Death & Raspberry

Contrary to prose and poetry, history and rumor, it did not always rain during a funeral.

Soul Society’s unrelenting sun beat down on the congregation of black-clad mourners before the Seireitei’s outdoor Crematorium. It stood on the rocky outcropping of hill within the city proper. A select few beat a slow, melancholy rhythm on large drums. Most simply stood, eyes closed, downcast, in prayer. Before them all, a veritable sea of well-constructed, two-story, wooden pyres filled with beds of straw. Some already burned, while Shinigami stood before others, holding a torch to set it ablaze, waiting as family and friends grieved in silence.

Before some pyres stood no one in particular. Before others, many. Within were the tattered bodies of those wrapped in the garb of the Academy—blue accents for men, red for women—while others were enlisted Shinigami. Few were exposed, many were wrapped and covered, and many more were simply wooden tags with a name in black.

All—it was decided—would receive the funeral of a Shinigami.

Among the visitors included half the Captains or more, the Commander herself, every Lieutenant to match. The Captain of the Tenth stood at the forefront and walked from pyre to pyre. Nobuko followed him. For those without visitors, the two stood before each pyre themselves. Regardless, it was the Captain who took the flame from the torch-bearer and sent the lost students and instructors on their way.

To each of the family of the students, he bowed deeply, and apologized.

“To die for the Soul Society, for the balance, is the duty of Shinigami,” he told them all. “To learn is the duty of the student.”

Each Captain who visited was accompanied by their appropriate Lieutenant. Some Lieutenants visited without their Captain. Among them, Lieutenant Watanabe of the Sixth, somewhere in the crowd.

Dirt crunched beneath slowly-walking sandals behind him. The steps came to a stop at his side.

“Lieutenant Watanabe,” the young voice of Lieutenant Kikuchi, of the Tenth, greeted him.

Upon his face, an uncharacteristically stern expression as he stared forward at the pyres.

“Under more typical conditions, I would never discuss our duties during such an occasion,” he spoke flatly, a far cry from the more lively and jovial tones other Lieutenants were used to of him.

To their irritation or otherwise.

Yasuo’s eyes settled on Nobuko as she followed Captain Fujiwara over towards another pyre, this one without family before it. The two of them both bowed to the wooden tag laid upon the bed of straw. There, they lingered, simply standing before it with bowed heads.

“These are not typical conditions,” he finished, and then turned to look at Lieutenant Watanabe properly. His deep, blue eyes shined with unusual determination.

“Has anyone in sixth spoken with Ōetsu, of the Twelfth?”
Sixth Division
The technicians of the Twelfth were known at times to tinker with the weather--a process that was far beyond Ichiro's technological comprehension. Now and then they banished clouds from the sun to accentuate a momentous ceremony, or caused it to rain when the Seireitei was under deadly drought. Today was beaming bright as a smile: evidently the Twelfth had decided the extinction of the Shin'ō academy wasn't a cause for rain, or--more likely--they, like everyone else, were still reeling from the sudden and devastating attack.

Ichiro stood in the wash of mourners, neither close to any single pyre nor distanced from the grieving. His posture was shared by many fathers absent daughters or sons: stiff-backed, empty-faced, arms clasped behind his back like they alone could brace against a weight that would grind knees into the dirt.

He had no children to mourn, of course, nor any siblings. The Watanabe family hadn't seen a student pass through Shin'ō in half a century, and he didn't seem like the kind of man to shed tears even for the death of his kin. And yet his eyes flicked from pyre to pyre, and the set of his jaw grew more rigid with each soul set aflame. A brief breeze--the first reprieve from the oppressive heat of the day--stirred his long, black ponytail and the black Shihakushō he wore.

The crowd parted slightly to allow free passage to a short, pleasant-looking man with a carelessly-tucked outfit. Ichiro watched him, and only a slight narrowing of his almond eyes betrayed their many years of contention. He kept his well-trodden castigations to himself: this was hardly the place or time, and besides, the stony expression on Yasuo's face may as well have been a glare for how out of place it was.

Perhaps, Ichiro thought, this moment would serve as a catalyst for the irresponsible boy to become just a little more serious.

Somehow he doubted it.

He met the steely blue gaze and held it for a moment before looking away. "The creator of the Asauchi?" He asked mildly. "Of course: it would have been negligent of us to go without at least giving an interview to the man who introduced such an alien element to our way of life."

His voice lost any of the color it had possessed. His hands, behind his back, gripped so tightly the blood was forced from his fingers.

"We spoke with him for a short interview when the Academy adopted the Asauchi, and not since."

Ichiro let that comment drift away to join the billowing plumes of smoke before continuing.

"My Captain extends his apologies for not being able to attend this ceremony. He determined other events were more demanding of his time."
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Still, Yasuo did not turn away from the pyres. Orange danced across his face as another was lit ablaze, the final tribute to another, fallen Shinigami.

Each, truly, a Shinigami: All had been declared graduates and would have their names recorded by Eighth for the Soul Society’s next million-year history.

“Not since?” Lieutenant Kikuchi repeated the question. “Understandable.”

With those words, Yasuo turned to look the stone-faced Lieutenant. He looked down, just once, and then returned his attention to Ichiro properly.

“You’re the expert in this field, Lieutenant Watanabe, but I have to ask,” he continued, and then glanced back to the pyres.

“Does it not seem as though a crime were committed?”

He paused with the question and turned back to the Lieutenant yet again.

“We blame those who leave a fire unattended for the tragedy that follows. At the Academy, we blame the teacher whose students have learned nothing under their tutelage. Responsibility follows those with the authority; and the control,” he explained further.

Then, his head turned, and his gaze leveled on Nobuko. She continued to follow her Captain about, pyre to pyre, family to family.

“I’ve read Tachibana’s report, as well as Kawasaki’s,” he said as he kept his eyes firmly on Nobuko. “They both said the same: That they saw Hollows gorging themselves on these Asauchi like children upon sweet plums.”

Finally, he returned his attention to the other Lieutenant.

“Is this not grounds to detain Ōetsu?” He suddenly asked. “Surely, the way the Hollows feasted upon the Asauchi as if they were souls is worth an explanation. Yet, Twelfth offers no explanation for this observed behavior. No defense of the Asauchi.”

His voice dipped lower, into something like a hiss.

“Because one does not exist.”

A low sighed rolled out of him.

“Without the protection of the Twelfth, and his Captain hovering akin to a mother hen, I’m sure Ōetsu will confess to some startling truths about his creation,” he asserted. “Especially if someone such as yourself is present.

“Don’t you agree, Lieutenant?”
Sixth Division
Nearby, the Captain of the Tenth bowed as if in supplication when he added the burning head of a torch to the kindling set at the bottom of another pyre. The straw, dry as it was, caught quickly: yellow flame became orange as it sprang up leaping through the several-storied bed. It made a merry crackle.


It was good his fellow was absorbed by the flickering light: he didn't see the veneer of deep contempt that flashed across Ichiro's face. For a moment, the stiffly-standing Shinigami imagined Yasuo smiling a nervous, apologetic smile. He imagined wrinkled fingers rubbing a patchy beard and a slightly bent back. He heard again the words his own Captain had spoken so recently: "Dreadful, absolutely dreadful..."

" way we could have known, of course..."

By the time Yasuo turned to regard him again, Ichiro's face was implacable in its orange limn. "I'm certain," he said evenly, "we treated him with no less than the minimum of appropriate suspicion. As for a crime..."

Ichiro considered that idea. The study of criminal theory was undeniably relevant to his profession, but it was a field he'd always neglected. He wasn't stupid, just impatient: the more tightly-woven a knot, the more eager he became to cut it in half. Are we responsible, Yasuo asked, for the outcomes of our actions?

He listened to the younger, more feckless Shinigami express his argument. For a moment, just a moment, he was able to peer into a wellspring of furious anger Yasuo had managed to refine into an extemporaneous speech. Ichiro, to his complete surprise, found himself respecting the man. The effect was dispelled when he recalled happening upon the Shinigami draped in the arms of two women older and more respectable than he. Mostly dispelled.

The light breeze blew again: grey flakes of ash stirred and spun in invisible whorls of air. Ichiro's gaze snapped from them to the younger Shinigami and realized his mistake too late to conceal it. His thin lips twisted in a frown and he admitted, "That's... interesting to know. Initial reports were distributed to Captains."

"It's good yours was... so free with them." He spoke perhaps more candidly than he intended: his mind was whirling with the new information. Asauchi... consumed? But why? He pressed a fist to his lips and considered. His slim eyes flicked from left to right as if following one of those motes of ash spiralling in the air. Some distant part of his mind continued to listen to what Yasuo said, but that piece of him remained subconscious until he was startled out of his reverie.

"Agree? Yes. Yes, I do." He straightened his back, one slender hand squeezing at the hilt of his zanpakutō. It creaked lightly when he clenched it. "I would give a great deal to be one of the first to hear his confession." Ichiro's voice was tight, quick, fervent. His left hand reached out and gripped Yasuo's shoulder, squeezing intently. Almost hard enough to hurt.

"We can go right now. We should go right now."

His eyes burned intensely as he gazed at Yasuo. A samurai does not wait.

"Come with me. There's no time to lose."