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West Rukongai, Kurimeshi District. Evening.

Sprawling and enormous, Rukongai composed the bulk of the Soul Society. However, so far away from the bright shine of its heart, the majestic Seireitei, it was no Paradise for sure. Innumerable poor Souls led their miserable lives there in their dilapidated huts, ignorant and ignored. Faceless masses of insignificant people, minuscule cogs of the immense machine that was existence. But they were not completely forgotten. Among the few people who possessed the power to influence the world, there were fewer still who nonetheless were willing to spare a thought for them. Acknowledge them, include them, whatever was their mysterious purpose.

"People of the Rukongai", spoke a mellifluous voice, fairly low but soft and feminine.

Indeed, there was a gathering in one of the ramshackle villages that fought with a thick forest for every scrap of land. Numerous Souls of various ages populated a central square of sorts. There was no podium nor stage, though. The speaker was walking among them. Despite their diminutive stature and an evident attempt not to distance themselves from the lowborn, the speaker stood out rather obviously. Clad in a regal onyx furisode with a flowery ornament in their asymmetrically cut hair, a curiously monochromatic person of white, grey, and black. Solely their cerise eyes possessed of a subdued internal glow contrasted with the colourlessness of their body and garments. Undeniably young, but of no clear heritage or even gender, the person addressed the people.

"What have you done to deserve this grim fate?", asked Muto, the gaze of their slightly narrowed, slanted eyes scanning every single commoner as they were passing them by. "Those who were sinful suffer eternal perdition in the bowels of Hell. Those who were consumed by despair travel the deserts of Hueco Mundo as vicious beasts. Then why you, innocent Souls, suffer an existence not far removed from their anguish? Why are you abandoned and ignored, left to rot in the slums?"

Some of the villagers were pensive. Some of them confused. Or melancholic. There were even some eyebrows furrowed, teeth bared, fists clenched in indignation.

"You do not deserve this", continued Muto as they gently tousled the hair of a boy, their touch as light as a feather. "You do not deserve to be treated like dirt. You do not deserve to be used as guinea pigs in the experiments of madmen. You do not deserve to be treated like cattle."

Muto was walking among them with a kind of measured grace that created the impression of them floating in the air, so swift was their movement. They looked at the people, established eye contact, nodded, smiled.

"You are people. You have got your own worldviews, dreams, and goals. Bonds to be cherished. You are given no power, but is it just? Is it fair? You are the citizen of Soul Society, an integral part of the cycle of existence. You are entitled to shape the world you live in."

The villagers, more and more of them, appeared to be convinced. There was chatter, nodding, raised fists, enthusiastic shouts in affirmation. The smile upon Muto's pale face became wider, although it was a sombre expression.

"But the world has to change first. You can do it. No, we can do it. Are you ready to shape the world... together?", there was a hint of some arcane tension in their tone.

The commoners were zealous. A blaze was kindled. Awoken from the morosity of idleness, they once again felt like they mattered. That they were people. So of course, they agreed, vehemently. They wanted to fulfil their dreams, to live exciting lives, to have a say. They wanted to rise against the arrogant nobility of the Seireitei, who valued them as much as the dirt beneath their bare feet. They wanted to act.

Meanwhile, Muto reached into the trailing sleeve of their elegant kimono. From within a special pocket they drew a kaiken. All the while they were observing the crowd attentively, with a faint smile, they unsheathed the dagger.

"Free of prejudice and persecution", they said, their soft voice somehow perfectly audible despite the surrounding clamour. "We shall shape a new, united world, a veritable Paradise... together."

With those words, they lifted the kaiken above their head, parted their thin lips, opened their mouth, and... dropped the dagger to swallow it whole, blade first.

There was a flash of light. A royal purple glimmer which illuminated the square and the people who had gathered there. Soon, the clamour was no more. The light subsided to reveal the place was empty. Only a single petite figure remained in its centre; Muto, the Harbinger of a New Era. Wistful, they sheathed their Zanpakutō, then put it inside its concealed compartment. The deed was done. Those people were truly worthy of witnessing the birth of a new, better world.

And they would certainly do so, through the eyes of Muto.

***

Seireitei, Sōkyoku Hill. Midnight.

The tall hill that was overlooking the magnificent city was easily seen from any location within its walls. It used to be a place of execution. The mighty guillotine of the Sōkyoku had been broken, and the adjacent Senzaikyū, a white palace for those who would meet their end there, was gone as well. Both were once fully and well-visible, for all to see, a constant, grim reminder that even in the heart of the supposed Paradise you were to live in fear. In fear that you violate a rule, some law, that you somehow provoke or enrage the tyrants who reigned supreme in this isolated place. In fear that they deem you dangerous, a threat to the order, but not just order, their idea of order. As established by the ancient conspiracy of the Noble Families, and overseen by the equally arrogant Central 46.

Be that as it may, both of those symbols of oppression were long gone, and the place became a great vantage point. The sky was clear, the city below illuminated by the soft shine of countless stars and a harvest moon. So quiet, so peaceful there, with barely a puff of wind gently tousling Muto's hair. They perched at the very edge of the hill. From there, they were gazing musingly at the beautiful landscape. For it was beautiful. Despite the man-shaped cancer consuming it from within, it was a marvellous world. And it deserved better no doubt. Muto took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. They lifted their head to look directly at the moon.

"One day", they whispered. "One day, I will cleanse this beautiful world of corruption. So that people will be able to just gaze upon the moon, without the eternal shadow of fear to disturb them."

The white glow of the moon was reflected in their cerise eyes. But there was more to that, a glint of absolute determination. Muto sighed. They turned around unhurriedly. They did not worry about being found out; nobody expected them to be there, not to mention their spiritual pressure was perfectly suppressed. However, they had so much to do. The brief moment of respite had to end. Out of the blue, a portal opened before them, like a jet black maw of some shadowy predator. They entered, and vanished without a trace.

There was so much to be done.

***

Hueco Mundo. Eternal night.

Landmarks and settlements were few and far between across the vast expanse of the white desert, although Hueco Mundo was not as featureless as some believed. There were indeed some villages scattered about, some of them ancient ruins, some of them still inhabited. Not just by ordinary Hollows, but some of the most evolved ones – Arrancar, in particular. And where any people dwelt, there was conflict.

There was a flash, the roar of explosion. A sharp staccato, and a beam of light. Volleys of Heilig Pfeil and Bala showered the area of one such village. The din of battle disturbed the usual ominous silence of the realm as multiple figures kept running around, jumping, and sliding in the air. Remnants of the Wandenreich engaged the natives, Quincy versus Arrancar. With the swift movements of Hirenkyaku the former attempted to maintain distance from the pursuing opponents, all the while they unleashed barrage after barrage of spiritual arrows. One Arrancar plummeted toward a dune, his body pierced by several Heilig Pfeil. However, his killer, in a moment of distraction, was immediately struck down when the blade of a battle axe sunk into his shoulder.

There was a lot of bad blood between the two factions, and always more to be shed. Recently, such conflicts had become significantly more frequent, gradually spiralling out of control. An impulsive act, or a rash decision, the deed of an individual was quick to snowball, the flame of enmity waiting to be rekindled with the spark of the slightest provocation.

"Shit! Don't let them close, or they'll tear us apart!", yelled one of the Quincy at his comrades as they sought cover behind the partially broken wall of a ruined house.

A few of them fired volleys of arrows at the approaching Arrancar to keep them at bay. But for how long? They had been separated from the main forces, virtually surrounded. The squad leader looked around, desperately thinking about a way to escape from that death-zone. And then, he noticed someone. A solitary figure watching them from a nearby dune. A diminutive, lithe figure clad in a dark purple uniform, backless and form-fitting. They looked so small, so fragile, but at the same time somehow... superior. Their legs spread slightly in a stable, combat ready stance, a dagger held tight in one hand, and that intense, scornful stare of the reddish eyes...

"Hey! Who are you!?", shouted one of the Quincy when they spotted the newcomer.

Then, the squad leader noticed it. The hair of the unidentified intruder was cut asymmetrically; medium-length and loose on the right, but trimmed extremely short on the left. And, on the left side, noticeable if unassuming, a short curved horn protruded from the newcomer's head.

"Don't you see the horn!? Attack!"

Assuming that they had been flanked, the Quincy reacted fast. Several of them leapt into the air and manoeuvred around the new opponent. From all sides, they unleashed a veritable shower of glowing arrows – there was no escape from such an onslaught. Nevertheless, the enemy did not even attempt to flee. Rather, they lifted their dagger. Time seemed to slow down. Focus. Blurry like some sort of mirage, the dagger sped to intercept and deflect every single projectile. One moment, the horned intruder was about to be consumed by a comprehensive barrage. Suddenly, it was the Quincy who formed a choir of blood-curdling screams when their own Heilig Pfeil returned to them, shredding their bodies instantly. Their leader watched on with eyes wide open as they all fell to the ground, white comets possessed of crimson tails. And the mysterious enemy merely stood there among the carnage, calm and unscathed.

"Fuuuck!"

There was no time to hesitate. The squad leader retaliated with a rapid-fire burst of arrows. However, this time the newcomer did not defend. Instead they charged at him, as if ice-skating in the air, meandered among the consecutive Heilig Pfeil with impressive grace. Side-step after side-step, fluid like a slithering snake. Too fast to react. The short blade penetrated the Quincy's chest in a two-handed thrust; the momentum of the manoeuvre slammed the latter against the wall and shattered it. Thus, within a few of seconds, the whole unit was slaughtered.

Muto swung their Zanpakutō to the side to remove blood from its blade. They looked at the body in front of them with eyes slightly narrowed, walked over it, took a further few steps. Soon, they lifted their head.

"Oi! What was that? I don't remember you, who are you?", someone inquired.

The group of Arrancar who had previously cornered the Quincy decided to investigate the unforeseen development. They all observed that unfamiliar figure, a horned fighter who had abruptly eliminated their enemies. But was that an Arrancar? What little Reiatsu they sensed was subdued, nondescript, and they did not recognise the face either.

"I am not one of you", replied Muto sternly. "And you will not be one of us."

The Arrancar were puzzled, to say the least. Be that as it may, they did not forget they were in the middle of a battle.

"Listen, we haven't got time for such bollocks! You're either with us or you're dead!"

Hostile, impulsive, blood-lusted. Such beings were not inclined to carefully consider the situation, even at the best of times. As such, it was hardly surprising that one of the Arrancar pounced at Muto with the booming static of Sonído. All of a sudden he was right in front of them, his falcata poised to cut the petite fighter in twain. But that did not come to pass. For the short blade of the kaiken stood in its way and did not even budge as it blocked the overhead strike. Undaunted, the attacker performed a sally, though Muto deflected it with a low guard. Slash, and slash, and another, fast, strong. Yet the diminutive fighter stood their ground, virtually unfazed. Their tiny Zanpakutō always there to block and parry, each motion measured, efficient, their footwork careful. Clang after clang, the enemy blade harmlessly slid from their own. The Arrancar's style was wild, ferocious. And full of openings. There it was, so Muto struck promptly. First, they ducked under a broad swing, exploited their small size to cut the opponent's abdomen open. Afterward, they swung their dagger in a rising slash across the chest, only to finish off by slitting the attacker's throat. All in one swift, Z-shaped move that cut through the Arrancar's Hierro like a hot knife through butter.

The duel ended as abruptly as it had begun. The attacker fell, Muto stood.

"What the..."

"Cero!"

One of the other Arrancar launched an orange beam of spiritual energy. But Muto was calm. They merely lifted their Zanpakutō in preparation; a symbolic gesture. A part of the dune, the body in front of them, and the one behind them, the collapsed wall, all were consumed by the destructive attack. However, Muto remained untouchable, having split the Cero in two with their spiritual pressure. An immovable rock that refused to be overcome by the river of death. The beam subsided. The Arrancar were shocked. There was something wrong with the ease the mysterious fighter slew and countered them. But that was not the end.

Muto lifted their free arm. From within the arm warmer they wore a small piece of jewellery emerged: an eight-pointed, golden symbolic sun attached to a bracelet. They recognised what it was, and their confusion was only aggravated because of that. For their horned opponent wielded a Zanpakutō and now summoned a Heilig Bogen, the unmistakable gleaming bow of a Quincy. Medium purple, its gently curved limbs adorned with plumes.

"Klavier."

Alarmed by the announcement they woke up from their momentary stupor. Too late. Numerous projectiles burst forth from the spirit weapon. However, they were no regular Heilig Pfeil, as each of them was unusually thick, and emitted the distinct sound of Bala. An intriguing amalgamation. And deadly, too, for the volley quickly consumed the whole group, their shouts of disbelief cut short and drowned by the ensuant rumble of multiple consecutive detonations.

Muto regarded the spectacle of devastation with a gloomy face expression. They did not derive pleasure from violence or death, but it was necessary. Sometimes, there was no other way. They climbed the slope of a tall dune, step after step, reached the peak and looked down at the village before them. Several Quincies and Arrancar were still there, no longer fighting. All of them gazed at the newcomer, clearly perplexed. They did not understand. There was a wave of spiritual pressure which swept across the battlefield; however, there was no earthquake, no discharges of electricity, no fierce wind. Just a faint, undulating aura of purple light. Its soft emanations felt partly like those of an Arrancar, Quincy, Soul, even Human, all at the same time, yet on the whole like none of them, truly.

"You were deemed unworthy", claimed Muto grimly, their voice easily audible in the whole area.

The grip on the Zanpakutō's hilt tightened. The spirit bow was lifted in preparation. Seeing that, the Arrancar and Quincies did the same, their conflict briefly forgotten as they faced an enigmatic enemy who relentlessly slaughtered members of both. Futile.

"Perish", demanded Muto.

End of Chapter
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