Field School was awesome. Geology Rocks!
Pêche ran and she ran, her heart beating furiously and her lungs burning from the pain. She had to make it in time, she just had to. She felt the monster's energy so close; she heard its screech from down the block. She had to make it in time, she just had to protect…
Turning the corner, Pêche arrived just in time to see the monster disintegrate with a final scream. Eyes wide with surprise, Pêche caught sight of a woman pointing some sort of staff at the monster. Drawing back her weapon, the lady turned to gaze with deep black eyes at Pêche, still startled beyond belief.
A curious look on her face, the woman approached Pêche and waved her hands over the girl's eyes. "Yoohoo," she called, "are you okay?"
"Wha… how did you do that?" Pêche exclaimed all of a sudden, pointing at the woman, her surprise catching up to her. "You just killed that monster…"
"Aha, so you can see me," the woman said with a satisfied smile, patting the girl's head joyously. "I had thought so! What a special little girl!"
"I'm not the special one here," Pêche retorted, flabbergasted. "And I'm fifteen years old!"
The woman looked surprised. She smiled a friendly, gorgeous smile. "No way! You look so much younger! I'm fifteen."
Pêche blanched. The woman before her was about six inches taller than she was, with breasts about three times as large and a figure that, even through her deerskin dress, could make any girl take a hit to her self-esteem. The woman's copper skin was flawless, her long ebony hair smooth as silk, and her big black eyes shining bright behind long eyelashes. And she had all the youthfulness of a fifteen-year-old. Pêche felt every trace of hope in her dissolve.
"There is no Goddess," Pêche moaned in despair, a cloud hanging over her head. The woman didn't seem to notice.
"Hmm…" the woman hummed as she eyed Pêche speculatively. "You're alive, you're in body, and you ran all the way here to face the Weendigo… Truly exceptional…"
"Who are you?" Pêche asked from within her gloom.
The woman flashed a dazzling smile. "I am Miakoda, acclaimed shaman of the Kanienkeh tribe, wandering the land to protect humans from the Weendigo," Miakoda exclaimed with absolute pride. "What is your name, little one?"
"Stop calling me little," Pêche complained, shaking her fists at her side. "My name is Pêche Prunier, and I'm a high school student."
"Poor dear, so distraught," Miakoda soothed in an oddly patronizing way. "Why don't we go get some ice cream? Would you like that?"
Pêche pouted, but couldn't say no to ice cream.
"So since you're a ghost, you can't pay for the ice cream?" Pêche drummed out bluntly.
"Nope," Miakoda said with utmost nonchalance. "Of course not."
"But I still have to buy you an extra large banana split, with extra chocolate, caramel, pecans, sprinkles and Smarties?" Pêche asked dully.
"It's awfully nice of you, Pêche, honey," Miakoda thanked. Pêche sighed, and passed a twenty to the guy over the counter when he got back with Miakoda's massive and overpriced ice cream sundae. The two sat down on a bench outside. It was an unseasonably warm spring day.
"So, Pêche, you destroy Weendigos?" Miakoda asked, handling her sundae daintily, while getting ice cream all over her face.
"Weendigos?" Pêche asked, remembering that Miakoda had used that word before.
"Yea, Weendigos," Miakoda nodded sagely. "They're those cannibal monsters that prey on other humans."
Pêche tilted her head in confusion. "They're called Weendigos?" Akai had always called them monsters, saying that they were demons that needed to be destroyed. She had never really considered them beyond that.
"You mean you've been fighting them without knowing what they are?" Miakoda asked, surprised.
Pêche ducked her head slightly, embarrassed that she'd never been curious enough to ask. "Well, I know that they eat humans…"
"Do you know why?" Miakoda asked. "Do you know the origins of the Weendigo?"
"No…" Pêche admitted. Miakoda's eyes sparkled.
"Then come here, child, come and hear the story of the Weendigo," she said in a sagely voice, as if she'd been waiting for an opportunity like this for centuries. Pêche pouted, but was more than willing to listen.
"The Weendigo have haunted our lands for as long as the Kanienkeh people have lived," Miakoda started, her voice carrying the weight of the knowledge of the ancestors. "They are great spirit beings, many times larger than a human, with long arms and long legs, so thin that they always looked starved. The Weendigo's skin is so thin and dried, that all you can see is the ash-grey bone beneath and deep inset eyes that glow red with the blood of its victims.
"In times of starvation, some people resort to cannibalism, and they undoubtedly become Weendigos. However, possession by a Weendigo can also turn a human into a Weendigo, as well as greed and gluttony.
"The Weendigo is never satisfied after consuming a human, they are always hungry, and always continue to search for their next prey. They are a threat to all humans, and must therefore be destroyed by talented and accomplished shaman."
Miakoda closed her eyes, sitting serenely upon the bench as if she belonged to a world apart. Pêche's eyes narrowed. "Your ice cream is dripping."
"Gah," Miakoda exclaimed delicately, as she started to lick the ice cream off her hand.
Pêche held back a smile, shaking her head. "You are so silly, Mia."
"Wow," Pêche mouthed, stunned to silence by the magnificent sight she was now beholding.
She had seen huge trees before, trees that were taller than buildings, on the Discovery Channel, but Pêche was sure that what she was seeing now would dwarf anything found on Earth.
The book had called this the "World Tree." This was the crossroads between worlds. From here she could travel to anywhere in all of existence, because the Tree's roots reached to the center of the Earth and its branches reached the most distant stars. It was big and beautiful and everything that Pêche had hoped it would be.
For the last four years, Pêche had journeyed to only one place, the place that was called the Underworld. It was underground, obviously, and held the most dense, most primal power of the universe. Blake had explained this to her many times before, but she only really believed it when she read about it in a book. Of course she would never say that to her friend's face, because, in all fairness, he was trying very hard to bring her into this world.
But having what Blake told her be validated by an outside source was heavily gratifying. It was proof that she wasn't crazy after all. And it also lent credence to the notion that all the other things Blake had told her about the world were true as well.
Over the years, as he trained her, Blake had told her many stories of how this universe operated. There were an infinite amount of worlds cradled in the universe, or the World Tree. If you had the gift and the drive, you could travel these distant worlds and learn from them. The worlds that were situated in the roots of the World Tree were made of increasingly dense spiritual pressure. The worlds that were higher up, in the branches, were made of a more refined, thinner energy, like the air on a mountaintop.
So far, Pêche had only been to the Underworld, the world of dense energy. It happened almost every night for four years. Pêche would be falling asleep in her bed, her stuffed rabbit cuddled close to her, when she'd feel it coming for her. The Darkness would surround her, and the next second, she'd find herself by the sea in the Underworld, wearing loose-fitting black pants with a pink sash and a black top. Her training gi. From there, she would follow the spark of Blake and Simon's energy to where they had made camp.
Because of this, Pêche had never needed to travel to the Underworld by herself. She had had no idea how, either, until she had found this thick book at a Chapters in Montreal that claimed to teach people how to travel to other worlds.
In this book, there were instructions on how to travel the worlds. Pêche followed them to the letter and, to her intense surprise, she found herself now in front of the World Tree.
"Wow," Pêche repeated, a little more vocally this time.
She approached the Tree, her hand reaching towards it, as if in greeting.
"Welcome, Pêche," a serene voice sounded, and Pêche nearly jumped out of her skin.
"What?" she looked around. "Who's there?"
She heard a laughing that sounded almost like a chime. "It's me, child, my name is Phigalia." Pêche looked in front of her, eyes searching the Tree over and finding no mouth from which the words could be coming from.
"I think I'm having a Pocahontas moment here," Pêche voiced dubiously. Silent laughter rustled the leaves and swayed the branches like wind. Pêche smiled back and brought her hands to the bark of the Tree. It hummed with power and knowledge. A dark portal opened beneath her fingertips.
This was going to be fun.
It was strange how it happened.
Jeremy had brought Kiano with him to one of his friend's houses for an evening party. The host couple had invited many friends and their children. The house was huge, and the kids, some younger than Kiano, some older, were having their own fun in the basement. Kiano, for lack of anything better to do, joined them.
Looking around, some were playing Twister, some of the girls were talking merrily about something or another, some boys were playing video games, and there was even one older girl flirting with another older boy. Kiano was bored.
Sitting down on the far couch that was too soft, he held his hands together on his lap and waited for time to pass. It wasn't long before a group of girls approached him.
"What are you doing here all by yourself?" one of them asked playfully. Kiano wasn't unaccustomed to this kind of attention. For a fourteen-year-old, he was tall and muscular, the product of a training regime that he carried over from his previous life. Unsurprisingly, he also had a maturity uncommon for a boy his age. And all girls loved that.
"I enjoy my personal time," was all Kiano said, making it rather clear he had no interest in talking to the young ladies. But, as usual, that just made them want to talk to him more.
"Why are you wearing sunglasses indoors?" one girl asked. "You'd look so much cooler without them."
"I wear my sunglasses at night," another girl sang jokingly. The girls laughed. Kiano was beginning to be annoyed.
"You want to see me without my glasses?" he asked.
"Yes!" they sounded in a discordant chorus. The girls nodded their heads vigorously, all smiles. Kiano removed his glasses and opened his eyes. He could hear the girls' soft gasps. There was an awkward silence.
"I'm blind," Kiano explained. The girls were amazed, the boy's pupils were entirely whited out. It was eerie-looking.
"We're so sorry," said one of them, the one who first asked about the sunglasses. Kiano could tell they were beating themselves up about it. No one wanted to bully the blind kid.
Kiano smiled. "Don't worry about it," he dismissed, feeling a little guilty for teasing the girls. "My name is Kiano." Smiling in return, the girls rushed to introduce themselves.
For an hour or so, Kiano reaped what he sowed and listened to the girls' light-hearted chatter about pets and vacations and school. He didn't contribute much to the conversation, but when he did, it was a big hit with the girls. Kiano understood that they were at the age where being friends with a boy was a sign of popularity. Kiano had always thought of himself as an adult in a child's body, but he wasn't above humouring these kids.
However, one bold girl, Meaghan, would be the one to shatter everything.
"Kiano, have you ever wondered what it's like to see?" Kiano didn't hesitate.
"No," he answered. Meaghan pressed further.
"Have you ever been able to see?" The question struck Kiano like a ton of bricks, and he didn't know why. He hesitated. A murky memory flashed before him, and he could barely hold onto it. It was a visual memory.
"I think so," he answered honestly, deeply puzzled at this fuzzy image in his mind. He was terrified and he wanted to run from it as fast as possible, but he couldn't anymore. He needed to know.
"When?" another girl asked. "When you were a baby?" Kiano's brow furrowed.
"I remember a lot of rubble, much destruction," he spoke, more to shape the intangible into something concrete than to answer the girl. A voice in his head was screaming for him to stop and forget all of this. "And..." Kiano's blind eyes widened and he gasped. He felt lightheaded. "Sajin."
Kiano remembered Komamura's face. The memory crystallized with such cruel clarity. He brought his hands to his head and, without even knowing it, began screaming at the top if his lungs. The girls fell back, paralyzed with fear. They had no idea what was happening. Kiano's eyes looked like they would jump from their sockets.
The screams were so loud that the parents upstairs heard. They were all downstairs in an instant.
"Kiano, what's wr-" Jeremy began, but Kiano punched him square in the face, sending him flying backwards into the wall. A few fathers held the raving Kiano back, shocked at the quiet child's outburst.
"You traitor," he shrieked, trying to lunge at Jeremy again. "Ichimaru Gin, you're a traitor! You fucking traitor!"
"What's he talking about, Jeremy?" the host, a man with short hair greying at the temples, shouted over the commotion. Jeremy didn't react.
"Just breathe, Kiano. Just calm down," Jeremy tried to sooth. He could see the agony ripping his son apart. Kiano easily shrugged off the middle-aged men holding him back.
"Everything makes sense now," Kiano gasped, feeling light headed. "We weren't killed in a Vasto Lord attack, you liar." Kiano paced back and forth, drenched in his sweat. Then he stopped cold. "We killed the Commander. We killed Captain Sui Feng, and Vice-Captain Hinamori. We gutted the Gotei 13."
"The Gotei 13 survived," Jeremy consoled, ignoring the confused looks on his friends faces. He tried to approach Kiano, but the man pushed him back roughly. His face was twisted into a snarl.
"You must be disappointed, you traitor," Kiano spat. "Do you continue to plot against the people who have given you everything? And what about Ran?" Realization hit again, and Kiano brought his hand to his mouth. Was Ran in on this? Everything was crumbling.
"I've got no beef against the Gotei 13, and neither does Ran," Jeremy assured quietly.
"Sajin. I can't believe what I did to Sajin." Kiano's head snapped up. "Sajin wasn't killed, was he?"
Jeremy shook his head. "Komamura's still alive in the Soul Society." Kiano was too overwhelmed to even breathe a sigh of relief. This was crushing him.
"Why did you lie to me?" Kiano demanded softly, his palm pressed against his forehead. Jeremy was silent. "Why did you lie to me?" Kiano snapped. He clutched Jeremy's shirt and shoved him up against the wall.
"If you didn't remember, it was because you couldn't bear to remember," Jeremy offered calmly. "Why would I tell you something you couldn't bear to hear?" Kiano's grasp on his father loosened. He stumbled back, as if struck.
"How could I? How could we?" Slowly, Jeremy's sad gaze met Kiano's.
"I betrayed Aizen," Jeremy said, and those words froze Kiano. "After you died, I betrayed him. Aizen killed me."
"No," Kiano whispered, aghast. "No," he shouted. "You betrayed Ran! We're both traitors! We both betrayed our saviours, the ones who brought us out of Rukongai. We betrayed the very justice we swore on our lives to protect!"
"I died in Ran's arms," Jeremy replied levelly, forcing himself to keep his gaze fixed on his hysterical son.
"It's not possible," Kiano decided, pacing back and forth. "Why am I alive?" Kiano demanded. "Why am I not dead for what I've done?"
"You're a different person now, Kiano," Jeremy stressed. "You're not Tousen Kaname anymore."
"I am Tousen Kaname," Kiano shrieked, pounding his chest hard with one fist. "I speak with the same mouth, I feel with the same heart, I am just as blind in my two eyes." His hands were balled into fists painfully, piercing his skin. "These are the same hands, the same hands that fought Sajin." His hands reaching for his head looked like they might pull out his dreads. "I betrayed my best friend. I tried to kill Sajin! Sajin!"
"It's in the past, Kiano," Jeremy pressed, slowly approaching his son. "It was fifteen years ago."
"I called Sajin ugly," Kiano realized, tears flowing uncontrolled from his blind eyes. "The one thing I should never have said to the person I cared most for. What is wrong with me?" Jeremy brought his hand to his son's broad, muscular shoulder.
"It's in the past," Jeremy repeated. "You're a different person now." Kiano fell back.
"Jeremy, what's going on?" the host asked again in a quiet, terse voice. Jeremy's eyes didn't leave his son. He walked towards the Kiano that had fallen back onto the couch, head held in his hands in a look of utter despair.
"I can't believe it," Kiano repeated again and again, shaking his head. Tears streamed from his eyes. His whole body trembled. "I betrayed Sajin. I betrayed Hisagi. I called him ugly. I should never have been allowed to live again." Jeremy held his son in his arms as he wept.
"I'm sorry," Jeremy said. "I made my mistakes too. I was like you, I put revenge before everything else." Kiano's eyes widened. He looked up at his father of seven years, the man who had taken him in when he was orphaned and alone and gave him everything. "Just like you wanted revenge for your friend, I wanted revenge for Ran. I was so consumed by that desire that I ended up hurting the person I wanted to protect."
"What happened to Ran?" Kiano asked. She had been like a mother to him for so many years. And he loved her even more now that he knew she loved him despite his treason. He felt deeply ashamed, deeply unworthy of her kindness, of any kindness. Jeremy's face was solemn.
"You don't need to know," Jeremy replied. "But believe me when I say that there's always time to make things right."
His son moderately subdued, Jeremy turned to his friends, reaching into his pocket for something that would make the night disappear.
"And then I found these underwater caves," Pêche swooned, climbing up a small hill with Miakoda at her side. "Oh my Goddess, it was amazing! There were these giant crystals that shot these rainbows along the walls of the cave, that moved with the water." Pêche sighed, collapsing onto the grass. "Probably the most beautiful thing I've ever seen."
"That sounds amazing," Miakoda agreed, wonder in her voice. She propped herself on her elbows, looking down at the glowing Pêche with amazement.
"It was," Pêche said with a big smile. "You're a shaman, Mia, have you been anywhere awesome lately?" Mia bit her lip.
"I haven't been anywhere since I was alive," Mia admitted. Pêche's eyes widened.
"Why?" Pêche asked.
"Well, I kind of got attached," she admitted, turning over to lie on the grass and gaze up at the lofty clouds. "I stayed in this world to be close to my family and friends, and then to protect my tribe." Mia shook her head. "But I couldn't fight history. And my people were on the wrong side of history." Pêche's eyes were downcast.
"I'm sorry," she offered.
"It's not your fault," Mia replied. "It was your ancestor's faults. Greedy French bastards." But she shrugged off that thought. "The point is that I waited too long to move on, and then it felt too late. I made a life here, just wandering around and destroying Weendigo. With no more shaman around, someone needs to do it."
"It must be lonely," Pêche said. Mia chuckled a little.
"You have no idea," Mia replied. Pêche looked at this gorgeous, silly, infuriating girl with sympathy.
"Why don't you stay here?" Pêche offered. Mia's eyes widened. "You can go off and do your own thing, but I'm sure you want a home you can come back to, right?" Mia turned to look Pêche straight in the eye and propped herself on her elbow.
"You mean it?" Mia asked, eyes wide. Pêche smiled brightly.
"I don't really have many friends either, so why shouldn't we at least have each other?" Pêche asked. Mia's bottom lip quivered and her eyes filled with tears. She threw her arms around Pêche, startling the girl a little.
"I've always wanted a little sister," Mia cried. Pêche's eyes widened and she blushed furiously. Then she smiled with unbridled excitement.
Rangiku was already at their apartment when they got home, laughing uproariously at the movie she was watching.
"We're home," Jeremy called. Ran turned around on the couch.
"You two are home early," she commented. Before anything more could be said, Kiano was on his knees at her feet. Rangiku's eyes were wide. What was this?
"I am deeply sorry to you and to the entire Gotei 13 for my treason," Kiano sounded, head down in shame. "I don't know what came over me. I can't understand my reasoning, or the fierce fire of hatred that lead me to treason. I hate myself for what I did to the Gotei 13, to my division, and to Sajin and Hisagi. I am not worthy of your forgiveness, Ran, but I want you to know that I am so sorry." Rangiku leaned towards Kiano, sympathy in her eyes.
"You're not the same person anymore, Kiano," Rangiku offered.
"But I still committed treason, the highest crime," Kiano continued steadfastly. He looked up to meet Rangiku's gaze. "And yet you've always treated me with such kindness, Ran." He bowed his head to the lady. "I do not deserve your love, but thank you. Thank you, Ran." Rangiku smiled wide, almost rolling her eyes. She pulled Kiano into a bear hug, kissing his cheek tenderly.
"Of course, Kiano, of course."
Jeremy watched the warm moment, smiling. This memory, the memory that he had been shielding Kiano from for so long, perhaps it was time to let him keep it.