Chapter 1: Crossroads
"Taichou, Taichou! What are your orders?"
The desperate cries were accompanied by static as the ear piece was roughly tossed aside, succumbing to gravity as the device was crushed into pieces on the forest floor. The lone figure continued to flutter across the tree branches, disappearing and reappearing before it finally reached its destination. Brows furrowed at the scene that awaited the masked stranger in the open field, as a mixture of fear and anger coursed through her veins.
The whispered names were lost to the sound of birds chirping as blue light began to form around the ebony haired man's hand. On cue, the shout of "Rasengan" filled the air causing a swirl of blue to engulf the blond-haired male's hand. Green eyes widened in response as the two teammates stared each other down before a smirk graced the pale man's face which was mirrored by the wide grin that caused the whiskers to dance on the usually boisterous blonde's face.
"You are going to come home with me, teme."
In an instant, the two figures leapt at each other, as the onlooker watched the inevitable clash, time seemed to slow for her. Flashes of blood filled the female's vision as she instinctively flashed in-between the convergence of the two attacks. Blue and ebony eyes widened in response at the sight of the masked individual appearing before them. Unable to redirect their attack, blood splattered across their faces as their attacks hit the target, the impact causing the porcelain jaguar mask to shatter, revealing the identity of the individual.
Dull green eyes greeted the two males as strands of pale pink hair fluttered across ivory skin. Slowly the figure dropped to her knees on the ground, blood pooling from her sides and mouth, as the two onlookers watched in horror as their sole female teammate, collapsed in a pool of her blood.
Naruto's loud voice was laced with concern as he hurriedly tried to staunch the blood, but nothing seemed to work. Sasuke was unresponsive as he watched the scene before him. The shock of what he had done made him unable to move to assist his ex-teammate.
"Oi, Sakura. You can't die. Not when I finally found Sasuke. Come on, start healing yourself. Please...PLEASE!"
A gurgled cough was Naruto's only response as the usually vibrant green eyes grew duller. Tears began to swell in his sky-blue eyes, blurring his vision of his teammate, and the one he viewed as a sister.
"Sakura, please don't leave me. You can't die. You...you and Sasuke are supposed to get married and have a bunch of Uchiha babies and then...and then grow old and die together. So, come on Sakura... stop the blood already..."
A small smile formed on the woman's face as she felt an overwhelming sense of fatigue overcome her. The pain was already fading, her body was going numb. This was the end.
The voice that she had longed to hear for so many years was colored with disbelief, causing her smile to widen. It seemed the icy bastard did care. With a tremendous amount of effort, Sakura formed her response before allowing herself to succumb to the peace that death would grant her.
A deep baritone voice was calling her name. It sounded familiar and comforting. Slowly, she began to awaken, as she fought against the crust that had sealed her eyes shut. A pair of gold eyes filled her vision.
"You are awake."
Confusion marred her face as she took in the man before her. He was dressed in an elegant kimono that was dyed in a brilliant shade of red with a deep gold trim that mirrored his eyes. Vibrant locks of long red hair were being held loosely in a ponytail, draping the man's left shoulder. His expression was fierce and solemn, but it was betrayed by the merriment that was apparent in the man's eyes. Gently, he reached his hand out to the girl, waiting for her to rise from her resting place.
A sense of familiarity filled Sakura as she grasped the man's hand. She could feel the pulse of power coursing through his veins, but surprisingly, she did not fear it. Instead, something told her she could trust this man with her life.
"Who are you? It feels as if I have meet you before."
A small smile played on the man's lips as he faced the woman before him.
"You have not met me, but you have heard my voice."
Pale pink eyebrows rose in surprise as she tried to conjure up an instance where she would've heard him. Different memories crowded her as she recalled time and time again, a voice guiding her and assisting her in crucial moments during her missions and the silent nights she allowed herself to fall apart. Green eyes widened in response as she realized who he was.
"It's you...you were always there with me. That voice in my head that helped guide me when I was alone and out on those S-class missions."
A dark red brow arched in response to the last part of her statement.
"Yes, as I recall you were more than willing to take all of those suicidal missions." The disapproval was evident in his tone but it only caused Sakura to stare defiantly at him.
"I had my reasons."
"I know, after all, I am a part of you."
"I am a part of your soul, and also the spirit of your sword which is called a zanpakutō."
"I don't have a sword and how is it that you are part of my soul?"
The male sighed before gesturing for Sakura to sit. Following his lead, Sakura awaited the man to continue with his explanation.
"You do have a sword, you just have not seen your true sword, yet. After all those years training in ANBU and becoming one of the most notorious for your abilities in handling a katana, you are more than capable of wielding me. Regarding your latter question, you can say I am a reflection of your soul. I have been with you throughout your life, but I haven't been able to reveal myself until now."
"Because you are dead."
Instantly, Sakura was flooded with images of what had occurred moments ago. Anger immediately filled her as well as disappointment. She had spent her life training to become the best ninja possible in order to walk beside her comrades and protect them, yet she was always in their shadows, never able to be on their level. All of those years of harsh training fell apart the moment she had seen those two again. A bitter smile curved her lips as she realized the irony of her situation, the ones she had desperately trained to protect were responsible for her death. With a shake of her head, Sakura met the man's golden gaze.
"Yes, I am dead, but that doesn't explain much."
The man had felt the wave of anger from the girl and was pleased to see her pull herself together.
"Only shinigami are able to have a zanpakutō. Although you are not technically a shinigami yet, you have trained and wielded a sword for over ten years, which allows me to finally converse with you."
She recalled the ten difficult years she had trained to perfect her technique and sword play. She was proud to say she was the best, and at the age of 25, was considered the most skilled with a sword out of the ANBU operatives.
"If I am not a shinigami, why choose to reveal yourself to me?"
The man observed the female before him before formulating his response.
"The reasoning behind that is because I am here to give you a choice: allow yourself to succumb to your unfortunate end or train and become a shinigami to fulfill your destiny. Your decision will determine whether or not we shall continue with this conversation."
Sakura was silent as she pondered the options the man gave her. Allow herself to rest or become a shinigami? After years of dancing with death and watching her comrades fall, death would've been welcomed, but this destiny...what was it? She had always believed it was her duty to protect her comrades but was perishing at the hands of her comrades her inevitable fate or was there something more?
A smirk formed on the man's face as he could see the gears spinning in her head. He already had an inkling of what she would decide, but it was best for her to come to that decision on her own accord. Still, it wouldn't hurt to nudge her in the correct decision. After all, it had been years since he had found a master he was compatible with.
"Sakura, this could be the chance for you to finally demonstrate your own capabilities and step out of the shadows of your former teammates. Why pass up this opportunity to be reborn and rediscover your own potential?"
This seemed to strike a chord with her as an unnamable emotion flitted through her emerald eyes. Resolving herself, she poised her question which marked her decision, "How do I become a shinigami?"
With that statement, a full-blown grin appeared on the man's face.
"He will be coming for you soon and you will have your answers then. Until then, I want you to memorize this name, Fenikkusu."
"Fenikkusu...that is your name."
She is intelligent as well, this would make things a lot more interesting.
"Yes, I am your zanpakutō and I promise we will converse again and begin to train. Now, take in your surroundings, this is your inner world and the area we will be able to meet face to face. Look familiar?"
With a quick swipe of the area, Sakura could already tell where she was. Training ground 3, where everything had started for her. A fitting choice.
"How do I access this area?"
She nodded in response, it seemed simple enough.
"Good, now awaken. The shinigami is approaching and remember, Fenikkusu. Got it memorized?"
Fenikkusu smirked one last time before he began to fade along with the familiar setting of training ground 3. Soon Sakura was left to observe her body being cradled by Naruto with a silent Sasuke observing. Noting the amount of blood surrounding her body, she quickly looked down at her own appearance and groaned at what she saw. Her standard ANBU uniform had two large tatters on each side and was stained with her dried blood. Muttering a curse, she ran her gloved fingers through her hair as she awaited the shinigami.
"What is taking this person so long?"
As if on cue, Sakura felt a strong spiritual aura approaching her. Quickly she turned and was surprised to see a tall, beautiful man watching her. His long black hair was being held back by clips and he was dressed in black garbs accompanied by a white haori. Arching a pink eyebrow, Sakura walked towards him.
No response from the man which only served to rile her temper. His attitude and actions immediately reminded her of Sasuke. Mentally groaning at the prospect of having to deal with another unresponsive and stoic male, she gently began rubbing her temples.
"Are you the shinigami or what?"
An inky black eyebrow lifted in response. For someone who had just died, she was quite calm about the entire ordeal. Silently, Byakuya observed the female before him. His eyes took in the long wisps of pale pink hair that was escaping the female's bun, which served to frame her heart shaped face. Bright green eyes were currently shut as the girl continued to massage her temples, but this did not dissuade him from taking in the small pert nose that was set over a pair of full lips that matched the shade of her hair. She was dressed in some sort of skin tight uniform that accentuated her curves and ample bosom. Judging from the weapons that were strategically placed, she was a fighter of some sort. All in all she was relatively attractive and he could tell she would be a hit with the males in soul society. Mentally sighing at the prospect of another Rangiku or worse Yachiru, Byakuya prepared to take care of the soul before returning to his estate.
"How frustrating, I've died, been tasked to become a shinigami and I am currently stuck with another Sasuke."
Hearing her mutter caused Byakuya to temporarily halt his advance. His eyes narrowed in response as he heard the comparison to this unknown Sasuke, but the statement of her being tasked with becoming a shinigami intrigued him. Humans did not know about shinigami, so how is it that she knew?
"What do you mean 'tasked with becoming a shinigami'?"
Green eyes opened and clashed with grey eyes. Crossing her arms under her chest, a single pink eyebrow rose in response to the question.
Byakuya narrowed his eyes at the girl's tone. It was evident that sarcasm was dripping from her response.
"I will not repeat myself."
"I will not answer."
Irritation filled Byakuya, but he maintained his stoic mask. Deciding he had wasted enough time, he quickly approached her before using the hilt of his sword to send her off. A look of surprise and irritation appeared on the girl's face before she disappeared. Satisfied that his task was complete, Byakuya quickly disappeared, leaving behind all thoughts of the pink haired woman in his wake.