CHAPTER 3: WARRIOR'S SON
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach...
He stared at the wall across from his bed as he lay on his side, gritting his teeth and trying his damnedest to ignore the presence in his bedroom. He burrowed beneath his blanket even more until the soft material was touching his chin. One would think an already crappy day could get no worse, right?
There were no excuses for what was going on except that he might be a bit burnt out. He'd hallucinated his way home from work, only to get inside his apartment and be greeted by a creepy stranger, who looked like he'd just stumbled his way out of a toga party. Ichigo couldn't figure out why he had such bad karma. What the hell had he done in his past life to deserve this?
"Seventy-four bottles of beer on the wall, seventy-four bottles of beer!"
Ichigo squeezed his eyes shut and buried his face in his pillow. What madness. The blond man impersonating Zeus was insane and rude to boot. He didn't care one iota that he'd invaded Ichigo's personal space and was currently driving him fucking nuts.
"Seventy-three bottles of beer on the wall, seventy-three bottles of beer! Ya take one down and pass it around-"
"Alright!" Ichigo shouted into his pillow. He removed his face and slowly turned onto his back, where he glared at the ceiling. "Alright. I'll listen to your fairy tale – I mean, story."
The blond man grinned, deep gray eyes sparkling with mischief. "Ah, that's better! Where shall I begin?"
"Start with why the hell you're in my fucking apartment. That'd be nice."
"Hmm. This is harder than I thought it would be. Oh, I know! I'll start with your father. Do you know why he was so into martial arts and combat?"
Ichigo sat up in his bed and finally gave the blond stranger his full attention. What the hell did this creep know about his old man?
"No, not really. He never really explained the whys of what he did, and I sort of just went along with it."
"I see. Well, now your ignorance of what happened to you earlier is understandable. Your father was well aware of who I am, and what Norwhuls are. I wanted to wait to approach you, but it appears that time is not on my side in this instance."
"Okayyyy...you can go ahead and start clarifying shit whenever you want. You don't have to hold back," Ichigo stated with a blank face.
The man grinned and produced a small, Japanese paper fan from his toga thing. He flipped it open and began waving it back and forth past his face.
"I am Kisuke Urahara, the Earth Guardian. I'm in charge of an army of humans who are born to protect the Earth from evil. You are a descendant of a soldier of that army, Ichigo."
Ichigo stared at the man, mouth slowly falling open. How much more was he supposed to endure? This was laughable, but far from believable. There was no way this could be true. His life wasn't a fucking movie, and it damned sure wasn't a comic book, either, no matter how much he might wish otherwise. So, why did this lunatic think it was OK to break into his home with an outlandish story? Did this crazy think Ichigo was really about to believe him?
"Dude...are you off your meds or something?"
The Kisuke guy stopped grinning and hung his head in defeat. But it only lasted a few moments before his head was up and his dark eyes were staring at Ichigo, intimidating as hell. He put away his fan and climbed to his feet, then snapped the fingers of his left hand. He held his hand out, palm up, and right before Ichigo's eyes, a ball of blazing golden light formed within it. It got bigger and bigger until it was the size of a basketball before levitating into the air and hovering over the Kisuke guy's hand. Ichigo watched it like it was about to shoot over and eat him. He didn't know what to expect, but he was sure it was going to be bad.
Suddenly, the ball exploded, sending streaks of light scattering around Ichigo's bedroom. Instead of disappearing, however, the streaks morphed into dime-sized points of light, suspended in midair. Finally, after a few beats of breathless anticipation, Ichigo jolted as the points of light exploded yet again, this time producing small, holographic screens bathed in a dim yellow glow. On each screen passed a moment of Ichigo's life from the time he was a baby. It was disconcerting to say the least.
"What the fuck?" he breathed as his eyes darted from screen to screen. "What the hell am I seeing right now?"
"This would be your life as you know it."
Ichigo supposed the most disturbing part of this situation was the screen that showed him holed up in the bathroom at his job, enthusiastically jerking off. He flushed with embarrassment, but refused to look over at the Kisuke guy. This was so far beyond insane, it was damned near scary. No, scratch that, he thought. This shit IS fucking scary.
"I-I can't...I don't even...I don't know what to say," he muttered as he turned to yet another screen.
This one almost made him choke up. It was him as a toddler, dancing with his mom. She was smiling and laughing, her eyes practically aglow, and fuck this shit! But another screen distracted him from the tirade he was about to perform. It was him in high school on the basketball court. He was masterfully dribbling the ball past opponent after opponent, a smug grin plastered across his face. He'd been happy. He'd been in his element.
But he'd still had a family back then, too.
The last scene to catch his attention was of him and his old man in the training room of their old home. Ichigo was swinging a practice sword at his father's head, watching as the older man demonstrated how to block the blow. This was ridiculous. But...there was no denying that it was real. He wasn't sleeping, even if he wanted to convince himself that he was. So, that meant that the crap the Kisuke guy had been spouting was at least somewhat truthful.
OK, he was officially depressed.
"Alright, I get it," he said softly, swiping at one of the screens closest to him. It displayed another scene of himself and his old man training. His hand went right through the screen, distorting it at the same time. "Make these go away. Please."
The Kisuke guy didn't say anything, but Ichigo heard another snap, and suddenly, the screens were gone, his bedroom dark again. The Kisuke guy – Ichigo supposed he could just go ahead and call him Kisuke – reached over to Ichigo's night table and turned on the lamp. A long silence descended and seemed to linger forever, but Ichigo quickly grew tired of it. He needed some answers.
"So what does all of this mean? You...you say my dad was a soldier protecting the Earth from evil. How come I never saw proof of this?"
Kisuke thinned his lips as he produced his fan again. As it waved past his face, he studied Ichigo until his face brightened as though he'd had an epiphany.
"Each generation is trained like the last, but there hasn't been a need for the army in over four hundred years," he said.
"Oh. Well, that makes sense, I guess." Ichigo took a breath as he scratched the back of his head. "So, what am I supposed to do now? And what the hell is a Nor-vul?"
"Norwhul. They are the undead minions of the Netherworld. They wreak havoc upon the Earth whenever they can, and they have been sent here to kill you, ensuring that the prophecy predicting your coming would not occur."
"Ichigo, I need you to focus. This is important, and we do not have the luxury of time."
"OK, and who's fault is that, I wonder?"
Kisuke smirked. "Mine entirely. I had not anticipated that Yamamoto would discover the prophecy."
"Er...who's that?" Ichigo asked, hoping he didn't sound as dumb as he felt.
"Yamamoto is the commander of the Netherworld. He was banished there for trying to rebel against Lord Aizen."
"Dude, you're just dropping names like I understand who the fuck you're talking about."
Kisuke outright laughed at that as he nodded. "Yes, I understand. I will try to explain as I go along. Now, let me see... Ah, yes. Lord Aizen is the Keeper, or you might comprehend it better as 'the ruler of all.' He is the being who oversees all of our worlds: Earth, the Netherworld, and of course, the world where Lord Aizen himself resides, Argulus."
"OK," Ichigo nodded. "And where are these places?"
"Argulus is a realm above the clouds, not visible to the human eye, and the Netherworld is a realm deep in the bowels of the Earth. It's a morose land, filled with despair and suffering. It's a sad place, Ichigo. No human has ever gone there and lived."
"So, it's like Hell, then?"
Kisuke tilted his head in obvious curiosity. "Hell?"
"You mean, I know something that you don't?"
Ichigo grinned as he watched Kisuke flounder. Finally, the blond man arched a brow. "I recall what it is now. It is a myth, fashioned after the Netherworld. Just as 'Heaven' is fashioned after Argulus."
Well, there went his moment of triumph.
"OK, so that leaves what I'm expected to do from here. I have no idea what's going on except for the fact that I was chased home by some spooky shit I've never even heard of. By the way, what's this prophecy they're supposedly trying to prevent from coming true?"
Kisuke sighed as he moved to the other side of the room near the window. "There is a race of humans who are magical. They live much longer than the average human being, and they are able to see the future. They are called Seers."
"Yes, well, four hundred years ago, the Seer princess was killed after hiding a very important prophecy from Yamamoto. Since then, the Seers went into seclusion, refusing to further aid me in my endeavors. It was fine as long as the prophecy was kept out of the hands of evil. But now, the Seer ancestral tombs have been breached, the prophecy discovered. The Seers were betrayed, but have since dealt with their traitor."
"And this all-important prophecy is...what...exactly?"
"It speaks of the coming of a lone warrior whose destiny is to awaken the four Storm Element gods, in order to prevent Yamamoto from integrating the Netherworld with the Earth, and thus overtaking it."
"And you think this warrior is me?" Ichigo asked, baffled. "Why?"
"Well, it speaks of hair as bright as the sun, and eyes the color of earth. It also speaks of 'he who has lost his way and travels the path of life alone.' Does that not sound familiar?"
Ichigo cringed. His damned hair had finally gotten him into a heap of trouble. He had to admit that the "prophecy" seemed rather spot on. His hair was awfully bright, and even though it wasn't exactly yellow, it could still be compared to the intensity of the sun. His eyes were brown, like earth, AKA dirt, and he did travel through life alone now that his family was gone. It made sense that Kisuke would come to him.
"Are there a lot of these warriors who're supposed to protect the Earth from evil?"
Kisuke hung his head and frowned, which honestly, disturbed the hell out of Ichigo. What was that supposed to mean? When it seemed like Kisuke wasn't in any particular rush to answer the question, Ichigo cleared his throat in a very obnoxious manner, knowing it would get the man's attention.
"They have been lost. Their swords have been destroyed, as have their families. There are only two others surviving."
"Well, that sucks. How'd all of them die?"
Kisuke turned away from the window to face Ichigo, his dark eyes haunted. "Yamamoto was on a very narrow war path after he discovered the prophecy. He sought to rid the Earth of all of its warriors, ensuring his success. I was blindsided, and by the time I realized what was going on, I was only able to recover two warriors."
Ichigo rubbed his chin in thought. While that was utterly depressing and left him no hope for whatever the future held, he still had a few things on his mind.
"Am I going to meet these other two warriors?"
"Yes, but first, we need to get you your sword."
"Yes, you heard correctly. All warriors are assigned a sword at birth by Lord Aizen. If you are to fight the Norwhuls and awaken the Storm Element gods, you will need it with you. I'm assuming you remember how to handle a sword."
It didn't really sound like a question to Ichigo, but then again, it didn't really need to. Kisuke already knew so much about Ichigo and his father that he should already know the answer. Still...
"Sure, I remember how to handle one. Doesn't mean I'm in any kind of shape to do so, though."
Kisuke had the audacity to laugh. Ichigo, on the other hand, didn't find a thing about his situation funny. In fact, he found it rather daunting that he was expected to just up and fight without any kind of refresher course.
"Don't worry about it, Ichigo. I assure you, you'll get the hang of things in no time. So, shall we go?"
Without repeating what he'd said, Kisuke strode over to Ichigo and placed a hand on his shoulder. After that, all Ichigo remembered was darkness.
When he came to, they were in a cave. At least it looked like a cave. It was dark and smelled like old rain and mold. There were torches affixed to the jagged-looking walls, and Ichigo could swear he saw bats hanging from the uneven ceiling. Just what was this place?
"Follow me, Ichigo."
Ah, there was Kisuke in all his toga-sporting glory. Ichigo wasn't sure what to think. He was still wearing his pajamas, which consisted of worn, black lounge pants and a white t-shirt. He was in no way prepared for any kind of battle. Really, he just wanted to go back home and go to bed. He wanted to wake up in the morning and realize that this had all been a weird dream born from stress. That's what he wanted. But as he looked around, it dawned on him that that was far from what he was going to get. He sighed, the action filled with dejection.
Such was his life.
He followed the blond deeper into the cave, careful not to step on anything that might traumatize him or give him the willies. He was barefoot, after all. They moved on in silence for a long few minutes until they reached a humongous door. This thing had to be about twenty feet tall and equally wide. How the fuck were they supposed to get through this? Last he checked, he didn't walk around with any giant battering rams. The notion was almost lost to him, when Kisuke suddenly knocked on the door twice. Oh, sure, why hadn't he thought of that? Knock on the door. Someone just might answer it.
He chuckled to himself, but was abruptly cut off as the door groaned like a ghost before slowly rolling up towards the high ceiling. At this point, nothing should have surprised him, but still everything managed to. He watched as the door disappeared, revealing something he never would have expected. A brightly lit corridor yawned before them like a mysterious chasm. It was like they were entering an entirely different world compared to the cave behind them. The floor ahead looked like it was made of pure, off-white marble, the ceiling and walls of silver and gold. Where there had been torches along the cave walls, there were light fixtures along the walls of this corridor. Large portraits of men Ichigo had never before seen in his life also hung from the walls. But the men looked important. They were dressed in formal wear, and there was a name underneath each portrait. Were these the past warriors? Would his old man's portrait be here too? Suddenly, he was anxious to find out.
The cave had been a bit chilly, but this place was warm, almost inviting. As Ichigo followed Kisuke past the threshold of the door, his head swiveled back and forth, taking in all of the portraits, wondering if his old man had known these men, wondering if he would one day have his own face hanging from one of these walls.
"Kisuke, are these the old warriors?" he asked.
Kisuke hummed as they moved at a slightly hurried pace. He didn't exactly answer, so Ichigo assumed he'd guessed right.
Otome Yonko. Richard Bevel. Farid Patel. Alex Romanov. Johan Schmidt.
The portraits and names went on for as far as Ichigo could see. It was astonishing. How could no one know about this place? But then again, if Kisuke traveled the way they had with everyone else that he brought here, then it was quite understandable why no one had discovered this place. Speaking of which, where exactly were they?
"This is the warrior headquarters. I call it the Argulus Society."
"You need not know, Ichigo. I will give you the tools necessary for your journey and introduce you to the other warriors. If you get into trouble during your excursion, your sword will lead you here, have no doubt. Now, come. The others have been awaiting your arrival since yesterday."
Ichigo was stunned silent. What other choice did he have but to listen to Kisuke's orders? He was in an unfamiliar place, on his way to meet unfamiliar people. What had been a totally crappy day was morphing into a truly mind-boggling one.
A few minutes rolled by, Ichigo still observing the surrounding portraits and decorations, but not long after that, Kisuke came to a stop in front of yet another large door. This one, however, looked like someone actually cared about its well-being. Another series of knocks, and the door slid upwards. It sounded as if it was operated by a chain mechanism if Ichigo judged by the "clink-clink" noises it made as it moved. Once it was opened, he was surprised yet again. This room held several long wooden tables with accompanying chairs. At the front of the enormous room was a raised platform, where yet another long table rested. The walls of this room were dressed with hunter-green and gold banners and drapes, and suits of armor stood before them, proudly holding up flags with matching colors. The insignia on the middle of each flag was a sword surrounded by an intricate swirl pattern. Ichigo tilted his head as he studied it. It looked eerily familiar.
As they moved further into the room, his eyes landed on a pair of people that raised his eyebrows. They were extremely intimidating compared to...well, compared to himself. One of them was a man, who was seated at the edge of the platform, a slick smirk lifting the corner of his mouth. He had long, dark hair worn in the strangest style. Ichigo was sure those were bells on the ends of the weird-looking spikes. He had an eye patch over his right eye, and the left looked like it had just barely escaped the same fate if the long scar slicing through the left side of the man's face was any indication. The eye itself was a tiny, gray pin prick of terror. The guy seemed bulky, even while he was sitting, grinning at Ichigo like Ichigo was bait, and he was a shark. He had on a dark hoodie, a dark shirt underneath and dark jeans. Frightening shit, actually.
The girl standing beside him with her arms folded across her ample chest appeared equally menacing. She would have been beautiful if she'd thought to smile at least once. But then again, who was to say since the lower half of her face was covered by a jade-green bandana. Her hair was a golden blonde, short up top with two long ponytails in the back. Her shape was out of this world, and she wore a pair of cut-off, denim shorts, dark leggings underneath, high-top combat boots, a dark, long-sleeved t-shirt and a sleeveless, red hoodie. Her eyes were a piercing gemstone green, and she looked like she took shit from no one. Like ever. Kisuke turned to him and smiled as they came to a stop a few feet away from the pair.
"Ichigo, let me introduce you to the two remaining warriors aside from yourself. The girl here is Tier Halibel. She prefers to be called Halibel. And the young man is Kenpachi Zaraki. He likes to be called Kenny." Kisuke turned to the pair. "Kenny, Halibel, this is Ichigo."
"He's scrawny. Where'd you dig him up?" the man rumbled.
Ichigo was instantly offended. He was far from scrawny. Just because this guy was just shy of matching weight with an army tank, it didn't make Ichigo scrawny.
"Hey!" he snapped.
"He is out of shape, Kisuke," Halibel said quietly. Although, Ichigo couldn't tell if her words were just muffled by the bandana. "He will hold us back."
"Now, this is just fucking rude, OK!" Ichigo argued. He didn't even know these people, yet here they were passing judgment on him. "I didn't ask to be here. So fucking what if I'm out of shape? I had a very comfortable life that didn't involve fighting evil and trying to save the world like Captain fucking Planet, thank you very much!"
To hell with their "scrawny" and "out of shape."
Kenpachi tipped his head back and cracked up. His laughter echoed throughout the room, and if Ichigo hadn't been so pissed off, he might have joined him. Halibel gave Kenpachi a scathing look before turning back to Ichigo.
"Now, now," Kisuke hurriedly interjected with both hands held out in front of him. "There's no need for tempers. We all know what's at stake here, so let's behave like mature humans, OK?"
Ichigo rolled his eyes, which only seemed to draw more chuckles from the giant on the stage. Ichigo was this close to demanding that Kisuke take him the hell home. He didn't need to put up with these people and their arrogance. Like he'd said: he didn't even want to be there.
"Whatever," he grumbled.
"Well, at least he's got spirit. I'd hate to be stuck on a mission with a stick in the mud."
Kenpachi again. He was grinning from ear to ear now, and it did nothing to calm Ichigo down. He was still a little peeved about the scrawny comment, let alone the out of shape one.
"Ichigo, I'll take you to your sword now. Will you two behave until we return?" Kisuke asked.
The pair didn't answer, didn't nod or anything. Just how rude were they? Kisuke had asked a simple question, and they'd ignored the man as if he hadn't even spoken to begin with. Ichigo had a bad feeling about this journey he was supposed to take with the couple from Hell. Kisuke led him off to the side of the raised platform, where another door was located, this one not as big as the others. All it took was a twist of a handle to swing it open. They stepped through, and Ichigo immediately found himself descending a set of ancient-looking stone stairs. They wound downward in a spiral, making him dizzy the longer they walked. How far down were they supposed to go?
The stairwell was lit by torches like the cave had been, and the air had a musty scent to it that made Ichigo's eyes water and his nose itch. He was ready to be done with the stairs and had opened his mouth to complain about them, when Kisuke announced that they had reached their destination. Ichigo hopped from the last stair and glanced around, not very impressed with what he was seeing. It was a dank room filled with cobwebs and long glass cases. All of them appeared empty.
"What is this, Kisuke?"
"This is the room where the warriors' swords are stored until they reach the age to acquire them. It's also why most of the cases are empty."
There was row on top of row of cases, and Ichigo didn't know how the hell Kisuke expected to find anything in this mess. There were no names from what he could see. Nothing that might identify to whom what sword belonged. And then, Ichigo noticed the blond man chanting, his eyes closed. Whether he was talking to himself or what was yet to be seen, and honestly, Ichigo didn't really want to interrupt...whatever it was the man was up to.
After a few minutes of walking and Kisuke's mutterings, they came to stop beside a particularly dusty case. It was coated with the stuff to the point where it was impossible for Ichigo to see what was inside. Kisuke ran a finger over a silver latch and smiled, his eyes slowly opening.
"Here we are, Ichigo."
A sudden case of butterflies erupted in his gut as he turned to the nondescript case. At first glance, it seemed uninteresting and just like the others, but when he looked closer, he noticed a pattern engraved in the glass. It gave him goosebumps. He'd seen this pattern before too many times in his old man's study. He'd been snooping, wondering why his father would hole himself up in the room some nights for hours at a time. He hadn't been able to find anything that might have given him any answers, but there had been a weird scroll-looking thing in a wood-framed glass case on his dad's desk. There had been some writing on it, but he hadn't been able to read it at that age. He did, however, remember that pattern being engraved on the case, just like this one. And Ichigo suddenly remembered where he'd seen the insignia from the hall they'd just left. His old man had had a folded up flag in the bottom drawer of his desk with that very same symbol.
Things were making a lot more sense now.
Ichigo reached out and ran a finger through the dust, jumping when that finger tingled with warmth. What the hell was that? Only one way to find out. He carefully undid the latch and let the cover of the case creak open. He peered inside, holding his breath and not knowing what to expect. What he saw made him exhale a whistle. There was indeed a sword nestled in the case. The sheath was pitch black, as was the Swastika shaped hilt, but the handle was sprinkled with silver. The sword rested on a deep purple, velvet cloth. Ichigo was amazed at what he was seeing. He wanted to grab the sword and swing it around just for the hell of it, but something told him to have more respect for the gorgeous weapon. He gently lifted the sword out of the case, and once it was in hand, the tingling warmth flared all over his body before settling into a low humming energy that coursed through his very blood. It was invigorating.
"Kisuke," he called, although his voice came out as a whisper.
The blond moved closer, but didn't say anything. Ichigo took that as permission to go on.
"Please tell me this is mine," he breathed, eyes still helplessly glued to the sword. "Please."
"Do you wish to wield it, Ichigo?"
"Hell yes. It's perfect."
"Good. It is yours, made for you at birth. Keep it close at all times, and handle it with care."
Ichigo nodded, his mind far away from what Kisuke was telling him. He was too enthralled with the sword that seemed to automatically become an extension of his right arm. He'd never held a sword that made him feel so...so complete. He smiled and eased the sword from its sheath. The gleaming onyx-colored blade made his heart shudder and his blood sing. It was made like Japanese katana, the blade itself two shades of black. The top layer was pitch like obsidian, and the lower layer was just a tad lighter. The blade had triangle shaped grooves in it that were outlined with the same silver of its handle. The sword was absolutely divine.
Ichigo slipped the sword back into its sheath and held it at his side. When he was finally able to focus on Kisuke, he wore a smile so big, it was almost hurting his face. Even if he was still having a hard time believing everything that Kisuke had told him, this...this gave him a purpose.
Thanks for reading! Next time...