A Thousand Shards of Crimson

Chapter 4

Renji lay in his bed, staring up at the ceiling. He was having a hard time falling asleep that night. Every time he closed his eyes, he pictured Byakuya's face. Except the version of Byakuya that plagued Renji's thoughts was smiling lovingly at him. What he would give to have Byakuya look at him that way. Renji contemplated another vigorous training session to tire him out, but that would be unwise considering the early morning start. After several hours of tossing and turning Renji finally dozed off to sleep. That night his mind was filled with dreams of Kuchiki Byakuya's senbonzakura, the petals dancing away in the moonlight reflecting a thousand shards of Byakuya's face. They swirled and caressed his naked body, slightly grazing his skin. They enveloped him in a ball of pink blades, tracing his nose, his lips, his jaw, and outlining his tattoos. Renji tried to capture the blades, to touch them with his fingertips, but they danced out of his way. The harder Renji tried to catch them the faster they swirled until he could see nothing but a pink wall surrounding him. He reached out, his hands hoping to touch the wall in front of him, yearning to make contact yet he still couldn't. They were unreachable, those beautiful petals of death.

Morning dawned bringing sunshine and a warm summer breeze. Renji groggily sat up and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. He felt cranky since he only managed a few hours of sleep at most. Shrugging out of his white kimono with the floral patterns, Renji donned his shinigami uniform. After brushing his teeth, and a quick breakfast, Renji went to meet the others at the Senkaimon.

As Renji reached the giant gate Shuhei greeted him. "Good morning Renji."

"Morning," replied Renji stifling a yawn.

"Couldn't sleep last night?" asked Shuhei.

"No," sighed Renji. "Let's quickly defeat these monsters so I can get some sleep."

" Yeah, I have tons of paperwork I have to get back to," agreed Shuhei.

" Ahh," came a voice behind Renji. "I wanted to spend some time in the real world so I can shop."

Rangiku!" cried Shuhei cheerfully. "Good morning!"

"You sounded a little too excited there," whispered Renji smirking. Shuhei flushed slightly and averted his eyes from Rangiku's voluptuous breasts.

"Good morning everyone. Hey Shuhei, after we defeat those Menos Grande let's celebrate with some drinks in the real world," said Rangiku casually leaning into him.

"Sounds good!" exclaimed Shuhei.

" I thought you had tons of paper work to do," scowled Renji. Shuhei turned to Renji and gave him a sheepish grin. Renji was just about to say something when two members of the Kido Corps interrupted them.

"Has everyone in your party assembled," asked a veiled woman in a thin voice. The three vice captains nodded in response. The two individuals from the Kido Corps stood on either side of the Senkaimon, and as the gate slowly opened a flood of bright light shot towards the sky. Three hell butterflies appeared, and the vice captains made their way through the gate.

Upon arriving in the real world they agreed to split up and report back any sightings of Menos Grande. Bidding each other farewell and going their separate ways, Renji headed towards the northern part of Karakura town. He was hoping that he wouldn't run into Kurosagi Ichigo or anybody he knew for that matter. Renji was itching to fight a strong opponent alone. After the bloody fights that occurred in Seireitei with himself and Byakuya as well as Ichigo, Renji had been training daily, honing his skills, making sure his accuracy was flawless, and the power behind his swings were able to crush an opponent in one blow. Renji felt confident in his skills to take on a Menos Grande on his own. After a few hours of searching fruitlessly for a glimpse of a tall figure donned in black, or the feeling of a huge amount of spiritual pressure, the three vice captains decided to end their search for the day. Rangiku had somehow convinced Shuhei that they should take a break which involved shopping and of course drinking. Renji didn't want to spoil their date, and decided to spend the evening sprawled under the shade of a large cherry blossom tree. He was exhausted, and found comfort in lying on the cool lush grass. The sun setting behind the horizon tinged the sky with violet and pink. Flecks of gold dotted the deep purple sky, and hues of blue, orange and red intermingled with one another transforming the sky into a rainbow. It truly looked beautiful, thought Renji sleepily. "The captain would have really enjoyed this scenery", mumbled Renji to himself as he dozed off, letting the sweet grasp of slumber take him.

Meanwhile Shuhei trudged behind Rangiku carrying four of her shopping bags filled with shoes, clothes and accessories. It had been two hours since they entered the large department store and Rangiku was still not finished browsing.

"Hey Shuhei, I think I should get a gift for my captain."

"That's very thoughtful Rangiku. What do you have in mind?"

"I think I should get him candy!" Rangiku exclaimed.

" Umm, I don't think captain Hitsugaya would like that."

"Don't be silly," Rangiku scolded. "What kind of kid doesn't like candy?"

"I don't think captain Hitsugaya wants to be seen as a kid."

Rangiku turned to Shuhei, frowning slightly. "I'm getting him candy." Three hours, five bags, and five hundred dollars later, Rangiku and Shuhei left the department store and headed to the nearest bar.

"There's nothing better than drinking after a long day," said Rangiku stretching.

" We shouldn't drink too much though. I don't want to go to Urahara's shop drunk."

" Relax Shuhei. We'll have a couple of drinks, head to Urahara's shop, get a good night's rest and defeat those Menos Grande tomorrow," reassured Rangiku opening the door to the bar. They whiled away the rest of the evening drinking merrily, and toasting to Aizen's defeat.

"Shuhei," slurred Rangiku, planting her glassy eyes on him, "You must get your captain back."

Shuhei's clenched his fist underneath the table. "Captain Tousen," he whispered, a pained look flashing in his eyes.

Rangiku was watching him carefully. "Let's head back," she said staggering as she pulled herself up. Paying for their drinks Shuhei and Rangiku, slid the door open and stepped into the starry night.

"Ahhhh," sighed Rangiku staring up at the sky. "It's so pretty."

Shuhei glanced at Rangiku, his heartbeat quickening. We're all alone, he thought. Should I try to hold her hand? He could feel his face flushing as Rangiku's wide blue eyes landed on his.

"Shuhei! You're face is really flushed. You didn't even drink much!"

" I'm just a little tired," replied Shuhei, averting his eyes.

"Oyyy, Rangiku, Shuhei," a deep voice called out.

"Renji? Is that you?" asked Rangiku squinting at the dark shadowy figure emerging from underneath the cherry blossom tree.

"You should have joined us," said Shuhei, after Renji appeared in front of them.

"I fell asleep under the tree. I feel so refreshed, and full of energy."

"Well we can't hunt for the Menos Grande now. Shuhei and I had a little too much to drink"

"Ho," said Renji smirking slightly. "Both of you can hold your liquor well."

"Nobody can drink as much as captain Kyoraku," said Shuhei laughing.

"Yeah, that's true," Renji agreed laughing along as the three vice captains headed towards Urahara's shop. They walked at a steady pace in comfortable silence, each lost in their own thoughts. A crescent moon was peeking behind a grey cloud lighting up the pathway. Reaching Urahara's shop, Rangiku rapped on the door sharply.

" I've been expecting you, " said Urahara cheerfully sliding the door open. He removed his floppy striped hat and tipped them good evening. "Welcome to my store." Urahara's shop mostly caters to the needs of shinigami, and lining the wall were several products imported from Soul Society such as anti hollow products spirit items, and even candy.

"Ahhh I should buy some more for captain Hitsugaya," said Rangiku reading the label of what appeared to be a chocolate bar.

"I think you did enough shopping for the day," said Renji eyeing the bags that Shuhei brought with him.

"Jinta, Ururu, we have guests," called out Urahara. A little girl with black pigtails came in carrying a pot of rice, followed by a boy with fiery red hair carrying bowls and chopsticks. Setting everything carefully on the table, they began dishing out scoops of rice and placing them in the bowls. A tall, muscular man wearing a blue apron came in carrying a pot of curry and a dish filled with vegetables.

"It smells delicious," said Rangiku. Renji could hear his stomach rumbling. He didn't realize how hungry he was until the food was laid out and the smell of curry filled the room.

"Please enjoy your dinner. After you have finished eating don't forget to clean up. I've also laid out three futon's in the room next door." Thanking Urahara for his hospitality the three vice captain settled down comfortably around the table, and dug into their food. The food tasted even better than it looked. As Renji put the first morsel of rice in his mouth, a burst of flavor exploded inside of him. It was spicy, with a twinge of sweetness. The spices were mixed to perfection and the aroma that wafted through the room was mouth watering. They ate in silence, their mouths too full to make conversation. After they were finished Shuhei signed contentedly and patted his belly.

"Ahhh. I'm ready to sleep," yawned Rangiku, stretching her limbs looking very much like a cat.

" I think I'll use Urahara's training room downstairs for a bit," said Renji.

" You're going to train now? At this hour?" asked Shuhei.

"Yup. I'm well rested now, and I won't be able to sleep anyway since I just woke up an hour ago." After helping clear the tables, Renji went to speak to Urahara who was in his room tinkering away on a strange looking device. Renji knocked on his door lightly, and entered when Urahara told him to come in.

"I was wondering if I could use your training room downstairs?" asked Renji politely. "I'm well rested and well fed so I'd like to spend some time training. Thank you for the meal. It was delicious."

Urahara looked at Renji a little surprised. "You're a polite young man, despite your appearance," said Urahara smiling slightly. Renji scratched his head and looked away a little embarrassed.

"Yes, you can use the training room. Rangiku and Shuhei are welcome to join you if they'd like."

"Thank you," said Renji. The training ground underneath Urahara's shop was very much similar to the training ground in soul society. Bidding him goodnight Urahara went upstairs, leaving Renji alone in the vast secret space.

After a rigorous two hours, Renji was panting heavily, his shihakusho drenched with sweat. Wiping his forehead with the sleeves of his shihakusho Renji went to the kitchen to grab a glass of water. He would have liked to strip out of his uniform and sleep naked but that wasn't an option with Rangiku sleeping in the same room. Sliding the door very slowly as not to wake the others, Renji, tiptoed across the room, and slid under the covers. Sleep came much more easily that night, and this time he wasn't plagued with dreams of Byakuya's untouchable blades.

The next morning Renji was the last to wake up. He had an excellent night's sleep and was feeling invigorated. "Good morning," Renji greeted Rangiku and Shuhei cheerfully, as they finished their breakfast.

"We should be heading out soon," said Shuhei. Renji nodded in response. This morning's breakfast consisted of a bowl of rice, miso soup, some pieces of fish, and a rolled omelette. The breakfast was just as appetizing as last night's dinner, and Renji savoured every bite of the fluffy yellow omelette. Graciously thanking Urahara for his hospitality, the three vice captains headed into the morning sunshine to complete their mission.

"We shouldn't linger too long in the real world," said Renji in a serious tone. "It was bad enough that we lost one day,"

"That couldn't be helped," replied Rangiku. "There were no sightings of a Menos Grande, and we couldn't feel a strong spiritual pressure."

"I plan on searching until I find them," voiced Renji determinedly. A hard edge had taken a hold of his tone, as he clenched his jaw. Rangiku and Shuhei exchanged a concerned glance, but didn't say anything.

"Let's split up like we did yesterday. I think instead of just looking in Karakura, we should also investigate neighbouring towns and cities," Renji said authoritatively.

"That's a good idea," agreed Shuhei as Rangiku nodded in approval. Renji took charge assigning Shuhei the west end, while Rangiku was told to cover the southern parts, and Renji decided to search in the north and east. Any sightings were to be reported to one another immediately, so that appropriate action can be taken. Bidding the others goodbye Renji disappeared in a flurry of black and red. Using shunpo he sped away, his eyes darting left, and right, looking out for a massive figure in a hooded black cloak. The blood inside him was boiling, his battle instincts were kicking in, and Renji was itching for a fight with a Menos Grande. A vice captain of his caliber who had already mastered bankai should be able to defeat a Menos without much trouble. As he slowed down a little, the green blur of trees became sharp outlines, and Renji felt a crushing amount of spiritual pressure. He came to a complete stop and turned toward the direction of the massive force. Renji gazed at the sky, which was now filled with dark ominous clouds. The air was thick and heavy, and as a crack appeared in the sky, a white face, with a sharp protruding nose emerged. Renji's eyes widened as he watched the Menos wedging its way through the crack, squeezing its giant black body into the real world. Renji being terrible at kido, would have trouble communicating with Shuhei and Rangiku, so he suggested that they all carry cell phones. He quickly took out his phone and dialed Shuhei's number.

"Hello Shuhei," said Renji urgently. "Two Menos Grande just appeared in the northern outskirts of Karakura. Let Rangiku know too." Without waiting for Shuhei's reply he cut the line, and stared at the massive figures in front of him. Despite the Menos Grande's large and terrifying appearance, they were rather weak and can easily be defeated by a shinigami who was at the level of the Gotei 13. Renji smirked as he felt the heat of the battle boiling his blood. Renji who stood face to face with none other than Kuchiki Byakuya in battle, nearing losing his life, saw this as an easy challenge.

"Renji," came Rangiku's voice. "I got here as quickly as I could."

"I think you and Shuhei should fight one of the Menos Grande together, while I take on the other one"

"Alone?" asked Rangiku. "I don't think that's a good idea Renji."

"Don't worry about me. I plan on unleashing my bankai on that weak monster. It shouldn't be much of a problem."

A worried look flashed across Rangiku's face just as Shuhei joined them."Renji thinks you and I should take on one of the Menos Grande, while he takes on the other one alone."

"I'm sure Renji will be able to," voiced Shuhei confidently.

"Thanks," said Renji grinning. He turned his attention to the giant monster that began moving slowly in an eastwardly direction. Flashing the others a confident smiled Renji sped towards the Menos Grande.

"Let's do this Rangiku," said Shuhei fiercely.

"Growl Haineko," shouted Matsumoto. Her sword vanished into a blur of grey and the scattered ashes enveloped the Gillian in a deadly swirl. Using just the hilt of her sword she slashed at the air, causing the grey particles to form into a giant tornado.

"Shit Rangiku! Move out of the way!" shouted Shuhei. The giant robbed figure had opened its mouth, and through the wall of grey a red ball of light was forming. Rangiku and Shuhei leapt out of the way, as the Gillian shot out a massive blast of energy. The blast left a giant sphere of destruction where it landed with not a single blade of grass within its range.

"Damn it! Cero is dangerous," muttered Shuhei in disgust.

"We should try and restrict its movements and then attack," suggested Rangiku as Haineko returned to its original form.

"That wouldn't stop it from blasting out another Cero but let's try that," he replied. "Bakudou No.61 Rikujoukourou," shouted Shuhei. Six rods of light shot out and surrounded itself around the Gillian in a star like shape. The dimwitted beast struggled to place a giant pointed foot forward but its movements were restricted. Confused as to why it couldn't move the Gillian titled its head upward and fired a blast of Cero into the air. Rangiku aimed for the right, while Shuhei aimed for the left, as both vice captains sped towards the Menos Grande and brought their zanpakutou down with a powerful swing. Two giant gashes on either side of the Gillian were visible as the beast struggled to move.

"Let's try confusing it," said Rangiku. "Hadou No. 33 Soukatsui," shouted Rangiku, as electrifying blue light shot out , and attacked the Menos Grande. Moving its head to the source of the blue light that had attacked, it opened its mouth and as a giant red ball started form, Rangiku leapt out of the path of destruction

"Reap Kazeshini," Shuhei released the shikai form of his zanpakutou which consisted of two scythe blades, each attached to a sharp rod, that was connected to a long chain. His zanpakutou was perfect for long range fighting as it can be used to ensnare the opponent with its chain and strike a deadly blow with the scythe blades.

Hadou No. 31 Shakkahou," shouted Rangiku as a blast of red exploded in the Gillian's face. "Shuhei , now!" shouted Rangiku. Shuhei had perched himself on a nearby tree, and sprang from limb to limb, speeding towards the Menos Grande. Jumping off from a high limb he was almost face to face with the Menos. Before it could open its foul mouth to blast another deadly Cero, Shuhei swung one of his scythe blade, toward the Gilligan. A deep gash formed from the left eye of the Menos all the way to its right cheek. Rangiku appeared beside Shuhei, and both of them dashed towards the Menos. Shuhei swung his scythe once more causing another deep wound that tore off the Gillian's nose, and Rangiku finished the monster off by landing a powerful blow right down the middle of the Gillian's face. The Gillian opened its mouth, but instead of a Cero forming, a giant screech emerged, as the beast faded into the sky.

"That wasn't so bad," said Shuhei wiping his forehead with the back of his hand.

"Nice job, partner," said Rangiku.

Shuhei glanced at her and blushed slightly. "We're a good team," he said grinning widely.

"I wonder how Renji's doing," said Rangiku.

Meanwhile, Renji wasted no time in releasing his shikai as soon as he stood right in front of the Gillian. "Howl Zabimaru," he shouted. Renji's katana switched into its shikai form, and he threw all his weight into a powerful swing. It lashed out in a whip like motion speeding towards the Gillian's giant black body. The mindless beast opened its massive black mouth and howled in rage, as Renji's zanpakutou left a deep wound. Renji deftly pulled his zanpakutou back, and leapt to the right as the Gillian prepared to fire a Cero. Using shunpo Renji dashed behind the giant monster, and with another powerful swing brought down his zanpakutou once more on the Gillians body, just as the Gillian fired a Cero. The heat of the blast was so powerful that Renji was blinded for a few seconds. Too bad I didn't bring my sunglasses. Those would have been handy, he thought smirking. After shielding himself from the bright red glow of destruction Renji quickly, sped towards the front of the Gillian, as it placed a giant pointed white foot forward. I don't have time to be playing with these stupid creatures. It's time I end this. He spotted a nearby tree with a low branch, and used his powerful muscular arms to swing on the nearest branch. Once he had gotten his footing, he climbed on another branch that was hanging a little higher. The bark felt rough on his hands, and grazed his skin but Renji ignored the unpleasant feeling of the bark and kept climbing until he was on level with the Gillian's chest. Jumping down from the high limb Renji swung his powerful body forward, as his zanpakutou shot out once more. It raced towards the Menos Grande, and as it made contact with its massive black body, Renji, swung his arm downward, causing Zabimaru to leave a long diagonal wound. The Gillian opened its mouth and let out a long mournful wail, as it struggled to move forward, swaying as if there were a strong breeze that afternoon. Now is my chance, he thought.

"Bankai!" An enormous blast of red shot out of Renji's zanpakutou. A blast so powerful that it blew a ferocious wind, uprooting small trees and nearby rocks. Renji's shihakusho blew wildly, as the Gillian looked in on the confusion. "Hihou Zabimaru!" Renji roared. Renji's zanpakutou, took on the form of an enormous snake, its body constructed out of several segments with giant sharp protrusions. The head resembled a monstrous snake's skull covered with red fur, its yellow eyes gleaming with fury. Renji's right arm was covered in a dark pink fur, that enveloped the back of his neck, and extended to his left shoulder, where the skull of a baboon was visible. Renji who had been training religiously was a master at controlling Zabimaru. With the slightest of movements he was able to aim with incredible precision at the Gillian's elongated face. Arching his back, he gave a powerful swing upward, and Zabimaru opened its wide skeletal mouth howling as it took the Menos Grande head on, shooting outwards and up towards the Gillian's pale face. It was over the instant Zabimaru made contact. It smashed through the Gillian with incredible force, and the Gillian let out a painful wail as it dangerously swayed. Placing an unsteady foot forward it collapsed and slowly faded into the sky, screeching painfully. Renji smirked, the adrenaline was rushing though his body, coursing through his veins at full throttle. Just as he was about to sheathe his sword, he felt it, the suffocating force of a massive spiritual pressure. Renji's eyes widened as he turned toward the source of the force, and there he saw three more Gillian, their mouths open wide, red balls of destruction exploding. After that, it all happened in a blur. Renji was knocked out, and flew thirty feet into the air. Several thoughts and emotions were flashing through his mind, stumbling over one another. Astonishment, that he didn't notice the pressure, regret, for deciding to fight alone, and his captains hard, unforgiving face all flashed in Renji's mind as the ground rushed towards him. He heard Rangiku and Shuhei shouting at him, and then the sound of his bones crushing as his limbs smashed into a rock. Renji blacked out, and as the two vice captain came running forward, they saw Renji sprawled out, his bankai had vanished, and his crimson hair was not the only red that painted the jagged rocks and the surrounding green grass a deep blood red.

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