A/N: Eh...sorry about the long wait. I plead schoolwork and dance rehearsals! But yeah, don't expect an update every week until probably next summer, because I'm so bogged down with work it's unbelievable. Look for this story about once a month and definitely on the breaks from school, like today! Here's one more thing to be thankful for on Thanksgiving: be reassured that I will not give up on this story. I sat down yesterday and wrote like a maniac so I could at least give you guys a chapter today.
I've been looking forward to this chapter for a long time, so I hope you all like it as well (and maybe you'll finally understand some of the things I've been pushing in earlier chapters.) Read on!
Chapter 14: The Duel for Dual
Ichigo watched from a tall spire in Yoruichi's hideout as Rukia and Renji sparred in shikai. Today was Friday, that rare day when they managed to get together and practice all day long. Ichigo was feeling particularly restless because the next day was when his class somehow received their zanpaktous. He couldn't wait to finally see Zangetsu again and be rid of that pathetic piece of useless metal called Asuachi. Two months passed since Renji joined them for good, and it had been extremely hard on them all. During the day the three were occupied by their normal duties, and every other waking moment was spent sparring in the hideout since someone was always hanging around. Mainly Renji though, since he still had trouble showing his face in public.
Despite the hard training, life had gotten much more enjoyable for Ichigo and the others after that fateful day when Renji joined the group. Rukia was ecstatic to have someone that she could plan with and talk to on a daily basis, even if Renji got a bit annoyed with her sometimes. They both marveled at how fast Renji was getting better, and thought that he would be up to bankai by the end of the year.
Even school life had gotten more pleasant. Ichigo and his three new friends were in a shaky truce: they wouldn't bother him about his personal life, and he would throw in a few corrections for each of them after zanjutsu class. The three even gave him a few tips on controlling his spiritual energy, even though he still hadn't made that much progress.
He'd also finally gotten through the huge stack of books Rukia and Renji found for him in the library. Ichigo's favorite by far was the book called "The Fool's Guide to Energy Control," since it explained everything he needed to know in a way that seemed to be perfectly tailored to him. The book even made him a bit homesick, since the way it was written reminded him a lot of his own father's antics. He would've liked to know who the author was, but the manual was so old that the name was completely illegible.
Besides his work on energy control, Ichigo learned quite a few new moves from his zanjutsu teacher, Ikoma, and improved a little in kidou, even if he still lacked the finesse to use the proper form of the arts.
Perhaps the biggest mystery was something that otherwise might have seemed insignificant: Ichigo was now taller than Rukia. Growth rate was supposedly cut by a quarter in Soul Society, so why was he growing at such a fast rate? Ichigo suspected his hollow knew something about it, since he was the one to reassure him when he first felt despair about the slow growth rates of Soul Society nearly three months ago.
Ichigo cheered as Renji finally landed a hit on Rukia. She'd been running circles around him, pushing herself to move as fast as she could to drill the importance of dodging into his head. He watched for a few more minutes, then called a time-out because of the late hour. After their usual quick conversation on who should improve what and agreeing when to meet tomorrow they went their separate ways.
Renji was particularly interested in finally seeing Ichigo's zanpaktou the next night, since it would provide some concrete evidence that his friend's story was true. Not that Renji didn't trust the two, he just was still a little reluctant to believe his old captain would betray everyone so easily. He reached his office in another five minutes and snuck in, knowing if he woke anyone along the way he would pay the price. And the price was another bout of humiliation and lowered self-esteem dished out by his comrades.
Rukia pushed herself to shunpo as fast as she could back to her room. All the training she'd been doing lately made her hopeful for the outcome of the war, and it was great to be back with all of her friends again. The shadow of war always loomed over her though, and she was constantly thinking of the best ways to reveal or defeat Aizen. All day long, the questions of how, when, and where were dark threats that reminded her why she had a second chance.
Ichigo casually strode into the Academy, greeting a talented seventh year that he sparred with now and then. The excitement and rumors about him finally died down and he was just another shinigami-in-training. After passing the main hall, central park, and fitness gyms he came in sight of his dorm and shunpoed through the open window. He relaxed on his bed and re-read "The Fool's Guide to Energy Control," thinking about his family and friends in the human world before falling asleep.
"This is the first day you all will attempt to awaken your own zanpaktou." First Class's primary instructor faced the large group of fidgeting students, his back to a large cliff dotted with caves. The class murmured excitedly, and Ichigo's new friends looked like they were about to burst in happiness. "Those who fail will continue using Asuachi until they are able to do so, and they should be reminded that while this will not be the only session, they will not be accepted as a shinigami until they have their zanpaktou."
Choshi turned to Ichigo and whispered "We should have a great advantage over the others, being in the meditation class. I'd be surprised if we didn't awaken ours first try, especially you, Kusosaki."
Ichigo nodded, but said "It might not be all about the meditation though. Sure, you can awaken it, but I've read that getting your zanpaktou to tell you it's name can be a hard task, not to mention attaining shikai." Choshi nodded, facing forward with a look of determination on his face.
Meanwhile, the instructor continued speaking. "The caves you see behind me have long been used for meditation, both because of the calming gases they emit and the affect they have on the inner spirit. You will be divided, two to a group, and sent to the chamber assigned..."
Ichigo and Choshi slowly climbed into their cave, looking around the gloomy cavern and settling on opposite rocks. Ichigo noticed the slightly tranquil affect the gases that helped him get into the meditating mood, and noted the area for future use.
"Good luck Choshi."
"You as well, Kurosaki-san."
They both closed their eyes and let the quiet, peaceful cave help them succumb to the meditative trance.
"Well well well, look who decided to pop in!" Ichigo looked up from the ground to saw Shirosaki peering down at him, that odd smirk of his across his face.
"Yeah, yeah. Listen, I need to talk to the old man." Ichigo got to his feet and brushed off his robes, before realizing they were a familiar black color. He was happy to see that he was his normal height and build again, and looked around the unusual upside-down world of his, sunlight poking through the scattered clouds. "Wait...what's that?" Ichigo pointed to a figure slumped on a building ledge.
"Ah. Almost forgot about that." The hollow walked over and carried the thing back to Ichigo before he realized it was himself, dressed in the last human clothes he wore. "Turns out ya never actually died in the human world, and you couldn't just leave your body behind, so it followed you here."
Ichigo was vaguely creeped out by the fact that his hollow was holding a lifeless figure of himself. Shirosaki just continued, "This thing'll be pretty useful though. It's a portable gigai, and it's been acceleratin' the growth of your physical body. You should be back to normal in 'bout a year or two."
Ichigo scowled. "So that's what you meant by 'Don't dwell on it too much' a few months ago. You sneaky bastard, you could've told me about this earlier!"
The hollow just rolled his eyes. "In a way I did. Besides, it's your own damn fault for not sensin' the difference in yer own spirit."
"Whatever. I just need to talk to Zangetsu."
Shirosaki laughed. "He's got that whole sword thing sorted out for ya. You always forget that we can hear and see everything that's goin' on out there. I, however, have some official business with you." Ichigo was surprised, though he shouldn't be, because ever since the 'incident' the hollow had been much more reasonable. "Zangetsu wants to talk to you later, but he was considerate enough to let me do this now."
"I said a long time ago that 'If you truly want to master my power, at least stay alive until I appear again.' Well, as you know some 'events' happened that paused our little feud." Ichigo tensed. Does he seriously want to... "Not that I'd take it up again...but my offer still stands, since you're clearly both seeing me and are alive." Shirosaki took the sword off his back and plunged it into the building between them.
Ichigo was still confused. "So what's your point?"
"It's simple. You fight me. If you win, I'll give back the power that I stole from you before you even knew I existed." He tapped his fingers on the white Zangetsu.
Ichigo smiled, then unraveled his own Zangetsu. "You're on." He hadn't had a real good fight in a very long time, and knew Shirosaki wouldn't hold back for anything.
Ichigo woke from his trance with a start, not exerted at all from the fight he'd just barely won. He looked around the gloomy cave and noticed that Choshi was still meditating. He'll be fine, he thought, and finally noticed what he was holding. "What the hell?"
Instead of one, two swords were in his hands, their sheaths criss-crossed on his back. He carefully examined the one in his right hand. Somehow he knew it was Zangetsu, but otherwise he wouldn't have recognized it for anything. This must be Zangetsu's unreleased form, he thought. The hilt was wrapped in black fabric and the handguard was a circle, carved out on one side and closed on the other. The blade was nothing special, not the gigantic sword he was used to of his released forms.
He looked at the other blade and knew, the same as he had with Zangetsu, that this sword was entirely different. The only physical difference was that the handguard was reversed, but...This definitely isn't Zangetsu.
'Of course not, stupid.' Ichigo jumped and almost dropped the two blades. 'That one's mine. That's what you were fighting me for. It's a great compromise, right? When you use that sword, you'll be fighting with me, and you know what that means? No more endless boredom! I don't even have to control your body to have a good brawl!'
Ichigo's mood lightened considerably. Even though he knew the chance was small after the 'incident', there had always been the ominous thought that the hollow might try to take over his body again. Wait...so if this isn't Zangetsu...what's its name? You don't have a name...but a zanpaktou has to have a name.
'I don't have a name.' But there was something about the hollow's voice when he said it that for the first time Ichigo didn't entirely believe him.
You have a name. And it's not Shirosaki. What's your name? What's this zanpaktou's name?
The hollow sighed. 'Well...fighting won't be that much fun for me if I don't tell you....fine. I have a name. Had it since the 'incident'. It's...'
"Luna del Corte," Ichigo whispered as he stared at the second zanpaktou.
Another ten minutes passed before Choshi shifted and a long zanpaktou materialized in his hand, the sheath appearing at this side. "Yes!" he yelled out and pumped the blade in the air before remembering there was someone else in the room. "Gah! Sorry Kurosaki-san."
"It's fine, I've done that too. Congrats."
Choshi grinned. "Thank you! I see you've..." His eyes widened as he spotted the blades on Ichigo's back. "You've...got two zanpaktou?"
Ichigo stepped back. "Eh? Well, yeah, but that happens for some people...right?"
Choshi just stared at him in disbelief. "It's quite common in shikai or bankai, but the only known shinigami with two zanpaktou in the unreleased state are the captains of the Eighth and Thirteenth Divisions." He shook his head. "But that's not what I'm saying. Why do you have two separate zanpaktou?"
"Huh? What do you mean-"
"Those are not two halves of the same zanpaktou, those are two completely different zanpaktou. I can barely pick out the difference, but it's there."
Ichigo growled in annoyance. "Ugh. Listen, I don't know what's so weird about me, alright? Things like this always happen to me. Just don't tell anyone else, got it?" Choshi didn't look very happy but agreed. "Can I see your zanpaktou?"
"Oh! Sure." The two traded for a moment and Ichigo examined Choshi's. All-in-all the sword was your basic sword, except the blade was almost as long as Ichigo's bankai and its handguard looked like ripples of water. "The handguards of your zanpaktou almost look like two half-moons, so maybe they aren't as different as I thought," Choshi mumbled before he handed the blades back to Ichigo.
"We'd better get going," Choshi said as he walked to the opening of the cave. He turned back and grinned "I can't believe we both made it! And on the first try! It's incredible...we're real shinigami now..." He stared at the zanpaktou on his hip in disbelief.
Ichigo chuckled and hopped out of the cave before Choshi recovered, quickly returning to the group. About three-quarters of their classmates already returned, and Ichigo and Choshi were immediately greeted by Minobe.
"You did it!" She hugged them both, causing Choshi to blush and Ichigo to squirm.
"Congratulations Minobe-san." Choshi said as he pointed to the short sword on her waist.
"Thanks! Do you guys know if Terada is-"
"Back yet? Hi guys. I knew you would succeed!" Terada walked up to the group and patted the curved zanpaktou at her side. "Eh? Why does Kurosaki have two?"
Minobe gasped and ran around Ichigo to look at his zanpaktou. "Wow Kurosaki-kun! Your zanpaktou manifested into two swords! That's so unique!"
Ichigo let out a breath of relief. Good, Choshi is the only one that notices the two separate spirits. Life would be so much easier if he wasn't around... "It's not so great, actually. I'm gonna have to learn an entirely new style of fighting on my own..."
Minobe frowned. "Yeah. That kinda sucks for you."
Ichigo rolled his eyes. "Gee, thanks for your helpful encouragement."
Choshi clutched his head and groaned. "Ouch. The sudden increase in everyone's spiritual energy is giving me a headache. Especially you, Kurosaki-san. Could you turn it down?"
Ichigo frowned. "This is as low as it goes."
Choshi groaned again. "Guess I'm going to have to live with this."
"What the hell do you mean by 'a slight problem!?' Please tell me that you have Zangetsu back again!" Ichigo, Rukia, and Renji were back in Yoruichi's Hideout as Ichigo tried to tell them calmly and rationally what occurred earlier. Instead, Renji was slowly backing away as Rukia ground her teeth together and her hand curled into a fist.
Ichigo swiftly backtracked "Of course I do, stupid! The problem is this!" Ichigo pulled the swords off his back and tapped them together.
"Whoa! You've got two!" Ichigo glared at Renji for stating the obvious.
"Oh no." Rukia stared horrified at the blades. "How the hell are you supposed to-in such a short time-shit."
Renji looked confused. "What's the big problem? So he isn't used to fighting with two swords. Just have him battle Captain Ukitake or Captain Shunsui for a while and he'll get the hang of it."
Ichigo rolled his eyes. "Yeah, let's just learn a new way to fight to replace the old one you've been using for two years. You're the Mimic Prodigy, of course you can handle it." He sighed. "I'm sure it's better than just one in the long run, but this majorly sets back our plans...I'm almost afraid to see much how my shikai and bankai have changed."
Rukia just sighed and shook her head. "Tell me the whole story." Ichigo did, from the time he met with his hollow again up to when he arrived at the hideout. Rukia was looking extremely pensive and Renji scratched his head.
"Lemme get this straight," he said, "there was a problem with you being short, but that was fixed because you've got your old human body stuck in your soul and it's making you grow faster...your spiritual energy was lower than it used to be, but that was fixed when you got Zangetsu, not to mention it's increasing even more because of this new zanpaktou...you pretty much have to join the Eighth or Thirteenth Divisions because of the new sword-fighting style you have to learn so that gets rid of the whole 'infiltrate the enemy divisions' plan...we still don't know the effects of your hollow's contact with the fully awakened Hougyoku-"
Rukia gasped. "Ichigo! That's it!" He raised an eyebrow. "That's what happened! That's what he did! He couldn't have known...but he just made it worse for himself in the end!" Rukia started laughing hysterically, and the other two shinigami stared at her like she'd gone mad. "I-Ichigo, don't you get it? With the Hougyoku, Aizen didn't hurt you, he helped you! You said your inner hollow is more logical and reasonable...that zanpaktou...'Luna del Corte.' Ichigo, it's spanish." Ichigo's eyes went wide. "Yes, Ichigo, you don't just have an inner hollow anymore."
"Arrancar," he whispered.
A/N Edit: I can't thank you all enough for your help with the second sword's name, but unfortunately before I went to change it I decided to do a Software Update on my computer. And my Macbook's hard drive got corrupted. And it died (the cause even baffled the people at the Apple Store). So here I am now, a week after this chapter was released with none of my art, notes, chapter ideas, and outlines. I'm not changing the name because this chapter has been out too long, so it would only serve to confuse people.
Again, thanks for all your help and reviews (I'll reply to them ASAP), and I'll see you soon with the next chapter. After I reinstall everything. Augh!!!