|A Protector's Pride
Author: NeoRyu777 PM
What if Ichigo had handled his Inner Hollow problem like he had everything else thrown his way? Instead of running from it, he faced it head-on? Rated M for future graphic scenes.Rated: Fiction M - English - Ichigo K. - Chapters: 60 - Words: 414,390 - Reviews: 3,542 - Favs: 3,447 - Follows: 2,824 - Updated: 05-15-13 - Published: 04-18-09 - id: 5002293
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Hey everyone, NeoRyu777 here.
Before anyone else asks... NO! I am NOT abandoning my Harry Potter "World" series. There will be an update, and soon I hope. Still trying to get the chapter the way I like - been very busy, and trying to get this chapter is like pulling my own teeth without anaesthetic. Painful, long, tedious, and full of attempts and failures.
Anyway, I had some inspiration lately for a Bleach fic, and figured, "Hey, why not? Might provide some inspiration for the Harry Potter fic series." That said, let's begin.
This is a Bleach AU – Takes place after the Bounto Arc, and before the Vizard approach Ichigo. No Arrancar have appeared yet.
Note: I will be using the Japanese way of using names: Family Name first, then Given Name. Where applicable, I will be using honorifics as well.
For those who are unfamiliar with honorifics, they usually signify the relationship between the user and subject. For instance, Inoue Orihime calls Kurosaki Ichigo "Kurosaki-kun". The use of the family name name suggests Orihime doesn't feel privileged enough to use Ichigo's given name. However, the "-kun" on the end signified that she feels like she is close enough to consider him a very good friend.
A list of the more common honorifics, and their meanings
"-kun" – signifies close friendship or affection, typically used in regards to a boy
"-chan" – signifies close friendship or affection, typically used in regards to a girl – exception regarding use within family
"-san" – signifies a rather impersonal relationship, usually used as "Mr." or "Mrs."
"-sama" – signifies that the subject is higher on the "pecking order" or is quite simply better than the user of the phrase; used as a form of respect
"-nii" – "Brother"; can be combined with other honorifics
"-nee" – "Sister"; can be combined with other honorifics
"-tou-" – "Father"; can be combined with other honorifics
"-kaa-" – "Mother"; can be combined with other honorifics
-"jii" – "Old Man" or "Grandpa"
"-sensei" – "Teacher"
"-taicho" – "Captain"
"-fukutaicho" – "Lieutenant" or more literally, "Vice-Captain."
Using a family name by itself usually signifies dislike, or disrespect. Further, using a given name by itself is tantamount to saying that your relationship is very, very close. It's typically done only by engaged or married couples, and from parents to children.
Japanese/Special words I'll be using:
Shinigami – Death God, Soul Reaper
Reiatsu – Spiritual energy. Not to be confused with Reiki, which is a spiritual practice
Zanpakuto – Basically, the sword every Shinigami uses. It has a spirit that communicates with its user, and when evolved can use specialized attacks.
Kido – Shinigami magical arts, divided into Bakudo (restraining magic), Hado (destruction magic), and general Healing Kido. Each Kido, with the exception of Healing, is known by what type of Kido it is, followed by a number which determines its difficulty, and then its name. The higher the number it is, the more difficult it is. They all have a different incantation in order to cast. When someone is extremely skilled at a particular Kido, the incantation is unnecessary, but using it increases the Kido's power.
Shikai – "First Release"; Every Zanpukto has an initial release, Shikai, which is gained through a Shinigami learning the Zanpukto's name, and release phrase. For instance, Kuchiki Rukia's Shikai release is "Dance, Sode no Shiraiyuki!" In Shikai form, many Zanpuktos change form, and gain special abilities. Rukia's Shikai gives her "dances" which release ice-type attacks.
Bankai – "Great Release"; Every Zanpukto has a second release, Bankai. Bankai is achieved in stages. The first stage is manifestation of the Zanpukto spirit in the physical world. The second stage is passing the spirit's test. It is said that while Shikai involves working with the spirit, Bankai means dominion over the spirit, and gaining its full power. Often, a Shinigami's outfit will change to symbolize this in Bankai mode. For instance, when Kurosaki Ichigo uses Bankai, his Shinigami robes transform into Zangetsu's clothes. Also, Bankai is said to be easily ten times more powerful than Shikai.
Gigai – False body, used by Shinigami to pose as regular humans for missions in the human world.
Hollow – A dead soul that has degenerated, turning into a monster. In the process, it loses its heart, and instead has a hole somewhere on its body, typically its chest, though it is known to have appeared elsewhere. It also has a mask, used to disguise itself from the world. The mask is a Hollow's weak point.
Menos – Based in Spanish, meaning "Minus" – a reference to souls that have not degenerated, known as "Plus" souls – After a Hollow has eaten enough souls, it undergoes a transformation into a Menos. There are three different classes. Gillian is the weakest, but one is as tall as a skyscraper. Most Gillians have no sense of individuality. Gillians tend to eat each other. Once a Gillian that has retained its individuality has eaten enough of its own kind, it evolves into an Adjuchas. Once there, the Adjuchas must continue to eat other Hollows in order to maintain its form, else risk becoming a Gillian once more and never returning to Adjuchas level. After eating enough, an Adjuchas may evolve into the final class, a Vasto Lorde, the most powerful form of Hollow without undergoing the process of becoming an Arrancar. 10 Vasto Lorde working together are said to be able to destroy all of Soul Society, though thankfully they are rather reclusive.
Arrancar – Based in Spanish, meaning "To Tear"; A specialized form of Hollow that has taken off its mask and gained Shinigami-like powers. They too have a Zanpukto, which seals away the majority of their Hollow powers. In the process, the Arrancar now takes a human form.
Resurreccion – Based in Spanish, meaning "Resurrection"; the process by which an Arrancar activates its Zanpukto, similarly to Shikai. In Resurreccion, the Arrancar releases its power and regains the abilities he or she had as a normal Hollow.
Hueco Mundo – Based in Spanish, meaning "Empty/Hollow World"; the alternate world that Hollows live in. Fitting, as it is mostly composed of sand and Hollows.
Quincy – A specialized type of humans, who have developed a way to fight back against Hollows. Their primary weapon is the bow and arrow, each made of spiritual energy gathered from one's surroundings. Quincy hate Shinigami for killing off most of them in a war. The reason behind this war is due to the fact that when Quincy kill Hollows they are not purified and sent on to begin the cycle of reincarnation, but actually completely destroyed, never to return to the cycle. The Shinigami worried that the balance would be thrown off, and began the war.
Vizard – A Shinigami who has acquired Hollow-like powers. These powers are activated by putting the mask of their Hollow self on. In their mindscape, where the manifestation of a Shinigami's Zanpukto is, a Vizard has an Inner Hollow, which takes on the appearance of the Vizard, with the colors reversed and in black and white. The mask itself is weak and easily destroyed, despite the enormous power it gives the user. When it is destroyed, the Vizard is greatly weakened and must resort to Shinigami powers until capable of re-summoning the mask.
Gotei 13 – The 13 imperial squads of Shinigami. Each squad has its own specialty. For instance, Squad 11 specializes in Zanjutsu, the use of one's Zanpukto in sword-fighting. They look down on those who specialize in Kido. Squad 4 specializes in Healing Kido, but as there is little call for them outside of war, they are the go-to squad for general chores. However, there is one little-known squad: Squad Zero, unknown to anyone outside the Captain ranks, are made up entirely of people Captains who have grown even stronger. Their duty is to protect the King of Soul Society.
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach. Stop asking me! Also, any resemblance to other fictions, idea-wise, are not meant as an insult, or indeed done on purpose.
Chapter One: Discovery
"GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORNING ICHIGO!"
Eh? Morning already? Kurosaki Ichigo sat up quickly, already fully awake. It was just in time, as his father, Kurosaki Isshin, had busted in the door and had lunged at Ichigo.
Ichigo snagged his father's ankle before Isshin could hit him and threw him out the window. "DO YOU HAVE TO DO THIS EVERY MORNING?" Ichigo bellowed. At the silence, he huffed and quickly dressed. "Stupid school," he muttered. Why do I have to go to school again? Oh yeah, because it'd be nice to be able to return to a simple life if Soul Society ever gets off their collective asses and learns how to fix their own damn problems.
Ichigo sighed, his signature scowl firmly on his face as he exited the room and joined the rest of the family at the dinner table. Isshin was, of course, unharmed. Ichigo had always wondered about that. No matter what I do to him, he never has more than a bruise or a black eye. I wonder why? Ichigo shrugged. Maybe my reiatsu rubbed off on him too, like it did Chad and Inoue. Resistant to damage? Whatever.
"Ichi-nii, your breakfast is ready!" Yuzu, Ichigo's sister, chimed.
"Thanks, Yuzu." Ichigo took his toast from Yuzu, slung his backpack over one shoulder, and walked out the door.
Ichigo set off at a casual walk to school, letting his mind wander back to his previous thoughts. I wonder why reiatsu caused such strange changes in Chad and Inoue. I mean, Inoue has the power to reject reality and substitute her own, depending on how strongly she feels about it. And Chad's ability is more like a Hollow than a Shinigami… and I never used my Inner Hollow's power before I went to Soul Society.
Ichigo paused mid-step for a moment. Wait. Even old Hat-'n'-Clogs said that Chad's ability was more similar to a Hollow's than anything else. Why is Chad able to use his powers even in human form? A sudden strike of fear paralyzed him. Is… is my Inner Hollow able to take over, even if I don't turn into a Shinigami?
As if in response, Ichigo heard a faint maniacal laughter. He looked around and, to his despair, saw no one nearby. He scowled harder. So it's useless to hide in my human form. Damn it, I need to be able to fight without having to worry about that son of a bitch trying to take over. Well, I've solved all the rest of my life's problems with violence, maybe I can do the same with this. Ichigo looked up at where his feet had taken him – school was in sight.
He quickly weighed his choices. Go to school, don't go to school… what to do… His choice was made for him when Inoue appeared around the corner. "Hey, Kurosaki-kun! See you in class!"
Ichigo gave a half-smile. "Morning, Inoue!" Looks like I'm going to class.
As usual, class seemed so surreal. Ichigo had a hard time paying attention in class, given that he was always so busy fighting the random Hollows that popped up that he rarely had time to study. Every time there was a big fight, it always felt like class was years ago, even if it had only been a weekend.
If only they knew… Ichigo sighed. Almost none of them know the truth. I am almost constantly at war, called to duty by Soul Society. Why is Karakura town always targeted? And now, now I'm at war with my dark side. Effing perfect.
A roar sounded from the town, interrupting Ichigo's train of thought as he recognized it as a Hollow's cry. A quick glance at the rest of the class proved that only the ones with powers heard it. Definitely a Hollow. Ichigo glanced at Ishida Uryu, the Quincy who had lost his powers, who was staring at him. They were friends, but still referred to each other with their family names, as they were competitive rivals.
Get going, Ishida's expression said.
You gonna be ok?
Yeah. Just go already.
Alright. Ichigo nodded to himself. "I've gotta go use the bathroom. Back soon," Ichigo muttered as he stalked past the teacher out of the room.
Chad and Inoue sighed and glanced at each other, simultaneously deciding to stay behind and take notes so Ichigo wouldn't fall behind in class. Besides, Ichigo could handle any normal hollow easily. He'd be back in a minute or two.
Quickly hiding in a storage closet, Ichigo reached for his Shinigami badge, which would allow him to change into his Shinigami form, leaving his human body in the closet, dead to any who cared to examine it, until Ichigo was ready to re-enter it.
"What?" Ichigo gasped. He couldn't find his badge! "Fuck! I'll just have to beat it with my bare hands, or maybe try my hand at Kido… I mean, Rukia could do that at least in a gigai." Ichigo ran as quickly as he could, opening a window and leaping out of it, hitting the ground running.
To his shock, the Hollow was right outside the middle school Yuzu and Karin went to! The Hollow was about as large as an elephant, but instead of ears, it had six long tentacle-like things that waved as it moved. Good thing Karin's home sick. Well, at least no one's outside right now. As if Murphy himself was listening to his thoughts, he heard the bell ring for recess. You have got to shitting me. At least this can't get worse.
In direct defiance to Ichigo's thoughts, the Hollow's attention zeroed in on Yuzu, who had thankfully separated herself from the others behind a hill, out of sight so she could pick some flowers. "One of these days, I'm going to learn to stop tempting fate!" Ichigo muttered to himself as he sprinted towards his oblivious sister. Why did the Hollow have to target the sister who can't fight back against Hollows?! I mean, hell, Karin can take care of herself! "Yuzu! Run!"
"Ichi-nii?" Yuzu asked surprised.
Ichigo leaned down to lower his wind resistance before leaping up and attempting a powerful kick to the back of the Hollow's head. The Hollow, having heard Ichigo's warning to Yuzu, was prepared and snagged Ichigo's foot with one of his tentacles, throwing Ichigo to the ground in front of Yuzu.
Yuzu's eyes were wide with fear as she began to see the Hollow in all its menacing glory. She began trembling. Why can't I move? My legs… they won't move! I can't stop shaking! How can Ichi-nii fight this monster?
Ichigo, bloodied from the harsh landing on the ground, got to his feet unsteadily, glaring at the Hollow. "Leave, or I'll kick your ass so bad you'll wish you'd been eaten by the other Hollows in Heuco Mundo."
"Oh? A human, with such strong spiritual power! I think you'll do well as a main course, with that little girl as a nice desert." The Hollow licked its lips on the mask.
Ichigo's eyes narrowed and he raised an arm at the Hollow, holding it with the other. Bare hands isn't working. Time to try Kido. All else fails, I lure it away back to the house, so I can transform into a Shinigami … Kami I hope I do better at this. What was that incantation? Rukia always uses this thing, what was it? He took a deep breath. "Ye lord! Mask of flesh and bone! Flutter of wings, ye who bears the name of Man!" Damn it, can't remember the rest. Hope this works! "Hado 33: Soukatsui! (Blue Fire Crash Down!)"
A small blue, fiery orb appeared in front of his hand for an instant, and then fired forward at Hollow's mask, right where Ichigo had wanted. It struck the Hollow by surprise, and blew up. For a moment, Ichigo thought he'd won – but then the smoke cleared, and the Hollow looked more amused than anything. Its mask was hardly singed. "Such a weak spell. Even so, you must be a Shinigami! You will taste especially good in my stomach!"
Shit, shit, shit… Ichigo thought to himself in a mantra. Of all days for me to leave the damn badge at home! "That's right, I'm a Shinigami. So come get me! I'm all weak in this gigai, and I can't seem to get out of it! Should prove a challenge for me to kill you!" Ichigo bluffed.
"Nah, I think I'll torment you first by feeding on the girl, and you'll go next, knowing there was nothing you could have done to save her." The Hollow cackled, quickly reaching out with its tentacles and snagging Yuzu.
"Damn it! I need Zangetsu!" Ichigo muttered. He could almost feel the reassuring weight of the large, elegant cleaver on his back.
A moment later, Ichigo found himself in his inner world, where the sideways skyscrapers were. He groaned. "Now is NOT the time for this! My sister is in danger!"
"Is she really? Now that IS interesting…Don't worry though, no time really passes here if you don't want it to."
Ichigo spun and saw a bleached white form of himself grinning maniacally back at him. It looked especially creepy on Ichigo's face, as he very rarely smiled. "Who the hell are you, and where is old man Zangetsu?!"
"I am your inner Hollow, if you will. But Zangetsu and I, we're one and the same!" the Hollow cackled.
Ichigo looked at him and delivered deadpan, "For one thing, you don't look a thing like him. For another, now that I have an opportunity to ask, how the hell did you get here?"
"I came along at the same time as 'Old Man Zangetsu' did. Do you remember how you became a Shinigami again, after you lost your powers? Remember how every single time you were in mortal danger, a mask appeared and blocked?"
Ichigo frowned. "Yeah. I remember becoming a Shinigami again thanks to Hat-'n'-Clogs Urahara. I had a mask on my face at the time… and no matter how many times I threw it away, it kept reappearing and blocking fatal wounds. So that's your mask?"
"Our mask," the Hollow corrected gleefully, to Ichigo's consternation. "Now, Zangetsu and I are part of the same entity. We are your powers. Old man Zangetsu is your Shinigami powers, and I am your Hollow powers. Whoever is more powerful at the time, is in control. The more we are used, the stronger we become."
"So you're saying, since you were used more often back in Soul Society, you got more and more powerful, and then overthrew Zangetsu?"
"Correct, Ichigo." Ichigo stared as the Hollow's midsection seemed to morph, and the old man he was familiar with came out, standing beside the Hollow with his tattered coattails flapping in a non-existent wind.
"Zangetsu," Ichigo greeted with relief. "Good to see you. But wait, I thought the Hollow overthrew you?"
"Yes, he did. However, your attempt at Kido, being a Shinigami art, and not a Hollow one, has restored enough strength for me to be here for a short while." Zangetsu looked up, where dark clouds were forming. "It seems you are in turmoil…"
Ichigo nodded fervently. "My sister, Yuzu, and I are being attacked by a Hollow, and I am stuck in my human body."
"I see. However, you have grown strong enough to handle normal Hollows even in your human body. Why do you hesitate to use me?" Zangetsu asked calmly, as was his want.
"You could just let me take control," the Hollow leered.
"Not a chance. Zangetsu, what do you mean, hesitate to use you? Don't I need to be outside my human body, in my Shinigami form, to use you?"
"Ichigo, do you think that we hold no power when your soul is encased in another form?" Zangetsu asked, just as calmly as before. "You have sufficient power. Use it."
The Hollow began laughing. "Zangetsu, you must have gone senile! You really think this buffoon will use your power, and risk me coming out? He has no desire to fight, no desire to kill!"
"Shut the hell up!" Ichigo barked at the Hollow. "I may never be rid of you, but I don't have to put up with you! Keep it up, and I will beat you down so bad that you'll wish you'd never shown your pasty face here!"
Ichigo was surprised to see the Hollow settle down and simply smirk at him. "That's more like it, King. Now you're speaking my language. Go kill that Hollow, but don't forget, we WILL fight for control, and very soon."
With that, Ichigo suddenly found himself back where he started, in front of the Hollow that was about to eat his sister. "Zangetsu!" he cried, holding his hands in front of him and calling for his Zanpakuto.
Ichigo couldn't remember a time he was happier to see his partner in battle as his overly large sword appeared in his hands. Even so, it was unexpectedly heavy and almost made Ichigo fall in surprise from the weight. Damn, forgot that while my soul body could handle Zangetsu with one hand, my human body isn't as strong! Even so… I should have strength enough for this!
Ichigo hefted Zangetsu with both hands, reacquainting himself with its familiar weight, and lunged forward once more. A tentacle attempted to grab him, but Ichigo quickly sliced that off. He almost stumbled as the weight of Zangetsu pulled him in the direction he'd swung, but recovered immediately, taking advantage of the Hollow's pain to power his legs with more reiatsu.
With a cry of triumph, Ichigo leapt upwards and cut the Hollow straight through the mask. It let loose an unearthly scream, but then disintegrated, purified by the power of the Zanpukto. With the Hollow gone, Yuzu began falling to ground, screaming… only to be caught by Ichigo on the ground, Zangetsu standing upright next to him.
"You ok, Yuzu?" Ichigo asked softly.
"Ichi-nii!" Yuzu clutched onto her big brother's neck tightly, sobbing in relief. "That monster was gonna eat me!"
"Shhh, it's ok, you're safe now," Ichigo soothed, holding his sister. He let his Zanpakuto dissipate into spirit particles. Thanks for the assist, Zangetsu. He was only slightly disturbed by the cackle his inner Hollow let loose. I'll deal with you later, Ichigo thought savagely.
Looking forward to it, Ichigo. Give me your best shot, and we'll see who is the King, and who is the horse that supports him! The Hollow laughed once more, fading into the back of Ichigo's mind.
"Ichi-nii?" Yuzu asked quietly, feeling a sudden sense of hostility in the air. "Are there more nearby?"
"No, Yuzu. Just wondering why they targeted you of all people…" Speaking of, why DID they target Yuzu? I thought they went after people with significant amounts of spiritual energy… well, I suppose Yuzu DOES have some energy, as she could see the Hollow, and she's an easy target… On the other hand, it could be Aizen.
Ichigo shook his head absently. I can't go around thinking everything is Aizen's work. This is probably a coincidence. Probably. "C'mon, Yuzu. Let's go home." He picked her up and set her up on his shoulders so she was riding piggy-back. It was a treat he very rarely gave – only Yuzu was able to ride Ichigo piggy-back, and only then when Ichigo felt like it.
They walked in silence, which Ichigo appreciated. Yuzu was clutching his hair almost painfully, but Ichigo said nothing – he'd rather that than Yuzu start crying again.
Halfway there, Yuzu broke the silence. "Ichi-nii?"
Ichigo swiveled his eyes and neck as best he could to look up at her. "What for?"
"I froze and couldn't run, and then that big monster almost ate me!" Yuzu whispered, feeling very guilty.
Ichigo shook his head, gently so Yuzu wouldn't pull too hard on his hair. "Not your fault. Was that your first time actually seeing one?" He felt, more than heard, Yuzu's quiet affirmative. Ichigo smirked and looked back at the road. "Don't worry about it. I was scared the first time I saw one too."
"What? But you're so strong!" Yuzu protested.
"Back when I first saw one, I was just a normal guy. Well, as normal as you can be with our pop as a father figure," Ichigo joked lightly. To his relief, he heard Yuzu giggle. "I could sort of see it, and it was rampaging in the city, looking for a good soul to eat. I was with a ghost at the time, and we were both scared stiff for a minute, watching in horror as the Hollow got closer and closer. I snapped out of it and ran. You never got the chance."
"Thanks, Ichi-nii." She paused. "What did that Hollow mean, that you were a Shinigami?"
Well, shit. "Yuzu… You know those times that you don't know where I am? That I would just up and disappear?" He felt her nod, clutching him a little tighter. "Well, imagine that there are hundreds of dead people from our world, who live in another world, and they come back to this world to make sure those monsters go away. They're called Shinigami. With me so far?"
"Y-yes… Are they like zombies?"
Ichigo couldn't help it and let out a chuckle. "Zombies? No. They look just like you and me, but only special people can see them. Like you, me, and Karin. They're like super-powered ghosts."
"Oh. That makes me feel better," Yuzu admitted.
"Now imagine that one of those monsters attacked our family one day, and the Shinigami who came to save us got hurt. So she gave me her powers, and I left my body. I became one of them."
Yuzu gasped. "D-d-does this mean t-t-that, you're d-d-dead?"
Ichigo looked back up at her and tried his best at a reassuring smile. "Nope. Still alive. I can just leave my body sometimes and kick ass."
"So that sword…"
Ichigo nodded, looking back at the road. "Yeah, that was my Shinigami sword. His name is Zangetsu, and he hates it when it rains."
"What? Your sword's alive?"
"Yeah." Ichigo smirked. "He likes sitting on flagpoles." Wonder how many times he fell while practicing? Ichigo had to repress a snigger.
"Are all Shinigami swords like that?" Yuzu asked, curious as any girl her age would be.
"Alive? Sure. I have a friend, Abarai Renji, whose sword's name is Zabimaru."
"But how did you find out your sword's name?"
Ichigo lightly shrugged, not hard enough to make Yuzu uncomfortable. "The sword talks to us over time, and when we're ready, they tell us their names. As for me personally, it was after I lost my powers, and had to get them back to save Rukia."
By then, they had arrived at their home. Ichigo set Yuzu down, and walked with Yuzu inside. Feeling particularly brotherly, Ichigo checked up on Karin, who was fast asleep in bed, resting and trying to recover from her illness.
"I'm heading out," he informed Yuzu. "Gotta get back to school. See you later."
Yuzu already looked better, now that she was back in her kitchen. "Bye, Ichi-ni!"
Fifteen minutes later, Ichigo walked into the classroom, his classic scowl already back on his face. The teacher gave him an incredulous look. "What took so long?! You've been gone for over half an hour!"
Ichigo gave an annoyed look of his own back at her. I'm in no mood for this. "Family matter," he answered curtly.
"Why do I even bother?" the teacher asked rhetorically. "Go sit down, Ichigo."
"Whatever." Ichigo glanced at his empty desk before sitting down in his seat by the window. No more than three seconds later, there was a note on his desk. He glanced at the various friends in his class – they were all apparently studiously paying attention to the teacher. Ichigo allowed himself a very small smirk. Oh yeah, we're good.
He casually opened it up and read the contents.
This is unusual. S.S. never takes this long. –Q
Agreed. It sounded like a normal Hollow, so S.S. should have beaten it by now and returned. – G
I'm worried about him. I can't think of any reason he would take this long, unless it's a very powerful Hollow hiding its power. But then, S.S. would have gone higher, right? –R
Perhaps… But he has been reluctant to transform recently. Maybe he's trying to beat it as he is? –Q
Why would S.S. not transform? –G
Not sure. We should ask. –Q
I'm sure he'd tell us if something really bad was going on. –R
Unless it only involved him. Then he'd try to hide it. –Q
It's been half an hour, and he's still not back. But I can sense him. He's at his house. –R
Maybe he's decided to skip the rest of school today. –G
That makes no sense. S.S. always comes back. Oh wait, I can sense him moving back towards us. –Q
I'll pass him the note when he returns. –G
Ichigo nodded to himself. They had come up with different pennames, so just in case the note did get caught by the teacher, no one was revealed. Ichigo was S.S., short for Substitute Shinigami. Ishida as Q, short for Quincy. Chad was G, short for Giant. Inoue was R, short for Rejection. They had chosen those names as they described their powers. Ichigo and Ishida were obvious, but Chad's right arm, when transformed, he called El Brazo Dereche del Giante, or "The Right Arm of the Giant". Inoue's powers were all about rejecting reality, hence Rejection.
He jotted down a quick note: Meet up at Hat-'n'-Clogs' shop after school. –S.S. With that, he subtly passed it along to Chad, and quietly attended class.
Later, at Urahara Kisuke's Shop, they joined Urahara at the table. "So, tell us Kurosaki, what happened this morning?"
"Oh? Did something happen?" Urahara questioned.
"Ichigo was taking a long time dealing with a normal Hollow," Chad explained.
Ichigo sighed. "Look, it's stupid. I forgot my badge, so I couldn't become a Shinigami. What I wanted to talk about instead, was this." He stood up, summoning his power. "Zangetsu!" As before, Zangetsu appeared in his hands. After holding it in his hands for a short time, he let it dissipate into spirit particles and sat down again.
"K-K-K-Kurosaki!" Ishida stuttered.
"My, this is an interesting development…" Urahara murmured.
"Yeah, no kidding," Ichigo agreed. "I've developed the power to summon Zangetsu even while I'm in human form. Urahara, do you know anyone who can do the same?"
"Hmmmm, yes I do. You may have forgotten, Ichigo, but when you regained your Shinigami powers, it was I who forced you to learn Shikai. My cane has my Zanpakuto in it, remember? I am almost always in my gigai," Urahara replied with a large smile. "But there's also more. They're a group of Shinigami who were banished by Soul Society at the same time I was, one hundred years ago."
"Why were they banished, Urahara-san?" Inoue asked.
Urahara lost the smile on his face. "Aizen, in his research, forced them to undergo a Hollowification process, and then pinned the blame on me, hence why I was banished. Through my efforts, they remained Shinigami, but they now have Hollow powers. These people have remained in gigais for years in order to mask their reiatsu from Soul Society, or risk being executed. They have since learned how to use all their powers in human form."
"Shinigami with Hollow powers?!" Ichigo yelped, leaning forward. Chad, Ishida and Inoue had similar gaping expressions.
Urahara nodded. "Yes. They call themselves the Vizard."
Ichigo frowned deeper, pensively. I see. So if, no, when I manage to beat my Inner Hollow… I will have access to Hollow powers. Good. Let's see if I can get more details… "Urahara, when you say they have Hollow powers, do you mean all of them? Like using Cero, and whatever special abilities their particular Hollow has?"
"Hmmm… that would be a question to ask them, but yes, I would presume so from what they've told me," Urahara mused. "I do know that they became much, much stronger than they were before, and they were all Lieutenant and Captain-class Shinigami before being turned into Vizards."
"Whose side are they on?" Ishida asked bluntly. "Aizen's, for making them stronger? Or yours, for saving them from Soul Society?"
Urahara scratched his chin, looking up thoughtfully. "Hard to say," he demurred. "They are more on their own side than anything else."
"Would it be possible to recruit them?" Ichigo pushed. "Or at least get a truce in, so we know for sure they won't side with Aizen when he makes his move?"
Urahara shook his head negatively. "No. They have isolated themselves quite thoroughly – unless they want to be found, there is no way to talk to them. At least one of their number is exceedingly skilled at Kido and Bakudo, and can create very powerful barriers that make it impossible to enter, even if you knew where they were."
"How skilled?" Ichigo asked, curious.
"Incredibly so," Urahara said seriously. "There is an additional force outside the Gotei 13, known as the Kido Corps. They are made up of former Shinigami Academy students whose ability in Kido were unmatched. The Kido Corps teaches them higher and higher levels of Kido. If you remember, Tessai here –" Tessai, who was busy with his cleaning duties, nodded at them. "– used high-level Bakudo on you while you were regaining your Shinigami powers. He was their Captain, one hundred years ago. The one with the Vizards now was his Lieutenant, and capable of casting Level 90 spells without an incantation. I would imagine he's only gotten better in the one hundred years since he was banished for receiving Hollow powers."
Everyone sat back at that news, shocked. Level 90 Kido was incredibly difficult and draining with an incantation, and to be able to use them without was no small feat indeed.
"If they are so powerful," Chad murmured, "why have they stayed hidden? Why have they not tried revenge on Soul Society? Who could stop them?"
Surprisingly, Ichigo spoke up before Urahara could. "Because to a Shinigami, one hundred years isn't that long. Before Sandal-Hat here came up with the three-day Bankai training technique, it was supposed to take several years to achieve Bankai. Shinigami live for a long, long time unless killed prematurely. Just look at Rukia, and old man Yamamoto! Rukia is at least a century old, and she hasn't even achieved Bankai yet! And she looks our age! Yamamoto must be older than dirt!"
"He is," Urahara agreed, trying not to snicker at Ichigo's choice of words. "He founded the Shinigami Academy over two thousand years ago. Shinigami typically grow stronger very slowly, which is why Soul Society is so intrigued by Ichigo here."
"What do you mean?" Inoue inquired innocently.
Urahara smiled. "Ichigo's greatest power is his sheer capacity for growth. In the short time since he met Rukia, he's gained Shikai and Bankai, mastered the Flash Step from the Goddess of Flash, Yoruichi herself, and tied in a Zanjutsu duel to Kenpachi without his eye patch. He defeated Kuchiki Byakuya himself, the Captain of his squad. To be a Shinigami for less than two years, and yet be about Captain-level already, is both awe-inspiring and downright scary."
Ichigo scowled and looked away, willing himself not to blush at the glowing praises Urahara were giving him. "Let's get back on track. Now that there's no one else in the way, we should focus on what Aizen's planning. Urahara, do you know anything about it?"
"Very little, I'm afraid," Urahara replied with a frown. "I can only speculate. With the Hougyouku, Aizen has the ability to break down the barriers between Shinigami and Hollow. I would imagine he has used it to create powerful Arrancar, Hollows with Shinigami powers."
"Why wouldn't he give himself Hollow powers?" Ishida asked, pushing up his glasses as he worked out all the implications.
"Because with Hollowification, there is a risk of losing oneself to the Hollow within," Urahara answered gravely. "I don't know how the Vizard mastered the powers, and neither does Aizen to the best of my knowledge, so he wouldn't bother."
"Do we at least know what Aizen plans to do?" Ichigo followed up.
"Not for sure, but Soul Society has suspicions that he plans to manufacture a special Key that unlocks the dimension where the Royal Family lives."
"How would one go about doing that?" Chad questioned.
Urahara was silent for a moment. "The King's Key is manufactured by gathering 100,000 souls in half a spirit-mile of land that has an unusually high amount of spirit particles, and then sacrificing them all. I'm sure you all know where that is."
"Karakura town," Ichigo breathed, turning pale.
"Or possibly Soul Society," Ishida pointed out. "Provided that he can subdue the Shinigami who threaten him, he could use Soul Society, which is made up entirely of spirit particles."
"No man could take on all of Soul Society alone," Chad timber tone put in.
"He wouldn't have to, if he had an army of Arrancar," Inoue finished somberly. "Urahara-san, is there a way to destroy the Hougyouku?"
Urahara shook his head no. "I tried many times… my final solution was to hide it in Rukia's soul and have her use one of my special gigai to drain her power, and thusly the Hougyouku's, over time until it no longer existed. But as we all know, that failed when Aizen recovered it."
"But my powers, I could do it!" Inoue countered strongly. "I wouldn't be destroying it, but rejecting its very existence!" As if in response to her strengthened will about this matter, her hairpins – which held her powers – glowed for a moment.
"You could," Urahara admitted, "but first you'd have to get close to it, which is nigh-impossible at this point. Before you can do that, we need to retrieve it."
"Then we need to train," Chad mused quietly, but his voice echoed in the quiet room. "Train to beat them."
"No," Urahara denied. "Grow stronger, strong enough to protect Karakura town. You are this town's protectors. If you leave and go to Hueco Mundo to fight Aizen, nothing would stop Aizen from destroying Karakura town while you are gone. Let Soul Society handle Aizen."
Ichigo snorted. "Soul Society couldn't even stop him from leaving while he was there, on their territory! What makes you think Soul Society can stop Aizen on his own turf, protected by powerful Arrancar?"
"Because his Zanpukto has a major weakness," Urahara explained with a slight smile on his face.
"Oh?" Ishida leaned in. "What is it?"
"Aizen's Zanpukto grants him the power to put anyone under Hypnosis," Urahara began. "But true hypnosis requires one crucial element: trust. That is why he was so successful in his escape – everyone trusted him, no one thought him a villain until they had already been put under his Zanpukto's hypnosis. As no one in Soul Society trusts him anymore, and without Aizen repeatedly releasing his Zanpukto to replenish the hypnosis, Aizen's hold over them is breaking as time goes on, if it hasn't completely broken already."
"So what keeps Aizen from putting them under hypnosis when they attack?" Ichigo asked, slightly confused.
Urahara tipped his hat at him. "That's where it gets tricky. Without being the wielder, it is impossible to know his Zanpukto's true limits, but I would imagine the stronger the opponent's will and distrust, the more reiatsu it takes for Aizen to fool that opponent, especially when said opponent realizes he's under hypnosis. Therefore, multiple Captain-level opponents should theoretically be able to wear Aizen down, especially if they do not actually see Aizen's release, which is, from Aizen's own mouth, what triggers the hypnosis abilities. However, we do not know Aizen's Bankai, so care must be taken to kill him before he has a chance. Actually, Soifon would be an excellent match for him with her Shikai – she is fast, stealthy, and can kill in two stabs in the same place, regardless of Aizen's physical defense."
Ichigo relaxed. "Good. For once, sounds like Soul Society's on top of things. After having us handle Rukia's execution and the Bount, I was beginning to wonder if they were slipping."
Ishida looked pained. "Urahara-san… do you know of a way to restore my Quincy powers?"
"I'm afraid not. Your father might, however – he is a powerful Quincy himself, though he has apparently given them up so he can focus on his hospital," Urahara suggested.
Ishida frowned. "I'd rather not. Is there no chance my powers may return eventually?" Urahara shook his head negatively. "I see…I will need to do some research then…"
"What about Chad and me?" Inoue asked. "Do you have any ideas on how to train us?"
Urahara sighed. "Actually, Orihime-chan… I'd rather you keep a low profile. If Aizen catches wind of your true power, he will try to capture you and use you to aid him. You may train here if you wish, however. You and Chad can fight each other, and push each other higher. Chad, I would suggest you try to unlock your next level of power – given your current manifestation, I would imagine your left arm is next, but that is pure conjecture at this point."
Chad nodded mutely.
Ichigo silently came to a decision. He stood, walked over to still-cleaning Tessai, and bowed slightly, at about a 45-degree angle. "Tessai-san. I have learned Shikai and Bankai, my specialty is in Zanjutsu, and my Hakuda (hand-to-hand combat) is quite strong as well. However, I find myself deficient in one of the crucial arts of Shinigami, that of Kido. I have a limited control over my own reiatsu beyond what is needed for Flash Steps, and my Getsuga Tensho. I cannot even keep my reiatsu from leaking in large quantities in my everyday life, which makes stealth impossible for me," Ichigo admitted. "I realize you were the Captain of the Kido Corps. I may be out of line, but I am in need of a teacher. Will you teach me?" He bowed lower, in respect of the man.
Ishida's jaw dropped. Nor was his the only one – Chad and Inoue's mouths were also agape. "K-K-Kurosaki! What're you doing?!"
Ichigo turned his head to scowl at Ishida, noticing out of the corner of his eye that Tessai had stopped cleaning. "What's it look like, Ishida?! I have recognized a weakness of mine, and I'm trying to fix it before someone kills me! I might have Rukia beat in terms of Hakuda and Zanjutsu, but she could kick my ass incredibly easily! All she would have to do is a single, simple Bakudo 1: Sai! The time it'd take me to break out using sheer strength would be enough for her to trap me with one of her dances or hit me with a high-level Hado! What if another Shinigami goes rogue? What if Aizen, or one of his subordinates come by?!"
Ishida reddened. "I got that part, but you never bow to anyone!"
"Oh." Ichigo sighed. "Tessai-san was Captain of the Kido Corps. I have wrongly insulted this establishment before, and he kept from blasting me to smithereens, even though he could have quite easily as a response to my insulting his skills. He is strong, and would probably destroy me in a fight if we were both to go all-out. Therefore he is deserves my respect."
"What about me, Ichigo?" Urahara said, amused. "I am stronger than you, and even returned your Shinigami powers to you, and enabled your rescue of Rukia through my special Bankai training method. Why do you not respect me by that logic?"
Ichigo stopped bowing to Tessai and faced Urahara directly. "I do respect your abilities. I just don't respect you," Ichigo said bluntly. "You were willing to sacrifice one of my precious comrades, a person who trusted you to help her regain her powers through a normal gigai, in order to get rid of something you created. You didn't even ask her permission. You could have done it to yourself one hundred years ago and ended this problem before we were even born, sacrificing your own powers instead of Rukia's. You didn't even talk to Inoue and Rukia about it when Inoue gained her powers of rejection and could have solved the problem before Rukia was taken to be executed by Soul Society!" His voice rose as his arguments became vehement. But then Ichigo paused, reconsidering. "But you have gone out of your way to help when you didn't have to, and you did help me gain the power I needed. For that, you have my thanks. Perhaps in time, I will come to respect you."
Urahara tipped his hat at Ichigo. "I see. Perhaps in time," he acknowledged cheerfully.
Ichigo nodded and turned back towards Tessai, who was looking at him directly. Ichigo met his gaze readily. A few moments later, Tessai seemed to have found what he was looking for. "Kurosaki Ichigo," Tessai rumbled, "You have expressed a wish to become my student and learn Kido. Before I make my decision on whether to accept, I must know this: Are you willing to follow my orders, whatever they may be, without rebellion?"
Ichigo did not answer immediately. "So long as they do not cause unnecessary harm to my friends," he answered finally, "I will follow your orders."
"That is acceptable," Tessai boomed. "Your training shall begin here after school tomorrow."
Ichigo bowed, ignoring the growing cackle of the Hollow within him. "Thank you… Tessai-sensei."
Soon after, Ichigo and his friends left, going their separate ways. Inoue had offered to help Ishida research how to regain his Quincy powers, but Ishida had politely rejected her offer, telling Inoue that Ishida's father already disapproved, and he'd rather aggravate him by bringing a non-Quincy to see the private library. With that, everyone had split up to go home.
I gain all the powers you do, King. Even Kido! All you are doing is making the fight harder for yourself! Ichigo's Hollow reminded him shortly after the others were out of sight.
Then we shall fight for control tonight, Ichigo replied grimly as he reversed course back to Urahara's. Wait until we get to the secret underground training area so we are not disturbed. If I win, I stay the King, and you begin teaching me some of your Hollow powers. If you win, you become the King, and I don't try to fight back for at least a week. Agreed?
An interesting offer, King. I'll give you a counter-offer. If you win, you stay King and I teach you some of my powers. If I win, I become King and you'll lend your power along with mine to whatever I do. We'll fight once every two weeks for control.
I'll only agree to that if you go to Hueco Mundo for the duration that you're in control. Hollows grow stronger by eating other Hollows, right? Win-win situation for you. Maybe you'll become a Gillian or Adjuchas.
Ichigo could positively feel his Hollow self's grin. I like the way you think. But why stop at Adjuchas? I plan to be a Vasto Lorde! In any case, I like that bargain. Do we have an accord?
And there's chapter one. I've always wondered what would have happened if Ichigo had done what he normally does and get pissed off and kick his enemy's ass. In this case, it being his inner Hollow's ass.
I also felt that a better explanation of why and how Ichigo's inner Hollow overtook Zangetsu, so that's where my variation of the explanation came from.
And did anyone ever notice that Rukia - when she was trying to recover her powers after Ichigo took them all - was able to use a watered-down form of Kido despite being in a gigai? Tessai used a high-level Bakudo in his gigai when Ichigo was in the Shattered Shaft. The Vizards use their Zanpuktos in Ichigo's training with them, also in their gigais. Why did no one in the series comment on it? Seriously! Anyway, I see it as a potential training measure.
Let me repeat from earlier - I am NOT abandoning my Harry Potter "World" series. I have just had a long string of no inspiration for it, combined with being really busy from college and my job. I've done some work on it, but I'm not happy with how the latest chapter turned out. It will come! Just wait for it. In the meantime, read and review please!
NeoRyu777, signing off.