Chapter One: The Dragon Falls
Life had indeed become complicated. Well, that was probably a lie. Life hadn't suddenly become complicated just because of what happened. It was already complicated to start with. What happened had its effects of course.
Even so, life had stayed pretty much the same as before, for me… for Keigo and Mizuiro. Apparently nothing had changed. Sometimes it even felt like one of those weird dreams where you're not sure if you're asleep or awake or maybe something Orihime would come up with. But then, I would go to classes and those same four seats would be empty over and over again. Keigo and Mizuiro would exchange complicit looks with each other; Chizuru's inquiring eyes would be searching for an answer to Orihime's sudden absence from school. And in those moments, I knew I wasn't dreaming.
"Fuck!" I tried for the third time in a row to tie up the bandages in my hands correctly. This is what I get from being absentminded again. Lately it was more the rule than the exception. Things were still kind of foggy in my head. There was no doubt in my mind that what we had been told that night was true. How could there be, having seen those things with my own eyes, having felt their presence tearing my soul apart? No, it wasn't the doubt of their existence that clouded my thoughts. Although I had to admit it was a lot do digest, the information had just corrected and completed some of my assumptions. My eyes had been opened to that world a long time ago… even though some had tried hard to conceal it from me.
No. The thoughts in my head rested elsewhere in a place where I didn't like to go. That place where I was told how weak I really am, how even the best of my efforts would make no difference; the place where I was told loud and clear how I had failed to keep my promises and protect my friends.
The guy with green striped hat called Urahara had explained to us that even though we have no powers, we still had some spiritual energy, reason why we could see those monsters called hollows. That was also the reason why I had survived the attack by those two higher ranked Hollows called Arrancar and because of that spiritual pressure within us, he had said, we were potential victims for Hollows' attacks.
" You don't have to worry about it much since we are making arrangements to protect the city. In the meanwhile I suggest you three to follow one rule if you ever encounter a Hollow: don't try to face them by yourselves. You'll die..Take this and use it in case of emergency."
That's what he had said while handing us a sort of pager. Something inside me had twitched uncomfortably at the words run away. Arisawa Tatsuki doesn't run away, something inside me had screamed.
We were sent back home like little children who had stayed out past their curfew.
I hated that.
But wasn't it kind of true? We are like little children in need of protection. Unable to defend ourselves.
Of course I didn't give in just then. The next day, for the first time ever, I skipped karate on my own free will.
At daylight I realized just how pitiful that place really was. Urahara's shop really was decaying. At least on the outside. Two weird kids I didn't remember seeing before were cleaning up the floor. Not that it really made any change.
"Hey, Ururu, isn't that one of Ichigo's friends?" the boy with red hair poked the dark haired girl with the broom stick.
"We better get Tessai-san." The girl replied timidly eyeing me with her soft puppy eyes.
"No need to, my children. Arisawa-san is here to speak with me, am I right?"
Urahara was wearing the same set of clothes he had used the day before with that goofy hat covering his eyes. I think he does it on purpose so people can't look into his eyes.
I nodded in reply and followed him inside when he motioned me to get in. I could feel the kids' eyes on my back as I entered. Urahara led me to a small room where he sat finishing a cup of tea. It looked as if he knew I was coming. That wasn't a surprise.
"Well now, ask away." He told me as he took a small sip of his tea.
Again I wasn't surprised. This man might look like a total fool, but I could tell it was just his façade. In his presence I always felt something strong and calculated.
"I…hmm…" I tried to calm myself down by taking a deep breath. It was not like me to be nervous. He wouldn't kill me just for asking, so what was that annoying feeling? "Let me get to the point. I get why I can't just follow Ichigo and help him get Orihime back..."My hands twitched. I hesitated. "...but you can't expect me to just run away from my own fights. It's simply not in my personality to do it." Urahara remained silent, his eyes covered by his striped hat. "What I'm trying to ask here is if there is anything you can do to help me get strong enough to at least stand by myself?"
A smile appeared on his lips. "I should have known that Arisawa-san wouldn't just accept staying out of the fight." I looked at my knuckles. "You do have the potential to eventually develop powers like Orihime and Sado or even become a Shinigami." I do? I was indeed surprised by those words. Still, the conversation led me to believe there was a but somewhere.
"Unfortunately, the time required for me to train you is not at my disposal. The enemy is very strong. Much stronger than the level Ichigo is right now, I dare to say. And those are the type of enemies you would have to face. For you to acquire the needed strength to even have a chance against them…we just don't have time for it right now."
Oh, there it was. All that bashing was just leading to this. A no. I guess I had known all along what the answer would be, reason why I had that nagging feeling. I was scared of being right.
I don't remember very well what happened after that, but it doesn't really matter. The answer was clear. You're too weak and I don't have time to deal with you right now.
"Arisawa, are you coming or what?"
"Yeah, yeah, chill!" I finally managed to tie the damn bandages right. Tying the belt around my waist, I looked at myself in the mirror. When had I become that pathetic figure that was looking back at me?
The team was already doing warm-up exercises when I arrived and I got a scolding look from the sensei. Not that I really cared. I started by running around the dojo a bit and then proceeded in stretching my legs and arms, rotating my joints and making sure every part of my body was well warmed-up and ready to fight. We would probably be training combat again, seeing as there was an important competition coming up. Strangely as it might seem, I really didn't cared. I could be the best in the world and still I would be no match for none of those monters who took Orihime away. Darn it, even the weaker one would probably kill me with ease.
I punched the sandbag. The guy holding it jerked backwards with the impact. Man was I pissed. It had been five days since Ichigo was gone and still that anger seemed resolved in staying around. I felt like rippind the bag apart or maybe break something like punching the wall until it gave in.
I didn't exactly know why I was so angry. It could have been because of all the lying, deceiving and cover-up done by both Orihime and Ichigo or by the refusal of Urahara to help me. But somehow, I felt like that wasn't the true reason. I knew long before I confronted Ichigo that both he and my best female friend were literally lying to me. And I wasn't actually angry. So why the hell should I be angry now?
A double kick on the sandbag and then a punch. No, I knew the real reason why I was angry. I knew who I was angry with. The mirrors placed around the room had always been useful when I was correcting my position or movements but lately they seemed to show me someone that I couldn't recognize as myself. And it was that person that I really hated. It was that person that made me angry. The person who really pissed me off was no other than the pathetic and weak Arisawa Tatsuki that looked at me all around the dojo.
Sand started to pour out from the sandbag. I sighed and went to get the plastic tape. I had overdone myself again. It was good when you punched the bag with all your strength, but it wasn't that good if you didn't have enough self-control to keep you from literally destroying the bag.
The weak Tatsuki followed me as I entered the girls' lockers' room. I used to be the one to protect, but lately, I had even been protected by the one I had promised to protect. And I was still being protected. It felt strange and out of place. And I didn't like that feeling. In my previous universe I had certainties; things like Chizuru will always try to hit on Orihime, Ichigo will always furrow his brows and I will always protect Orihime. Not the other way around. And still, there I was, discharging my anger on a sandbag while my friends set out to protect the world and save Orihime. And I was rendered useless, left behind, a fallen warrior. But then again, it was time to question myself when had I really been a warrior to begin with.
You are still the dragon. You have to believe in yourself. Faithful words that swam in my head coming from somewhere I could not pinpoint. I ignored them like they hadn't been in there in the first place.
When I finished fixing the sandbag, the rest of the group had already started the combats. I loved the adrenalin of sparring; the feeling that a moment of distraught could end up in a lot of pain and damage.
I faced my first adversary. Apart from the sensei there was no one in the room as quick and strong as me. And that's the truth. It had been years since anyone in the dojo had managed to lay a decisive punch on me. And that last person had been Ichigo.
But that was about to change.
We bowed andstood in fighting position. The fight was on. I avoided the first punch with ease and immediately prepared to score a point. He dodged my kick just barely. Unfortunately for him, the second kick hit his stomach. He bent for a split second before he quickly got back into fighting position. I aimed two straight punches and then a circular kick followed by another couple of punches. Done! My opponent was holding his stomach, three of my attacks having gotten through his thin defence.
It was then that it happened. A heavy feeling took over both my mind and body for a second and in the next one I was laying on the floor, clutching a broken nose.
"Oh shit! Are you okay Arisawa-san?"
I was partly aware of something trickling down my nose through my cheek and onto the tatami. But as for the rest I was completely clueless. All I could think about was that sudden weight I had felt over my entire body, better yet, the weight I had felt over my soul. My brain struggled to keep alert but my body didn't comply. Was I shaking? Why the fuck was I shaking? Was I that weak that just the thought of those monsters having returned to finish the job could render me completely paralyzed? So completely defenseless?
The worried voices around me slowly started fading and a buzzing soundfilled my ears. You're so desperately weak! And then lights went out.
When I came to again, I was laying in a bed at the nurse's office. Keigo and Mizuiro were there much to my dismay. Why the hell were they there? Then again, they must have felt it too.
"Looks like she's waking up." Mizuiro said.
"Hey there, Arisawa-san!" Keigo made one of his stupid faces and I felt like punching him just to release some stress. Instead, I tried to seat noticing a few drops of blood staining my kimono.
"Where's the nurse?" I asked still a little out of it. This was annoying. I go down for the first time ever and just my luck, these two dorks had to be here.
"She left for a while. How're you feeling?" Mizuiro asked in a kind voice. My anger smoothed a bit.
"Fine, considering the situation."
"Did you feel it too?" Keigo's expression changed all the sudden and fear was plastered in his eyes. I wondered if my eyes looked like that as well.
"Asano-san! We shouldn't be talking about that here! Someone might come." Mizuiro complained looking around to make sure no one was coming.
"Ah! What's with the cold address again, Mizuiro?" Keigo pouted in a very annoying and utterly ugly way.
"Yeah, I felt it too." I replied, trying to keep the conversation from degrading into Keigo's complaints and low self-esteem issues.
"Think they're coming after us?"
"Probably not. I mean, by the looks of it, they were probably arrancar. They have no business with weaklings like us." There, I had said it. Arrancar wouldn't want anything to do with weaklings like us. I had just admitted in front of a ditz and a dork how helpless I felt. How much lower could I go? I felt like spanking myself. If either of them actually noted my remark, they kept quiet about it.
"Why do you say they were arrancar?" the ditz, also known as Keigo, asked. It was indeed a good question. Apparently I had been able to feel others' spiritual energy for quite some time. And what I sensed sure feels like the same reiatsu.
"Don't know. Just a hunch." I lied. There was no reason to tell them the truth. "So what're you guys doing here?"
"We got a bit worried when we heard you had fainted in karate practice. That was so unlike you, we thought we ought to check it out." Again. Again I was being thought of as the weak one, the fragile link. Fuck, had I changed that much in the past week or so that these two helpless figures had to worry about me? Then again, we had kind of gotten closer after the all "Ichigo's a shinigami" incident. Still, I couldn't help feeling angry.
"Well, thanks a lot, but I'm fine so you can leave." I swung my feet to the opposite side they were on and took off.
"Are you sure you're okay, Arisawa-san?" Mizuiro had taken over the role of the concerned one in the group. I could feel his eyes burning on my back. I waved my hand dismissively.
"Yeah, I'm just fine. I'm going home, since practise is already over anyway." And with that, I left them staring at my back as I exited the room. Was I fine? Hell no. How could I be? Was I going to admit? Not even if pigs could fly. I would like to keep my own weakness to myself, thank you very much.
In the lockers' room I had someone waiting for me. My little ghost friend had been a common visitor lately. I really hated this part of being spiritually aware and usually I would just ignore the annoying ghosts floating around. But for this girl I had made sort of an exception.
"What're you staring at?" I spat. She had been gazing at me for the last five minutes and it really getting on my nerves.
"Nothing much." She shrugged but still kept staring at me. Damn! That really was annoying.
"You've been staring at me for five minutes without saying anything. Is there something you want?" I slid my foot into my snicker and finished packing my stuff in my backpack.
"Actually, some dude asked me if I could come and get you." she put a lock of her hair behind her semi-transparent ear.
"Huh? A guy? What did he look like?" why the hell would some random guy ask to a ghost girl to get me? That was just plain stupid; unless it was either Mizuiro or Keigo. Who else could it be, really? It's not like there's a lot of people at school who can see ghosts; and only those two know that I can see was just too strange.
"Don't know." She shrugged. I gave her a disbelieving look. "Just some guy that knows you and needs to talk to you."She grabbed my arm and tried to drag me out of the lockers' room. "Chill down, I'm going already." I barely had time to grab my stuff.
We had been walking for a fair ten minutes in utter silence and it was kind of getting into my nerves. However starting some kind of conversation was revealing itself a challenge for my brain.
"Your name's Tatsuki-chan, right?" the ghost girl turned around to face me. I noticed she was smaller than me, probably two or three years younger. She had long flowing black hair and big brown eyes with purple glints in them.
"Yeah! What's yours?"
"So…why haven't you gone to Heaven, already?" This was definitely not my day. What a sensitive question to make.. Her eyes dropped.
"Don't know. I suppose it's because I have to look after my little sister." Ayumi faced the sky. "She's still alive so I have to do what I can to protect her. Maybe that's the reason why I'm still here."
Poor girl. It must really hurt her being like this. Urahara had explained us the basic stuff so I knew she was supposed to have gone to Soul Society. Apparently it wasn't the Heaven most would expect but it was probably better than this.I patted her on the head. "I'm sure you'll go there soon enough."
She shook her head. "Oh no! I don't mind being here. Although it hurts a bit to see mom, dad and my little sister and not being able to talk to them and tell them I'm alright and they don't need to cry anymore, I rather be here, even in this form, so I can protect my little sister like that." She scratched the back of her head with a goofy smile. "It's not like I'm strong and tough like you but I always do my best."
My heart skipped a beat. Strong and tough like me? How far from the true could you be, Ayumi. I guess my face must have shown some kind of emotion I didn't mean to because the black haired ghost girl stopped to stare at me.
"It's good enough if I do my best, right, Tatsuki-oneechan? It's good enough, right?" she watched me expectantly. I smiled.
"Of course. Doing your best is good enough. No one can ask for more." I replied. Ayumi smiled back at me and continued to guide the way. Ah, what a lie. Is it really such a lie? That voice said once more. But of course it was. Doing your best sometimes isn't even near good enough. Sometimes, even if you surpass yourself it still isn't good enough. I had been trying to convince myself that it was, but it just wasn't. Sometimes being just you simply couldn't get the job done.
With all the thinking and rambling around, I had completely forgotten we were supposed to be meeting someone. I was still unsure if it was okay for me to just meet some random guy who could see ghosts. But how bad could it be? I mean, although it might look like I hadn't thought about the possible dangerous, I had. I'm not as reckless as people like to think of me. By now, I had completely put aside the Keigo/ Mizuiro hypothesis. They were still at school. We were already walking in the centre of Karakura.
Ayumi stopped near the crosswalk. She looked around. "The guy who wanted to see you said he would be around here."
I looked around. No one seemed to be waiting anywhere. "Are you sure it was here?"
"Yup." She assured, her eyes searching around a second time. "I was walking by and this kind of tall dude with these strange green eyes came up to me and said: you have Arisawa Tatsuki's scent on you, but you're not her." She was now imitating the referred tall dude with green eyes. Green eyes? That reminded me of someone. "And then he asked if I knew you and I said: I like to watch her karate practises. And that's when he told me: bring her to me, child. I need her." She finished enthusiastically. "You know, now that I think about it, when he first talked to me, I was really scared. I thought he was going to killme." She laughed. "Crazy me! I mean, I'm already dead."
I suppose I should laugh as well since she was trying to make a joke and all, but I couldn't at the moment. I had a disturbing feeling growing in my chest like someone was slowly squeezing my insides. You have to listen inside you now. The voice inside me called out.
"You're so funny!" I tried to shake the feeling away. "Hey, Ayumi, tell me again how the guy looked like?"
Ayumi turned around to face me. She pouted. "I don't know. He was normal."
"What was he wearing?" I forced the issue, the feeling growing larger in my chest. Green eyes, green eyes...it couldn't be, could it?
"Just some plain boring white costume." She replied sort of annoyed. Fuck, fuck, fuck. White hakama. That was the description just like I remembered: black socks, white hakama and a hole. That one's trash. Those green eyes. That reiatsu. You've got to listen now. Listen! Listen what? I have to get out of here. But then Ayumi would be in danger. What should I do?
Too late! A hand grabbed me and I felt myself being lifted in the air. I could glimpse Ayumi on the groud still. Good. Maybe she can just go away and stay out of danger. Maybe he's just after me. But then again, why the hell would he be after me? It's not like I have a huge amount of reiatsu to serve as a meal.
"Arisawa, Tatsuki?" his hand was on my neck, but really that was unnecessary. I'm sure he was aware there wasn't a thing I could do against him.
"Who's asking?" Sure Tatsuki, just appeal to his funny side, I'm sure he has one.
"You should remind yourself to be more respectful in these situations, woman. I remember your dim reiatsu." Yeah, sure, go ahead. Shove the fact that I'm just a weak defenceless human in my face, why won't you?
The pressure on my throat disappeared and I fell flat on my butt. The situation didn't seem good to my side. What the fuck was an Espadadoing here? And it had to be this one in particular. Was he one of the guys who had Orihime? And if he was, just what the hell was I suppose to do. I tried to reach the emergency pager.
"Not so fast." I just had time to saw the pager diving down twelve floors. "I have a proposition to make you."
Oh, really? What kind? If you stay quiet I won't beat you up and I'll just eat your soul nice and quickly? I gathered some courage and stood up. No use being nice at this point.
"And who the fuck are you?" I yelled. It sounded great. If I was half as confident as I sounded it would have been even better. His face remained impassible. What was it with this guy and emotions? Did he forget how to make facial expressions or something during his transformation?
"Know your place, woman. Your legs are betraying your brave words." Damn it. He was right. I hadn't notice before but I was shaking all over. "If you must know, my name is Ulquiorra Schiffer and I'm the Quarto Espada under Aizen-sama's command."
So, Urahara had been right, he was a high ranked Espada. Fuck, just my luck.
"The proposition I have to make is as following: come with me and Inoue Orihime will be safe."
"It is as I said, acknowledge of course that your bonds to this world and its inhabitants will be forever severed and your loyalty will belong to Aizen-sama until he no longer requires it. If you accept these rules, Inoue Orihime's safety will be guaranteed."
"So you are the bastards who have Orihime!" At that moment, two things crossed my mind: 1) I really must be stupid; 2) I have to get anger management classes. And with this in my mind I charged against my opponent. He didn't even flinch. I, on the other hand, ended up where I had started: on the floor with a broken wrist and soured leg to add to an already soured butt.
"That was pointless." He stated. Duh, so I've noticed. "Now, will you or will you not come with me?"
"I have no reasons to believe you'll keep your part of the deal."
"How about if I tell you that if you do not come with me right now, not just Inoue Orihime but also her so called rescuers will die?"
The shock on my face was behind obvious. "What do you want with me?" They needed Orihime. Urahara had explained us that much. So, there was no reason for them to kill her. As for Ichigo and the others, I was pretty much sure they could handle themselves. Besides, I wasn't just about to become another hostage in their game.
Ulquiorra's face remained expressionless. "You will see once we get to Las Noches. Now, will you come with me?"
"You can't expect me to just follow you. Like I've said, you gave me no assurance that Orihime would be safe once I go with you."
"Still, if you don't, I have only to snap my fingers and all your friends will die." Damn it. Damn it. What should I do? "You probably would like to make sure I'm not just fooling you, right? Well, see for yourself."
What felt like soul particles started floating from him to me. "These are the last images I have of all of your friends." He said. I don't know how he did it, but images of Ichigo and Orihime appeared in my head. Ichigo was once again getting the shit beaten out of him. Orihime was locked up somewhere with two mischievous looking arrancar. Then images of Rukia, Ishida, Chad and some other guy I remembered being a shinigami as well but couldn't quite remember the name popped up as well. Things weren't looking good.
"I don't get." I said frustrated. "I can't do anything against you. What keeps you from just taking me."?"
His face remaineda total stone. "Nothing. But if you accept these terms you must submit yourself to us and with it, you'll grant your friends more time to live. I you don't, they will die
It took me a few seconds to rationalize his words. The decision however had long be made. My friends wouldn't die if their lives rested on my answer.
"I will go with you."
"Don't forget your part of the deal then. Your human life ends now. And with it, all your bonds."
"Well then, let's get started." And just like that we were once again near the crosswalk. I was expecting him to open some sort of gate like the one Ichigo and the others went through but instead he pulled me on my feet. I was puzzled. Ayumi was nowhere to be seen. And then, bam. I didn't have time to apprehend what had just happened. I only vaguely saw a moving car coming towards me with no chance to dodge it.
You read in books and see in movies that when people die their life flashes before their eyes. I didn't see or heard anything. The only thing in my mind was the memory of his cold green eyes and the distant sound of a horn.
And that was... how I died.
I am currently reviewing this story so some minor details might change. I hope to continue it soon. Thanks for your support. ^_^