A solemn thud was heard followed instantaneously by a wretched scream. Orihime winced at the cry and turned away as the creature crumpled in agony. Ichigo darted in to catch the boy it was holding before he hit the ground.
"Did the bastard get him?" Ishida questioned, lowering his bow cautiously.
Ichigo turned him over into a more comfortable position and quickly noticed the blood gushing into his hands. "Yeah square in the artery. Go ahead Orihime."
The girl nodded and scurried forward, She knelt over the boy and held her hands above the bite wound. Her eyes were clenched tight, refusing to look at the gore before her. A soft golden glow arched between her hands and the skin as it closed up again.
"Wha...what's going on? Aren't you supposed to kill me now?" The boy muttered groggily.
"Not at all!" Orihime chimed wiping away the blood with a handkerchief. "With my Gift I can reverse the infection as long as I complete it before the sun rises."
"Oh...alright thanks then..." he murmured as he drifted off.
Ishida pulled the wooden arrow from the still body and inspected the tip. "Splintered. I will have to start carving a new set tomorrow
It was nearing midnight. Little by little they could see the lamps of the town snuffing out as the the residents made their way to bed.
"We're all set here then?"
Ichigo lifted up the child and started heading back down the trail. "Sorry I couldn't be more help tonight."
"It was a simple job, but we can't afford to be less than prepared for the worst," Ishida followed behind Orihime who took hold of the lantern.
She shivered and shrugged her shawl tighter. "I dread the winter months. Longer nights to come soon..."
"And harder to make our way around if the snow fall is anything like last years ugh..." Ichigo complained.
They were silent the rest of the way back with nothing but the sound of frosted twigs snapping underfoot.
There was no response from Ishida. Ichigo glanced over and his face was as hard and irritated as always. As much as he hated his persistent stick-up-the-ass attitude, Ishida had every right to be that way.
Every year a couple of children would be born with a Gift, or special power. The Order, the central vampire hunter society of the country, sought them out to become hunters themselves after years of training. Though they had to be separated from their families and raised in the Order's academy, it was considered a high honor. Their key belief was that vampires would only be destroyed if they threatened human lives. Otherwise they remained in relative peace with their enemy.
A few centuries ago there was a group of ordinary citizens who complained that while the Order stayed safe in their sanctuary of the Court of Pure Souls everyone else still suffered from the constant threat. They called themselves the Quincy and took up the mantra that all vampires needed to be eliminated regardless of their crimes. They perfected and refined the original and crude methods of slaying, arming themselves with bows and wooden arrows, ensuring quick, efficient deaths. They ruthlessly tracked down vampires and sought out their hidden villages and manors.
However, a few decades ago the vampires rebelled against the Quincy and their constant genocide. With their cross emblazoned and their unwavering pride they were easy to track and eliminate. They had been ruthlessly murdered in the manner on their own methods. Shot and staked with their own arrows they had been left to bleed to slow deaths. Normally for a vampire such a method would slay them instantly, but for ordinary humans it was pure torture.
After they had taken Ishida's mother while she was on a mission, his father quickly renounced all of his Quincy ties and burned his weapons. So lost he was in his grief that he didn't notice until later that Ishida's grandfather had taken him into hiding in Karakura and continued to teach him the ways of the Quincy. He only meant for the little boy to grow up and be able to defend himself, constantly discouraging Ishida from seeking out prey himself.
While still trying to hold onto his grandfather's wishes, he always had a difficult time not reverting to the beliefs of his roots, as vampires had torn his family apart. It was Orihime, who also lost most of her family, that kept him in check. Even though she never knew her parents and her only brother was taken from her, she still held no grudge against their kind. Ishida found solace in her strength and they had been living together since they were young.
While she possessed a Gift the village made sure to keep it a secret. Everyone knew that while Orihime was strong-willed she couldn't handle direct conflict. She had a hard enough time accompanying Ishida and Ichigo on missions, but there was no way she would be able to handle the kind of bloodshed she would see if recruited under the Order.
Soon they were back in their small cozy town. The street lamps were out but a few scattered windows cast a warm glow across the street.
"I'll take the boy, Kurosaki. He lives closer to us," Ishida stated, taking the boy in his arms and heading off in the other direction.
"Oh! I almost forgot! Keigo told me to give this to you!" Orihime pulled a plain, parchment envelope from shawl pocket, "He said someone gave it to him to give to me to give to you...or something like that."
Ichigo raised an eyebrow and took the envelope. "Did he say who he got it from?"
Orihime blushed and rubbed her neck a little, "Oops sorry, I guess I should have asked. I'd better get home and finish my chores before bed. Goodnight Kurosaki-kun!" She said cheerfully before running off after Ishida.
Ichigo walked towards home as he started opening the envelope. Who wanted to keep their identity such a secret they needed to pass a message between two people first? The writing was blocky and brief.
Your services are needed for a mission. Come to the tavern alone tonight.
He stopped in his tracks and glared at the note. Who was he even supposed to talk to if he went? Ichigo hesitated and evntually turned on his heal, heading off in the direction of the town tavern.
What concerned Ichigo most is that there was nothing particularly special about his Gift. He could take any blade and transform it into a deadly black blade that would only cut vampires, without harming any humans he might be defending. It was simple and straightforward and he liked it. His own reasons for hiding from the Order were much more complicated than he would have liked. Ichigo hoped that whoever sent the note wasn't some recruiter from the academy that had found him out somehow.
But also he never really worked without Orihime and Ishida. The whole town knew that. They relied on each others abilities to take care of threats as quickly as possible before the Order was alerted to the disturbance. Sometimes they took special missions in adjacent towns, but Ichigo had never received one for himself alone.
Ichigo entered the town's only tavern, The Green Topper and was greeted by the fading but pleasant smell of stew. It was fairly dark, lit only by candles and not many were around this late in the middle of the week. The bartender looked up from the mugs he was gathering and gestured for him to come over.
Ichigo glanced around, trying to spot who sent the note, seeing no one he didn't recognize he approached the bar
"Hey Urahara, what's going on?" Ichigo crumpled the paper and shoved it in his pocket. Urahara's black cat nearly made him jump, nuzzling a little too affectionately against his leg.
"Some shady character came in and asked for one of the private rooms. Told me you'd show up and I should point ya that way," he didn't look particularly pleased though. The scruffy blonde barkeep looked at Ichigo with a dark look of concern.
"Er, which way then I guess?" Ichigo inquired, not feeling any better about this than he did a few moments ago.
He entered one of the smaller private rooms that Urahara pointed to, windowless with only a couple candles to see by. If he wasn't already expecting someone Ichigo might not have realized anyone else was there at all. The room had only a long table and chairs, and the cloaked figure who sat on the far end.
Ichigo straightened as much as possible, just wanting to get this over with.
"State your business."
There was a long pause. The figure finally spoke in a strange voice. It was muffled under something and whoever it was was trying hard to mask their identity. "I have a mission for you. I need an assassination."
Ichigo narrowed his eyes and folded his arms. He'd heard of this sort of thing but had never been approached with it. Sometimes politicians or vampires themselves would hire a freelance hunter to take out their enemies. It was a bit of a grey area in the world of hunting, debated endlessly with no visible conclusion. He wasn't sure how to feel about it the first time he'd heard about it, but decided back then it would depend on the situation.
"Who and where?"
The figured shifted a bit and pulled something from the folds on their cloak. "Before I tell you you should know there is a handsome reward." A bag of coins was set on the table with a loud clank and was slid down towards Ichigo.
Hesitantly he picked it up and peeked inside. Ichigo had to stifle a choke of surprise to see it was at least two fistfuls of gold and platinum pieces.
"That is for now, if you accept the mission five times that will be paid when the task is complete."
Ichigo tied the bag up again glanced at the flickering candlelight. The money would help his family a great deal. However, he wasn't exactly comfortable with how the strange proprietor had to tempt him with a small fortune first.
"I can't accept until I know the target."
A small stack of papers were placed on the table and the figure beckoned him forward with a gloved hand. With careful steps, Ichigo made his way forward until he could reach the stack.
His heart nearly stopped.
Across the top of the sheet, in the same blocky letters as the note, was written a single name.
It was just letters written on paper. And yet the name itself held so much fear, power and venom it was looked upon with more taboo than a curse word.
And yet was was even more frightening than seeing that name, was right below it. A detailed series of hand drawn maps that led straight to Aizen's location. Who was this figure next to him to have such information that not even the highest in the Order could track down? The idea that this person thought he, a small time hunter who had barely ever left his own town, could slay a vampire of that caliber was absurd.
"Don't you think you would want a more experienced hunter for this?" Ichigo inquired as calmly as possible. His logical side knew he shouldn't take the job. But something kept nagging him. Maybe it was the money that could save his father from overworking or his own lofty personal vendetta against vamps either way he didn't like it or the fact he was considering this.
"There are not many free hunters left these days. The Order's coffers have filled to overflowing since the Quincy massacre and have been able to tempt many into their control. However, for obvious reasons the Order's name cannot be linked to this."
Ichigo nodded slowly, swallowing a bit to wet his drying throat.
"I...I think I'll need some time to think this over," Ichigo reached for the papers, but the man grabbed them back.
"I can't let you have this information unless you've consented."
Ichigo stepped back and stuffed his hands into his pockets. "I know other freelancers. Would it be possible for us to take the mission together?"
The man paused for a long time then stood, pushing his chair in, "I will need to meet them first. Return here tomorrow with them if you wish to go forward. If not, tell me now so I don't have to waste my time."
Ichigo gaze was harsh as the figure pushed past him, still well concealed under the large cloak. "I'm not positive, but the possibility is there. I'll be here tomorrow."
The figure paused just a moment before leaving the room. The mutual understanding hanging awkwardly in the air.
"Oh um come in!" Orihime answered the door, tugging her robe a bit tighter. Her braid was half undone and looked a bit flustered. Ishida leaned against the door frame to the bedroom. Shirtless and a bit more irritated than usual.
"What's so important that you couldn't wait to share until morning?" he glared daggers and Ichigo sighed and stepped into their house. He simply reached into his pocket and pulled out the pouch and threw it on the table of the small kitchen. Both Ishida and Orihime's eyes went wide as it landed with a loud thud, spilling half of its contents across the worn, wooden surface, glittering in the light of Orihime's candle.
A platinum piece fell from the table and rolled to a stop at Orihime's bare feet. She leaned over and gingerly picked up the sizable, gleaming coin. "Ichigo...this is..."
Ichigo sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Yeah I know. More than we could ever hope to make in a year in just one of these," he muttered picking up another platinum.
Ishida cleared his throat and lit another candle, taking a seat at the table. "Alright Kurosaki, what's this all about?"
"Orihime you better sit down too," Ichigo said calmly. Her eyes grew worried as she slowly took a seat, eyes drifting to the wealth sitting in the middle of their small, simple home.
Ichigo joined them and recounted the short tale of the strange man in the tavern.
The silence and tension that hung in the air after he finished was as thick as butter. Suddenly there was a harsh scraping of wood and Ichigo felt a punch connect with the side of his face.
"Uryu!" Orihime cried out. She jumped up and held back Ishida as he rubbed his fist.
"Only you would be as impossibly stupid enough to think that either of us want to throw away our lives like that! I don't know what kind of insane heroic fantasy is clogging your senses right now, but if you want to go live it out then fine! But don't go dragging us into this!"
Ichigo rubbed his face and stood up to Ishida's level. "Look I know how ridiculous this sounds. But I wouldn't even think of trying alone and you of all people should want to take this job!"
"Don't go telling me what I should or shouldn't want! Besides there's no proof Aizen was responsible for the genocide of my people," Ishida clenched his fist, poised to strike again if need be.
"Please calm down both of you!" Orihime shouted handing a wet cloth to Ichigo. He took it and sighed, pressing it up against his face.
"We don't know anything about him for sure. No one does. But whoever our weird would-be client is obviously has some inside information. He had maps! Freakin' maps! Think about what this money could mean," Ichigo held his platinum piece in front of Ishida's face. "This alone could let my father get the clinic he's always wanted, with only the best equipment and nurses to take care of more patients, rather than having to turn people away. And we have at least twenty of these."
He grabbed two more coins and shoved them into Ishida's fist. "Feel that? That could get the rent and supplies to start that tailor shop you're always talking about."
Ishida blushed a little and stacked the coins back on the table. "I don't talk about it that much..."
Orihime smiled and wrapped her arms around his waist, "Rows and rows of bolts of all the fancy imported fabrics you could want. There would be no limit to what you could sew! I could set up a store and tend to customers and you could just make whatever you wanted!"
Ishida cleared his throat and pushed his glasses up a bit. "Well...yeah but let's not lose sight of the main issue here. We've taken down some pretty powerful vamps before. But we're talking about the one that obliterated the Luisenbarn dynasty almost over night,"
To grasp vampire history was a bit strange for humans. Especially ones as young as they were. While they could barely reach a century, vampires thrived for centuries at a time without even aging. Though to their knowledge none had lived past 600 years. But it was well known through both races that the Luisenbarn family ruled over the vampires in their country and many surrounding for at least 2,000 years.
They had been a large family and were constantly warring and plotting between themselves for control. The last king Barragan Luisenbarn held the throne for nearly a century, which was a considerable amount of time compared to his predecessors. He was brutal and merciless in his ways, but established such a command because of it that he was far too respected by his kind for any known threat to his position.
That all changed sixteen years ago when not only Barragan was slain, but his four sons and any other vampires tied to the Luisenbarn line. The news came as a shock to both societies not only in their destruction, but that it was Aizen's followers that committed the act and himself that claimed the throne in the royal palace Die Nächte.
This all happened when Ichigo was almost six. When he heard what happened he was just confused and scared. To him, his friends and even the adults in human society Aizen was a myth. A terrifying creature of fiction like Dracula or Lestat. Someone that only came up when older children told him stories to keep him from falling asleep at night. But suddenly was more real than he could even grasp.
As Ichigo grew he learned of many things Aizen had supposedly done for the past few centuries. Even though he had committed many terrible acts over that time the Order knew nothing about him and could never find him. He was just a name, no one even knew if it was just his first, last or only. Without any real presence, even after becoming king, the rumors and stories blended together so much that no one knew fact from fiction anymore.
"Look I know how absolutely insane it sounds, but you know we're good at what we do. Besides, more of half of the things that we've heard about him couldn't possibly be true. Like that he was part of the Order for decades without anyone noticing."
"Or he can make you believe or do anything he wants you to with just a look," Orihime muttered, resting her head timidly on Ishida's shoulder.
"That's can't be true. We know vamps can have powers similar to the Gift but I've never heard of anything like that," Ishida said matter-of-factually, stroking Orihime's hair a bit absentmindedly, still glaring at the table deep in thought.
Ichigo started separating the coins into even piles of three, which came out peculiarly even to fifteen gold and seven platinum coins each, "Let's just take a night to think about this. I'll come here after work tomorrow and if we're all in agreement then we can talk to the weird guy at the Topper. We'll figure out travel and our plan then."
"I doubt we can make much a plan anyway until we see what kind of information this guy has. I want to trust you when you say it was a great deal of knowledge," Ishida glared pushing up his glasses again.
"I only saw the top couple of pages, but this has to be someone on the inside to know this much. I have a feeling its someone in Die Nächte left over from Barragan's reign."
Orihime tucked their share into a kerchief and hid it in a pot in the back of the cupboard. "I'm not sure how to feel about this whole thing. But I really want to be able to revitalize the town. It's a nice place but I want our neighbors to live such better lives. If we can just start leaking this money into the stores by just buying a little more everywhere we go, everyone will be much better off.. I remember learning about in school" she said with a soft smile. "Everyone was so helpful when me and Sora came here when we had nothing to give in return. Finally I can feel like I've done something to give back."
Ichigo slid his share back into the pouch and pocketed it. They all agreed on a time to meet and talk the next day before Ichigo showed himself out. Standing outside in the dark, cold street he took a deep breath and started on his way home. When he got home he was actually kind of glad it was late. He didn't have to deal with his father and his usual greeting wrangle and risk having the money found.
Up in his room Ichigo had tucked the pouch under a floorboard and himself into bed. Finally he closed his eyes to drift to sleep.
Then a sudden sharp jolt of panic hit him.
His eyes went wide.
His teeth clenched and a cold sweat crept across his skin. He felt like a child again. Spooked by every little shadow and noise around him. Wrenching the sheets tight over his head he shouted into his pillow.
What exactly had he gotten himself into?
Alright got that out of the way. I've really wanted to do a straight-up vampire fic for awhile now, but couldn't settle on a premise I liked. Trying to keep to traditional lore as much as possible. The setting is mainly European-ish, which I know is a little weird with the Japanese names, but I figure people really won't have a problem with that. Speaking of which, if you haven't figured it out Die Nächte is the German equivalent of Las Noches.
High Tea will get attention, I know how I want to finish it I'm just not sure how to flesh it out well. This was just coming to me a little better. I'm still weirded out by how dry my writing can get and I need to figure out a way to tackle that :/
And of course don't worry the shipment of lemons is on its way :) Hope you enjoy! C/C R/R w/e