20 – Light of Heaven
Ichigo looked at a text from Keigo after he got up in the morning. "Ah, it's the fireworks festival tonight," he said aloud. "Keigo's asking if we want to get together for it."
"Fireworks festival? What's it celebrating?" Rukia asked, getting out of her closet.
"Hell if I know, but there's a lot of them all over Japan around this time of year. Just the summer mood I guess," said Ichigo. "You wanna go?"
"It would be nice to see it, but I don't mind either way. There are firework festivals in Soul Society too, but usually only when celebrating something specific," said Rukia. "When are you going to see the Vizards for training though?"
"I haven't made up my mind on whether to go to them at all. Like I told you, I've got my Hollow powers under control, I don't really need them this time around," Ichigo said. Rukia had still been skeptical of whether or not he was actually in control of his Inner Hollow. "And if I go with them, who's gonna train with you?"
"I think you should take their offer," said Rukia. "As for me, Sado-san and Orihime-chan actually asked me if I could train them."
"What? They did? What for?"
"The night of our battle against Nii-sama and Renji, there was too much spirit pressure saturating in the air near us, so there were some Hollows that we didn't notice, and Sado-san and Orihime-chan encountered them. They managed to unlock their own powers and fought off the Hollows. They missed our battle but they were able to sense it even if they don't know exactly what happened, and they want to be able to help us."
"And they don't need to know. I don't want to get them involved again if I can help it."
"Why are you so against it? Don't you want them to be able to defend themselves?" Rukia asked with a perplexed face.
"Inoue was kidnapped for her powers last time. She can develop the power to heal almost anything, or more accurately, to reject damage back to a previous undamaged state. It's so strong that it can even revive someone that had fatal injuries, but because of it, she was also targeted by Aizen," said Ichigo in a frustrated tone. "Someone so kind and harmless shouldn't have to suffer through that. But if she develops her power, then she'll become a target."
"I understand you don't want her to get hurt," said Rukia with a frown. "But do you think she'd prefer feeling helpless instead? Or worse, for her to think that you don't want her help?"
"That's just it! I don't want her help. I learned healing Kido, didn't I? So there's no need for her to risk herself," said Ichigo. "Don't tell me you already agreed to train them?"
"No, I haven't agreed yet. They aren't Shinigami, and I don't know how to develop their natural powers," said Rukia.
"Then just leave it alone," said Ichigo before going to do his morning routine.
O O O
"Why did we meet up so damn early? Aren't the fireworks happening in the evening?" Ichigo asked Keigo and Mizuiro when they arrived in the late afternoon. Mizuiro looked impressively tanned after his snorkeling trip, though all of them were sporting tans after the beach trip.
"Why are you guys wearing normal clothes?!" Keigo looked aghast at Ichigo and Rukia. "It's a festival! You're supposed to be wearing yukatas and kimonos!"
"Were we? Ichigo, why didn't you tell me?" Rukia asked with a fake pout.
"Most people don't! We're just here to watch the show," said Ichigo.
Chad arrived shortly after in an aloha shirt as usual.
"See, Chad's not wearing anything special either," said Ichigo.
"You guys don't understand how to get in the festival mood!" Keigo lamented with crocodile tears.
Just then, Isshin arrived with Yuzu and Karin in kimonos and crashed into Ichigo. After revealing that they were drunk due to an accident with swapped wine and juice earlier in the morning when they got up to get claim a spot on the river bank, Ichigo and Rukia were forced to chase after them as they charged off somewhere else.
Eventually, Ichigo carried the twins home with Isshin after telling Rukia to return to their friends for the festival, and he'd catch up with them again later.
With a loud sigh after getting the girls changed and tucked into bed, Ichigo went back towards the town.
He decided to take a shortcut going through the old train station instead of following along the river to get back to the festival.
On his way, he received another text, this time from Bambietta.
[Ichigo, you busy right now?]
[Got plans in the evening, but I guess I'm still free for a few hours.] –He texted back. The main fireworks weren't starting until pretty late in the evening.
[Can you come to the Houchou district, block 6. Something interesting here] –Bambietta
He looked at that last part with a bit of apprehension.
[Interesting as in paranormal?] –Ichigo
[(* ‿ *)] –Bambietta
"That better not be a hollow…!" Ichigo took off in a sprint while muttering curses.
O O O
Once he arrived at the block, Bambietta waved him over from the intersection. "Ichigo! Over here!"
He slowed down as he got near, breathing heavily, looking all around for signs of Hollows, but felt relief when he couldn't sense anything wrong.
"You didn't have to run, you know? There's no rush. Or are you just that excited at the thought of something paranormal happening?" Bambietta asked with an amused expression.
"I was just worried you might be in trouble," said Ichigo.
"That's sweet of you, but I told you, I can take of myself," said Bambietta, shaking her head. "Come on now, follow me! I want to show you something."
Ichigo followed her lead as they made their way to a half-finished construction site that didn't look like it had any work done on it recently.
"So what were you doing out here today? I hope you weren't looking for 'something interesting' because of what I said the other day," said Ichigo.
"I was actually trying to get to the fireworks festival, since Keigo invited me," said Bambietta.
"He did? But then why are you here? The festival's down by the river," said Ichigo.
"I'm not that familiar with the town yet, so I got lost on the way there," she said with a shrug. "Then I found this place."
She pointed to the unfinished building. "This place is haunted by a ghost."
Ichigo glanced at it, then noticed an old man standing at the edge of one of the higher floors where Bambietta was pointing. It was an actual ghost.
"You…can see spirits?" Ichigo asked, with a little surprise. He'd expected her to be at least somewhat spiritually aware, but he hadn't expected her to be able to be so confident about it. Even though there were several High Spec humans among his family and friends, only Karin had been able to see spirits naturally.
The rest of them were only able to get vague feelings, see invisible blurs, or hear sounds, up until recently when they'd been attacked multiple times by Hollows and their souls were forced to adapt.
Bambietta smirked. "Sure. I've been able to see ghosts all my life. Are you shocked to meet a real medium, Mr. I-Know-A-TV-Fraud?"
"H-hey, Kanonji's actually not a fake. He just does a terrible job with exorcisms. And I can see ghosts too, same as you," said Ichigo, feeling awkward about actually defending the TV star. "I'm just surprised to meet anyone else with the ability."
"Most real spiritual mediums probably wouldn't talk about it or advertise it openly," said Bambietta. "Not everyone is willing to believe in these things."
"Yeah you're probably right," said Ichigo, thinking of how the rest of the world would think them crazy. He got enough of that himself when he was younger and couldn't tell ghosts from living people, and tried to talk to them. He still couldn't tell sometimes if he didn't concentrate on sensing the difference.
"Let's go help that spirit pass on," said Bambietta.
He almost blurted out that he could just do a soul burial, but caught himself before revealing any Shinigami powers. Seeing spirits was one thing, but knowing about the other parts of the afterlife was something else. Even he hadn't found out for the first fifteen years of his life, and who knew how Bambietta would react to it? Besides, Shinigami and Hollows were also harder to see than regular spirits.
"How do you plan to do that?" asked Ichigo.
"Mmm, you'll see! Well, it might not work, but I'll do my best…" Bambietta trailed off before heading up the stairs.
O O O
"…I've dedicated my whole life to it yet my art has already been forgotten. After demolishing my studio, they didn't even have the decency to build something useful here! Bunch of idiotic, soulless, corporate fatcats, throwing money down the drain and getting nothing done after destroying my masterpieces!" The old man ranted, after Ichigo watched Bambietta persuade the spirit to explain his life story and why he was hanging around here.
It turned out that he was an painter who used to have a studio here before he died. He was once of some renown and had many wealthy patrons, but after one unfortunate commission done for a particularly ugly and unreasonable client who felt insulted by the way their portrait looked, he'd been targeted for sabotage and slander. It wasn't long before he struggled to make ends meet when rent started rising, but he was attached to the studio and didn't want to leave.
Then the same client arranged for a buyout the old building and created plans to demolish it, and the old artist couldn't do anything to stop it. With growing depression and bad eating habits, he fell sick, and eventually he died of a heart attack when he saw that people came to evict him and were carelessly destroying his artwork as they moved everything out. Without any heirs, all he could do was watch as a ghost while his property was disposed of.
"Nobody should have to die alone and forgotten. Even if nobody else will, we will remember you. Is there any of your art left that we could preserve?" asked Bambietta.
"Yeah, we'll try and get it back for you!" Ichigo added.
"The commissioned work I sold before should still be out there somewhere, but the landscapes I painted just to capture the beauty of the world in my own eyes…my true legacy…those are all gone," he said sadly. "I didn't get to finish my magnum opus before I fell sick. I wanted to paint a paradise combining all the most beautiful things I'd ever seen in my life, an imagination of what heaven might look like, but now it will never come to pass. Now…I'm just a ghost that can't even hold a brush, and heaven probably doesn't even exist if I'm stuck in this world like this," the old man said before sitting down in melancholy at the edge of the hollow building frame, looking out into the city.
Bambietta knelt down and put a hand on his shoulder. "I'm sure that heaven is just waiting for you, mister. For someone who poured his heart into his life's work, capturing the beauty of the Lord's creation, there's no way that the gates of heaven would be closed to you. Our Father in heaven sees all and knows all, and He shall reward you for your efforts. Don't think of yourself as being stuck here…this is simply a chance for you to fulfill your last wishes and finish your magnum opus," she said.
"But how? I can't touch anything, let alone hold a brush to paint," he said.
"I'm touching you right now, aren't I? As long as you have the will, you can do it," said Bambietta while squeezing his shoulder. "I promise."
The old man's eyes widened in surprise when he noticed Bambietta was exerting a tangible pressure on him.
"Stay here. We'll come back with supplies."
They were already in the shopping district, so it wasn't long before they returned.
Bambietta held a brush forward and seemingly concentrated with closed eyes for a moment, before handing to the painter.
The old man took it from her while trembling with emotion. "I…I can hold it!" He looked at the canvas and the paint. "But…it's been so long…I can hardly remember what I wanted to paint."
"Don't worry, take your time. As long as it takes. Just remember the love you had for your art. Love is patient, love is kind, and so long as you hold that love in your heart, you can create a miracle. Let the Spirit of the Father guide your hands, and bring the glory of heaven to earth," said Bambietta, the words charged with energy and power in a way that Ichigo shivered as though it was almost an incantation of sorts.
"Thank you…" said the old man. Behind him, a firework lit up the sky of the town, illuminating the dark unfinished building's concrete.
"Is it starting already? We should probably get going then," said Ichigo.
"Yeah, alright. I'll come back to visit, and when you're done, you can hand it to me, and I'll treasure it for as long as I live," said Bambietta.
Just as they turned to leave, the old painter called out again. "Wait! Would you do me one last favor?"
They turned again, waiting for him to elaborate.
"I have decided what my final painting will be. Rather than trying to combine the beauty of all things…young lady…would you model for me, in front of the town fireworks? To have the chance to hold a brush in my hands again…simply capturing this moment is enough. All you have to do is stand there for a little bit. I won't take long, I promise," he said. "I will finish this in a single night."
Bambietta turned to Ichigo with an unsaid question. He shrugged. "Your call. I've seen the fireworks plenty of times before so I'm in no rush to get back, and this isn't a bad view for it either."
"Okay then." Bambietta walked over to the edge and turned around. The old man instructed her to take a pose with holding one hand out in front of her palm up, and tucking one leg behind the other as if in motion. She was confused at the strange pose, but agreed anyways.
Ichigo watched in fascination as the old painter got to work.
The wizened artist moved like a man possessed, expertly maneuvering his tools across the canvas.
The time passed quickly while fireworks repeatedly lit up the sky behind Bambietta. The old man made not a single mistake, and a detailed portrait with a background soon emerged.
Ichigo got a close up of the whole painting process, from the first stroke all the way until the last.
"Wow…" An awe-filled murmur escaped his lips as he was enthralled by the incredible painting that came to life in mere hours. "U-unreal! This is definitely a masterpiece! I'm sure glad I came here tonight rather than just going straight to the fireworks."
The master painter stood up after putting down the brush. He bowed once to Bambietta, turned to Ichigo for another bow, and then turned back towards Bambietta.
"Thank you both for helping this old man fulfill his last wish. A true magnum opus. I can finally see it..." he said, looking up towards something seemingly just above Bambietta. "…to think I once sought to portray the beauty of heaven with mere things of this world…when the light of heaven shines with a beauty beyond mortal comprehension…only as a spirit could I have ever understood…"
Then his whole body glowed as he walked forward into something only he could see.
"It's calling to me, so gently…so wondrously…"
And he slowly faded away from the feet up with every step taken.
After a moment of silence, Ichigo spoke again with an awe-struce tone. "That was amazing, Bambietta! I never knew spirits could pass on like that."
To Ichigo, that had seemed so much better than Konso, which a lot of spirits were scared of as the big circle portal had them sink down in a creepy way. Everyone knew you were supposed to ascend to heaven, right? So when they got pulled down, a lot of the spirits Ichigo had sent along instinctively assumed they were going to some sort of hell and had to be assured that wasn't the case. He wondered if all those spirits had been right to be scared of being pulled down by Konso, because Soul Society, with Konpaku souls landing in Rukongai without any memories, based on what Rukia had told him, sure didn't sound very pleasant.
Bambietta smiled as she walked over. "Yes. When spirits are able to satisfy the regret tying them to this world, they can pass on peacefully. Most of the time, it's mixed with a fear of what comes after death. Nobody wants to die, after all. That's why it helps if they believe that there's a God watching over us, and a heaven to look forward to. Well, that's what I was taught anyways, but it's actually the first time I've tried doing this."
"A God and heaven, huh? That would be nice…" Ichigo said, while thinking of what actually awaited souls after death. There was a Hell, sure, but as for Heaven? Soul Society was nothing like a heaven, and the true nature of its 'God', the Soul King who held the worlds together, still gave him nightmares.
When Bambietta got to the completed canvas and turned around to appraise the painting, she froze in an expression of shock.
"Yeah, it's really beautiful, isn't it? You look incredible in it. I thought paintings like these were supposed to take days to finish, but that old painter sure was a master. Or maybe his hands really were guided by something beyond reason just now," said Ichigo with a smile, admiring the art.
After a while, Ichigo noticed that Bambietta was still frozen in shock, and a tear slid down her cheek, as if she hadn't even heard him say anything.
"…Why…how…did he paint this?" She murmured with a shocked expression, eyes glued to the title of the painting, written in large bolded words at the top.
The Angel of Flares, Guiding Beacon of God
"What's wrong?" Ichigo asked with concern. He didn't understand why Bambietta seemed unhappy about her portrait.
It showed her with wide wings of light and a halo like an angel, in a pose as if descending from heaven to guide the lost and take them up to heaven, with numerous exploding fireworks behind her over an evening city skyline. No matter how he looked at it, Ichigo thought it was nothing but flattering. Exalting, even.
"It's all wrong…! This can't be real…this must be…" Then Bambietta turned and ran without a second thought.
"Bambietta?!" Ichigo was surprised when Bambietta dashed away so suddenly, with a speed that seemed to defy human limits. Well, maybe he was exaggerating, but she was way too fast for a girl! She closed around the stairwell almost before Ichigo had reacted, and by the time he had ran over using his human speed, he couldn't see her anymore.
He ran down the stairs trying to follow her, but soon he couldn't hear the sounds of her steps anymore.
"What the heck?" He asked aloud, wondering if he should continue trying to follow. He decided to take out his phone to call her instead. The phone rang, and then the tone went dead, indicating that she'd hung up on him before answering.
"…" Ichigo scowled, then decided to resort to his spiritual powers. He concentrated, trying to find her signature.
"Damn…why is this so hard? It should be easy to find someone in this deserted place," he said.
He wandered around outside a bit, concentrating, then eventually felt something.
He traced it to another building that seemed abandoned, and he quietly made his way closer so as to avoid spooking her again if she was there.
It took a while for him to get to the top where the door to the roof was open.
He silently stepped out, and saw Bambietta kneeling at the edge of the roof top, talking to her self.
There was a moment of panic as he thought she might be trying to jump off, then he caught her words.
"…it's not real…just a dream…a nightmare…" She muttered softly while edging closer on her knees, looking down over the edge.
Ichigo tried to get closer, using spirit particles to mask his steps until he could grab her so that she would not suddenly try to jump.
"If I die, will I wake up? Will my wings come back so I can fly again…?"
'Is she crazy? Why does she think this is a dream?' Ichigo wondered, before she suddenly leaned forward even more.
O O O
A/N: Something odd is happening...
Emrys Akayuki: There's still a versatility advantage to being able to access different powers. Transforming does change the distribution of their expressed spirit pressure.
blarg7865: Maybe way down the line, I don't anticipate any Burn the Witch stuff yet. I feel like that side of things doesn't really reconcile with the world structure as we know it from the original series and would be difficult to integrate.
zubhanwc3: That's certainly another interpretation, but then if that was true, what proof is there that Auscwahlen hit Masaki at all? Unlike with Kanae, no still silver was discovered. All we have is a mere suspicion due to her losing a battle.
Dat-boi-waddup: Yes, that's exactly my argument. Aizen tested hybridization on other people, after hypothesizing about the power boost. But it turned out that there was no great boost from hybridization itself, merely new versatility, and Arrancar gained the ability to train to power up instead of consuming more Hollows. These things weren't useful to Aizen, so he didn't do it. As for the badge, there is that too, but in the anime it was also said that Ichigo had problems with his resolve and willingness to be stabbed by Zangetsu. I don't remember which episode. Anime isn't canon but it's still something to consider.
Antex-The Legendary Zoroark: They are two different forms of the same release. Last chapter described how they transition between each other. The cleaver is a "fake" release.
Zarathustra ubermensch: If by fused Tensa you mean the one that appeared with the Final Getsuga training? I have an explanation for that, though it shouldn't be that hard to guess.
DarthGhengis: Great to hear, hope I keep meeting your expectations.
Doctor Blood: I'm happy you liked it, I've probably spent too much time thinking about the powers compared to the plot.
Guest: Kinda responded to this point above, but I'm making a distinction between power versatility/technique vs. power level. Hybridization gives the former, not the latter (at least, not directly). If that enlarged bag of tricks includes some hack to increase their raw spirit energy, then yes it will result in an indirect increase to power level as well.
Binge Reader: Not sure how you can conclude Rukia is the prodigy when she has 100 years of time on Ichigo. Sode no Shirayuki is in fact an exceptional Zanpaktou, has been commented to be the most beautiful Zanpaktou in all of Soul Society, and uniquely capable of regenerating itself after being broken. No other Zanpaktou can do that. You can say that's Rukia being underestimated if you want, doesn't change the fact that everyone else is basically crippled if their Zanpaktou is broken. Seems like an aspect of Rukia's character resilience to me.
Ben Shetenhelm: Ichigo used Blut 2 times. One was when Old Man was specifically helping him, when Old Man was in control of all his powers. The other time was a reaction to Yhwach's overpowering spirit pressure and original Quincy essence. It's possible to use Quincy powers even while Shinigami spirit pressure is interfering with it. Just like it's possible to gather spirit particles even if it's being actively scattered by the Sanrei Glove. Just depends on how powerful/skilled the two effects are relative to each other.