The city had long since fallen into quiet, like it normally did in the early hours of the morning. No noise could be heard near the small park in the northern, central district of Karakura town in the early morning hours. Even the breeze barely disturbed the quiet.
Then, in the distance the steady, quick thumping of footsteps began to echo through the peace, tugging at it but not shattering the feeling. Any normal person wouldn't have been able to hear even those, let alone the sound of heavy breathing and whispered exclamations that issued from the owner's mouth.
Then he came into view, nearly slipping as he attempted to change direction, a carrot-haired teen rounded a corner and ran into the park, his jacket and soul chain flying behind him.
Ichigo rarely found it difficult to breathe in soul form anymore. When he first came to after he died, he'd had slight issues with that, but the problem had vanished shortly thereafter, except when he pushed himself...and right now he didn't dare stop pushing himself. Even now, he urged his legs to go just a little faster.
He hated having to run like this. Normally he considered running cowardly and weak...but at this point he didn't think he really had any other choice. His lungs burned (it still surprised him how much his spirit seemed to be like his normal body) as he'd been running straight out for almost fifteen minutes, and not a nice jog either. He'd been in a full-out, push-your-body-to-the-limit, long-term sprint, and he could definitely feel it. His feet didn't seem to want to respond, but he wouldn't let himself slow down. He'd rather die. If they caught him, it would be worse than death...
Almost as if on cue, a loud crashing sounded behind him, and more than one park bench was shattered, along with most of the play-ground equipment in the one corner and the quiet of the night. If one couldn't see the teen, then they probably wouldn't be able to see those chasing him, instead seeing only randomly flying objects that seemed to uproot and fling themselves around dangerously.
Again, the teenage muttered a few choice words under his breath and pushed harder, ignoring his protesting body. He took a moment to glance over his shoulder at the large bodies and masked faces that plowed through everything as they chased him, which only fueled his will to keep going. As much as he absolutely loathed to admit it, with this many hollows on his tail, he needed help...badly. That thought had him peering down at the chain that extruded from his chest, and the half-torn hole that still stung worse than his burning lungs.
It hadn't taken him long to realize where the hole was in his chest, and what it bore a striking resemblance to. The chain-links had been torn almost completely off when one of the monsters now behind him had grabbed onto it with it's over-sized teeth. It had hurt too...like someone constantly stabbing his chest with an over-sized tattoo needle, and the pain hadn't receded much. For that instant, he almost couldn't remember anything but blackness and the pain that overtook his spirit-body. Maybe it would fade with time...he hoped so. Either that, or he'd have to gain a higher tolerance to pain.
The spiritual equivalent of adrenalin kept pumping through him, as he reached about the half-way point between the edges of the park, and turned right immediately. He knew exactly where he was headed, seeing as there were only a hand full of people that could even see him right now. He had to get to Ishida Uuryu's house (since Hat-and-Clogs shop wasn't exactly around the corner), or if he was lucky, he'd stumble across the Afro-shinigami wannabe that had been assigned to the town in Rukia's place. At the very least, he had a zanbaktou. If he couldn't, he really wasn't sure he'd survive the night.
As he ran, he wracked his brain for some sort of solution...any sort. He had to buy himself some time, and get rid of these hollows! He couldn't even figure out why had so many come in the first place. As far as he knew, that didn't happen very often.
He turned again, and ran into a clearing in the park, still trying to come up with something else. He was so busy with his thoughts, he almost didn't pay enough attention to his surroundings...or the figures standing in the clearing ahead of him. His eyes flew wide, and he practically skidded to a halt on the well-trimmed grass.
His mind that had been working so hard before suddenly went blank, and he sat there, breathing hard, still poised to race away but realizing that he'd just run out of what few options he'd had. Across from him, just inside the broken circle of manicured trees, stood several more large hollows, all glowering at him through their masks.
"But where--" he started through the heavy breathing, asking himself as he felt his eyes go wide. Even though he stood still, his heart had begun to race even faster (he hadn't thought that possible) as he began to panic. Where had they come from?! He literally screamed in his mind. His body suddenly didn't want to move, even when he heard the hollows that had followed him come crashing through the trees behind him. His mind seemed to freeze again as well as they all approached as one, as if someone were coordinating them all from behind the scenes (which truthfully wasn't all that unlikely, he realized). He knew what would happen next, and as his mind began to work again, he felt his gaze harden. It wasn't like he hadn't been outnumbered before, and there was no way in this universe that he would go down without a fight. Trying to calm his labored breathing, he watched as they continued to close in...and then, they jumped.
Ichigo turned to smack one in the face, pouring all of the spirit and physical energy into the punch that he could (what he wouldn't give to get a zanbaktou back). Lately he'd even been able to punch through hollow masks if he laced his hand with energy that usually formed a sort of make-shift spirit-sword around his fist (he was nowhere near the strength he needed to actually punch through a mask like Chad could). Learning to do so had taken a lot of the weight and responsibility off of Karin, and he knew she appreciated it.
Her face flashed through his mind, along with the rest of his family, giving him the strength he needed to continue to fight, despite the fact that every hollow he took out seemed to be replaced by another. He didn't think about the inevitable, or the fact that he could no longer feel his hands or feet, or the fact that blood was running from his broken knuckles as he rammed his fist into one mask after another. He wouldn't let himself get distracted by such thoughts. That's how he'd survived as long as he had...if this existence could really be considered "living".
He dodged another attack from one of the hollows, and then everything seemed to slow down as he saw the giant hand coming at him...the one he couldn't dodge. He grit his teeth as the large fist that pinned his arms to his sides, and slammed to the ground, sending a shot of pain through his already abused body. Now unable to move his arms and more out of breath than ever, he could only stare up in horror as they all approached, their mouths open...