Foreword, by Greatkingrat88: Dear readers,
This is the first chapter of a new Bleach fan fiction, co-written by myself and the talented Calamitaswrath. The two of us met through Draconichero18's Fanfic, Soul Chess, which, though imaginative, had many flaws. Upon finding that we had similar concerns about the fanfic, and about Bleach itself, we got to talking, and began discussing what Bleach should look like if the writing wasn't so terribad as it is with Kubo in charge. Eventually, this is the fruit of our complaints: a Bleach rewritten, the aim being to write the story with less stupid and hopefully a bit of awesome. You all will be the judge of our success.
Without further ado, enjoy!
Kurosaki Ichigo, nineteen years of age and the perfect mix of delinquent and model student, walked down the street. It was nearly nightfall, but he walked at a leisurely pace- he felt at home here, and he was confident he could beat the everliving snot out of any thug or robber that might try his luck in this neighbourhood. The hubris of youth was indeed strong with the young Kurosaki, though it was accompanied by a strong sense of empathy (though hidden under the typically male crust of emotional distance).
As he walked, he thought long and hard. He was nearly an adult- still in school, but working life just around the corner. He had good grades; he could be a lawyer, a real estate agent... something better than the average salaryman's life. Perhaps even a doctor, such as his late father had been. The future wasn't quite line out for him- his mother was rather permissive in that regard, having stated that he should do what he wanted the most himself- but he would have to make some big choices fairly soon.
Sighing, he flung his jacket over his shoulder. It was a summer night, and not really cold enough to wear it yet.
"Hi, you." Ichigo said softly. It was here, at this sidewalk, that a small girl had died and left behind an uneasy spirit. It was here he set up flowers in a glass jar, just for her sake.
Seeing ghosts, that too was part of his everyday life. For the longest time, he had thought himself schizophrenic, delusional. He had not yet dismissed the possibility, but he didn't want to be a bother- maybe when his delusions hurt people around him.
"Your mother won't be angry you talked to me?" The girl said shyly.
"What mother doesn't know, doesn't hurt her." Ichigo grunted. His mother was a wonderful person, but not very open to ideas of the supernatural- the one time he had mentioned that maybe he had seen a ghost, she had thrown a fit. He had gone to bed without supper that night. Some atheists were just like that, he figured. Still, it would not hurt to humor this little figure- nobody was harmed, and she was both helpless and alone.
As he reminisced about this event, Ichigo noticed two thugs coming his way. The two of them seemed slightly drunk, and paid no attention to Ichigo as they passed him. Not wanting any unnecessary trouble, he did his best to ignore them, too until one of the two knocked over the vase in the passing.
As if he were acting out of instinct, Ichigo grabbed the young man's shoulder, and turned him over.
"He? Whaddya want?" The thug asked irritatedly, but with a distinctively smug look on his face.
"You knocked this over. Would you mind putting it back up"? Ichigo requested calmly, but not without an underlying threat in his voice. He still wanted to avoid a conflict had he not, he simply would have punched him in the face.
"Why the hell should I do that?"
"This is a memorial. Don't you have any respect for the dead?" Ichigo retorted, the threat in his voice now getting more blatant.
By now the other thug seemed to have realized that Ichigo was completely serious about this, as he began to urge his friend to comply. "C'mon man, just do it..."
After looking back and forth between his friend and Ichigo for a moment, the first thug then finally decided to obey, and put the vase back up. The two of them left the scene as quickly as possible after that. Once they were gone, Ichigo let out another sigh.
"Thank you for help, mister!" The spirit of the little girl said, having watched everything silently.
"Don't thank me. I'd have done this even if you weren't here."
"But I still want to thank you... is there anything I can do for you?"
"Just go to heaven already, I can't look after you for the rest of my life..."
And with that, Ichigo left, too. By now, the sun had already set and the hour was growing late, so that he decided to head home.
Leaving the pleasant night, Ichigo at long last found himself at home. Situated above a clinic, it was a pretty sizable apartment- they had not done terribly with their mother's salary. Quietly opening the door- Yuzu would be sleeping- he walked in, closing the door behind him.
"I'm home." he said quietly.
"You're late." Masaki said, her voice mildly chiding.
"I took a walk through town. I... I guess I needed some time to think." Ichigo shrugged. "Just a walk, that's all."
"You didn't get into trouble, did you?" She scoffed.
"No, mom." Ichigo reassured her. Somehow, she had yet to wrap her mind around the fact that he not only knew his karate, but had a tough enough reputation that trouble had a way of avoiding him, on account of him being just too much trouble. In her eyes, he still was that seven year old boy, needing a scraped knee bandaged. He didn't mind it terribly.
"Do you need something to eat?"
"No..." Ichigo shook his head. "I'm fine. I'll just study a bit and go to bed." He stood quiet for a few seconds, and took a deep breath. "How is Yuzu?"
At the mention of his little sister, his mother seemed to deflate. Looking tired, she said,
"She... she hasn't gotten better. If she doesn't improve by tomorrow, I will have to take her to the hospital."
Ichigo nodded. It was hard- he was so used to the idea of protecting others; his friends, his family... but there really was very little protection a fist could offer against a malevolent germ. Quietly, he walked up to his room. He dropped his jacket on the floor, and his bag on his bed. Taking out his physics text book, he sat down- he was curious to know more, more about how everything worked, and it didn't hurt to get informed. These courses were not easy, god knows.
Suddenly, he heard a noise. The window had blown open. Which shouldn't be possible; the windows were of the sliding variety. Looking out in the night, Ichigo saw nothing. Finally shrugging, he was just about to shut it, when suddenly he saw a small, dark figure jumping, coming at him, right for his window.
In shock, Ichigo fell out of his chair, as the figure landed on the floor just in front of him.
Said figure turned out to be a young girl, apparently in Ichigo's age, with shoulder-long black hair. She was wearing traditional, black japanese robes, together with fitting sandals, and a sheathed katana at her side. For a moment, Ichigo considered the possibility that she, too, could be a ghost, but dismissed the idea when he saw that she looked completely healthy with a ghost, Ichigo could always see what exactly caused their deaths, be it them being covered in blood, or just looking sick.
Which however still did not explain how and why she had jumped into his room.
The girl, meanwhile, paid no attention whatsoever to Ichigo, and instead looked around the room with a focussed expression. "It's nearby..." She mumbled, obviously thinking aloud rather than talking to Ichigo.
Meanwhile, Ichigo had recovered from his shock, and gotten back up. Without much fuss, he approached the girl, and smacked her hard on the head. Drunk thugs were one thing, but a female thief that jumps through windows and looks like she's going to a costume party was another; a thing that completely justified the direct use of violence, to be precise. "'Nearby' my ass! Next time you break into other people's houses, at least make sure that nobody's at home!"
Being hit completely unexpected, the girl just turned around at Ichigo, and stared blankly at him, while holding her head. When she finally did speak, her tone could only be described as the textbook definition of "confused".
"Wha- uh... I mean... you can see me?" She stuttered.
Great, Ichigo thought. Not just a thief, but a mentally ill one who believes that she's invisible, too. Just what I needed...
"Are you mentally ill?" Ichigo asked. "No wait, I know- you're one of those hardcore cosplayers who take the act way too far, aren't you? Look, it's good that you have a hobby and all, but you can't break into people's homes. That's going too far." Taking a step towards his visitor, Ichigo moved to take her out, away. You never knew what an otaku might do.
But the moment he reached out to grab her, the strange girl pointed two fingers at him, shouting,
"Bakudo no ichi: Sai!"
Ichigo's first reaction was to laugh- she had actually tried some spell, as if she was actually in some anime- but that reaction was immediately replaced by an angry swear, as his arms were forcefully twisted behind his back by some unseen force. Ichigo, surprised that it had actually worked, keeled over.
"What the hell?" He growled. "What did you do?"
"Calm down, and I will explain." the girl said smugly. "You see, I am a shinigami..."
One explanation later, Ichigo sat up- arms still secured behind his back- looking at her with the eyes of a man who isn't really as surprised as dramatic convention demands of him.
"So basically, you are a psychopomp spirit who helps souls pass on, and you are part of an organization based in the afterlife- who all dress like samurai for some reason- and you are possessed of mystical powers with which you battle malevolent spirits who failed to pass on?"
"You don't sound very impressed." The girl said, sounding annoyed. "Aren't you even going to protest that this is impossible?"
"Oh, I believe you." Ichigo said, nodding soberly. "I am going insane anyways; it's about time my hallucinations started being interesting."
Giving him a strange look, the girl continued, "...anyway, I am hunting a hollow-"
"Big monster spirit thing, right?"
"What is this, Yu Yu Hakusho?"
"Never mind." Suddenly, the realization struck Ichigo. "My family! They- they will be safe, right?"
"I will take care of it." The girl nodded. "They are drawn to strong spirit energies, like yours, so it will be near- but I'm capable enough. Relax."
But as if to prove her wrong, the instant she finished her last sentence, a loud scream could be heard from another room, coupled with an even louder rumbling noise; with the scream definitely coming from Ichigo's mother.
Instantly, Ichigo's attitude changed. If this was still a hallucination, it just went right past the point of being "interesting", and deep into the territory of being "frightening". He started to fight against the force tying his arms behind his back with all his strength, to be able to actually do something.
The self-proclaimed shinigami, meanwhile, looked back and forth between Ichigo and the door, a stressed expression on her face. "Gah, don't fight against it! You'll only exhaust yourself! And besides, there isn't anything that you can do against a hollow! Just stay here, I'll deal with this, and unseal you once I'm done!"
She was already on her way to the door, when suddenly, Ichigo rushed right past her, his arms free, and a baseball bat in one hand. In her ensuing surprise, the girl almost stopped running. "He broke free?!" She wondered aloud, while following him. "How can a living human have that kind of spiritual power?"
There was, however, no time for wondering: Both Ichigo and the girl had made their way to the living room, where the noises they heard originated from. What Ichigo saw there could have been straight out of a nightmare: Standing in the middle of the room was a huge, gray humanoid creature with unnaturally long arms, and a round hole in the middle of its body. Instead of a face, or even a head, it had something that looked like a white mask with a demonic, fish-like face.
But the creature's appearance alone was not what made it nightmarish to Ichigo. No, what made it truly terrifying was the fact that in one of its enormous hands, the monster was holding Ichigo's mother! Inside his simple teenage mind, something snapped. They say that if a person is angry enough, he 'sees red'. Reality is that instinct, pure raw emotion, overrides all of your critical faculties. Ichigo wasn't rich with those to begin with, and this was his mother- the person who had raised him, cared for him all his life, she was everything.
"LET GO OF HER!" He roared, charging the creature with his baseball bat, heedless of any danger. He swung down hard on the creature's arm, and,
Reality ensued. Righteous anger is a powerful force, but pointless if the opposing side is plain superior. With a motion like he was swatting a fly, the creature walloped Ichigo, sending him tumbling into the wall.
The shinigami looked on with fright. That dumb, dumb human! Drawing her sword, she prepared to face the hollow. The boy's little move had at least accomplished something: It had let go of the woman- his mother- and now focused its attention on Ichigo. Apparently noticing this, Ichigo cried,
"You want me? Come catch me!" Jumping out the window, Ichigo managed to land on his feet, and staggered down the street. The hollow followed suit, no doubt to feed on the most delectable prey in the household. Almost feeling insulted, the girl pursued the monster. Once out on the street, she hastily tried to assess the situation: A lower level hollow, hunting a very powerful but pretty helpless human boy, almost caught up to him now. She, a shinigami of considerable power, capable of slaying it- but not of saving him. Unless she did something really stupid and reckless, that is.
Ichigo fell over on his back, the creature towering over him. Was this it? About to end up monster feed at nineteen years old? Well
if his mother lived, it was a decent trade. The monster raised its hand, and then-
Then she was right there, taking the hit. It was brutal and quick, and in an instant the hollow had stepped back. It had lost an arm, but the shinigami seemed to have gotten the worst of it; she was barely standing up, bleeding heavily from multiple wounds.
"Idiot." She snapped. "This is what happens when you all meddle, foolish mortals!"
"Can we beat it?"
The girl blinked. It was a stupid question, so stupidly optimistic that it hadn't even entered her mind.
"Well, there is a way-" No. As soon as the thought hit her, she dismissed it. That was illegal, enough to get you a death sentence. Then again, she could be dead now or dead later.
The shinigami took a good look at the young man. He certainly seemed physically capable for taking over for her his unnatural spiritual strength would help. "You become a shinigami. I pierce the middle of your chest with my sword, and insert a part of my strength into you. That way, you'll be able to fight this hollow on equal terms. There is still a considerable chance of this failing... and if it does, you die. What is your choice?"
Ichigo looked back and forth between the shinigami and the hollow, which was now slowly making its way towards them.
"So its either a certain death, or only maybe dying?" He started grinning. "Then I'll go with the option that actually offers a chance for survival. Let's do this, shinigami!"
The girl, too, started smiling. "It's not 'shinigami', it's Kuchiki Rukia."
"Fine... I'm Kurosaki Ichigo."
For just a moment, Rukia's facial expression changed. Was she surprised? Realizing something? Ichigo couldn't tell, and he did not have the time to think about it, either, as Rukia went right ahead and stabbed him.
The blade slid through Ichigo's chest with ease, until nearly a foot's length of it jutted out of his back. For just a second, nothing happened, and Rukia wondered if the spiritual overcharge had stopped his heart. For just a second, Ichigo felt nothing and wondered if he had actually died.
But just after that one second passed, it all changed. Reiatsu emanated from Ichigo's body, almost explosively, and the discharge sent the hollow staggering backward. On his body, a black kimono just like the one Rukia wore. In his hand, a sword of oversized proportions. Rukia gasped- this was much more power than she had expected. No normal human should be capable of this kind of power. Suddenly, she realized her power had been drained almost entirely; she was weak and fragile. Ichigo... was not.
"You know, if this is a hallucination, it's a damned good one." Ichigo said cheekily. The hollow roared, recovering from the initial shock. Raising its good arm, it stepped forward, surging-
and suddenly, it had no arms at all. He had swung his blade like an amateur, straightforward and with force, like it was an axe, but it had hit home and the hollow's arm had come clean off. The monster roared, and took a step backward, confused.
"You know, I kinda wish I knew how to do this properly," Ichigo spat, stepping forward, "because if I did, I could really hurt you and make you wish you were dead. Deader. Pain. Misery. Uh, bad things are going to happen to you, that's my point."
"Hit it over the mask!" Rukia cried. "Breaking the mask always purifies them!"
"Right!" He readied his sword. "This one's for touching my mom, you bastard!" The hollow tried to step forward, to ram Ichigo, but he hopped up and kicked it in the chest. In a normal world, it would have sent him on a short trip to asphalt meeting face, but in a shinigami's world, spiritual power trumped all else, and Ichigo had it in abundance. The hollow staggered back, and Ichigo charged, sword raised. Though swung wildly and madly with all the expertise and subtlety of an axe murderer, the blade smashed into the monster's mask, cracking it solidly. The hollow gave a roar, and begun to disintegrate.
Ichigo was already about to get back up, and make a comment about how easy it was to defeat the hollow to Rukia, when a sudden feeling of extreme exhaustion overcame him. Unable to resist it, he passed out.
When he woke up again, the first thing he felt was an irritating headache. Then it struck him: He was lying in his bed, and his alarm clock was ringing. Still sleepy, he slowly got up, and then remembered what happened last night. Instantly, all tiredness fell away, and he rushed out of his room, towards the kitchen. He had to check if his mother was alright after the hollow attack.
When Ichigo however got into the kitchen, he found his mother already sitting at the table, drinking a coffee as if nothing happened. Having noticed Ichigo, she looked up. "Oh, good morning, Ichigo. Are you alright? You look a bit upset."
"Uh, er, I'm fine, I'm just having a bit of an headache. Nothing too bad." He replied, trying to calm down. His mother was obviously fine, and didn't seem to remember anything... Does that mean that the events of the last night were just a dream, or an hallucination? I should have known... Ichigo thought to himself with a scowl, as he sat down to eat breakfast.
After he finished eating, Ichigo changed his clothes, gathered his things, and then left for school. On his way there, he once more thought about his hallucinations. After the events last night, he was starting to seriously consider consulting a therapist. While definitely getting more interesting, his hallucinations where also getting more elaborate and absurd. Ghost samurai fighting evil spirits... that sounded weird enough to be the premise for an anime.
Heading on down for class, Ichigo shook off all notions of ghosts, demons, assaults on his family members and asparagus. He was fairly certain that the last part was responsible for his bad dreams; no more late night snacks for him.
And then, rather like a train colliding with his face at full speed, his new-found illusion of normality, relaxation and sanity shattered, because sitting next to him in physics class was that girl from yesterday, Kuchiki Rukia. She was... real. And apparently, hitting it off with his friends.
"Hey Ichigo!" Keigo, one of Ichigo's friends, cheered, "Meet Rukia! She's an exchange student from Germany who's having her first day here!"
"...hi." Ichigo said, wishing there was something to inflict violence upon, because this wasn't fair.
"Nice to meet you for the first time, Kurosaki-san!" Rukia said brightly. "I hope we will get along well in the future."
""Isn't she cute?" Keigo droned, positively drooling.
Well, the future was going to be... interesting, at the very least.