Disclaimer : All characters and places belong to Tite Kubo, ©2004-2008.


"Dim with the mist of years, gray fits the shade of power."
Lord George Gordon Noel Byron

"Afraid of his own shadow."
Japanese Proverb

Chapter I


"Peace be of mind; the locust sits in noontide, the bird prays. South wind breaks throughEternity--"

"Still rambling nonsense, eh, old man?"

Zangetsu cocked an eye at the youth, his stubble face and tinted visor set in unbreakable stone. "Not so much as your pragmatic teachings, White One. Merely I am reading these stray thoughts which pass Ichigo's mind."

Though his back was turned to him, Zangetsu could feel the sarcastic smirk sting his metaphysical being.

"Is that so?" queried Shirousaki, amber discs wide with mirth. He twirled the eponymous Zanpakuto by its bandages. "Well then, I don't compute."

He swung the blade at the air, mowing down invisible targets.

Zangetsu sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "But you must, Shirousaki. Ichigo is wise, powerful. His pen is as mighty as his sword. Knowledge is strength from within."

"Then I must be his Son," the Hollow concluded. With a flick of his wrist the weapon returned to his grasp.

The middle-aged man turned to him, his dark brow raised. "His Son?" When the White One didn't respond, he added more urgently, "What do you mean?"

A corner of his pale lips lifted. "Look between your eyes, ossan. It's right in front of you. Ichigo isthe Father, I am the Son, and you are the Holy Spirit. He who gives, he who takes, and he who receives. We are the Progenitors of his existence, for without him we cannot co-exist. Without us, he will never succeed."

His teeth bared in a smile. "He will never be One."

Zangetsu exhaled, focusing his attention at the world around him. The sky was a splendid shade of azure; the clouds were drifting to an impossible end and the black, forsaken buildings to and beyond the horizon to infinity was assimilated and unreachable. It was always quiet here, nary a sound save for the wind's lonesome breath. No one else existed for the purpose of serving the Black One.

Except for him, the Laughing Hollow, the Node of Avarice.

"And do you believe, pray tell," he said, "that that is poetic justice?"

The Zanpakuto whirled in circles, singing an endless liturgy.

Shirousaki's smile exploded to a full-blown grin, a maddening motif that would devour demons whole. "Much ado about nothing, old man. We're just facets on a gem: the Giver, the Taker, and the Receiver. We're not at all dissimilar in any way. In fact, we're just about the same. We fight to live, to kill, and to die.

"But dying right now would be a waste of my time. It's unacceptable, and I'll be damned if Ichigo throws it all away! You . . . you, Zangetsu, live forever! You are transcendent! If I die it's over! I won't allow it!" As quick as his smile appeared it vanished, and marring his lips was a vicious snarl. Snow white hair bristled and onyx spirit ribbons shimmered an unholy glow.

Zangetsu watched the Hollow seethe, hidden eyes studying warily.

After a while the manic creature relaxed. Instead he moved to look at the darkly clothed man, his wrist moving in a calm and lax motion. Shirousaki widened his smile, causing Zangetsu to shudder.

"But you know what? I'm gonna change all that. I'm gonna change ALL the laws and the physics that has to do with death. Death will no longer be feared! Death will no longer apply to Ichigo Kurosaki!" His black tongue lapped across his mouth. "I will give him his cure. I will take away his poison. I will take away everything that he is and show the world what it truly means to be Shinigami!"

"How do you intend to do that?" asked Zangetsu.

"By starting off with THIS!" Shirousaki grabbed the guard, flipped the Zanpakuto into position, and lashed a Kuroi Getsuga at the spirit.

Zangetsu jumped off the misaligned lamp post, barely dodging the energy wave in time. He hit the ground in a cloud of dust, the window which he stood on rusted and cracked with age. Wheezing and coughing he placed a hand to his aching sternum, a pain searing and pounding with a livid fire. He opened his eyes, slowly, and beheld a sight most dreadful to his core.

Three spots of blood, a color of the richest wine, were splattered on the pane.

He felt very cold.

He whipped around, looked at the sky, and suddenly wished he had taken the blow.

High above the astral plane was a distortion of pure darkness, drinking every tint of blue and white for a half-mile. It was a thin cut in the space-time continuum, oozing inky smoke curling about the orifice. A gray, almost near black light pulsed unsteadily like the beating of a heart.

"First things first, we start out small," said the White One, pointing at the tear. "The spirit energy will take some time to accommodate, but given the state of its pressure I say the kenotic process will go along smoothly."

"Kenotic . . . process . . . ?"

"I wasn't kidding when I said I would cheat Death," said Shirousaki, his smile widening. "Tear one hole and the reiatsu fades. Tear two holes and the soul slips away. Tear three holes and insert the common variable. When all else is gone, there will only be One. Either way I win!"

Zangetsu's eyes shot open, but the resulting action caused him to clutch his frantic heartbeat. He grunted and collapsed to his knees, his breaths deep, ragged, and short. Lost in his agony he barely heard the hole's erratic pounding.

The Hollow grinned cruelly. "Oh don't worry, ossan, you'll still live. The process won't be finished for a long while, so that'll give Ichigo enough time to train with the Vizards. Let him control me! Let him wash his hands of the blood of the many! In a matter of days he'll be machinated! We Will Be One!

"Until then . . ." he walked away from the broken figure upon the wall, his footfalls the only sounds echoing in the dead world. After he put himself at a fair distance he stopped and glanced over his shoulder. Amid his sweat-stained vision, Zangetsu could discern the mocking leer of the devil, "enjoy yourself."

He turned his back and lifted the Zanpakuto, then struck at the emptiness embalmed in silence, mowing down targets that would soon be there.