Blearily, Ichigo opened his eyes, wincing as sunlight stabbed into them. He sat up with a yawn, and realised that he had fallen asleep on top of the bedcovers, fully dressed.
Strange. Now why would I- suddenly he remembered what had happened last night, or rather, what had failed to happen.
Shit! He screamed in his mind. I fell asleep on the job! Inoue! He quickly scanned the town for her reitsu in a panic, and nearly fainted from relief when he sensed her alive and well. But something about her reitsu was strange…examining it closer, his eyes widened as he realised that it had increased to significantly higher than when he last saw her in the other timeline.
And it stank of Hollow.
Inoue walked side by side with Tatsuki down the school halls, trying to look straight ahead and avoid meeting the gaze of her best friend. After she had passed out last night, Tatsuki had come searching for her when no one had answered the doorbell at Inoue's house. Inoue had claimed that a car had hit her, which was why she was unconscious and had several bruises and cuts.
By the look on Tatsuki's face, the raven-haired tomboy didn't buy it for a second. Still, she said nothing. Inoue was grateful for that. But she knew that she would have to tell her best friend what really happened eventually, because after all…
…What if it happened to Tatsuki-chan, too?
The voices that had temporarily controlled her body yesterday were now constantly buzzing inside her brain. They overlapped and wavered too much to make out actual words, but Inoue couldn't stand them. The voices sounded similar to that of the creature Sora had become; like a normal voice but echoing and grating so it became only just recognisable. And the power she had felt coursing through her body yesterday had only increased since the voices had used it to defeat Sora.
And as a result, it seemed her senses had heightened, not just physically but spiritually. She could sense other people's power, too, and Tatsuki had quite a lot, not as much as her but it was increasing, and it was only a matter of time before something similar to what had happened to her happened to her best friend, too.
She was interested to find, extending her searches, that Chad also had the same effect, but there was another, smaller presence with him. To her immense surprise, Ishida Uryū – that nice smart kid in their class- had a presence slightly stronger than hers, though it felt quite different. She also noticed, also with some surprise, that Keigo and Mizuiro had quite large presences, though nothing compared to her own and the others she had felt. All the other students had some, but it was miniscule…
"Hey, Inoue-chan, you okay?" Inoue looked up, annoyed at being interrupted from her thoughts. In front of her stood Chizuru- the girl who was unhealthily obsessed with her. Inoue was a pacifist by nature, but did Chizuru have to pick today of all days?
"I heard Tatsuki found you unconscious in the street yesterday! Were you attacked? Are you ill? Can I…" Chizuru grinned seductively. "Comfort you…?"
"Shut the hell up, pervert!" Yelled Tatsuki as she attempted to restrain the lesbian's lecherous hands from reaching Inoue's assets. "She said she didn't want to talk about it!"
Chizuru only pouted. "Aw, I'm sure you don't really mean that, do you Orihime?" She said happily, placing a hand on the girl's shoulder. Inoue visibly tensed.
"…Please leave me alone, Chizuru-chan." At these words, the bespectacled Sappho and the tomboy's faces had looks of concern on them.
"I'm just trying to-"
"I said LEAVE ME ALONE!" Snarled the normally peaceful girl. Chizuru gave a small yelp and ran off down the corridor. Tatsuki just stared at Inoue in shock.
Her face was contorted in anger, and within her expression was something that terrified Tatsuki; Something primal that had lain hidden in her ditzy best friend, unseen until now. Suddenly, Inoue blinked and her expression changed to horror.
"I-I'm sorry!" She wailed. "I don't know what's wrong with me today! I'm just so tense, and I don't know why!" Another lie, she thought. But would you believe the truth, Tatsuki-chan?
Tatsuki laid a comforting hand on her shoulder. "You have it too, don't you? But worse than me." Inoue's eyes widened. At she been that see-through? Or had Tatsuki-chan already progressed to being able to sense other people's presences?
"Tatsuki-chan…" She whispered, looking up at her. "I…we need to talk about this. At lunch, or after school. We should make sure to bring Sado-kun and Kurosaki-kun, too." Tatsuki nodded in understanding, and the two carried on to class. Without warning, Inoue felt an incredible presence approaching the school. Her breath hitched in her throat; it dwarfed her own. It was like comparing a marble to a demolition ball; it was vast, and it perforated the air around its source, making it difficult to breathe. Concentrating, she traced it back to its source.
"Ichigo…" She murmured.
"I feel it too…" muttered Tatsuki. "We definitely need to find out what the hell is going on, soon." The two shared a glance, and quickly set off toward where they could sense Ichigo.
They found him in class, but sadly were unable to approach him before the teacher could arrive. They didn't miss the mixed expression of relief and worry on his face, though.
Ichigo was indeed torn. He was glad that Orihime had managed to survive her encounter with her brother's Hollow, yet at the same time, he was terrified. Contrary to the image he liked to portray, Ichigo was quite intelligent (He wasn't 23rd in the year for nothing), and when there wasn't some bloodthirsty battle to get his adrenaline pumping and his recklessness flowing, he was able to think quite rationally, and he knew exactly what had happened.
In the original timeline, Chad and Inoue were affected by his intense Reitsu and developed their own abilities. This time his Reitsu was even higher, so naturally their powers developed much faster. Now, that wasn't really much of a problem- he would just have to explain things to them earlier.
But last time round, his Reitsu hadn't been tainted with that of his Inner Hollow while their powers were manifesting. So this, in effect, had now caused Inoue, Chad, and (to his great surprise) Tatsuki to also develop Inner Hollows. Which was a problem. Last night, Inoue's Hollow must have manifested so it could defend itself against Sora, much like when Ichigo's had taken over to protect him from Byakuya. While an Inner Hollow cared little for it's host, it shared the same body and so had no choice but to defend both of them.
"Ya know Kingy, us Inner Hollows rub off on our hosts. Maybe that'll make the big-boobed girl more feisty towards us!" Ichigo scowled; it had been a long time since his Hollow had saw fit to contribute to the conversation. As much as it pained Ichigo to admit, he was right: In battle, Ichigo was a lot more bloodthirsty and feral when he had his mask on, and often remained cranky for a while after using it, though he had learned to hide said crankiness after a while. He knew that Inoue had long had an enormous crush on him, and she was a very close nakama of his, but if her Hollow decided to manifest a somewhat different form of lust than the need for battle, he would a very big problem on his hands indeed.
He was interrupted from his musings by a small nudge to the back of his head. Turning in his seat, he noticed a paper aeroplane lying on the floor with writing on it. Intrigued, Ichigo picked it up and folded it out.
Ichigo, Orihime and I need to talk to you- urgently. We'll contact Chad and tell him to come with us. Don't be an asshole and pretend you don't know anything.
Ichigo scowled again. So they were on to the fact that he was the source of the problem. Had they already got to the stage of sensing reitsu? Looking up, he saw another plane making its journey towards the back of Chad's head. Upon closer inspection, he saw that Chad had bought a much larger bag into school today, and it was open slightly. A faint reitsu was emanating from it.
Of course, the parakeet! Thought Ichigo as an idea formed in his mind. He had Kon in his own bag, as the pesky toy had insisted on accompanying him once he discovered that Yuzu had a habit of dressing up plushies in horrifyingly embarrassing outfits. Ichigo had begrudgingly agreed. Now he had an excuse to use the Gikongan- both to Konsō the parakeet and to kill the Hollow that would no doubt appear in an enraged fury as soon as realised what had happened. Ichigo always believed that actions spoke louder than words, so it would be a good way to explain to his nakama what was going on.
Ichigo flipped over the paper and scribbled on the back in an untidy scrawl:
Meet me near the sports block at lunch, there shouldn't be anyone near there. Tell Chad to bring his new 'friend'- he'll know what I mean.
Carefully he re-folded it back into a plane and threw he back to Tatsuki. She caught it and unfolded it, then showed it to Orihime who was sitting next to her. Both were visibly uncomfortable. Tatsuki ripped out a second piece of paper from her books and began a note to Chad.
The exchange of messages did not go unnoticed by the rest of the class, though luckily their teacher was still incompetently reading from the textbook in a drawling voice to realise that students were breaking rules right in front of their nose. Most of the class simply viewed it as simple note sharing.
Ishida Uryu knew better.
It struck him as odd coincidence that the only other people in the class who had high Reitsu levels were all engaged in writing to each other. He had been extremely annoyed, confused and intrigued all at the same time these past few days.
He had always been aware that Ichigo Kurosaki's Reitsu was abnormally high, but had previously thought nothing of it. Then one day he had come into school with an incredible Reitsu that saturated the very air around it with power. A Shinigami's Reitsu…and a Hollow's.
The two species he hated the most.
And the boy knew that Ishida knew, of that the Quincy was sure- every time the orange haired youth caught him glaring, he would give a superior, knowing smirk, which only served to piss off Ishida further.
Then, slowly, he had sensed the other three's Reitsus increase exponentially, with Orihime-chan's currently the highest, and all three had taken on the scent of Hollow, but still human at the same time.
He didn't know what was happening here, but he was determined to find out. Hollow tainted or not, Ichigo Kurosaki was a Soul Reaper, and Ishida was going to prove to them that there was no need for Soul Reapers in this town.
"So, uh…this is awkward." Ichigo deadpanned as he began to sweat under the intense gazes of Inoue, Tatsuki and Chad. The four of them were sitting in a circle eating lunch near to the school sports block. No one ever came here to eat, so it was the perfect place to conduct a top-secret meeting about the afterlife.
Tatsuki's eyes narrowed. "Start at the beginning, Ichigo. Why are the three of us feeling these strange powers? And why do you feel like you're the source of it?"
"And also…last night…" whispered Inoue. "A…a monster attacked me…and I spaced out, and there were voices in my head, and then the monster said it was my brother, and then I spaced out and woke up and it was gone!" As she related her tale to the rest of the group, Tatsuki's face gradually got more and more disbelieving, to the point where she was looking at Inoue like she was insane.
"Um…are you sure that's not another daydream, Inoue?"
"It happened." Said Ichigo, and again all eyes were on him. "So…how much do you guys know about death?"
Shrieker grinned manically underneath his mask as he approached the school. Never before had he found so many tasty and exotic Reitsus in one place! The little crybaby would be upset again that he killed his owner- and most of the school- but they had a deal, and that was that.
Death was good.
Perched within the branches of the tree that overhung the school block's window, Yoruichi Shihouin watched with narrowed amber eyes. This Kurosaki boy intrigued her- he had a spiritual pressure to rival a captain's, and he knew Kisuke. Either of these two things would be impressive enough on their own, but both of them together was quite an accomplishment.
Yoruichi flicked her tail impatiently as she watched the strange gathering from her hiding place within the bows an overhanging tree. Sadly, she had not managed to overhear the conversation between the boy and Kisuke, but they obviously had past dealings. Even more intriguing was that his Reitsu was not unlike that of a Visored's, but she knew all eight of the Hollow-gamis by name, face and personality, and he was most definitely not one of them.
And then there were his classmates. Humans developing their own spiritual powers were not unheard of (There was a Quincy in this class, after all- Ryuken Ishida's son), but these also had Hollow traces and were obviously not Quincy.
Her eyes narrowed as the orange haired boy began talking to the others, apparently explaining something. She shifted along the branches so she could get in earshot. She was confident that Kurosaki was not able to detect her; he was immensely powerful, but that often came at the cost of more delicate abilities such as Kido and sensing Reitsu, similar to Kenpachi. Of course, she still did her best to conceal her Reitsu as a precaution.
She, the Goddess of Flash, would not be denied. She would find out what was happening here.
"So, let me get this straight." Said Tatsuki, her voice neutral. "Dead people who die unhappy get turned into horrible monsters called Hollows, happy people go to a place called Soul Society, where they can train to be Shinigami. A Shinigami's job is to kill Hollows so the Hollow is at peace and goes to Soul Society. And you're some weird cross between a Shinigami and a Hollow, and your presence affected us so we are developing our own powers and becoming Hollow-like."
Ichigo nodded. "That's it in a nutshell."
"BULLSHIT!" shrieked the martial arts master. "You expect us to believe that crap?!"
Sado, who had remained mostly quiet all this time, spoke up. "It is somewhat unlikely, Ichigo." Inoue just whimpered. She wanted to agree with Sado-kun and Tatsuki-chan, but the voices in her head said otherwise.
Of course, Ichigo had been expecting this. Already he could sense Shrieker getting closer to the school. It was time to prove his point. "Chad, get your friend out of the bag." Sado's eyes widened; he hadn't been aware that Ichigo knew about Shibata…reluctantly he withdrew the cage from within his bag, revealing the parakeet.
"Hello," it said cheerfully. "My name is Shibata Yuiichi. What are your names, Misses and Mister?" Tatsuki and Inoue's eyes widened as they sensed the spiritual energy emanating from the parakeet.
"It…it can talk?" Asked Inoue in wonder. Ichigo's reply was to reach for his own bag and begin rummaging through it.
"Another job of a Shinigami is to send the souls of those who died peacefully onto Soul Society through a ritual called Konso. Sometimes a soul latches onto the body of an animal and possess it." He looked up at the bird. "Shibata, I'm going to perform Konso on you. You'll go to the afterlife, and you'll be able to find your mom there."
"Re-really?! Thank you so much, Mister!"
Ichigo was still searching through his bag. The others were beginning to get impatient. "Ichigo," began Tatsuki. "What are you-"
"OW! Hey, Ichigo, you don't need to be so rough! I've been buried under your stuff all today and this is how I'm rewarded?!" The group sweatdropped as Ichigo pulled out a talking, moving plushy of a bear.
"What the hell is that?!" Yelled Tatsuki, whereas Inoue simply squealed.
"Oh, wow, so cute!" Kon turned and noticed her, and his nose began to bleed instantly.
"THE VALLEY OF THE GODS!!!" He screamed, struggling to get out of Ichigo's grasp. Sado and Shibata simply looked on, unsure of what to make of the situation.
"Time to shut you up!" Yelled Ichigo, and, grimacing, shoved his hand into Kon's mouth, ignoring the Mod Soul's protests and the exclamations of disgust from the girls.
Eventually he withdrew a small round pill, and Kon's body grew limp. Steeling himself, he popped it into his mouth and swallowed it.
The girls were about to scream the loudest 'Eww' they could muster, but were rendered speechless first as Ichigo appeared to separate into two Ichigos! Emerging from the original body, a second Ichigo towered over them in a black robe, an enormous cleaver strapped to his back and wrapped in bandages.
Meanwhile, the original Ichigo stumbled slightly, before lunging towards Orihime. "I HAVE FOUND HEAVEN!" he exclaimed in a voice full of joy, before Tatsuki decked him in the face.
"WHAT THE HELL, ICHIGO!?" she screamed. Inoue was blushing madly that Kurosaki-kun had seemingly made an advance on her, while Sado and Shibata were, once again, speechless.
"Hey, that's my body you're hurting!" the second Ichigo yelled at the first one.
"Huh? She's the one who decked me!"
"She wouldn't have to if you didn't have a one-track mind!"
"EXPLAIN!" Roared Tatsuki. The Ichigo with the giant sword turned to her while the second one looked down sheepishly.
"This is Kon, a mod soul. While I'm hunting Hollow's or performing Konso, he basically pretends to be me while I'm away. Only spiritually strong people can see me like this."
"He's not a very good actor." Said Sado dubiously. Kon was about to retort angrily but a double glare from Ichigo and Tatsuki silenced him.
"Excuse me, Mister!" Said Shibata. "But how exactly does this Konso thing work?"
"Like this." Said Ichigo, unsheathing Zangetsu and, before anyone could react, twisted it round, passed it through the cage bars and tapped the hilt on the parakeet's head.
Instantly the place where the hilt had made contact glowed with a fierce blue light, and, much to the shock of the spectators, the rest of Shibata's body quickly began to pulsate with the same light. Within a few seconds, it had become bright enough to totally obscure him from view.
When it faded, the cage was empty save for a black swallowtail butterfly that fluttered past the bars and into the world.
"…Exactly what I was thinking, Inoue." Remarked Tatsuki, her voice incredulous.
Sado simply looked amused, but also slightly sad. "Well, that dispels any doubts about you telling the truth, Ichigo." He paused, and looked forlornly at the lonely cage. "…He will be happy in the afterlife?"
Suddenly Inoue's head snapped up, followed a couple of seconds later by Sado and Tatsuki.
"Kurosaki-kun," she started, her face set in a frown. "There are two other presences moving toward us. Are they hollows?"
"You only just noticed them? You guys are going to need more work than I thought…but yeah, you're half right. One of them is a Hollow; it'll be here about-"
"I've found you, tasty morsels! Now, which one should I gorge on first?" Inoue, Tatsuki and Sado gasped in shock, while Kon chose to emit a rather girly scream. Seemingly out of nowhere, an enormous, bat-like creature donned with a chilling bone-white mask had materialised behind Ichigo. To Ichigo's credit, he did not so much as blink, but turned his head imperceptibly, annoyed to have been interrupted.
"…Now" He finished, and, faster than Shrieker could see, he pivoted, still clutching Zangetsu, and swung down harshly, splitting the Hollow's mask in half. The hideous creature let out an unearthly scream before it was swallowed by the monstrous gates of Hell.
Once again, Ichigo's companions were stunned into submission. Ichigo mentally noted that they seemed to be doing that too much today…
Turning to them with a cocky grin, he laughed at their awed expressions. "What? I can do stuff a lot flashier than that, so you'll have to learn not to gawk at every little thing. Besides, with training you'll be able to do stuff just like that."
Tatsuki was about to retort angrily about the 'gawking' comment, but was cut off as the second spiritual presence decided to enter the fray, preceded by a streak of blue energy that struck Ichigo head-on.
"Kurosaki-kun!" Yelled Inoue in concern, but was shocked when the energy dissipated and Ichigo was revealed, still standing, upholding his cleaver in a blocking stance.
The group's attention was then drawn by the sound of clapping. Turning, they saw the form of Ishida Uryu standing at the other end of the sports block, changed out of his school uniform and into a rather provocative on the eyes costume.
"Bravo, Kurosaki." He drawled. "It seems you are not as unskilled as I thought." His eyes narrowed, and his face tightened in a grimace of hate. "I, Ishida Uryu the Last Quincy, challenge you to a contest!"
And there we go, Chapter Four. I've got the ball really rolling now, and the next chapter promises to be the most intense and longest yet.
My thanks to:
Lunar Iris- Uh...Hazel is a kind of brown, isn't it? (Grins sheepishly) I couldn't really remember, and I have to access my manga online, and its not always trustworthy and accurate...again, I'll edit that. I'll probably update the previous three chapters just before my next update, along with any that people spot in this chapter (Which I am certain there will be).
Illidan the Half Demon- Yes, a very different awakening indeed, but no, the 'fairies' haven't released all of her power yet. You'll just have to wait and see, although this chapter should probably give you the basic idea.
And my thanks to everyone else who reviewed but didn't say much more than 'This is good', but reviewed nontheless!