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 concerned 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 in varying states of decay and many, they noted, looked to have been cut down while trying to flee their attacker.
Overwhelmed by the stench, Ukitake suddenly doubled over coughing blood into the sleeve of his captain’s haori. He managed to recover after a moment, aided by the soothing circles his friend was rubbing 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 heavily, but eventually nodded. “Alright.”
Shunsui squeezed his friend’s shoulder as he looked off into the woods and 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 own 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 up 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 and she was not happy. Not just 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 to venture in. Men, women, children, animals and even hollows fell victim to her blades. 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 once left the forest 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 finally spotted her.
Her nude body was covered in all manner of grime and dried blood from numerous self-inflicted wounds. Her brown hair was matted and crusted with mud and in each hand she held a curved 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, watching her as she dragged one of her blades across the skin of her belly casually making blood blossom and bead on the cut. “I don’t like to fight with women.”
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 the use of his long sword. Undeterred, she continued to attack, swinging her arms and slamming her blades down one after the other in rapid succession.
He deflected her attacks and angled his own zanpakutō towards her. He nearly missed her, but as their blades connected once again 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 blades, but the dark crimson reiatsu tendrils that had wrapped around her at the start of their battle held strong. And it was only when the blades finally shattered that the tendrils evaporated and the zanpakutō reverted back to its unassuming form and its wielder 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 to see Jūshirō offer 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.