A/N: HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYBODY!
Yep, you're not seeing things: this is an UPDATE!
I apologize for making you wait so long, but there's been some major changes in my RL – but I won't bore you with the details – that had me thinking about everything but fanfiction for a couple months, then an annoying writer's block managed to complicate things.
Anyway, now I'm back to updating regularly! I also think I should let you know that I've already outlined and wrote down most of the plot (something that I hadn't done before) so, hopefully, this shouldn't happen again!
To make up for the lateness I wrote a double chapter: There's much action, as promised, and a scene I'm sure you've been waiting for ! ^_-
Now, for those who don't remember what's happened so far:
SUMMARY OF THE PREVIOUS CHAPTERS:
The War's over, Ichigo killed Aizen and is back to his usual life, killing hollows with Rukia from time to time. They're even closer than before and some months ago Ichigo convinced her to accept the position of lieutenant of the 13th Squad and also to start training for Bankai.
Central 46 orders to seal both the powers and the memories of all the humans that took part in the War, but Urahara manages to catch wind of the plot and make it so both the memory and the power removals are reversible and, in Ichigo's case, they don't work on him at all. The whole of SS, including Rukia, believe that it worked.
Urahara explains to Ichigo that he believes that Yamamoto Ideyoshi, the Captain Commander's younger brother, is behind all this, but Urahara doesn't know his reasons. Ideyoshi had part of his powers sealed a long time ago and is now the headmaster of the Shino Academy. He also runs the Four Sakura Leaves club for the most gifted students. Also, some of the students of that club have disappeared in the past two years.
For these reasons Urahara and Tessai train Ichigo in Kido and reiatsu control so he can enter the Academy under the name Kasshoku Kaito and investigate what happened. Thanks to Tessai's Kido, his hair is brown and curly and his nose is different.
He manages to pass the entrance exam with the best score but without looking exceptional (he's undercover, remember?), but he also finds out Rukia is to be one of his Kido teachers (Ukitake is working together with Urahara and convinced her to take the job). From the beginning she notices there's something weird about Kasshoku.
He makes friends with Mori Hideki, a boy from Rukongai and Kurosaki Ichigo's fan since Ichigo saved him from a hollow during the war, while also becoming friends with Shihouin Takeshi, Yoruichi's nephew and also his roommate. On the first day Takeshi finds out that Ichigo hid Zangetsu (in sealed form) inside his mattress and, though he doesn't say anything, he starts noticing other oddities about his roommate.
After two weeks at the Academy, Tendo Daijiro, a 4th year student and member of the Four Sakura Leaves Club, challenges Ichigo to a fight.
Before going to fight Tendo, Ichigo stops by the 13th Division's training grounds to observe Rukia training for her Bankai…
…and that's where chapter 10 begins!
Change of POV.
Hey, isn't that Hideki?
Then it hit him: his fight with Tendo, what's-his-name, was supposed to start in ten minutes and Hideki was probably looking for him.
With a last glance at Rukia, he jumped off the tree on the other side of the wall and sped towards his friend.
"Yo'." Ichigo greeted.
"Hey!" Hideki nodded back. "Where were you? Everybody's waiting for you!"
Ichigo's gaze shifted to the side as he scratched the back of his head, "Just lost track of time."
Hideki raised both eyebrows. He certainly wouldn't forget if he had to go up against a character such as Tendo Daijiro, but Kaito sure didn't seem to be taking that guy seriously.
Hideki sighed. "'key, let's hurry." but as he was turning, his gaze lingered a moment on the buildings behind Ichigo.
"Aren't 13th Division's barracks in that direction?" he wondered, then, turning his gaze back to his brown-haired friend, he added teasingly, "Now I see why you'd lose track of time!" - after all it was just a few days back that Takeshi was making fun of Kaito's crush on the 13th Division's Fuku-taicho.
"Don't be ridiculous." Ichigo scoffed rolling his eyes. I'm certainly not about to tell him he's half-right – well, 'right' in the fact that I was checking on Rukia, not the other thing, of course!
As they were stepping through the doors that led to the Zanjutsu training grounds, which consisted of an open courtyard enclosed on all four sides by three buildings and a wall, Hideki asked Ichigo something that had been bugging him for the past two days.
"By the way, I couldn't find you anywhere since Saturday morning. Where did you disappear to?"
"Zanjutsu training" Ichigo replied offhandedly. That was actually true, since he'd spent quite a relaxing Saturday fighting with both Zangetsu and his Hollow in the cavern under the Soukyoku Hill then soaking in the nearby healing hot springs.
"What? But I told you I'd help you with that! You should've called me!" Hideki said, with a slight pout heard in his voice.
"And I told you not to worry." Ichigo replied, now just a little exasperated even though he knew the boy meant well. After all, how was Hideki supposed to even imagine that his friend from Inuzuri, who, after two weeks at the Academy still hadn't learned how to properly swing an Asauchi, could slice up Adjuchas-level hollows without breaking a sweat?
Ichigo could tell that Hideki wanted to ask something else, but they were already entering the 'arena'.
As Ichigo's eyes turned to look for his adversary, he couldn't help the surprised frown that creased his brows. Tendo Daijiro was there, alright, standing under the hot sun in the center of the open courtyard, arms folded, chin high, his whole pose screaming 'bow in front of the coolness that's me' – Idiot – but what about the two hundred plus students standing around the perimeter of the area?
"What's up with all the crowd?" Ichigo asked his companion, but it was Takeshi that answered as he approached them.
"Let's say that news traveled fast and that on a hot afternoon like this people'd rather watch a fight than take part in one." the young Shihouin quipped.
"Hn." Ichigo grunted, though he actually didn't mind the audience. The more people who saw his abilities, the faster he'd get the invitation to join the Four Sakura Leaves.
As he walked towards Tendo, an excited murmur raised among the crowd. Judging by the few words he caught, many had placed bets against him, and according to a guy he was about to be put through …what was that? 'a meat grinder'? He snorted.
"So you actually showed up?" Tendo addressed Ichigo, "I thought you'd wise up and hide in a hole somewhere, seeing as you have to deal with such a powerful adversary!" he sneered.
"Are you done talking or should I get a magazine while I wait for you to finish?" Ichigo replied straight-faced.
"How dare you!" Daijiro growled, "I'll teach you to respect your betters!" and he unsheathed his Zanpakuto.
"Any rules I should be aware of?" Ichigo asked loudly while extracting his own Asauchi.
The question made his adversary pause and turn towards a group of older students that was standing in the front. One of them, a tall girl with short dark blue hair replied with an authoritative voice. "No killing and no permanent damage to your opponents' body."
Tendo scowled a little at the last part, but nodded silently, and turned his attention back to Ichigo. "Don't think for a second I'll go easy on you just because you're in the first year!"
"Just stop babbling and start fighting!" Ichigo replied with a challenging smirk, while observing the aforementioned group of students from the corner of his eye.
Those people have to be somebody important if even such an ego-maniac as Tendo respects them.
But there wasn't much time for such musings, because Daijiro seemed ready to pounce.
Ichigo narrowed his eyes and raised his Asauchi, but kept his stance relaxed. His strategy was the following: Drag things out a little, then strike Tendo down, using his Asauchi as little as possible.(1)
So, as his adversary charged him among the cheers of the crowd with a sequence of slashes, Ichigo fluidly sidestepped all of them, occasionally using a flash-step, but needing to raise his Asauchi only twice to deflect, and pushing Tendo back with a well-placed kick to the chest or to the side whenever the older student came too close.
"Come on Kaito! Don't let him use that Zanpakuto of his!" Hideki hollered at his fighting friend trying to overcome the noise of the crowd, then turned towards Takeshi with a normal voice. "Why isn't he striking back? If he keeps this up he'll get winded and then it'll be over!"
He frowned, both worry and frustration showing in his green eyes, as once again Kaito barely avoided another one of Tendo's lunges.
Takeshi glanced at him, "Look closer. Does it really seem to you like Kaito's having troubles keeping up with Tendo's attacks?"
"Well, " Hideki tilted his head and focused on analyzing the moves and the expressions of the two fighters, "actually, now that you mention it, Kaito always seems to be able to avoid Tendo's sword attacks just in the nick of time".
Takeshi snorted. "You mean, he´s always a step ahead of them!"
Hideki glanced at his purple-haired friend raising an eyebrow, "But only an expert swordsman is able to anticipate the adversary's moves and Kaito isn´t one!"
"Exactly," the young Shihouin shot him a meaningful look. "odd, huh?"
Hideki paused, blinked, looked back at the fight then at Takeshi once again. "What are you not telling me?"
But Takeshi didn't elaborate further, even though it was obvious there was something on his mind.
After a moment Hideki shrugged and turned back to watch the fight and cheer Kaito on.
He'd leave Takeshi to his wonderings for now, then ask again later.
Indeed, Takeshi´s mind was working a mile a minute.
Kaito's talent in Hoho and Hakuda was unquestionable. Then there was the fact that the guy was hiding a Zanpakuto – which he supposed being Kaito's own – inside his mattress.
Adding these facts together, in the beginning he had thought it only logical for Kaito to be really good at Zanjutsu too, but seeing him handle an Asauchi for the first time as if it was a stick instead of a katana had put a monkey wrench in Takeshi´s reasoning... until now at least.
Because now, even though Kaito was trying to use his Asauchi as little as possible, his body's automatic responses, the way he seemed to guess where the adversary's blade would be in the next moment and move accordingly... all of this could only mean one thing:
I bet my whole mansion that he's a master swordsman too!
He´s been faking it this whole time.
But the biggest question remained: Why go to such lengths to hide his skills in Zanjutsu?
And better yet: What else could Kaito be hiding?
Takeshi was getting more and more curious.
"You can´t run forever!" Daijiro shouted, a malicious grin stretching his lips. To him things were pretty clear: this freshman was too inferior to even attempt a serious attack and soon the boy was going to get too tired to keep avoiding his Zanpakuto – but the fact that said inferior freshman was still completely unharmed and not winded in the slightest, while Daijiro himself was starting to show the first signs of fatigue, didn't seem to register in his mind.
This fight's like a walk in the park, he snickered, but I suppose I should try to make things a bit more bloody! and with this last thought the older student closed in on his adversary and moved to his right to stab the supposed wimp in the abdomen.
Ichigo moved sideways to avoid another stab, barely keeping himself from rolling his eyes . How more predictable can he get?
Getting fed up with his own defensive strategy – this was so not his style – Ichigo blocked the following downward slash with his Asauchi held in his left hand and hit Tendo's now open right side with two fast jabs followed by an uppercut that made Tendo's jaw rattle and had him stumble several steps back.
From his adversary's grimace and curses he could tell it had hurt a lot.
Already bored to tears with this fight, Ichigo raised his right hand, ready to wrap things up with a Bakudo N.4: Hainawa, but Zangetsu quickly reminded him that it was still too soon.
Yeah, yeah, you're right. Ichigo conceded while grumbling and therefore, switched the Bakudo with a Hado N.2 Soushou, even wasting some time with the chant, intentionally giving his adversary enough time to recover from the previous attack, move out of the way of the Hado and take a flash-step towards him.
Smart choice, Zangetsu commended.
The things I do to keep up my cover… Ichigo sighed, while blocking Tendo's sideways left kick by bending his right knee upwards then lowering the same leg to take a step forward to keep up his momentum and, at the same time, elbow him in the stomach causing Daijiro to stumble back once again.
You call this a fight? Hichigo snorted. All this jumping around looks more like fucking ballet dancing– tch.
I suppose a concept such as ´subtlety´ would be totally lost on you, so I won´t even bother explaining, Ichigo shot back, even though the white nuisance really had a point.
Whatever, I still think you're just missing a pink leotard, then you're ready for ´Swan lake´.
Ichigo's eye twitched. You little– A stinging on his left arm cut his rant short.
"What, did I give you a boo-boo?" Tendo sneered, waving his Zanpakuto now stained with blood droplets.
Ichigo jumped back to avoid being cut again by the now emboldened Daijiro, his frown deepening by the second. This fight was starting to get really annoying.
Sorry Old Man, but my acting abilities only go so far, and, following this last comment, ignoring Zangetsu' exasperated sigh, Ichigo shunpo-ed towards Daijiro too fast for the older student to follow, giving him barely the time to register the image of the back of Ichigo's reiatsu-powered hand before it hit his jaw with such force to make him fly over the spectators' heads, all the way to the opposite wall that he hit head first, only to slide on the ground with his face hidden by his hair.
A sudden silence descended upon the students, everybody holding their breath waiting for Tendo to move from his crumpled position.
A girl with pigtails, that Ichigo remembered from some of his classes, took two timid steps towards the still unmoving form on the ground and touched his shoulder lightly.
"A-Are you alrigh–"
Before anybody had time to blink, Tendo's left hand shot up shoving the girl with such force to cause her to fall backwards where she was barely caught by her fellow students.
"Mind your own business bitch!" he growled at the girl, then turned his now murderous gaze towards Ichigo.
Wiping the blood on his face with his sleeve he slowly rose to his feet and hissed, "You're dead." and without wasting another moment he swung his Zanpakuto in a wide arc yelling:
"Shred my enemy to pieces, Umiwani!" (A/N: "Crocodile")
A greenish reiatsu enveloped Daijiro's Zanpakuto, and when it dissolved it revealed a double whip covered with green scales in place of the blade.
Once again, murmurs started to raise from the crowd. Some were still disgusted by Tendo's behavior, others thought that things were going to turn really bad for the freshman – "after all, he doesn't even have a Zanpakuto yet!" – and some commented on the fact that the scowl Kasshoku was wearing at the moment looked even scarier than Tendo's murderous eyes.
Ichigo absolutely hated bullies. That was a fact all of his past adversaries, be it humans or not, knew very well. And now Tendo was going to know too. If that arrogant bastard thought that the spires of that little reptile-like Shikai were going to prevent him from getting to his body, it was obvious he'd never heard of Zabimaru.
With some twists of his body and a couple flash steps, Ichigo was past Tendo's guard, landing only a foot in front of him, just in time to see the prick's face morph from malicious glee to shocked fright, before Ichigo's reiatsu powered uppercut connected firmly with his solar plexus. (2)
Daijiro's body shook as he spit a significant amount of saliva, stained with blood, from his mouth and then dropped to his knees, but before he could crumple on the ground face first, Ichigo caught his left hand – the same he'd used to hit that girl – with his own, he intertwined their fingers front hand to back hand and twisted sharply, causing his adversary to yelp in pain.
Still twisting Daijiro's hand, Ichigo spoke to him with an icy voice, "Only a coward would vent his anger on an innocent who's trying to help him. If you have any honor in you, you'll apologize to that girl."
Tendo grinded his teeth, livid that he'd lost to this rookie, who was even daring to lecture him on proper behavior!
He raised his right, trying to hit Kasshoku with the hilt of the Zanpakuto he was still holding, but because of the pain, his movements were too slow and Kasshoku had all the time to move to the side and bind him with an abnormally powerful Bakudo N.1: Sai, thus ending their fight for good.
Don't think this is over Kasshoku, I'll get my revenge!
"Oh my goodness! Did you see that? Did you just see that?" Hideki gushed "Kaito was so totally cool!"
The young Shihouin smiled, tough it looked almost like a smirk: He was happy for his friend's victory, but, unlike most students, this outcome didn't surprise him at all, not after all the 'interesting' facts he'd noticed about his roommate in the past weeks and during this fight.
He and Hideki walked towards Kaito, joining the crowd of cheering students that was gathering around the victor, who, strangely, didn't seem to be that excited about his feat, but instead was staring into space, not paying the slightest attention to any of the people surrounding him.
"…earth to Kaito? Hey!" Hideki waved his hand in front of Kaito's face, but the latter, instead of turning his eyes to his shorter friend, raised them to stare at a point far beyond the training grounds' wall. The following moment, without uttering a word, he jumped over said wall and disappeared with a flash-step.
Takeshi and Hideki looked at each other in confusion. "What the hell's up with him?"
Hideki shrugged "Beats m–"
In that moment it hit them, and not only them, but also all the other students: some could barely feel it, others could tell exactly what direction it was coming from, but everybody had a hard time believing what they were sensing: An evil reiatsu somewhere not too far from the Academy, eerily similar to that of a…
"…hollow..." Hideki whispered, shuddering at the memories that word evoked.
The word started spreading among the students like wild-fire, so now, even those who had never felt this kind of reiatsu could put a name to it, but still, the dominant feeling was that of disbelief: After all, who'd ever heard of a hollow entering Seireitei without anybody noticing?
Nonetheless, most 6th years were getting ready to do their shinigami duty and go check this anomaly out, but in that moment a small figure appeared on one of the roofs of the buildings surrounding the courtyard.
"Everybody stay put!" Rukia addressed the students with a strong firm voice. "Nobody shall leave the Academy's grounds! If they do, they'll be severely punished, understood?" she added for good measure, staring down the people gathered in the 'arena', especially those who'd never fought a hollow and were itching to try for the first time.
With a last glance to make sure she'd managed to curve the youngsters' fighting spirit, she turned and flash-stepped in the same direction Ichigo had disappeared to only a few minutes prior.
"Come on." Takeshi whispered into Hideki's ear, while pulling him by the sleeve towards the wall.
The shorter boy turned to his friend, blinking. "Huh…?"
"It's obvious Kaito sensed the hollow and went to look for it," he elaborated. "We have to go help him!"
Hideki frowned. "But lieutenant Kuchiki said–"
"I know what she said," Takeshi replied "but she doesn't know one of the students is already there. What if by the time she arrives he's already been knocked out and lying in a ditch somewhere? She won't know there's somebody to save!" In truth, Takeshi doubted that Kaito could be beaten that easily, but it was still a possibility and he didn't want to risk his friend's life.
Hideki gave his friend a serious look, then, after a few seconds he nodded. "You're right, but how are we going to leave without anybody noticing?"
They were standing really close to the wall and, as they glanced at the other students, they noticed that most of their attention was focused on some 6th years that were trying to calm down some less then brave students frightened by the evil reiatsu.
Taking advantage of the distraction they jumped over the wall as silently as possible, and after covering a couple hundred feet at normal speed they launched into flash-steps.
They had just reached the outer wall of the Academy when Hideki had to pat Takeshi on the shoulder to get his attention. "Sorry man, but I can't keep up with you." he panted, "You go on. I'll be behind you, but I'll have to get there at my own speed." he blushed embarrassed. At this moment he really wished he was better in Hoho.
"Alright." Takeshi nodded. "Don't be long…and don't worry, I'll find Kaito." he replied with an encouraging smirk.
Then the purple-haired boy turned and shunpo-ed away.
It took Ichigo a little over three minutes to reach the outer edges of the forest under the Soukyoku Hill, which was the place he'd sensed the reiatsu originate from. He could have been faster, but he hadn't wanted to attract too much attention, especially if it was a false alarm – after all, even after Urahara's training he had yet to reach the levels of greatness at reiatsu-sensing that some shinigami possessed, so him being wrong was a definite possibility.
Case in point, the moment Ichigo stopped in mid-air over the first group of trees to get a better sense of the proper direction to take, the evil spiritual energy disappeared, only to reappear a few seconds later much closer to his position.
What the hell? Ichigo scratched his head scanning the trees left and right but he still couldn't see anything. He decided to take some other flash-steps in the direction of the hill then land on the ground: maybe this way he'd have more luck.
Give it up, Hichigo drawled, obviously the sun's fried the little reiatsu-sensing ability you had.
Still scanning his surroundings, Ichigo gritted his teeth, Instead of spouting such bullshit, why don't you try to help me out?
Ignoring the image of Hichigo's raised brow at the word 'help', clearly expressing that what his King had just said might be the most moronic thing ever, Ichigo continued, Like, for example, how can a hollow reach the innermost part of Seireiteiwith nobody noticing?
And you're asking me? How the hell should I know?
'Cause you're a freaking hollow? Ichigo shot back, his tone dripping with sarcasm. Why don– but his inner dialogue was cut off abruptly by a sudden surge of reiatsu behind his back.
Ichigo jumped high in the air just in time to avoid being sliced in two by a reddish blade-like thing, a thing that he quickly found out was attached to the right arm of an Adjuchas-like hollow. Well, at least it looked like most of the Adjuchas he'd met: Twice his size, humanoid appearance, strong reiatsu, though it didn't seem too talkative, as it growled trying to slice his head off with another swing of his blade-like hand.
Ichigo jumped backwards to avoid the cut while automatically reaching behind his head to grab Zangetsu's hilt, but… Shit, I forgot I left it inside my room! For a moment there he pondered the possibility of calling on his Zanpaktou, but dismissed it immediately: A sword flying through the air wasn't exactly unnoticeable!
The hollow tried another frontal attack and this time Ichigo decided to block the opponent's descending arm-slash-blade with his left arm, hardened by infusing it with some reiatsu, while aiming a reiatsu-powered punch to his mask. A split second before connecting with the mask, the Hollow dodged and Ichigo found himself hitting another blade-like arm – Wha…? – and the next moment he sensed another two blades aiming for his torso.
Shit. He cursed inwardly and, in the nick of time before the other blades could connect with his body, he pushed down the hollow's right arm he was still holding to add momentum for a backward handspring, a move that had the added bonus of enabling him to kick the hollow's jaw during the backwards rotation of his body.
After creating some much needed distance between himself and his opponent, Ichigo paused to assess the situation. As he'd suspected, his reiatsu-powered kick hadn't made even a crack in the hollow's mask, and, what's more, the fucker was now sporting not one but four arms that ended with a reddish blade.
Looks like Hakuda isn't going to cut it, at least not if I use this little reiatsu, Ichigo frowned , pressing his lips together – unless absolutely necessary, he didn't want to raise his reiatsu too much and blow his cover.
Alright, looks like I'll have to try with Kido, but I'll start with the lower numbers – and in that moment he couldn't describe how grateful he was for all the time Tessai had spent to teach him to control his wild spiritual energy! (3)
As the hollow launched into another attack, Ichigo started murmuring the incantation for Bakudo N. 4: Hainawa, while easily side-stepping the enemy's blades at the speed of shunpo. Then, the moment he found himself up in the air, behind the growling hollow, he called the name of the Kido and hurled the rope made of reiatsu at his enemy, pumping it with much more spiritual energy that he could ever show anybody at the Academy.
Before the hollow had time to react, Ichigo followed it up with a Hado N.4: Byakurai, this time without the incantation, but before it could connect, the hollow shrieked, while its reiatsu surged to new levels breaking the Hainawa rope and deflecting the beam of reiatsu aimed for its mask so it just grazed his shoulder.
As the Byakurai connected with a nearby rock causing a minor explosion, Ichigo jumped backwards to avoid the shrapnel and dust, a deep scowl forming on his face: The amount of reiatsu he was using at the moment clearly wasn't enough, but how much was enough to kill that son of a bitch and not have the whole of Seireitei know that Kurosaki Ichigo was among them?
Ichigo's train of thoughts were suddenly interrupted by his own hollow choosing that exact moment to partake in his favorite past-time: mocking the King. Tired already? I'd love to take your place, granny!
Shut it, I'm thinking! Ichigo growled while pondering his options. Maybe if I just kept him busy for a while… other shinigami are due to arrive sooner or later! and, following that thought, Ichigo tried to focus on sensing if there really was somebody on the way, but oddly enough he had problems feeling the reiatsu of the hundreds of shinigami he knew lived only a half-mile away.
Puzzling over his discovery, Ichigo took three flash-steps in the direction leading out of the forest – still closely followed by the enraged hollow – only to find out that his reiatsu sensing ability was suddenly working again.
What's going on? he blinked, while ducking under two of the four swinging blades and delivering a powerful round-house kick from his crouched position to the hollow's abdomen.
You really are retarded, ain't you? Hichigo drawled. It's obvious there has to be something in the rocks of this place that's able to mask reiatsu! How else could that pathetic Adjuchas have his reiatsu appear and disappear when you were looking for him?
Most probably there's some Sekkiseki in the composition of the rocks on the East side of the hill, Zangetsu added/gave his input.
Yeah, what the Old Man said. Hichigo said, rolling his eyes.
The proverbial light bulb switched on in Ichigo's head while a winning smirk appeared on his face: he'd just found the solution to his problem!
Choosing to ignore for the moment both Hichigo's insult and the oddity of him actually 'helping', he turned and shunpo-ed back to the place he and the hollow had been fighting before. He quickly checked it out to find the spot where his ability to sense outside spiritual energy was the weakest, then stopped there in mid-air and started murmuring the incantation, his attention split between the Kido and sensing his enemy that should be reappearing at any time.
"Ye lord! Mask of flesh and bone, flutter of wings, ye who bears the name of Man! –"
Ah, there you are, you howling bastard, Ichigo smirked, as the hollow popped out from behind a rock, propelled itself at an incredible speed towards him with all four blades raised in the hopes of slicing the shinigami in as many parts.
" – Truth and temperance, upon this sinless wall of dreams unleash but slightly the wrath of your claws. – " Ichigo continued, while standing his ground as the hollow was almost upon him...
… 30 feet …
… 20 feet …
Now! Ichigo raised his left hand already alight with condensed bluish reiatsu while speaking the last words:
"Hado N. 33: Sokatsui!"
… but the moment the huge energy wave started leaving his hand something launched itself at an incredible speed and shoved into his right side, causing the Sokatsui to deviate by several degrees.
As Ichigo flew to the left carried by the momentum of whatever or whoever it was that had just ruined his perfect hit, he at least had the satisfaction of noticing that he'd managed to blow away the whole lower part of that weird Adjuchas' body, including two of the four arms. He also noticed in passing that he'd managed to disintegrate several huge boulders. Let's hope nobody will ask questions!
His assessment took no more than two seconds. The following moment he turned to his right and found... why wasn't he really surprised?
Rukia stood no more than three feet from him, gaping at the destruction his Hado had caused.
In the heat of the battle, in typical Ichigo fashion, he scowled at her and let the first words that passed through his mind fly out of his mouth:
"What the hell Rukia? I almost had him!" - and yes, there was a definite pout in his voice.
Rukia whipped her head towards him so fast, that for a moment there he feared for the safety of her neck, but he shouldn't have been worried about that, because the next moment their eyes met, and hers went wide as saucers...
..."I-Ichigo...?" she whispered, hardly believing herself what she'd just called him.
Ichigo's brain chose that moment to catch up with his mouth and it was now his eyes that widened to comical proportions.
Shit shit shit! What should I do now?
*** a few minutes prior ***
Rukia was shunpo-ing towards the forest under the Soukyoku hill, eager to investigate that evil reiatsu she'd felt all the way to the training grounds where she was practicing only five minutes ago.
She'd already stopped by the Academy and warned all the students not to try anything stupid, and she hoped they would heed her warning.
Even as she passed the first trees and the spiritual energy became more definite, confirming that it belonged to a hollow, she could tell something about it felt definitely off and, what's more, it kept sort of 'flickering', at times stronger, at times weaker.
As she drew closer, she noticed there was a second spiritual energy next to the hollow. It felt like a shinigami and he or she was fighting the enemy.
Who could it be? She frowned in confusion, as before she'd left, she'd checked that she was the closest officer in the area and her shunpo wasn't exactly slow.
She had to stop twice as both reiatsu's almost disappeared off her 'radar' many times, and by the third time, as they became barely perceptible, she had to guess the direction, finally deciding to head East.
She'd just passed over another rock formation when she suddenly saw and felt both of them: Less than two hundred feet from her a boy wearing the Academy uniform stood in mid-air with his back turned to her, while what looked like a really pissed off, howling, Adjuchas was speeding towards him.
Wasn't I clear enough that they mustn't leave the Academy! She growled inwardly, but the most worry-some thing was that the student didn't seem to be reacting in any way to the danger coming his way.
Oh Kami! Why isn't he moving? He's gonna get himself killed!
She launched into shunpo, trying to call out to him to make him move, but he couldn't hear her above the roars of the hollow.
Panicking a little herself, Rukia quickly tried to calculate her speed and that of the hollow. No! I must go faster... faster!
She dove for him at break-neck speed, noticing too late what he was trying to do. As if in slow-motion, she saw him raise his arm, she heard him say the end of the spell, but she couldn't stop herself anymore: She connected with his body the same moment the blue reiatsu started leaving his hand.
They both flew through the air, but as soon as Rukia managed to stop her momentum, she turned to take in the results of that incredible energy wave.
What…How... her eyes widened at the sight, I've only ever seen Nii-sama cast such a powerful Sokatsui!
The next second something even more unbelievable reached her ears:
" 'What the hell Rukia? I almost had him!' "
Rukia turned her head to look at the student. Huh?...Kasshoku-san? ...no... his power... his whole demeanor...his eyes...
...his amber eyes look like...
"I-Ichigo...?" the name slipped out of her mouth without notice. No, it can't be, can it? She tried quickly to squash her hope...
...but the 'oh shit' expression on his face told a whole other different story.
A cliffhanger, I know, but I couldn't resist! The next chapter will be up in about 2 weeks.
(1) Remember that Ichigo is trying to pass as average in Zanjutsu (see chapter 5 towards the end).
(2) It's a point just above the stomach. Being hit there hurts like a bitch, and if you're familiar with Dragonball Z you'll know what I'm talking about.
(3) If you remember, Ichigo had the most problems controlling the lower number kido spells (see chapter 7)
BTW, writing the fight with Tendo was a real pain in the a** – too many limitations! – but I hope I managed to make it at least a bit interesting – let me know!