Arc: Winter War
Characters: Soi Fong, Ukitake, Isane, Barragan, Hachigen
Summary: The shade of Barragan comes after Jyuushiro and Isane, and Soi Fong and Ushoda Hachigen come to their rescue.
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach of its characters, and I do not make money from these writings.
Author's Notes: This is a chapter in the dark Bleach AU that incandescens, sophiap, and I are writing. In this AU Aizen won the war in Karakura, and it diverges from canon somewhere in the Hueco Mundo and Fake Karakura arcs.
"Nothing is sacred and no one is safe."
39. Ensemble: Crossfire
40. Ensemble: Sneaking About
41. Nanao: Prisoners
"Run, Isane," Jyuushiro croaked. He felt Isane falter and then throw herself forward on wobbling legs.
That was when he realized two powers were veering at them from the white walls of the city. One Soi Fong, impatient and sharp, the other...
Jyuushiro had known about the Vizards after the War, known about the ragged remains of the Hollowfied Captains and Vice-Captains and how they'd taken the brunt of a surprise attack by Barragan. He hadn't, however, been told that Ushoda Hachigen had survived the encounter. Jyuushiro savored the flavor of battlements and stolid walls that moved ponderously in the wake of Soi Fong's singing speed.
Isane veered toward the signatures like a startled doe toward the safety of thick woods. Behind them the kidou shattered, and Jyuushiro risked a glimpse back. The shade was coming after them, no faster than before, but there was now the first hint of a powerful intent. He could feel it shift when a bone-horned crown moved and glowing eyes regarded the two coming to their rescue. Power. It would be attracted to their power as well.
Feeling how Isane fought for each flash step, each landing, Jyuushiro coldly noted that her strides were shortening. Isane's speed was diminishing rapidly after this brutally long run. She was doing far better than he could, and he might burden her to both their deaths. He was using Isane's legs for ones that trembled and buckled, her lungs for ones that flinched and contracted from the bitter winter air. The wounds he'd sustained from Gin's shots were bleeding the heat and life from him, but there was no time to stop and close them properly.
They broke free of the forest, and the shining expanse of a river flowed before them. The far bank was lost in a wreath of winter fog, and rocks near both shores churned the water white. Her reiatsu flickered like a candle in the wind, but she put her head down, gathered herself, and tried to step across the water.
About two-thirds of the way across, they came down on the surface of the water, instead of the far shore. Isane cried out in dismay and lost her footing. Jyuushiro deliberately let go. When he splashed into the frigid waters, the breath was driven from Jyuushiro's lungs by the depth and ferocity of the cold. His body, however, knew instinctively what to do. Sogyo no Kotowari woke up with a vengeance, and the zanpakutou's spirits lent their strength. Instead of struggling, Jyuushiro followed the movement of the river, letting it thrust Jyuushiro back up to the surface. The swift current took them away from the reinforcements coming from the city.
Isane bumped against him with a shocked gasp. "Sorry, sir."
"It's all right." Jyuushiro reassured, breathlessly. "Hang onto me." Her arms closed about Jyuushiro's body, the broken one bulky and clumsy with its split. Jyuushiro hung onto Isane's good arm and frog-kicked to balance them in the flow. With Sogyo no Kotowari's help, after one bumpy set of swift rapids, Jyuushiro found an eddy current that pushed them both toward shore.
Bumping into the shallow, muddy bank, Isane's grip fell slack, and Jyuushiro let go of his hold. Jyuushiro rolled onto the ground and crawled up the steep earth, grabbing at the gnarled roots of a dead willow that loomed over the water. His chattering teeth rattled his skull. Isane collapsed beside him.
That was when the shade that was following them arrived on the far bank, put its head back and howled. Isane groaned and sat up, drawing her zanpakutou with her right hand. Ignoring his body's travails, Jyuushiro built the simplest fire kidou in his mind and fired it at the dead tree that sprawled by them on the bank. Fire crawled over gnarled, broken limbs, punk smoked, and flame flickered, flared, and, to Jyuushiro's relief, caught. A wave of heat rolled over them, bringing relief.
With a jangle of sound, the bony skeleton in Viking armor used sonido to cross the river.
"Itegumo, tackle," Isane commanded around chattering teeth. White ice streaked the air on a collision course with the jumping Barragan. The rising fog turned solid, and there was an awful crack of sound when the attacking creature hit the improvised barrier. There was crash of something big against the ice, and then a loud splash.
Isane collapsed even as the wall of frozen fog rotted and slid down, a thousand shards of ice cascading into the river. A gleam of motion under the water made Jyuushiro sigh, a reflection of the fire against polished bone. It was a good delay, and gathering Isane's unconscious body close, he thought it might be enough.
Soi Fong alighted on the shore.
"Soi Fong." Jyuushiro's voice didn't shake nearly as much as he feared it would. He was glad of small mercies, while facing Soi Fong's measuring gaze.
"Momo said something about Barragan," Soi Fong stated in icy tones.
Barragan had been the downfall of her entire division, as well as the reason Soi Fong had lost her arm and her Vice-Captain. Jyuushiro measured his words carefully before using them. There were plenty of reasons for her to go off half-cocked on what could be a very dangerous enemy.
"Aye. I believe that this is all that's left of him." Jyuushiro stilled his shivering in the rising warmth of the fire, and watched as bubbles broke the surface in a stream headed for them. "I'm not sure what happened to reduce him so, but Gin pulled it out of a flask when he died."
Soi Fong pursed her lips.
"So Gin is dead," Soi Fong stated, but Jyuushiro heard the question underneath.
"Aye. And the city?"
"Good." That finished all of the Soul Society tasks. What the Academy's children did in Hueco Mundo or on the living earth would be done with or without him. "We're almost done," Jyuushiro said and felt all the more tired for hearing it stated.
"Almost, aye, just this piece of trash to take out," Soi Fong answered with a nod.
The thing that had once been Barragan broke the surface. Without even a change of expression, Soi Fong flew at the shade, striking with unsheathed zanpakutou and all her considerable power, just as she had at the beginning of the fight in the fake Karakura Town. The thing rocked back with her first kick.
Jyuushiro wanted to cry out in warning, but realized that Soi Fong knew more about her opponent than he did. She had faced its inceptor and wanted her pride back. Her foot didn't disintegrate on mere contact. Without her arm, she couldn't do kidou. There was only her power and speed at dodging the thing. The Barragan fragment, however, like its originator, didn't seem to be able to age things that hit it, only what it deliberately touched.
It started firing black bolts of destruction at Soi Fong's ducking and dodging form, and Jyuushiro realized that the run through the forest had allowed it to regain more of Barragan's abilities. The bolts were much smaller than Barragan's, but when they hit grass or wood, the living material blew away as ash.
One of the bolts smacked into the bank, causing it to crumble and roll into the river. Isane moaned, rolled, and nearly followed it into the water. Jyuushiro dragged Isane a few more yards onto solid ground and knelt beside her to try and catch his breath. Then Jyuushiro tried to build a shielding kidou for them both, knowing the consequences of a bare bolt striking them. As he struggled, a bright blue wall of energy suddenly rose around him and the exhausted girl.
Ushoda Hachigen touched down, as graceful and ponderous as a whale in deep waters. He bowed low to Jyuushiro, who still knelt on the grass. Without even trying to get up from where he sat seiza, Jyuushiro inclined his head and body to the ex-Lieutenant of the Kidou Corps. This close, Jyuushiro could see that Ushoda's bulk had been greatly reduced, skin hung loose about belly and limbs, and he wondered how long the kidou expert had been starved. It was a classical way to control one of those gifted with soul powers.
"Ushoda-san. It is good to see you again."
The soft voice was no different, nor the deferential, friendly tone. The cruel treatment hadn't truly changed the soul Jyuushiro remembered. He smiled and got an answering, calm smile. It was good to have known qualities on his side.
A splatter of black energy struck the bright blue wall and eroded it like acid burning through fabric. Soi Fong appeared and disappeared in a series of motions so quick that even he could not quite follow them all. Most of them were evasion, but she managed a few more solid hits that made the Barragan shade roar in frustration. From the light of the fire, Jyuushiro saw that the skeleton had filled in with white ghost flesh under white armor. It was growing more coherent the more it destroyed.
"Do you wish to leave, sir?" Ushoda asked.
"It would be a simple matter to lift both of you out of here, sir, and then Soi Fong-taichou and I might finish this job." Ushoda peered at the ragged edges of his shield and smoothed a hand over the gap, closing it.
"I must see this through: it is the last thing that must be done," Jyuushiro said regretfully, watching Soi Fong send the thing flying back into the water, only to have it come out faster. Worse yet, the surface of the river wrinkled, fell in, and blackened in its wake, and he could see that it had filled in more solidly, muscles flexing, skin whole, but it showed only a blank slab of bone for a face. "It will destroy everything in its path and find strength in the destruction."
"I know. I met him," Ushoda said shortly. Jyuushiro was surprised to catch a flash of killing intent so strong that it took an effort to keep from flinching or drawing. "He killed most of my clan, sir. I wish my vengeance. This thing, however, lacks the old God-King's intent." The irony in the tone was exquisite.
"Something must have taken Barragan apart." Jyuushiro frowned, realizing that the fragment, while it did keep coming on like some automaton, wasn't as strong as he remembered. Of course, Jyuushiro and the others weren't nearly as strong as on that day, either. "Likely Aizen couldn't keep from experimenting further. You are correct, there is no longer a personality behind the construct, but what's left seems to be quite deadly."
"Yes, so the aging with a touch hasn't changed. Soi Fong's technique is admirable." Ushoda studied the blur of the fight. "It must be very difficult for a Captain to do her best to avoid even the smallest of blows."
"She is also hindered by..."
"... the lack of an arm. I see. Shall I attempt assistance? Or would her honor..."
"She is Onmitsukidou." Jyuushiro was pleased to see Ushoda relax. Once a part of the secret police, the man knew that strictures of honor were viewed more practically within the ninja corps than they were among those that aspired to samurai levels of pride. "Please do," Jyuushiro continued, "I suspect that if you trap it, she might be able to do something particularly nasty to it."
"And I have had plans on how to trap Barragan for months," Ushoda murmured. "But I wouldn't want to waste those efforts on just a shade."
Ushoda bowed his head over his hands, and he chanted quickly. The golden triangle of a Break-thrust Tri-flash flew. The flare of power slammed the shade of Barragan against the vast trunk of a mighty tree. The whole tree shook with the force of the blow, groaning as the nearer roots lifted above the ground. The shade struggled against the bark, looking like a bug that had been turned upside down on its shell of armor.
Soi Fong paused. The air swirled about her in larger and larger circles, following the curve of her one palm. The stance and motions were reminiscent of what Jyuushiro had seen Kuukaku do, and do well. The woman gathered power about her like any other might gather a cloak. The swirl of dust and dry leaves drew higher and higher, and the shoulders and back of her uniform blew off in the high wind that suddenly burst from her small frame. The power tasted of...
"Kidou?" Jyuushiro blinked. "How..."
Ushoda ignored Jyuushiro, sweat beading on his broad forehead, turning pink hair dark with dampness. His golden shield was blackening around the edges, rotting away from the attack of the thing under it.
Above the trapped shade, Soi Fong used a throwing motion, and a comet leaped from her palm. Jyuushiro recalled a far younger Yoruichi, talking with Jyuushiro about the possibilities of a technique that employed the control of hand-to-hand combat but all the power a soul could bring to kidou. No spells, no words, just body movement to gather and use the very same energy. This must be the child of that odd union.
Jyuushiro was impressed when the hit shook the whole grove of trees, made the river splash across its banks, and lit the nearby evening sky white. A scream of pain and rage sounded from the thrashing bug, and then the whole tree crumbled away, dumping the whirling thing onto the ground.
It bounced up, one arm hanging at an unhealthy angle, and came at Jyuushiro and Ushoda. Soi Fong landed by them, feet spread for balance. The wind buffeted Jyuushiro, and he was very glad that he was already on the ground. Jyuushiro saw, approvingly, that she took her time, aimed and loosed another bolt of power.
The damned thing dodged, coming straight at Jyuushiro, claws and jaws outstretched.
Jyuushiro couldn't even get his zanpakutou out of its sheath. Fetid breath stirred Jyuushiro's hair, but steel whistled, gleamed, and stabbed into the shade's gut, driving an agonized grunt out of the thing. Jyuushiro looked down and saw Isane on one knee, other foot extended behind her for balance and leverage. Isane's blade whipped out, sideways, black blood spraying in an arc, landing hissing on loam and wood. The Barragan shade staggered and dropped back on one knee.
Isane followed with the automatic flick of the wrist, sending the blood on the blade off into the night. Before Jyuushiro's horrified eyes, Isane wiped her blade against the wrist of her cast.
Soi Fong landed hard in an ungraceful sprawl by the girl.
"Hold out your hand!" Soi Fong snapped.
Isane stared at Soi Fong, until Soi Fong ripped the sleeve from Isane's arm and tapped the elbow on its reflex point hard enough that Isane involuntarily shot her broken arm straight out with a cry of pain. The cast, soft skin, and flesh were melting from her bones. Isane screamed, Suzumebachi flashed, and Isane's forearm and hand flew off and disintegrated, the ground blackening where it landed.
Ushoda was working on another spell. Fingers flew and his low voice intoned poetry and power. Out of the corner of an eye, Jyuushiro watched brilliant rails of light slide from nowhere, multiply, and then flash into motion, pinning the shade.
Jyuushiro grabbed Isane's arm, pressing tight to stop the spurts of blood. He whipped off his sash to wind about the stump. Soi Fong swore, bitter, long, and with vitriol that should have eaten away at the Hollow as its blood had eaten at Isane. Knowing the shade was held, Jyuushiro placed all his attention to tending Isane's wound. He twisted the sash tight with a stick from the ground, and sighed in relief when the gushing slowed to a mere trickle.
"Itegumo," Isane moaned. "Is he...?"
Jyuushiro plucked Isane's blade from its scabbard with his free hand, and he felt Isane calm through the contact of Jyuushiro's hand on her soul. It was a rare thing to handle another's zanpakutou, but she was so frantic that the touch brought her solace with its intimacy.
"He's here," Jyuushiro said. The blade looked whole, but when he tilted it to the light of the moon, there were dark, matte blemishes. "There's rust, but it's not growing. You cleaned it off in time. Your zanpakutou is all right. Thank you for striking, Isane, you saved me with your sacrifice."
Isane sagged against Jyuushiro's chest, sobbing. Gently, he resheathed her sword into her scabbard.
"Now what, Captain?" Soi Fong asked, sounding baffled. "It keeps getting up and coming after us, no matter what we do, and the more barriers it eats the stronger it seems to be getting."
Ushoda snarled, and one of the planks of light snapped and shattered into a thousand shards.
"How are you for bankai?" Jyuushiro asked, and quietly wrapped Isane up against his body, where she trembled in reaction.
Soi Fong shook her head. "There isn't anything here that I can anchor to, and the resultant blast would be useless as it would fling me away so quickly as to dilute the blow. Besides, my weighted armor is also long gone."
"What if Ushoda-san could make an enclosure to hold all that power?"
"At this point, I'd have to be in there with it," Soi Fong said grimly. "I'm willing to do that if it's the only way, but I'm not even entirely sure it would work."
"I can build an enclosure to hold Soi Fong-taichou's bankai." Ushoda turned his head with effort. "But I must warn you. I'm not as strong as I want to be after my imprisonment."
Jyuushiro's brain raced down another path of possibility. Ushoda's barriers were holding much longer than any of the kidou experts had been able to hold the whole Barragan. What if it really was weaker than the original? Still strong enough to bring them all down. The more power the shade gathered, the greater it would become, but if they could just instantaneously kill it...
"What about your shikai, Soi Fong?"
"I don't want to touch that thing." Soi Fong shook her head.
"And, obviously, if you do hit, its blood seems quite as capable of doing what it could not." Jyuushiro held Isane's tourniquet tight.
Another shaft pinged into non-existence, the shards raining down like a fall of crystal rain.
"What if Ushoda trapped it so you could reach it without being touched?"
"So I can hit it while it's down?" Soi Fong's lips drew back from sharp teeth. "It is the Onmitsukidou Way, sir." She took a half step away from Jyuushiro, drew her sword in and murmured, "Suzumebachi, sting all enemies to death!"
Soi Fong's slender wakazashi shone with spirit light, glowing bright and brighter still, until Jyuushiro had to look away. The light faded to reveal Soi Fong with Suzumebachi wrapped about her remaining hand. The point gleaming gold and sharp, the guard black along her forearm. Then she disappeared in a flash-step to the struggling thing. Gray cracks were beginning to show in the rails of light.
Without hesitation, Soi Fong stabbed at the writhing figure. A black butterfly bloomed on the surface of the dead-white skin and nearly as quickly flashed away.
Soi Fong cried out in surprise. "What?! It's supposed to last...."
More planks shattered in a sudden cascade of broken power. The bleeding, snarling shade started fighting in earnest. Only two more planks held the madly flailing prisoner. A possibility sprung to Jyuushiro's mind, and he tried to stand up, but Isane was in his lap. Isane flinched, but she continued the motion, rolling off Jyuushiro, her hand holding the tie that stopped the bleeding. Grateful for her reading his need, Jyuushiro rose on unsteady feet.
"Bakudou Strike at me!" Jyuushiro barked at Ushoda.
"At you?" Ushoda's widened eyes narrowed.
As all experienced kidou spell casters could do, the single digit level spell burst from Ushoda's hands as quickly as Jyuushiro unleashed Sogyo no Kotowari. The red light of the barrier flashed toward Jyuushiro, and he caught the spell. The Barragan shade broke free and launched itself directly at Jyuushiro. Grimly, he aimed the other sword at the on-coming shade. The singed charms lit up, multiplying the strength of the magic, and the spell flashed forth, bathing the shade in red light.
"That should buy us a little time," Jyuushiro wheezed, and did the unforgivable by putting both points of his swords into the earth and using them as crutches to keep himself standing. Sogyo no Kotowari's voices murmured soothing phrases in favor of him not falling. Jyuushiro grinned at his own pride. "Ushoda-san, please use the time to bind it tighter, please? Soi Fong, please try again?
Ushoda sat seiza on the bank, and this time he went through all the passes, his intent and focus dredging up a mountain of energy. Soi Fong gathered herself, and Jyuushiro felt the air move his hair in response. The sting of Suzumebachi flashed in the darkness. The crest bloomed, and Soi Fong's fist slowed.
Jyuushiro wanted to yell in frustration - had she not understood? Why was she taking so long? The crest faded and Soi Fong's sting moved again. Ominously, the shade writhed in the spiritual bindings on the second hit. It shouldn't have been able to recover that quickly, and with the second not exactly on the first while it was still active, the butterfly simply bloomed and withered in quick succession.
Soi Fong snarled in frustration. "It's slowing me down when I get close, just as Barragan did. I can make the crests last an hour on most opponents, but this one..."
So that was why. Jyuushiro closed his eyes, and tried to think. "Maybe Ushoda-san could make a kidou strike on a spot that would allow you to hit with your shikai, with enough power to let it stick? I cannot accelerate physical strikes, so I cannot help, but..."
"That can't work, he can't hold a binding while doing a strike."
"But two bindings can co-exist," Jyuushiro said, knowing that arguing theory at this point was just giving the enemy time to hurt them again. The shade made a twisting, writhing motion and the red glow flashed and fell.
Ushoda called out the finish of his spell, and an enormous, hexagonal cage in shining green light fell on the thing, locking the Barragan shade still within its translucent heart. Jyuushiro sighed in dismay as Ushoda fell on his side, completely drained, and all possible plans of more than one binding collapsed with him. Both Soi Fong and Jyuushiro looked at each other, and in the silence, the ping of a crack in an emerald wall sounded loud.
"Sir, there's one possibility." Isane's quiet voice surprised Jyuushiro. She was sitting, holding her elbow; and she was steady, far more steady than Jyuushiro had ever seen her since she'd lost Unohana. "Use its blood, Soi Fong-taichou. Dip your tip in its blood and hit it with itself. Twice to make sure your poison works."
"But the blood's also going to..."
Soi Fong stopped herself from finishing the sentence, as if that would change what would be, and, instead, ran to Barragan. More cracks zipped across the face of the enormous trapping kidou. Soi Fong kicked at a weakened section, once, twice, making a hole. The thing within struggled mightily, a web of cracks suddenly appearing and the whole structure groaned in protest. Ushoda groaned as well, on the ground, and Jyuushiro suddenly realized that the man had collapsed in order to concentrate on holding the spell as best he could. He put a hand on the big man's shoulder, feeling bone where there had once been padded muscle.
Bracing against the swaying wall, Suzumebachi flashed forward, and then slowed, until it looked as if she and Soi Fong were caught in honey. Every muscle in that slim form tightened, stood in stark relief, the bare skin of her shoulders and arm were white in the moonlight, the glint of gold bright. Sweat popped from her forehead, tension and effort made her grimace, but her zanpakutou moved inexorably forward.
Until it came within an inch of touching a splatter of blood on leather armor. Soi Fong swore in earnest, redoubling her efforts. The thing in the cage bared white teeth and laughed.
Before he even knew what he was doing, Jyuushiro hobbled forward. If there was any way he could use any part of who and what he was to help her, he had to do it now.
Sogyo no Kotowari, I am in need of your strength, my friends.
Aye, sir, we are with you. What do you wish?
We need to cut through his power, get a dab of its blood, and lead the way for Suzumebachi.
In answer, Sogyo no Kotowari's power flooded through Jyuushiro, washing away all of Jyuushiro's pain. He straightened, breathing deep, and he was forcibly reminded of how Yamamoto always looked straighter, stronger, with release. Was he now the Old Man? For an aching instant, Jyuushiro longed for his old companions. For Yamamoto, for Unohana, and most of all for Shunsui, constant battle companion for nearly all his long life.
Looking up, Jyuushiro saw the far horizon: the sun touched the edge of the mountains, turning the entire sky into a bonfire of light. Jyuushiro flash-stepped to where Soi Fong crouched. The structure swayed under them as Barragan fought Ushoda's spell. This close, Jyuushiro could see the broad build, the Hollow's hole, the empty shield of a face, and the cruel fangs on too-long jaws. Jyuushiro braced himself behind Soi Fong, and set one tip of Sogyo no Kotowari on either side of the trapped Suzumebachi.
"Soi Fong, I'm going to get his blood on the tips of my sword, and will use them to strike through his power. You and Suzumebachi are going to make sure he dies. Hit him in the space I open." The phrasing brought down a cascade of memories of how Jyuushiro's skills had opened up enemies' defenses for Shunsui to exploit, and Jyuushiro took strength from the flood. Suddenly, it felt as if Shunsui were standing at Jyuushiro's side, ready.
Jyuushiro and Sogyo no Kotowari pushed forward, sliding quickly along the sides of Suzumebachi, where Soi Fong had already opened a way. When they reached the end of Soi Fong's blade, the resistance turned solid, like trying to push a sword through solid stone. Jyuushiro thought of fissures, of cracks, of minute areas of weakness and sharpened his will to open them. He got his center behind his efforts and threw weight and power along with muscle and bone. He felt Sogyo no Kotoware thrash in the back of his soul, shining skin and heaving muscle moved, and they were inching forward.
Shining tips touched black blood pooled on ancient leather.
"Back now," Jyuushiro said.
Soi Fong grunted and her small weight was lent to his. They both pulled back, and Jyuushiro found the resistance just as intractable. He could feel Barragan's blood eating at Sogyo no Kotoware as the bright steel tips smoked and blackened. The agony of his sword's spirits flickered and flared with the too-quick beats of his own thundering heart. Jyuushiro's arms and shoulders burned, and Jyuushiro could taste his sword spirit's fear and fury as if they were his own.
Suddenly the resistance released both of them, and Jyuushiro nearly landed on his ass. Soi Fong swore a blue streak, but recovered faster, her balance less badly blown than Jyuushiro's. She was at least still in the barrier. He got up on shaking legs and settled behind her again.
"Together," Jyuushiro murmured.
"Together," Soi Fong echoed.
This time it was swifter. The steady progress pushed back Jyuushiro's tunnel vision, allowed him to see everything before him, not just the point of contact.
The shade looked nearly complete. The terrible rent Isane had inflicted on Barragan's gut and side was knitting together. Where Ushoda's bakudou touched the shade, the clear surfaces were crumbling, and tiny pieces cascaded away like water running through a sieve.
Pain, and worse than pain, the terror of not-being came to him through Sogyo no Kotowari. The sharp edge on each tip was flaking away, but the blackness was not just destroying the steel of Jyuushiro's soul, it was melting away the time hold that Barragan was imposing on them all. They slid forward toward wrinkled, white skin.
Barragan bellowed when the points touched an inch apart from each other and the shade's skin yielded more of the black liquor. The golden point of Suzumebachi's stinger touched, and a black flower bloomed. This close, Jyuushiro felt the clawing of disintegrating power as Barragan pushed to slow them from contacting him again.
"All waves, rise now and become my shield," Jyuushiro whispered.
Jyuushiro felt Sogyo no Kotowari rise to the call, the power flowing, agony and death forgotten or set aside as the small things they were compared to their need to protect. Holding back the time slip Barragan tried to impose, they drew back a fraction of an inch. Jyuushiro felt the attempt at trickery again, of the release of pressure as they pulled, but he and Sogyo no Kotowari refused the pitfall. With millennium of practice at following through, they both fell forward again.
The shade screamed in protest. Sogyo no Kotowari's crumbling points left rust marks on yielding skin, pressed, and this time it was Barragan's black blood that caught on the white skin and burned holes. Suzumebachi followed their lead, and Jyuushiro felt Soi Fong tremble against his chest as she braced against him and pushed the golden point into the heart of the flower she'd left before. Another bloom appeared, over the first, the two combined, expanded, and then exploded into an enormous, red four-lobed butterfly.
The butterfly blasted the shade, and its red killing shockwave shook the world. Ushoda's barrier held for an instant, and in that moment it caught the shockwave and sent all of its energy back at the Barragan shade trapped within it. The hole that they'd made acted like a cannon, focusing the reflected blast and flinging Soi Fong and Jyuushiro away. Then the entire edifice shattered.
Trying to protect Soi Fong with his body, Jyuushiro instinctively curled his larger bulk about her slender self. So he was able to see, as the structure fell apart, that Barragan's shade fell with it. The white flesh, shining bone, and black fur all withered away to dust and ash, which whirled away with the last of the light from the setting sun, disappearing behind the mountains.
It was finished. Jyuushiro was done.
The ground slammed into Jyuushiro; and he lost his grip on Soi Fong, on his swords, and, finally, on his consciousness. His last thought, as the sunset world faded away, was that he only wished he might have seen Shunsui once more.
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