The Devil's Bleached Tears

Part 9

The Hunters.


Two ghostly figures stood on a rooftop overlooking Karakura Town. They were both dressed in the black robes of Shinigami and had swords hanging from their belts. A butterfly fluttered off having delivered it's message. "Find Kuchiki Rukia, and capture or kill her."

The shorter of the pair gave a snort. "Feh. This isn't work for a Shinigami."

"Not really," commented the taller of the two in an emotionless tone. He paused and looked over his shoulder with his hand moving towards the hilt of his blade.

A figure stepped out of the shadows looking right at them. It stayed in the darkness and didn't approach.

"Who?" grumbled the shorter shinigami as he noticed where the other was looking.

"No one to concern yourself with. You're not what I'm looking for. I haven't seen Shinigami in a while." The shadow spoke in an amused feminine tone.

"What do you want?" asked the taller of the two as his hand moved away from his sword.

"I'm hunting. Nothing to concern yourselves with. I'm not concerned with your business, and we just happened to cross paths." She stayed where she was and leaned against the wall that was keeping her hidden in the shadows. They could make out her form, but little more.

The shorter of the pair scowled. "You a human. You can see us?"

The taller one turned away. "Enough. If we have no business with each other, there's no need for further discussion. I warn you to stay out of our way."

"I ask the same of you then. I told you already, I don't care about shinigami business. I've got my own prey." She turned away and vanished into the darkness.

"What a weirdo," grumbled the shorter shinigami.

"Don't concern yourself," replied the other as he started moving in the opposite direction from the stranger. "We have business of our own." He turned his eyes towards where the feminine figure had gone. "A rarity, but not unheard of. Ignore it."

The shorter one sounded a little unnerved. "Right. Still..."


Urahara smiled as he sat down and smiled at the black cat that had shown up at his business and home a short time before. It was sitting on the porch looking up at the sky. "Yoruichi, do you think it's going to rain?" He seemed cheerful, but he wasn't fooling anyone.

The animal spoke up, it's tone was rough and masculine. "Don't play stupid. You know that they've come."

His face fell a little and he gave a short nod. "Yes. I wanted to discuss that with you...and another matter as well."

The cat looked back at him and narrowed it's eyes. "I'm listening."

"Of course we have to consider what the Shinigami are up to, but...there's another concern now."

Yoruichi looked away from him and hung her head. "Another concern?"

"There's a demonic presence here. Hell has been sniffing around for something. I'm not sure what, but I think I might have some idea. I fear it might become entangled in this as well." Urahara opened his fan. "The demons appear to have an agent that can pass freely through the gates. The seals might be in danger."

The cat glanced back at him and narrowed her eyes. "That's not a concern of ours. There are others who deal with that sort of thing."

Urahara nodded. "Yes. The most powerful of which has not been seen for years. I fear our young friend has become involved with more than just the affairs of the Shinigami."

"That's unfortunate," commented the animal as she hung her head.

"Maybe not as much as you think," said Urahara with a serious expression on his face. "In any case, I don't think these issues are as separate as we'd like."

"What do you mean?" snapped Yoruichi as she seemed to get annoyed.

The shop keeper narrowed his eyes. "I'm not sure yet. I'm not so sure they're looking for a way to break the seals. At least not yet."

"What's that got to do with..."

"Let's just say that Kuchiki has made an unusual friend," he responded before she finished. "It could be problematic, but then again it may be just what we need."

"I don't like the sound of that," replied the cat.

"I'm not so sure I do either, but we may be forced to deal with the hand we're dealt."

Yoruichi hung her head again. "I see..."


"They're here," said Akuma to himself. He was standing off on his own looking out over the city on the rooftop of the school. It was the lunch period, and Ichigo was sitting nearby with Ishida, Keigo, and Mizuiro.

Rukia was being standoffish and quiet and his idiot brother hadn't noticed. She was eating lunch on the grounds with a group of girls.

Ichigo was having a rather pathetic argument with Uryuu over lunch. "Shut up and face the other way while you eat if you don't like it." They were both avoiding looking directly at each other and grumbling in the same manner. Mizuiro seemed to notice and Keigo just looked bored and miserable. The brunette boy had gotten roped into paying for Ichigo and Uryuu's lunches.

Akuma smirked as he poked at his own lunch and ignored them. "There's something else as well. I wonder what it might be?"


Ichigo walked into his room holding a tray of food and looked around. "Oi, Rukia! I brought you some dinner. Hey..." He got no response and glanced around with a frown on his face.

"She's not here," said Akuma from behind him.

His brother frowned and glanced over his shoulder. "Where is she then?"

"How should I know? She left a note though," said the white haired boy.

Kon poked his head out of Akuma's pocket. "Thanks for saving me Big Brother Akuma. It was awful in there."

That annoyed Ichigo and he was distracted from the note. "Saving you?"

The plushie hopped out onto the floor and looked up at him. "Big sister tied me up in the bathroom! I have no idea why!"

The strawberry blond scowled. "You were probably trying to peek on her changing again, weren't you?"

The stuffed animal nodded. "Well, of course. I don't think that was it though."

Akuma shrugged. "I found him taped up behind the toilet. He's lucky I found him, because dad went in right after me and stayed for a while." He kind of wished he'd pretended to not notice and left him there. It was too late though and he didn't worry about it. Curiosity had gotten the better of him, or in that case, the worst.

Ichigo grunted and set the tray down. "I wonder what's up with her? She's been acting weird all day."

His brother cocked his head and seemed to think on it. He already knew why, but saw no reason to make things easier on his brother. "Who knows?"

"Well, I guess we could just wait until she gets back and ask her. What a pain," grumbled the blond.

"Or, we could read the note she left," said Kon as he looked up at him.

Ichigo seemed to consider that for a moment. "Oh. Yeah."

Akuma came very close to putting his face into his hand, but refrained.

"What is this? It makes no sense," said Ichigo as he opened the letter and looked confused. There was an awful drawing and confusing gibberish on the page.

Kon managed to climb up onto the desk top using the chord of a lamp and walked over to him. "Let me see." He paused and looked it over as Ichigo set it down. "I think it's a word puzzle."

"I hate puzzles," said the blond.

"Noted," commented his brother. "I think that's supposed to be a tanuki."

"What's with this crap anyway?" grumbled Ichigo in frustration.

Kon scowled at him. "I think I get it. We remove the word 'tanuki' and the rest is the message."

Ichigo took a pen out of a cup on the desk and drew a line through the kanji for the word in various places. He paused and read out loud. "I have to leave, don't worry or come looking for me, and if you can go into hiding?" He furrowed his eyebrows and scratched his head. "What the hell?"

Kon gasped and looked up at Ichigo. "Something bad must have happened!"

Akuma gave a small sigh. "What are the chances you'll listen to her?"

"None," responded his brother.

"That's what I figured. See you later," the other twin turned around and waved his hand as he left the room.

"Where are you going? You're not going to help?" Ichigo looked annoyed.

"Why would I? She's no friend of mine. Look after your own if you want. You're going to get your ass kicked if you stick your nose into this. Not that it will stop you." Akuma left the room and wandered off into the hall. He paused and looked down at Karin with a frown. She was standing in the hall and looked a little flustered from being caught listening in. Not that she could help it. "You stay out of this, you're not strong enough to be of any help. He'll live, but he won't like what he finds."

She narrowed her eyes at him. "What do you mean? That girl is in some kind of trouble?"

He smirked at her. "Kind of. There's nothing you can do but get in the way. Ichikun will live, but you'd just get yourself killed. Forget about it for now, maybe you'll be useful later, but as you are now you're just a liability. Stay put."

She stepped back and hung her head with her fists balled up.

Ichigo walked out into the hall. "Huh? What are you doing out here?"

"Nothing," muttered the girl as she turned away and went into her room.

Yuzu was sitting on her bed and looked up as her sister walked into the room. Karin sat down on the edge of her mattress and glared at the carpet. "That jerk."

Her twin shrugged. "Well, I'm not going after them. That girl was pretty nice I guess, but...we're not very strong yet. Ichigo and Akuma are much stronger."

Karin frowned at her. "He's not going to help or anything."

Yuzu cocked her head. "I wonder where he's going then?"

Her sister flopped down. "Great. How am I supposed to go to sleep after that?"

The brunette narrowed her eyes. "We should stay here. I can tell you're thinking of leaving."

Karin put her face into her pillow and kicked her legs up behind her. "Yeah? So? Why should I listen to him? He's a jerk anyway."

Her twin crossed her arms and put her nose up. "He wouldn't say something like that for no reason. Maybe you don't like him, but we shouldn't be running off."

The dark haired girl frowned at that. "Well, I'm going anyway. I'm not going to get any sleep after that anyway."

"What? You'll get in trouble!" snapped Yuzu.

Karin was already crawling out the window. "What? Are you going to tell on me?"

"Maybe I will!" growled her sister as she stood up and balled up her fists.

Karin ignored her and hopped outside. She landed lightly despite dropping from the second floor into the back yard.

"Oooh. Darn it!" grumbled Yuzu as she followed after her. "Karin! Wait! Come back! We could get killed!"

The raven haired girl smirked as she noticed her sister following after her. "I just want to see what's going on. We'll just watch or something. No harm in that right?"

The brunette girl looked annoyed as her sister jumped over a six foot fence and into the street with no real effort. "Wait up!" She moved after her and landed with her in the street. "I guess we can watch, but you'd better stay out of the way!"

Her sister brushed her off. "Yeah, yeah. We'll be fine."


Rukia ran through the streets of Karakura. She wasn't sure where she was going, or how far she'd get. It was just a matter of time until they tracked her down. Until then, she had to get as far away from Ichigo as possible. So, she simply moved away from the clinic, running down random streets and doing her best to keep a low profile.

She didn't notice the two figures watching her from above. One of them was scanning her with a pair of goggles. "Huh. There's artificial bones in there. I thought the readouts were off." He pulled them off his eyes. "Kuchiki Rukia, we've found you." He grinned and had spiky red hair tied up into a ponytail behind his head and tattoos instead of eyebrows. The other taller figure had straight black hair with ornaments braided into it hanging from the side of his face and on top of the left side of his forehead. He had a serious emotionless expression and looked over the shorter shinigami's shoulder at the lone girl.

Rukia was thinking of the people she'd met since she'd come there. It made a lump in her gut to do so. "Am I getting too attached to this world?"

"Yes. So you knew after all?"

She gasped and stopped in her tracks, turning to face the voice and look up to the source. " it? Abari Renji?"

"Man. You're talking backwards. You've enjoyed this world for too long. You can only live just a little longer, Rukia." He jumped down and slashed at her with his sword. She jumped out of the way, but he wasn't really aiming to strike her. "Heh. You've gotten soft in these past three months. To not notice two Shinigami hunters right behind you, lost in your own thoughts? How pathetic. Now, call him, call this human that stole your powers."

She stepped back again. "You can't prove that I'm in this false form because a human stole my powers."

Renji smirked at that. "You know damn well that your powers were stolen by a human. Don't look at me that way. It's disgusting. You're a trained rookie of the Kuchiki clan. Isn't that right. Kuchiki?"

Rukia looked over her shoulder and saw the other Shinigami. "Byakuya?"

Renji slashed at her again forcing her to roll aside. "Giving your powers to a human? We were tasked with executing the human who took them from you! You're in serious trouble." He raised his sword. "You're not stupid enough to believe that I didn't let you dodge that attack. Now, where is that human? You're already captured, and he will die. My next attack will be serious!" He paused and dodged as a white light blew past his head. "What the?"

Rukia looked back in shock at the figure that approached them.

"Attacking an unarmed woman with a sword? Not a very pleasant scene to walk in on." Uryuu walked up and adjusted his glasses. He had a plastic bag in his hand with sewing supplies in it. "I really dislike this sort of thing."

"Who the hell are you?" growled the redhead.

"Just a classmate of hers, who hates Shinigami." Ishida narrowed his eyes with his bow in his free hand.

"What are you doing here?" muttered Rukia in shock.

"I just wanted to go to the nearby Sunflower Tailor store. This neighborhood happened to be the closest. It's pure chance." The bag fell away from his hand as the handles were cut clean through.

"No! Uryuu, run!" cried the girl.

"It's too late for that. I've been in this stinking shit hole tracking you down for too long." Renji glared at him. "I asked you once you four eyed punk. Who the hell are you?"

Ishida narrowed his eyes. "I told you already. I'm just a classmate who hates Shinigami."

"I don't care about that shit!" snapped the swordsman.

"Ishida Uryuu. I suppose I should tell you my name even if you are a Shinigami. You'll want to know who defeated you."

"No! Don't!" cried Rukia as she tried to move between them.

"Okay, I've decided to kill you then!" said Renji with a wild glare in his eyes.

Uryuu started to aim is weapon, but his eyes went wide as his opponent sped by him. He fell to his knees as his gut started to burn. Blood seeped down his clothes from the open gash in his belly as he fell face first onto the ground and started to cough. He couldn't move and was paralyzed in pain and shock. "So...strong."

Renji chuckled. "That's right. You're pathetic, now die!" He started to stab down with his sword, but a huge blade slammed down in his way, blocking his strike and shattering part of the pavement.

"What? Who the?" snapped the irate redhead as he jumped up and back onto a wall.

"Kurosaki Ichigo, the one who will defeat you," said the strawberry blond boy who narrowed his eyes at his new opponent.

Renji gasped and looked confused. "That...sword? What? Who is this idiot with that stupidly huge sword?"

The blond hefted it over his shoulder. "Yeah. It's big I guess. Never had anyone but Rukia to compare it too before though."

"Ichigo...that idiot. Why did he come here?" Rukia looked worried and her eyes darted between them.

Renji smirked. "Oh. You must be that human that stole Rukia's powers?"

The boy seemed to think on that. "That's part right...I guess."

The shinigami jumped into the air. "You're dead!"

Ichigo raised his hand and a loud report sounded. The stranger was knocked out of the air and landed on his back clutching is face.

"Ouch! What the hell?" grumbled the man as he rubbed at his nose. His eyes went wide as Ichigo pointed his firearm at him. "Huh?"

"You're...lame," said the blond.

Renji narrowed his eyes and became a blur of motion. Ichigo staggered back as he moved as fast as he could to block. "What's this? You've got a lot of nerve calling me lame you slow bastard? Is this all you've got?" He flew back as another bang sounded between them and grunted in irritated pain. "Ouch."

"Nah. I just haven't warmed up yet," replied Ichigo. "Who the hell are you anyway? What's your beef with Rukia?"

"All you need to know is you're going to die, and she'll get her powers back!" His opponent rushed forward again.

Ichigo raised his shotgun, but the figure blurred and vanished before he fired. "Huh?" He didn't see him reappear behind and above him and fell to the ground with a wound on his shoulder.

Renji landed in front of him and put his sword on his shoulder. "Just like I thought. You're nothing." He smirked and looked down at him. "Pathetic. You're pretty stupid coming out here. Did you think you could change something? A hasty Shinigami like you could never scratch an experienced shinigami like me."

There was a blur of motion and a flash in front of his face. Ichigo stood up and hefted his own weapon onto his shoulder as he glared at him. "Who are you calling a shinigami? Go ahead and keep talking, but you don't know what you're getting into pal."

"What?" muttered the man as he rubbed at the tiny cut on his chin with his thumb. "You bastard."

"Renji, you were careless." Byakuya spoke up in a calm and even tone.

The redhead looked annoyed. "What are you talking about? This guy is nothing! This Kurosaki Ichigo punk is pathetic."

"I thought I recognized him. Kurosaki Ichigo, thirty three hours ago our undercover forces were able to give us the image. We sent Menos Grande to the void, due to the scar he gave him."

Renji started laughing. "That's bullshit. There's no way this slow jerk gave something like Menos Grande a scar. He couldn't even defeat evil spirits. It's obvious our undercover forces are slipping." He looked at his opponent. "Hey, what's the name of your zanpakuto?"

The blond frowned. "Huh? What are you talking about? You guys go around naming your swords?"

The redhead sneered at him. "See, just like I said. He's stupid enough to think he's my equal without bothering to ask his sword it's name!" He raised his own weapon and it changed in appearance, becoming sectioned with spike like blades poking out of the sides along the cutting edge. "Roar Zabimaru! Look in front of you, there's food!"

Ichigo narrowed his eyes. "You know, your attitude is beginning to piss me off."

Renji laughed as he jumped towards him. "Just die, loser!"

The blond raised his weapon to block and gripped his shotgun. The firearm fell to the ground as blood poured from his other shoulder. "What?"

Renji's sword had separated to become a whip like weapon. He looked confident in his victory. "You've lost! Abari Renji will kill you now!"

Kurosaki fell to his knees and glared at the ground. "That does it."

"Huh? Don't tell me that you...ooof!" Renji flew back with a wide eyed expression on his face. His weapon had retracted, becoming a sword again.

Ichigo had just vanished from in front of his eyes and slammed his fist into his gut. Renji growled as he landed on his feet and slid back. "What the hell?" The blow had hurt far more than he expected. It was not near enough to take him out though.

"Funny you should say that," said the strange boy. A violet energy was emanating off of his body like dark flames. He readied his blade again and narrowed his eyes. "I told you before, I'm no Shinigami."

"What? What is this?" muttered Byakuya as he looked on in surprise.

Rukia gasped. "What is he doing?"

Ichigo smirked. "Now, this fight can really start." He charged and slashed with his weapon. Renji brought his own blade up to stop it and was thrown back six feet from the force of the blow.

"Damn! What is with this asshole?" growled the redhead. He lashed out with his weapon like a whip again.

The demonic boy shifted aside and rolled to the left avoiding it before charging forward and hefting his blade back. The blond slashed at his opponent's exposed gut as the redhead looked down in helpless shock. Only to feel no resistance as he hacked at him.

"Huh?" Ichigo weapon was cut off near the hilt, the blade cleaved in two. "What? What happened?"

"Ichigo! No!" cried Rukia.

The blond turned towards the dark haired man as the redhead jumped out of the way with wide eyes and a shocked expression of his own.

Ichigo looked down at the broken sword. The other shinigami was too far away to have been the culprit. The redhead was frozen in place and looked shocked. "It couldn't be, but that guy didn't do it..." He gasped as the dark haired man dropped the broken blade of his sword from his fingers and then vanished. " way!" He felt funny for a moment and the area around his throat felt warm as he stumbled for a moment.

"What?" Byakuya was wide eyed with his weapon held in a finished strike. There was no blood on his blade, and he'd felt no resistance. "I...missed?"

Ichigo growled as he hung his head a little. "So, teaming up on me then?"

Renji narrowed his eyes and scowled. "He hit him, I know he did. Who the hell is this guy?"

Byakuya frowned and appeared next to the redhead "We need to finish this."

"Right," said Renji with a smirk.

The blond glared at him with his eyes glowing red. "I was just thinking the same thing." He looked at Abari and smirked. "You asked me what my sword was named. It's true I never 'asked' it, but...I do have a sword with a name."

"Uh oh," muttered Rukia as she staggered back and looked worried.

Renji took note of her reaction and frowned at his opponent in a more cautious manner. "Yeah? So that wasn't your real zanpakuto then?"

A katana appeared in the blond's grip and he drew the blade out, holding the sheath in his other hand. "It's called Ama no Murakumo no Tsurugi, and it's not a zanpakuto."

Byakuya gasped. "Renji, do not hold back. We are not facing a human opponent." He readied his sword and narrowed his eyes.

Renji set himself and glanced at his superior. "What do you mean?"

His superior had an even more serious expression on his face than usual. "That sword is a Devil Arm."

The redhead looked shocked and shifted away as he felt Byakuya's spiritual power growing to the limits of the seal. "What?"

Ichigo slumped to the ground and fell on his face for no apparent reason. "That's right, but it wouldn't do for him to die just yet."

The pair of Shinigami looked on as another figure appeared beside them. He looked like the boy who had just fallen and had a smirk on his face and a large European style broadsword on his shoulder. Byakuya narrowed his eyes at him. "Who are you?"

"This fool's brother. Now, I suggest you take what you came for and leave." Akuma seemed very relaxed and unconcerned with the pair.

"What? You bastard! I'll..." snapped Renji. He froze as the figure vanished and appeared behind himself and Byakuya.

"You must be Kuchiki Byakuya. I've heard about you. I suggest you reign in your lackey, before he gets himself killed."

The pair spun around and the dark haired shinigami slashed behind him. He looked shocked as he missed yet again. "What is this?"

"You know, you might be a match for me on your home turf. Here however, you're both badly outclassed. I've got no limits on my power here." Akuma spoke up from behind them and they turned again.

"What do you want?" growled Abari.

"Just to keep this idiot from getting himself killed. It's too soon for that, and he's still useful," replied the demon half. "He's no concern of yours anyway."

"Who are you?" snapped Renji.

"None of your business, that's who," replied the demonic figure. He walked over and kicked his brother in the back of his head as he began to stir. Ichigo went limp again and he seemed satisfied.

Rukia called out to him. "Get him out of here! Just take him and go!"

"I can't allow that. He was ordered executed," said Byakuya. "The one who stole your powers cannot be allowed to live."

Akuma chuckled. "You idiots just don't get it do you?" He glared at them over his shoulder. "He didn't steal anything. Your...charming friend just awakened his latent powers. He didn't have anything to do with the loss of her powers, but I doubt she's figured that out yet, have you?"

Rukia was confused. "Wh-what?"

"You're pretty stupid jumping into this." Renji gasped and got wide eyed. Byakuya stepped back and put his hand on his blade again, and Rukia fell to her knees with wide eyed horror.

The thing standing before them was radiating waves of powerful energy. The spiritual pressure of it's presence was thick in the air around them. It had black skin that looked like exoskeleton, two horns curving down the sides of it's face that pointed forward at it's cheeks, glowing red eyes, two wings were folded up behind it's back, and sharp black teeth. "I suggest you consider your position, shinigami. I've little patience for games."

"Demons!" muttered Renji. "What the hell are they doing here?"

Byakuya glanced at him. "I see." He looked back at the beast before them. "It seems we have no quarrel with you."

Akuma appeared human again and smiled with his creepy grin. "I doubt my brother will be very happy with you when he wakes up. He's still weak and attached to the humans. I suppose he thinks of that one as a friend. I could care less, but it wouldn't do to have him die before his usefulness is over."

Renji snarled. "What are you doing here?"

His superior spoke calmly. "That's enough. Demons aren't our business. It's time to go. Come Rukia, you may be less fortunate than you think."

She gasped and looked at him with wide eyes. "Wh-what?"

"What were you doing with those demons?" snapped Renji as he grabbed her arm and pulled her along. "You'll be executed for conspiring with them. Just losing your powers wasn't that big a deal. You were likely to just get a suspension. Meddling in the affairs of demons is a violation of the Hell treaty! It's a serious offense!"

"I..." stammered Rukia in shock. "...but..." Akuma looked at her with that smile. It sent shivers down her spine to look at it. She stared over her shoulder and went pale. "You..." She hung her head and stared at the ground as they pulled her away.

Akuma gave a small wave. "Goodbye, and thank you for getting rid of that annoying sword. It was in the way."

A moment later, they vanished into a doorway that appeared out of nothing. Rukia wasn't struggling and seemed to accept her fate. She glanced back and gave the white haired boy a scowl as she vanished into the doorway. "Keep him away."

Akuma narrowed his eyes. "Why should I?"

She gasped and looked at him with wide eyes as the other two pulled her through with them and gave him a cautious looking glance.

No more than thirty seconds later, Ichigo gasped as he pushed himself up. "No! Rukia!"

"Awake are you?" said his brother as he looked down at him.

"Akuma? What...what are you doing here? Where's Rukia?" He stood up and looked around.

"Keeping you from getting killed," replied the white haired boy in a casual manner. "You were lucky enough to live that long thanks to your little toys."

Ichigo ignored what he said and grabbed him by his shirt. "Where's Rukia? What have you done?"

Akuma shoved him off and he hit the wall. "You idiot. Attacking those two that way. They were about to kill you, and that little necklace of yours wouldn't have saved your ass again." He slugged him across his jaw. "It's only good once every thirty minutes. They would have carved you to ribbons."

"What are you talking about? Where...where is Rukia?" snarled Ichigo as he glared at him in a barely controlled rage.

"Back at Soul Society where she belongs. They came to collect her. She'll be executed for her crimes."

The blond froze and looked up at his brother in shock. "What?"

Akuma seemed very calm. "There's nothing you can do. It's time to go, and she's already gone."

"You could have stopped them!" cried Ichigo as he lunged forward.

His brother looked him up and down and his brother stopped short of tackling him. "I told you already, that's up to you. You failed. You're not strong enough, and you almost got yourself killed."

Ichigo fell to his knees and squeezed his eyes shut. "I...failed?" He jabbed his finger at him. "You asshole. I was fine until you jumped me!

"You're pathetically weak right now. You couldn't even hold off those two in their weakened state. Their powers are suppressed on this plane." His brother glared down at him. "I saved your pathetic life, be grateful for that. You might have taken the redhead on this plane, but his friend would have destroyed you with little effort."

"What did you say?" snapped his brother in rage.

Akuma appeared behind him. "You just don't get it do you? Let me ask you something, how much do you think I've been holding back with you up till now?"

The blond gasped and froze as he looked over his shoulder with wide eyes. He'd not even seen him move. "What?"

"You've not even seen a tenth of my true power, Ichikun. You're nowhere near ready for that. Now, I suggest you stop bellyaching and pay attention to what I told you. I saved your life, I am not joking, nor am I even close to exaggerating the facts. You would have failed, and your little shinigami friend would be in the same position she is in now. There was no other possible outcome of this battle. Do you understand that?"

Ichigo glared down at the ground. His brother's tone was different than he'd ever heard from him before. He didn't sound like he was joking or teasing him even the slightest bit. "I will save her." He spoke in a firm tone as his eyes went hard.

Akuma smirked. "As you are now, you'll just fail. You need to be stronger, much stronger."

His twin whirled around to glare at him. "I don't have time for this. She's..."

"She'll be fine...for a time. You don't have any to waste, if you really want to save her that is." The white haired boy gave a malevolent smirk.

His brother felt numb and weak. "Of course, you'll help with that?" He sounded cautious and annoyed with him. He had a feeling this was exactly what his brother had wanted from the start.

"That's why I'm here. I'm afraid you're going to have to forget about this...shinigami business. It will only get in the way." Akuma looked up at the moon.

Ichigo stood up and balled up his fists. "You planned all this, didn't you?"

The white haired boy shook his head. "No. You give me too much credit. I just took advantage of an opportunity. They were coming for her sooner or later, it was just a matter of time. You wouldn't have grown strong enough to do anything about it without proper motivation and those shinigami powers in the way anyway. Now, perhaps you'll be willing to work for it. I admit that I knew this was coming, but I had no hand in it. It was just an inevitable factor that I took advantage of for my own ends. Is that a problem, Ichikun?"

His brother didn't look happy. He wanted to shoot the bastard in the face. He needed him though. "So, you're saying I've still got a chance to save Rukia then?"

"Perhaps," replied the twin with a shrug. "Certainly not as you are now." He started to turn away and fell flat on his back as a loud bang sounded.

Ichigo blinked and looked down at him. "Huh?" He looked over his shoulder at where his shotgun was still on the ground. "How did..." Another bang sounded and he hit the ground face first. "Ouch. What the hell?"

"Crap," grumbled Akuma with a scowl on his face and a red mark in the center of his forehead. There was also a strange hissing sound in the air.

They both scrambled away as three rockets slammed into the ground where they were lying from an unknown position. The explosion tossed them about a little and they ended up on the ground on their sides with three new smoking pot holes in the street between them.

"Well, I've finally found you," said an unfamiliar voice.

The pair sat up and turned in the same direction.

An older woman in a short skirt with a white blouse was standing there and looking at them through a pair of shades. She had short cut dark hair, looked to be in her late twenties or early thirties, and was covered in guns. A particularly large rocket launcher with multiple barrels and a large blade set into the front end was hanging off her back with a little smoke coming out of the barrels. She also had a pair of pistols in her grip aimed at them both. "Just die."

The pair scrambled around as sparks flew off the pavement as she fired at them both with the weapons. They managed to dodge and looked both alarmed and confused.

"Who the hell?" grumbled Ichigo.

"How should I know?" muttered his brother.

"The name is Lady," replied the woman as she took a few steps forward and shifted her hips. "I've come to destroy you." She spun the handguns around her fingers and spun around pulling the rocket launcher off her back again.

"Shit," muttered Akuma.

"Move!" cried his brother as the weapon went off. Three rockets fired at them at the same time, curving and twisting in the air as they bore down on them. They managed to move fast enough to avoid getting hit by the blast as the rockets made more holes in the street.

The woman let the weapon hang by it's strap and pulled a small sub machine gun up. She opened fire pelting them both with a hail of bullets.

Ichigo grunted as his body exploded in pain and spun around in the air hitting the ground roughly. He landed and a cloud of dust kicked up as he struggled to push his chest up and look at the woman. She already had a handgun pointed at his head and scowled at him. "Go back to Hell." She pulled the trigger and gasped as she jumped back. Rather than hit the boy on his face, sparks flew as they impacted the flat edge of a large sword.

Akuma had landed on top of his brother's head, driving his face into the ground and speared his own weapon into the asphalt in front of him. He stood up straight and stepped off the back of Ichigo's head. "Well, he could do with a visit, but he's never been there before. It's a bit too soon, and he's not ready for that yet." He pulled the weapon up on his shoulder and narrowed his eyes at her. "Who the hell are you, and what do you want with us?"

"I'm a devil hunter," replied Lady. She shifted into a kick and spun around firing her weapon at the boy with her free hands. "I'm sure you can figure the rest out on your own."

Akuma bent and twisted out of the way, reaching up and twisting her arm. She was very flexible though, and turned her other arm around her back putting another firearm under his chin.

The half demon was thrown off his feet and landed on the ground on his back. "Nimble little minx, isn't she?"

"Shut up, I'm still pissed at you," growled Ichigo as he glared at him and staggered to his feet. The woman turned and planted her heel into his face. He stood there and took it, rocking back a little. "Cut it out. What the hell did I do to..."

"You exist, and you don't belong here," said the woman as she put two shots into his chest. He flew back and landed several feet away. It was a very large handgun with hollow point shells that hit him like a sledge hammer.

Lady gasped as the other demon rushed up behind her and pulled his arms up under her shoulders. She reached back to put her weapon against his temple, but was lifted off her feet and suplexed into her shoulders as he bent his legs back.

She grunted in pain and scowled as she rolled away as he released her and her eyes went wide as the first thing she saw was his shin. Her head spun as her neck was snapped to the left as he clocked her with a hard kick. The white haired demon frowned at her as she staggered to her feet. "You're pretty tough."

"Comes with the job," she replied as she glared up at him. Her glasses had come off and her irises were two different colors.

Akuma crossed his arms and frowned at her. She raised her weapons and started firing. Dark energy exploded around the boy and the bullets bounced away before they struck him off an invisible shield. The woman simply dropped her handguns and rushed forward stabbing at him with the large blade set into the front of her rocket launcher. He shifted aside and put his fist in between her elbows.

The woman rolled with it and spun around firing again with the sub machine gun. She gasped as a foot crashed into her jaw. Ichigo frowned at her. "Knock it off would you?"

"Not a chance," she responded as she fired at them both at the same time, dual wielding two of the small machine guns.

Akuma just became a blur of motion, and Ichigo put up his arm. The mirror on his forearm expanded and the small metal projectiles bounced away.

Lady stopped shooting and chuckled as she flipped into the air as Akuma lunged at her from behind. "See ya."

Akuma looked at the ground as he staggered to a stop. "Crap." A hand grenade was sitting under his chest and it exploded as soon as the words left his mouth.

Ichigo put up his arms and watched as the woman glanced over her shoulder at him and narrowed her eyes as she jumped away. "What the hell?"

"How annoying," Akuma was smoking a little and looked dazed.

Ichigo scowled at him and punched him across his jaw. "You asshole! How dare you get in my way like that! You let them take Rukia, and I won't forgive you!"

His brother flopped onto his back and frowned up at him. "Yeah, yeah." He rolled his eyes. "There was no way you were going to beat a Captain class Shinigami you dork. Not even on this plane. Just shut the hell up, you'd have just gotten killed and you wouldn't be able to help her now anyway. I saved your ass and gave you the chance to do it later. How many times do I have to say it before it sticks in that tiny thing bouncing around inside your skull?"

"What? What are you talking about?" growled Ichigo as he looked about ready to jump on him and start pounding.

Akuma sat up and reached behind his back. He tossed his brother his shotgun and scratched the back of his head. "You need training before you can take that guy. That was Kuchiki Byakuya. He's a Shinigami Captain, and has quite a reputation. If you think you're anywhere near him, even as you are now, you're delusional."

The blond narrowed his eyes at him. "And you are?"

"If I were to face him outside if this plane, I'm not sure I could beat him, even as I am now," he replied. "I had an advantage, because higher ranking Shinigami seal their powers as to not disrupt the balance on this plane when they come here. Without the seal, any people he got too close to would just fall over dead from the pressure of his spiritual presence. What you faced, was just a small fraction of the power those two Shinigami can use. Don't be a fool." His brother scowled at him and had a dark look in his eyes.

That caught Ichigo by surprise and he staggered back and balled up his fist. "I will save Rukia."

Akuma seemed to calm and smiled at him. "That's your business. I suppose I should help seeing as we're family and all. First, you have to become far stronger, and use the power you so clumsily throw about as you are now. Second, you've got to find a way to get to Soul Society, and finally, you must find help. Even the two of us wouldn't be strong enough to barge into that place and just start fighting them. We would be overpowered, overwhelmed, and destroyed before you saved anyone."

His brother seemed to consider that. "You'll help me then."

"That was my intention from the start. I just needed those two to get rid of that damn sword, and I couldn't help you and Rulama both. If I had tried to get her away from them, they would have destroyed you. I can't allow that." The white haired boy turned away from him.

"Why?" said the blond. He was suspicious.

Akuma smirked at him over his shoulder. "I have reached a plateau. I need you to reach a higher level of power. It is the way of our kind, but you are too weak to help me with that yet. That will come in time, but for now, I can do little but make you stronger. I will help you, because it will benefit me. Does that satisfy your curiosity?"

"It explains a bit," replied Ichigo as he gave a nod. "But not everything."

His brother chuckled. "Yes. Well, you can't expect me to lay everything out for you. Especially not with so many eyes and ears on us. Isn't that right, Urahara?"

Ichigo gasped and turned to see the man in the sandal hat looking over at them. He was holding Uryuu up and seemed calm and cheerful.

"I suppose I can understand that. I must admit, you've got me wondering myself," replied the man in the sandal hat.

"Uryuu!" cried Ichigo as he looked over at his classmate and moved towards him.

"I'm fine," snapped the irate looking boy. "Just look at the mess you've made." He was holding his belly and frowning as he leaned against the shop keeper's shoulder.

"Me? It was that crazy Lady with the guns!" he snapped. "What the hell was with her anyway?"

"She's a demon hunter," replied Akuma. "An obstinate one at that."

Uryuu looked up at him and his face hardened a little. He'd seen more of what had happened than Ichigo had. The blond had been knocked out, and missed his brother's transformation. "What do you intend to do then?" He was having trouble admitting it to himself, but that transformation had more to do with his condition than his wounds did. The stranger had shielded him from it a bit, and had tended to his wound while the Devil Hunter distracted the pair.

Ichigo spoke up in a firm and confident tone. "I'm going to find a way to save Rukia."

Akuma gave a small sigh. "I suppose I shall assist him. It's an outside route to what I want, but it will serve my purpose."

Urahara nodded. "I can help with that."

The white haired boy turned away. "I'll deal with it. You can play with his friends if you want. They could all do with a bit of training."

The shopkeeper shook his head. "That's not what I mean. I can get you to Soul Society, but it's going to take time to set up."

Akuma looked down at the cat sitting in the corner and frowned at it. "I see. Very well. How much time do we have?" He looked as if he was asking the cat and not Urahara.

The animal shifted it's eyes away from him and turned up it's nose.

The sandal hat man answered. "There's a grace period of one month for the maximum penalty. We should assume that. It will take at least seven days to open the gate, but you'll be needing more time to train than that. If as you said, you wish me to train his friends to assist you...then it will be at least ten days. So, we'll say fourteen days from now I will open the gate and send you through. How does that sound to you?"

Ichigo looked frustrated and nodded. "I'll be there."

Uryuu glared at him. His wound had been treated and he was still weak. "Very well, I'm not strong enough to be any help right now. I shall train as well." He pushed off the man supporting him and adjusted his glasses. "You're the only one who can save Rukia."

The blond looked surprised. "Uryuu..."

"Shut up! We're not friends! I will become stronger, and show the true strength of the Quincy to these Shinigami!" The boy balled up his fist and started to turn away.

Akuma looked on with his creepy grin and chuckled a little. "Ichigo, one more thing."

"Huh?" he said as he looked at his brother in confusion.

"You must renounce the power of the Shinigami forever if you are to forge this path. You are not a Shinigami anymore, but an Akkijin. You must understand, that if you choose this path, you will never become a Shinigami again. That door will closed to you, forever."

Ichigo scowled at that and nodded. "It doesn't matter. That sword was destroyed anyway. I've got no choice in the matter."

Akuma turned away. "Good. Come on then." He turned and glanced at the cat and nodded his head as he smirked at her. "Good evening to you as well."

She watched him walk by and flattened her ears as she growled a little.

Ishida looked on and hung his head a little. "I see. I shall see you in fourteen days then. It seems I have training of my own to see to."

Urahara opened his umbrella as it began to rain lightly. He gave a small sigh as the cat scampered over to under the dry area the umbrella provided. "What a pain."

The animal nodded. "So it would seem. I really don't trust that guy. He reminds me of someone."

The shopkeeper smiled and looked down at her. "You noticed that as well? Oh well, it may work to our advantage this way. As he suggested, even the two of them will not be enough. It would be best to try and recruit his friends and make them as strong as possible."

Yoruichi sighed. "I hate to admit that you're right. We can't do nothing, and we have the greatest chance of success with as much help as we can get. I don't trust the white haired one to be of much assistance. He's got his own angle here, and I doubt he cares. Ichigo seems like he might be useful, but I'm not so sure I trust him either. He's of the same type after all."

"I'm starting to wonder," replied Urahara as he covered his face with his fan. "He's an odd one, and he's definitely up to something. We'll have to keep a close eye on him."

The cat glanced back as they walked together. "I agree. I'm not so sure I want him anywhere near this. I'm really not sure which one you mean."

As soon as the street cleared, two small figures walked out of an alleyway into the light rain. The taller of the pair looked up at the sky and adjusted her ball cap. "Great. Rain."

Her twin sister smiled at her. "Well, that was...weird."

Karin gave a small sigh. "They kidnapped that girl." She looked frustrated. "Maybe we could have helped?"

"No way. They were way too strong," said Yuzu as she put her fists over her mouth and got wide eyed. "We shouldn't have been here to begin with."

Her sister nodded. "Yeah. I guess. Still, a talking cat, some crazy lady with guns, and those two guys with swords. What the hell was that thing Akuma turned into anyway?" She was still having trouble taking it all in.

"We change too," replied Yuzu.

Karin pouted a bit. "Yeah. I know. Come on, we should get home before we get soaked." As soon as the words left her mouth the rain lightened. It was still sprinkling a little, but hardly worth noting. "Well, I guess it's not that much of a hurry. We should go back and try to get some sleep though."

"That was pretty exciting, and a little scary," said Yuzu with a little too much cheer. The pair started walking together back towards the clinic.

Her sister nodded. "I guess. Ichigo said he's going to help that girl, and Akuma said he'd help him. I guess there's not much we can do."

The brunette smiled. "We'll get stronger. We've just got to put some effort into it!" she pointed her finger into the air and giggled.

Karin looked a bit skeptical but grinned and nodded anyway. "I guess you're right. Come on. We don't want to get caught."


A short time later they were moving through the darkened streets of Karakura town. There were street lights giving spots of light, but it was sporadic and left the town with an empty feeling. The raven haired girl shuddered as she rubbed her arms. It wasn't a great neighborhood, but hardly a slum. "Maybe we should have taken another route?" They would make it they way they were going, but didn't want to run into Ichigo or Akuma on the way and avoided a more direct route.

"Huh? It's not so bad. Are you scared?" teased Yuzu.

"Not just...feels..." She paused and looked up.

A large heavyset man was looking down at them in the middle of the road. "Well, what are you kids doing out here so late?" He gave them a warm smile and leaned down. He had a matted comb over and a worn looking pair of glasses on his face. He looked a bit dirty, but not like he was living on the street, just unkempt.

Karin took a step back. "None of your business. Get out of the way." He seemed cheerful and friendly, but was giving her a bad vibe.

Yuzu frowned at him as well. "We're going home. We don't need any help, we're not very far away."

"Well, I couldn't just leave two such young girls alone in the middle of the night like this. It's dangerous. Very fortunate I happened across you two." He fumbled with a small umbrella that looked like it had been recently used. "I'll walk with you. Make sure you go to the right place."

"We're fine on our own," insisted Karin as she pushed Yuzu by her shoulders away from the man.

"No. I insist, can't have you all alone out here," he said as he stayed with them. He fumbled into his pocket. "Here, have a sweet, it will calm you down."

The brunette girl got an odd grin on her face as she took one. "All right." She looked at her sister, her irises turned into slits. "Let's let him. He looks nice enough..."

Karin let her go as she popped the candy into her mouth and moved up to the man's side.

"Yes. That's a good girl. Don't worry, I won't tell on you." He said as he smiled at her. "You?" He held his hand out, the sweets looked rather old, and there were pieces of lint in with them.

" thanks," said the girl as she kept her eyes away from him. Her heart was racing, and her vision was blurred around the edges a little. She felt something creeping up into her cheeks, a burning as if she was blushing. "I'm fine." She struggled to push it down and calm it, and managed to do so only a little.

"Yes, we'll be just fine," replied Yuzu as she moved along side him. Karin hung back a bit, and walked with them despite how she was feeling.

"Where are you going?" asked the man as he looked down at the brunette, taking a glance over his shoulder to see if the dark haired girl was still with them.

"The Kurosaki clinic," replied the cheerful girl. She gave a small yawn.

"Oh! This is the long way there. I know a shortcut up ahead," said the man. His hair was matted down and he was starting to bald a little. "It's just through here."

Karin hung her head and noticed the alley he was pointing to. "Yeah. I bet you do."

About half way through the alley, Yuzu collapsed and slumped to the ground. "Huh? Oh my!" said the large man as he fell to his knees beside her. "Well, I wasn't expecting it to happen so fast." He turned and looked up at Karin.

The girl backed against the brick wall as he stood to loom over her. She looked angry. "What? What did you do to my sister?!"

He chuckled. "She's only sleeping. Don't worry." He shoved her shoulders back and put his weight into it to pin her against the wall. "You're very pretty. I knew when I saw was fate. You were drawn to me."

She looked over his arms at where her sister was lying. She was breathing, but not moving.

The man smiled as he grabbed her face and brushed her cheek with his fingers. "So sweet. You should have had a piece too. My special candy, just for sweet little girls. I never imagined I would be so lucky!"

"Lucky?" she growled as she shuddered.

He reached down keeping her pinned to the wall and rubbed on her chest. "Such a fine girl. I'll put you in my special place. We'll have lots of fun. Just relax, and you might enjoy it." He reached up and forced her head up and into his lips. The girl struggled to keep his tongue out of her mouth, gritting her teeth to force it out. It was revolting having him lick between her lips, but that's as far as he got.

He frowned as he pulled his head back. "Now, now. It's no use struggling. It's too late, you can scream all you want and no one will hear you here. This whole block is abandoned. You're not the first you see. I chose this place carefully. I never expected to be so lucky this evening, very fortunate."

Karin wasn't fighting back, but didn't seem pleased with what he was doing either. "You idiot. You just don't get it do you?"

"Huh?" said the man in confusion.

"We let you bring us here, didn't we Yuzu?" She gave him a dark smirk.

"She can't answ..."

"That's right, sis. I've been wanting to try ever since I found out. Maybe coming out tonight wasn't such a bad idea?" The other girl's voice spoke up from behind him. She gave a yawn. "I'm a little tired now though."

"You wanted?" said the man as a grin formed on his face. "Very fortunate, very, very..." He seemed ecstatic.

"Not really. You see, I'm pretty hungry." Karin hissed at him.

His eyes darted back, there was something different about her. She grabbed his arm and snapped her mouth over the meat of his palm. The man gasped as his eyes went wide "What? What is this?" Her fangs sunk deep into the flesh of his hand and it stung with a burning pain. A strange unpleasant warmth began to spread up his arm.

Yuzu rubbed at the back of his neck as he fell onto his knees and slumped onto his rear. The one behind him was keeping his body upright as she leaned into his back and rubbed on his neck. His eyes were wide with horror. "What...what is this?" He couldn't move, a numbness had spread through is arms, but it didn't dull the pain of the girl's bite. Despite the fact that he was paralyzed and couldn't move, he could feel them both touching him, rubbing on his neck and arm as they eyed him in a manner that was making him a little nervous.

The violet skinned thing released his hand, her tail lashing behind her and blood seeping from her lips. "I think there's enough for us to share this time."

"Yeah, he's a big one," replied Yuzu with a giggle from behind him. "More than enough for both of us."

"What is this?" stammered the man in horror, unable to move or run. "I.."

Karin grabbed his face and rubbed on his cheek with her finger as he did with her. "I never imagined we'd be so lucky." Her heart was pounding, her vision tinted with crimson haze as she neared him. She could hear the sound of his heartbeat, see the vein bulging inside of his skin on his throat and in his arm as the venom coursing through him brought them up. The sound of the blood rushing through his veins filled her senses, and the scent of the coppery fluid from his wound filled her nostrils. She couldn't resist, didn't want too, it was so good, so powerful, so delicious.

The twins pushed him onto his back and crawled onto his chest, digging their faces into the sides of his neck. He gasped and worked his mouth, trying to scream, but no sound came. He just looked up at the sky as the rain started to fall again, creating spots and splashes on his unblinking eyes. He felt the life draining from his body, more than just blood, something more powerful than that. It was ripped apart and split between them, the energy of his life force within him. " Not like can't...I'm sorry...forgive me. I couldn't help it, they were sweet, so innocent...beautiful. I couldn't resist..."

Karin lifted her head and looked into his eyes. "Do we really look so innocent to you?" She had a sexy looking smirk on her face as she said it.

"It's really good," said Yuzu as she looked up at her sister.

"Yeah, it is," agreed Karin as she dipped her head down for more. It was flowing down his neck and covering his body. He was gasping, and his breath was becoming shallow.

The two girls backed off, Karin rubbing her arm across her face. "That was good." The body of the man before them was still.

Yuzu was standing next to her and giggled. "Yeah. Look, is that him?"

The dark haired succubus nodded and scowled a little. He was standing before them again, a chain from the now still body stretching into his chest.

Yuzu looked at the body. "I don't feel done yet."

The man's face was pitted, his cheeks shallow, and his eyes darkened. " killed me." He bared his teeth at them. "You killed me!"

Yuzu smiled. "I feel something..."

Karin glared at the spirit and nodded. "Yeah. I feel it too. It's like I'm still hungry, but not for blood. I'm satisfied with that."

"I'll kill you! You little bitches! You killed me!" snarled the dead man.

Yuzu slashed with her claws and the chain on his chest broke. He staggered back and hit the wall, slumping down against it without passing through.

The angry spirit snarled at them both. "I'll haunt you for eternity! I'll kill you both, when you die, I'll make you both suffer for this forever!" He howled in rage, his skin seeming to grow paler and flake off as he became more horrific looking and rotted in appearance.

"We get to have this part too, don't we?" said Yuzu. "He looks ripe."

Karin glared at him like a hungry animal. "A bad soul. He's to be punished."

"What?" muttered the enraged spirit as he seemed to realize something was amiss. "What...what are you doing? Why are you looking at me that way?"

"Because they're demons," replied a voice both girl's recognized. "Go ahead and finish him up. We get to keep the rotten ones if we want. Enjoy him."

The two girls didn't look back to face the newcomer. They stalked towards the cowering spirit and leaped onto him with their claws extended and their fangs bared. He howled in pain and terror as they tore into him, ripping his body apart and chewing on the spiritual flesh that made up his dead form. All the while, his pale drained body simply looked up at the sky with a blank and terrified expression. The wounds the two girls had given him were gone, and aside from being covered in his own blood he looked as if he'd just died of natural causes.


Karin sat up in bed with wide eyes and gasped. She clutched at her chest and hyperventilated as she struggled to get her bearings and looked about the room.

Yuzu yawned and stretched her arms next to her and smiled. "Good morning," she said with a cheerful smile.

Karin closed her eyes and controlled her breath. "Y...yeah."

Her sister frowned a bit. "Are you all right?"

The dark haired girl rubbed at her eyes. "I'm fine, just a weird dream."

Yuzu cocked her head and furrowed her brow. "Huh? What kind of dream?"

"It's nothing, just...a little disturbing. I think...I was burning my clothes after I... I don't really want to talk about it." She shook her head and closed her eyes as she flopped down in bed putting her arm across her forehead. "It was really weird, and a bit disturbing."

"Oh. Well, we didn't have much choice. It was too much blood and I wouldn't have been able to wash it all out. We're going to have to be more mindful about making a mess of ourselves next time. I was our first time and we got a little messy. We shouldn't back off until we're done next time. His heart was still beating and we got splattered when we let go before he died."

Karin's eyes snapped open and she sat up. "Wait. What?"

Yuzu smiled at her. "Akuma helped us out last night. He found us after we killed that guy. We burned our clothes because they were covered in blood and he brought us home. I was afraid he'd get a little mad because we followed them, but I think he only said that stuff to goad you into going out. He brought us a change of clothes and helped us sneak back into our room."

The dark haired girl made a choking sound and gripped her sheets. "That...wasn't a dream?"

"No way. He was right, it was the best thing I ever tasted. That bad soul wasn't too bad either. It was almost as good as the blood, but not quite. Akuma said if we kill bad people we can tell if we get to have the spirit or not by instinct. If they're going to Hell anyway, we can eat both." Yuzu gave her a warm smile and sat on the edge of her bed.

"Shit!" muttered Karin as she looked confused and afraid. "What...what did we do last night?"

"I think it was good for us," replied Yuzu. "I had a lot of fun, it was better because we did it together. We're sisters and all."

Karin looked up at her and pulled her knees up to her chest. "Yuzu! We killed that guy! Then we...oh, God!" She clutched at her head. "What did we do?"

"We fed," replied the brunette girl simply. "Relax. We're supposed too."

The other girl looked at her with wide eyes. "S...supposed too?" She looked confused and in shock. Tears started to fall down her cheeks. They were tinted reddish brown but not entirely bloody either.

Yuzu nodded and dabbed at her sister's cheeks with a handkerchief. "Hey. It's all right. Think about it, it was really good wasn't it? I thought ice cream was my favorite, but no way can it beat that."

Karin shuddered as her mind was forced to remember. "Y-yeah. It was good...too good." Disturbingly so in fact. It was as if it was so good that she'd lost herself. She couldn't control what she'd done once it had kicked in at full strength.

"You didn't have to follow me you know, I could have done it on my own." Yuzu turned her eyes away from her.

Karin sniffed. "I'm fine. I just...I wanted to go too."

Her sister smiled. "See. It's not so bad, right?"

The dark haired girl nodded. "I a little scared. It's like it took me over."

Yuzu cocked her head. "It didn't really though did it?"

Her sister shook her head. "No. I let it happen." She could have resisted and she knew it. She just didn't want to leave Yuzu alone, but deep down, she knew it wasn't because she feared for her safety either. She didn't want her sister to have him all to herself. "I hungry."

The brunette girl nodded. "I know. We'll be fine for a while now though. I'm looking forward to the next time."

Karin wasn't so sure of that, but she knew damn well that she was going to do it again. "I guess. I'm not sure I liked it all that much. It was kind of...I dunno..." It was great, she'd felt so powerful, intoxicated, satisfied. "I'll get over it. It's just a little weird I guess. I'm...fine...really."

"All right. I've got to go start breakfast. It's the first day of summer vacation."

Karin nodded and flopped down on her mattress. "Yeah. That's good." She was glad she didn't have school or anything. What had happened to her was going to distract her for a while and she'd have had difficulty studying because of it.


"Sorry, I can't go," said Ichigo. "Turns out I've got a family obligation."

Keigo blinked, covered in beach supplies. "Huh?" Naturally, he overreacted. "What do you mean? You're the only one who said they would come!"

The blond scratched his ear. "Actually, I said I'd ask and see. I can't make it though, sorry."

"What? What happened?" cried the brunette as he hung his head. It was so overblown it was a bit comical.

Ichigo looked up towards the sky and put his hands in his pockets. "My brother and I are going to run off into the woods together and beat the shit out of each other. It's one of those family bonding things and all."

"That's, well, partially accurate. I'll be beating the shit out of him, but he doesn't like to put it that way. We're training in the family style, it's an obligation," said Akuma as he appeared behind his brother. "Sorry if it spoils your plans, but it's something of a family tradition. A coming of age thing and all. Karin and Yuzu will do it when they're old enough too."

"Huh? That's crazy!" snapped Keigo. "What kind of vacation is that anyway? You're not in the karate club or anything!"

Ichigo shrugged and looked like he felt a little bad. "Sorry Keigo, I can't make it this year."

He gave a heavy sigh and hung his head. "All right. Fine! Be that way!" He rushed off crying into his arm.

The blond looked on as this happened. "I might feel a bit worse about it if he didn't do that all the time."

Akuma slapped his shoulder and turned back into the home. "Well, I'll see you later then. Take the day off and hang around with your friends. I've still got to talk to beardo about all this."

"You haven't asked Dad yet?" muttered his twin.

"Nah. I won't have any trouble though. You know him." He walked off and left him in the doorway. "All I'll have to do is say something about 'manly bonding' and he'll stop listening and let us do what we want."


Orihime sat and listened as Ichigo related the story. "Then this crazy chick showed up and started shooting at us, and there was a talking cat. It was really weird." She had asked about Rukia and told him of what she had seen in the past few months. "You actually beat one of those things?"

She smiled and nodded. "Yes. I was a bit afraid, but I thought of you. Still, isn't her friends and family at home? Are you sure you're doing the right thing here? I mean, what happens when they come back for her again?"

"Hopefully, I'll be strong enough to kick their butts and drive them off," responded the boy as he clenched his fist and glared at it. "I can't let them kill her for helping me. That wouldn't be right, and I'd never be able to live with it."

Orihime gasped and looked over at him. His expression was hard and serious, more than the gentle scowl she was familiar with. He was different somehow, and there was a hunger in his eyes. "Are you all right? I've never seen you with such a look."

He blinked as his face went back to normal and looked at her. "I'm fine. Just a bit frustrated I guess. I dunno, I want to get stronger, so I can protect my friends."

She nodded and seemed to relax. He'd changed a little since his brother had shown up, but not that much. "I see. Well, I won't try and stop you. You'll just scrunch your chin up and furrow your eyebrows, and say 'She'll be able to see her family again as long as she's alive. She'll never see them again if she's dead'. That's the Kurosaki I know."

"I see. I was wondering where that girl had gone. She's usually with you."

They both tensed up and turned. Don Kanoji was leaning against the wall in a cool pose and looking off into the distance.

" long have you been there?" snapped Ichigo.

"I came to see my number one student, only to learn that his first class partner has fallen into danger in the clutches of spirits most foul!" The man balled up his fist and cried manly tears of bitterness. "Fear not, for I shall assist you!"

"No thanks. I've got it covered. I've got some training to see to, and it'll be a couple of weeks before I can get there anyway," said Ichigo as he turned his head away and crossed his arms.

"Wow. You're a very good friend Mr. Kanoji," chirped Orihime as she smiled at him.

"Why thank you, my dear. You are a friend of my number one student?" The man seemed pleased to meet her, yet tried to keep his serious tone.

"Yes. I'm Inoue Orihime. Kurosaki is a very good friend of mine." She blushed and got a rather flustered smile.

"Stop calling me that," grumbled Ichigo as he frowned at the man.

"Well, if there's anything I can do to help, just ask!" said the girl as she smiled at him in a warm manner. "Kuchiki is my friend too, and I don't want her to die either."

"Indeed, the girl was an ally to me as well. I cannot turn my back on such a sad tale!" Don Kanoji seemed to steel himself.

Ichigo stood up and started jogging away. "Thanks. I'll do my best."

"Wait!" said the medium as he started after him.

"Huh? Sado?" said Orihime as a large shadow loomed over the pair.

Kanoji turned around and noticed a very large boy standing over them. He shrank back a little in surprise, but calmed and smiled at him. "Oh. Hello there. My, you're quite a large boy."

Chad nodded. "Yes. I know."

"What brings you?" said the girl cheerfully.

"I did." A black cat walked up and sat down in front of Sado. "My name is Yoruichi."

The redhead bent down and peered at it. "Oh! It's nice to meet you. I'm Inoue Orihime, are you a friend of Sado?"

Don Kanoji was surprised once again, but seemed to take it in stride. "How unusual."

"Have you considered what Urahara told you?" asked the animal.

Orihime nodded. "Yes. I'll do my best." She looked serious for a moment.

The cat nodded. "Very well. I have come with an offer. I am willing to instruct you to use your power. My training is difficult and strict. Will you accept?"

The girl gave a firm nod. "Of course. Kuchiki is my friend as well."

Chad gave a serious looking nod. "I must keep my word. Ichigo has always kept his, and I cannot turn away from him now."

Don Kanoji crossed his arms. "What's this? Training?"

The cat looked up at him and back to the two teens. "You know him?"

Orihime smiled and nodded. "Yes. He's famous."

"I am familiar with him as well, though I have not met him," said Sado with a small shrug.

Yoruichi narrowed her eyes at him. "You have some spiritual power. Are you a friend of Ichigo?"

The man nodded. "Yes. I also know of the girl Rukia. I have assisted them both in the past."

The cat nodded. "Very well. I suppose there's no harm in one more. Are you aware of what's going on?"

The man adjusted his sunglasses. "I was just informed. I shall offer any assistance I can of course. Difficulty and hardship is nothing to a true man who believes in himself and his friends!"

Yoruichi tilted her ears back a little. The man was irritatingly over dramatic, but didn't seem to be a bad sort of person. "Very well, I'll allow you to come along as well. I see you have a little more of a handle on your power than these two, but not much more."

"I have trained many years, and faced many dark spirits in my time. I am the charismatic spirit medium Don Kanoji! Perhaps you have heard of me?" He puffed out his chest a bit.

"Nope. Doesn't ring any bells," responded the cat as she started walking away. "Come along. We'll get started. It's going to be a long and arduous two weeks before the gate to Soul Society is ready. We've got a lot of work to do."

The four of them wandered off towards the shop. Kanoji crossed his arms and hung back a little. "Hmmm I've a feeling this may be my greatest case yet! I shall give it my all, and do my best!"

Yoruichi looked back at the other two. "Is he always like this?"

They both shrugged at her and Orihime spoke up. "We don't really know him that well. He's usually like this on television though."

"Television?" muttered the cat as her eyes went a little wide. "That box with pictures in it?"

Sado nodded. "Yes, that's right."

The animal didn't seem to think on it much. "Oh. Well, I don't pay much attention to those things. It seems kind of boring anyway."


Ichigo ran down the street and slid to a stop as he heard someone call his name. "Huh?"

"Hey, Ichigo," called the somewhat roughish female voice.

"Tatsuki?" said the boy as he noticed her standing nearby. She had her dogi rolled up and swung over her shoulder.

"Hey. What are you doing here?" she walked up and smiled at him.

"Not much. I was hanging around with Orihime for a bit and was just headed home." He replied as he put his hands into his pockets and shrugged. "What about you?"

She tugged on the belt she as using to hold her clothes behind her. "I was at the dojo. Gotta keep in practice if I want to do well at the tournament this summer. It's only a few days away."

The blond nodded and scratched his head. "Oh. Good luck then."

She smiled and nodded. "Thanks. I've got a lot of work to do. I'm gonna be the champion for sure this year."

"Yeah. I'm off to do some training myself this summer it seems," he said as he looked away.

"Oh. Really?" she seemed interested. "Thinking of joining the Karate Club or something? They've been begging you for ages."

He scowled at her. "Of course not. I want to kick my brother's ass."

She blinked at that. "Oh. I see." It seemed to amuse her a little. "He is kind of a jerk, but I guess he's not all bad."

That surprised him and he rubbed at his skull a little. "Huh? Are you kidding? He's a total asshole. I thought you hated him?"

She shrugged. "I guess. I don't like him or anything, but he's not as bad as when we were little. I still wouldn't mind kicking that smug grin of his out the back of his throat."

There was a roar like the sound of a heavy engine from nearby. Tatsuki blinked and turned her head. "What was that?"

"Probably some jerk on a motorcycle," grumbled Ichigo. It revved up a few times nearby, but neither one of them could see it. "Anyway, I'll catch you later."

Tatsuki gasped and pushed him aside as a shadow formed overhead. "Look out!"

Ichigo ended up on the ground on his back and seemed confused. "What the hell?" A huge hunk of metal had landed where he had been standing and slid around to throw off some momentum. He crossed his eyes as he looked down the barrel of a handgun. "Crap. Not again."

Lady smirked at him and pulled the trigger. His head snapped back and hit the pavement.

"Ichigo!" cried Tatsuki in shock.

Lady flipped off the bike and kicked at him in the same fluid motion. He rolled back over his shoulders as her foot landed where his crotch was and cracked the pavement. He narrowed his eyes as he crouched and looked at it. "Hey. Watch it. That's not cool."

She didn't say anything and pointed twin handguns at the boy. Her arms snapped up as a blur of motion slammed into her forearms from underneath and bent over as a young short haired girl planted her fist into her gut. "You bitch! What do you think you're doing?"

"Tatsuki! No!" cried Ichigo as he got to his feet.

Lady frowned at her and tried to backhand her, but found the strike blocked. "Stay out of this. It's none of your business."

"The hell it's not! You're trying to shoot my friend!" The younger girl spun around and hooked her foot at the woman's face.

Lady dipped back and tried to sweep her, only to find the girl hopping over her foot. She moved to level her arms and aim the weapons, but both firearms clattered across the asphalt as Tatsuki used a twin open palmed strike to her wrists to disarm her before trying to put her knee into her jaw. "Not bad kid," said the woman.

"I'm gonna kick your ass!" snapped the angry girl.

Lady chuckled at that and bumped into her side with her hip. Tatsuki was staggered for a moment and leaned back to try to catch her balance. The older woman tried to punch her in the face and drive her down into the pavement with a downward curving punch.

Tatsuki caught her arm with one of her palms in her fist before it hit and kicked both her legs, flipping over the arm and trying to lock it. The woman mirrored her maneuver and they ended up in the same position. The girl didn't miss a beat and kicked at her shin causing the woman to shift forward and attempted to shove her palm up into her chin with a scream.

Lady managed to crane her neck out of the way and hooked her arm across her chest bending the girl backwards across her knee. She then jabbed her elbow down at her abdomen. The girl took the strike and bent into it, punching the woman across the jaw and sending her staggering back. "I don't have time for this," muttered the frustrated woman.

"Tough!" snapped Tatsuki. She pressed her attack and kicked at her belly.

The woman took the shot and caught her leg. Tatsuki flipped back and tried for her chin, managing to free her leg but missed the strike.

Ichigo growled as the pair became a flurry of punches and kicks, each holding the other off admirably. The woman was larger and more powerful. Tatsuki took a few shots, but didn't back down. "I won't lose!" they cried in unison. He couldn't see an opportunity to jump in without disrupting Tatsuki and tensed up.

The girl jumped into the air and hooked a fast spinning kick at her opponent's temple, it missed, but her other leg lashed out at the apex and nailed her in the forehead. She landed and looked up before freezing in place.

The woman had a handgun pointed at her that she had pulled from behind her back at the same time as she'd been kicked. "Back off kid, and get out of the way."

"Don't try it," said Ichigo.

Lady froze and gasped. One of her lost weapons was pressed against her temple. "Damn."

"Hands up," said Ichigo.

She did so and frowned. "Well, you've got me. Now what?"

"Who the hell are you?" growled Tatsuki.

She smirked. "The name is Lady. I'm a devil hunter." She glanced over at Ichigo. "Aren't you going to shoot me? I wasn't expecting your little human friend to be so strong. What is she, your slave?"

He scowled and lowered the weapon before punching her dead in the face. "Leave me alone. I've got enough problems."

Lady ended up staggering back on top of her bike and almost toppled it over as she backed into it. It was a huge machine with what looked like jet thrusters on the back end of it. She scowled and pulled a shotgun off the side of it before pointing it at the boy's head.

"Stop!" snapped Tatsuki angrily as she shoved the boy out of the way before she fired. "Are you crazy? Guns are illegal! You'll be arrested!"

The woman cocked her head and rested the weapon on her shoulder. "Not likely. You could have been killed."

"I'll kick your ass!" snapped the girl as she tried to move forward.

"Stop it, she'll kill you," muttered Ichigo as he grabbed her shoulders to hold her back. "What the hell is your problem anyway? I was digging metal out of myself for an hour last night because of you."

"I can sense it," she replied. "Your darkness."

He scowled at her. "Leave my friends out of this. If you want to fight me, fine. You hurt her and I'll kill you."

Lady gasped and looked him in the eye. He was giving her a firm scowl and put himself between her and the girl. She seemed to relax and put the shotgun back on the bike. "Give me back my sidearm."

He looked at the weapon in his hand and tossed it back. She caught it and holstered it before walking over to retrieve the other. Both of the teens looked on as she looked it over before putting it away. "What's your name kid?"

"Kurosaki Ichigo," he responded.

"Huh. How about you?" she looked at the girl.

"Why should I tell you anything?" snapped Tatsuki. "You just tried to shoot us!"

The boy looked at her. "She did shoot me."

"It was just him." She narrowed her eyes at the boy. "You're part human, aren't you?"

"Whats it to you?" he said with a frown. He had relaxed a bit as she seemed to have calmed down.

"You're not the first one of your kind I've met," replied the woman. "One of them was a real asshole, the other...well, he was a lazy bum, but not a bad guy. I guess." She put on a pair of shades. "He still owes me a bit of money, but he's not around anymore, so I can't collect. Kind of a pain."

Tatsuki scowled at her and crossed her arms. "Bitch."

Lady smirked at her. "You're not bad kid. A little rough around the edges, but you've got skill, and quite a bit of spirit. Maybe I'll see you around."

The short haired girl turned her face away from her. "Yeah. Whatever. You try that again and I'll beat the shit out of you."

The woman chuckled as she started her bike. "I like you." She looked at the boy. "I'll be watching you. I'm not sure if I should let you live or not, but I'll back off for now and see how things go." The engine on her bike roared to life and she drove away.

"What the hell was that about anyway?" grumbled Ichigo.

Tatsuki gave a small sigh. "That was so weird. First she tries to shoot me, and all of a sudden she likes me?"

"Crazy bitch," muttered her friend. "That's not the first time she's tried that with me. Last time she tried to blow me up with a rocket launcher too."

Tatsuki looked at him with wide eyes. "You know, I don't even want to know."

He shoved his hands in his pockets. "Don't worry about it. I'll see you later I guess."

The girl nodded and started in the other direction. It hadn't escaped her notice that Ichigo had just gotten shot in the face and was no more hurt than if he'd been punched. "I guess...he wasn't lying." Not that she thought he was to begin with after what she'd seen. Still, it only confirmed it more. Ichigo wasn't human, she didn't know what he was exactly, but he wasn't a normal boy. Not that he ever was to begin with. "What the hell?" She'd known him since he was little, but now she was left wondering what she knew about him.

After a couple of blocks she paused. "Hey."

Her head snapped around and she glared at Lady. The woman was leaning against her bike with her arms crossed in front of a small cafe. "What are you still doing here? Aren't you afraid of getting arrested?"

"The police won't bother me. I want to talk to you," responded the woman.

"Why the hell should I care? What do you want anyway? You almost killed me back there." The girl was upset with her and backed away a little.

Lady smirked and shook her head. "No, just him. I don't kill humans. Well, not if I can help it anyway."

"Like that's any different," snapped the girl. "I don't want to talk to you. Leave me alone."

"I want you to tell me about that boy," said Lady as she ignored her. "How well do you know him? Are you his girlfriend or something?"

"Hell no!" snarled the girl. "Why should I tell you anything?"

Lady took off her shades and looked at her with her heterochromic eyes. "I need to know why you think I shouldn't kill him. It's my job to send things like him back to Hell after all. If I'm going to make an exception, I'll be needing a good reason to leave him alone."

Tatsuki seemed to consider that for a moment. "All right, I'll talk if it will get you to leave him alone."

The woman nodded. "I won't make a promise." She jerked her head. "Come on, I'll buy you tea or something."

The girl looked wary, but walked over to her. "Just don't try anything funny. I can still kick your butt."

Lady smiled at her and winked. "I've no interest in fighting humans. I told you already, I'm a devil hunter."

"How did you get a job like that anyway?" grumbled the girl. "That's kind of strange. You shouldn't go around telling people things like that."


It was almost two hours later. Tatsuki was leaning against her cheek and poking at the remains of a melted ice cream with a glass of ice cubes sitting next to her with a straw poked into it. She was enthralled. "So, those other two that you knew..." Lady had just related a story about how she had met two other Akkijin named Dante and Virgil an unnamed number of years before. The story had actually cleared a few things up about Ichigo and her brother for her. It seemed they were pretty normal, if not a bit tame, for what they were.

"Sounds like they're a lot alike," said the woman as she nodded.

Tatsuki nodded and seemed to think about it. "I guess. It sort of sounds that way. I mean, Akuma saved me, and I've known them both since we were all kids. The jerk left about six years ago and just showed back up again recently. Ichigo's always been here as far as I know." She'd already told her about Ichigo and their relationship. He had always been a good friend. She also mentioned how Akuma had saved her life recently, but left out a few of the more embarrassing details about it.

Lady nodded and seemed to think on it. "I guess I'll let things go for now. I'll have to keep an eye on them though. Can't just let something like that wander around without supervision."

Tatsuki flushed a little as she thought about it. "I guess I see what you mean. Ichigo's all right though."

The woman put the glass full of ice against her cheek and smirked at her. "You've got a good punch kid."

"You're pretty strong too," replied Tatsuki. She was still sore in a couple of places, but didn't think on it much. "I've been training since I was little at the dojo up the road."

Lady nodded at that. "I can tell. I didn't start until I was older, but I've got a few years on you. You're not bad for your age though."

"I'll kick your butt any day," grumbled Tatsuki. "I'm gonna be the National Champion this summer. There's a competition in a few days, and I'm gonna win for sure."

The woman smiled at her. "Is that so?" She pulled a card out of her pocket. "Well, if you're interested in putting those skills of your to use in something more profitable than a tournament, give me a call. You're still a little young to be running about with me, but I'll be in the area for a while. Call me up anyway, and I don't mind working with you a bit. I like you kid, you remind me of myself. Maybe when you finish school, I can offer you some interesting work? It's pretty exciting, and if you're good enough, it pays well too."

The girl looked surprised and looked at the card. The woman had just tried to kill her and had given her a good pounding. Now she was offering to help her with her training. On the other hand, she was pretty strong. Tatsuki put the card into her pocket and narrowed her eyes. "I'll think about it."

Lady put enough to pay for them both on the table, stood up, and walked to her bike. Tatsuki sat back and pulled the card out of her pocket to peer at it. She frowned and flicked it with her finger a few times as she stood up and walked out of the small cafe. "It's kind of sad that this isn't the weirdest day of my life." She gave a small sigh and put the card back into her pocket. She was going to stew on it a while, but knew damn well she'd end up calling her. After what had happened to her at school there was no way she was going to turn down an offer from someone who could teach her how to fight something like that off. Something Lady had told her came to mind as she started home.

"Well, Hollows are a little annoying, but demons are even more dangerous. With a little training, a girl like you wouldn't have to worry about those things much. You've got the right qualities after all."

She didn't have to ask what she had meant. She turned her head and noticed two spirits floating by holding hands about six feet off the ground. Ever since that day, she'd been able to see and hear them as if they were living still. It was a bit annoying, but easy enough to ignore.

As it was, she was going to go home and get some sleep. Her mind had all it could take for the day.


Uryuu looked around. There was a stream of clean water and a waterfall nearby. He was standing in a small open area, and no there were people for miles around. "This seems like a good spot. No one will bother me out here." It had everything he needed for uninterrupted training. He had a sealed box under his arm and set it down on top of a rock at his feet.

"There he is! Ishida!" called a cheerful and familiar voice.

"Huh?" muttered the boy in shock as he turned and looked at her with wide eyes. She was grinning and waving at him, with Sado standing behind her, as well as the man he'd seen on television as a spirit medium. He was clearly shocked. "What the?"

Within a few minutes they were all sitting together and things had been explained to him. "I see. I noticed that your spiritual power had increased, but had no idea that was the cause." He looked over at Don Kanoji. "Do you intend to teach them? I hate to say it, but..."

The man shook his head and laughed. "No. I can see where you might think that. After all, I've got years of experience fighting against bad spirits. No, I too am but a humble student in this matter."

Ishida was actually a little relieved. That wasn't what he was getting at, but he saw no reason to clear it up. It might do the man some good. He wasn't a bad sort from what he knew, but his spiritual power was actually smaller than either of the other two. "I see. Then who will be your master then?"

Inoue seemed a little embarrassed. "I don't know how to put it, but our master has been standing next to you the whole time."

The Quincy gasped and turned. "No human can be so stealthy! I..."

"Tis I," said the cat.

Uryuu screamed. "What the hell is that thing?"

"It's a cat," replied all three of the others.

"Yes, unusual I know, but this cat is very powerful. It lead us here by following your reiki," said Don Kanoji as he put up his hand as if telling him a secret.

"I know it's a cat! Why does it talk?" snapped Uryuu.

"It's no big deal, Ishida," said Orihime. "It's just a talking cat. Nothing to get excited about."

"Actually, I found it a bit confusing as well," commented Sado.

"The girl is right, there are many things much stranger in the world," said Kanoji as he crossed his arms. He'd found it a bit weird himself at first. The animal seemed to know what it was doing though. He was familiar with the concept of animal mediums as well, though he'd never seen such a thing before personally. Perhaps that woman in Yokohama that said her cat was bilingual and allowed her to speak with dogs was not as crazy as he had thought.

Ishida was a bit embarrassed. "Forgive me for being so crude. I was just a bit surprised."

"That's right you punk. It's just a talking cat," teased Yoruichi.

He swatted at the animal. "Shut up!"

"Listen you unadaptable cretin. If you wish to go to Soul Society and help Kuchiki Rukia..."

The boy stood up. "Thanks for the offer, but I must decline."

Inoue looked a bit disappointed. "She's really good. We wouldn't have found you without her."

He looked at her and adjusted his glasses. "It's not her. I need to do this for myself. I'm not doing this to help Kuchiki. I was defeated by those shinigami, and I cannot accept it. I must become stronger, and I must do it on my own."

"I see," said Don Kanoji as he frowned and looked to understand. "It is your duty as a man then. Not for the sake of another, but for yourself?"

"That's right," said the boy with a nod. "I cannot accept that I lost. I must become stronger."

The medium frowned at him. "I see. I expect that we shall see you when the time comes, so that you might test the strength you will gain with this training then?"

Uryuu gasped and looked at him, after a moment he lowered his eyes and smirked. "Heh. You're more perceptive than I'd thought, Mr. Kanoji. I do not need assistance with my training. I thank you for the offer, but I must refuse."

The cat narrowed it's eyes and sat down. "I see." She glanced up at Don Kanoji. "Very well then. If you wish to come along when your training is finished then fine. We will be meeting at the Urahara shop in thirteen days. If you are not there, we will not wait on you."

Kanoji had already turned away and started walking off. He glanced back over his shoulder and looked very serious. "I do not believe he will leave us waiting."

Orihime gave a gentile smile. "A..all right Ishida. We'll see you then."

Sado just gave a nod and followed after the others.

Uryuu watched them go and crossed his arms. "A strange man." He didn't know what to make of Don Kanoji. He seemed flashy and a bit of an idiot, but also very perceptive. He'd proven himself useful before at the least, despite the fact that he seemed to be in a bit over his head at the time.

He kneeled in front of the box after they had left and unhooked the straps that sealed it shut. "No one can be allowed to witness this training. Master, please...I beg for your instruction."


Akuma stood in an open field smiling at his brother. There was a camp set up in the wood nearby, and both brothers had moved out into the open area to train. It was a remote location, near to a small town, but far enough out of the way no one would bother them. "Well, shall we begin?"

Ichigo frowned at his brother. "All right then, what are we doing then?"

The white haired boy opened his eyes and reached out his hand. "First, you're going to give me all of your weapons."

His brother scowled at that. "Huh? What for? How are we supposed to train? What, are we just going to punch each other again?"

Akuma chuckled. "No. Don't be a fool. You won't need any of the weapons you have though. You've got to give them up."

The blond stepped back. "Hey. Wait a second. How am I supposed to fight you without weapons then?"

His twin leveled a glare at him. "You don't have any anyway."

"I've got this sword," replied Ichigo as Kusanagi appeared in his grip. It flew away and landed in the grass.

"No, you don't. You pathetic idiot. That sword is not yours."

"Huh? What do you mean? Of course it's mine," snapped the blond. "I..."

"That power, does not protect you. You can make use of it, but it's more dangerous than you think to rely on it." Akuma walked up and grabbed the necklace from around his neck pulling it off his head in a swift motion. "The mirror as well."

Ichigo handed them over with a reluctant frown. "I don't get it."

"These weapons are Yamata no Orochi's power. They are his weapons. Do you really think that creature does not wish you dead? Do you think it cares to protect you?"

"It's dead," replied Ichigo.

Akuma shook his head. "No. It has accepted it's defeat. It has consigned itself to granting it power to you in the form of these weapons as opposed to being destroyed. If you die, it will return to Hell in it's previous state. Reborn and and free to do as it wishes." He backhanded his brother across his face. "It is not your power. It is nothing but a force that has submitted to your will to save it's own skin. It would gladly see you dead for it's own ends."

Ichigo was spread out across the grass and looked up at his brother with wide eyes. "I..."

"Shut up, the gun as well," replied Akuma. "You won't be needing it either."

His brother sat up and reached into his shirt and pulled it out. "Why not? It's using my power isn't it?"

Akuma swiped his arm and the weapon flew away into the grass. "It's a toy. Why do you question me so? If I wanted you dead, I'd just kill you and be done with it."

"It's been pretty useful, and it's not like it's something else's power, right?" Ichigo looked confused as he glanced in the direction it had gone.

"I told you, it's a toy. Useful yes, but nothing but training wheels. An easy way to focus your power and use it without any real effort. It's time to take the training wheels off Ichigo, and find your true power." Akuma had his sword in his hand and planted it into the ground.

"So what are we doing anyway?" Ichigo looked annoyed and crossed his arms.

"I'm going to attack you, but I'm not going to hold back. We won't be training this way,'s time you realized where you stand, Ichigo. It's time for you to see just what it is you're trying to reach." Akuma crossed his arms and stepped in front of his blade. "Now, watch closely, because you're going to need every single moment of this to understand this training, and I'm only going to do it once."

Ichigo scowled and got a firm look on his face. "All right. I'm ready."

Akuma chuckled. "No, you are not." His eyes grew wide and his grin became wild.

His brother gasped and fell to one knee with wide eyes. "Wh-what?" There was something radiating off his brother. It was a dark and powerful presence, he couldn't breathe, couldn't move, and felt numb and helpless before it. "What is this?"

The white haired boy spread his arms and looked up at the sky as the energy increased even more. It doubled easily and his form became distorted and blurred. Ichigo felt his legs become weak and just looked on with wide eyes. He could feel himself wanting to flop down on the ground, but somehow managed to keep himself upright as the demonic figure stepped towards him. It stood before him and spread it's wings, it's claws flexed and it looked him dead in the eyes. In a split second, it vanished from in front of him.

Ichigo wasn't sure what happened next. He couldn't really see it, or feel anything but pain. It felt like he was being hit on every part of his body at once and his vision flashed with black and red.

The next thing he knew, he was lying on his back looking at the stars. The sun had been up when his brother had attacked him. He sat up and looked around.

Akuma was sitting in front of a fire eating rice with beans. He pointed his chopsticks at the pot next to the fire. "Eat. You'll need it."

Ichigo was covered in bandages and put his hand up to his head. "What? What happened to me? Why am I all bandaged up?" He tried to move and realized what it was. He was injured badly.

The white haired boy chuckled as his brother doubled over in pain. "Relax. It's painful, but I avoided anything vital. You've recovered fast, that's good. I wasn't expecting you to wake up before tomorrow."

"What was that?" asked Ichigo in shock.

"You're a long way away from that. It's called Devil Trigger, a transformation. That's not why we're here. Your little friend would be dead long before you learned that. You don't even know the basics of your power. That's it's peak form, and you don't have time to attain something like that right now. Maybe later on, if you live long enough."

"Why then?" grumbled the injured boy.

"Hmmm. You're going to have to figure that out on your own. I've hidden your weapons. You can have them back when this is finished. You won't need them before then." Akuma continued to eat. "I won't be quite so hard on you next time. The point is to get you to learn something. I suggest you eat and rest up. Think about what you saw, because I'm not going to waste time explaining. Tomorrow, your training starts, and while I won't be doing that again, I'm not going to take it easy on you either."

"That's a big help," replied Ichigo irritably.

His brother gave a snort. "I've no intention of helping you. I'm here to force you to do it on your own."

"Do what? You've disarmed me and now you're telling me you're going to kick my ass tomorrow. What's different about that?"

Akuma smiled at him. "I'll have a sword. Be ready, Ichikun."

"Wait, what?" said Ichigo with wide eyes. "I thought you said no weapons!"

"No. I took away all the weapons you had. I never said anything about me." Akuma smiled and pointed at the pot. "Eat. You'll need all your strength tomorrow. I doubt you'll figure it out for a couple of days at least. I suggest you think about what you saw carefully, otherwise you're going to be in that condition for a while."

Ichigo found he couldn't really stand, but managed to pull himself over and eat.


The next day Akuma was standing in front of his brother with his sword on his shoulder. He had his usual grin on his face and a long black coat hanging off his shoulders. "You need to learn the nature of your powers, and how I use them differently from you."

The blond scowled and put up his fists. "Let's get this over with."

His brother frowned. "As much fun as that would be, you're here to learn something. You need to accept that you're going to get your ass kicked and pay attention. I won't be trying to kill you today, will find out just how much you can live through. I suspect you'll be surprised."

"Pay attention to what?" grumbled Ichigo in irritation.

His brother seemed to vanish from in front of his eyes and appear in front of him in an instant. His eyes went wide and he tried to suck in a breath as his chest exploded with pain. Akuma had just speared his sword through his chest and had a focused frown on his face. "Sorry, that's the only hint you get." He lifted the blade up with his brother on it and whipped it around, throwing the blond off the end and sending him rolling across the ground.

Ichigo managed to stand and scowled as he staggered in place. "Bastard. I'll..."

Akuma slammed his foot into his face. "You'll what? Get me for this? I hope you do, that's the point after all."

What followed was a day Ichigo could only remember flashes of, and all of it painful.


They sat under the stars again and ate the same thing. Beans and rice, with a bit of green tea to wash it down. Their camp was minimal, a campfire, a few cooking utensils, and some bed rolls for sleeping. There was a tarp as well in case it rained, but they didn't have more than needed to get through their days.

Ichigo didn't bother talking, and neither did his brother. They ate, rested, and woke up the next day to continue. It went on for two more days before anything changed.


Ichigo was bloodied and haggard. Chunks of flesh hung from his body, he was bruised and battered, but still able to move and gasping in struggled breaths. His arm was up, and his brother's blade was stopped against his forearm.

Akuma chuckled and pulled the weapon back. "Good. Good. So, you've finally begun to figure it out have you?"

The blond stood upright and frowned at him. He was wearing a long white leather coat. His chest was bare, but his pants looked new and clean despite the fact that he was torn to ribbons and looked like a walking corpse. He fell to his knees and looked at his arms.

His brother frowned a little. "Pick another color. You look like a damn angel. I can understand you not wanting black since it's what I wear, but anything but white. Seriously."

Ichigo frowned at him and a bit of blood dripped from his forehead and onto his arm. It seemed to spread across the leather as the coat took the same hue. "What...what is this? Seems like an awful lot of trouble just for some new clothes."

Akuma chuckled. "Call it 'Demonic Armor' if you must call it something. You never noticed that I don't mess up my clothes before did you? You are such an unobservant idiot, I swear." He stood up and the clothes he'd been wearing when they arrived appeared as what he was wearing vanished off his body. "You never even noticed that I had the odd ability to just suddenly be wearing something different before, did you?"

Ichigo was wide eyed. "Huh? I noticed, I just didn't care. What's the big deal about this anyway? It's tougher I guess, but..."

"It's a form of transformation. Those aren't really clothes, but a barrier of a sort. Clothes is just an easy to understand appearance for it to take. It's your own power focused around you, and a side effect of that is your defense is much greater. However, it's also easier to use your power offensively. Those clothes don't just make you harder to hurt you know. They also make it easier to access your power, since they're basically a physical manifestation of your power. It's the first step in your training. Don't go thinking you're invincible. I could have cut your arm off if I'd wanted. That's enough for today though, you should rest up, and reflect on that. Next time you try to stop me that way I'm taking your hand off." Akuma turned away and started moving towards the camp again. He paused and turned around, throwing his sword like a spear. It pierced Ichigo through the chest and he stayed upright looking at his brother in shock. "Just to make sure you understand that I wasn't joking." He walked up, put his foot against the boy's chest, and drew it out. "When you wake up, drag your sorry ass to camp and get some rest. I'll have dinner waiting on you, but don't take too long or it'll get cold."

Ichigo slumped down face first into the grass and the world faded away again.


Over the next few days Akuma was even harder on him than before. Ichigo was getting a handle on his armor, keeping it on was getting easier. They had a tendency to vanish if he took too much abuse or lost his focus. He was able to keep them on longer and longer, and was keeping up with his brother. He came close to landing a few blows.

Whenever that happened, Akuma just laid it on thicker, attacked harder, and got faster. He was always just out of reach, and it was frustrating. Not that it mattered a lot. He went to bed cut to shit again, but his wounds weren't as deep. His brother wasn't being any gentler with him at all, but his demonic armor did help to keep him from getting totally ripped apart. He was waking up feeling better, but still didn't get what he was supposed to accomplish beyond what he already had.


It was day ten of the training.

Ichigo stood in the field and frowned at his brother.

Akuma had his normal grin on and his sword appeared in his hand. It was crackling with energy as it usually did when it first appeared. Ichigo had recently noticed it, but little tendrils of power crawled up and down the blade when it was summoned, usually arcing over Akuma's body when he grabbed it. It was easy to miss and he would have if he hadn't been paying rapt attention. "Today, something a little different."

Ichigo cracked his neck, ready for another day of punishment. "Yeah? What's that?"

His twin pointed his sword at him. "Today, I'm going to stop playing around. We've been here ten days now, and as I predicted you're too thick to realize what this is about."

"What? Are you actually going to explain something?" said Ichigo in confusion.

The white haired boy shook his head. "No. Today, I'm going to try and kill you."

"Huh?" said the blond as he gasped.

Akuma blurred and appeared at his side. He ducked and rolled aside as his twin slashed at him. "I suggest you figure this out, time is up, Ichikun."

Ichigo dove and rolled aside, getting gashes and small nicks as he barely avoided his brother's strikes. Akuma wasn't going all out, but he wasn't aiming to injure him either. He'd made attempts at his head and limbs. Ichigo managed to escape any lasting damage, but was beaten and hacked around.

"Crap!" snarled the blond as he flipped out of the way as his brother lunged and stabbed at him. They were moving close to the woods, and Akuma wasn't letting up. He stayed right with him, keeping him off balance and within range of his weapon.

They moved between the trees and things got a little easier on Ichigo. He managed to use the woods to deflect the blade and evade a little easier.

Akuma left large gashes in the trees as he followed after him and cleaved into thick tree trunks and through branches as he pressed his attack.

Ichigo ran up the side of a large tree as his brother slashed at him, cutting clean through the trunk. "Oh shit." The tree toppled and he landed rolling aside to keep from getting crushed and pelted with the branches. He tried to shift out of the way, but the tail of his coat was under the tree and he jerked back.

"I have you!" snarled Akuma as he jumped into the air and hacked down at his brother.

Ichigo squeezed his eyes shut and raised his arms to defend himself. He gasped as an unfamiliar sound echoed through the woods. The clash of metal against metal. "What?"

Akuma started laughing and stepped back. He put his sword behind his back and clapped in a slow and deliberate manner. "Well, congratulations. I was hoping I wouldn't have to take things this far, but it finally got through your skull."

The blond looked at what was in his hands with wide eyes. It was a large silver sword. The blade was single edged and curved, with a fanged skull on biting onto the bottom of the blade where it met the hilt. It was just as long as his brother's weapon, and about as thick, with a polished silver blade that he could see his own reflection in. "What? What is this?" He stood up and stared at the weapon in his hands. It was coursing with power and energy, flowing into his body and out of it as if it was a part of him.

Akuma leaned against a nearby tree with his arms crossed. "That, Ichikun, is the key to your true power. It's your Devil Arm."

"My...Devil Arm?" He looked confused and stared at himself in the edge.

His brother nodded. "That's right. Just as Yamata no Orochi is to Kusinagi, so are you to that weapon. It's not just a sword, it's your spirit, your energy, the key to unlocking the power within your soul."

Ichigo gripped the handle a little tighter. The power grew more intense and he got a dark look in his eyes. "It's...strong."

The white haired boy gave a snort. "Is it now?"

"I've never felt anything like it," replied his twin as he glared at it with a greed in his eyes.

"Like that do you?" Akuma seemed amused. "You should give it a name. Something to reflect what it is, what's in you."

Ichigo pulled his eyes away from his new weapon. ""

"Named swords are easier to connect with. That weapon is yours, so you must name it. Though, I think it has some say in the matter."

"It...talks?" muttered Ichigo as he cocked his head.

Akuma shook his head. "Sort of. It's not a zanpakuto if that's what you mean."

That confused the blond even more. "Zanpakuto talk?"

"They have spirits residing within them. They form a symbiotic relationship with the shinigami that wield them. A partnership of sorts. That sword is different, it's the physical manifestation of your spirit, your will, your power. Devil Arms are similar I suppose, as they contain demon spirits, but it's more a master and slave relationship. They aren't partners or comrades. You shouldn't rely on them or trust in them too much. They'll do what they're supposed to, but they aren't interested in helping you if they don't have too." Akuma pushed off the tree and let his arms hang at his sides. "My sword is called Sesshou no Gihen."

Ichigo frowned and looked at his weapon. "A name huh? Something that suits it?" He lifted it up and looked into the reflection on the blade. It was about three inches wide and tapered into a curving point at the end. "Hankou. That's it's name." The weapon crackled with energy along the length of it.

Akuma smirked and turned away. "How fitting. Now, we're finished here. There's nothing more I can teach you in only four days. It's time to go home."

Ichigo looked surprised. "Huh? What, we're just leaving? I just figured this out and you want to go already?"

HIs brother glanced over his shoulder. "Want to try it out do you?"

"After the past ten days of getting cut to shreds by you? Of course!" He hefted the weapon and narrowed his eyes at his brother as he pointed it at him.

"You'll get the chance," replied Akuma as he started walking away. "For now, you need to let things settle for a bit. That weapon has been forged now, and you should remember that just as Yumatano Orochi became your slave, so can you become the slave of another by way of that sword. It's a double edged deal you see, that weapon is the key to your strength, and just as you are connected with it, so to is the serpent who now serves as your weapon."

Ichigo narrowed his eyes and frowned at it. "I...see."

"It's spirit is in that blade. Devil Arms aren't that different from zanpakuto. You could say they are the demonic equivalent of the same thing. However, the rules governing them are much more dangerous. You'd have to willingly give yourself up to be used that way. Many demons would prefer it to being destroyed in a fight. Hoping to become free once again once the one who took them is destroyed. If you choose to do so to save your own skin, then the only way to be free again is for the one who defeated you to be destroyed. If the one who wields a Devil Arm becomes one themselves, then those they have taken as weapons remain trapped in that form as well."

Ichigo scowled at him. "I'd rather be destroyed."

Akuma shrugged. "That's easy enough to say. I'm not really sure what I'd do. I suppose it would depend on who or what it was really. In any case, you should settle down and reflect on this before you go challenging me. It won't end any differently just because you've got that pig sticker now. Surely you're not seriously thinking otherwise?"

His brother hung his head and growled. He knew damn well that his brother was still far beyond him. "Someday, I'm going to kick your ass."

"I look forward to it," replied Akuma with a smirk. "We're finished for now. Making that sword probably took more out of you than you notice. It wouldn't be much fun to slap you around right now. Besides, the energy needs to settle a bit. It's newly forged, and you should let it be for a few days before you try to use it." He paused and looked over his shoulder. "You can still beat Hollows with it. It won't destroy them or anything. You can even do Soul Burials if you feel like it. Though, it won't really cleanse them the way a zanpakuto would. It's a bit rougher and less pleasant for the soul, but it will do the job in a pinch. Don't go thinking you're a shinigami though. Now that you've made that weapon, you can never wield a zanpakuto again. Remember that."

Ichigo frowned at him and then looked down at his new sword. "Well, if it works the same I don't care. I'm through hunting Hollows, but I guess I'll still clean them up if I happen to find them."

"Well, don't expect me to stop you, but don't think the Shinigami will be appreciative of it either. They're rather selfish about their duty, just ask your Quincy friend." Akuma put his hands in his pockets and left him standing there. "Come on. We should clean up camp and head back. There's nothing else we can do. Four days isn't enough time to do anything useful with you so new to that weapon."

"What about Kusanagi?" muttered Ichigo.

"Yes, yes. You can have it back. It will still be useful to you. Devil Arms have some sort of special ability that it unique to each one. You'll figure out what yours does, but like I said, it needs to settle a bit first."

Ichigo followed after him. "So, what does yours do?"

"None of your business. I suggest when you figure yours out, you keep it to yourself." The white haired boy glanced over his shoulder. "You seem to have figured out how Kusanagi and Yata no Kagami pretty well."

"Still haven't figured out what that damn necklace does," grumbled the blond.

Akuma smirked. "It turns you into a cloud of mist for a few seconds at most. Only works once every thirty minutes or so. How the hell did you think you managed to dodge Byakuya's strike and that Menos when it tried to crush you anyway?"

Ichigo looked a bit embarrassed. "I wasn't sure."

They had reached the camp by that point and Akuma laid the weapons he'd collected on a log in front of him. Ichigo collected them and put them back on. They vanished after he did so with the exception of the necklace. It didn't look out of place and remained around his neck. He shoved the shotgun into his belt and it also vanished as his clothes became his normal attire again. He only had one good set of clothes left, the rest were bloodied and torn to shreds, including what he was wearing. "Great. I liked this shirt."

Akuma seemed amused. "One more thing. Call it a gift to commemorate you passing this training." He set two handguns down on the log in front of Ichigo. "They have a higher rate of fire, but won't do as much damage or cover as much area as that one in a single shot. They also have a better range, you've got to be pretty close for that shotgun of yours to do any good."

Ichigo picked them up and looked them over. Once again, it was a pair of toys, realistic models that shouldn't be able to fire. "I suppose I should thank you, but you did try to kill me, and you've been cutting me to shreds for almost two weeks, so I won't."

Akuma nodded and didn't seem to be paying attention as he started packing. "Noted. Change and help me with this so we can get out of here." It was still daylight and they had a bit of a walk ahead of them. They would be back before sundown though, but just barely.

The blond put the weapons away and did so. He felt better already knowing it was over with. Despite it all, he felt ready for what was ahead. Now, he only had to wait.



Next Time: The Final Vacation and the Gateway to Soul Society.

Note: Ichigo's sword name translates to 'Defiance/Insubordination' and Akuma's translates to 'Destruction [of life] of Deception'.