Hello again people! It's time for another update! Honestly, it would've been earlier, but I recently restarted this game that's distracted me from this, but I regret nothing! I'll give you a clue. It starts with R and has 9 letters. It's an mmorpg by the way.
So it looks like most of you want Orihime in the story. So since you've wished it, it shall be done.
This chapter was originally planned to cover more than it did, but it was taking longer than I expected, so I stopped where I did.
Thanks again for all the likes/alerts and reviews. Recently, I've reread through my entire story so far, and some parts seem a little... cringe-worthy :/. Oh well, one of these days I'll go back and edit them. So without further ado, here's the next chapter!
Disclaimer: Sorry, I've run out of disclaimers to shove.
Chapter 47: Hollow and Faceless
"Rukia! Duck!" Ichigo yelled as he hurtled straight at her, a hollow hot on his heels.
Without pause, Rukia complied, spinning low and lashing out with her zanpakuto as he vaulted over her, drilling his foot into the mask of a hollow who was charging straight at her. The top half of the mask shattered, but he'd already kicked off towards another hollow. He spun to avoid its vicious swipe, completing the move by bringing his zanpakuto down on its arm and severing it clean off.
With a yell, he twisted his sword round and drove it through the base of its neck, where it exploded out from the back in a shower of blood and cutting its pained screams short. Yanking out his zanpakuto, he kicked the hollow away as he turned to engage yet another one.
Rukia caught sight of a hollow charging towards her from the side. Both hands gripping her zanpakuto, she sliced horizontally through the mask of her current target and turned to the hollow which had locked onto her.
Decades of fighting and working together gave Rukia the understanding that, while Ichigo knew he was easily more powerful than her, she was by no means a pushover, and he respected her abilities, much like she respected his. While he was concerned for her, he wasn't going to become overprotective of her. He tried that once in Inuzuri. She wasn't about to let him do it again.
Of course, after so long, she was able to subconsciously sense where he was, so when he shouted at her, she could tell he was heading straight for her.
Complying, she spun low and struck out with her zanpakuto, and sure enough, her reaction was validated as Ichigo leapt over her, and her sword connected with the hollow that'd been chasing him. Her attack completely severed one of the hollow's forelegs and sliced deep into the other one, causing it to go crashing to the ground. Its momentum made it skid forward, but Rukia had already leapt over it with her palm outstretched. "Hado #33: Shakkaho!"
A red ball of flame collided with the hollow's head, but Rukia didn't pause to inspect the damage, immediately swerving to avoid a large arm that slammed into the ground, threatening to flatten her. She touched down on the ground and immediately took off again, effortlessly speeding past the hollow's defense and plunging her zanpakuto straight through its mask.
The two of them stood in a patch of open area, twisting and weaving, sometimes crossing paths but never hitting the other, a duet performing a deadly ballet of death.
The hollows fell one after another, attracted by the large reiatsu signatures, but only finding their end.
But yet still more came, scores swarming out of two nearby tears in the sky and heading straight for them.
Silently relishing the fact that she could now do this, her zanpakuto glowed as she released her shikai, she fired off a significantly more powerful shakkaho, taking out two hollows to give herself slightly more time.
Just then, she heard Ichigo shout, "There's too many of them! Use Sode no Shirayuki!"
"Way ahead of you!" she grinned as she rapidly stabbed the ground. However, instead of four times, she punctured the ground six times, creating a semicircle in front of her. Then she slid into her stance and turned to look at Ichigo, mere feet behind her. "Ichigo!"
Despite the huge number of hollows, Ichigo was still (presumably) a captain of the Gotei 13, one already enhanced with the powers of a hollow as well, and the many hollows that were swarming him and his partner were mostly of the basic sort. Still, there's truth in the saying that there's strength in numbers; he'd already narrowly missed two strikes by different hollows, and there seemed to be no end to the creatures spewing out of the two nearby tears, dimensions to the hollow home world of Hueco Mundo. If he wasn't careful, he might suffer injuries that were easily avoidable. Perhaps the ought to try leveling the playing field a little.
"Rukia!" he shouted to his partner, who was similarly ducking and weaving, throwing out Kido more frequently than him, but still holding her own easily. Still, she was threatening to get swamped as well. "There's too many of them! Use Sode no Shirayuki!" he yelled as he released his own Zanpakuto as well.
"Way ahead of you!" he heard Rukia call back. Dispatching yet another hollow, he turned and saw her already poised, her zanpakuto already released and icy reiatsu swirling up from the punctures in the ground in front of her.
Vaguely, he wondered why he didn't hear her call out her shikai release command, but the heat of battle quickly shoved that question aside. He smirked back at her, pulling Zangetsu back. "Getsuga..."
"Tsugi no mai..."
It was quite convenient that they had taken the battle to an open and empty field. Their two attacks exploded out in a surge of power, one half white and the other dark blue. About one half of the hollows were frozen solid, dead without even knowing it, while the other half was completely engulfed in dark blue energy and obliterated without a trace. The two attacks slammed into the openings, clearing out the emerging hollows and overloading them with enough reiatsu to close them.
The two of them stood still for a moment, the lack of roars and metal slicing flesh creating a deafening silence.
"Is that all?" Ichigo said.
"Unlikely," Rukia replied, just as their phones cut through the quiet. She took out her phone while Ichigo ignored his. "It's Urahara. He says there's another one opening up here again... and another one a few kilometers that way," she pointed somewhere to the right.
"I'll deal with the one here," Ichigo replied. "Let's clear this up so I can give that dumbass a piece of my mind."
Rukia nodded and sped in the direction she pointed, just as the air some distance from Ichigo's left seemed to fold over itself. Then, the fold split apart, revealing a swirling, chaotic mess of grayish black.
A talon gripped the opening, and a hollow's head poked into view. The roar had barely left its throat before a beam of white light drilled through its mask, right between its eyes.
The hollow fell out of view, only for another two to take its place. They too met their quick end with well-shot beams aimed between their eyes.
However, as the opening became larger, more and more hollows began spewing out, faster than Ichigo could cast 'Byakurai'.
He snarled and abandoned his Kido target practice, gripping his sword and charging forward. 'If that baka isn't dead when this is over, I'll kill him myself. Two hollow baits. Two!" He thought viciously.
Twenty minutes earlier
As the streak of reiatsu rocketed towards them, Ichigo could sense, and was surprised at, the speed and power of the projectile. His first instinct was to leap away, but a quick analysis revealed that the projectile's height was too low; its trajectory would carry it just short of them.
He stood his ground, as did Rukia, who'd evidently reached the same conclusion as him. Sure enough, the projectile pierced the ground mere inches from his foot, where it shattered into multiple pieces and dissipated quickly.
"Such a move can be perceived as an act of hostility," he said calmly, although his senses were now on high gear. A hand hovered above his pants pocket, where his Gikon dispenser rested, waiting to be called to use at a moment's notice; his gigai limited the use of his abilities, and he could tell this was one individual he couldn't underestimate.
"That arrow was never going to reach you," Uryu said stoically. "Although I suppose you already knew that."
Ichigo and Rukia looked at each other. "What do you want, Ishida?" Rukia asked.
"As I've said before, nothing much. Just a challenge to prove that your kind is not needed in this world."
They both stared in confusion and surprise at their classmate, whose normally calm and neutral blue eyes were blazing with a cold fury.
"Doesn't sound like that's your only motivation," Rukia continued.
"Perceptive indeed, Kuchiki, and you would be right. I am the last Quincy, and as such, I hate shinigami."
At this second mention of Quincy, Ichigo started searching through his knowledge about the Quincy. It was a topic he'd last heard about in the Academy.
The Quincy were a group of spiritually aware humans that had existed for centuries, even before the Tokugawa shogunate. They were able to see hollows, and by extension, shinigami as well, and had developed weapons and abilities to combat these hollows.
The standard Quincy weapon was that of a bow and arrow made out of reishii. However, unlike shinigami, whose zanpakuto and Kido spells would send the hollow's soul to Soul Society, any hollow killed by a Quincy would have its Soul removed from existence completely.
For a couple of centuries, shinigami welcomed the Quincy and worked alongside them peacefully, not stopping to second guess the long term effects. However, it was eventually discovered that their methods were upsetting the balance of the living world and spiritual world. If allowed to continue, it would result in the destruction of both worlds.
When confronted with this, the Quincy admitted that they hadn't known about the effects their weapons had on hollows, but when asked to cease, they had refused. It was in their opinion that these creatures, who had slain many a Quincy, did not deserve to be sent to Soul Society.
As a result, relations between both factions quickly soured, and eventually turned hostile. This led to the shinigami undertaking a campaign to wipe out all the Quincy some two hundred years ago. Since then, no Quincy had been seen or reported, until now that is.
"So... Let me get this straight. You hate us for being shinigami because we wiped out the Quincy some two hundred years ago?" Ichigo asked in an attempt to avoid a confrontation. "Not that I agree with my predecessors' actions, but neither of us were even around when that happened. And you're blaming us for that? No offense, but that's stupid and petty. For that matter, neither of us has even done anything to you!"
Uryu gave a mirthless chuckle. "Oh no, I never said anything about this being about my ancestors. If anything, I agree with what the shinigami did."
"However, your shinigami caused the death of my mentor and grandfather! The one who taught and trained me in the ways of the Quincy."
Ichigo was surprised to hear that, but now he could sort of understand the grudge. He felt Rukia shift slightly beside him, and his mind flashed briefly back to that fateful night in Rukongai, when Rukia too lost a mentor, and he, a friend. "My condolences, but I had no idea shinigami killed him-"
"I didn't say anything about killing him," Uryu cut in tersely. "No, they stood aside and allowed him to be cut down by a swath of hollows. He'd been speaking up for cooperation between the Quincy and shinigami, trying to find some way to reach an agreement for both parties to work together. But no, they allowed him to die simply because they lumped him into the same mould as my ancestors, the ones who refused to think about the big picture of their actions!"
He steeled himself. "But still, his death has taught me one thing. Shinigami care only for themselves. You all have your own agenda, and you couldn't care less who you step on along the way."
"What?" Rukia exclaimed. "Whatever gave you that idea?"
"Don't you?" Uryu shot back. "You suddenly appear out of nowhere to join Karakura high. Oh yes, I knew who you two were the moment I laid eyes on you. I can give you credit for keeping up pretences for so long, but it ends here. I'll send you back before you can do whatever it is you're here for."
"Are you kidding me?!" Ichigo growled back. "Do you know how stupid you sound right now? You're heaping baseless accusations on us and blaming us for something we weren't even aware about, let alone played a part in."
Uryu's eyes narrowed in anger, but Ichigo himself was losing patience. His classmate had every reason to be angry, but he was not about to stand still and be used as a convenient target. "But if you must know why we're here, it's because we're in voluntary exile from Soul Society due to circumstances beyond our control."
Whatever Uryu was expecting to hear, it wasn't that. The surprised look on his face lasted for about a split second before it was replaced once again with a calm demeanor.
"That changes nothing. You two are shinigami, so when you eventually go running back to Soul Society with your tail between your legs, you can tell them that you lost to a Quincy," he responded frostily.
Ichigo stared at him incredulously. "You know what?" he shook his head. "No. I do not accept your stupid challenge, whatever it is. I understand your anger, but until you're finally ready to settle this issue non-violently and not focus your blame on us, please don't approach us about this. If we ever return back to Soul Society, we'll raise this issue, but until then, this will not solve anything." He turned to Rukia. "Come on, Rukia, let's-"
"You don't get it, do you? You're participating, whether you like it or not. Or do you want to have the lives in this town hanging over your heads" Uryu's smug voice reached them.
"What are you talking about?" Ichigo turned back to Uryu, who was holding up a hand. In it, he held a white coin-shaped item.
"What's that?" He heard Rukia ask first. It looked perfectly harmless, but he knew it probably wasn't.
"Shinigami are not to harm humans or, to their best efforts, allow them to come to harm, is that correct?"
Neither of them answered, both wondering where he was going with this.
"Well then, let's put that to the test, shall we?" Uryu waved the object in the air. "This, for lack of a better term, is hollow bait."
"It does what its name suggests. Once I crush this tablet and scatter it, hollows will come running. So the one who defeats the most hollows until the effects wear off is the winner."
Neither of them answered, because the moment Uryu revealed the effects of the object, both of them made identical movements.
In one lightning quick move, they both shot forward and pulled out their Gikon dispensers at the same time. Free from the restrictions of their gigai, both covered the distance to Uryu in nanoseconds, immediately using shunpo once the Gikon came into contact with their tongues.
Both of them had only one target: the hollow bait in Uryu's hand.
Trained by Shihoin Yoruichi for almost two years, Rukia was a hair's breadth faster - but her fingers closed around thin air.
"Hirenkyaku," a voice spoke to their left, and they whirled round to see Uryu standing a few feet away. He had his bow drawn and pointed straight at them, except that instead of the chaotic streak of blue he'd used earlier that vaguely resembled a bow, the one he currently wielded now had the definite solid shape of a composite bow. It was blue in color, and had streaks of white running along its length in an intricate pattern. "The Quincy version of what you shinigami call shunpo. Did you really think I wasn't expecting that? How naive. I'll say this again, Kurosaki, Kuchiki. Do not underestimate me. I won't miss from this distance. You two are participating, whether you like it or not."
"Are you insane?" Rukia yelled. "You're exposing the townspeople to danger just for the sake of your challenge!"
"Ah, but that's where the two of you come in, isn't it? You'll not sit idle and will do your best to ensure no one comes to harm. And even if you can't do it, this is, after all, my town. I won't let anyone die today."
The tense standoff lasted for another silent ten seconds. Neither shinigami made a move. They could easily dodge his arrows, but Uryu had proven that he too was fast and was already anticipating their actions. Catching him off guard wasn't a viable option for now. "You're crazy, Ishida. In fact, you're straight up insane. You're willing to gamble others' lives for the sake of a challenge?"
"I'm not risking anyone's life," Uryu replied coolly. "On the pride and honor of the Quincy, no one will come to harm. In fact," he lowered his bow, the reishii arrow fading away. "How about we up the stakes?" Reaching into his pocket, he withdrew the hollow bait - this time accompanied with an identical twin. "I didn't plan on using this, but since there are three of us, I trust this wouldn't be a problem."
Realizing that there was nothing he could do to dissuade Uryu, Ichigo replied, "If anyone dies, you're answering for it. I don't care if you're the last Quincy or not."
Ishida merely smiled. "I look forward to it."
With the two baits held firmly between his index finger and thumb, Uryu squeezed, and they broke apart with a soft crunch.
And so, not ten minutes later, Ichigo found himself splitting up with Rukia to tackle hollows in separate locations. Uryu had long since disappeared in another direction. Despite what he'd just done, Ichigo grudgingly acknowledged that their classmate didn't seem to be just spouting hot air; just five seconds after Uryu had crushed the hollow bait, the first hollow made its appearance. Not expecting one to appear that quickly, Ichigo and Rukia reacted a little slower than usual.
That was enough time for Uryu to snap his bow up and let fly, nailing the hollow right in its head before it had even emerged halfway.
Uryu then smirked at them. "Better move faster, you two." Without another word, he disappeared, just as more hollows started pouring out of the opening the first hollow left behind. Seconds later, another opening appeared.
Scowling as he effortlessly batted away a hollow's attack, Ichigo made a mental note to give Uryu a good trashing after this was over. Although the Quincy couldn't have known, the hollow bait had just put the two of them at risk, not from the hollows, but from detection by Soul Society. He didn't know how the R&D wing of the twelfth division operated, but surely a swarm of hollows were unlikely to go uninvestigated.
A scream suddenly pierced through Ichigo's thoughts. Quickly clearing some room for himself, Ichigo turned - and felt his blood run cold. A few hollows that hadn't gone after him were bearing down on a young boy. Confusion reigned momentarily for a second; hollows didn't go after normal humans whimsically unless they had spiritual power in them.
And then he saw the chain trailing behind the young boy.
"Shit!" he swore. A plus! Why did one have to appear here now, of all times? Quickly dispatching a couple more hollows, he charged after the group, but the lead hollow, a big, bipedal monster, struck with its long forearm, and caught the boy square in the back.
The boy flew forward, skidding painfully on the ground - and the group of hollows pounced.
"Getsuga Eisou!" Ichigo yelled as he shot past a tree, plunging Zangetsu into the shadow it casted on the ground.
Just inches from the fallen plus, a large, shadowy blade surged from the shadow of the hulking lead hollow. It struck the hollow at an angle, severing it cleanly in two. Not losing speed, he pulled Zangetsu back, and the shadowy blade followed his actions, running it clean through a few more hollows.
But one dodged.
"No!" Ichigo surged forward with an urgent burst of shunpo. He was late by mere fractions.
The young boy's screams lasted for all but a second before it was cut short as the hollow sank its razor sharp teeth into him, just moments before Ichigo rammed Zangetsu through its head.
The hollow released its hold on the boy and gave a pained roar, but even that was cut short as Ichigo twisted his sword and kicked its corpse away. Granted a brief respite, Ichigo turned to check on the boy - and felt a surge of guilt and anger when all he saw were lifeless eyes staring off into a distance. The hollow had been much bigger than the boy, and with the speed it was moving, he never stood a chance. The multiple puncture wounds on his neck though, which was also twisted at a weird angle, suggested that, while undoubtedly painful, he'd at least been granted a quick death.
Anger bubbled inside him as he turned to face the renewed onslaught of hollows.
Yes, Ishida had a lot to answer to.
'157... 158... 161..." Uryu smirked to himself as that last arrow bore through 3 hollows at the same time. Unlike Ichigo and Rukia's locations, the hollows appearing near his vicinity were emerging from smaller, less stable openings which admitted no more than four at a time. They appeared all around him, which suited him perfectly. From where he was, he could easily pick off hollows as they surfaced and not waste precious time by moving around.
He sensed a portal opening to his left. He pivoted on his back foot, his bow already drawn, his finger hooked around the ring in the centre of the bowstring. The ring, while not unique, allowed him to pull the bowstring tighter, loading it with more reishi.
The arrow was released as a tear opened in the sky and a hollow stepped out, followed closely by another. Moments later, their existence was erased completely as the blue arrow drilled straight through their masks, causing their bodies to crumble into nothing.
'163...' He allowed himself no time to gloat, as another tear had opened up behind him. Pushing off with his back foot, Uryu pivoted on his front foot, releasing another arrow even before both feet were on the ground, dispatching another hollow with nothing more than an afterthought.
As the hollows continued appearing thick and fast, the adrenaline coursing through his body slowly shaved fractions off his reaction time, and he found himself relying more on his training and instinct, firing off shots at an even more rapid pace and spending less time aiming. It was something taught by his grandfather who, while compassionate and doting, had been intensive when it came to training. He'd trained him to trust his instincts and spend less time aiming.
"No target is going to stay still," he'd replied sagely upon Uryu's questions. "Learn to trust your instincts."
Ever since his death, Uryu's aim had yet to let him down, and he wasn't about to start now.
'169... 171... 172...'
As he shifted his location slightly, a voice at the back of his head was pointing out to him that the number of hollows was becoming unusually high. His concern, however, was fleeting. After all, he'd used two baits, so it was to be expected.
Just then, at least ten tears opened up simultaneously, spilling out a new horde of hollows. Unfazed, Uryu balled up his fist and held it against the arrow rest.
A ball of blue light gathered in his fist as Uryu pulled his arm back, creating a streak of blue many times larger than usual. Mentally noting the positions of the hollows, who were just started to notice him, he opened his palm, releasing the streak of blue. Immediately, it split apart into five blue lances of light which, with deadly precision, found their way through the masks of seven hollows.
Repeating the process three more times, he cleared out the rest of the hollows in another 15 seconds.
He allowed himself a smile of satisfaction. This technique, which he'd only just created weeks ago, was certainly useful, even though he could only split his shot into five so far.
After a couple more seconds of respite, he decided that this area was clear of hollows for now. Flexing his fingers, he leapt off in the direction he'd sensed hollows appearing earlier, ignoring the slight numbness in his index fingers.
'Just wait, sensei,' he thought determinedly. 'I'll prove our race's worth yet.'
After over a year and a half's worth of training with Yoruichi, Rukia was beginning to see the fruits of her training. One or two wasn't enough to test her, but a swarm of hollows certainly did. And she marveled at its effects.
While there had been hand-to-hand combat training involved, Yourichi recognized that Rukia was a swordswoman, and thus focused on incorporating more speed into her swords-fighting techniques, eliminating unnecessary redundancies in her movements. It was, in the end, what gave her the edge to defeat her Zanpakuto and force Sode no Shirayuki to submit.
She was still trying to wrap her mind around it. She, a third-seat class shinigami, had achieved the ultimate technique of a shinigami, something it was said only captains could achieve. Granted, it was the training Yoruichi gave her that enabled her to attain it, but it was still an achievement.
Unfortunately, while fighting the hollows and remaining mindful to steer clear of unaware bystanders, she had to quash the temptation of using it.
Firstly, her additional training made it unnecessary and overkill. And secondly, until further training, using it was potentially fatal for her to use. Thirdly, she wanted to surprise Ichigo with it, though she would have to be mindful he wasn't caught in the blast too.
Right now, though, her shikai was more than enough, as she ducked and weaved through the horde of monsters, blocking only when necessary. Her faithful Zanpakuto in hand, her movements were a blur as she slashed tendons, hacked limbs, and pierced masks, spurts of blood spouting around her as she twirled a bloody dance of death.
But the hollows still kept coming, attempting to crush her with sheer numbers.
'This is getting ridiculous' she thought irritably. She hadn't been keeping track of the number of hollows she'd taken down, but it had to be at least a couple of hundred of them, with the numbers showing no signs of slowing down. How in the world did Ishida get ahold of something so potent?
She ducked and spun round to avoid a hollow that'd launched itself at her. It sailed over, but instead of paying it any mind, Rukia angled her sword down, aiming it a few metres in front of her as she completed the spin. A line formed at where she was aiming, drawing out a circle. The moment it was completed, the ground within the circle froze almost instantly, along with four hollows that'd been within the circle. They were in turn smashed to pieces moments later as their fellow hollows ran straight through them.
"Some no mai..." Rukia intoned, leaping up into the air. The hollows leapt after her, chasing from below her, which was exactly what she wanted.
"Tsukishiro!" She yelled, zipping away with shunpo.
A pillar of white, with the ice circle as the base, speared from the ground. Not as visible in the daylight, it engulfed most of the hollows, bathing them in the opaque, blinding whiteness. A blast of frigid air pulsed out, staggering the others who were closest to the pillar.
But Rukia was already on the move, speeding back down to the ground to reengage the remaining hollows. She didn't need to see what became of rest.
Sure enough, the white pillar faded to reveal that all the hollows that'd been caught within the pillar had frozen solid, each encased in a solid block of ice. They seemed to suspend in midair for a few moments before they fell, shattering into pieces as they crashed into the ground.
With their numbers drastically reduced, Rukia cut through them, bathing the battlefield with their blood.
"I think that's the last of them here," she said to herself. Unfortunately, she could not afford to relax; as she'd been fighting, her phone had rung a few times, signalling hollows appearing in other areas. Despite being on the run from Soul Society, she was still a shinigami, and she couldn't allow hollows to run amok amongst the innocent living. They were powerful, yes, but it was only three of them plus the posted shinigami. There was no telling what carnage the hollows already wrought, so she quickly stretched out her senses to search for more of them.
She sensed Ichigo quite some distance away, surrounded by hollow signatures that were rapidly winking out.
Knowing that he didn't need any aid, she turned her attentions elsewhere, and they fell on another large group of hollows.
As she quickly rushed over, she nearly halted in surprise and confusion when a completely unfamiliar reiatsu suddenly burst into life in the middle of the group, corresponding with a quarter of the hollow signatures disappearing.
Immediately, the new reiatsu started moving, and the hollow signatures started systematically disappearing. What was going on? Just where did this newcomer come from?
But even as these questions ran through her head, Rukia felt the new reiatsu fluctuate erratically, as if whatever its owner was doing was wrecking havoc with his or her powers. Regardless, she had to hurry.
An hour earlier
Sado remained silent (again, no surprise there) as he watched his two close friends pack up for the day. Rukia finished first; she waited while Ichigo searched around his desk for a pen he hadn't realized had dropped into his bag, all the while teasing him playfully for being so disorganized even as she helped him search. Ichigo countered good-naturedly, and the banter shifted back and forth until Rukia found the pen first, which she promptly used to rap Ichigo on the head with. The exchange went back and forth for a few more times before they were ready to leave. As they headed out, Ichigo gave a nod in his direction while Rukia smiled and gave a light wave.
While they would usually hang out on certain days of the week, Tuesdays were never one of those days; the two of them usually left immediately after class. He supposed they had some extra-curricular activity - helping out at Doctor Kurosaki's clinic, perhaps - because he knew the two of them didn't join any of the school's clubs, and it wasn't due to a lack of offers.
Standing up to Oshima in front of the school had elevated Ichigo to near-God status, since no one had been willing to stand up to Oshima and his cronies. Sado knew he could, but Oshima had had enough brain cells to not try anything with him. Days later, Ichigo had received offers from all the martial arts clubs like Aikido, Judo, Karate, and Jujutsu to join them. Strangely enough, the day after Ichigo's trouncing of Oshima, Arisawa Tatsuki, their classmate and second strongest female in Japan in the Under-21s age group (with the handicap of a broken arm), approached Rukia to join the Karate club. Of course, Sado knew she could fight, but was surprised that Arisawa did. Perhaps she'd realized that the discreet kick Rukia had used to knock Oshima out wasn't accidental.
He stifled a yawn, slightly glad that school was already over, since all he had the night before was a couple of hours of unsettled sleep. The haunting, disembodied scream he'd heard during Don Kanoji's program refused to leave his ears, echoing in his head well into the night and piercing through his subconscious every time he attempted to drift off to sleep. It'd left him feeling uncharacteristically nervous and jumpy on the way home from the program, and he'd nearly lashed out at a cat that'd jump out in front of him. Before experiencing the program live, he'd been slightly skeptical about the existence of spirits, but the scream he heard was not human.
But it wasn't just what he'd heard that affected his sleep. No, it'd been what he saw.
"What is he looking at?" Keigo asked curiously as Don Kanoji leaned forward, his face scrunched up in thought.
"Maybe the spirit is right there?" Mizuiro suggested.
Sado heard them, but he didn't comment. His mind was still playing back the loud yell he'd heard earlier when the production crew was still setting up. It sounded male, and it appeared to originate from the hospital, but... was anyone capable of screaming that loud? And that was not accounting for the strange pressure he felt which had set his hairs on end.
Everything went on without a hitch after that; the hospital also fell eerily silent.
Until Kanoji brought out the stick.
The scream, this time many octaves higher, slammed into his ears, causing him to gasp in pain as his blood turned to ice. He clutched his ears and shut his eyes in an attempt to block out the sound, but it continued to reverberate through his brain. The pressure returned tenfold, and it took all he had to remain where he was.
For the first time in his life, he felt terrified and vulnerable, and he wanted nothing more than to bolt. The inhuman scream tore through his mind, stripping away at his very soul. What was worst was that the rest of the crowd continued their cheers. Didn't anyone hear the screams? He felt like he couldn't breathe, and the feeling only abated when Don Kanoji was thrown off his feet, although the screams continued.
With his eyes closed, Sado was only aware of Kanoji's situation through the emcee's announcements. But as the feeling of terror slowly ebbed away, he looked up to see Kanoji back on his feet and conversing with someone.
"Ah, I see, so you're still my fan even in death, boy! I'm honoured by such dedication!"
Disregarding Kanoji's words, Sado nearly failed to register the darkened shadow right in front of the spirit medium. Only when it rippled and shifted did he notice it.
He stared blankly at it for a moment, but there was a sudden flash of intense light originating from where Don Kanoji was earlier. Caught unawares, it blinded him temporarily, and splotches of light remained in his vision for a good half hour, but it had the additional effect of silencing the entire crowd.
When he turned back to Kanoji, his eyes rapidly blinking to dispel the glare that seemed to have imprinted itself on his retinas, he was shocked and confused at what he saw.
Where the shadow had once been now stood a vaguely human-sized figure. It looked like an image from a faulty television; the shape kept flickering, like gathered mist that threatened to disperse with a strong gust of wind, and the colors appeared to blend with each other.
Nevertheless, it was definitely human-shaped, although its head was a strange orange color.
Wait... Orange? Sado snapped to attention and took a closer look. The only person he knew with orange on his head was Ichigo, but it couldn't be, right? Ichigo was...
Not next to him. And neither was Rukia.
Sado looked round, but couldn't see either of his good friends anywhere. He turned back to the front. Did that mean that that was Ichigo? The size of the image was about the same. And... Wait. There was another one, standing right next to Kanoji. It was smaller, and had no discernible colour. Was that...
What he didn't know was that, in a rare lapse of judgment, Rukia had ordered the mod souls into hiding instead of blending back into the crowd, resulting in Sado noticing their absence.
His pondering was cut short when yet another roar, this one sounding more savage and primal, pierced his ears. This time, it was enough to make him take a step back and drive all thoughts of his friends to the back of his mind.
That was, until he saw them again the next day.
Lost in his thoughts, Sado found himself walking past the field of Karakura middle school. They must've ended early; a group of students were playing football on the field. He paused to watch them for a moment. Only a moment, though. He had to pick up his bass guitar and meet up with his band.
He'd always enjoyed the game when he was young, and given his stature and considerable skill, others used to want him on their team. Unfortunately, whoever was in the opposite team would refuse to play against him, so he was sacrificed as a compromise.
One of the kids appeared to be running circles round the other players. A girl, from the looks of it; her hair was short, but too long to be a boy's. Didn't Ichigo say one of his cousins played football? What was her name... Kaiju? That couldn't be it.
After weaving her way through most of the other players, the girl eventually lost the ball to the opposing team. But instead of chasing after it, she suddenly froze, staring off into the distance. Sado couldn't see her face, but she appeared to be slowly moving back.
The other kids finally noticed her inaction, and two of them approached her, only for her shout to carry over to Sado. "Get back!" She yelled. "Don't come any closer!"
The two kids hesitated and looked at each other, but didn't stop. "Oi, Karin," one of them called out. "What are you-"
"I SAID GET BACK!" She screamed in response. "Do you want to die? If not, don't come any closer!"
Taken aback by the sheer desperation in her voice, Sado started approaching them, thinking that she'd spotted some sort of venomous insect or something.
It was then that he noticed that the air suddenly felt thick and suffocating. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary, yet he suddenly felt like his movements were slowing down, almost as if in water, and his windpipe was constricting in his throat. There was also an inexplicable feeling of dread that felt quite familiar, almost like... What he felt... Last evening...
And then he saw it. A huge distorted shadow was some distance away, and it was slowly approaching Karin (he now remembered Ichigo's cousin's name) and her friends purposefully. It looked similar to what he witnessed yesterday, only this shadow was much larger, and he could sense hunger radiating from it.
Move... Stop. Move... Stop. Move... Stop.
If he didn't know any better, he would've said it was akin to a predator stalking its prey. Karin was staring right at it, so was that what scared her?
He didn't know what that shadow was, but he did know that if it reached the students, they would be severely injured at best. Making an instant decision, the restriction on his movements seemed to fade as he tossed his school bag onto the ground and charged towards Karin, ignoring the feeling that his life was about to change forever.
And not a moment too soon. The shadow charged at Ichigo's cousin as well with unexpected speed, but Sado had already reached her. With no time to think, he scooped her into his arms and dove forward, just as the ground where they once stood exploded in a shower of grass and soil.
Not wanting to crush her, Sado skidded on the grass instead of rolling to lessen the momentum. Still, to his large, robust frame, he only felt it slightly.
Stunned by the appearance of a large person and the explosion, the other kids screamed in surprise, turned tail and ran for it. Still, Sado ignored them in favor of the trembling girl in his arms.
"Mi-Mister?" Karin asked in a mixture of fear and confusion.
"Are you alright?" Sado asked, shocked at how pale and terrified she looked, but unable to do anymore to reassure her as he searched for the shadow.
"Mister... Please, get out, while you still can..."
"And leave you here? Where is it?" He asked as calmly as he could. He still couldn't find the shadow, and it was making him more nervous by the second. Whatever it was, she could see it also, and a second pair of eyes didn't hurt.
"You... you can see them?" she asked.
"Just as a shadow. So... what do you mean 'them'?"
"..." Karin mumbled something.
"Where is it?" He asked again.
"They- they're everywhere..." She whispered.
*Snap *Snap. "Oi, 'Hime, you're spacing out again!" *Snap *Snap.
"Huh?" Was the eloquent reply.
Inoue Orihime snapped out of her stupor and looked at her long-time best friend, who was leaning on her broom and grinning at her. "I'm sorry, Tatsuki-chan. What did you say?"
The short-haired best friend in question shook her head in mock exasperation.
"I said, you're spacing out again."
"Oh." Her thoughts drifted back to the reason behind her daydream, and she couldn't help but blush.
Watching her intently, Tatsuki picked up on it immediately and grinned. "Oh, I see. So that's the source of your daydream."
The redness blossomed on Orihime's cheeks, the colour clashing with her striking burnt orange hair. "T-Tatsuki!" She chided lamely, holding the broom she'd being using close to her, as if it shielded her from the teasing that was to come. She glanced fretfully around. "It's not who you think it is!"
Her best friend only grinned wider. "I never said it was a who, did I?"
She spluttered out another feeble excuse. It didn't matter that this wasn't the first time Tatsuki called her out over this, but that didn't make it any less embarrassing.
She felt an arm drape over her shoulders. "Hime, not that I disagree with you. I'll admit, Kurosaki is attractive, even if he does look grumpy most of the time."
Orihime gave her an incredulous look.
"Oh don't give me that look. I'm still a girl, despite what people might say," Tatsuki rebuffed with a cheeky grin. "I'm just not interested right now. 'Sides, as my best friend, I've gotta make sure no one attempts to take advantage of you!"
Orihime gave her best friend a smile and nod in acknowledgment. So far, she'd been asked out for a total of 9 dates. Six had been from boys in their somophore years and above, while 3 were freshmen as well. She hadn't been interested because... Well, she was hoping someone else would be asking, but she didn't have the heart to say no too, especially to that one boy who looked like he was about to spontaneously combust. Thankfully, Tatsuki stepped in for her every time.
Frankly, she didn't know what she would've done after her brother passed away when she was only twelve. But thankfully, she hadn't had to find out, as Tatsuki entered her life a year later, and they'd been inseparable best friends ever since. The second strongest female in Japan (with a broken arm), as she was known in Japan, had taken on the role of her protector and friend, standing up for her in situations she didn't even know she needed help in.
She mentally sighed. When Ochi-sensei had announced the indefinite transfer of two students, she'd immediately taken to the taller of the two. It felt as if she'd seen him before, but she realized it was because he looked a lot like his uncle, albeit the different colored hair. That quickly led to her fantasizing about him as a knight in shiny black armor, storming an immense tower where she, the white princess, had been held captive by white, horned demons that looked like bats.
As such, she'd been disappointed when she eventually learnt that the girl he'd transferred with was his girlfriend. Despite her below-average height, she had to admit that Kuchiki Rukia was definitely pretty. She briefly considered attempting to steal him from the petite girl, but immediately felt ashamed for having such a notion.
She took solace, however, in the fact that some magazine she'd read declared that 95% of high school romances ended within three years. Since Kuchiki and Kurosaki had been together for one year, perhaps they might break up soon.
However, it didn't help matters when Kurosaki defended Kuchiki from Oshima reiichi, showing his willingness to protect his girlfriend. Unfortunately, it also had the side effect of making him even more desirable. She longed for someone to fight for her like that, all the more so after that nightmare she had yesterday night.
Last night, she'd gone with Kurosaki and the rest to Kanoji's live show. It wasn't that she really believed in spirits, but she liked to think that her long deceased brother, whom she still missed terribly, was watching over her.
What she did not expect to hear or see were the terrifying bone-chilling screams - which was saying something after she and Tatsuki had attempted a horror movie marathon last summer - and the grainy but distinct image of a quadruped creature about the size of a rhinoceros. She remembered seeing Don Kanoji battle it, but her mind wasn't functioning clear enough at that time for her to be certain. Tatsuki had been concerned about her, although she too looked a little uneasy.
What she did remember though, was the creature's blurry but unforgettable face, as well as empty, pitch black eye sockets which refused to let her rest easy that night.
A loud crash broke her thoughts and she jumped violently with an "eep!", head swiveling round to look for the cause. She held a hand to her heart, earlier thoughts about the frightening creature causing her heart rate to skyrocket. Thankfully, the only one nearby was Tatsuki, who hadn't noticed her reaction.
"Are you kidding me?!" Tatsuki exclaimed. "We were just about done! What do those idiots think they're doing?"
Copying Tatsuki's gaze, Orihime saw what'd gotten her so annoyed. The karate club equipment room's windows appeared to have exploded outwards, showering the ground below with glass.
"... Two... Three... Four! They broke all four! They know they aren't supposed to fool around in there. Come along, Hime!" Tatsuki said, cutting an imposing figure with her broom gripped with both hands.
Orihime blinked. "Tatsuki, where are you going?"
"Wait there! I'm getting us some help!" She hollered back.
Orihime couldn't help but smile. Knowing Tatsuki for so long, and judging by the vicious look on her face, she was hoping for the culprits to refuse responsibility.
Standing idly for a few moments, she noticed that the school had fallen into an unnatural silence. Tatsuki had disappeared into the building, and there wasn't a single person in sight. She felt a light breeze drifting past her, but for some weird reason, it felt cold, as if it was chilling her very bones.
Ignoring the sudden desire to not be alone, she decided to get started on the debris first.
The first sign that something was amiss was when, a few steps later, Orihime found herself out of breath. The next thing she noticed was that the air felt thicker, making it difficult to breathe.
All of a sudden, pure, unexplained terror shot through her. There was no one around, but she felt exposed, watched. Her mind was screaming at her to run, to find cover, to do anything except stay out in the open. Something horrible was going to happen to her if she didn't MOVE!
Orihime quickened her pace, stopping short of breaking out into a dead sprint. She only had eyes for the (relative) safety of the school building.
Movement on top of the school building caught her attention. Not knowing she was merely delaying the inevitable, she looked up - and immediately wished she hadn't.
Floating above the school roof was a... Creature. That was the only word to describe it.
It was nothing she'd ever seen before. It had numerous huge light bluish tentacles sprouting from its centre like a flower, hiding any traces of a body. And its face... The closest thing her shocked mind could think of was that its white face looked like a ghost from PAC man, but it had longer and more numerous appendages at the bottom. Lastly, there was no mistaking those empty eyes that seemed to bore right through her.
And they were staring straight at her.
"Hello, girl," a haunted, echoey female voice rang out, surprising Orihime and sending a shiver coursing through her. "You can see me, can't you? That oh so familiar expression of fear... of disgust... It makes you look positively... Delicious, my dear," it said as it slowly floated down.
Her mind screamed at her to run, but her body refused to cooperate.
The creature didn't seem to notice her struggle, and it (she?) giggled in a high pitched tone, making its tentacles quiver slightly as it slowly approached her. "Oh don't worry my dear. I won't bite. Well, not while you're alive, at least." It stopped in front of her.
"What-what are you?" Orihime whispered the three words that first came to mind.
Yet another high pitched giggle. "That's not very nice, is it? Perhaps you ought to learn some manners."
Right at that point, a commotion over by the building entrance was enough to catch Orihime's attention.
"Ow! Ok, Arisawa, I said- OW!" Two male students, both in school uniform, burst from the entrance, falling unceremoniously onto the ground.
"No buts!" Orihime heard Tatsuki say, which sent a wave of relief and panic through her. "You caused it, you clean it!" Three more male students walked out, all in karategi, followed closely by Tatsuki.
"You do realise you can't stop me, right?" The one in the middle said.
"As the club's president, I should hope not," Tatsuki scoffed back. "It would speak a lot about the boy's karate standard. But I can walk all over your other buddies without breaking a sweat. So don't stall for time! Knowing Hime, she's probably already halfway done... Oi, Hime!" Her friend waved to her, unaware of the danger they were in. "I told you already, this is not our job! Don't take a step closer to the glass!"
Nearby, the creature also had its attention focused on the newcomers. "Ooh, more living beings! Unexpected, but convenient."
Tatsuki was heading towards her, poking and prodding the other students, but Orihime wasn't paying attention to them. "What are you going to do?"
"Hmm? Oh, don't worry, it's nothing much, I assure you. Though that girl is acting quite violently, i must say. Quite unbefitting."
"Eh?" Tatsuki said as she reached her. "What did you say?"
Orihime jumped violently as something poked her shoulder. She turned to see Tatsuki standing casually next to her, a hand on her hips and the other holding the broom resting on her shoulder. "Woah, Hime, what's wrong?" She, along with the other boys, appeared to be completely ignoring the creature just meters from them.
A mixture of fear and confusion swept through her. "You-you can't see it?" she whispered.
Tatsuki face remained blank. "See what?" She turned in the direction Orihime was facing. "I don't see anything..." Her voice trailed off as she furrowed her brow. The boys behind her mirrored her movements, yet none of them seemed to have noticed the creature.
The feeling of dread intensified as she realized that, for some reason, none of the rest could see the danger in front of them.
"Hmm, I think a little more obedience would be good for her," the creature interjected, seemingly unconcerned with the exchange going on in front of it. "And I know just the thing," it giggled. It seemed to lean back, and its tentacles started quivering faster.
"What?! No! Leave Tatsuki alone!" Orihime blurted out.
She didn't know what came over her, but at the creature's words, everything else was shoved from her mind. She only knew that the creature had switched targets, and that target was Tatsuki. She didn't notice her friend startle at her outburst and turn back in the direction she was looking, only to frown and squint at something that caught her attention.
"Oh, don't worry. I won't be doing anything to her. Can't say the same for the others though. But don't worry. You'll get your chance."
In other situations, she might've felt afraid at what the creature was saying. However, that was when she suddenly found renewed use of her legs. Immediately, she reacted on instinct.
With a cry of, "Tatsuki! No!" Orihime launched herself at her friend, crashing into her and sending them both to the ground just as multiple projectiles burst from the creature's tentacles!
As the last tear in the area closed and he turned his attention elsewhere, Ichigo noted that his direction of travel had taken him close to Karakura high. He wondered if both he and Rukia would still be students there tomorrow; while he needled Rukia a little about admitting she was growing fond of the place, he'd to admit that he was growing fond of the living world as well, living with his pseudo-family and without the demands of a captain. But staying would run the risk of being found by Soul Society. He could always go into hiding - with the vaizard, maybe, but he'd go crazy from being cooped up, even with Rukia for company.
Unfortunately, it looked like the best option was to move to another town.
He shook his head and focused. Now wasn't the time to bother about this. He'd already saved three more pluses and a number of unsuspecting living humans from being hollow prey, but the hollows were still appearing everywhere.
He detected one hollow already in the school compound, with a few more approaching it.
He could worry about the repercussions of Uryu's stunt later. Something appeared to be attracting the hollows, which was never a good thing.
As you probably already noted, canon events will more or less proceed as usual, but they won't be following the same buildup and stuff, because I wanted to be more original than just following the manga. Hope I did alright.
So I've finally introduced Orihime. But note: as a hot-blooded male myself, I am in no way saying Orihime's segment is how a girl actually think, because I. Have. No. Clue. Plus, at this point, I think Orihime is nice and naive enough to not try anything. If any female readers out there would like to feedback if it was a credible enough, and that it's not a guy's fantasy of how a girl's mind works, feel free.
Oh, and before I forget, I'm making Uryu more powerful than he is in canon.
Once again, thanks for the reviews and likes/alerts. Do continue reviewing, and while opinions/suggestions are always welcomed, please back up negative comments with reasons, so I can improve and not assume you're just a mean troll.
Finals in a week, so I won't start writing till after. Till then, see you guys on the next chapter!