And The Walls Came Tumbling Down
Chapter 1: It Begins
They sat in neat formation; evenly spaced around their master as they waited in silence, their faces shadowed by the darkness that surrounded them. It was a spacious room; cavernous ceiling and grand interior only visible via the fragile flickering light that sputtered from the fire, hardly worth calling embers in its deprived state. This dim glow bounced sharply off the congregation's backs; straight and tight; allowing no movement to be made seen. With this near constant lack of activity, the only true sign of life within the space was the neon red spark of his eyes, snapping over each member briefly as though searching for some sign of discontentment; something that would no doubt be crushed upon discovery.
Those eyes ran quickly over the faces a second time before shifting to the darkest side of the room, where the door; huge and solid, was located. They remained fixed on that spot for some time, never blinking and never losing focus as they waited, an ever-present keen glint in their flat scarlet depths. Moments later, the door creaked open and, footsteps echoing piercingly around the dark hall, a hooded man strode in towards them.
"Severus." The voice was unnaturally high; the harsh, unlevelled sound of it scraping against the man's ears. "What news of the others?"
The man bowed; movements loose yet respectful.
"My Lord, I believe that this is the best we can hope for tonight; the others send their apologies but find that they cannot be parted from their work. They will wait until they are able to understand fully what it is they are dealing with."
The two points of crimson stirred, as if following their master's head as he twitched in annoyance, a derisive snort sounding from the vague outline of his body. The hooded figure remained still; intensely aware of his Lord's volatile mood.
He was beyond relieved when the elevated voice spoke again.
"Very well. You may be seated, Severus."
He rose from his stance and, lowering his hood, took his place among the seated ranks, his black hair reflecting dully the light of the dying fire.
They fell back into silence, the only sound being that of the occupants' breathing; shallow and rushed. A few feet away from the crimson points, one man began to shift nervously, his cloak rustling against the floor and drawing the unwanted attention of those ever-glowing orbs.
"What troubles you, Nott?"
The man jumped when his name was spoken and bowed rapidly, a muscle in his face twitching as he too removed his hood; red-brown hair spilling over his shoulders.
"My Lord, nothing
troubles me, as such
" He hesitated as his pale eyes flinchingly met red, but strived to continue nonetheless. "I was merely curious about the purpose of this gathering
He stopped again as the eerie gaze continued to stare; unmoved. When the voice remained silent, he began to panic, and before he realized what he was doing, he sunk immediately into another hasty bow.
"Forgive me, my Lord! I should not have spoken out of turn."
A soft hiss cut through the air as the eyes laughed, shaking with twisted mirth at the man's distress. Nott, though still nervous, gave off an air of intense hope as he heard the sound, grey irises shining.
"Worry not. You have not intruded on any private matter and I assure you, the purpose of this meeting would have been revealed sooner or later without your input."
Letting loose a shaky breath, the man returned to his original posture, trying to re-gather his usual poised composure.
The eyes, no longer interested in the man, moved on languidly, taking in the other faces again as they moved to speak.
"You are, I'm sure, aware of the situation concerning the former guards of Azkaban?"
A general murmured assent.
"You are also aware of the fact that I have chosen members of our ranks to investigate their behaviour and remedy it. We so far have had no idea as to what brought about this change in them, or what the cause of their sudden disappearances may be."
He paused a moment.
"But that is about to change. Last night, I received word from a civilisation entirely unheard of by us. The messenger stated that his master had taken a great interest in us and our movement, and in exchange for information, he would offer us assistance in our plight. Tonight, another representative is to come to us expressing the conditions of our alliance, and that, friends, is why I have called you here."
Another murmur ran through the group, but this time, the sound was uneasy; displeased.
"But, my Lord, surely there is no need to form an alliance. You are the most powerful being the world has ever seen! This presumptuous 'master' of whom you speak cannot have greater power than yourself."
The eyes fell upon a figure towards the end of the formation. They cringed.
"You speak an undeniable truth. However, it would be unwise to underestimate any unknown entity, and as we know nothing of the creatures that visit us tonight, we should focus on unearthing the truth about them and finding any weaknesses they may possess, rather than refusing their help or forcing them into
"Yes, my Lord. I should've seen it as such from the start."
An uncomfortable silence fell again as they waited for the eyes to speak once more. Although enjoying their awkwardness, a glance at the shadowed clock above the fire told the eyes that they could not afford to keep quiet for as long as they may have wished.
"The representative shall arrive in exactly three minutes. I expect all of you to behave as I believe I have seen you at your best, and I shall be most disappointed if I find myself
A shivering rush of 'my Lord' flew around the ranks at this, and with all the patience they could muster, they waited.
Mere moments had passed before the rumbling began.
The sound shook the floor beneath them and rattled furnishings, sending the people seated atop them leaping as they fought the urge to run from this unknown assailant. Over the top of the rumbling, a high, shrill keening could just be made out, and those with sharp enough hearing bent to the floor, their hands covering their heads as they shrieked in agony, calling for it to stop.
The glowing scarlet eyes of Voldemort did nothing. They watched. They waited. They ignored the pain of their underlings, and instead fixed a stare on the air above them as, most peculiarly, it seemed to split; tearing apart with a sound akin to ripping flesh. Through the ragged gap, only a black swirling mass of shapes could be seen, some sliding slickly out and into the room, writhing towards the prone humans as though they were prey; a simple meal to help quell a never-ending hunger.
There was a sudden flash of light and, shrinking back from the wailing bodies, the blackness receded; curling away into the emptiness from where it had come.
"My apologies. I'd forgotten they were there."
A low, steady voice washed calmly over the chaotic scene, and before any other could interrupt, a tall, slight figure had stepped casually onto the air before them, sinking slowly to the ground. His features were apathetic in the extreme; neatly arranged and entirely devoid of emotion. The only colour to be found on him was that of his irises; acid green and glowing to the point that they matched the red facing him, marks of the same hue running down his cheeks, making it appear as if he were weeping. Mid-length inky black hair brushed over his white skin and shoulders, and from the left-hand side of his head, a bone-like structure protruded; acting in a similar way to that of a helmet as it moved in the manner of plated amour around his neck.
Voldemort surveyed him steadily from his position at the end of the room, eyeing the long ornate sword that hung at the creature's waist with mild interest and, curious smile tweaking his lips, he spoke.
"The messenger, I presume?"
The creature inclined his head, his movements stiff; controlled; dangerous.
"My name is Ulquiorra Cifer. I am here as a representative of Aizen-sama and have come here to discuss the terms of our alliance in full."
Several of the cloaked shapes muttered angrily and shuffled further back, towards their master and well away from the newcomer.
"I see. What are his terms?"
"Aizen-sama wishes that all information regarding wizard potions, most specifically poisons, be relayed to him. He also wishes that the best you have in that field be presented to him in order to aid him in creating said poison. In return, Aizen-sama will offer you information regarding our common enemy and give back the control of the Dementors of Azkaban to you, ensuring their full cooperation. When the time comes for battle, he will provide you with soldiers from his own army to ensure your success. I will be among them."
More mutters followed this statement, and from somewhere to the left, a rough female voice called out: "They were controlling the Dementors?! How?! How can we trust them?!"
Voldemort shot the perpetrator a look, but paused in consideration, his eyes narrowed.
"Are these the only conditions?"
"There is one other. Aizen-sama wishes it be known that once the alliance is forged, he will expect your unrelenting support. If he is not satisfied that you have given all you have to offer, then the agreement will be void, and you will be dealt with accordingly."
A screech sounded from the floor, and launching itself from the ground, one cloaked figure shot towards Ulquiorra, a hand diving into its pocket.
"You dare to threaten the Dark Lord?!"
Neither the messenger nor its master moved to stop it as the wand was raised; owner still howling.
The beam of red light that emanated from the wood hit the target squarely on the chest; producing sparks as it bounced off the now bared skin, a scorch mark the only remnant of the curse. Ulquiorra glanced down at his ruined uniform, then back at his attacker. Her hood had fallen away, revealing the tangled mass of black hair, hollow face and manic expression of Bellatrix Lestrange. She was crouching before him, her shoulders shaking and eyes wild as she raised her wand again, snarling.
Ulquiorra's hand rose before him almost lazily as he watched the woman with utter disdain. From the tip of his hand, a bright, turquoise light began to form, swirling and flickering with compacted energy, and before she could even part her mouth, the light had been released. The blinding flash that followed was enough to send many of the cloaked watchers stumbling back, their hands not being enough to cover both their eyes and ears as the sound of the blast hit them. Once the light had extinguished, the room plunged sharply into blackness, smoke and dust having risen from the floor and engulfed them, entering their lungs and forcing gut-wrenching coughs from their fragile human frames.
Slowly, the dust began to dissipate, settling back to the surfaces it had coated before-hand, and revealing the haggard form of Bellatrix, bent on all fours; panting; blood dripping from her chin to the floor. She was shaking violently, weak whimpering sounds spilling from her bloodied lips as she fought to stay conscious.
None moved to help her.
"It would appear that you have misunderstood your position in all this." Ulquiorra's voice rang harsher in the open space than before, his acidic eyes focusing on none but Voldemort, who met the gaze head-on. "Aizen-sama is offering you things that go beyond your wildest imaginings; the very fact that he has chosen to speak with you in itself is a blessing that you can never hope to have repeated throughout the rest of your worthless lives."
Bellatrix's whines had begun to quieten, the sound barely more than a squeak before the crumpling of her body was heard; a dull thump resounding throughout the chamber. Many shivered.
"Truly despicable. I wonder why Aizen-sama thought it worth the trouble
He cocked his head to the side; a small display of curiosity that was reflected in the eyes of the man before him.
"But then, I understand perhaps a little better when I look at you."
Voldemort glanced fleetingly at the fallen figure of his most loyal follower, his expression calculating.
"What was that light you used just now?"
"At this time, it does not concern you."
A sly smile felt its way over his face.
"So those are the final conditions?"
For the first time since the gathering had begun, Voldemort stood, his face no longer shadowed but fully visible; grey skin taught over a flat, snake-like skull, and eyes shining like torches in the firelight. Ulquiorra's expression remained impassive.
"Well then, how could I refuse?"
If looks could kill, there would be nothing left of Matsumoto Rangiku.
Not a blonde hair.
Not a scrap of manicured nail.
And certainly not a single chord of her over-used voice box.
"Woops! Forgot about the door
It was at times like these that he wished he'd been born with laser-eyes, maybe super-powered-fukutaichou-crushing strength, or at the very least, the authority to do whatever he pleased.
Why did murder have to be illegal
"Taichou! Hey, Taichou!"
Resisting the urge to bang his head against his desk, Hitsugaya let loose a long, calming breath and turned towards his now destroyed office door and a very excited, very not apologetic-looking vice-captain.
"Before I ask why you're yelling at me, I should tell you that the money required to pay for a new door will be coming straight out of your wages."
Her pout only served to irritate him further.
"Taichou! How could you say such a thing?! So mean
" The pout slowly but surely transformed, lifting a dazzling smile onto her features as she raised a finger to her chin, evidently believing she'd figured something out. "I know; you're feeling all grumpy 'cause you haven't had your walk yet! Am I right?!"
"Matsumoto! I'm 'grumpy' because you broke down my door, burst my eardrums and haven't finished your paperwork! And you still haven't told me why you were shouting in the first place!"
She looked mildly surprised, her mouth forming a perfect 'o' shape as she considered this new idea.
"Yeah, that makes sense
She flapped her hands in a dismissive manner; completely ignoring the dangerous drop in temperature.
"Yeah, yeah, I was getting to that
She stopped again, turning away from him and proceeding to stalk purposefully about the room, stepping over the ruins of the door with the finger having returned to tap at her chin in mock thought. Hitsugaya watched her progress with teeth clenched and eyebrows convulsing, his arms folded tightly over his chest in the way he always did whenever feeling particularly strong homicidal urges.
Quite suddenly, Matsumoto came to a halt, her brow furrowed and contemplative gaze landing solidly on her captain. She appeared deadly serious. Hitsugaya sobered immediately, his hands falling to his sides and expression dark, anticipating the worst.
A sharp intake of breath.
I don't remember."
He practically wilted.
What's that supposed to mean?"
She shook her head, strawberry blonde waves bobbing up and down around her face as she smiled again, the previous brightness returning.
"It means I don't remember, Taichou! Why, what else would it mean? Honestly, I thought you were meant to be smart!"
A throbbing started up behind his eyes and he pressed a hand to his forehead, squeezing the bridge of his nose in a mixture of annoyance and utter exasperation. He wondered briefly how many jars of sake she'd managed to down in the last hour, but decided it didn't matter; he really was too used to this to care.
"Are you trying to tell me, Matsumoto, that you ran in here, destroyed my office and yelled at me, yet you have no idea why?"
"Yup, that sounds about right."
"Have I ever told you how good your head would look on a pike?"
She frowned, trying to remember.
no. You did mention mounting my stuffed head on the office wall, though. I was very flattered
"Well, now that I have, it won't come as a surprise to you when I say that I've already made arrangements."
The answering smile she gave him could never have meant anything good, but thankfully, she didn't get the chance to verbalise whatever inane thought had just surfaced in her ever-groggy brain, because at that moment, another figure came smashing into the office, this time, Hitsugaya was comforted to note, without damaging anything.
Flaming red hair as defiant as ever and tattoos blazing, Abarai Renji made his first and most unexpected appearance in the Tenth Division's main office, his hand resting on the door frame for support and his breath coming in short pants. He cast a confused glance at the debris at his feet before seeking the captain's eyes, clearly anxious.
"Hitsugaya-taichou, the Soutaichou's getting impatient; I wouldn't keep him waiting much longer."
The shock of seeing Abarai non-withstanding, he was having trouble with the idea that he could have forgotten something. The Soutaichou
? Hitsugaya's frown deepened; utterly nonplussed, trying to recall just when he'd received any form of summons from the man and coming up blank.
"What on earth are you talking about, Abarai? The Soutaichou didn't mention anything to me about-"
"But he sent me here specifically to call you in. He said that he sent word ahead to you but you never arrived. He's been waiting for half an hour."
"Sent word ahead
Ever quick-witted, Hitsugaya sent an accusatory glare in Matsumoto's direction, feeling particularly satisfied when she cringed; features twisted in a sheepish grin.
"Know something about this?"
She giggled nervously.
"Well, there is a possibility that I do
but really, Taichou, it's hardly my fault! I mean, if you distract me too early on, then I'll never remember what messages I was meant to give you! Or files! Or
Trying his hardest not to think too carefully about what those words could have meant, he turned stiffly back to Abarai, who was shifting uncertainly in the doorway, clearly reluctant to linger.
"Abarai-fukutaichou, putting aside Matsumoto's idiocies, would you care to explain just what the Soutaichou wants me to do?"
The taller man nodded quickly, his hair swaying slightly with the movement.
"The Soutaichou wishes for you to come and receive your new orders from him in person immediately. He will be waiting for you in the main chamber at the First Division's barracks."
Hitsugaya's eyes narrowed slightly. That didn't make sense
"Why could none of this have been relayed through the Hell Butterflies?"
Abarai frowned, the previous anxiety having been replaced by a calm, stern demeanour, well-honed from much practice in giving and receiving information.
"We don't know why, but for some reason, the Hell Butterflies are dying. This morning, well over a hundred were found dead in the 6th Division cages alone. 12th is running tests on them now, but for the moment, none are in operation and Soul Society is having to revert back to the traditional methods of passing messages by word of mouth rather than technology."
Turning away from Abarai, Hitsugaya strode quietly to the other side of the room were his sword rested on a stand beside his bookcase. He lifted it carefully, swinging it over and around his shoulders in a manner that spoke more of habit than conscious action, and, still adjusting the sash that held it tightly to his back, he addressed the other occupants.
"Since I can no longer keep the Soutaichou waiting, I'll head over there now. Matsumoto," Hitsugaya glanced at her from over his shoulder. "That pile of papers has been rotting away on your desk for the last week and still shows no signs of nearing completion. That's why, when I return, I expect to see your desk empty, and by that I mean that the work has been finished, rather than just removed and, knowing you, disposed of."
Matsumoto, who had up until that moment remained silent, let loose a long, overly dramatic sigh and slouched over to her desk; head sagging and shoulders drooping forward.
"As you wish, Taichou. I shall once again waste many hours of my already spent life slaving away at this table
Completely untouched by this sentiment, Hitsugaya looked back at Abarai, only to find the man's eyebrows raised and jaw clenched painfully, clearly trying his hardest not to laugh.
Feeling, perhaps, a little more haggard than usual, the Soul Society's youngest captain made for the door, pausing over the mess of wood, paper and plaster with something akin to muted despair and muttered:
"Welcome to 10th Division."
Renji caught the humour in this statement, and found a grin crawling slowly up his features in recognition. He had rarely heard the boy make any form of joke, but since his time with Hitsugaya in the world of the living, he had come to understand the sharp, dry flares of wit that he was prone to, at least when surrounded by those trustworthy enough to be shown it.
He was about to respond when Hitsugaya spoke first, his back straightening and head cocked slightly in thought.
"Abarai-fukutaichou, do you have any other immediate duties to tend to?"
The frown appeared again on Renji's face again as he considered.
"I don't think so, Hitsugaya-taichou. That was the main reason I was asked to come and find you, although," and here, he straightened up a little, his tone taking on an edge of pride. "I expect my skill in shunpo was also recognised as an excellent asset in this, and that must have made a contribution to the decision."
Hitsugaya chose to completely ignore the last half of his monologue, and instead nodded slightly, more to himself than to anyone else.
"Well then, since I don't trust Matsumoto to finish her work by the end of this century, let alone by the time I get back, and since you have no urgent business to attend to, I'd like you to watch her."
Renji looked confused and Hitsugaya hastened to explain.
"When I say 'watch', what I really mean is that you'll need stand over her and poke her every now and then (she falls asleep a lot), and that you'll need to make sure that the window is shut and all other exits secured in case she tries to brake out."
A wry smirk twitched at his lips.
There was a flash as his image disappeared from sight and, blinking, Renji turned away from the now empty door frame and back to his ward, who was, he was not surprised to see, face down on the top-most sheet of paper, a slim trail of drool running down her chin and smudging the ink.
He picked up the nearest thing he could find (a calligraphy brush) and proceeded, as advised, to jab Matsumoto in the side.
She jerked slightly, but otherwise made no move to wake.
Rolling his eyes to the ceiling and scratching the back of his head in frustration, Renji prepared again to force her out of her slumber, wondering briefly what would happen if he yelled in her ear. No - he winced slightly at the image - the consequences would be far too painful.
It was going to be a long day.