The shackles were cutting into Renji's skin as he trudged towards central 46, two muscular guards towering beside him, while they followed a veiled member from the Kido Corps. Even though Renji knew he was either going to be sentenced for life in one of the eight levels of the underground prison or put to death, a wave of tranquillity washed over him as Renji drank in the evening sunlight, welcoming the fresh breeze that ruffled his limp ponytail. He was escorted through an underground passageway, the stairs sloping downwards, blocking the sunlight once more. Might be the last time I see sunlight, he thought sighing slightly. Eventually he found himself standing in a large open room, facing the 46 members who were about to decide his fate. They were seated above him, arranged in two concentric rings, one above the other. Their faces were obscured by a number plaque, their only means of identification, and as Renji scoured the hall, he was unable to hazard a guess as to which of them could be affiliated with Kuchiki Ginrei. He swallowed, his throat parched, and longed for a glass of water as the bright lights shining on him obscured his vision, burning his eyes.
"Abarai Renji," boomed a voice. "You have been brought here on this day, to be tried under the laws of Seireitei for the crime that you have committed." Renji remained silent, his eyes boring into the plaque from where the voice came from. "On the evening of the 11th, you and the sixth division captain Kuchiki Byakuya were walking towards the thirteenth division when your captain was stabbed. Do you deny these details?"
"No," replied Renji stiffly.
"It is not unknown that you and Kuchiki Rukia were childhood friends from before she was adopted into the Kuchiki clan. Am I correct?"
"And is it not true that once Kuchiki Rukia was adopted you became obsessed with surpassing Kuchiki Byakuya, perhaps hoping that one day you may be able to resume your friendship with Kuchiki Rukia, believing that you were not worthy of her?"
"Yes," replied Renji, clenching his jaws.
"In other words, you tried to get close to Kuchiki Byakuya ever since that day, hoping that one day you will overpower him in strength?"
"So, it is safe to say that you have been waiting for the past fifty years to take revenge on the man that stole Kuchiki Rukia away from you?"
"This has nothing to do with Rukia," Renji spat.
"Silence!" the voice thundered. "You are not permitted to speak except to provide yes or no answers when asked. Are you aware that on the night of the 11th you were found at the scene of the crime? In addition your fingerprints were found on the blade that was lodged in Kuchiki Byakuya's chest."
"I tried to get the knife out so he wouldn't bleed to death," replied Renji exasperated.
"What have I told you about speaking out of turn?" the voice boomed, reverberating across the vast open space.
"There were no witnesses that may speak on your behalf. In addition, you don't have an alibi at the time of the attempted murder, and your fingerprints were found all over the knife. Do you deny any of the above mentioned"
"No," said Renji quietly.
"To attack a captain is treason, however to attempt to murder a captain, that warrants a much severe punishment. In addition to attempting to murder a member of the Gotei 13, this is the leader of the most powerful noble house in all of Seiretei. Do you comprehend the gravity of this situation Abarai Renji?"
Renji wanted to tear his hair out, and shriek at the 40 members and 6 judges perched on their high chairs, obscuring their identities while they judged him unjustly. "It wasn't me!" he cried out in frustration. "We were walking towards the thir...,"
"Silence! I have repeatedly told you that you will not speak unless spoken to, and only to answer questions that we address!"
"Let him speak," said a second voice. "I wish to hear his excuse despite substantial evidence pointing to Abarai Renji."
"You may speak," boomed the first voice.
"Captain Kuchiki and I," started Renji carefully weighing each word, making sure nothing he said can be used against him. "We were walking towards the thirteenth division, when a figure wearing a cloak rushed towards us. The knife was originally meant for me, but the captain pushed me out of the way, and the blade pierced him instead," finished Renji softly.
The room was buzzing with voices once Renji had finished telling them the truth. "Silence!" the first voice thundered. The voices hushed down at once, the silence rippling through the room, suffocating Renji as he struggled to breathe.
"Is there anybody else apart from you that can account for your version of the attack?"
"Captain Kuchiki can."
"Unfortunately captain Kuchiki, will not be able to defend you," replied a third voice flatly. "He has stated in writing," continued the voice shuffling papers, "that he does not remember who attacked him as it all happened very fast, and due to the severe blood loss he lost consciousness on the spot."
Renji gaped in disbelief at the faceless man, the colour draining from his face as he realized that this was probably one of Ginrei's associates.
"Im...Impossible!" whispered Renji shaking with fury. "Bring him here! Now! I don't trust anything in writing. Let the captain say it in his own words!" cried out Renji in frustration.
"If you speak one more time out of turn, I will have your sentence extended," said the third voice calmly.
"Perhaps we should request an audience with captain Kuchiki," the second voice suggested.
"That's unecessary," replied the third voice tersely. "Kuchiki Byakuya is an unreliable witness. He lost consciousness on the spot and would have trouble recalling the attack."
"Lies! All Lies!" screamed Renji in fury, his pupils widening in rage.
"We should have your sentence extended to an additional 500 years for your unruly behaviour," said the third voice snobbishly.
"What shall be an appropriate sentence for Abarai Renji?" asked a fourth frail voice.
"He should be executed," said the third voice firmly. Renji snorted quietly but remained silent. "Or at the very least he should be imprisoned for life."
"Execution and imprisonment for life is reserved for the worst criminals who pose a severe threat to Soul Society," reminded the second sensible voice who Renji had taken an immediate liking to.
"This man is a threat! He dared attempt to murder Kuchiki Byakuya!"
"He denies being the attacker. He even goes as far as to state that he was the one that should have been attacked," said the frail voice.
"Clearly he's lying," replied the third voice snootily. "There is substantial evidence pointing to Abarai Renji."
"Either way, execution and life imprisonment are not an appropropriate punishment for this situation," said the first voice firmly, silencing the mutters and murmurs that were drifting across the room.
"Perhaps we should strip him of his powers and banish him to the human world," said the frail voice. "That way he won't pose a threat to any other captains or members of Soul Society."
"That could be an option," said the first voice thoughtfully.
Renji waited with bated breath, every muscle in his body frozen under the burning lights, not daring to move, not daring to hope. He could feel hope trickling through the cracks in his heart, worming its way in the crevices and wedging themselves in place. He wiped the beads of sweat that were trickling down his face, and ran his tongue along the roof of his mouth trying to generate saliva. He could hear the voices in the room whispering furiously, unable to discern what was being said. He closed his eyes, praying that a fair sentence would be reached, and that Ginrei's words were just empty threats.
"Abarai Renji," boomed the first voice after several minutes. "You have been charged with the attempted murder of the captain of the sixth division and head of the Kuchiki clan; Kuchiki Byakuya. In addition you have spoken out of turn multiple times while given fair warnings, and have fabricated a story to fit your innocence despite the evidence saying so otherwise. You will be sentenced to 500 years in level three of the underground prison."
Reni gaped in surprise, the relief weakening his trembling knees as Renji fell to the ground in all fours. He was astounded at the sentence he was given, convinced that he was at death's door. Ginrei was wrong, thought Renji, unable to stop the trembling. Thank God. I will be able to see Byakuya again. The last thing Renji remembered about the trail was a pair of strong hands grabbing him, forcing him to his feet. Renji unsteadily rose, and was led away towards the dark underground passageway where the prisons were housed. He looked back, his eyes running a quick scan of central 46's chambers, knowing that this would be the last thing he would ever lay eyes on for the next 500 years.