. He snarled softly.
His First looked at him helplessly. "I don't know if they'll turn on each other if we let them go..."
"They won't," said a huge voice from the door. Komamura walked in, and most of the wolves in the cages crouched low at his presence. "I will not allow it."
Shuuhei nodded to his First and together, they unfastened all the cages. Most of the animals cringed to the backs, but then one of the bigger females, followed by one male, slunk out of their enclosure. With a single glance at Komamura, they slipped out the door and away. There was an impatient yip as they went, and soon the rest of the animals got their courage up, and left the building quietly.
Shuuhei sighed. "Sometimes I think humans are much worse than animals."
The wrinkle in Komamura's muzzle and lip might have been a smile.
They had no more trouble as they headed toward the forest at the edge of the city. The shadow of Black Mountain loomed in the distance, over a the dark forest and sunlit plains. A road wended its way up into the trees, and disappeared there. The forest began with a mere sprinkling of trees through grasses and brush, and gradually thickened. The sunlight dimmed with green and waned as the tress crowded closer and closer.
Shuuhei and his folks bunched together, while Komamura's Division spread out. Shuuhei didn't even see what it was that alerted Komamura, and suddenly the big Captain was by him, murmuring, "Hollow."
Shuuhei signaled his folks. This time they played the bait, and let Komamura's warriors slip into the gloom as quickly as water soaked into the ground.
They put the more powerful along the edges with their backup in the center, and when those with shikai released, the resulting hungry howl from the Hollows made the ambush moot. There was no surprise, just quick and relentless battle. The flankers waited until the right moment, when the Hollows were fully occupied with those in front of them before attacking. The Hollows were just normal Hollows, complete with bone masks and all kinds of shapes. The Divisions, used to facing such things cut through them like a hot knife through butter.
The Division members gathered up after the fight. More wounded had to be taken care of, field dressed, and set to stay in that part of the woods with a protective squad to await the return of any who made their way up Black Mountain.
"That was far too easy," Shuuhei said, reflectively, when all the Hollows had gone to dust.
"Mmmhmmm." Komamura agreed. His teeth were just barely showing under his black lips, his nose up in the air as his big ears swiveled to cup the air and hear better. "There's more. Further in."
Both of them turned toward the danger, shoulders squared, and they led their people further up the lower slopes.
The trees grew larger and larger, until they sprawled so hugely that one couldn't see the tops of them anymore. The greenery trapped water, the shade kept it cool, and soon there was an ever-falling mist of droplets that damped everything and everyone. Komamura's fur flattened to his skull, making the shape of his jaw and face harsh in the near twilight.
A sudden running burst of reiatsu and sound caused everyone to turn, and a line of Hollows appeared. There were dozens of them, smaller than the usual kind, they seemed to all be shaped like hopping spiders with chitinous masks of bone. As quickly as they appeared, a tone would sound and they disappeared again to reappear on the hapless Division members to leave a slash with white mandibles before disappearing again.
"Taichou, they're using Sonido," Shuuhei observed
"Aye," Komamura said. "Arrancar?"
"That many?" Shuuhei couldn't keep the shock out of his voice.
Komamura shook his head grimly, "It doesn't seem possible, does it? Maybe one is splitting these things off." He took a deep breath and roared. "Back to back! Back to back! Defend each other and cleanse them as you're able!"
The low cries of shock and dismay lessened, and folks moved into position for each other. The wet ground made footing treacherous. Quick, accurate thrusts caught the hopping Hollows just as they appeared. Shuuhei managed to skewer one through the body rather than cracking the mask. The thing wiggled on Kazeshini's blade, and both he and Komamura bent to look at it under its shell.
"A tick," Shuuhei shuddered. "That's what it looks like. No wonder it can jump so high."
"That does not bode well if they manage to fasten onto someone," Komamura said ominously.
There was a scream out in the trees. Both of them ran toward it, slashing jumping Hollows out of the air, and came to find a man writhing in the mud, covered with four of the things. They were distending, drinking from him as he screamed and visibly shrank under his skin. Shuuhei and Komamura moved as one, skewering the sucking Hollows. Blood burst everywhere, and Shuuhei cursed as the man died even as the Hollows burst to dust.
"They know to target someone fallen," Komamura observed. "Either they are intelligent or they have something guiding them."
Wolf and man looked at each other and nodded.
"That is what Yamamoto-soutaishou wished for us to take care of, I believe." Komamura intoned.
"Aye. And for our Division's sake, the sooner the better. Can you sense it in this?"
"If you would watch my back..." Komamura closed his eyes before he had even finished the sentence, and Shuuhei resolutely stood and watched the Captain closely. Whenever Hollows appeared, Shuuhei struck and struck again, glad of all his practice with just the sword so that every swing was accurate.
"That way," Komamura opened his eyes and pointed to their right. "It reeks in that direction."
"Let me tell our Firsts what the plan is, they can hold here."
Shuuhei used shunpo to find his First, and barely dodged a blade when he appeared a little too close.
"Good reflexes," he said noncommittally as she cringed. "First. The Captain and I are going in for the kill on the one controlling these things. We're hoping their intelligence will fail with the fall of their leader. So we need you to coordinate holding these things off until we get back."
"Where's the 7th's First?"
She pointed him in the direction, he sketched a salute, and shunpo'ed away. This time he didn't appear quite so closely and took out four more of the hopping things before getting a little time to tell Komamura's First Seated officer the same news and plan. The man straightened and nodded. "Good hunting."
Shuuhei grinned and clapped him on the back. "Thanks."
He used shunpo back to Komamura's side and the two of them loped into the woods. The big Captain slipped through without the slightest of sounds. While Shuuhei moved as quietly as he was able, branches still broke and leaves still whispered.
At first, Shuuhei thought that the mist had just thickened. Then he realized that the whiteness wasn't moving at all. It blanketed the trees, hanging in swathes from the branches, covering the ground in dirty white. The mist clung to it, shining where it gathered in droplets.
Then he saw a lump in the webbing nearly as large as he was, Shuuhei strode forward and touched Kazeshimi's tip to the silk. The steel slid through the sticky silk, parting it cleanly, and dried bones clacked as they fell out. He hopped back, cursing, and slid on the slick ground. Just as he was about to lose his balance, a big hand wrapped about his upper arm and hauled him upright.
"Quiet," Komamura demanded in a low voice.
Shuuhei quieted. There was clicking. A lot of it, coming right at them, and it sounded odd, almost... meaty.
When the giant spider with a mask for a face crested the edge of the webbing, Shuuhei realized that it was the joints of the spider, the hard shell clicking as the joint moved, hitting with a thunk of the solid muscle underneath it. Acrid and hungry reiatsu flooded from the creature making him nearly dizzy. He snarled softly, held Kazeshini at the ready, but that big hand didn't unwrap from around his arm. He looked over to Komamura.
"Don't move," he breathed.
The huge spider creature hesitated. The webbing drifted in a breeze. Another bone tipped from the opening Shuuhei had made, and slid across the pile on the ground. The huge creature flashed toward the motion, and then tipped its head side to side as it studied the bone. The spider's body tilted up, tiny arms moving before the tendrils from its mouth, and it gradually turned toward them before tilting its head and multifaceted eyes in their direction. Shuuhei felt the hand on his arm tense.
The creature's intent flashed high and hard. Shuuhei used a shunpo step straight up, onto a branch ten feet above him as Komamura roared and brought his zanpakutou down on the head of the giant spider. With uncanny speed the thing ducked to the side, and the blade crunched down on one chitinous shoulder, where the shell was thicker. Still Tenken managed to crack and bend that armor. The spider screamed in pain as it swung a scythe-like front leg at the Captain, cutting him across the torso.
Shuuhei growled, "Reap, Kazeshini!" He swung the right blade on its chain in an arc and loosed the chain so that it flew and hooked the more fragile joint. He pulled, hard and heard a satisfying snapping crunch along with another enraged scream.
Komamura was able to block a strike from the spider's other leg, and Shuuhei caught it with his blades, allowing Komamura to get a solid, two-handed strike on the spider's mask. It gave one shrill, piercing whistle before it blew away to dust.
That was when the flood of giant spiders arrived. Shuuhei groaned, it made sense, he should have thought that it would have taken at least this many to cover so much of the woods with webs.
Komamura roared, "Bankai! Kokujou Tengen Myō'ō."
Tengen rose behind Komamura and with a slash of his giant sword, sliced through the front line of spiders, scattering them to dust.
Hundreds of spiders swarmed the giant robot form. Shuuhei had a hard time just staying out of the way. Tengen smashed dozens with each swing, dealing with them like the bugs they were. Shuuhei saw one climb up the giant's armor and disappear through the chinks at the giant's neck. Suddenly both the giant and Komamura roared.
Then to Shuuhei's horror, they both fell. Hard. The robot's huge body smashed the majority of the spiders remaining, but there were still plenty of them to be very dangerous to Shuuhei, and he suspected that there was something else still driving them. He hesitated, and then suddenly saw grey fur flash against the white webbing. Three wolves took down a spider and one of them looked at him expectantly.
It was the giant she-wolf from the house, her mate at her shoulder. Shuuhei used one of Kazeshini's blades to pierce the mask. The wolves moved further into the web-covered forest. He followed, striking as usefully as he could when the wolves had disabled or fought the few remaining spiders to a stand-still.
The she-wolf moved with purpose, but waited for him whenever he paused to assist her pack mates.
When he saw the cave mouth Shuuhei stopped for a moment, wondering what it was he was getting into. The she-wolf looked at him, tongue lolling as she panted, and then trotted into the darkness.
He slipped in after her. The darkness was complete, and he bumped into warm fur that waited there patiently until he unwound one hand from Kazeshini's grips, transferred it so that both were in one hand, and fumbled with his free hand to grasp the scruff of the wolf's neck. She was warm and nearly as tall as his waist, and with the softest of whines, she pulled him forward, her body guiding his as they went through caverns that echoed every sound they made until they came to some space that was so huge he heard nothing coming back to him. He took a shaking breath and heard clicking of the toenails of dozens of other wolves on the stone behind him.
When he saw a low glow ahead of them, his light-starved eyes were so hungry for light, the faint light seemed like a beacon.
Then he wasn't sure he wanted to see what he was seeing. There were people-sized bundles all along the edges of a smaller alcove in the side of the huge cavern, and they were all covered with a mass of that glowing material. In the far corner was a pool of darkness that smelled of Hollow, of the same kind of reiatsu as the giant spiders outside, but it was as much bigger than they were as they had been to the little ticks.
Shuuhei bowed over Kazeshini, who cackled in Shuuhei's mind. This will be a killing worth doing, hey, Shuuhei? We won't have to hold anything back, will we?
Shuuhei frowned, shifting his grips so that he hefted one blade in each hand again, the chains slid against stone. For once, we actually agree.
They leaped in together, and the dozen lean gray shapes followed him in, snarling. It was a nightmare of flashing legs, tusks dripping poison, and the agonized yelps and crunches of the animals getting crushed or hurt. Shuuhei felt like he was trying to cut down one of those immense trees with nothing but a hatchet. Each of his hits seemed to be so feebly small against that mountain of Hollow, but with the wolves swirling about, their teeth slashing at thinner joints, and those fragile multi-facetted eyes, he could strike at will when he wasn't ducking one of the beam-like legs.
Hot breath and teeth closed on his wrist, and startled, Shuuhei pulled back for a moment, feeling some of his skin tear. The she-wolf growled, his blood dripping from her lips, and she pulled tugging him toward the spider's head.
"The mask, of course."
She let go. Shuuhei shunpo'ed. The flash step put him on one of the eyes, which he struck hard with his left blade. It stuck deep in the socket. His footing shook and reared, and he fought hard for his balance on the head of the spider. Then he took the grip of the right blade in both hands, and with all the strength of his body used it like a pick-axe to strike the Queen spider's mask.
Kazeshini howled in triumph in Shuuhei's head, as the tip of the blade pierced and shattered the mask. Then Shuuhei fell twelve feet to the rock floor of the cave, as the Hollow burst into dust.
Shuuhei awoke to a hot wet tongue lapping at his face. He put a hand up in defense of his face, and felt a long-nailed paw rake his side. "All right already. I'm awake. I'm awake..."
He tried to sit up and was so dizzy he went down again. He held his head in his hands a moment, and then felt around him and touched the katana blade of Kazeshini. Careful not to cut himself, he felt to the bound hilt, picked the sword up, and used it to help him get up, slowly this time. The warm fur of the wolf pressed up against his leg, and he limped over to the nearest glowing lump. He slid the edge through the webbing.
This time, instead of bones, out fell a man in tattered clothing, who cried out when he hit the stone and wildly tried to protect his head with his hands. "Don't kill me! Don't kill me!"
Kazeshini muttered in the back of Shuuhei's head Aw... why not?
Shuuhei growled softly, and the man whimpered in fear.
"What, you think I'm going to after nearly getting killed myself to save you?" Shuuhei barked. "Get up and help me free the others."
The man cowered, but finally opened his eyes, only to shriek again at seeing the wolves. "Don't eat me! Don't eat me!"
The she-wolf and Shuuhei shared disgusted looks, and they moved on to the next bundle.
Eventually they'd freed dozens of people, some of the bundles held dead bodies, but most were still alive. In the dying light from the growths, Shuuhei could see that most of them had two marks on their throat. So the poison didn't kill, it just stunned until the victim could be wrapped up. That made him breathe easier for Komamura-taichou. Most of them were more useful than the first man to Shuuhei's relief. Shuuhei asked them to pick up the injured wolves, and when he told them the role the animals had played in their rescue, everyone tried to help.
All the dead they left in the cave, saying the proper prayers for those that they could not name. Then they all linked themselves, hand to the waist of the person in front of them, and Shuuhei held on to the she-wolf to make the walk back out into the forest.
Komamura, shaking, wobbly but determined was waiting at the entrance. The sigh he gave at seeing the chain of people led by Shuuhei was heartfelt. When they all got down the hill, it was to find the outposts the Firsts had setup, and the medics just about done with the Divisions' injured. The medics were a little bemused about working on animals, but Shuuhei and Komamura himself offered their reiatsu to help in the healing. Other shinigami, curious and listening to those saved from the cave, came and offered their power as well.
Soon all the wolves were up and checked out nose to tail by their pack mates. The she-wolf came up to Shuuhei and play bowed to him. He bowed deeply back, and her tongue lolled out in what was unmistakably wolven humor.
"We are more than even, lady," Shuuhei said quietly. "If you have need of me, call on me again, for your pack paid a far higher price for ours than we did for yours."
Komamura chuckled as the she-wolf went up to Shuuhei and licked him under his chin before turning to bound away into the mists. "I think she accepts your offer, fukutaichou."
"I hope so," Shuuhei said quietly. "It wouldn't be fair, otherwise." He turned to the shinigami that were rapt in the exchange. "All right, pack up, it's time to pick up that other group and get ourselves home."
Their cheer made even Shuuhei smile. Just a bit.