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After the End

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Rangiku suppressed a groan as she shakily rose from whatever hard surface she was lying on, only to fall back down clutching at her head as it throbbed painfully.

Never in her entire lifetime did she ever remember being this hungover and given her drinking history that was saying something.

Hell, she couldn’t even remember anything! Must have been one hell of a party, such a shame she couldn’t recall any memories of it.

Rubbing at her temples, she frowned, opening her eyes and then instantly shuttering them, hissing as the bright sunlight assaulted her vision. She did catch a glimpse of what seemed to be a forest surrounding her.

Truth be told, that didn’t bother the tenth division luitenant in the least. She’d woken up in weirder places after drinking with Shuhei and Izuru.

Too lazy to deal with the nagging hangover or to even find a more comfortable spot to sleep on, she relaxed. The ground would do for now and as stated before she really wasn’t in the mood to go searching for the barracks in the state she was in.

Sighing contently, she made herself comfortable, fully intent on going back to sleep.. completely unaware of the incredulous turquoise eyes looking down at her sleepy form. Although the shrill cry of ‘MATSUMOTO!’ in her ear certainly fixed that.

“Captain!” The lieutenant exclaimed, sitting up in a quick sharp motion, the usual excuses already forming in her throat.. only to collide into said captain head on.

If her head felt like it was being bashed in by a sledgehammer before, now it felt as if it had just been run over by one of those human inventions, ‘a truck’ to be precise.

Caressing her forehead with a soft groan, she peered at her superior through half lidded eyes. The murderous glare sent her way had her quickly backing away as Toshiro slowly got to his feet to threateningly approach the woman, completely ignoring her nervous/apologetic babble, more focused on picturing his hands around her neck.

A firm hand on his shoulder stopped him in his tracks and he took a moment to collect himself before facing the only relatively sane person in the clearing.

Byakuyas emotionless slate gray gaze skimmed over the stewing tenth division captain and the relieved lieutenant, before the noble turned away, his task done.

Only now did Rangiku notice that they weren’t the only people in the clearing.

A mop of spiky orange hair was the first thing to catch her gaze and she glanced in that direction, only to see Ichigo sprawled over the ground, a dazed look plastered over his face. A frazzled looking Rukia sat next to him. They were speaking in hushed voices.

Next to them on a small boulder sat the scarred eleventh division captain, who was currently staring into the distance with a beyond bored expression on his face.

The last person of the group was, to her great shock, Uryuu. But what were they all doing here?

Her confusion must’ve shown on her face as she didn’t need to ask.

“Kisuke Urahara’s new inter dimensional senkaimon malfunctioned, leaving us currently stranded in Tigen shi.” Toshiro stayed calmly, already resigned to being stuck in a death trap of a dimension with the biggest fools of Soul Society, well with exception of Uryu, he disliked him for being a quincy.

Rangiku’s eyes widened almost comically, her head swiveling back and forth to scrutinize every possible angle of the surrounding forest, as if expecting to be attacked at any moment. And for good reason.

Tigen shi, otherwise known as ‘dimension death’ or ‘plague world’ was turning out to be the most dangerous place anyone could visit be it Shinigami, Human, Vizard or even Arrancar. Hell, even Aizen steered clear of it after a failed experiment, but knowing him, he was probably planning to return to it later on.

Only the strongest and most capable Shinigami were dispatched once every year in an effort to clear it up, but it was all in vain. For some the mission turned out to be their last. Those who did manage to survive often returned in terrible condition.

Many gave up hope on ever waking the dimension a safe place again. It’s destruction was a great blow to the cycle of rebirth, but thankfully not enough to completely collapse it.

The plague world had been doomed from the start. Even the insane twelfth division captain was forced to admit defeat when he found he had difficulty developing a cure and one of the infected humans went on a rampage at the camp they set up.

Captain Yamamoto had been reluctant to endanger anymore scientists, so he called the division back. Though, Rangiku suspected that Mayuri did manage to smuggle a sample of the virus back to his lab.

The lieutenant could already hear the chilling shrieks of hollows in the distance and reflexively reached for Haineko.. only to find that her zanpakuto was missing from its sheath. Alarmed, she looked around, even rising to stand on all fours in her frantic search for her weapon.

Hitsugaya withheld a sigh, rubbing the bridge of his nose at the embarrassing sight.

Why didn’t he transfer her again? Oh yeah, because she was ridiculously competent in both combat and leadership. How could he forget? If she hadn’t been, he was fairly certain that captain Kyouraku would be more than happy to take her in.

“You won’t find her, Matsumoto.” He spike as evenly as he possibly could, given the humiliating display before him. “The malfunction triggered a blast, destroying any supplies we were taking and subsequently trapping us in our gigais.” He gestured to their singed clothing. “We’re lucky to be alive.”

Rangiku could only stare. So, they were stranded in the most dangerous environment known to Soul Society with no supplies of any kind and stuck in their gigais?! Needless to say, she was wishing she really was drunk and this was all a dream.

Unfortunately for her, it wasn’t.

As soon as they all recovered from the blast, they gathered into a circle to plan their next actions.

Rangiku suppressed a laugh at Ichigo’s expression when he was told where they were, just barely managing to turn it into a snort for which she received a heated glare from the teen.

“So, you’re telling me that we’re stuck in a fucking zombie apocalypse with no food, no water, stuck in our gigais, with crazy armed survivors running about.. and just HOW THE HELL AREN’T YOU GUYS FREAKING OUT YET?!?” Ichigo nearly screamed, disturbing several birds in a nearby tree.

No one was particularly amused. Hitsugaya’s eye twitched, Uryuu sighed, adjusting his glasses, Byakuya stared in silent dismay. Only Kenpachi seemed to be mildly entertained by the reaction. And as for Rukia...

THWACK!

A foot connected with the teen’s jaw, sending him crashing to the ground with a pained groan.

“Shut up you idiot!” She hissed, glancing around to make sure that Ichigo’s panicked exclamation didn’t attract any unwanted attention.

Thankfully, it didn’t. Turning to the sixth division captain, she addressed him with a respectful bow of her head. “Brother, what are we to do now? With no supplies and no means of contacting Urahara..”

The Kuchiki Clan leader regarded her coolly. “I recommend we search for shelter,” he said at last,” eventually Kisuke Urahara will find a way to contact us and plan our extraction.”

“So, what? Yer suggestin’ that we just sit on our asses and wait?” Kenpachi grunted, obviously displeased. Byakuya visibly twitched at the crude language.

“And, I assume, that you have a better solution?” He asked, irritation evident in the cold stare he directed at the scarred man.

“Yea, I suggest we find a way to get ourselves out without ‘elp.. and kill some hollows while we’re at it.” He finished with a shark like grin, not so subtly glancing in the direction of the distant screams.

Captain Hitsugaya sighed for the hundredth time that day, dismayed with Zaraki’s bloodthirstiness. “And how do you propose we do that? We’re in our gigais that are designed to keep our reiatsu at low levels and everything we had to allow us to exit them was destroyed by the blast. We’re defenseless.”

Kenpachi didn’t reply, tilting his head in thought.

Uryuu remained silent and it was clear that he was thinking their situation over.

At last he stood up and walked over to a nearby tree, contemplating. “Are there any human survivors?” He asked, turning just slightly towards the group. Though he loathed being in the company of Soul Reapers, he knew that if he wanted to get back home it would be best to stay near them.

It was surprisingly Rangiku who answered him. “There are some. By our estimations at least ten to twenty percent of the overall population are still alive.”

“Crisis brings people together.” Uryuu mused aloud. “There must be settlements.” He concluded, looking back at the tree.

From his spot on the ground, Ichigo frowned. “Where’re you going with this?”

“If there are any settlements in this vicinity, we could stay there. Since we lack other means, we could use this tree to spot them, the branches are low, sturdy and numerous, should be an easy climb.”

Silence met his words.

“Well, I’m not going.” Rangiku started with a pout and crossed her arms. “My clothes are in awful condition as it is and I’m not about to tear them as well.”

“Neither I nor my sister will participate in such a degrading act.” Byakuya said coldly, Rukia sitting quietly at his side.

Hitsugaya merely gave a cold warning glare to show his refusal.

Nobody even thought of asking Kenpachi.

“Well, I suppose that leaves you, Ichigo.” Uryuu spike up, the smallest of smirks pulling at the corners of his lips.

“What?Why?” The teen protested, sitting up on the ground. “Why can’t you go Uryuu?”

“Because unlike you I spent my childhood learning rather than climbing trees and beating up bratty kids.” The quincy stated matter-of-factly, crossing his arms, eyes glinting in almost savage glee. “Off you go.”

Sputtering, Ichigo glanced around for support, but ultimately received none as everyone avoided his gaze.

Furious, he stalked over to the tree, hissing venomously to the smirking Quincy as he passed him. “I won’t forget this.”

Uryuu merely smirked wider and pointed to the tree, watching the disgruntled teen begin his ascent.

Muttering furiously to himself, Ichigo hoisted himself upwards, vowing to get revenge for his wounded pride. The ground below soon vanished under thick emerald branches as he climbed higher. A few minutes later he reached the top.

Hanging rather precariously on to the thin trunk, he looked around, seeing nothing but a sea of green in every direction.

Ichigo found himself cursing aloud. He’d been silently hoping there’d be a settlement nearby as he absolutely loathed camping, the memory of his last forest excursion with Goat-face still fresh in his mind.

A dark cloud caught his attention and he squinted, trying to make out what it was. Smoke.

The teen felt a surge of hope. The smoke was rather weak, so whatever fire it was, it was small. So it definetly couldn’t be a forest fire. Which meant a camp at the very least.

Noting the direction from which the smoke was coming from, he began his descent.

Hopping down onto the ground, he panted a little from the effort, gingerly rubbing his abused palms against each other. “There’s smoke northeast of here. Definetly not a forest fire.”

“Well, that settles it!” Rangiku chirped as she sprang to her feet. “Let’s get a move on! Chop chop!”

Humming happily, she began walking in the pointed direction completely unaware of the glares and exasperated looks directed at her back.