Disclaimer: Bleach does not belong to me.
Note: Rated for language and violence. A glossary of terms is included at the end of the chapter.
DEVIL'S SMILE Chapter 1
Ichigo's eyes flew open.
His bedroom was dark and quiet, the alarm clock's glow identifying the hour as half-past three. The shimmer of light from the street lamp beyond his window spawned gently shifting shadows that coiled in the corners of the room. Beyond the stillness of the sleeping house, an engine roared as a car accelerated a few blocks away. A dog barked from an even greater distance.
His lungs struggled to pull in air, the sudden weight of the atmosphere seeming to press him into his bed. Unnoticed by the sleepy town, the unfamiliar reiatsu sizzled through the night.
Throwing his covers aside, he snatched the small badge off his desk, his Acting Shinigami Permit. It lay quiet and dark in his palm, unconcerned by the powerful, alien reiatsu burning the air like lightning. If this reiatsu didn't belong to a Hollow, then what—
His bedroom door whipped open as Rukia wheeled into the room, her black shinigami array barely distinguishable against the shadows. She'd already abandoned her gigai in his sisters' bedroom where she slept as a permanent houseguest of his family.
He didn't wait to hear what she had to say about the strange reiatsu. He smacked the permit into his chest. With the familiar but always disconcerting sensation of being sucked through a vacuum cleaner, his spirit body burst from his physical body, the latter collapsing in a graceless heap beside his bed. He winced when his head—the physical one—thumped against the bed frame.
Rukia looked down at his lifeless body. "You really should be more careful when you—"
"Yeah, yeah," he snapped, barely resisting the urge to roll his eyes. "Let's just go."
Flinging open his window, he leapt from the ledge. His spirit body was amazingly light compared to his physical one, and with no effort whatsoever he landed one foot on the nearest street lamp and launched himself skyward. Rukia followed a bare step behind him, her small face grave, that tiny little wrinkle between her eyebrows the only sign that she was troubled.
"Well?" Ichigo demanded, alighting on the roof of an apartment building and already running. "What it is?"
"I don't know," Rukia replied, darting alongside him with sharp, graceful movements. "If it's a Hollow, Soul Society didn't send orders—but I don't think it is. I've never felt a reiatsu like this one before."
The atmosphere shuddered, the pressure growing to an almost unbearable weight. The air felt like sludge in his lungs. He gritted his teeth. Whatever the hell it was, it was strong and getting stronger. Even more than that, there was something entirely foul about the spirit force pounding against his body. It felt tainted, fetid, black with a tangible kind of malevolence.
"Faster," he ground out, and without waiting for Rukia's agreement, he sprang through space using Shunpo. The town spun into a blur of shadowed buildings and bright streetlamps as the wind of his passing tore at his hair and clothes. He touched down on another building and flash-stepped again.
As he touched down for a third time, the world exploded in his senses.
A silent boom rent the air as the power and pressure of the foreign reiatsu skyrocketed, a corporeal force that sent fallen leaves and garbage blowing down the street below. The building beneath his feet shuddered as tremors tore through the town. Ichigo gasped, throwing out his arms for balance as a ruddy red glow lit up the south end of town, burning his eyes like the sun even though the light wasn't particularly bright.
Rukia grabbed his arm to keep him from taking off, her nails pricking his skin. They stared in silence as the sickly glow and the dragging pressure of the reiatsu gradually lessened to disappear entirely.
Ichigo let out his held breath in an explosive exhale. "What the hell was all that?"
She shook her head. "We'd better check out the area, even if it's gone."
It took them nearly half an hour to cross to the south side of town, as there was no longer a need to rush. As they neared the area where the strange force had originated—easily identified thanks to the foul reiatsu that hung in the air with increasing potency—the sky lightened with approaching dawn.
Rukia grabbed his wrist again, pulling him to a stop. "Look," she whispered.
Drifting billows of heavy black smoke were now visible, silhouetted clearly as the sky brightened to a gloomy, pink-tinged grey. Flames licked hungrily at the crumpled remains of what must have been an entire block of small shops, reduced now to a smouldering crater in the street. Spots of fire, spread at random throughout the destruction, burned merrily, and in the distance came the sound of sirens.
Ichigo stared, aghast. "What—What—"
"Did this?" Rukia finished darkly. "Who can say?"
He tore his eyes away from the obliterated street to peer into her face, his gaze stabbing hers. "You mean to say that there are—whatever that was—out there with this kind of power and you have no clue about it?"
Her violet eyes flashed. "I'm not omniscient, Ichigo," she snapped. "Just because I don't know doesn't mean that no one in Soul Society has a clue. We'll find out when I report—"
A blaze of red light made them both spin to face west, words forgotten. Several yards above a nearby office building, a bubble of murky red light blossomed outward, expanding until it was a dozen feet in diameter. Within the cocoon of red, a strip of black cut a horizontal line through the bubble. When it reached twice the width of a doorway, it enlarged vertically to form a large rectangle of blackness within the red sphere of light. For a moment, nothing happened.
With a blinding flash, both the bubble of light and the dark opening vanished. In its place were two figures, standing on air.
The man was huge and bulky. His broad shoulders and barrel-chest supported bulging, muscle-bound arms. His long legs were covered by loose umanori hakama of a black so dark it seemed to suck in the light, accented at the bottom by a design of thin red spikes pointing upwards like stalactites. His feet were clad in black waraji over red tabi. His massive chest and arms were laid bare but for an open, sleeveless black jacket with a high collar that fell to his knees in the back. Black armbands covered his forearms from wrist to elbow.
His gray eyes were hard and penetrating in a face of sharp, blocky angles: heavy square jaw, bold cheekbones, and a high forehead. His blond hair was cut brutally short on the sides, with the top an inch long and spiked straight up. Two scars crisscrossed the length of his face, one down his right temple and cheek, the other cleaving from the center of his forehead and across the bridge of his nose to peter out near his right ear.
He flexed his large, knuckly hands as he surveyed the destruction. A cruel smirk twisted his narrow lips. "Looks like the bastard's already gone," he commented in a gravelly baritone to his companion.
The woman by his side was dwarfed by the giant man. Her form was compact and petite, yet though she stood only a couple inches taller than Rukia, she had little of the female Shinigami's delicate fragility. There was a solidity to this small stranger that spoke of hidden strength. The flat planes of her stomach were hard with muscle, as were the gently rounded curves of her upper arms and the sleek lines of her thighs.
Indeed, Ichigo could see exactly how firm her body was, for her dark, exotic garb covered even less flesh than that of her male companion. Her top conformed perfectly to her small, shapely bosom, its wide straps climbing her shoulders to wrap around the back of her neck. It ended just below the curves of her chest, leaving her entire belly bared, and the swooping neckline dipped just low enough to draw one's gaze. Her lower garment wasn't quite a skirt; tucked into a wide waistband were two long rectangles of black cloth that hung gracefully, one covering the front of her hips down past her knees, the other covering the back, both leaving the outer sides of her lean thighs entirely visible to the wandering eye.
Like her companion, black armbands decorated with the same red spike pattern enclosed her forearms and hid the backs of her hands, while knee-high black boots clung to her shapely calves and slim ankles. Above her slender neck, her face was beautiful but cold, her large wine-purple eyes sharp and stony. Her hair was a deep, rich red, with a straight line of bangs covering her forehead and on the verge of falling into her eyes. Most of the red length was coiled into a large braided bun on the back of her head, but two long tails were loose to frame her face, falling in front of her shoulders almost to her waist, each bound halfway down its length with black ties.
She didn't immediately respond her comrade's remark. Her gaze swept across the scene below and then came around to fall upon Ichigo and Rukia, still standing frozen with surprise. As she turned to face them, he saw the black tattoo of swirls and points that coiled down her cheek beneath her right eye. He clenched his jaw as her jagged stare travelled over him.
Without any change of expression, she completed her survey of the two Shinigami and turned back to face the crater in the street.
"Yes," she agreed, as though the man had only just spoken. "It has escaped us again." Her voice was light and musical, but just as cool and impassive as her face.
"Can you track it?" the man grunted irritably. "I'm getting sick of tailing this stinking sneak."
She considered briefly before answering. "Its trail is concealed just enough to slow me. It's unlikely we'll catch it, but . . ."
The man gave her a predatory grin, flashing all his teeth. "But we're gonna try, aren't we?"
Her lips curved in a ghost of a smile. "Of course."
Shaking himself free of the paralyzing shock of their appearance, Ichigo found his voice. "Hey!" he bellowed. Rukia snatched his sleeve in warning. He ignored her. "Who the hell are you?" he demanded.
The man looked around, apparently spotting Ichigo and Rukia for the first time. His grey eyes went wide, then narrowed with wicked glee. "Oh, who do we have here?"
The woman, after a single half-glance in Ichigo's direction, returned to her study of the street's demolition. "Shinigami," she murmured dismissively. "Ignore them, Seiko."
The man—Seiko—snorted. "Oh—yeah, I recognize 'em now." He, too, turned away, dismissing Ichigo and Rukia as wholly beneath his notice.
Ichigo stiffened. "Hey," he yelled again, louder. "I asked you a question!"
They paid him no heed whatsoever.
With a growl, he reached over his shoulder, fingers wrapping around Zangetsu's hilt. "Damn it, I'm talking to you, you stuck-up piece of—"
"Ichigo!" Rukia's voice was a low warning hiss as she grabbed his other arm. "Don't!"
He snapped his glare to her. She kept her eyes on the strange pair.
"Can't you feel their reiatsu?" she whispered. "It's tightly controlled and contained, but powerful. They may not be carrying weapons, but those two are trained fighters. They're dangerous—maybe even more dangerous than whatever made that crater."
"But who are they?" he demanded roughly. "What are they?"
Her answer was an anxious whisper. "I don't know."
Seeing her concern, he reluctantly released his Zanpakutou. He hadn't actually planned on attacking them—they hadn't done anything besides act like arrogant dipshits, after all—but judging by Rukia's reaction to them, even a bluff of violence was a bad idea.
"I have it," the woman said suddenly. "Ready?"
Seiko crackled his knuckles, grinning like a shark. "Hell yeah!"
With a short nod, the woman vanished. Her Shunpo was so fast Ichigo barely managed to track her movement: south, heading out of town. Seiko glanced over his shoulder.
"Later, Shinigami," he said, smirking. "Have fun with your little Hollow beasties. We're off to hunt prey of a more fiendish sort." With a bark of laughter, he too flashed out of sight after his partner.
For a long moment, Ichigo stared at the spot where the two had stood. Then he turned to share a meaningful look with Rukia, whose worried eyes were filled with all the same questions as his.
. x : X : x . AUTHOR'S NOTE:
. x : X : x .
Thanks for reading the first chapter of Devil's Smile! I'm planning on a relatively lengthy story, and I hope the first chapter was enough to whet your curiosity and bring you back for more.
I'm currently up-to-date with the Bleach anime (meaning well into Season 11 now) so if you're not current, please beware of spoilers. On the other hand, I don't read the manga so I'm blissfully ignorant of any plot therein.
Although I'm mostly a major stickler for canon, I'm afraid a little imagination and looking-the-other-way is necessary for this story. I'll do my best to keep it canon, but bits and pieces aren't going to be chronological. Sorry in advance for any confusion.
Lastly, I'm striving to keep the story authentic by using the proper terminology. As such, I'll be including a glossary of terms at the end of each chapter. The definitions were copied from other sources, not written by me. If there's anyone out there who's well-versed in Bleach terminology and/or Japanese language and culture, please feel free to add to my knowledge and/or point out any errors on my part.
Until next chapter!
Gigai (False Body) - An artificial body that houses a Shinigami in the living world. Made of densely packed Spiritrons, a Gigai is highly visible to Soul Society's sensors.
Reiatsu (Spiritual Pressure) - The physical force/pressure that a person's Reiryoku (the spiritual energy a being has stored within his or her soul) creates when released.
Shunpo (Flash Step) - A technique used by advanced Shinigami that allows one's self to travel considerable distances in short amounts of time.
Tabi - Split-toed socks.
Umanori Hakama - Divided hakama, a Japanese garment similar to trousers that ties at the waist and falls approximately to the ankles.
Waraji – Sandals made from straw rope.
Zangetsu ("Cutting Moon") - The name of Ichigo's Zanpakutou.
Zanpakutou ("Soul Cutting Sword") - The proper term for the primary weapon a Shinigami has at his or her disposal.