Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach. Bleach and all of its characters are the property of Kubo Tite.
1. The story takes place a while (a year or so?) after the "Zanpakuto: The Unknown Tales" arc . As such, spoilers from the filler as well as the next "The Beast Swords" arc will be abound. This will not fit into the canon timeline. It also assumes that all zanpakutos have reverted to their original sword forms.
2. Warnings of OCs, made-up concepts that has no basis in the original work, and copious amount of Plotkai ('Plot' being used here in a rather broad interpretation).
3. The story will focus on Ichigo and Muramasa – while nothing overtly yaoi, I 'may' be stretching the definition of 'friendship' a bit.
4. The first few chapters will mostly be expository - laying out the ground.
REVISED: Incorrect term for 'Vasto Lorde' fixed. Mr .Fix-It-NAO, thank you for pointing out the correct spelling! (I actually watch/read Bleach in Korean mostly, so sometimes I get confused with regards to English spellings for some of the terms. I really should check thoroughly before I use any of them. Bless the people at Bleach Wiki. )
Muramasa, the Demon Blade -
It is an ominous name.
It will damn its wielder to hell.
- Bleed into White -
(Kurosaki Ichigo / Muramasa)
The candlelight flickered. It was the most lively movement in the vast, still room.
As if growing bored, the light flitted across the downcast faces of eight immobile figures sitting in a wide circle. It tried to reach the ninth figure sitting a little apart from others but it was unable to penetrate the thick shadow. The candlelight seemed to give a shrug and went back to tickling the eyelids of other occupants.
However, the voice that broke the silence was not due to the light's teasing, but to its own quiet, suppressed anger.
"Perhaps we're wasting time."
Another voice, like slow scraping against one's nerves, gave assent.
"She has a point. I know I'm wasting valuable time when I could be coming up with a more useful solution back in my lab..."
"Mind saying that to the old man?"
The third voice slightly failed to stifle the yawn that seeped into the sentence. Another figure that sat ramrod-straight spoke gently.
"If it wasn't worth trying, none of us would even be here."
"We've been trying for...I lost track of time. And Katen Kyokotsu has been muttering things to me that I dare not repeat. I know the 'twins' doing it to you too, you know."
This time, the voice didn't bother trying to hide the huge yawn, but there was no doubt that the owner of the voice didn't miss the slight twitch in his old friend's expression.
A much deeper, rumbling voice echoed - followed by a much lighter, yet equally serious voice from the smallest figure.
"Captain Commander wouldn't have suggested it if this wasn't neccesary."
"But while we're sitting here...we leave the rest of Soul Society in danger."
The owner of the earlier lazy voice sighed and stretched.
"I knew I should have snuck in a bottle of sake at least... "
"I have it."
The quiet new voice instantly pulled in everyone's attention as if by invisible strings. Candlelight, suddenly interested again, flickered over to the figure's impassive face. Then it suddenly withdrew in fear as the voice from the reclusive ninth figure boomed - low and monotonous but filling up the room with its sheer presence.
"Have you fully secured the reiatsu, Byakuya?"
"Only a strand, the opposite pull is...strong."
"I shall take care of it. Concentrate just on the reiatsu, Captain Kuchiki."
Another voice that had kept silent until now spoke with calm authority. At the same time, the candle flame shot up at the sudden change in the air. The light thrown back upon the eight figures showed intense concentration, and a faint glow surrounded each figure.
The ninth figure slowly rose to his full height and opened his eyes. The air in the room became stifling, fierce. The flame gave one last desperate flicker and was gone.
But by then, it wasn't needed anymore.
The room was now filled with blinding light.
It was a grave dent of dignity for any self-respecting teenager, but Kurosaki Ichigo vaguely felt that he had pretty much gave up on the idea of privacy.
Having unannounced visits from acquaintances that can walk through walls was probably a factor.
"Don't 'Oi Ichigo' me... I really shouldn't get used to this..."
Upon entering his room, Ichigo sighed and sat down on his bed, facing the two shinigami that had been idly lounging on his desk and window, respectively. Only then did he register the red-haired shinigami's expression.
"What's up with you?"
The vice captain of the Gotei 6th Division replied by way of low grunt that bordered on a growl. Rukia sighed and gestured at her companion.
"Well, Renji couldn't be trusted to stay calm while he was in Seireitei, so..."
"...And the only retreat you could think up was my room?"
Ichigo's comment achieved the feat of having Renji don an expression other than anger - that of disgust. Rukia rolled her eyes.
"Renji, you should have seen yourself...You just walked right up to Nii-sama, looked him straight in the eye and..."
Rukia cleared her throat and gave a quite passable rendition of Renji in his heights of rage.
" 'Captain, I just want you to know that I am fully, utterly, COMPLETELY AGAINST THIS!!!'"
"You don't have to repeat that!"
The hue that shot up Renji's face could have competed with his hair. But they now had Ichigo's attention.
"You actually went up against Byakuya? Huh, must have been something."
"It's actually why we're here."
Rukia was suddenly all seriousness.
"Unsettling...things are happening."
"More than usual?"
Rukia whacked the teen's head once and continued as if nothing happened despite the teen's loud protests.
"Some shinigami have been...for the lack of a better word, disappearing."
"Several shinigami have failed to report back for a long time, without anyone being able to locate their reiatsu. Mostly lower-ranking shinigami but some even up to 5th seat. It took a while to notice because disappearance happened very gradually, one by one. Even now, we're not sure how many."
Renji, his head resting sideways on his hand, followed in low mutter.
"And then a few of them 'showed up'."
Ichigo looked from Rukia to Renji, back to Rukia, and blinked. Rukia continued.
"A member of the 11th division was on passing through Karakura town and happened to confront one of the missing shinigami - absorbing a hollow."
Rukia gave a dramatic pause and was not disappointed. Ichigo had sat up, face intently pushed forward.
"The two engaged in a fight. The shinigami in question was not a seated shinigami. And the one who encountered him was in 7th seat. Yet he would have been killed if Vice-Captain Hisagi didn't intervene. They did manage to capture that one - apparently, he just dropped once his zanpakuto was subdued. Only...it wasn't his zanpakuto."
Rukia took a breath.
"The zanpakuto he was wielding was a completely different one than his own. We have no idea what happened to his own zanpakuto. Captain Kurotsuchi studied the zanpakuto and found that it was actually listed in the old records. Going by the name of Kumodo (雲動- moving cloud)."
"And get this."
"That zanpakuto belonged to a shinigami in the old 11th division, 5th seat. Who died 9 hundred years ago."
"Yama-Ji, do you almost have it? I think whoever's on the other side got wind of us...and we're not sure how long we can hold 'em off..."
"Less talk, more concentration."
The air in the room became wild slashes of sheer force that snatched and clawed like a caged animal. There was visible tension in the faces of the occupants - some gritting their teeth with obvious effort.
Even as the force of the congealing reiatsu roared, the only figure that stood still remained as firm as a rooted tree, his unblinking eyes never straying from the center of the room.
Then Yamamoto Genryusai spoke.
"It is done."
Suddenly, the atmosphere subsided, and a few of the figures let out a breath that they didn't notice they were holding. They turned their attention to the center of the circle they've formed - where the previously rampant reiatsu was now concentrating.
It began to take a form.
Ichigo held up a hand, the other clutching his head. He slowly folded in a finger.
"Let me get this straight...One: All these zanpakutos whose wielders are long dead - are suddenly turning up...'alive'. Two: These 'resurrected' zanpakutos are latching onto random shinigami and taking over their minds, controlling them. In which case they're pretty strong no matter the original rank of the shinigami. So...What we have is a sort of...zombie - parasite zanpakuto problem? Is that what you're saying?"
"That's not all. Um, perhaps it'd be better if I draw you a picture..."
"NO. I'll manage, thank you. Please continue."
Rukia seemed momentarily hurt by the firm reply but she composed herself.
" Captain Kurotsuchi did confirm some unusual flow of reiatsu activity in Soul Society. They didn't know before because it was so well hidden. One had to know that something was going on to really notice."
"How insulted Captain Kurotsuchi was...really. No one could approach his lab for days and I don't even want to THINK about what was being done to Vice Captain Nemu - being a sandbag for his pent-up anger..."
The three momentarily stopped as they each unwillingly conjured up visions of horror and quickly committed them to the deepest corners of their minds - never to be visited again.
"....Anyway, once we had 'some' idea what we were dealing with, we had a few more sightings of these zanpakuto-controlled shinigami. We were unable to capture any more, though."
"And what happened to the one you captured? How is...the shinigami?"
Rukia and Renji bit their lips.
"The zanpakuto is currently sealed within the 12th division. We cannot get anything out of it but its most basic reiatsu. No-one except the wielder can communicate with the zanpakuto anyway. And that's the thing, a zanpakuto needs a wielder. Which is why we think these zanpakutos are manifesting themselves through shinigami in the first place. The shinigami is not quite dead but not alive, either. It's like his soul was eaten by the dominating zanpakuto."
There was a momentary silence. Then Rukia cleared her throat.
"But we have a very definite clue. Apparently...a similar event happened 9 hundred years ago."
"Exactly the same - minus the resurrection part. Some...'rogue' zanpakutos latching onto shinigami and controlling them - wreaking havoc all over the Soul Society. The archive in the Great Spirit Library records only have a few lines on it and none of the captains knew about this except for the Captain Commander. At the time, several elite shinigami were selected to on a mission to investigate and eradicate the threat. Fortunately, their names were listed. And Kumodo belonged to one of them."
"Also based on the sightings, it seems that the zanpakutos of those elite shinigami are the ones returning as 'rogue' zanpakutos."
In the darkness, a voice echoes. It is the voice like that of a child yet it has a strange ring to it - as if something that was definitely not a child had covered itself with a child's skin.
"Lost that one."
Another presence stirs at that. When it speaks, it is like the slow grinding of granite rocks.
"Just one of many, perhaps it's of no consequence-."
"Gotei 13 does not interfere with something that is of 'no consequence'."
As the sudden cold authority washes over the voice, the other presence ceases to speak and stares into the darkness. A while later, the soft voice rings again - the childlike, high lilt seeping back.
"It's a pity that I can only remember their names when they've actually materialized. It's irritating...knowing yet not remembering. I really would like to know what that one was."
The voice takes on a faraway tone, almost that of longing.
"That scent was very familiar..."
"I...we can try finding out."
A hand snakes out of the darkness. It hovers inches before the owner of the granite voice, almost caressing his face.
"No, you WILL find out. Say that again."
The delicate hand is very white, gleaming in the dark. It reminds him of newly blossomed magnolia drenched in moonlight and at the same time, of hungry maggots digging through the black, wet earth to get at the dead flesh underneath.
"We will find out."
"Do try to have more faith in yourselves."
The last sentence contains both warning and scorn and perhaps, most terrible of all, affection.
"After all, aren't you all my zanpakutos?"
The orange-haired teen scratched his head and adjusted his sitting position.
"So these rogue shinigami-controlling zanpakutos, what do they DO? Aside from stealing away shinigami and have them absorb Hollows... I mean, why?"
"That's what we are trying to find out."
"Well, you have an obvious example, don't you? Who was responsible 9 hundred years ago and what was the purpose of all that? "
The two shinigami actually seemed to fidget. They looked at each other and Renji was the one to speak this time.
"What we told you is practically all there is. Nothing's recorded about who was behind it, how that someone was able to command all the zanpakutos to do his or her bidding, what he or she was after... no one really knows WHAT happened. All we know is that it happened."
"Surely Yama-Ji would..."
"Come on, he's practically a living history of Soul Society for crying out loud..."
"He wasn't in charge of that assignment. The order came directly from the Central 46 Chamber. Even Captain Commander was never told the details and the elite shinigami were hand-picked by the Central 46. They all took oaths of secrecy never to speak about the incident."
Ichigo frowned and leaned over.
"So basically, the higher-ups wanted that job done hush-hush. Now it comes back with a vengeance and everyone who knew anything about it are now dead. Nothing against Soul Society personally, but sometimes it seems that Seireitei has an unlimited supply of skeleton-filled closets."
Rukia rubbed her forehead.
"That's...one way to put it. But as for the matter at hand, Hollows aren't the only things they're hunting."
Ichigo felt a cold suspicion roll down his spine as Rukia nodded.
"Yes, some have also been hunting humans with higher spiritual powers. Mainly from Karakura Town. Since you're the substitute shinigami here, that's where you partially come in, Ichigo."
"So...it probably means they need extra spiritual powers to sustain themselves...?"
Then something dawned on the teen.
"You said 'partially'."
Renji dropped his chin back onto his palm in the previous disgruntled matter and gave a disapproving sound. Ichigo glanced at him.
"...And judging from this, I guess the other reason that concerns me is what's annoying you."
Renji seemed determined to not even talk about it. Rukia shot a look at her fellow shinigami.
"Captains came up with...a decision."
Ignoring Renji's huff, Rukia continued.
"They managed to 'intercept' one zanpakuto resurrection process - thus, instead of the resurrected zanpakuto going to whoever is behind all this, they managed to materialize this particular one right before them."
"Is that even possible?"
"Neither I nor Renji can even attempt anything like that. It took the captains several days to just sense the reiatsu. Even then, it's probably a miracle that they've managed it at all. What they did was get hold of the zanpakuto's reiatsu while it was being 'ressurrected', and route all the summoned reiatsu to them so that it'd take form in Seireitei instead of…the 'other side.' "
Ichigo started to nod.
"So this way, you're trying to stop the zanpakutos from being resurrected..."
Ichigo stopped as Rukia shook her head furiously.
"NO. Just one took a lot out of all the captains - and at this time, captains cannot afford to stay absent from their duties any longer. We don't dare try something like that again."
Ichigo's brow creased.
"Guys? I think we're having some major disturbance in the communication line here… What good would that do? Now you just have a...a sword dropped onto your lap. No one can communicate with the zanpakuto other than the wielder… Unless your resident Captain Frankenstein came up with some sick method that will make the zanpakuto talk. Come to think of it, I wouldn't be surprised if he DID...."
"HAH! I wish that was necessary. If anyone or anything deserves Captain Kurotsuchi..."
Rukia shot Renji a sharp look and Renji's outburst subsided into mutterings. Ichigo demanded both an explanation by way of raised eyebrow and Rukia started again - carefully as if treading on thin ice.
"That wouldn't be necessary for this zanpakuto. But more than that, it was critical that this particular zanpakuto didn't return as our enemy."
"Sounds like the captains knew exactly what they were looking for."
"On that mission 9 hundred years ago, most of the shinigami assigned got killed. Only a handful survived. Captain Commander knew them all, as well as their zanpakutos. But that's not enough. The captains had to be actually familiar with the said zanpakuto's reiatsu."
"Considering most weren't around 9 hundred years ago, I guess that would rather narrow down the candidates."
"Yeah, just our bloody luck to have just such a candidate."
Ichigo was impressed. The red-haired shinigami had somehow managed to load into the word candidate meanings such as 'a bastard that I'd happily cut into thousands pieces while alive and flush down to the deepest Vasto Lorde-infested hellhole in Hueco Mundo'. Ichigo shrugged.
"I still don't know how this concerns me. I mean, none of the captains even knew about it, so there's no way I'm connected with some 9-hundred-year old shinigami, right?"
"Not with the shinigami you don't. But...his zanpakuto is a different matter."
The look that Renji and Rukia gave him stirred a memory. Something that was not-quite-yet-a-name bubbled up to Ichigo's consciousness, threatening to surface at the slightest ripple. Rukia provided it.
"You know this zanpakuto, Ichigo. You fought him. You were with him when he...died."
Ichigo sat there for a moment, looking at his two shinigami friends. Then he looked at the ceiling, dropped his gaze to his hand for a briefest second, and looked back at the two.
*The OC zanpakuto names are all made up by yours truly. As my knowledge of Japanese and Chinese is next to nothing, I've solely relied on dictionaries. As a result, poor Kumodo's name is probably not only inaccurate, but disastrous.