NIGHT OF THE VAMPIRECHAPTER THREE
"Oh no," Nemu said in a monotone. She was loitering by the corner of an alley, directly under a lamp. An unobtrusive leash was attached round one ankle, leading into the darkness of the alley. "Oh dear, I have sprained my knee and I cannot run away from vampires. Oh what shall I do."
"We must save her!" Hitsugaya cried, dashing down the street towards her.
Captain Kurotsuchi stepped out of the shadows and raised one hand. "Captain Hitsugaya, will you please go away! How am I supposed to conduct serious scientific experiments under these conditions?"
"But --" Hitsugaya stuttered. "Your daughter --"
"How else am I supposed to get specimens?" Kurotsuchi asked. "These wonderful vampire creatures keep on avoiding me."
Ichigo strolled over to join the conversation, leaving Rukia and Orihime in hiding. "Does that mean you haven't got any ways of curing them?"
Kurotsuchi blinked. "Cure?" He rolled the word, tasting it. "Cure. Cure. What a strange concept."
Yoruichi landed next to them with a soft scuff of flash steps, and deposited the quivering Chad and Ishida on the ground from where she had been carrying them. "Ah. No help here, then?"
"Vampire . . ." Ishida shouted, pointing a finger, then an arrow, at Kurotsuchi. "Quick! Dispose of him now!"
Kurotsuchi sneered. "You think to taunt me with the fact that I have not been bitten. I see through you, Quincy."
"Look at him!" Ishida implored, as Chad put him in an armlock and took the bow and arrows off him. "The unnatural, scientific, remorseless leering eyes! The pallid skin! He's clearly a vampire and must be wiped out!"
Kurotsuchi sniffed. "I will not submit to your provocations. I will find a way to get bitten and examine the vampire state!"
"Of course," Yoruichi said casually, "Urahara Kisuke himself hasn't been able to find a way to restore a vampire to normal life. I quite understand that if he hasn't, you couldn't . . ."
"Urahara?" Kurotsuchi licked away the green foam that began to bubble at the corners of his mouth. "That charlatan? That villain? That fool? That lesser being? That coward? That --"
"Don't worry," Yoruichi said, turning away and gesturing to the others to accompany her. "We won't bother you any further."
"You dare compare me to that moron?" Kurotsuchi brandished a small vial in one hand. "Why, creating a serum that would remedy the vampire state was the work of a moment for a genius like myself! Easily administered, too, diluted in water by physical contact! Nobody but myself could have thought of it!"
Ishida, relieved of Chad's grip together with his bow and arrows, strolled across quietly to check on Nemu. She was still as pretty as ever. Her huge dark eyes, her dainty body, her long legs, her red lips, her white fangs --
"So let me get this straight," Yoruichi said. "We simply dilute this in water, sprinkle it on the vampires, and they will be restored to their normal selves?"
"Precisely!" Kurotsuchi declared. "Of course, there may be a few minor side-effects -- Nemu! Put that Quincy down at once! Bad experiment! Bad experiment!"
Ichigo tried to ignore the noises coming from Nemu and Ishida. If Kurotsuchi's concoction worked, Ishida would be fixed. If not, they were all doomed anyhow. "But how would we deliver it across the whole of Soul Society --"
"Easy," Rukia interrupted from behind him. "Someone whose name I will not mention at this point says do you remember the thing about seeding rainstorms that you did last month in school and don't you know someone who owns a big firework cannon?"
"Aha!" Yoruichi snatched the vial out of Kurotsuchi's hand in a single movement and was halfway across the street before they could blink. "See you all you-know-where!" she called as she fled.
"Thief!" Kurotsuchi fumed. "Dolt!" He took a firm grip on his sword. "You shall perish at my bankai --"
"Sit in the frozen sky, Hyourinmaru!" Hitsugaya declared from behind him, and doused him in a pile of ice.
Ichigo blinked. "Very fast reactions," he congratulated the Captain.
"And amazingly therapeutic, too." Hitsugaya eyed his sword. "Perhaps I should consider doing this more often . . ."
There was a howling and screaming in the background, growing closer by the second.
"It's vampires!" Orihime ran to join them. "Lots of vampires! And I think they want our blood!"
"Go." Chad took Ichigo by the shoulders and pointed him in the direction that Yoruichi had vanished. "We'll hold them off. You need to get there and help Yoruichi with the cure."
"You do." Hitsugaya moved to stand shoulder to shoulder with Chad. "We should be able to slow them down. It's not as if their fiendish wiles will be able to affect me."
"Let's go," Rukia said. "Chad and Captain Hitsugaya are right. If we can get the cure transmitted, then everyone will be fixed. If not, then it won't matter where or when we get the blood sensually drawn from our veins and are turned into lustful creatures of the night."
"She's right," Orihime said, taking Ichigo by the wrist. "Come on! Now!"
Ichigo nodded, and the three of them ran, leaving Chad and Hitsugaya barring the way behind them.
Nemu quietly removed the leash from her ankle. It was getting in the way of her involvement with Quincy Ishida. She'd never realised that experiments could be this much fun.
Ichigo, Rukia, and Orihime hurried across the countryside towards Shiba Kuukaku's house. Ichigo led the way, praying that he was remembering it correctly, while Rukia carried Orihime in her arms as they sped across the grass.
"How come the shinigami who can do those leg flashing things haven't caught up with us?" Orihime asked, nervously peering over Rukia's shoulder.
"Flash steps," Rukia corrected her. "Possibly their nature as vampires is impairing their normal shinigami control."
"Or maybe -- they're just -- drawing out the agony," Ichigo panted.
"Really, Ichigo, don't be an idiot," Rukia snorted. "What sort of sensible person would risk losing and draw out a fight simply to enjoy the other person's terror? Besides Captain Zaraki," she added hastily. "Or most of Eleventh Division. Or -- oh, very well."
"Can't we try and hold them off?" Orihime suggested. "We could use garlic!"
"The problem would be getting some this time of night. Or --"
Ichigo wordlessly pointed to the fence at the edge of the Shiba property, which had been newly decorated with cloves of garlic and signs saying VAMPIRES WILL BE SHOT INTO THE SKY AND SET FIRE TO.
"Ooh!" Orihime clapped her hands together. "Shiba Kuukaku is so cool!"
"Kurosaki!" Aizen's voice came swelling from behind them just as they crossed the boundary. "Do you honestly think you can escape?"
Ichigo was about to turn and dash back and defeat the vampire heroically when Orihime grabbed him by one shoulder and Rukia grabbed him by the other.
"He wants you to cross the garlic boundary!" Rukia hissed.
"He's cheating!" Orihime whispered disapprovingly.
From the Shiba Mansion came a rhythmic groaning and whimpering as the two household minions levered the cannon into position.
"We need to buy time," Ichigo whispered to the others. He took a pace forward, sword drawn, to survey the Aizen-led mob of vampires. Among the throng he could see most of the shinigami they had already met. With fangs.
"Why don't you come out and discuss the matter rationally," Aizen suggested, his voice smooth as velvet.
"Do you think we're stupid?" Ichigo inquired.
"Oi!" Renji waved from where he was standing next to Kuchiki Byakuya. "Rukia! Get your ass over here! You and I and your brother have a date and you're dessert! Don't make me wait any longer to drain your rich tasty blood!"
"Go sit and swivel, you moron!" Rukia shouted back. "Do you think it's some sort of ambition of mine to bare my neck so that you can sink your fangs into it?"
"Rukia." Byakuya's voice echoed. "This is an order from your elder brother. Come here and join us in the ranks of the undead."
"Hey!" Ichigo yelled. "I thought we'd been through this before! No killing younger sisters, no handing them over to execution, and definitely no turning them into vampires!"
Byakuya folded his arms. "We could have a rematch."
"Just you hold it right there," Ichigo said, starting forward, and Orihime and Rukia had to drag him back again, kicking him several times in the process.
"Inoue-san!" Ishida was waving from the crowd, with Kurotsuchi Nemu draped around his shoulders. "I've sprained my ankle! Could you come and have a look at it?"
"Of course -- oh, wait a moment!" Orihime shook a finger at Ishida. "That's really mean of you, Ishida-kun, trying to play on my sympathy to get me to cross the line of garlic."
Ishida hung his head. "I know it was. Can you forgive me?"
"Of course!" Orihime beamed like the sun. "Now just stay there and I'll -- sorry, Ichigo, I nearly forgot, you can let go of me now."
Money could be observed changing hands among the vampirised Eleventh Division present.
"This could all be much simpler," Aizen suggested gently, his eyes gleaming like rubies. "You three may return to the mortal world. I will not try to hinder you. I will even send your friends back with you. All you need to do is stand back and remove the garlic -- incidentally, what precisely is going on over there?"
Behind him, in the mob, Kurotsuchi Nemu raised a polite hand. "I believe they are attempting to distribute an anti-vampire antidote, Aizen-sama."
Aizen turned to look at her. "You might have mentioned that earlier," he said reprovingly.
Nemu dropped her eyes. "I didn't like to speak out of turn," she said meekly, "and you were busy with Ukitake-taichou, and Unohana-taichou, and Soi Fong, and Hinamori, and . . ."
"Yes, yes," Aizen interrupted. "But do you have any suggestions about crossing that garlic?"
"Do you think it's nearly ready?" Ichigo hissed to Orihime.
"I think it must be," Orihime whispered back. "Look, Shiba Kuukaku's stripped naked and is dancing round the cannon . . . you can stop looking now, Ichigo."
Ichigo swallowed and tried not to have a nosebleed. This was not the time to be exciting the vampires by dripping blood in front of them.
"Don't worry, Aizen-taichou," Ichimaru Gin drawled, thrusting a cringing Kira Izuru forward. "I've got just the solution. Kira here hasn't been turned yet. Now you're going to go right over that barrier and deal with those annoying bits of garlic for us, aren't you, Kira-kun?"
Kira turned a dewy-eyed gaze of fascinated worship on Gin. "Of course, Captain."
"Don't do it, Kira!" Rukia called. "He's using you! He won't really bite you afterwards!"
"'Course I will," Gin reassured his vice-captain. "And I'm sure you'll be very tasty."
Ichigo stepped forward. "He's not going to get the chance. Because the moment he steps over this barrier, I'm going to kick his ass. I've fought Zaraki Kenpachi. I've fought Kuchiki Byakuya. I can handle this."
"You didn't beat me," Aizen said, folding his arms in a meaningful and understated way.
"You cheated," Ichigo said, pointing a finger.
Aizen shook his head gently.
"You used your hypnosis shikai thing."
"These pitiful excuses made by people who just can't handle the fact that they've lost," Aizen remarked aside to Gin, who nodded understandingly.
"I'll show you," Ichigo declared, and vaulted over the garlic-hung border fence before remembering why this was a bad idea.
He was promptly swarmed by a large number of vampire shinigami before he could even get his sword in the guard position. For a moment they were clambering on top of him, grabbing for his throat and wrists -- then they were swept back in a surge of light, and he could hear Orihime shouting something about heavenly barriers and protection, and he staggered to his feet, getting his breath back. But now he was cut off from the fence and surrounded.
He could almost hear Zangetsu making sardonic comments at the back of his mind.
"Looks like it's snacktime," Ichimaru Gin said, stepping forward. Behind him, Kira's eyes were wide and betrayed.
There was a crash as the cannon fired into the clouded sky, and a sudden hushed silence after it as everyone waited to see if something was going to happen.
"Well." Aizen shrugged. "It seems your gambit has failed, and you are about to discover a new and exciting existence as a member of the undead. Do you have any preferences as to who bites you?"
"Only the person who can beat me in a fight!" Ichigo growled, brandishing his sword.
Aizen glanced across towards the fence. "Inoue-kun, would you mind lowering that shield of yours, please? Kurosaki here wants to fight us."
"I will not!" Orihime declared. "But -- but -- if you let him go, I'll come over and you can bite me instead!"
"Delighted," Aizen said cordially. "Just climb over here, please -- Kuchiki Rukia, would you mind not holding her back and slapping her head? Can't you see that you're all doomed, and you may as well accept it gracefully?"
There was a low ominous rumble of thunder and flicker of lightning.
Kira's mouth set in a thin snarl as he watched his Captain close in on Kurosaki Ichigo. This wasn't fair. He wasn't going to endure it a moment longer. Being passed over again like that.
His hand closed round the stake in his sash, and he drew it out. But he couldn't bring himself to look at that familiar muscled back, those adored shoulders. With a strangled sob, head turned away, he raised the stake and brought it down.
There was an odd solidity to the impact.
"Who," growled Captain Zaraki Kenpachi, "just stuck a stake in me?"
Kira instantly registered three things. The first was that he had hit the wrong person. The second was that the stake had struck the Eleventh Division Captain lower down than it would have his own Captain, ergo the lack of immediate death and explosion into dust. The third was that he was about to be strangled and torn limb from limb.
He bolted like a rabbit, diving across the garlic-hung fence without a second thought. Zaraki pursued, but was repelled by the garlic, trampling over Ichimaru Gin on the way without even noticing it and grinding the other Captain into the mud.
"Bye bye," Gin groaned, and expired.
The first few drops of rain were barely noticeable, but then the heavens opened and water came tumbling down. Shinigami fell to the earth as it hit them, moaning and gasping, their robes plastered to their bodies by the thundering elements as the falling rain purified them. The only two still standing outside the boundary were Aizen and Ichigo.
Aizen looked around. His lip curled. "You may have thwarted me for the moment, boy, but this petty remedy will not affect the originator of this curse! Next time --"
"There won't be a next time," Ichigo said through gritted teeth. He stepped forward to confront Aizen. "It stops here. This is where I defeat you for once and for all."
In the background he was conscious of Rukia and Orihime muttering to each other. Hopefully they'd have the sense to stay out of it. This was what it all came down to, ultimately: man to man, blade to blade, strength against strength, spirit against spirit --
-- face against mud, apparently, because he seemed to be lying in it and bleeding a lot.
Aizen picked him up from the wet grass with his free hand, dangling him by his collar. "You will make a suitable disciple," he said calmly, "once I have drained the blood from your veins." He brought the feebly struggling Ichigo closer.
"Now," Rukia said, quite distinctly.
There was an approaching whistle. A single beam of light split through Aizen from back to front, piercing through his heart, emerging just in front of Ichigo's nose. It was one of Orihime's little fairies, all strung around with garlic.
Aizen blinked, collapsed, and crumbled to dust, dropping Ichigo in the mud again.
"Ichigo! Are you all right?" Orihime called as she ran towards him, tripping over shinigami in her way. "I didn't want to hurt anyone, but I couldn't let him kill you!"
Rukia took a more leisurely route, checking for fangs on the people she passed. "It seems to be working," she reported.
"Perfect," Ichigo groaned, and passed out.
"So," Ichigo said a few days later, as Yoruichi escorted them to the gate back, "everyone's all right? Except for the colds and pneumonia?"
Yoruichi whistled. "Oh, there are a few minor little problems to be sorted out, such as why some people bit other people, or in some cases, why some people didn't bite other people, not to mention enough guilt to sink an ocean liner, but things do seem to be mostly under control. Kira's come round from that little depressive episode. Hinamori and Hitsugaya seem to be getting on much better. Nobody's found out what happened to Tousen Kaname, but it looks as if he had enough sense not to get turned into a vampire in the first place, so I think sleeping dogs may be let lie there."
"But it should all be over?" Rukia queried.
Yoruichi shrugged. "Unless someone was fool enough to save Aizen's ashes and drip blood on them, or experiment with them, or indulge in hideous dark magic with them in attempts to resurrect him. That sort of thing. And everyone else is feeling better, right?" She glanced back at the rest of the group.
"Doing fine," Chad rumbled.
"Absolutely fine," Ishida said happily.
"You're looking very cheerful." Ichigo eyed him suspiciously. "You're sure you are normal again?"
"Totally." Ishida smiled toothily, demonstrating his lack of fangs. "On top of the world."
"Never felt better," Renji added helpfully. "What they call a learning experience."
Ichigo hunched his shoulders and stared forward again. Perhaps he should have got bitten after all.