Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters in the following work. All recognizable anime characters belong to Tite Kubo. All others characters are adapted from a diverse spread of cultural and mythological lore. I am making no profit from this story.
Author's Note 1: This story covers an alternate version of events (from Orihime's kidnapping all the way through the end of the Winter War) in which Aizen uses the ability of event-rejection to it's utmost, death gods of other pantheons play a key role in the winter war (on both sides), and Tatsuki finally develops the abilities we all know she's harboring—and puts them to use. This story is Tatsuki-centric (with a secondary focus on Ichigo), and will in the very long run be ultimately about their relationship with each other. However, it is also an ensemble piece, and will not only will it heavily feature many, many other Bleach characters, it will also include their POVs as well. A plethora of different pairings will be explored between various characters, because in this story, like in life, relationships among groups of people are shifting, unrequited, and/or complicated.
All "original" characters are not really original, as they will be based on religions, folklore, mythology, and cultural myths created hundreds to thousands of years ago. Descriptions, roles, skills, and abilities of deities from other pantheons will closely tie with these beliefs. Please note that (*) indicates a footnote below that explains the mythological origin/significance of the preceding word or statement that I think might not be common knowledge. (†) indicates a note on the story itself. If you think this practice gets annoying or isn't helpful, please let me know.
Spoilers up to current chapters in the manga. Sorry about the long author note. Thanks for reading!
Chapter 1: Make the World Weak
The clever make the world weak
To pull it from it's moorings
To form the old wicked ruse
To weather the coming storm
by The Smashing Pumpkins
Her footsteps echoed loud on the pavement as she raced across the town. Desperate, fearful, the blood that pounded through her heart made her veins tingle with dread.
She is not here, she thought, could not escape thinking. I am not going to find her.
The school, the sweet shop, even the arcade, the girl was nowhere. After an entire day of searching, ever since she had felt Orihime's presence disappear completely, she had nothing to show for her efforts.
Refusing to quit, her shadow ran with her, now before, now behind in the glow of the orange streetlights she passed. She could not say how long she had been running until, at last, she collapsed to her knees in an exhausted heap by the river.
Something happened. She is not here.
Tatsuki almost never cried. She hadn't cried when she got hit by a car and broke her arm. She hadn't cried when the chain of a swing got tangled in her hair and it ripped a chunk of it out. She hadn't cried that time she slipped on the ice and broke her front two teeth. But as she knelt on the bank of the river, digging her fingers into the dirt beneath her, she could feel a prickling sensation in her tear ducts.
Ichigo knows. Ichigo was at the center of all weird things. Had been, for many months. Tatsuki may have been pushed to the sidelines, forgotten and alone, but she could recognize a pattern when she saw one.
And she could recognize a ghost, too.
Part of her blamed herself for letting things go on as long as they had. She knew, she knew they had been lying to her. Keeping secrets. Her memories of the first strange incidents were still foggy, but as time went on, recollections and evidence were piling up in a neat stack.
She had told herself that she would wait until they were ready. Many a night she had stared at the blank wall next to her bed and told herself that when they were ready to talk, when they needed someone to talk to, they would come to her and lay their burdens down. It got harder to believe with every turn of the moon. Instead of coming to lean on her, they shared their hardships with each other, keeping everything within the circle. Away from her.
It is good they can depend on each other, she admitted. But if they cannot come to me with their fears, how can I to go to them with mine? Until they told her what was happening, she had no one to talk to about the strange awareness she could feel growing stronger within herself every day. Until they came to her with the truth, she was alone.
She shook her head, trying to keep her focus on the matter at hand and not let it run in familiar, depressing circles. Ichigo knows what this is about, she thought. And I won't rest until he's told me what it's about too.
She hadn't expected to sleep that night. As she fell into bed fully clothed, not even removing her shoes, she had felt sure that sleep would elude her as surely as Orihime had. It was not only worry for her friend that chewed at her like a rabid dog, but also concern over how to confront her other friend in the morning.
She had convinced herself not to storm into Ichigo's house that night demanding answers. She couldn't be sure that Orihime wasn't just off on another adventure to her grandmother's house, as she had been all this past summer (who did they think they were fooling?). If it all turned out to be fine, she couldn't even imagine the kind of shame and embarrassment such an overreaction would shower her with. And if it wasn't okay…well, she hadn't any idea what to do, anyway. She had no choice but to try to get some answers before she could act. This, too, is a fight. I have to size up the situation before I lunge.
Her stomach flipped as she tried to reason out what to say to Ichigo to persuade him to be honest with her. She had been waiting, patiently, for him to come to her of his own accord. After so many near-misses involving her, after her friends at the dojo had all been killed, after all the strange sightings and fights that she couldn't deny any longer, she had waited. She had known him longer than she had ever known another person, save her parents, and she knew that Ichigo had to be allowed to do things in his own time. But while she waited, her heart sank a little every day that passed that he did not tell her, did not even look at her in class.
Weren't they nakama?
Don't doubt it, she told herself. You will find the words, tomorrow. You will tell him you know, and he will be relieved that you won't think he's crazy when he tells you everything that's been going on.
Yeah. Right. Ever the optimist, inner-Tatsuki.
She had not expected to sleep that night, with such stresses weighing on her mind. Which was why when she dreamed it was as unexpected as it was disturbing.
A red-blonde woman with metal skin. A dragon with glittering, golden scales. A stone being ground into shining droplets of water. Ichigo, his face transformed into a grotesque rictus of hatred. A woman with feathers for hair. And scariest of all, Orihime, pale and beautiful, with a gaping hole where her heart should be.
She woke up gasping for breath, clutching at something that was not there.
Ichigo, she thought desperately. You've got to tell me everything. You've got to tell me everything, or I'll never be able to sleep again.
Grimmjow's laughter echoed through the hall, bouncing on the tiles and sliding over the bloodstains that Luppi's lifeless body had smeared everywhere.
Aizen's mouth formed his favorite type of smile, his secret smile; a smirk that displayed his pleasure, but gave no hint as to why he was so very, very amused. Everything was perfect. The girl's powers were everything he was hoping they'd be. It was perfect.
"Ulquiorra," he intoned over the din.
"Please take Inoue-san to the quarters that have been prepared for her. Ensure that she's comfortable."
As the Fourth Espada led the unresisting girl from the hall, Aizen dismissed the other arrancar from his presence.
"Won't that girl's friends be looking for her?" asked Nnorita, before anyone could leave. The question was casual enough, but the leer on his face oozed lust for a fight. At the Fifth's words, the remaining Espada turned to look at Aizen.
He deigned to answer. "While it seems likely they would make an attempt to reacquire our guest, we have sealed all entrances into Hueco Mundo for the time being. This includes the ones we've let the Shinigami researchers tamper with."
Aizen made certain to control the authority in his voice just right for the sentence that came next—too little, and some, like Grimmjow, would test him; too much and others would bristle and seethe. "This means that the likely success of a rescue attempt is very low. However, it also means that none of you are able to leave Hueco Mundo until further notice. Until instructed otherwise, I ask that you remain in your palaces." While there were a few disgruntled and disappointed mutterings, all the Espada filed out without incident.
Aizen turned to the remaining occupants in the room, the other former Shinigami captains that had participated in his coup and betrayed the Gotei 13.
"Do you remember the unsolicited message that came from Dis* some months ago?"
"From the ranks of the Fallen? Yes."
"And do you recall what they wanted?"
"Yes. They wanted you to create a fighting force of arrancar for them to use in their struggle against the Favored. In exchange for an army, they offered to commit their swords for a siege on the Seireitei."
"A fair promise," said Aizen. "And do you remember why we refused such an offer?"
"Two reasons. First, if we were to create more arrancar, we would be better served by adding them to our own ranks than giving them away."
Gin smiled, looking for all the world like a fox. "Heh, it's not like we've got warehouses full of extras."
"And the second reason, Tousen?" Aizen prodded.
"Of course. Even though they were willing to swear their allegiance in a battle against Soul Society, their reiatsu patterns are wholly different from ours, and would be repelled in our realm. Fallen angels—as well as loyal angels—of any significantly high power level can't pass into Hueco Mundo or Soul Society."
"Lesser demons might be able to pass, but they'd be little more than cannon fodder," Gin smirked. "It was just like that other request from those Ifrits.* They could promise us a billion wishes, but if they can't get their asses here then it's pointless. " He snorted, "Ya'd think they'd know it, too. Shows ya how desperate they are."
"Still, the fact that multiple pantheons have begged our help indicates the amount of respect we have garnered in other spirit realms," Tousen said. "It is an acknowledgement that our power is growing."
"Ya, the rabble scraping at our door is quite the compliment," sneered Gin.
"What if I suggested to you, gentlemen," Aizen interrupted, "that we could bring those with discordant reiatsu to Hueco Mundo?"
"How is that possible? Cross-dimensional travel is extremely difficult. For a captain-class being it is virtually impossible," said Tousen.
"Not to mention the side effects ya experience if ya manage to do it," added Gin.
"And if we were to reject the effects?" Aizen continued to smile.
For the space of a breath, both men went very silent.
"Are you saying that girl can usher powerful beings into Hueco Mundo from other realms, with no side effects?" asked Tousen.
"Well, yes. However, if she were to see to it personally that all ill-effects were negated, she would have to be performing event rejection continuously on everyone. The far more practical solution would be for us to harness her power to create a device or an artifact that would have the same effect.
"And in fact," again, a smile, "I have already asked Syzael to look into such a device, ever since Ulquiorra brought the girl to our attention. Now that she's here, he'll be able to take the work into its final stages."
"But what about the price?" asked Gin.
Very sharp, thought Aizen. "Ah yes, the arrancar army." He tilted his head and rested it on the tips of his fingers, propping his elbow up on the throne. "Frankly, I have no intention of using the Hougyoku to make arrancar armies for outsiders. But…"
Aizen looked at Tousen. "On a daily basis, what do you think a Fallen Angel in Dis misses the most?"
Tousen only hesitated for a second, "Paradise."
Aizen smirked in a way that might have meant many things. "Paradise is subjective. And anyway, they cannot see it from where they are, to be taunted with reminders of it every day."
Gin was staring at the stains of blood that had been Luppi's life, until an arm was reattached onto a certain creature that had sorely missed it. "Their wings."
"The scars never fully heal, you know." Aizen's tone was light, conversational. "Where their proud plumage used to bloom lay wounds that bleed and ache and never, never close. I'm sure they would be more grateful for their restoration than any army we can bestow."
"The girl can return them," said Tousen. "Easily."
"We glue a few angel wings back on, increase the power of our fighting force, and all for a fraction of the resources creating an arrancar army would run us," said Gin.
"You gentlemen still aren't seeing the larger implications." Aizen's voice was taking on a quality that he liked to think of as his "visionary tone." While it wasn't really necessary with these two, Aizen understood that a leader must never neglect the power of charisma when bending those around you to comply with your will.
"Those that beseech us all have some things in common with each other. They all are usually nefarious in nature, for a certainty, and they all are looking to seize power—terrible at wielding it though they may be. But, most conspicuously, they are all trying to reject something. Reclaim that which was lost, like the Fallen and their bygone glory. Release themselves from servitude, like the desert Jinns and Ifrits. Reverse the hierarchy of power in their realm, like Erlik and his Siberian sons.* They all want to deny some event or condition.
"This girl has the ability to grant such longings. And when we spread the word, it is not just the rabble that will flock to us, but the powerful as well."
"Soul Society will be limited in the support they can receive from other pantheons," said Tousen. "They will not have the girl's powers to bring in the same level of assistance."
"Precisely. Allies of such caliber will go a long way towards furthering our ultimate goals," smiled Aizen.
"Tousen, I would like for you to prepare a message to be sent to those of the spirit realms that are…unhappy with their current lot, informing them of what we can offer, and asking them what they are prepared to offer in return."
"Yes, Aizen-sama." Without pause, Tousen swept from the room to complete his task.
Only Gin stayed behind. "That's a fine plan, except I was wondering…" there was something about his smile that was gaping, even when his mouth was closed, "is it really in our best interests to grant all these boons to creatures that are known for being untrustworthy? Seems like we'd be setting ourselves up in a prime position to be stabbed in the back."
Very sharp indeed, thought Aizen. "For a certainty, giving them everything they want would be very bad for us. If we reach out our hand in offering too far, we are like to get it bitten off for our trouble." The manner in which these words left his mouth said this was the last thing that would happen. "But surely the dog that gets a taste of a reward will be more likely to wear the leash.
"Let it suffice to say that treachery is not unplanned for. And besides, Gin, as far as us concerning ourselves over the trustworthiness of our future comrades," Aizen smiled his favorite smile, "well, you know what it is they say about throwing stones."
Author's Note 2: Constructive criticism is welcomed and embraced, and feedback totally makes me write faster. Thank you so much for reading this far.
(*) Mythology Notes:
Dis: In Dante's Inferno, Dis is the "City of the Dead," and can be thought of almost like the capital city of Hell. Fallen Angels "guard" the city, but they are just as much prisoners as they are jailers. Dis is in the 6th circle of Hell and marks the transition from punishment of passive sins (like sloth) to active sins (like murder). For the purposes of this story, Dis is the home of the majority of Fallen Angels.
Ifrits/Jinns: Commonly known as Genies in the western world. From the Arabic tradition, they appear in the Qur'an, and are described as spirits of free-will that are lesser than angels, and stronger, but not smarter than humans. They can be good or evil, and some have a penchant for possessing and/or tricking humans, depending on the type they are. They can be summoned to do services or bound, usually by black magic, to something like a bottle or a lamp—thus the story of Aladdin and the Genie of the Lamp.
Erlik: A God of Death in Mongolian/Siberian mythology. Evil and treacherous, he was cast to the Underworld by the creator god Ulgen. Erlik is continuously trying to overthrow Ulgen so that he is seen as equal to him, or even greater. He has 9 sons and daughters to help him spread misfortune to human kind.