They stood at the edge of the forest, already sensing the dark, twisted reiatsu within. The white haired man coughed heavily into his hand, earning a glance from his companion.
"Are you up for this," Shunsui asked as he lowered the straw hat over his eyes.
"I've had better days," Jūshirō admitted, "but we've put this off for long enough. I will endure." Shunsui nodded and they both stepped forward into the woods, making their way towards the entity housed within.
They noticed the stench of death and decay long before they ever saw the corpses, and the deeper they went, the stronger the smell became. Bodies littered the ground haphazardly and in varying states of decay. Many, they noted, looked to have been cut down while trying to flee from their attacker.
Overwhelmed by the stench, Ukitake suddenly doubled over, coughing blood into his hand. He recovered slightly when his friend knelt beside him and began rubbing soothing circles into his back, but when he noticed the unmistakable bloody remains of a small child, the hacking coughs started again and left his throat raw.
"Maybe you should leave this to me," Kyōraku said as the sickly wet coughs died down. "This is my fight after all."
"Shunsui," Ukitake began, "you don't have to do this alone. I want to be there for you."
"You are, old friend, but," he hesitated, "I don't want you to witness this."
The white haired man sighed, but eventually nodded. "Alright."
Shunsui squeezed his friend's shoulder as he stood up and looked off into the woods. When he met his friend's eyes again, Jūshirō had already settled himself at the base of a tree. With a final nod to each other, Shunsui began to make his way further into the forest, pausing only briefly to leave behind the flowery pink kimono he wore draped over his captain's haori.
The reiatsu became stronger as he continued on deeper into the woods, and the number of bodies littering the ground increased, so much so that they were piled on top of one another. And when he reached the center of the forest, he could make out the uniforms of the fallen Onmitsukidō, the stealth force.
He knew the reports, had heard them from Suì-Fēng's own mouth. She was not happy, not only for losing some of her own men, but because he had gone over her head to Yama-jii, practically pleading with the old man to let him handled this on his own, this mad woman now referred to as the Demon of the Rukon District.
For years now, this woman had dominated the forest, killing indiscriminately any who dared venture in. Men, women, children, animals and even hollows fell victim to her blade. She had become a legend, a myth to much of the Eastern Rukongai, but in Inuzamurai, the district where this bloodstained forest was located, she was feared.
Men would tell stories of how they faced the demon and lived, though such stories were often lies. Women would tell their children that she'd come for them in the night if they didn't behave, even though by all accounts she'd never left the forest once in search of prey. And children would sing rhymes about her while they played, even making up games to test their bravery. Who could stand with their backs to the forest the longest, who could venture furthest? Is that what happened to that child? Was she a victim of child's play?
Crazed laughter drew his attention to the tree tops where he spotted her. Her nude body was covered in grime and blood from self-inflicted wounds. Her brown hair was matted and crusted with mud and in each hand she held a curve ax like weapon. Her dark unfocused eyes settled on him.
"I've been waiting," she called down to him. "It's been so long since someone new came to play with me."
"You're making me break one of my own rules," he said, as she dragged one of the weapons across the skin of her belly casually, making blood blossom and bead on the cut. "I don't like to fight with women."
"My apologies." Dark crimson reiatsu seeped from her blades and enveloped her form as she leaped at him then, twisting in the air as she brought her blades down on him, but he blocked her attack easily with his long sword. Undeterred, she continued to attack, swinging her arms and slamming her blades down one after the other repeatedly.
He deflected her attacks and angled his own zanpakutō towards her. He narrowly missed her, but as their blades connected, hers began to crack. Their fight continued on this way, with close calls and narrow misses, but she wasn't strong enough to land a solid blow and he had never intended to inflict damage on her body, merely her zanpakutō.
The sharp edges of her blades were chipped and tiny fissures lined the blade, but the crimson reiatsu tendrils that had wrapped around her at the start of their battle held strong. When the blades finally shattered though, the tendrils evaporated and the zanpakutō reverted back to its unassuming form and its welder collapsed to ground.
He stepped forward tentatively, kicking the hilt of her weapon out of her hands before he knelt down beside her and pulled her into his arms. Drawing his thumb across her cheek gently, he looked up then to see Jūshirō offering him the kimono he had left behind. With her shattered sword beside her, Shunsui wrapped his pink kimono around her small naked frame.
"What's your name," he asked quietly when her now clear bright grey eyes had fluttered open.