A week has passed since Kentaro Hiroshi and his friends departed to the Human World and in that time, The Ryu Order was amassing its troops for a key battle against Averian's Forces. The dawn had set on a new series of conflicts that would prove to be fiercer than all those that had come before...
Shinrei Kurosaki sat perched on the edge of a cliff with his legs dangling precariously over the side. Someone else might have been scared out of their wits of the sheer drop and supposed death plunge that his calm gaze took in as though it were merely a small thing. His heart was beating a calm and steady rhythm, not a bit of fear shown in expression. Calm. Composed. But with a scowl that made others shy away from him. "Leave me to my thoughts." He warned internally. And that was exactly what many did.
The wind played with the folds of his Shihakushō, blowing through his snow white hair and bringing a smile that lessened the scowl he so usually wore. He loved the wind, and not for the simple point that it cooled him down on a warm day, or brought a welcome chill whenever needed. He loved it because it represented freedom in his eyes. With a sharp inhale of breathe, he leaned back and put his hands firmly on the ground behind him, arching his back a little bit to puff out his chest. The V-neck slit in his Shihakushō allowed the pleasantly cool air to seep into his clothing and cool his entire body. The blue lines of his robes were rippling likes waves upon the ocean and made for a naturally beautiful display. His scowl returned when anyone came to close.
So why was he surprised when a pair of breasts pressed themselves against his back and thin arms wrapped around his body? The hands were warm, as was the presence and her voice was like music to his ears. "You have such a nice smile..." The woman was Alma Shizuka - younger sister of Naibu Shizuka - and the only mother-figure young Shinrei had ever known in his short life. Her arms hugged him tightly and he felt something warm well up inside. His arms tightened on hers and his scowl gave way to an innocent, boyhood smile that he showed few others except Kenji himself.
"See?" Her musical voice asked. "Much better when you smile." She withdrew her arms and sat herself down beside him, her legs moving back and forth like the swinging pendulum of a clock; seemingly in time with the whistle of the wind through the nearby trees. "I knew I'd find you up here." She arched her neck, looking at him sideways with her clear green eyes. She wore a purple Shihakushō today that showed the top of her breasts, though Shinrei stared at the horizon as if looking would bring it to him.
"We'll be moving out soon," He said. While he enjoyed being a child, today was a day that the child needed to be a man. But the horizon, with the sun just setting behind the far off mountains, was captivating and held his gaze as surely as he did Alma's. Her laughter snapped him from his trance, and when he turned, Kaimen Kazuki - his white and red bandanna shadowing some of his face - was standing a short distance away. He too was enjoying the scene of natural beauty laid out before them, his white Shihakushō with red lines similar to Shinrei's blue was billowing in the wind due to his ōbi sash being barely tied around his waist. His lean-built muscles showed in time with the blowing of the wind and his smile was glad and filled with life. "Kurosaki Kid." He muttered in a greeting tone.
"Don't call me that!" Shinrei barked back, his shoulders slouching as he began pouting. He hated people calling him a child and that nickname was the worst of the lot and if they thought he was being childish, then to hell with them! Alma threw something that hit Kaimen between the eyes and accompanied the thrown item - a rock, Shinrei supposed - with a glare that would've sent even the most battle-hardened veteran scurrying. Rubbing his forehead and for once not rising to the occasion, the bandanna-wearing Shinigami ruffled Shinrei's hair and snuck a kiss on Alma's cheek before vanishing to avoid one of her bullets. "Insufferable man!" Alma shook her fist at the dust cloud where Kaimen had once been, but she too, was smiling.
Pout giving way to a grin, Shinrei got to his feet to Alma's surprise. "Shinrei?" She asked, but he threw on his Gotei Captain-styled haori and strapped the green sash that held his zanpakutō over his shoulder so the haori was both held down and so that his zanpakutō stuck out over his right shoulder. The nōdachi was longer than he was tall and possessed a gray-colored hilt and a square guard missing its corners. "I'm okay now," He assured her, though her look was doubtful. "I promise. I'll get the mission done and meet you both at the area we agreed on."
She ran her fingers along his cheek before dusting off the grass marks from his hips and legs. "Hold still," She said. "The more you struggle, the longer it'll take." Giving in grudgingly, Shinrei awaited the torturous episode to end before running off the cliff face and appearing on the ground with a quick Shunpo. Watching the youngster go, Alma couldn't help wanting to leap down and help him. He was strong, true, but he was still only a child. And no child had to face the horrors of Averian's Army.
The brushing of feet on grass betrayed Kaimen's presence and his hand rested lightly on her shoulder as he started after Shinrei's disappearing mass from the cliff-side. "He'll be fine," he said reassuringly, and Alma took comfort in them - even though she'd never admit it to. In fact... as she turned to walk away, Kaimen was lying face down on the floor in a fetal position after having his personal area struck rather cruelly. "That's harsh, Alma! You never hit a guy in the place God only intended to be treated nicely..." Her giggles accompanied his pained groans...
A Plan Gone Awry Edit
Shinrei was alone for now save the presence of the blond-haired Lieutenant bounding through the open plains with him. He was here because of the Order, Kazuma had more experience with the Imawashī than anyone else. That was what their mission was: find the members of the Imawashī that were supposed to be hiding out here and bring them back to headquarters for questioning. It was a mission that could go wrong in so many levels, Shinrei knew that much; but he kept his mind from such thoughts and focused solely on the goal ahead.
Kazuma moved beside him, their footfalls sounding on grass only briefly before another Shunpo carried them further across the open plain. They had existed in silence for a time to avoid possible detection and that was fine with Kazuma really. Ever since he had been branded by the Shirushi he had been focusing the majority of his efforts to preserving his own free will and not becoming the puppet the Imawashī sought of him.
Shinrei knew a little of the man beside him. He had met him previously during training and the occasional social gathering at a Dock-side bar with Kenji and others, though they'd spoken little. "His eyes," Shinrei thought hesitantly. "Look like those of a dead-man. Is he like me, then? Warring with his inner demons?"
Darkness was quickly descending, though and when the two finally stopped around the area the scouts had mentioned in their report, Shinrei found nothing but the disturbed ashes of a barely hidden fire. They had been close and he stepped forward only for Kazuma to bar his way with an armored hand across his chest. "Don't move," He whispered fiercely. "Something is not right here."
Goosebumps were beginning to rise on Shinrei's shoulders. His eyes, wide in the attempt to locate a figure. His ears, strained to hear the slightest sound. His posture tensed to react to the slightest flicker of movement. "Move!" He impacted Kazuma in the chest with his palm and took three quick back flips his zanpakutō flashing through the air to deflect the metallic objects flying towards him. Kazuma was just as quick, recovering quickly to perform a hand stand where he impacted the ground and twisted, moving in the air and drawing his zanpakutō. Sounds of steel rubbing against steel reached Shinrei's ears and sparks became visible as Kazuma struck someone - or something.
"You avoided it?" A voice said. Kazuma's eyes widened momentarily, the life returning to his usually lifeless gaze and a snarl escaped his lips as he brought his left foot forward to hit the figure in the side of the head. But his motion was stopped before his foot was even halfway towards its target, held by a powerful spiritual presence that made even Shinrei gulp. "Kazuma... Nishiki, right? It looks like you've found out who I am," The figure blurred and Kazuma hit the ground, a trail of blood filling the air with a gasp accompanying it a few seconds after.
Sparks filled the night air again as Shinrei moved to prevent the finishing blow and his sudden interference obviously surprised the unknown figure whose blue eyes shone like sapphires in the night. Using his spiritual force alone, Shinrei repelled the figure and ran his hand over the edge of his zanpakutō. The sky darkened more if possible and Shinrei's small body began to glow as though he were coming to life with spiritual energy. "Strike..." The figures eyes went wide with shock and surprise being but two of the causes, "Aoi Inazuma!"
Backing away and disappearing into the night, the figures voice rang again in the dim moonlight. "How do you have that bloody zanpakutō? That sword belonged to Kenji! How do you possess it?" Overing the figure no words or explanations, Shinrei's Aoi Inazuma was coated in crackling electricity before he blasted forward to attempt to strike his foe!
"...Wait... don't!" Kazuma urged, bringing Shinrei to a skidding halt. "That's... Shigeru Yuudai... ugh." His eyes glazed over, but just by feeling his spiritual strength, Shinrei knew he was only unconscious and in no fear of death. "The Betrayer of Hope." Shinrei finished and felt a chill run up his spine. Shigeru Yuudai. The man who had turned his back on everything he had ever stood for in light of the knowledge Kenji had of the future and their fates. Still he betrayed everything he had ever loved or cared for. "I was asked to return you alive," Shinrei stated, voice composed despite the emotions welling up inside, "but your too dangerous to be left alive!"
Shigeru's chest expanded and contracted as he laughed wildly into the night. "... Boy," He said through his laughter, "countless have spoken those words before this night, and they lay dead wherever it was I felled them. You can choose to run along and life another day, or become another victim on my list." His fingers flexed on his large zweihander-style zanpakutō; his actions hidden mostly by a black cloak draping his shoulders. "Decide quickly, boy!"
The Terrorizing Little Devil vs. The Betrayer of Hope! Edit
Deciding words were useless at this point, the snow-haired youth moved forward; his movement disturbing the leaves of a nearby tree which had long since fallen. The two figures clashed with enough strength to kick up a dust cloud, and their second formed a small crater where they stood. Shigeru's eyes were aflame was passion and life, Shinrei's reflecting those burning desires like the surface of a lake. Only he did this for justice, honor and out of loyalty.
"Hmmm? This child..." Shigeru ducked beneath a slash that could have removed his head and bounded away from a strike that would have skewered him like a pig. "... is phenomenal!" His strikes were precise, his movements swift and lithe. He moved with such deadly grace that Shigeru saw a momentary apparition of Kenji behind the boy, which made him almost soil his drawers! "Kenji had to have trained him! And that zanpakutō! Who is this kid"
Pressing his advantage as his foe stared into space, Shinrei made a single clean cut from shoulder to hip that forced Shigeru back and drew quite a large torrent of blood. "Oh? You really are skilled, kid." The wound began to close with a speed that shouted High-Speed Regeneration. Jumping back, Shinrei outstretched his right hand; knowing his next action would likely tire him a fair bit. He wasn't a natural at Kidō or anything and had to train for hours on end to advance his skills even by the slightest margin, but they held such power that a low-level spell could cause serious damage. "Ye lord! Mask of blood and flesh, all creation, flutter of wings, ye who bears the name of Man! Rage and Compassion, spinning wheel, the eye that looks far, the wind which howls, converge, compel and unhinge the shackles of yer undying fury! Hadō 34: Kongōbaku!"
Shigeru watched with a slight smile as the spherical blast of red flame surged towards him. He made a single motion across his face and intoned the word Awaken and his Hollow Mask formed! "Itonamisakezuki!" He shouted, his blood lying on the floor mixing with the energy to turn it blood red before it peeled from his zanpakutō to collide with Shinrei's Kidō. "I'll give you this, boy. Your sheer spiritual energy is impressive, even if your Kidō skills are not." His eyes widened in horror beneath his mask seconds later as the Kidō burst through his Itonamisakezuki! Leaping to the side, still watching the spell explode against the ground behind him, Shinrei burst into action.
As he came into Shigeru's vision, his blade was lodged firmly in his mouth, much to Shigeru's surprise. Two quick blows accompanied the unorthodox sword swing and sent Shigeru trailing back only for Shinrei to pounce once again. "Hado 9: Tsurukusa!" Vines shot from the earth to entangle Shigeru's body, but as Shinrei moved to behead him, Shigeru simply vanished as though he had never been there in the first place; his movement taking him to where the half-buried camp fire remained. "That was fun, but allow me now to act seriously. You've given me more than enough reason to kill you, you little bastard."
Intervening Lightning Bolt Edit
Shigeru made a motion to move forward, his spiritual energy rising to new heights as he clenched the hilt of his zanpakutō tightly. The wind was howling now, as though its lament was the very thing empowering him. Shinrei couldn't tear his gaze aside. A darkness blacker than the night itself was being cast, the moon turning a blood red color as Shigeru's energy continued its steady climb. "Prepare to..."
"...Die!" The sentence wasn't finished by Shigeru, though. The voice filled Shinrei with a hope he'd though absorbed by Shigeru's immense spiritual energy. A drill shaped lightning bolt illuminated the heavens above, dispelling the darkness as the bolt struck Shigeru;s hasty block, knocking him a large distance away. Kenji Hiroshi stepped from a Garganta, his blue kimono blowing wildly in the wind around him as he regarded his old friend with a growing level of annoyance reflected in his crimson eyes. His heart beating a steady rhythm, the black-haired Shinigami hefted Sanmiittai and released the cruelly shaped hook swords into their Shikai state. "Shigeru Yuudai... Its been a while, eh? Your coming with me, old friend, conscious or not."
Recovering and dusting himself off with his right hand, Shigeru slowly walked forward; revealing his Hollow Mask to be broken completely down the center with the left-hand side falling to crack against the ground. Smoke rose from the edge of his zanpakutō and chest along with the smell of burned flesh. "Get over yourself, Kenji. I'm going to slaughter you... that blond-haired weakling and your little student before making my way out of here. And why," He asked before Kenji could open his mouth, "would I do this? Because I'm bored and want to bathe my zanpakutō in your blood. Happy? Good. Discussion over, old frie- No. Your a blight on my past, one of the many who scorned and belittled me because my hollowfication was different than yours. Come!"
Clenching his fists tightly at his waist, Kenji looked to Shinrei and then to Kazuma - the rage slowly building. It felt like he usually did when he once donned his own Hollow Mask so many years ago, and to be honest, he missed the sensation of having another's anger feeding yours. But he snapped that thread of thought immediately and turned his gaze towards Shigeru. "Shigeru... How far have you fallen!" He shouted into the night. "Can't you see that the Shadōkingu's controlling you like a damned puppet to do his bidding? What happened your strength, your determination? Your resolve!?"
"All here." Shigeru's eyes bulged as two figures - one an old man with a white rob and the other a young woman with white hair - caught Shigeru by the arms and dragged him into a vertical slash in the air that somewhat resembled a Garganta but was noticeably different. "We aren't finished," Kenji warned viciously. "The next time we meet, you die."
Turning on his heel, Shinrei followed his mentor who lifted Kazuma's unconscious body and returned through the still open Garganta he had used to get there. "Good job facing him as long as you did, Shinrei." Kenji said with a scowl. "If I had known it was Shigeru, I would've come myself and dealt with him on my own. I'm sorry about that." The two exited soon after, back in the comforting arms of his comrades as Alma threw her warm arms around Shinrei's body.
He had survived an encounter with the Betrayer of Hope and lived t tell the tale, though other battles where to be fought. Ones of greater importance and with greater stakes.
Next Chapter > Soul Society arc