Disclaimer: The only character I own so far is Shirataki Rika. I merely borrow and play with the ones you recognize.

Ch. 10: Calling Out the Wolf Within

I had imagined my return to the world of the living to be something spectacular, like what you would see on the television when the hero steps out of the smoke with his hands tucked leisurely into his pockets, a satisfied gleam in his eyes and a playful smirk on his face while everyone else stares at him in awe. Instead, I found myself in the same kneeling position as before, blinking away multi-colored dots from my vision, and trying not to choke on the sheer amount of dust swirling around me.

The only silver lining in this cloud was the scabbard of my zanpakutou, other than that, the whole—

Wait… zanpakutou?

My eyes darted down to the black cloth I was using to cover the lower half of my face. Holding my arms open, I studied the shihakushō draped around my body and lightly touched the sword strapped to my side. Grinning widely at the realization that I had successfully become a shinigami, I let out a loud whoop of joy, only to quickly find out how bad of an idea that was once dust promptly decided to rush into my airways.

"Well, I think we can take a wild guess and say that she didn't turn into a hollow." Jinta's obnoxious voice could be heard over my coughs. "Though, it does sound like she might lose a lung soon… Mah, one less shinigami to worry about then!"

Stumbling out of the cloud of dust, the sleeve of my hakama held tight over my nose and mouth, I sent a glare in the red-head's general direction. "Shut up! Not like it's never happened to you before!"

"It hasn't!" He folded his hands behind his head and smirked up at me. "I was never stupid enough to open my mouth when so much dust was floating around."

"Oh? You sure about that, Jinta-kun?"

His eyes narrowed at the tone I had used to drag out the '-kun' part. "Of course!"

"Well then, you shouldn't mind if I do this right?" And with that, I proceeded to kick dust at him.

"Hey! What are--" His furious shout was interrupted by the coughing fit that had now overtaken him.

I grinned. Childish, yes, but it was so satisfying to watch him try to yell at me while choking on dust. "Who's the stupid one now, Jinta-kun?"

"Now, now children…" Urahara stepped between us as Tessai slapped Jinta on the back in an effort to help him clear his lungs, only to send the poor boy flying. "This isn't the time to be fighting."

Deciding to let his 'children' comment slip by since I had been acting quite immaturely, I shrugged. "Not my fault there's so much dust in this place."

"Would you rather that we had built it out of concrete or metal? I assure you that those would hurt quite a bit during training."

"No, but—Wait, you built this place?!"

"Hehehe… That's right! This is a masterpiece created by a combination of chic swankiness and our hyper technology! I painted the ceiling with a sky so that it would alleviate your sense of frustration, and even planted trees to hydrate your soul! To do this much in secret in the underground beneath all those roads and houses, well I sure broke a bone or two!"

I raised my eyebrows at the man. "I'm sure you didn't. You probably just had Tessai do all the heavy lifting and work."

He waved his fan negligently. "Details, details, Shirataki-san… Let's focus on the main issue here. After all, lesson two has been… cleared!"

"Oh really? I hadn't figured that out, what with the robes and sword…"

"And as such," The man was ignoring me. "We can now start on lesson three!"

"No."

Urahara peered at me from over his fan, eyes wide. "Excuse me?"

"I'm not starting anything until you tell me what happened earlier. You drained my reiatsu, paralyzed me, and then thrust me into my inner world. I think I deserve an explanation before I do anything else."

"Well…" he swung his cane up and rested it on his shoulder as he began to walk back and forth in front of me. "You needed to get into your inner world in order to obtain your shinigami powers, but there were only two ways of accessing it and making contact with your zanpakutou spirit. One involved meditation and coming to terms with oneself, requiring a lengthy amount of time that you did not have. The other was to have your zanpakutou spirit make contact with you first and pull you into your world itself. Draining your spiritual force was part of that second method."

"And you couldn't have told me this before you went all creepy and 'shattered mind' on me when I was paralyzed and panicking?"

"I could have…" The cane started to tap against his neck as he seemed to consider that idea for the first time. "But I wasn't sure if it would have worked. In fact, if Ururu had not landed that last hit where she did, I highly doubt that the needed jolt would have been present to unstabilize your soul and cause your zanpakutou spirit to reach out and pull you in."

"Unstabilize?"

"At the point before Ururu hit you with her full force, most of your reiatsu had been drained and you were running on adrenaline and the last reserves of your spiritual energy. When she lost control, she aimed all her force at your soul chain. It would have been enough to kill you had the last of your spiritual force not risen up to protect you from the brunt of the punch. As it was, you were protected, but left on the brink of either losing all your spiritual powers or dying. At such a state, and with a little push from me, your dormant shinigami powers rose up to pull you into your inner world and save your life."

I glared. "So you basically tried to kill me, not once, but twice…"

"Now that's not fair Shirataki-san… I wasn't actually trying to kill you, just bring you to the very brink and essentially force you to save yourself! Besides," He was hiding behind his fan again. "I actually did kill you the first time, so you see, there was no trying involved."

The urge to grab that fan and whack him over the head with it was very strong, but I managed to restrain myself. "You aren't helping your case, or your nose."

"Ah re, ah re… what an admirable spirit! If that's the case, you get your wish… Let's begin lesson three shall we?"

I raised an eyebrow. "And what would that be?"

"Why it would be…" He raised his cane and pulled on the handle, drawing out a hidden sword. "To try to not die."

"Again?!?"

"Oh yes!" His answer sounded a bit too cheerful to my ears. "Now, I suggest that you draw your zanpakutou as well if you don't want to die."

And before I had a chance to properly pull out my blade, he lunged towards me, sword raised to shoulder level and poised to slash across my chest.

"Wha--" The forceful vibrations from his sword clashing against mine ran down my arms and cut me off mid-word. "Damn it!"

I placed one hand against the back of my blade and pushed hard against it, trying to force him back.

"Can't you properly explain stuff to me before trying to kill me? It would make me more open to these schemes of yours."

"But my dear Shirataki-san," Urahara drew back before delivering several swift strokes to my zanpakutou, pushing me back with the sheer power of his swings. "I already did explain this to you!"

"Like hell you did!" There was no way I was going to be able to attack him like this. "All you explained to me was the reasoning behind the second lesson. The only information you gave me about this lesson was to try to not die."

"Ah, but if you don't learn to connect concepts, you will not survive long in this world." He had me backed up against a boulder now. "Though, it doesn't look like you'll be with us for long."

And with that, he pulled back his arm, before springing forward and stabbing at my head.

Or rather, where my head would have been had I not quickly scrunched down and ducked out from under his raised arm. Watching as his sword cleaved through the boulder like it was made out of butter, I was, for the first time in my life, extremely grateful for the fact that I was short.

"I don't think so Urahara… I'm not making it that easy for you!"

"Is that so?" Something in his voice and the way his eyes flicked over my shoulder made me look behind me, only to quickly leap to the side as bullets buried themselves where I had been standing only seconds ago. Blinking stupidly at the churned up dirt, I turned my head to confirm the sight of Ururu with a smoking machine gun of sorts propped up on her shoulder.

She bowed. "Please dodge carefully Shirataki-san."

"You…" I turned back towards Urahara. "Ururu's attacking me too?!?"

The only answer I got was a slight tilt of the hat before he flew at me again, blade flashing with deadly intent. I lifted my arms, intent on slicing his unprotected midsection, but the faint whistle of bullets flying through the air caused me to leap to the side in order to avoid both attacks. Looking around for cover, I spotted a large boulder and started sprinting towards it, zigzagging so as to not be hit by the shower of bullets Ururu was shooting at me.

Throwing myself behind the rock, I frantically tried to think of a plan with the sound of projectiles pounding relentlessly into the other side of my temporary shield. I wouldn't be able to focus on attacking Urahara what with Ururu endlessly firing at me, but at the same time, I knew that I wouldn't be able to take out Ururu, especially not with Urahara trying to slice me into little pieces. The shopkeeper must know that, which meant… the point of this lesson wasn't for me to fight them!

But then what was it that I had to do?

A smirk. "Try not to die."

Right, like that helped. All he had told me about this third lesson was for me to try to not die and that I had to learn how to connect things. If that was the case, then—

"Hiding?"

So lost in thought was I that I hadn't even noticed Urahara approaching, leisurely tapping the back of his blade against his neck as he slowly walked towards me. I straightened from my crouched position, adjusting my grip on my sword as I shot back.

"Thinking."

"Oh? About?"

"This lesson."

"And your conclusions?"

"Haven't reached them yet, you interrupted my train of thought."

"Ah! My apologies…" And with that, he lunged towards me once more.

I brought my zanpakutou up to block his attack, grunting a bit from the effort. "Apology definitely not accepted."

He just grinned before swinging at me yet again, his sword clashing against mine with a resounding crash. Trying to hold him off the best I could, my mind worked frantically. If I didn't figure out the point of this lesson soon, I would really die, either impaled on Urahara's sword or shot full of holes by Ururu, neither of which sounded particularly appealing. Sifting through all the information I had been given so far, I thought hard. He had told me to try and not die, meaning that he was trying to kill me, like in my first lesson, which meant that he was trying to get my zanpakutou spirit to make a connection again, but why?

His voice broke me out of my thoughts. "My dear Shirataki-san, leaving your back unprotected is not the smartest thing to do when fighting!"

"It is pro--" I glanced back, only to realize that the boulder I had been hiding behind was quickly crumbling away under the barrage of Ururu's attack.

I cursed, the alarm bells in my head blaring at me to move now, but I was pinned down between the two of them. My eyes darted around, searching for an opening somewhere, anywhere, finally falling on Urahara's stance. He was resting all his weight on his left leg as he kept me trapped against the boulder, if I could somehow throw him off balance for even a second, I would be able to get out of here…

He leaned even closer, pressing down on me, a dangerous grin on his face. "Time's up!"

Now!

I grabbed the end of my scabbard and pulled it loose from my obi, holding it tight against my left forearm as I brought it up to block his blade, pushing back against him, giving me enough room to slash my zanpakutou down across his leg. It wasn't a deep cut, the angle of the swing had been awkward, but it had caught him off guard, allowing me to spin away from him just before the boulder crumbled and bullets buried themselves where I had been standing. I ran towards another group of rocks, taking cover behind them as I tried to catch my breath and organize my thoughts.

It seemed that the point of this lesson was for me to make a connection with my zanpakutou spirit, which meant that there must be more to my shinigami powers than just obtaining the sword… The wolf had led me to my sword, had said that he was my zanpakutou… I looked down at the blade, trying to recall what he had said when I had been inside my inner world.

"I know you better than anyone else…"

"Are you the one who's going to teach me about my powers?"

A tilt of his head. "Yes, I suppose I am…"

Alright, so he was part of me, part of my very soul and was the one who was going to teach me about my powers, but how? I didn't even know his name.

Wait, name...

"It would be inconceivable for you to catch my name so soon."

"You will eventually learn my name."

"My name will have to wait."

He had kept on emphasizing his name, never actually telling me what it was, yet alluding to it over and over again. Was knowing his name the key to this lesson? Did a zanpakutou's name have something to do with unleashing its powers?

"That was an unexpected move back there, Shirataki-san."

I whirled around at the sound of Urahara's voice, only to find the man leaning against one of the rocks behind me, casually twirling his cane around one finger by the handle. Raising my sword, I eyed him warily, noticing that the bleeding on his leg seemed to have stopped.

"Like I would have been able to get out of that mess if I hadn't managed to surprise you."

"That is very true indeed…" He grinned slightly, not seeming to be very upset over the wound I had given him. "Were you thinking again?"

"Yes." My eyes followed the moving tip of his sword, body taut with tension, ready to respond should he suddenly decide to attack. "Does learning my zanpakutou spirit's name have anything to do with the point of this lesson?"

The grin widened. "Very good Shirataki-san! That is indeed the point of the third lesson!" He pushed off from the rock and caught the handle of his sword, eyes glinting at me from under the hat. "Well then, since you've managed to connect the dots, it's about time I got a bit more serious, no?"

I paled. A bit more serious? He was already formidable enough at this level and he wanted to get more serious?!

"Ah… no… that's okay. You're plenty serious enough for me, thanks…"

"Now don't be like that… After all, my zanpakutou wants to be released!" He looked down at his sword, the cheerful note dropping from his voice, a menacing vein creeping into it. "Okiro, Benihime!"

And before my astonished eyes, the weapon in his hand started to glow, then change shape. The handle of the cane stretched and turned into a long hilt, the last couple inches bent at an angle, a crimson tassel dangling off the end. There was no guard, but rather a decorative red string wrapped around where one would have been, a three-loop bow on one side and a folded paper decoration on the other. Above it was a small flower design on a U-shaped piece of metal that covered the first three or four inches of the straight, slim blade, the tip of which ended in a slanted razor-like edge instead of tapering off into a point like most swords. The feeling coming off of it and Urahara was now completely different from what I had felt earlier. They felt dangerous, deadly, full of sharply honed power and strength.

I gulped. There was no way I was going to be able to stand up to them, much less try and learn my own zanpakutou's name at the same time.

Urahara smirked. "Scared, Shirataki-san? I can feel the fear rolling off of you from all the way over here. Well, I can't blame you. After all, Benihime is not a terribly sweet-natured sword and she has been eager to meet you ever since you drew first blood." He tilted his chin down, the hat throwing most of his face into shadow. "Very, very eager…"

I saw his body tense, instinctively knowing that he was about to spring towards me, and without a second thought, turned tail and ran. It was cowardly and made me feel disgusted with myself, but if I didn't run, I would surely die.

A small chuckle sounded right beside my ear. "Do you really think you can get away?"

My eyes widened, how had he already caught up to me?! Gritting my teeth, I slid to a stop and turned to slash at him with my sword, trying to drive him off, but he merely brought his blade up to block mine, then pushed forward with a grin, sending me hurtling through the air like a ragdoll. Hitting the ground hard, I struggled to get air back into my lungs as I rolled up onto my knees, only to raise my head and see him come flying at me through the dust, Benihime glinting in the light.

I let out a small gasp, frantically bringing my left arm up to block his blade with my scabbard, but his blows were so strong that they knocked my arm aside, paralyzing it in the process and leaving me completely open to attack. Unable to bring my sword up in time, I was forced to drop back onto the ground, throwing out my left leg in an attempt to knock him over, but he easily evaded it by leaping up into the air. Taking the opening that presented, I quickly scrambled up onto my feet and ran in the opposite direction, gripping my zanpakutou tightly in my right hand as fear pumped through my veins. I hated myself for acting so pathetically, but the panic inside was quickly overwhelming my ability to think, much like when I had been in my inner world.

"This is disappointing Shirataki-san…" I felt Urahara's hand close around the back of my collar before I was forcibly pulled back and thrown onto the ground, panicked eyes meeting his ruthlessly serious ones as he straightened and raised his sword. "Terribly, terribly disappointing…"

Yelping, I swung my sword blindly, managing to bat away his zanpakutou and roll onto my feet, but I wasn't quick enough to avoid his next strike, and before I knew it, white-hot pain flashed across my consciousness and burned across my midsection as blood splattered across the ground.

I let out a short scream of pain and staggered back from him before gritting my teeth against the pain, one hand pressed against the wound on my stomach, the other shakily raising my zanpakutou in defense. The cut didn't feel very deep and I wasn't losing a lot of blood, but it still hurt nonetheless and did nothing to allay my fear. I could see death in Urahara's cold eyes and the ominous glint of Benihime's blade.

I'm going to die… I'm seriously going to die…

The words ran frantically through my head as I slowly took a step back with every click of Urahara's getas, waves of terror crashing into me, breaking my self-control into tiny pieces as it slowly, but inexorably, pulled me under, drowning me in an ocean of despair.

"What did I teach you about fearing death?"

And suddenly, the black wolf was standing in front of me while Urahara and everything else around me faded into the gray mist that had appeared out of nowhere.

"You--"

"Didn't I tell you not to let fear paralyze you? Have you forgotten all that you learned while with me?"

"No, but he--"

"Is still only one person. Banish your fear, it does nothing but smother your senses." Walking closer on silent paws, his silver eyes met mine in a calm gaze. "You once asked me for my name, are you ready to hear it?"

I closed my eyes and took in a deep breath, letting his tranquility wash over me and drive away the fear. Now that I thought about it, he was right. Ururu had stopped attacking me when Urahara released his sword and he was only one man. Granted, one who was much stronger than me, but he had said that the point of the lesson was for me to learn my zanpakutou's name and with the wolf in front of me, it seemed like this lesson was going to come to a close. Readjusting my grip on the sword, I let out a small sigh before opening my eyes and nodding, indicating that I was ready.

"Look into the face of fear and stand firm, strengthen your resolve and master your fright. Remember what it is you fight for and call me out, for I am--"

His name echoed loudly in my head as the mist lifted to reveal Urahara, his eyes fixed on me, sword at the ready. Sliding my right leg back and shifting my stance, I raised my arms, crossing my left arm and zanpakutou up in front of me, gusts of wind blowing my bangs back from my face. Concentrating, I felt energy flow inside me, slowly spreading through my whole body, growing in power, swelling until it could no longer be contained, the words finally bursting forth from deep within.

"Howl, Yafuurou!"


Yafuurou = Night/Wild Wind Wolf


A/N: Sorry for the long wait everyone! This past semester at school really pummeled me and beat out all the creativity, hence the almost half-year gap between the two chapters. I am terribly sorry for making you guys wait for so long!

Now, about this chapter... First off, yes, I realize that 'howl' is the release command that Renji uses for Zambimaru, but I could not think of a better word that encompasses both the wind and the wolf. If you guys think otherwise and have suggestions, then please by all means, let me know!

Secondly, like most of you guessed, Yafuurou's elemental powers are those grounded in wind. Nicely done. Exactly what those abilities are though,... well, I guess you guys will just have to wait until the next chapter!

Speaking of chapter 11, I actually don't quite know what's going to happen in it, but hopefully I'll be able to use this winter break to come up with something and write it all out. Everything from here on out is basically a blank page as I have not mapped anything out yet, so... if you guys want to see something, drop me a line and maybe it'll give me ideas as to what to write!

Anyways, hope this chapter went over well! Please do leave a review and tell me what you thought!