Orihime crashed through the dark purple curtains and nearly ripped them off their rings. Her hair was slightly curled and looked like smooth, gentle waves of orange as she clung enough of the drapery around her body to cover most of her naked figure. "I can't do this!"
Tatsuki raised an eyebrow at her. "Can't do what?"
"This," Orihime exclaimed, pressing the purple fabric to her eyes. "I just can't do this! I'm so nervous!" She shook her head violently, ripping the curtain even more.
"Hey, Orihime, careful!" Tatsuki shouted. "Those aren't our curtains you know!"
Orihime stopped thrashing her head and pressed the purple drapes closer to her body. "I just can't do this, Tatsuki! I just can't," she whispered, and disappeared behind the severely demolished curtains.
"What are you raving about?" Tatsuki sighed. She tugged on the strap of her black dress in frustration. The straps were too thin, the hem was too short, not as short as her uniform skirt but it still just barely covered her knees, and the black heels she was wearing were slicing into her feet and breaking her ankles. Why had she accepted to be Orihime's Maid of Honor again?
She stepped through the curtains, trying not to damage them any more than they already were, and stared in disbelief. Orihime was slumped in a chair, wearing only her strapless, lavender bra, and lavender panties, and holding her dress to her chest like a blanket. Tears were streaming down her cheeks as an occasional hiccup escaped her throat.
"What the hell are you doing, Orihime?" she scolded. "You've got to be ready in a half hour!"
Orihime rubbed her face in the silky, cream colored dress in her arms. "I can't do it," she hiccuped. "I...I just can't go through with this! I'm so nervous! What if I mess up? What if Ulquiorra decides that this was a bad idea and leaves? What if-"
Tatsuki slapped her across the face. "Snap out of it! Do you hear yourself? You're actually saying that you're doubting, not only Ulquiorra's feelings for you, but how you feel towards him! Pull yourself together!"
Orihime gently pressed her fingers to her burning cheek and stared at her friend in shock. "But-"
"No buts," Tatsuki drew her hand back, "if I hear so much as one more doubt come out of your mouth. I'll slap you so hard your lip will bleed. Got it?"
"Yes, ma'am," Orihime exclaimed. She sat up straight in her chair and immediately stopped crying.
Tatsuki nodded her head. "Good, now listen to me, Orihime. You love Ulquiorra, right?"
"Right," Orihime nodded.
"And you want to spend the rest of your life with him, right?"
"Then what makes you think that you can't go through with this?" Tatsuki asked irritably. "You love him, he loves you, and God knows what you two have or haven't done together. What's the problem?"
Orihime stared down at her lap. "I...I don't know. I'm just so nervous about the whole thing."
"Of course you're nervous," Tatsuki huffed. "Can you think of a single woman who wasn't nervous on her wedding day? If you say yes, I'll slap you again because you're lying." She pulled a chair up and sat down next to Orihime.
"It's okay to be nervous. You don't need to feel bad about that. Do you know how many times my mom's told me that she almost ended up being a runaway bride because she was so nervous? I could practically repeat the story word per word. It's okay to be nervous."
She patted Orihime on the shoulder. "Now, how about I go and get some ice so we can get the swelling in your cheek down before people think Ulquiorra beats you. I'll also go get Rukia so she can work on your make-up. We've got," she stared down at her watch and her eyes snapped open, "time."
Orihime watched her sprint through the curtains and heard the door slam. She stood up and slipped the dress on.
If only it was so much as nerves, she hadn't seen Ulquiorra in two days because Lied had suggested it. She had said that it would fuel the fire between them. It had fueled something alright, but not any romantic flame she had towards him. Instead it had done the exact opposite and intensified her anxiety.
She stood in front of the mirror and stared at herself in surprise. She actually looked good. The straps lightly wrapped over her shoulders like a comfortable, silky t-shirt, and the dress gently hugged her every curve as it trailed down her hourglass figure to her mid thigh, where it hung listlessly down past her ankles, the neatly embroidered pattern running along her bust and waist seemed to make her stomach appear smaller, but not make her chest appear larger than it already was, though that would have been quite a trick if it had, and the cream color accented her hair in a type of radiant glow. To say that she looked good would have been an insult.
Tatsuki and Rukia returned moments later and gasped.
"W-What is it?" Orihime exclaimed and turned around to look at herself at every angle. "Is something wrong with the dress? Do I honestly look bad in it? I thought it looked really nice when I bought it, but I never saw myself in it until now!"
Rukia wrapped her arms around her neck and squealed. "Orihime, you look absolutely gorgeous!" She held her out at arms length. "Oh, I almost feel bad that the dress is going to get ripped to shreds the minute you and Ulquiorra are alone."
Orihime blushed bright red. She hadn't even thought about what Ulquiorra might think of her once he saw her in this. He had never seen the dress; much less her wearing it.
"Do you really think he'll like it?" She asked in an embarrassed whisper.
"Like it? Honey, he's going to rip it to shreds the second you two are alone in the bedroom because he won't be able to get it off of you fast enough," Rukia said in a horrible southern accent.
Orihime stared at the floor in embarrassment and gently nibbled on her lip. Would Ulquiorra really be that that rough? They had never actually done it before, but that night before the play had shown her that he was gentler than he looked. She wondered if he really would act a little more untamed, and was slightly excited by the thought.
"Uh-oh," Tatsuki teased, "I wonder what Orihime's thinking about."
"I don't know," Rukia replied playfully. "But I think it might have something to do with a certain green eyed gentleman waiting for her in the next room."
Orihime stared wide eyed at her maid of honor and bride's maid and waved her hands frantically in front of her. "N-no! I wasn't thinking anything like that at all! I swear!"
"Relax, Orihime," Tatsuki laughed. "We're just teasing you a little bit. You don't have to get all defensive."
Rukia pushed Orihime back into the chair and dug her make-up kit out of her purse. "Alright, try to hold still. I'm not going to put on too much, but I think a little mascara, eyeliner, eyeshadow, and blush will just make all your facial features just pop!"
Tatsuki crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow. "You honestly think she needs blush? I don't even know what that is and I know damn well that that's the last thing she needs."
"Good point," Rukia admitted as she gently brushed Orihime's eyelashes with a small, black bristled toothpick. She had to physically hold her eyes open so she could get the black substance on her lashes. "Would you stop blinking?"
"I can't help it," Orihime cried. "You've got that thing way to close to my eye!"
Rukia finished with the mascara and started dusting the young bride's eyelids with a silvery powder. "I'll just skip the eyeliner, seeing as you probably won't hold still long enough for me to put it on you anyway. Keep your eyes closed."
Orihime did as she was instructed. The duster tickled her skin and she started to giggle.
"Orihime, hold still," Rukia snapped. "I'm almost done."
"Sorry, Rukia," Orihime apologized. "It just tickles."
Rukia finished applying the eyeshadow and jerked her out of the chair. "There, now take a look." She pushed her in front of the mirror and she gasped. The small amount of make-up, plus the natural blush, did make everything pop.
Tatsuki scanned her over from top to bottom. "Alright, you've got something old," she pulled a veil out from behind her, it was on a silver hair pick that had Orihime's light blue hairpins attached to it in the middle, and gently tucked it in her hair. "Something new," she pointed to the dress, "now all you need is something borrowed and you've got it made."
Orihime flipped the veil over the back of her head. "But what do I have that's blue?"
"Your hairpins count as something old and blue," Tatsuki sighed and slapped her upside the head.
"But I don't have anything that's borrowed," Orihime shrieked. "What am I supposed to do?"
"Here," Rukia dug into her purse and pulled out a silver necklace, "now you have something borrowed. Don't worry about giving it back. I was going to give it to you anyway."
Orihime took the thin, silver necklace and clipped it around her neck. It was beautiful. The design was simple, yet elegant, and didn't draw the eye away from the dress. If anything, it tied the entire outfit together.
"Rukia, thank you!" She flung her arms around her friend's neck and hugged her tightly. "But will it count as something borrowed if you're giving it to me anyway?"
"Sure it will," Rukia exclaimed. "I'm letting you borrow it for the wedding. After this is done, I'll simply say that it's yours to keep." She smiled awkwardly and rubbed the back of her head. "I probably shouldn't have said that I was going to give it to you though."
Orihime hugged her a second time before sitting down in the chair. "How much time do we have?"
Tatsuki glanced down at her watch. "Ten minutes, but," she went over to her gym bag and pulled out a small, white elastic band covered with lace, "we can't have you going down the isle without your garter on." She knelt down in front of Orihime and quickly slipped the small band around her upper thigh before she could protest.
"Exactly what is the point of wearing this thing?" Orihime asked, blushing slightly.
"The groom gets to take it off the bride during the reception," Rukia replied slyly. "Some guys take it off slowly with their hands, but others tend to pull it off with their teeth."
Orihime fainted slightly in her seat. The thought of Ulquiorra's lips being so close to her thigh like that had been too much.
"Nice going, Rukia," Tatsuki punched the short, black haired girl in the arm, "now we have to wake her up. We've got less then five minutes before the wedding starts!"
Orihime was barely conscious. Less then five minutes; in less then five minutes the wedding would be starting. In less then five minutes she would be walking down the isle with Mr. Taka by her side to commit herself to the one man she truly loved. She suddenly felt happy and nauseous at the same time.
* * *
Ulquiorra buttoned and unbuttoned his coat for the tenth time in three minutes and readjusted his already ruler strait cuffs. He could not decide whether or not to leave his jacket buttoned and his cufflinks always appeared crooked. If Uryu had no cut off his access to the mirror, he would be trying to figure out a way to fix his already picture perfect hair and be considering on brushing his teeth for the twentieth time in ten minutes.
He smelled his jacket and reached for one of the bottles of cologne sitting on the mirror less vanity. One spritz was all he needed. Anything more than that and he would smell like, but which one should he use? There were so many different kinds that Uryu and Chad had brought. Which one would Orihime prefer?
Uryu slipped into the room. " We've got five more minutes, Ulquiorra."
Ulquiorra jumped slightly at the sudden sound of another person's voice and leaned over the vanity. "Do not sneak up on me like that," he warned, grabbing another container of cologne and smelling the cap; too musky.
"Sorry," Uryu apologized with fake sincerity. He walked over to the vanity and watched a very shaken Ulquiorra sniff cap after cap of cologne. "What are you doing?"
"I am trying to decide which of these cursed things to use," Ulquiorra replied a little less calmly than he had wanted. His voice had shaken ever so slightly as he smelled the blue bottle's cap for the third time. How had he forgotten to bring his cologne from home? Orihime liked that one.
"Are you honestly so nervous about choosing the cologne Orihime would like?" Uryu sighed.
"No. I just wish to smell as good as a man should on the day of his wedding," Ulquiorra lied. He was surprised how well he had been able to make such a ridiculous lie believable.
He put the bottle down on the vanity and gripped the edges of the table. He had never been so nervous in his life. Even when he was younger and would dread the day where he inherited his father's kingdom, he was nowhere near as anxious as he was right now.
Uryu sighed and slipped a bottle of his most detestable cologne into his pocket. "You showered, right?"
"Of course," Ulquiorra replied.
"And you used some kind of soap to wash yourself, and shampoo to wash your hair?" Uryu interrogated.
"I may have been raised in a time where baths were scarce luxuries, but I do know how to cleanse myself," Ulquiorra said. There was a hint of malice in his voice as he stood up. He buttoned and unbuttoned his coat again.
"Did you put on deoderant after you dried yourself off?" Uryu continued.
Ulquiorra ripped off his black coat, revealing his cream colored vest, black tie, and bare arms, and lifted his hands high in the air. "Would you care to smell me? I am growing quite tired of these questions."
"Calm down," Uryu advised, motioning for Ulquiorra to lower his arms. "I was just making sure you used them. I might have something you could use that will make Orihime nearly faint because of how good it smells. The only problem is that it depends on whether or not you washed yourself thoroughly or not. If you didn't, it will have the reverse affect and make you smell horrible."
Ulquiorra slipped his coat back on and straightened his collar and cufflinks with a paranoid vigor. "Is that so?"
Uryu nodded. "Yes. If you wait here for just a second, I will go get it."
"Very well," Ulquiorra replied. He was more concerned with getting his collar fixed than the cologne.
Uryu left the room and sprinted into the restroom across the hall. He quickly uncapped the cologne bottle and dumped its contents down the sink; washing it thoroughly of the disgusting smell before filling it with cool water. He ran back into the room where Ulquiorra was back to worrying about whether or not to button his jacket and held up the blue bottle. "Here it is."
Ulquiorra stared at the bottle skeptically and reached for it.
"Unfortunately," Uryu began as he pulled the bottle out of his reach, "it is very potent for the first minute or so. You will have to hold your breath as I spray it on you or else you will most likely pass out."
"That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever," Ulquiorra stated bluntly.
"I suppose it doesn't," Uryu agreed. "But are you going to risk passing out and missing your own wedding? You wouldn't want Orihime to be waiting for you at the altar, would you?"
That was check mate. He had Ulquiorra and they both knew it.
Ulquiorra stared at the bottle hesitantly and sighed. "Alright," he held his breath, "proceed." Uryu quickly spritzed the water on his neck and he felt his skin prickle at the sudden coolness.
"Just hold your breath a little while longer," Uryu informed, and checked his watch. "Didn't you say that your 'best man' was going to be here soon?"
"Well, where is he?" Uryu held up his watch and tapped the glass. "It's almost time to start."
A fairly tall and sturdy man with long, white hair tied at the nape of his neck, wearing black pants, leather shoes, and a black, dress coat suddenly burst into the room and slammed the door behind him. He had midnight blue eyes, a slight, white stubble coating his chin, and looked like he had just been attacked by a hoard of raving, teenaged girls. He stood up, adjusting his coat, and walked over to the Uryu and the nearly blacked out Ulquiorra.
"I apologize for being late, Ulquiorra," he said in a fairly deep, melodic voice that sounded slightly familiar. "Actually, why am I apologizing? Do you have any idea what kind of hell I went through just trying to walk down the hall? I swear; young ladies these days. All they think about is sex and banging the first attractive man they see; even if the man they see is not even a male!"
Uryu's eyes nearly popped out of his head. "Lied?"
The man smiled at him. "Well, hello, Uryu, I am glad to see you here. However, I do insist that you call me Cane. People may get suspicious if you call me by my birth name."
Uryu's jaw hit the ground at the same time Ulquiorra passed out due to lack of oxygen.
Lied quickly knelt down by his side and slapped him repeatedly. "Ulquiorra, Ulquiorra, wake up!"
Ulquiorra quickly opened his eyes and punched Uryu square in the jaw. "That is for not telling me when it was safe to breathe again."
Lied raised an eyebrow. "I have a strange feeling that I do not want to know." She helped Ulquiorra to his feet and dusted off his shoulders. "Are you ready?"
"I suppose so," Ulquiorra replied, fixing his hair. "Do I look presentable?"
"Let me see," Lied took a step back and looked him up and down. "Just one thing," she buttoned his jacket up halfway and smiled, "there. Now Orihime will hardly be able to keep her hands off you."
Ulquiorra smiled slightly. "How much time do we have?"
Uryu snapped out of his daze and checked his watch. "We had better get outside. We've got one minute before you need to be at the altar."
Lied, Ulquiorra, and Uryu quickly made their way down the hall towards the doors leading outside. It was just getting dark outside and the sky was a deep bluish-black with a few stars illuminating the night along with the moon.
Chad joined the group at the door and stared at Lied. "Who's this guy?"
"Hey, Chad," Lied smiled and winked, "it's me! What do you think? I make a fairly hansom man, do I not?"
Chad's eyes snapped open in shock. "Lied? How did you turn yourself into a man, and, why?"
"I'm beginning to wonder why I'm a man myself," Lied said begrudgingly, glaring at Ulquiorra. "Orihime wanted to have Tatsuki, Rukia, Chizuru, and I in the wedding, but Ulquiorra only had you and Uryu on his side. So this man," she put her hand on Ulquiorra's shoulder and dug her nails into his flesh, "came to me and asked if there was any way for me to morph into a male. One thing led to another, and now I am his best man."
Chad and Uryu glanced back and forth between Ulquiorra and Lied. Who would have thought that Ulquiorra could ever talk someone into changing their gender just for a wedding?
"Yes, however, Orihime, Lied, and I are the only ones who knew about this up until now," Ulquiorra informed as they walked down the cement walkway to the glowing gazebo. "It would be very much appreciated if you two would call her Cane from now on and tried not to make any implications that she is indeed a woman."
"Uh, sure," Uryu agreed, "but is she going to be turning back into a girl sometime later tonight?"
Lied laughed a very feminine giggle. "What's wrong, Uryu? Did you wish to dance with me this evening?"
Uryu and Chad blushed slightly and looked towards the gazebo.
"Well, do not worry," Lied answered. "I plan on turning back into my feminine self once the reception dinner is over. I still have to sing for the newly weds' dance. And, also, I cannot stand how many girls have made a move on me. It's disgusting!"
Lied, Chad, and Uryu stood waited next to Tatsukik Rukia, and Chizuru at the designated area for the bride's maids and groom's men to begin walking down towards the altar. They all gave Ulquiorra a pat on the back in support and he walked down the isle alone. This was the most nerve racking moment of his life.
Orihime watched anxiously as Tatsuki and Lied, or Cane as it were, walk up the isle and disappear under the low hanging branches littered with white, cord lights with Uryu and Rukia, and Chizuru and Chad following close behind. She couldn't stop shaking.
"Are you alright, Orihime?" Mr. Taka asked. He was wearing a black tux with a gray vest on underneath. His wife had talked him into shaving before the wedding and he had definitely overdosed on the cologne.
"I'm fine," Orihime said shakily. Her teeth were chattering and her palms were sweaty.
Mr. Taka gently placed his warm hands on her shoulders. "Relax, you'll be fine."
Orihime calmed down somewhat. She placed her hand over his and took deep, soothing breaths. "I think I'm going to faint."
"If you're going to faint, then faint. I'm still going to see to it that you get down that isle," Mr. Taka laughed.
Orihime covered her mouth and giggled. The thought of Mr. Taka carrying her unconscious body to the alter was so silly. She doubted that he could even handle her weight.
"There's that smile I've been looking for," Mr. Taka pointed at her face and smiled. "How do you feel now?"
"Better," Orihime laughed slightly, "thank you."
"You're welcome," Mr. Taka replied. Music suddenly echoed through the still night and he held out his arm. "That's your cue."
Orihime took his arm and exhaled. This was it.
Mr. Taka led her down the well lit sidewalk like a show dog around a judging platform. She stared up at the twinkling lights hanging in the trees and draped over the eve of the gazebo and gasped in awe. The night was cool, the stars were shining brightly in the dark bluish-black sky, the moon was full, she could see the occasional bat swooping just out of range of the soft, white glow of the lights to catch the few bugs that were floating lazily around the hypnotizing light, and fireflies were coasting through the air as if to guide her down the isle, and the piano playing softly in the background was enough to ease her of her fears and anxieties. Thinking about how nervous she was just a few minutes ago was almost enough to make her laugh; how could she have been so worried on her wedding day?
They reached the entrance of the gazebo and Orihime's eyes widened slightly. Ulquiorra was standing at the end of the isle. His black hair seemed to repel the glow from the lights and surround him in a halo of heavenly light, his brilliant green eyes seemed to cut through the air as they tried to find her, and his suit was so crisp and clean that she could hardly believe that it had once been her brother's. He looked almost too perfect to be real. Could she be dreaming?
Lied elbowed Ulquiorra and nodded down the isle.
Ulquiorra gazed down the walkway and his breath caught in his throat. Orihime was walking towards him with Mr. Taka leading the way.
She looked beautiful. The cream colored dress cascaded over her hourglass figure and reflected the lights to make it shimmer with a silver glow, her orange-red hair fell neatly over her shoulders in wave after wave of flame, her face was slightly hidden behind her veil but he could still see the blush coloring her cheek and the silver eyeshadow illuminating her starry gray eyes. It was as if heaven had opened it's gates and allowed him to marry an angel.
There were tears in Mr. Taka's eyes as he gently placed Orihime's hands in Ulquiorra's and took a seat next to his wife. She was dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief and smiling as if she was watching her child's wedding.
Ulquiorra stared into Orihime's starlit eyes and was suddenly in a completely different universe. It was just the two of them. There was no one sitting in the seats watching them. Tatsuki, Rukia, and Chizuru were not bouncing eagerly behind his bride, and Lied, Uryu, and Chad were not standing behind him. It was just the two of them.
Someone nudged his ribs and he turned. Lied was trying to hold back a laugh as she held up Orihime's ring.
Ulquiorra blushed slightly as he took the small, silver band with a rose cut diamond set neatly on top and turned back towards Orihime. The pastor instructed him through the process of stating the traditional vows and slipped the ring on her finger.
Orihime stared down at her hands as she unconsciously stated her vows and placed Ulquiorra's old ring on his finger. Her mind had somehow skipped to a different time where Ulquiorra would have taken throne of an entire kingdom just by looking at the four-hundred year old, silver ring. It somehow seemed to sparkle with delight as it was slipped back on its masters finger once again.
"Miss Inoue," the pastor nearly yelled.
"Huh?" Orihime's head snapped up and she stared at the slightly plump man wearing a ceremonial robe. "What?"
"Do you take Ulquiorra as your husband?" the man asked irritably. He had been trying to get her attention for the past three minutes.
Orihime blushed bright red and stared up at Ulquiorra. There was a worried look in his eyes.
She smiled slightly and fought back the tears that were threatening to escape her eyes. "I do."
There was an audible exhale coming from, not only the guests, but from Tatsuki, Rukia, Chizuru, Lied, Uryu, Chad, the pastor, and even Ulquiorra. Seeing the bride staring down at her hands for three minutes straight without any reply wasn't something people thought was a good sign.
The pastor cleared his throat. "And do you, Ulquiorra, take Orihime to be your wife, in sickness and in health, for as long as you both shall live?"
Ulquiorra smiled down into Orihime's eyes. "I do."
"Then I now pronounce you husband and wife," the pastor closed his book. "You may kiss the bride."
Ulquiorra did not have to be told twice. He quickly lifted the veil obscuring his bride's beautiful face and kissed her passionately.
Everyone in the crowd erupted in applause. There was so much excitement in the air that no one noticed a man with shaggy, gray-black hair sitting in the far back on the groom's side stand up and slip out of the glow radiating from hanging lights. That is, no one except for one.
Lied watched the man disappear into the darkness looming just outside the ring of light and happiness. She knew every last person who was invited to the wedding by name and face, but this man did not register in her mind at all.
She leaned backwards just enough to whisper in Uryu's ear so no one else heard. "I will be right back."
Uryu raised an eyebrow. "Where are you going?"
"I have to check on something," she whispered in reply, and silently slipped out of the gazebo without anyone noticing.
The gray-black haired man walked hastily to the cover of the trees and held up his hand. A black and gray bat landed in his palm and he tied a rolled up piece of paper to it's foot. "Take this to the Lord."
The bat shrieked in reply and quickly flew out of his hand. It disappeared into the trees and screamed in agony before falling dead at the stranger's feet.
"What the hell?" the man cursed. He was suddenly stabbed in the shoulder and pinned to a tree. "God, dammit!"
The pain flowing from his shoulder was immense. Blood slowly oozed from his mouth and dripped from the dagger buried deep within his breast. He recognized the emblem engraved on the hilt and slowly looked up. There was a woman with snow white hair and glowing, midnight blue eyes glaring at him in disgust.
"Lied, it has been awhile," the man smiled. "I thought that man standing next to the captain looked familiar. How did he persuade you into turning into a gentleman?"
Lied twisted the dagger and the man grunted in agony. "Do not test me, Dublin. What business do you have here? Ulquiorra believes that you, along with the rest of his men, are dead. You have no reason to be here."
The man smirked and spat blood on her face. "I am here because my lord and master ordered me to come."
Lied's eyes widened a fraction of a centimeter. "Your lord and master ordered you to come?"
The man nodded.
"You lie," Lied dug the dagger deeper into the man's chest and bared her teeth at him. "I killed him centuries ago. There is no way he could still be alive."
"I speak the truth," the man whispered painfully. "He ordered that I come here and witness his most trusted soldier's wedding. Once the ceremony was complete, I was to send back a report stating what I have seen." He pulled an envelope out of his pocket and handed it to Lied.
"He also told me to give you this if I saw you," he explained. Lied took the letter and opened it; a small coin fell out of the envelope. "It would seem that he still has not gotten over your little betrayal four-hundred years ago. However, he is willing to forgive you and take you back under his wing."
Lied's eyes narrowed in fury as she read the message safely secured inside the envelope and dug the dagger deeper into the man's shoulder. "If he is still alive, then he has already seen everything he needed to see. It is most likely that he sent you here as a sacrificial messenger to die at my hand."
"That could be," the man laughed, "but it does not matter to me whether or not I was used as a sacrificial lamb being thrown into the lioness' den; for I am no longer immortal. I have no desire to grow old and brittle. I would rather die as a strong, healthy man who knows his place."
"You are no longer immortal?" Lied backed up half a step and retracted the dagger. "What do you mean by that? Your master cursed all of his men to an eternity of hell with no means of returning to their mortal selves."
The man slumped onto the ground at the base of the tree. "He is loosing his power," he said quickly. "But he is trying to restore himself to his former glory, and he is planning on using Ulquiorra and his new bride to do it."
Lied picked the man up and slammed him into the tree again. "Tell me how."
"I cannot," the man laughed. "For if I do, I will be killed."
"If you do not, you will be killed in the most gruesome way imaginable." Lied ran the dagger through the middle of his sternum. "Tell me how he is planning on regaining his power by using Ulquiorra and Orihime! Tell me now dammit!"
The man chuckled. "That is for him to know and for you to never find out. Besides, he may reconsider using them if you simply returned to him. If you simply returned your loyalty to him."
Lied twisted the dagger until she heard the bone in his chest crack and split in two. "My loyalty was never to him."
"Then he shall use whomever he pleases in order to regain his power," the man laughed hysterically. "You will never figure out his plan!"
Lied stared at the man with fleeting pity. "Very well," she ripped the dagger from the dead man's laughing chest, "then give him this message for me." She looked him straight in the eyes and brought the blade of her dagger to his throat.
"Mark my words. I will never return to you, and I will do everything in my power to protect these people. I refuse to let you use Ulquiorra as a pawn in your twisted game of chess ever again. And the next time we meet, I will see to it that you die for good." She slit the man's throat and dropped his limp body onto the ground, setting it ablaze in a white fire. "You can count on that."
A hooded figure leaned over a stone basin and smiled under the shadow of his cloak. "We shall see about that, my dear." He reached into the viscous material slowly swirling in the wide bowl and traced his finger along the frozen image of Lied's body. "We shall see."