Summary - There have been many ill-fated events that have plagued Seireitei City and the twins Ichigo and Shiro are petitioned to head into the Jagged Forest to find out why. What they thought it would be was nowhere near what it really was. Two bored Gods amid a colored forest.
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(Cue - Audiomachine, Eternal Flame)
Something was lurking in the Jagged. Of that Ichigo was sure. The city of Seireitei was known because of its prosperity for the last fifty years. Ruled by King Yamamoto, the land had flourished and thrived. Rich and fertile soil resided inside the towering walls of Seireitei so food was plentiful. The men of the city were brave and loyal, defending their coveted territory from hungry neighboring cities and towns.
Yet, in the past years there had been a series of ill-fated events. Storms came from the east, from the Jagged; enormous storms that ravaged the city, upturning crops, and lifting dirt and debris. Sometimes they were powerful enough to destroy homes. The wind buffeted the city and the rain pelted in stinging, cold drops. The people mourned the losses and cursed the Gods for their hand in the Destinies.
The Jagged was a dense, dark forest that rimmed the east side of the city. It had always been there, a dark shadow tainting the land and recorded on every map. It was said to be gargantuan in size, with impermeable darkness, for no sunlight filtered in through the canopy of leaves. Anyone who came close would be abducted and dragged by their feet, never to see the light again, or so it was said. It was called the Jagged because of the immense sharp rock that protruded from the treetops. Ominous and dark, it even had an influence on the interior of the city; the less fortunate lived on the east side of the city, and despite the protective walls, fear still crawled into the bed of the poor, be they man, woman or child.
Ichigo was fortunately one of the prosperous and wealthy of the city, living as a knight in the towering castle at the center. Yet, he and his twin, Shiro hadn't always lived in such conditions.
Their father lived as the medic in their part of the city. Middle class, at best was their ranking. The city was divided into four sectors which were divided into four more subdivisions. The King's castle towered in the middle. They lived in a small house toward the center of Rukon subdivision. Loud merchants bellowed at the tops of their lungs to nab the attention of a passerby. Children thieved and their trickery had no restraint.
The twins had been the strongest of their division wielding magic and swords with utmost skill. As it happened every five years, a tournament was held; one to select the next three men or women that were to be a part of the Royal Guard. Ichigo and Shiro had fought hard and long to get strong enough to defeat each of the two men from each subdivision, only to have to do it again and face off against the next six men from the four sectors. It was a free for all, a killing spree, every man for themselves.
In the end it had been Ichigo, Shiro and a woman named Rukia who had endured and remained standing amid the fallen bodies of the other five men and women.
The three warriors stood, hurting, but still tall and proud as the men and women of the city roared their approval.
When King Yamamoto had seen the two twins and Rukia, he blessed them and bestowed upon their shoulders the weight of the city.
It would appear that the weight had doubled over the past four years. Particularly in the last months, for Yamamoto had proposed that any man that ventured into the forest to find what caused the misery and strife would come back with the respect and acknowledgement of the city.
"You come back merely alive, telling of what you have seen in the Jagged and you will have power," King Yamamoto said.
It looked as if even the prospect of fame and glory did not deter the men of the Royal Guard from their fear of the Jagged.
"I think we should do it, Ichi," Shiro said one morning when they were in their sleeping quarters. The albino had told him of the repercussions of such a feat as going into the Jagged, and Ichigo began to see the idea as a good one. They were strong. Their bravery knew no bounds. Shiro could be reckless at times and despite his claims of only wanting the glory, they were loyal to their home and would do anything for it.
So when Ichigo told King Yamamoto of their acceptance of the challenge, the King had been thrilled and sent them off in a week's time.
Preparations were quick and Ichigo began to look upon his journey with grim trepidation. He and his brother were given the finest armor in the city. Miners went out of the city to find the finest ore to use for their protection and blacksmiths toiled and slogged over fire to mold them into the hardest of armor.
They were given dried meats and cheeses to eat along their journey. Each took a bow and a quiver of arrows. Water skins to keep their throats from growing parched.
They journeyed out of the west gate of the city. No king wanted their doors opened to the Jagged. They travelled along the side of Seireitei, keeping close to the walls so no attention was brought to them. The escorts had been unbelieving. They remained firm on their belief that one look at the Jagged would send the twins back to their beds. Rukia was the one to defend them.
"Ichi, Ichi. You really think you can go into that forest? You'll be killed, especially someone as weak as you," the guard sneered when Ichigo turned to glare at him. "You won't go in there. Coward."
"At least he's trying. Who's the one that told me they were senseless for even considering it? You! You fool!" Rukia growled and grabbing an arrow from her quiver, she poked at Nnoitra's exposed neck.
"You worthless wench!" he said, batting away the offending weapon.
And then they reached the edge of the forest.
(Cue – Two Steps From Hell, the Truth Unravels)
"Shiro, are you sure about this?" Ichigo said, his voice quiet, as if in reverence to the bone-chilling silence that seemed to saturate the air. "Maybe we should go back." He looked back at the escorts; Nnoitra was sneering at him.
Shiro plowed forward. "Nonsense, we'll look like fools! We've not even taken a step beneath the canopy of trees!" He held his hand on the hilt of his sword, which rested on his back. His armor glistened in the light of the sun before the darkness of the forest enveloped him.
Ichigo quickly followed behind. "Eeuwige vërlichting," he said, and lifted his hand. The air swirled above his palm for a moment until a bright orb floated over his hand. He could see Shiro's back.
"Light your own, Shiro," he said, quietly. Only when he heard his brother's soft uttering of the incantation, did he relax slightly. He remained alert though.
He could see his brother's back, but the armor did not shimmer as it did in the sunlight. The dark was all encompassing and thick enough to cut. Even the everlasting illumination did little to hinder the blackness. He wondered how they were to navigate their way
back to the edge of the forest.
Would they even come out? They would be trapped in this abysmal gloom for the rest of their lives. Would they wither away and be lifeless like the rest of the forest?
He didn't know. Shiro looked to have enough confidence for the both of them, so Ichigo let him lead. He stayed close behind, looking down every so often to see if there were any roots or loose stones to trip him up. He felt that if he fell, he would never get back up.
They had been walking for hours, it seemed. The forest gave the impression that time was at a complete standstill. Without the sun, how would they know the passing of the days? So far nothing had moved or made a sound. Any normal forest would be thriving and pulsing with living creatures. The only sounds were the footfalls coming from the twins' heavy boots. And even that sounded muffled and muted.
Then it started; small globes of light drifting on the edge of their eternal illumination. They grew closer and Ichigo grew nervous. And Shiro, despite his bout of confidence, began the feel the wear of fright as well. After that, the small lights drew to such proximity that Ichigo could lift a hand and touch it. When he did, ignoring his brother's protests, he touched the orb, and everything changed.
Light shined everywhere, blinding him, making him lift a hand to shield his eyes. When his eyes adjusted he could see the forest floor beneath his feet and the mossy trunks and green leaves of the trees. He looked above at the canopy and took great pleasure in realizing that each tree was a different color. Purples, blues, greens, reds, all mixed together in a kaleidoscope of color. He noticed that the little orbs of light weren't merely floating spheres; they were small pixies. He'd heard of them from far out across the land, but he had never seen one. He lifted a finger and the little pixie sat her dainty feet on the tip of it. She bowed.
"I give you my thanks, little pixie," Ichigo said, tipping his head forward.
The pixie laughed. "Do not thank me yet, young warrior, you have yet to prove yourself," she said, twirling on the tip of his finger. "My name is Orihime, and yours?"
"Ichigo Kurosaki. It is a wonderful pleasure to make your acquaintance, Orihime."
Orihime bowed and said, "No, young warrior, the pleasure is all mine. Welcome to the Gikleurde Bossen." She swept a hand out as if to display the beauty of the forest.
He noticed animals flitted about, some even coming close to him. He knelt down carefully and picked up the hare that shuffled over to him. He walked through the forest, forgetting his brother completely, not even noticing his absence.
Shiro saw his brother disappear, he'd heard his brother's cry and then Ichigo was gone. He turned around, searching in the dismal light for any sign of his brother. "Lumineus!" The spell brightened the eternal illumination, lighting up the forest around him, for a fraction of a second and then went out altogether. All hell broke loose in Shiro's mind. He knelt on the ground, cradling his head in his hands. A protruding stone dug into his shin and he grabbed it, pulled it out of the ground, and blindly hurled it away from him. A sob worked its way from his throat, then another. Then another till he was weeping, much resembling a child. He was never going to see his beloved brother again. He was going to be trapped in this darkness till he rotted away into foul-smelling filth. Heart wrenching cries broke free and filled the forest. So caught up was he in his sorrow that he didn't notice that the only source of light was coming from the orb.
He felt something brushing the back of his hand. He looked up and saw what Ichigo had touched. He attempted to swat it away, but it evaded and again drew closer. Then he noticed that there were more of them, some of them having perched themselves on his armor. He was about to shoo them away in an effort to wallow in his self-pity, when a thought hit him; Ichigo touched them and disappeared, maybe Shiro could follow if he, too, touched the floating orbs.
(Cue – Two Steps From Hell, Color the Sky)
He carefully lifted a hand, almost hesitant, and the little light flew forward. As soon as his finger made contact, Shiro felt his muscles tense, then relax; he felt the need to close his hand into a fist, but he had not the strength to do so. Then he saw it; the forest had changed. Light touched everything, revealing that the forest was indeed beautiful. To Shiro it was beautiful, but he wasn't the kind of man who appreciated beauty, so he did not dote upon it as his brother did. He noticed the pixies flitting about; one of them spoke.
"Come, I will lead you to your brother," she said, in a high tinkling voice. She flew forward and Shiro followed.
"My name is Rangiku, what name were you given, mighty warrior?" the pixie asked, settling herself to fly backwards and face him.
"Shiro Kurosaki. Watch where you are going, Rangiku; lest you fly into a tree," Shiro said, grinning when the little pixie huffed and flew faster, still facing him.
"Stubborn bird, I like that," he said. Lifting a finger, he invited her to a seat. She blushed and sat down on the crook of his finger.
"Keep going straight," she mumbled.
They walked in companionable silence, Shiro weaving his way through the trees but keeping in the direction Rangiku told him.
It was when he finally reached the end of the canopy that he saw his brother. "Ichigo!" The albino ran to his brother and nearly tackled him. "Brother, don't you dare do something like that again. I almost died of grief when I saw that you had gone away." He vaguely registered the two fairies giggling and perching themselves in Ichigo's hair.
He took his time making sure his brother was okay. Running his hands over Ichigo's limbs and torso to make certain that nothing was broken or out of place.
"I'm fine, Shiro. And so are you. Let's see if we can go find what's causing those storms."
Orihime laid herself down on Ichigo's head and rested her chin in her hands. Rangiku looked longingly at Shiro who rolled his eyes and patted his own head, making Rangiku squeal in delight and laid herself on her stomach, nestled in the albino's white hair.
"You won't have to look far. The Masters are close," Orihime said, patting Ichigo's forehead with her tiny hand. She sat up and pointed down the river. "It's not far, but it is precarious. There are many obstacles from here to the Masters."
"Will you help us along, Orihime?" Ichigo said, lifting his hand so the pixie could climb over his fingers. Orihime sat down on his palm and smiled up at him.
"Definitely," she said.
Ichigo smiled. "All right, let me put on my armor and we'll be off," he said, and picking up his breast plate, he pulled it over his head, tying the shoulders and sides. Piece by piece, he covered himself in protective silver and gold. He finished by tying the gauntlets and he found himself ready to go.
"Let's go," Ichigo said, letting Orihime settle herself on his head again.
They walked along the river, oftentimes having to wade through the flowing waters to get by. Trees surrounded them on either sid,e covering the river with their leafy ceiling. Ichigo could see the animals that crawled and scampered through the underbrush.
(Cue – Two Steps from Hell, Wind Queen)
Two fortminutes had passed when Orihime heard soft singing coming from the forest; she heard it before the others.
"Santen Kesshun!" she cried, lifting her hands and clenching her tiny fists. Just as suddenly as her cry came, came a wall of yellow light too, surrounding them completely.
"Ichigo, Shiro, I can't hold onto this spell for very long. You'll have to concentrate on your goal. Don't listen to the singing, and whatever you do, don't touch them. Stay on the river bank."
Ichigo looked confused for a moment. "All right. But what is it?" he asked.
"Wood nymphs." The redhead gasped and the walls faded.
The singing hit the two humans like a horse on a rampage, with light, tinkling voices that soothed the mind. Ichigo's grip on his own mind became slack and the hypnotizing voices overwhelmed his every thought, till the melodic chorus was all he heard.
Ichigo was turning toward the forest when Shiro's hand came up and gripped his shoulder. "Ichigo, control yourself," his brother said, shaking the redhead slightly.
"Gerroff, fool, don't you hear it? It's beautiful! We should go to it," Ichigo said, his speech slurring drunkenly. He stumbled toward the trees, nearly falling in his haste to reach the origin of the singing. Orihime was pounding on Ichigo's head, pulling his hair in a frantic attempt to snap him out of the nymph's trance.
"Ichigo!" Shiro cried, reaching out for his brother.
"What?" the redhead said, turning to look at Shiro.
"Damn it, didn't you hear what Orihime said? Don't touch the nymphs!"
"Just one touch won' kill me! Just a lil' brush of my fingers…" He turned back toward the singing, once again engulfed by the melody.
Shiro saw the creature. It looked like any other woman, save for the dress of leaves she wore. Her long, golden hair tumbled to her thighs as she leaned her head back and continued her chorus. Ichigo was lifting a hand and so was the nymph. They were inches apart when Shiro decided to take action.
"Daverende gebrul!" he shouted, lifting his hands toward Ichigo. His hands glowed white; they kept glowing brighter till even Shiro had to close his eyes. They had to; Shiro needed to draw on the all the power he had. He was battling against a mystical creature of the Gikleurde Bossen, one that had to have been centuries older than him.
Shiro let out a strangled scream and sank to one knee, but the spell had worked. There was a muted buzzing in his ears, covering all traces of the deadly song. And judging by Ichigo's shaking head, the spell had left an effect on him as well. He left out the pixies because they weren't affected by the wood nymph's singing.
Rangiku flew over to him. "You did well, mighty warrior. You did not fall prey to the lethal song. The wood nymph would have killed you both." She drifted so she was floating in front of his face.
She placed her hand on his forehead and hummed softly. "You are severely weakened; we have to rest for a while so you can restore your strength," she said, letting her hand fall back to her side.
She turned to Ichigo. "Oi! Ichigo! Watch over your brother. I'll return; I just need to gather some things. Come, Orihime." She flew off into the forest without another word, Orihime following close behind.
(Cue – Hans Zimmer, Liberty)
Ichigo stumbled over to his brother, kneeling beside him. He looked like he wanted to say something. His face scrunched up in concentration. "If it weren't for you I-I would have died. And it would not have been an honorable death. Not a death in battle. I would have died because I gave in to temptation. Thank you, brother," he said, gripping his brother's hand.
He kissed his brother's sweaty forehead and laid him down on the river bank. He carefully removed Shiro's armor, piece by piece, and set it in the grass. He pulled off his cotton shirt and folded it in the grass beside the armor. He held Shiro's face in his hands momentarily, brushing away a stray lock of snowy hair, before kissing his lips. He noticed with a dreadful and crushing disappointment that Shiro didn't respond as he usually would, fighting for dominance. His lips barely moved.
"Damn it all, why did you use so much magic?" Shiro knew that using too much magic at once drained their life force. They had been trained and told time and time again that they were not to try and use more than they could give. They had to have enough remaining to keep them alive.
Ichigo peppered tiny kisses over his brother's face. "Please, don't die." The buzzing from his ears was starting to fade and he realized that his brother was passing. His life was dwindling like a candle flame growing smaller till it snuffed out, the life gone from it in an instant. His breathing was shallow. Ichigo pressed his ear to Shiro's chest. He could hear his heart, faint, but the beat was there.
"Ichigo! I'm here; just get me a heavy stone." Rangiku and Orihime flew in from the forest arms laden with leaves.
Ichigo lurched over to the river and grabbed the nearest rock and set it beside Shiro's head. The two pixies set to work immediately, tearing the leaves and pounding the pieces together to form a thick pulp. They set the mixture into a bigger leaf and carried it over to hold it above Shiro's mouth. Each twisted a side of the leaf and slowly, a droplet of clear liquid seeped from the bundle. The drop fell
into Shiro's mouth and instantly the albino's breathing grew heavy and purposeful.
"Give him some time; he'll come 'round," Rangiku said, grinning at Ichigo, who looked relieved beyond belief.
"Thank you, Rangiku, Orihime. You saved my brother's life." He looked toward the east. "The sun is setting. We should sleep," he said and began to remove his armor. He laid himself down on the soft grass, and immediately, his eyelids started to droop. He indistinctly registered the pixies lying on his stomach before he was asleep.
He slept restlessly that night, tossing and turning; his subconscious remaining worried for his brother's life despite the assurance from Rangiku. When he woke he felt slightly better than he did the night before. He yawned and stretched his arms up in an attempt to get his sleepy limbs to function with more ease. He looked toward his brother and momentarily panicked, for his brother was missing. Seeing his armor gone, he relaxed slightly. He was most likely gone to gather food.
He had just finished putting on his last piece of armor when his brother returned.
(Cue – Thomas Bergersen, My Freedom)
"I brought fruit that the pixies said we are able to eat," Shiro said, putting his load on the grass beside the river.
Ichigo took in his brother's appearance; he looked hale and hearty, no apparent ailments hindering him. He approached him slowly.
"Are you feeling well, my brother?" he asked slowly, flinching when Shiro looked up at him. The man looked fine, but Ichigo couldn't help but worry; he had kissed death, and it was hard for Ichigo to believe that he was alive and in good health, even gathering food for them both.
"I am, Ichigo. Come, eat with me," Shiro said, gesturing toward the fruit. "The pixies said that eating the fruit would be pleasing," he added, and handing a fruit to Ichigo, he took a bite from his own. Ichigo put his focus on the fruit; it looked odd. The skin was like that of a peach, soft, with fine hairs covering it. But it was a deep shade of purple. He rubbed the soft skin with his thumb before taking a bite from the fruit. It had pulp like an orange and it felt cool in his mouth. He chewed slowly, savoring the sweet taste. As he swallowed it, he felt the frigid fruit go down his throat and settle into his stomach. After he was finished with the first fruit, he examined the second; it was tougher and he had to peel the skin to get at what was inside.
After he was done with his third fruit, it was when he began to notice the changes in his body. He felt an overpowering feeling of happiness fade into his mind. He looked at his brother and saw him lying back on the grass, looking intently at the clouds above. He kept his gaze on Shiro for a few moments and then decided that his idea was a good one. As he was lying down beside his brother, he realized he had been having many good ideas as of late.
"Ichigo, I think this is what the pixies meant when they said eating the fruit would be pleasing," Shiro mumbled, slowly as if he had to think about the words he wanted to say before saying them. Ichigo probably couldn't say a word at the time, and he didn't dare test out his theory, lest he humiliate himself in front of his beloved brother. He let the feelings washing over him gradually take over his mind. His limbs began to tingle, and the armor that had been uncomfortable before, started to feel more and more like he was sleeping on a cloud.
(Cue – Future World Music, Quest for Freedom)
It was a while before the effects of the fruit began to wear off. Meanwhile Orihime and Rangiku had taken the time to visit the Masters of the forest. It wasn't long, for they could fly the way there quickly. They knew they neared their destination not only by memory but by the pristine cobble stone that covered the ground. When they finally broke free of the cover of trees, they knew they had reached the end of their journey. The two pixies took in the castle that loomed over the Gikleurde Bossen. They flew up to the tallest tower's window and drifted inside.
"Rangiku, Orihime, how are you?" the thick voice carried across the room, sending shivers down both the pixies spines. They landed on the desk in front of the man and bowed deeply.
Rangiku spoke first. "Master Grimmjow, we come to tell you of—"
"Oh you mean the two mortals? I know of them," Grimmjow said. Returning to his parchment, he picked up his quill and began to write again.
"As do I, brother."
The two pixies faced the newcomer and bowed again. "Master Renji."
Renji walked into the room and to the desk. He bent down and looked at the two of them closely.
Orihime looked nervous. "Y-yes, M-Master Renji?" she stuttered, blushing heavily.
Grimmjow stopped writing and looked at the two pixies also. Rangiku was the one that stayed firm. "What would you like us to do with the mortals, Masters?"
"They can come here. That is, if they can get past the River Guardian."
I really hope you liked it! Thanks for the inspiration, Shadow~! :)
Next chapter coming soon!
Now I need some help. Who should be the river guardian? Kenpachi? Or who?