A Grim Tale of Reapers, ch. 6
It was Saturday, and Tatsuki stared out over an empty street, trying to find some peace of mind. She had been to karate practice, she had gone to the mall, and nothing seemed to distract her well enough. Everything had changed, and she couldn’t seem to be rid of it.
“It” being these… she had no word for it. Weird would be the best word for it. She remembered that night, weeks ago, when she and Orihime had been attacked, when Ichigo and Rukia were there, fighting it…
And ever since then, she had begun to see them. Spirits. People with no visible legs, and chains coming from out their chests. Some were horribly wounded; blood over their faces, limbs torn off, and others still were appearing perfectly healthy except from the sad circumstance of being dead.
At first, Tatsuki had freaked out. She had checked her family records for any history of mental illness- none to be found. Eventually she had calmed down, trying to ignore them- but she couldn’t. There always seemed to be one spirit or another around, old, young, boy, girl…
And on top of that, there were those monsters. The masked ones, taking all sorts of different, equally terrifying forms. She was overcome with fear every time she saw one- it made her furious as soon as she regained her senses, but fear was all that was left when she saw one. She was strong. She was probably the strongest girl her age in all the nation, for all she knew- and there wasn’t a damn thing she could do about it. Hell, she could have been built like Schwarzenegger, and it still would make no difference.
And they were right there. They would pop up, and soon after, there would be fewer ghosts around. And she could do nothing.
So here she was, sitting on a bench at a back street, trying to make sense of an increasingly insane world. Why couldn’t she have normal problems? Why couldn’t she be jealous of some up-and-coming karate star better than herself? Why couldn’t she be suffering heartache from being in love with somebody who was always taken? Why did it have to be monsters?
After she had more or less come to terms with being able to see... this all, she had begun following Ichigo around whenever she saw him in this weird black uniform. Even though Tatsuki didn't like the thought of stalking her own best friend, following him seemed to be the only way to find something out about what was going. After all, Ichigo seemed to be source of this madness – him, and this Kuchiki Rukia. In regards to her, Tatsuki had become increasingly wary, as well: While at first, she had been able to simply accept the origins that the girl gave her, after watching Ichigo fight one of these masked monsters for a second time, Tatsuki had decided to look up how legit these origins could be.
As it turned out, while her being of German origin wasn't too unlikely (a town named Düsseldorf had a fairly big Japanese minority), Rukia's description of Sweden couldn't have been more wrong; the only place where you could even see a living polar bear in that country was a zoo. In retrospect, paying some more attention during geography lessons sure would have paid off...
But even so- just who – or what – was Kuchiki Rukia? More than once, Tatsuki had considered just outright confronting Ichigo, and ask him about all these things, but whenever the thought came up, she immediately dismissed it. These days, Rukia seemed to follow Ichigo around as if she was his magical girlfriend or something, and there was no telling how she would react if she found out that Tatsuki was aware of she and Ichigo was doing. After all, that girl had completely changed Orihime's memories of the events regarding the beast that attacked her at home – Rukia could just end up doing the same when Tatsuki would confront Ichigo. No, that was out of the question.
Having been able to somewhat overcome her fear in regards to the masked monsters, Tatsuki did not run away the next time she saw Ichigo fight one of them. She instead made sure to stay out of his sight, and spied on him, trying to hear if Ichigo or Rukia somehow said something that would allow her to make sense of this all, something that would explain why Ichigo had become a ghost samurai.
From her hiding place, she could only make out snippets of Ichigo and Rukia's conversation. It was enough to make out that they were a good enough team, though. The tone of their voice as they spoke to one another, their body language- relaxed, casual, and though bantering back and forth, they approached the situation calmly.
Ichigo walked up, brandishing his sword, face to face with the monster- and in a flash, he had dodged its first attack, parried the next, then counterattacked and severed its arms. Shortly and promptly, he brought his sword down on its mask, and it disintegrated.
What in the hell had happened? Since when could Ichigo move with such ease, such speed, while carrying a greatsword? Had Rukia somehow transformed him, given him power? There was no sense to make of this, yet it was happening before her very eyes.
Ichigo had always been strong. He'd learned his karate, and it had stuck. She knew he exercised, ate well, and sometimes got into fights- always coming out on top- but this was beyond any of that.
Back in the present, Tatsuki shook her head. What grated the most on her wasn't the fear, the madness of this new world, that her friend was lying to her- it was that they were strong, she was weak and there was nothing she could do about it. She had no way of protecting Orihime.
As if to undermine her thoughts, she heard it once more – the distinct roar that these monsters with the white masks gave off, coming from a nearby place, maybe a street or two away. For a minute or so, Tatsuki just continued sitting on the bench, as if she had heard nothing. Then, slowly, hesitatingly, she got up, and walked towards the source of the roar. She doubted that watching another one of these beasts would do her any good, but she didn't feel like she could just sit there, knowing that one of these monsters would attack somebody.
Just as she had guessed, this particular monster was just a street away. As Tatsuki looked around the corner, unwilling to go any closer out of concern for safety, she could see the beast close in on the ghost of an old man, who tried his best to get away from it, with little success. As much as she hated it, Tatsuki could only stand around, watch, and hope for Ichigo and Rukia to arrive and kill the monster.
But they didn't come.
The old man tripped and fell, and Ichigo was still nowhere to be seen. The beast moved its enormous body closer to the old man, opening its mouth wide...
Tatsuki stepped out of her cover. She knew that she had no power, no means to fight these things, but she couldn't just stand there and watch as it killed the old man.
“Get away from him!” She screamed, as she rushed towards the old man and the monster. The beast slowly turned its head towards the disturbance...
Only to be pierced by a blue ray of light from behind!
The monster screamed, its forearm blown clean off, blood splattering over the street. It fixed its eyes on Tatsuki, raised its remaining claw and posed to strike-
And once again, the ray of blue light came down, this time blasting clean through the monster’s skull. The monster’s cry dissipated into nothing as it dissolved.
Gasping, Tatsuki looked around. There were more people like Ichigo? Where? Looking around, she saw a figure on a distant rooftop, clad in white. She could just barely make out a blue glow, and a black head of hair- and then he was gone.
Not stopping to wonder, Tatsuki hurried over to the old man. The spirit seemed unharmed, but confused. Without a word, it floated away, still frightened.
“My, my,” she could hear a slow clap, “I do believe I’ve found myself a hero, right here.” It was that guy- the one with blond hair, bucket hat, cane…
“You’re that creep!” Tatsuki shot back, assuming a stance. “I don’t know who you are, but I want nothing to do with-“
“Calm yourself, child.” There was another voice, much deeper, much rougher. First, she couldn’t identify it, but then she saw it- a cat, sitting on a trash can. Talking to her. “Kisuke won’t hurt you, even though he looks and sounds shadier than a whole clan of yakuza.”
“I’m hurt, Yoruichi-san,” Kisuke said, his tone mockingly imitating wounded pride. “I am but a handsome store owner looking out for the safety of a young girl.”
“What- what with the what- what the hell?!” Tatsuki said. The world had truly gone insane- cats were talking now. Cats.
“Please, Arisawa-san,” Kisuke said, sounding more serious, “I’ve come to make you an offer.”
“I don’t want-“
“You remember it, don’t you? You remember that night, when you first saw a hollow, and now you know your friends are lying to you.”
“What are you, a stalker?” Tatsuki snapped. He was right, and she didn’t like it.
“I prefer the term ‘well informed’.” He walked a little closer.
“Don’t you try anything- I’ll make you sorry you were ever born!”
“Yes, I know,” Kisuke said, bemusedly, “second best in your age group in the girl’s nationals in karate; would probably have won if not for a sprained wrist.”
“That much was in the newspapers, Arisawa-san.” Kisuke said, stopping just a few feet from her.
It was true; she had been mentioned in the paper- her parents had been so proud. “I should…”
“I know that you are strong. As strong as you could be for your age, probably. But you’re facing monsters whose power makes your own insignificant, and now you’re part of a world where you’re helpless and weak. You see these monsters all the time, and your friend doesn’t always make it. Sometimes- a lot of the time, even- he fails to get there in time. You see it, and you can do nothing about it.”
“Who the hell do you think you are?”
“The man who would offer you a chance to even the score.” Kisuke said, his voice flat.
“What are you talking about?”
“Power, Arisawa-san. Your friend, Kurosaki-san has it in abundance- but he is not unique. If you had the chance to stop being powerless, if you had the chance to help instead of haplessly stand by and watch as souls get murdered, devoured, would you take it- or let it slip?”
“What, make me one of those weird people like Ichigo, with swords and all?”
“Exactly. The word is ‘shinigami’, Arisawa-san, and few- almost none, statistically- have the ability to become one prior to death. Fortunately, I am nothing short of brilliant- and you have all the potential I need.”
“…go to hell.” Tatsuki said. “I’m not an idiot- you want something from me, and I don’t trust you.”
“Smart girl.” The cat noted.
“Smart indeed- sensible and strong both. In that regard, she is an even better candidate than Kurosaki-san.” Kisuke said, smiling.
“Go fuck yourself.” Tatsuki said coldly.
“You want to be there for her, don’t you?” Tatsuki winced. “For that girl- the one person that’s more precious to you than anything else. That night, you were powerless to help the one person you’ve always been there for. That’s what’s eating you up.”
“You really are too blunt, Kisuke.” The cat grunted.
“Sometimes, blunt is all that’s needed,” he said dismissively. “I leave it up to you- will you remain weak, or will you grow the power to protect the girl you love- no, everyone important to you?”
“I- I-” Tatsuki stuttered, unsure what to say. That guy had struck a nerve: The knowledge that these masked monsters could attack Orihime, Tatsuki's parents, or anybody that she cared for at any moment was awful to bear. The offer of receiving the power to protect them was tempting. But then again, this man was a total stranger to her, and not exactly one of the kinds that inspired direct trust. Just taking his offer without any thought would be naïve thing to do.
“It is your choice alone, Arisawa-san.” Urahara assured her once more.
“I- I need more time to think about this!” Tatsuki finally shouted.
“Very well then; time you shall be given.” He said, as he pulled a small notebook out of one of his pockets. He opened it, scribbled down something on the corner of a page, and tore it out, handing the snippet to Tatsuki. “This is my phone number. When you decide to take up my offer, call me whenever you feel like it. If you choose to refuse, you may burn it, tear it, flush it down the toilet, or express your anger towards me and my pretentious offer in a more creative way. Whatever your response will be, I am looking forward to it, Arisawa-san!”
The man then turned around on the spot, and marched away into another street, out of Tatsuki's sight. Once he was gone, the cat, which was still sitting on the trash can stood up, stretched, and jumped down, to sit down in front of Tatsuki.
“Please don't judge him. He really is a bright mind, and a good person; it's just that his social skills are barely – if at all – existent, and that he has the tendency to be a bit quirky. You're right in assuming that he has his reasons for all this, but he really seeks no harm in making you this offer. You'll only end up like your friend, Ichigo.” The cat – Yoruichi? – said.
“What, you mean a grumpy ghost samurai with a magical girlfriend?” It burst out of Tatsuki.
While she was no expert at the anatomy of felines, and therefore did know little about the facial expressions of a cat, she could still somehow tell that this particular cat was grinning. “Well, something along those lines. But, regardless... I suppose I'll see you when you accept his offer – if you do accept, that is.”
The cat then turned around, and went off into the same direction that Urahara went into.
For just a moment, Tatsuki stayed where she was, and stared down at the snippet that Urahara had given her lying on her palm. She then closed her hand around it, turned around, and ran. She wasn't even sure where she should be going now; all that she knew was that she had to get away from this place. Out of the open.
Somewhere she could think in peace.
Inevitably, almost without thinking about it, her feet took her to Orihime’s apartment. Where else? The apartment was nothing special; a small little place that was spacious enough for two people- but it was also Orihime’s home, a place where she had had many fond memories.
That creep had been right at one point- Orihime easily meant more to her than any of her other friends. She had friends in the karate club, friends in school, some even close to her, important- but nobody was like Orihime. None of them had made the kind of bond they had, ever since they were small. None of them were as close to her as her very best friend in this world. Sometimes Tatsuki hated it, but if it she had to save either two of her other friends or Orihime, she would choose Orihime without a second thought.
Shaking her head, she entered the apartment. She didn’t even have to knock- she was at home here.
“Tatsuki-chan!” Orihime cheered, seeing her come in, “I made cupcakes- you should try them! I added lemon and béarnaise.” She smiled innocently, and Tatsuki smiled back.
“All right,” Tatsuki said, “just the one, I guess.”
The taste combination wasn’t as awful as she had imagined, and the cupcake went down without much trouble, assisted by some sweet tea. As Orihime went into yet another one of her kooky ramblings- Tatsuki was sure she was the only one who actually found them charming- she sat back against the wall, resting on the floor, simply thinking. All the insanity of her life seemed so much easier to handle here- being this at ease, she could think clearly.
Who the hell was Ichigo now? Well, she had a chance to find out… but did she want to? She didn’t know what becoming a shinigami entailed, if there was price to pay…
But the idea of power, not for herself but for Orihime, was appealing.
Well, come now, her inner critic said, you’re not wanting power selflessly. You want to protect her, but you also hate being weak. You want to feel strong again..
Well, true- she wasn’t really that noble, no. But if the results were the same, then…
No. This was crazy. This idea was insane- she couldn’t do it.
But the world is insane, and it’s leaving you behind with no way out. You might as well go insane with it- at least you’d be mad with style.
What the hell kind of logic was that?
But there was a point to it, though. That guy was a creep- but she didn’t want to be left behind either. She hated the idea of being a victim. She had always been able to stand up for herself, from little bullies in the playground up to high school up to now, no boy had ever shoved her around without receiving a lot of pain for his troubles…
But then again, some things will always be beyond you. You’ll never be able to stop a speeding bullet- face a gun, and all those martial arts mean nothing. You’ll never be Bruce Lee- no matter how much you train, there will always be something so far beyond you that you can’t possibly compare. The only difference is that you realized that you’re weak in comparison to something much stronger.
But if she had a chance to grasp at power, shouldn’t she take it?
“Hey, Orihime?” Tatsuki said, cutting her off mid rant.
“And then the laser-firing snowman would say- yes, Tatsuki-chan?” Orihime chirped.
“If… if I found out…” God, how did she put this? “You know how I’ve always stood up for you, right? That’s how it worked since we were kids.”
“Of course,” Orihime cheered, “what about it?”
“What if… what if there was a bully or something, somebody so strong I couldn’t possibly stand up to him?”
“A bully that Tatsuki-chan can't stand up to? But something like that doesn't exist!” Orihime said, still perfectly cheerful.
Tatsuki smiled weakly. “Let's just pretend that it did exist... and that there was a way to change that, but that way was not guaranteed to work, and... fairly suspicious at that.”
Had Tatsuki asked any other person for advice on this, she never would have been this direct – with Orihime however, she could be certain that her friend's mind moved in planes that essentially guaranteed that she would suspect nothing.
“Hmm... I don't know, honestly. That way could be dangerous, it could be weird, it could fun, it could lead to you fighting kung-fu-wizard-ninjas, but... I think no matter what happens if you chose that way, I'm certain that Tatsuki-chan would be able to work it out somehow. I know that you always manage, Tatsuki-chan. You're unstoppably strong!”
“...Thanks.” Tatsuki said, flattered. Hearing Orihime confess her confidence like that... it really did help her get a more level-headed view on the situation. It was true; this Urahara guy was a shady, shady creep. She didn't know what his intention was, and she didn't know what this all was about – but on the other hand, he was her only chance to not only get an explanation of what was going on, but also give her a chance to receive power... and even in the worst case, she could probably always back out of this after getting the information she wanted. “Really, thank you a lot... that helped me.”
“Hmm... now I want to ask you something, Tatsuki-chan!” Orihime suddenly said, before Tatsuki could even continue her thoughts.
“Huh? What is it?”
“Weeeell... I was wondering if maybe, you have seen these weird people around lately, too! People with chains hanging around them, moving around all over town... and nobody seem to notice them! Even though they are always sooo friendly, everybody ignores them. Do you know that is with that?”
”…I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Tatsuki said awkwardly, looking away.
“…oh.” Orihime said, sounding disappointed.
“No!” Tatsuki snapped, something inside her revolting. Lie to Orihime? What the hell was wrong with her? “No, I do- I do see them. Everywhere, all the time. I just… I thought I was the only one seeing them. I’m sorry I lied, I…” There was no sense telling her about Ichigo yet- she didn’t have that figured out enough yet.
“It’s okay.” Orihime smiled. “At least I know I’m not crazy. I mean, I’m usually a bit… out there, but I didn’t use to see things that weren’t there…”
“They are there.” Tatsuki said reassuringly. “I thought I was insane too- I’m glad you told me. I didn’t have the nerve.”
Orihime put an arm around Tatsuki, smiling. “If we’re mad as a hatter together, that’s fine with me,” she said, cheerful as ever.
Tatsuki sighed. “Sometimes I feel like the world’s gone mad lately… like everything’s been turned upside down.”
“Well, ghosts are pretty freaky.”
“…yeah. At least I have you.”
“Always.” Orihime said.
Just sitting there with Orihime, Tatsuki thought long and hard, about ghosts, about monsters, about creepy men, about protecting…
Fuck it. She had made her mind up.
It was after school he found her- or rather, he was conspicuously buying a newspaper from the one news stand she always passed on her way home, and the place was conspicuously empty, too.
“What was that about a telephone number?” She grumbled.
“Oh, you meant to call me?” He said, smiling. “How fortunate our paths crossed, then- it saves us both having to set up a meeting.” Shameless, Tatsuki thought. It couldn’t be more obvious, but he still managed to look and behave like he was entirely innocent.
“If you wanted to spy on me…”
“If I wanted to spy on you, my dear Arisawa-san, you’d never have any idea.” He said brightly. “So, have you made your mind up?”
“…yeah, I have.” She said, after a long pause.
“Ahh, excellent! So what is your decision, Arisawa-san?” Urahara questioned, almost comically overjoyed.
“Not so fast, bucket-hat! Before I give you my answer, I want you to give me some answers. Like, what are these white monsters? What's up with Ichigo being a ghost samurai? And what is Rukia? I think I deserve at least that much information, regardless of whether I accept this offer of yours or not!”
Urahara gave her a calculating, but amused look. “My, my, how demanding your are, Arisawa-san... but very well. If it is information you want, then it is information that you will get. You see...”
One explanation later, Tatsuki had been given a lot to think about. “So, let me get this straight.” She said thoughtfully. “Kuchiki Rukia is basically a psychopomp ghost samurai, a shinigami, who has lost her powers by giving them to Ichigo, turning him into a substitute psychopomp ghost samurai.”
“Eeyup.” Urahara confirmed.
“And now those two are together fighting white mask monsters, these hollows.”
“And said monsters are corrupted human spirits.”
“And by killing them, these spirits are purified, and go to heaven, this Soul Society place.”
“And you are offering me to become a shinigami as well.”
“Yes, that about sums up everything that I explained to you, Arisawa-san.” The shopkeeper nodded. “So since that is out of the way, I do quite hope that we can get to your decision in regards to my offer now?”
Tatsuki hesitated. While the explanation that Urahara had given her did make sense, it also raised her doubts towards him: Just what was his role in all this, and what were his own reasons for making this offer? The man remained as shady as he was before. But then again, all of these doubts were things that she was already thinking about before... and rejecting the offer would hardly help her find out anything else.
“.... I accept the offer.” Tatsuki finally said. “But don't you dare try anything funny now! If something happens to me, my parents will find out about this, and they will make you pay for it!”
“That could be worked around.” Urahara said, seemingly moreso thinking aloud than talking to Tatsuki. “But, regardless. I am glad to hear that you accept to this. I should however note that the process of turning you into a shinigami will not be without danger. There would be plenty of pain involved. Do you still agree?”
”Yes.” Tatsuki said solemnly.
”Good.” Urahara grinned.
”Just one thing… what do you get out of this?”
Urahara took off his hat. Without it obscuring his face, he looked a little less like a creep, and a little more like a somewhat worn, handsome man in his late twenties. “I might as well be honest.” He twirled his cane. “You’d be a test subject.” Seeing the look on her face, he hastened to add, “Don’t worry- I perfected it on animals, on hollows before; you wouldn’t even be the first human test subject. I am confident that I have if not perfected it, then at least made it more than stable.”
“You get a lab rat, I get power. Fair enough.”
“The process involves pain. It isn’t even guaranteed you won’t die, or that it will even succeed- given your data, and the level of completion my process is at, chance of success is about seventy-eight percent. A good number, but you could burn out, or at worst even… expire.”
“Okay.” She said simply.
He blinked. “You seem pretty accepting. Well, I might as well continue being honest- there will be times when it will hurt. And even after the process, you will be going through an intense training regimen, more than anything you’ve ever done before. And even then, there’s no guarantee you’ll successfully develop a zanpakutou.”
“I said I made my mind up!” Tatsuki snapped.
“There’s a price you pay though, isn’t there?”
“Clever girl.” He nodded. “Once you become a shinigami, you are not truly human any more. Your body becomes a dummy- it’s still the same body, but the you who is inside it… you will age at a rate between three hundred and sixty-eight percent to three thousand and four percent slower. You will have forever stepped into a world where your one duty is to kill monsters. It’s the end of the world as you know it.”
“And I feel fine about that.” Tatsuki said.
“If only because you do not grasp the full extent of it. Still, that qualifies as informed consent.”
“…do I still get to have a normal life?” There was the first hint of fear, showing through her mask of determination.
“Oh, yes. You can live out a full human life any way you want- get married, adopt some children, grow old together with the love of your life… but when you die, all that changes is that you’ll need a new gigai. You’ll still look more or less as you do now. I suppose being forever young is a perk- then again, who wants to live forever?”
“Just shut up and take me wherever we need to go,” Tatsuki grumbled.
“Then to the Urahara cave we go!” Urahara cheerfully declared, before adding more silently “...That is to say, my basement.”
He then marched of in an overly pompous manner, making it hard to believe that this quirky shopkeeper was the same as the calculating scientist that had just revealed himself to Tatsuki. After staring at him incredulously for a moment, Tatsuki sighed, before going after him, wondering just what the hell she had gotten herself into.