In the dank backstreets of Karakura City, a lone boy of 16 approached an abandoned warehouse. Abandoned, he knew, but not empty. He stood before a door large enough to allow a tank and wondered why he was there. It's all because of his stupid parents, he consoled his nerves.

"Mah," he sighs rubbing the back of his neck. "Let's just get this over with."

Keichi Kurosaki pressed his hand against the large door, the cool metal sticky with sweat, but stops. A voice, almost inaudible, whispered in the back of his mind. Keichi shook his head clear. For the past few weeks, he had been hearing voices. Sometimes, he'd even see strange things. He tried explaining this to his parents, but they would simply wave him away calling him a bother. He tried telling his best friend, but Taro fell in with the rest of the miasma of classmates in calling Keichi a "headcase." Now, shunned and humiliated, Keichi steeled himself. There was only one place a boy with nowhere to run could turn. The BangBang Gang.

Their leader happened to be Takunora Zenma, an infamous delinquent at Keichi's highschool before he dropped out last year. Rumor said he killed 20 people and was responsible for the last principal's "accident." Keichi didn't know how he felt about those claims, but he was sure of one thing. Takunora never turned away a "brother."

The voice began to fade. Finally. Sometimes Keichi had tried to listen, but the effort only game him a headache. Steeling himself once more, he pushed the heavy door open.

The loud whining crank of the hinges announced Keichi's arrival. Within seconds, before his eyes could adjust to the sudden darkness, the sounds of clicking guns greeted him.

"Wait! Hold on!" Keichi held his hands up to show they were empty.

"Start talking kid. Now," a sandpaper voice said right in front of him.

"Takunora? I…uh…I came to see you," Keichi explained lamely.

The gangsters burst into laughter, all save Takunora. Their voices echoed around Keichi who frowned and stood firm. He was getting tired of people laughing at him.

Takunora raised a hand for silence. "Some balls coming to look for me kid. No one ever wants to find me."

Keichi shifted self consciously, "I want to join your gang."

The group laughed again, but was immediately silenced.

"Oh? That so?" the man said as he rubbed a scraggly goatee.

Keichi could see now. Takunora was a big guy, extremely so for a Japanese. He stood over 6ft tall and was armed head to toe with muscle. A shotgun hung loosely in his hand and a belt of shells around his waist. More interesting was the patch over his left eye that hid a scar. That was new.

Keichi said nothing. He simply stared.

"What makes you think you can cut it here?" Takunora began to pace around the boy four years his junior, looking him up and down. "Seems to me, you couldn't even make it in the real world."

"That's not true!" Keichi protested. "I'm sick of them. All of them! And I'm not going to take crap from anyone anymore. Got that?"

Takunora's boys tensed. Some raised their guns to Keichi and waited for their boss to give the order.

Takunora's hard features relaxed. He chuckled lowly. "Fine kid. It was just a question. Don't get your panties in a bunch."

The gang relaxed, as did Keichi. Takunora motioned for him to follow him upstairs to the overseer's office.

Once inside and alone, Takunora sat in a chair and looked Keichi up and down. "Recognized the uniform," he commented. "Bullied?"

Keichi nodded.

"Hmph. Figures. Parents don't listen either," he said.

Keichi nodded again.

Takunora leaned forward in his chair and looked in Keichi's eyes for an uncomfortably long moment. "You're a fighter though. Or could be. I don't think bullying and family troubles is what really brought you to my doorstep."

Keichi raised an eyebrow.

"Well? I'm right aren't I? You don't want protection or a place to belong. You're angry and you want a place to take out those frustrations."

Keichi hadn't thought about it. However, what Takunora said made sense. "Yeah…"

Suddenly, the man asked, "You see them don't you?"

"What? Who?"

"Those things with holes," Takunora looked stressed. "None of my boys saw what did this to me," he said as he pointed to the eye patch. "It was huge and black, but wore some kind of bone mask. And it had a hole, right here in the chest."

Keichi shifted nervously. He hadn't seen anything like that, not clearly. All he had made out were giant shadows. But their voices, they whispered with such evil intent it'd send Keichi running. Even now, he could feel the breath of those shadows on the back of his neck. "I-I think I know what you're talking about," he admitted. "But your gang believes you, right?"

Takunora paused and looked at Keichi almost wondrously. "Yeah? The boys just saw me get lifted in the air and thrown against the wall. By then, my eye was already gone."

Keichi felt a pain in the back of his head. He began to feel dizzy and nauseous, but tried to shake it away. "I think I need to sit down," Keichi muttered. At a glance, Takunora's face looked distorted. But it snapped back so quickly, Keichi barely noticed.

His head ached even more now. He could hear a voice in his head urging him to run. However, his legs felt like lead. Takunora's face twisted into a grin. Keichi slumped to the ground.

"So you can see it right? See the spirit world?" he heard Takunora's voice say. "You must have enough reiatsu to fill me up. I was getting very hungry."

"Un…whaa?" Keichi tried to stand. A heavy boot kicked him in the ribs. "Gah!"

"I never expected a human to just walk right in here. You must be a fool," Takunora's voice was no longer his own. It sounded high pitched and grating. The humming in the back of Keichi's head almost drowned out that of the creature before him. Takunora's body began to split open from the left eye.

"This body was beginning to rot. Perhaps I'll devour your soul and take you as my host."

Keichi felt like he was drowning. Icy claws rapped around his throat. Was it even his throat anymore? In the background, he heard sirens. The sounds of gunshots faded in and out. But his mind stopped processing. All he could hear was a calm whisper in his head.

"Keichi," it called. The voice was strong and old.

"What? Who's there?" Keichi called out to a black void. His head no longer ached and for a moment he thought he was dead.

"You are still alive Keichi. Now more than ever," the voice said. It was so close now Keichi looked around for the owner, but all he saw was darkness.

"Can you…read my mind?" Keichi asked in wonder. "Where are you? Where am I?"

"I am here. I have always been here."

Great, Keichi thought. I'm having one of those "outer body experiences" and all I find is a disembodied voice that likes riddles.

"You are still in your body."

"Stop that!" Keichi sighed and rubbed his temples. "Now I'm arguing with it."

A light appeared in the distance. Keichi watched hesitantly as it drew near. "What…are you?"

"That is up to you Keichi…"

The light enveloped him. It was warm and powerful. Keichi forgot everything in that moment. He murmured a name, or thought he did, but he could not hear himself. The darkness faded away, but he could still hear a voice calling his name.

"Keichi. Keichi! Kurosaki-san!"

Keichi bolted upright and smashed his head into something hard.

"Ah! Geez Kurosaki, watch it!" a girl said.

Keichi looked to find a slender girl about the same age. Her hair was so dark, that the light overhead made it look like midnight blue. By some strange trick, her eyes matched this feature. Keichi found himself starring at them, trying to figure out if they were blue or black until the girl got uncomfortable.

She stood up, favoring a tender forehead, and glared down at Keichi. "What are you doing here anyway? You're lucky you're alive," she said irritably.

"Huh…how do you know my name?"

The girl tossed his school ID card at him. "That. Plus we're in the same class. Not that a delinquent like you is ever around enough to notice."

She withdrew a badge, "Kami Ishida. Second Lieutenant of the Disciplinary Squad. You, Keichi Kurosaki, are under arrest for highly suspicious gang activity."

Keichi struggled to his feet at last. He still felt dizzy from the dream. Or was it a dream? How much of his memory had been real? He looked around to find himself outside the warehouse. The sun was setting and several police cars and ambulances sat silently with red and blue lights spinning around. He had come here just a few hours ago to join Takunora's gang. Takunora! His memories came flooding back: the ghoulish grin with hungry fangs, the hands like claws, and that dark shadow that poured out of an empty socket as the surrounding flesh rotted away. Keichi felt nauseated. He fell to his knees and began to heave.

What that hell was that thing? It couldn't have been a dream. It felt too real.

"Hey!" Kami shouted to a paramedic.

The headache returned. This time, it showed no mercy. Keichi thought his brain would split. He looked up and saw a black monster towering over an ambulance. It's mouth gaped open, and it starred directly at Keichi.

"You!" it screeched. "Now I really will need a new body. Come here boy!"

Keichi screamed. Kami jumped and got several people to hold him down.

"No! It's going to kill me! Can't you see it?" he screamed in horror as the creature closed in on him.

"What's this guy talking about?" one of Kami's officers asked.

"Drugs. I think he's on hallucinatory drugs," she said. "Get him in a car."

When they had left, she stood up and turned toward the monster. "I knew you were just hiding until you smelled his reiatsu. You're not a very smart hollow are you?"

The hollow stopped its slow pursuit. It was still injured from being ripped from its host. "Human girl. You smell delicious too. I shall eat you next."

Kami twitched the corner of her lips in a faint sinister smile. "Hmph…why next? You're welcome to try now."

She raised her gun at creature's mask. It laughed. "Your human weapons cannot harm me."

"Is that so?" Kami responded calmly as she concentrated on her target. "Then it's a real shame you ran into a Quincy."

She fired a spirit bullet straight into the creature's mask. It split and the hollow disintegrated.

"Boss! Boss what was that?" the men who had put Keichi in the squad car came running at the sound of her gunshot.

"Hm? Oh nothing. Just a rat," she said and hummed as she approached the car, leaving her lackeys to stare in confusion.

Keichi had blacked out and was panting in a cold sweat. He was leaking reiatsu everywhere. If Kami didn't do something fast, more hollow were going to show up. She smacked him. "Wake up idiot!"

"Ah…un…" Keichi's eyes fluttered. The pain in his head subsided again. He looked around in a panic, but didn't see the monster.

"It's gone. But don't go shouting about monsters again. People will think you're crazy."

"What? You saw it?"

"Saw it, killed it, but you don't hear me shouting about it," Kami moved into the driver's seat.

"I'll take care of this one. You boys clean up here," she shouted back to the others.

"Yes ma'am!"

Keichi sat up in the back of the car. His hands were cuffed. "Tell me what's going on…"

Kami drove silently.

"Hey! Ishida! You said you were in my class. If you knew what was going on, why didn't you say something?"

She sighed and glanced back at him through the rear-view mirror. "You really are an idiot. Fine, I'll talk if it will keep you quiet."

"You have the rare ability to see the spirit world due to possessing a high level of reiatsu. And before you ask, reiatsu is spirit energy. What you saw back there was a Hollow. Hollows eat creatures with high amounts of reiatsu. They usually prey on spirits, but humans with a lot of spirit energy tend to be more satisfying. They come in several levels of power. Recently, ones of mid-level power have been able to possess the bodies of humans wielding a lot of reiatsu, like what happened to Takunora and his gang members. It would have happened to you as well if it weren't for my squad."

Keichi took a moment to absorb what he'd been told. "All of Takunora's gang?"

"That's right. The hollow had eaten their leader and was feeding off of their spirit energy. All of them were dead before you even got there."

"And…how did you know I was there?"

"Hm? I didn't. My mission was to go and kill that Hollow, under the cover of defeating a notorious gang. Saving you was just your lucky break."

Keichi stared at his feet. He could have died today? Keichi never thought of dying as a possibility. The thought chilled him to the bone. This world sucked, but he didn't want to die.

"How do you know about all this? Why didn't you tell me earlier if you knew what I was saying was true?" he asked.

Kami was silent for a moment. "I was told not to."

"What? Not to what? Told by whom?"

Kami grit her teeth as her hands tightened on the steering wheel. "Well, I suppose there's no harm in saying it now that you're in this deep. My family comes from a long line of Quincy. We're humans with the power to kill Hollow, as well as any other spirit seeking to harm humanity. The only way to kill a Hollow is with reiatsu based weapons, like this one," Kami held up her gun for him to see.

"Looks like a normal gun."

"Of course it does!" she said flustered. "I can't have people running around knowing I'm a Quincy. It'll attract too much attention."

Keichi leaned back and looked out the window. "Fine, I get it. What now?"

"Now? Right now I'm taking you to my father. He can teach you how to keep your reiatsu down so you won't attract more Hollow." Kami added, half joking, "Perhaps if you're really good, he'll let you become a Quincy. We're always seeking new people to join our ranks."

"I'll pass," Keichi said. He was tired already and he wanted nothing more than to go home and forget this whole day.

The car screeched to a halt. "You'll pass?" Kami whirled around and glared at Keichi. "You think this is some kind of game punk? People die out there all the time because they don't know how to control themselves. There's a war going on that you know nothing about. Ignorant people like you should be thanking us for risking our lives everyday to—"

Kami's angry reply was cut short by a crash to the side of the car. It skidded to the edge of the bridge they were on, and broke through the rail. The two occupants cried out in shock as the car teetered back and forth.

Kami eased toward the back where Keichi sat and looked out the window. She could see nothing.

"Ah…my head," Keichi moaned.

"Shh! I didn't touch your head."

"No…I can hear…something. Inside my head," Keichi tried to explain through grit teeth. "Get these things off me. Hurry!" He strained against the handcuffs. In seconds, Kami unlocked him and they eased out of the car. She cocked her gun and looked around. The bridge was empty.

"Keichi…you can hear them while they're still invisible?"

"What? I-I don't know. I hear a lot of things…" He struggled to explain that some voices were sinister while others not so much. Then, there was that voice inside of him…

Duck! Keichi's body reacted immediately. He pushed Kami and himself to the ground. The car flipped up and sailed over their heads.

"Ah! How did you--?"

Run! Keichi snatched Kami up by the wrist and dragged her along as he ran to the end of the bridge. Cables snapped. The bridge began to sway and fall. A second too slow, and they would have fallen to the river below. Panting, Keichi managed to ask if Kami was ok.

"Yeah…you…how did you sense those things?"

"I told you…I hear a voice," Keichi said rubbing his hurting head. "But what ever is doing this is still out here. You said you can fight these things, right?"

Kami nodded and readied her weapon.

Keichi thought to the voice inside him. I don't know who you are…but if you're on my side, tell me where this thing is.

Behind! "Behind you Kami!"

Kami spun around and shot a spirit bullet into the air. It hit something solid. The air rippled as a large Hollow came into view. It was different from the other one. Its eyes glowed a bloody red and its entire body was armored. The spirit bullet had only grazed its arm which quickly healed.

"Hmph…Not bad human. Allow me," it said calmly. The Hollow slapped Kami away and into a tree with enough force to knock her unconscious. It raised a hand and a red circular light began to form at its palm. "Cero."

Keichi's eyes widened. The voice told him to run while the creature was distracted. "No…Kami."

He ran in front of the blast. For a moment, he thought it had missed. But then, the searing pain of his flesh being ripped in half hit him all at once. Keichi heard someone scream. He didn't know who, and he didn't care. He was dying. It wasn't so bad after all.

*********

Keichi heard the sounds of footsteps on creaking floorboards, and felt the warmth of the sun's rays playing upon his face. He shut is his eyes against the unwelcome daylight.

"Five more minutes dammit…" he muttered, cursing his foster mom for opening the curtains. He rolled over to cover his face with his pillow.

Wait a minute…the bed felt different. Keichi peered up to find himself in an unfamiliar room. A green was to his right and a patient's courtesy curtain to his left surrounded him. A hospital? The smell of heavily starched sheets defiantly made it feel like one. Keichi quickly checked his bare chest. He had been shot with something strange. To his surprise, nothing was there.

He stood slowly. His headache was gone and he couldn't hear any voices inside his head. "Uhn…hello? Anybody there?" he called as he peeked around the curtain.

The room was empty save for a wash basin and an open door. People in black hakama scurried back and forth.

"Wha-? What kind of hospital is this," Keichi muttered to himself. Was it some kind of holiday?

"Oh! You're awake!" a young man looked at Keichi with obvious cheer. "Stay there, I'll get Captain Unohana! I'm sure you have a lot of questions Ichigo, and so do we."

"What? Who? I'm not—" but the boy had dashed off.

Keichi was confused. But he had no choice. If someone was on their way to explain things, all the better to just sit down and wait.

Soon, a woman with a startlingly elegant appearance and smile appeared in the doorway. Keichi looked at her with wonder. She had long black hair braided in front of her, and wore a long white haori. "Thank you 3rd seat Hanataro. You may return to your duties," she said to the young man that had run off.

The one she called Hanataro looked disheartened. He gave one last longing look at Keichi, then bowed to his captain and left.

"Um…look lady," Keichi said nervously. "I don't know what's going on here. But if you let me borrow a phone, I'll just call my parents and go home."

A chill filled the air. Keichi fell silent immediately. "You are not fully aware of your situation, Mr..."

"Ah, oh Kurosaki. Keichi Kurosaki," he offered.

Unohana's eyes narrowed slightly and a frown formed. "So you are not Ichigo, that much I can see. But you have the same reiatsu and surname."

"Excuse me?"

"Forgive me for forgetting myself Kurosaki-san," she said. "You may call me Captain Unohana. Currently you are in the barracks of the 4th Squad of the Gotei 13. That is, you are in the Seireitei, the center of Soul Society."

"Sei-what? Soul-what?"

"I'm sure this is all overwhelming for you, Kurosaki-san. In lieu of the need for haste, allow me to make this brief. You are dead, killed by a hollow, and can never return to the life you knew."

Keichi stared at the woman for a moment. He waited for her to laugh, or someone to call her bluff. Deep down inside, he knew she was telling the truth. He had died. He really died trying to save Kami from that monster. Keichi sank his head into his hands. He didn't know what he should be feeling right now, but right now, he felt nothing.

"So…is this where people go when they die?" he asked in an empty voice.

"No. There has been a mistake. Originally, souls are sent to Rukongai. However, a passing patrol officer sensed your reiatsu whilst you were alive in the human world. They mistook it for a person we've been looking for."

"Ichigo, right?"

"Are you of some relation?" Unohana asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Hm…no. I don't think so. Never heard of him. Then again, I don't know much about my extended family."

"I doubt you would know him. His soul has been missing for 200 years," Unohana said dismissively.

Keichi jumped. 200 years? That's a long time to be looking for someone that was dead. "It is likely he was your ancestor…" Unohana mused. "Even so, you should not have the same reiatsu."

Unohana glanced behind at the doorway seconds before a knock came. "Yes Isane-san?"

"Captain Kurotsuchi is here," Isane replied. Before she could say more, the strange looking captain entered. Keichi immediately felt creeped out by his presence.

Unohana's frown deepened. "For what reason do I owe the pleasure of your unexpected visit Captain Kurotsuchi?"

The man's voice was no credit to his appearance. "Word travels unusually fast here, wouldn't you agree Captain Unohana? It seems that a human with the same reiatsu of the one the 13 squads have been searching for has appeared on your very door step. Very interesting…"

"He was brought here by a patrol officer of the 6th Division. Perhaps you would like to question them about that anomaly."

"Tch," Kurotsuchi waved his hand, revealing a long blue middle fingernail on his right hand. "No matter. What is more interesting is," his eyes rolled to Keichi who instinctively shrank back, "You boy."

He moved past Unohana and got right in Keichi's face. His breath stank of something rotten and decayed.

"Yes you look like that meddling boy, but you aren't are you? At least, not on the outside. Perhaps I should take you back to my lab and look at your insides," Kurotsuchi grinned. "That would be most enlightening don't you think?"

Keichi moved away from the man. "Get away from me you creep," he said. "No way in hell are you touching me."

Kurotsuchi straightened and folded his arms. "You may not be Ichigo, but you're just as impertinent."

"There is another way to go about this mystery, Captain Kurotsuchi," Unohana said, "One that does not involve a meaningless death."

"Death? I thought I was already dead?" Keichi interrupted.

Unohana and Kurotsuchi ignored him. "One that will take more time than necessary, I'm sure," the painted man grumbled.

(Meanwhile)

"Father," Kami Ishida bowed to her father who sat behind a large oak desk in the discreet high rise office of Karakura City's most prestigious medical lab.

Her family had been in the medical business for centuries, Kami had learned. Since then, they had branched off into several other businesses as well such as hotels, parks, and restaurants. It was a well known fact, to important parties, that the Ishida clan was one of the wealthiest families in the Kanto area, perhaps all of Japan. However, they liked to live in secrecy. Thus, their names didn't immediately appear to the casual passerby. As a matter of fact, Kami's father, Reiu Ishida, had several aliases.

"Kami. Sit down," he said coolly, his name an accurate description of his personality. "Tell me. Why is it that you were not only found unconscious, but in the company of one of our enemies?"

"Forgive me father. I have no excuse," she said. Though she was seated, she kept her head bowed. "After I exterminated the hollow that had been appearing near the warehouses, I found that classmate I had told you of earlier. His reiatsu had been attracting hollow, so I thought I would bring him to you. However, we were attacked on our way by another hollow. I believe it was 7th class."

"7th class? That was all? What does any of this have to do with that Shinigami?"

"Well…um…I don't remember much. Kurosaki…he…I think he jumped in the way of the cero. After that, I saw the black robes of a shinigami. He slayed the Hollow before it could act further, or I think he did. I'm sorry. I cannot remember.

"Um…after that…I—"

"You fainted. Your enemy was before you and you fainted."

"Yes father," Kami agreed sheepishly.

The man sighed and leaned forward from the shadows. He looked very much like his daughter, save for his features were sharp where hers were softer. He kept his short hair neatly brushed back and would habitually smooth it with his hand when stressed, as he did now.

"Very well. Increase your training. It's best you forget about your classmate. He is dead and that Shinigami has already taken him," he said finally.

Kami hesitated.

"Is there something else?"

"He said…he said he could hear a voice that told him where the hollow would attack."

Reiu waited. "Is that all?"

"Yes father."

"What ever special ability this boy may have possessed, it does him no good now."

"Yes father," she said and bowed to leave.

After Kami closed the door, she found herself in the long dark hallway. It was empty save for paintings of Ishida ancestors. Their vacant eyes looked down on her. Kami felt tears begin to trickle down her cheeks. Shocked at her own feeling of helplessness, she hurried out of the hallway, but the tears did not stop. On her way home, she stopped by a shrine and said a prayer to her ancestors to watch over Keichi.

"I will become a stronger Quincy. Then, no one will die for me again," she promised them.