Author's note: I'm considering leaving this right where it is, as a one-shot. What do you guys thing? :)
The white form leapt from building to building, desperately trying to escape.
Long white hair flowed behind him, the wind tugging on gossamer strands. There was no water here, in this tiny section of Ichigo's inner world. That was no comfort to his inner hollow at the moment. He'd hated the water, but he hated this place even more.
Instead of the buildings of Karakura town, he was existing in a twisted nightmare landscape. The buildings had warped into dark caricatures of Ichigo's inner world, and everywhere he stepped there was broken glass. Fortunately, his shoes defeated it but the footing was treacherous. More than once, he'd landed on his knees. They were bleeding heavily now, and he hated the fact that he was leaving a blood trail behind him.
He'd already fought the intruders. But there were many of them, with powers even darker than his, and he was at a dreadful disadvantage. They could alter the very landscape of this tiny corner of Ichigo's mind, using it to hinder and harm him. The nameless hollow had no idea what they were, but he knew they were not trying to kill him. They wanted to do something infinitely worse.
"King!" He called, too desperate to care about his pride. "Zangetsu! You fuckers, I need some help in here!" But his call went unanswered and, after a moment of mental searching, the hollow knew why. A wall had been created, formed partially out of alien energy but mostly from Ichigo's own desire not to speak to his hollow. And why should he want to hear his hollow? He'd mostly made snide remarks or given him a few threats. It made perfect sense that the King would not want to speak to his Horse, but it was costing them both now. "KING!" He did his very best to penetrate the barrier, then whirled as he heard a soft hiss behind him.
He leapt from the building frantically as the stone deformed, reaching for him in a fist covered in broken glass. Summoning his power he destroyed it with a Getsuga Tenshou, before continuing to run.
Running would not win, but neither would fighting. And if he could only run long enough, perhaps his King would notice that something was wrong with his Horse.
Two days later.
The hollow knelt on the ground, ignoring the glass grinding into the open wounds on his knees.
He'd been brought to bay like an injured wolf, and pounced upon like a sick deer. Despite the power arrayed against him he'd fought free, but only at a ruinous cost. His black mask was hanging on his face in tatters and his white coat with the black fur ruff was stained thickly with blood. There was a deep wound to his stomach, and he'd managed to heal it just enough that his guts weren't threatening to spill out anymore.
But he was nearly at his limit and the nightmare landscape hadn't changed. There were still more of them, still after him, and he pulled himself to his feet wearily.
"King." He said half-heartedly. "Zangetsu." For the first time, he regretted being such an anti-social bastard. He hadn't talked or seen Zangetsu for weeks, sometimes. Naturally the zanpakuto wouldn't see anything odd in the hollow not being around for a few days. Ichigo should have noticed his strange silence, but the teen was probably just grateful for it.
The inner hollow wondered what these strangers wanted. He didn't think they wanted him dead. Killing him would essentially reduce him to mindlessness, make his power return to Ichigo. Perhaps someday he could regain his senses, but it would take a long time. As a mindless force, he would be a very poor Horse for his King, and Ichigo would discover that as soon as he tried to use his hollow powers. But he would still be there.
He was sure they wanted something more profound for him. If they could… dominate him… force him to submit, they would have compromised the very building blocks of his King's power. They would have stolen away a piece of his soul. Grunting, the hollow forced himself to his feet. He could not allow that to happen. Very briefly, he considered killing himself to ensure that it wouldn't. But his survival instinct simply couldn't stomach the idea and he hissed before launching himself into the sky again.
His movements now were labored and slow, and he sensed something closing in. Something more powerful than the dozens, hundreds of shadows he'd fought and killed. If only he could kill this last thing than maybe, just maybe this would be over. If only…
Readying his sword, he turned to meet this last threat. He felt vaguely surprised as a woman walked out of the shadows. Her skin was pitch black, as unnaturally dark as his was light. Her eyes had black sclera, just like his, and the irises were blood red. Snarling, he felt her power and it was hollow but… tainted. If he'd been told before that a power existed that was darker than his own, he wouldn't have believed it. But it was standing in front of him now.
"Aren't you a pretty one." Her voice was deep and slow, making him think of honeyed molasses. "Even now, you're a beautiful thing. I love the hair." He snarled, glancing at it briefly. His tresses were still long and flowing, but tattered in places and dappled with blood. "I'm going to have so much fun breaking you." She said with such obvious desire that it turned his stomach. He levelled the sword at her, vowing to fight to the death.
"Who are you?" He demanded and she only laughed, sliding a blood red sword out of her scabbard. It looked more like a typical zanpakuto than his version of Zangetsu.
"Who am I? Who are you?" Suddenly, the hollow knew what her answer would be, and she did not disappoint him. "I don't have a name!" Her grin was wide and maniacal, exposing brilliantly white teeth as she leapt at him. He caught her sword on his, but couldn't find it in him to smile back.
The stakes were too high this time.
The hollow coughed, lifting his head to look at the chains that were holding him in a standing position. They were black and glowed with the red energy of the female hollow who had captured him.
He'd failed. Failed to defeat her and failed to die. Now he was here, chained up in this twisted corner of Ichigo's inner world. Awaiting her pleasure.
Snarling at the thought, he tested his bonds. He would not tamely accept this degradation, this disgusting downfall. He thrashed back and forth but there was no give and his weakened power couldn't hope to shatter the chains. Hissing out a breath, he examined the bonds above him and tried to find a weak point.
He was chained in the centre of the room, his arms held above with chains that led to the ceiling. The shackles on his feet had short chains that led directly to the floor, fixing him quite firmly in place. Between his feet was a drain, set into the black stone, and he grimaced as he thought about what it was for. He hissed again, the sound of an enraged hollow. He could find no weaknesses in this prison he was caught in.
"Tch, you sound like a tea kettle." The inner hollow twitched as her voice came to him unexpectedly. He briefly entertained himself with the thought of how it would feel to slice her open and watch all her insides slide out. Then a black hand stroked his cheek and he tried to bite her, without success. "So hostile. Well, let's get to work." A knife slid through the seams of his clothing, and white fabric fell to the floor. She paced around him, ridding him of everything before looking him over. "Ah, full human anatomy. That will make everything considerably easier." The pleased way she said it made his blood turn to ice, as much as it could for a cold blooded hollow. For the first time, he wished he wasn't quite so similar to his King.
"Fuck you, bitch!" He snapped and regretted the words as her smile widened into a demented grin.
"No, fuck you. But I'll save that particular torment for later." She purred and he swallowed then hissed as the knife caressed his ribs. "It's amazing what you can do with nothing but a knife. Here, let me show you some of your nerves." She said in her syrupy voice and the hollow held back a scream as she began to slowly slice into his skin.
He had no doubt she would be able to show him his nerves.
"King." The hollow whispered. "Zangetsu." There was no answer, only that barrier. When would they realize that something was wrong?
"Tch, they will never hear you. They will never think to look for you. You should just give up." She whispered in his ear and the hollow snarled, but it was a half-hearted sound at best. He was in too much pain for more. "Look at yourself. I can do so much more." The inner hollow didn't have to look. He knew he looked like he'd swum in a vat of broken glass. His body was lacerated so thoroughly he looked like raw meat. Except his face, strangely. But the black hollow seemed to think his face was too beautiful to mar.
"Fuck you." He said, his voice harsh and heavy. She laughed, an insane titter that reminded him of his own laugh. Perhaps he shouldn't laugh like that anymore. It was really very irritating.
"No, that's for you. But oh, child, why are you resisting?" A black finger teased one of the cuts on his chest, parting the skin and fingering the raw meat inside. He hissed softly at the pain. "For a zanpakuto you don't even like and a King who couldn't care less about you? He doesn't even respect you, you know. You're just a monster to him." She rested a hand on his chest and leaned close, licking his cheek and then trailing her tongue along his jaw. "I was nothing but a monster to my Queen. But then she became a monster too, and we were monsters together. It's so nice, having company. " The inner hollow blinked at that. What was the taint infecting her? What had her Queen done to cause this? "Just give in to me, lovely white thing. We will make your King like us and he will adore you. You will never be alone again." She promised and he gathered all his strength.
"Never. Never!" His voice rose to an ear shattering scream. The female hollow just looked at him, tilting her head to one side. "My King would never want this, and I am his Horse." He hissed at her and a maniacal grin split her face.
"Ah, yes. I'm very devoted to my Queen too, you know. But I suppose it's easier for me. It was my Queen's desire, not mine, that led us to this." She licked his cheek again, an obscene parody of sensuousness. The hollow jerked his head away, scowling angrily. "Well. It seems I have to move on to something else." She stepped back, grinning wickedly as she brought something out. The shape of it sent a chill down the hollow's spine. He wasn't a pervert and wasn't particularly interested in his King's erotic dreams about other men, but he still knew where that would go. "My Queen made this for me, but it hasn't been used. Time to test it." She said with a low, sweet chuckle. The white hollow bit his lip until it bled as she roughly inserted the thing, tearing his skin. It was humiliating and vile, but he gradually got used to the burn. This was supposed to be a torment? If so it seemed rather tame –
Then she did something to the thing, and he bit through his own tongue. Pain radiated from that part of his body, sharp pulses of agony that made his body jerk and twist in a parody of intimacy. She was laughing at him, laughing at the convulsions he just couldn't stop. He wanted to beg her to remove it, to have mercy on him, but he knew better. This was a hollow. There would be no mercy.
Finally, though, the pain stopped. He lay limp in his chains, gasping harshly as blood trickled down the corner of his mouth. Then he twitched as he felt her tongue on his thigh, and realized she'd knelt down behind him to lick away the hot blood. He was bleeding freely now.
"That hurt worse than anything you have ever imagined, didn't it?" She said softly and he didn't reply, just glaring down at her. "That was setting number one." She smiled widely as his eyes widened. "There are nine more settings. Let's try number two." As a new bolt of pain hit him, scorching him from the inside out, he did something he had been trying so desperately not to do.
He threw back his head and screamed.
How long has it been? King, will you ever come for me? The hollow's eyes were dimmed, the gold cracked and crazed. The constant abuse was affecting him on every level, and he could feel his mind beginning to creak. King… Ichigo…
He was past feeling any shame or disgust at himself. His body had betrayed him, screaming until he was hoarse. He'd been reduced the sobbing, feeling the hot tears on his cheeks. He'd even begged her to stop, as futile as it was. None of it had done a bit of good, but he'd been unable to stop himself. The pain was too much.
But he hadn't submitted. Still, he resisted. Still, he held out against her. And he could tell the female hollow was becoming impatient with him.
"Do you want me to use the tenth setting again?" She said in his ear and he shuddered at the reminder. That setting had felt like a combination of someone gutting him and setting him on fire, from the inside out. He was only glad he couldn't feel nausea, or he was sure he would have puked. "Submit to us. Give in, beautiful white thing." She roughly tugged on his hair and he gasped at the fresh pain. It felt like his entire body was hypersensitive.
"N-No." Tears slid down his cheeks as he got out that small, painful word. He wanted this to end. He wanted to die, just to make the pain stop. But he could not give up his King. He was a loyal horse. There was a hiss of anger from the black hollow, and her fist hit him in the back, aggravating his wounds.
"You are just too tough!" Her voice was angry and he blinked as she floated into the air, so she could easily take his hands in hers. "Well, we'll see about that." And she began, with slow and deliberate malice, to break all the bones in his fingers. He didn't scream, but he was whimpering in pain by the time she was done. "Submit to us!"
"No." He whispered. He would not let them win. And if she was complaining about it, maybe, just maybe, his King would call upon his powers soon. He would know something was wrong then. She floated down and punched him in the stomach, hard, before walking behind him.
"Setting ten it is." He screamed as she shoved that thing into him again and activated it. The pain made him jerk like a doll on strings, but he didn't care. He was hardly even aware of his screams.
The pain was overwhelming.
Ichigo scowled as he finally faced his enemy.
The woman was a shinigami he had never met before this day. Her hair was raven black and her skin was pale white. Her eyes were the deepest blue he'd ever seen, and she was gorgeous, easily as beautiful as Orihime.
And now that she'd finally revealed her true allegiance, her aura stank of rot. She raised a hand and his eyes widened as a mask appeared over her face. Reaching up, he tried to pull on his own mask. But nothing happened.
"Hollow! What the hell?" He asked his inner hollow but got no reply. He barely managed to fend off her first strike. She'd achieved a bankai in secret, as well as a Vizard mask, and she was very powerful. And what was that taint in her aura? His power sensing sucked, and even he could feel it. Snarling, Ichigo reached deep within him and prepared himself to compel his hollow to obey. There was a brief resistence and then he felt an odd relief as his hollow powers abruptly answered him. The mask formed over his face and to his surprise, there was a scream of outrage from his opponent.
"You stupid bitch! You were supposed to break him!" Ichigo didn't understand what his opponent was going on about and didn't care. Their swords clashed on equal footing, this time, and he could tell he was the stronger. He pressed his advantage mercilessly, ignoring the odd feeling within himself. Something wasn't quite right but he had no time to examine it.
For the sake of his friends, family and Soul Society, he needed to eliminate this traitor.
The hollow smiled weakly as the chains melted away, dumping him in a heap onto the floor.
The whole room changed as the chains vanished. The horrible black stone and the broken glass were gone, replaced by familiar water that began washing away the dried blood caked onto his maimed body. He was inside a house now, just a common residential house in Karakura town. The water gradually picked up him, floating him through the 'air', but the inner hollow didn't care. He was free. The torture was over.
The black hollow had disappeared shortly before his King had finally reached for him and breached the barrier. It had been the greatest pleasure of his short life, giving up his powers to his King. He'd finally gotten his revenge.
But he still needed help. The hollow wasn't even sure he could survive. Before she'd gone, the black hollow had lost her temper and driven her hand into his belly. Blood and other, more intimate things were spilling out of the wound. He rested a hand there, trying to keep everything in, but his strength was fading rapidly.
"King." He said softly, reaching out. He smiled at the sense of irritation he got from the orange haired teen.
What the hell took you so long? Ichigo said and the hollow tittered to himself. You almost got me killed, you stupid bastard!
"Tch. And after everything I've done for you. So ungrateful…" The hollow closed his eyes for a moment, smiling to himself. Then he opened his eyes as the door opened and a familiar young man stepped into the room. Zangetsu just looked at him for a moment before speaking.
"Ichigo, come to your inner world immediately. When she spoke about someone who should have been broken, I believe she was referring to your inner hollow." The zanpakuto was beside him then, pulling him down and pressing a hand firmly against the wound on his abdomen. The hollow whimpered softly at the pain, but didn't pull away. He knew this was what he needed; he just didn't think it would be enough.
What?! They both felt it as Ichigo made the transition to his inner world. "What are you – oh my god." The King stopped dead as he looked at his Horse. The hollow wondered how bad he looked. Probably very bad indeed. "How… how did this happen?"
"They sealed me off in a corner of your inner world, King." The hollow whispered as his life continued to fade. "They set up a barrier, to keep me from talking to you and Zangetsu. A barrier partly made up of your rejection of me…" That was nothing but the truth, and he rather enjoyed the shock on Ichigo's face. "It took them three days to bring me down. Another four days of torture to do this to me… they wanted me to submit to them, give them the keys to your power. But I didn't. I didn't." His voice was raspy and fading now. But he still managed to look at his King, his golden eyes dull with approaching death. "King? Was I a good Horse?" He asked weakly. He wasn't certain why the answer mattered to him, but it did. Ichigo just stared at him for a moment, his brown eyes full of an emotion the hollow couldn't decipher. Then he gently touched his hollow's cheek.
"Yes, Shiro. You were a good Horse." He said softly, leaving the hollow a bit puzzled. Shiro? Then he smiled faintly as his body began to fade away.
It was strangely fitting that at the moment of his death, he should be given a name.