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A Desert: Heat, Sweat and...a few hundred Hollow!?Edit

Childish Habits:Edit

Staggering forward in a near stupor, Kenji waved at his face lazily with his left hand and drank deeply from a bottle of water with his other. "Heat...rain is so underrated!" He complained under the beating rays of a sun that dominated the non-day sky.

"Water," Kusaka pleaded. He was crawling on all fours, seeking shade like a wraith.

Looking back towards the youngest member of the group, Kenji stopped. "Kazuma, you okay, pal?"

"I miss the rain...I miss my bed...I'm bloody well on fire here, Kenji!"

They would have laughed, but the heat sapped their strength and left them all but devoid of all except the will to move. And it didn't help things when you had angry hollow-like worms leaping from the dunes beneath your bloody feet to try and take a chunk outta ya.

"Hey..." Kusaka said in a raspy tone. "Throw me some o' that water, Kenji. I'm dyin' here."

Kenji snarled and clutched the water closely. "Over my dead body!" He said childishly.

"Right, your dead body it is!" Kusaka called back.

Kazuma sighed as the two "oldies" lunged at one-another and wrestled in a child-like manner on the desert floor, kicking up a mini-dust cloud as they threw fists and lashed out with feet.

"Mine, mine, mine!" They repeated loudly. Kenji screamed like a girl when Kusaka sank his teeth into his arm. "That hurt you boar-ridin'-son-of-a-bachelor!"

"Hey, you bad-mouthin' my Porkie!? No one bad-mouths Porkie!" "Kusaka yelled back, throwing an open-palm at Kenji's face.

"Porkie" was the pet pig Kusaka owned back in the desert village a few miles away that the three lived in currently. Porkie was originally bought with the intention of fattening him up... but Kusaka grew attached to the little, smelly blighter and couldn't let him go.

Ignoring their bickering (it happened all the time), Kazuma stepped over the next sand dune and looked ahead. He dropped his head and if his body didn't need the water, he was sure he'd be cryin' right now. Sand upon sand upon sand as far as the eye could see. "Umm... guys, I think we're lost again." This happened all the time too. "Kenji, I knew we shouldn't have taken that left turn at the last dune."

"You buck-toothed pansy!" Kusaka slapped Kenji in the mouth.

"Who you callin' buck-toothed!? You've got a face only a mother could love, and even then she cringes when she sees ya! No wonder your only friend's a pig!"

"You wanna step over here and say that, big-guy?" Kusaka was in Kenji's face, eyes twitching at an incredible rate as they pushed with their heads.

"I'd only kick your ass, pig-boy." Kenji retorted, thumping Kusaka on the top o' the head.

Kazuma sighed and began walking away. "Well Kazuma, it's a beautiful day isn't it? Oh yes, Kazuma, one of the best! Those two are idiots, aren't they Kazuma? Oh certainly, Kazuma. You know, it would be great if a hollow burst from the sands." He thought sarcastically. The ground erupted beneath Kazuma and the youngster smiled eagerly as he grasped his zanpakuto tightly. "Ha! No sooner than ya speak the devil's name." The hollow was one of the many worm-like variety that frequented this area. This one in particular, however, was especially large. It must've felt those two bickering, because their spiritual energy was increasing at a steady rate.

"They can do nothin' right..." Kazuma sighed again. Turning, he flashed toward the hollow...

One of its smaller brethren burst from the ground, but Kazuma remained calm and breathed in, outstretching his left hand... "Purify with the blessings of water. Hado 5: Ryuusei (Running Water)!" Converting his spiritual energy into water, Kazuma hit the smaller hollow with enough force to send it hurtling back towards the sandy dune below, showering Kenji and Kusaka in the process with beautifully refreshing moisture. "There! You got your damn water, now give me a hand here!" Kazuma yelled, but they simply ignored him and continued their bickering. Kusaka twisted Kenji's ankle and Kenji pulled Kusaka's hair with a strangely happy grin on his face.

Shifting his position to Kendō, Kazuma flashed forward again. The smaller hollow was slithering away on its belly when Kazuma split its skull with a single, powerful downward strike. Using whatever momentum he had left, the youngster hardened his spiritual energy (that was taught to him by good ol' Kenji) and kicked the hollows currently vanishing body toward the much larger one, hitting it with whatever remained.

"Hado 29: Gekiryuu (Raging Stream)!" A much larger wave than the one produced by Hado 5: Ryuusai shot from Kazuma's hand with enough force to lift the giant worm-like hollow and sweep it off it's belly and onto its back. "Ye lord! Mask of flesh and bone, flutter of wings, ye who bears the name of Man! Truth and temperance, upon this sinless wall of dreams unleash but slightly the wrath of your claws. Hado 33: Sōkatsui!" The energy cut the hollow clean in two before erupting into a descent sized explosion that reduced the rest of it to a smoldering carcass.

The remains of the charred hollow was suddenly struck by a large, white-colored wave attack and Kusaka landed lightly beside Kazuma, drenched from head-to-toe in the water created by Kazuma's Kidō. "Here, I refilled a bottle for ya, kid."

Kenji landed then and bumped fists with Kusaka. "That was a nice work out for ya, right Kazuma? Thought you'd be fit for one of them on your own. Guess I was right."

"Wait, what? You guys planned this!?" Kazuma exclaimed loudly. "So that's why you kept increasing' your spiritual energy."

"Exactly," Kusaka interjected, pointing his finger. "We sensed him clocking' us and decided we'd let you handle him. You're Kido skills are top notch, kid."

Kazuma raised his eyebrow and punched his friend lightly on the arm. "Thanks for the compliment and all, but c'mon, Kusaka, do you hafta call me kid all the time?" He said somewhat sadly.

"Yup." Both older Shinigami answered with a fool grin apiece. Kusaka ruffled the youngster's hair and tapped his head gently before grinning. "You're gonna go far, kid."

The ground suddenly erupted with untold number of hollow, all varying in size. "Guess we pissed 'em off a little, eh Kusaka?" Kenji said hefting the katana blade of Aoi Inazuma. "Kusaka, Kazuma, time for a little competition! Still remember the numbers from last time?"

"Oh yeah, dude!" Kusaka practically intoned. "I would never forget beating' ya. I killed seventeen more, right?"

"Hey, I only killed six less than Kenji did." Kazuma said excitedly. "Team brawl like the time before last, or free-for-all?" He cracked his knuckles eagerly.

With a wry grin, Kenji began proceedings by severing one of those worm-like hollow at the waist. "It's a free-for-all brawl, lads! Take your pick of the bounty, 'cause we get more for killing' more!"

The three were currently working for a Shinigami Agency, which was completely separated from the Gotei 13 that specialized in tracking down rare and hard-to-kill hollow. They'd already killed a massive turtle-like hollow about three weeks back that had a shell as hard as that damn Arrancar Shrieker's Hierro! It fell only because they managed to flip it and attack the weak spot on its belly. And it didn't help Kenji's eardrums when Kusaka was the one doing the killing'.

Flashing upwards quickly, Kusaka brought down three hollow with a single Rei Furashuu before turning to sweep his right foot through anther's waist. His skills in hand-to-hand combat, which were far from impressive when he was still in the Soul Society had furthered a good bit and that was mainly because he and Kenji bickered more times than not. "Kenji, I'm on four already!"

"What? I'm on nineteen!" He said loudly before swatting another hollow like a fly. "Oops, make that twenty!"

"Twenty!? I ain't being' beat by some spiky-haired chimp!" Descending extremely quickly into a small group of hollow, Kusaka wrapped his Rei Furashuu around the blade and smashed it down, creating a massive omni-directional blast that felled any hollow caught in the epicenter! "Haha! How's that for ya, Mr. I killed twenty hollow?" He said with a face. "I got about thirty with that one."

"Do you two always hafta act like such children? It's laughable." Kazuma shredded a hollow using a swordsmanship skill Kenji taught him. "Saidanodori," He thought as the hollow fell into teeny tiny pieces. Turning quickly, the young Shinigami spied a group of roughly ten hollow all grouped tightly together. "Hado 22: Kaku'seigi (Stone Justice)!" Large portions of earth rose from the dunes below and sharpened under Kazuma's spiritual energy. As he slashed his sword down vertically, the stone shards flew forward and shredded the amassed hollow. "Kenji, I just got ten in a row!"

"Now you're gettin' the hang of it, Kazuma! But, let me show you how...it's done!" Kenji moved so swiftly he left four tangible after-images behind that soon became as whole as the man that left them when he charged them with lightning energy to form his clones. All struck out, culling by the group-full! "Hey, Kusaka! Sending one your way, bro! Take out your bat and take a swing!"

Kenji snapped the hollows neck with a kick that sent it flying toward Kusaka who flashed above it and slammed it down to the ground below with a double kick! "YES! That, folks, is how it is done!"

The three continued fighting until not a hollow was left, Kazuma showering them with water every now and then to stop them shriveling under the extreme heat and blowing away.

Payment Day! R&R...Edit

Kenji walked from the small agency secretly built into the wall of the cliff roughly a mile from the Village they called home. They normally traveled from place to place rather quickly to prevent someone finding out about their double-lives. The Gigai's Maki Zhijun provided 'em with allowed 'em to live normal lives if they wanted too, but at times, it was good to step out as a Shinigami and cause a little mayhem among the hollow ranks.

Kusaka pocketed his wages - at least 100 Gineih's - and grinned widely. "That'll get me a good seeing' to at that hot spring I know..." He hummed away, completely lost in his own little world.

Kazuma secreted some away in a small pouch that jingled. "What ya saving' up for, Kazuma?" Kenji asked, placing his own wages in his pocket.

"With you two as companions and room-mates, who knows? Remember what happened when we were chased out of that last village?"

"Oh yeah!" Kenji's face lit up as he recalled the memory. Kusaka and he had gotten into one of their arguments and accidentally destroyed an entire street corner. The locals weren't exactly happy when they returned from their work day to find their homes trashed and two idiots fighting in the street. "But, I kept tellin' ya that it was Kusaka's fault."

"And how many times do I need to say that you're the one who knocked my falafels outta my hand!" (Note, a falafel is an Egyptian desert). Kusaka replied quickly.

"Okay, okay!" Kazuma intervened. "We don't need a repeat performance!"

"Yeah, sorry dude." They said together and then rolled their eyes at having spoken at the same time. "Ugh, you guys are a headache!" Kazuma interjected, tapping his head.

Kenji led the way into the Village. They picked this spot because it was built with a natural hot springs called Moses' Bath. Kenji had no idea who Moses was, but Kazuma said something' about him being' an important religious figure.

The three walked in and paid the bill they owed from last time along with the money they'd need to soak a while. Lowering themselves in, they immediately relaxed. "You know..." Kenji began slowly. "This place beats the hell outta the Rukon."

"You can say that again, bro..." Kusaka added with a grin. "This place rocks." Kusaka's chest was covered in burn marks that stretched from one arm to another and covered some of his left shoulder. They were the result of Kusaka throwing Kenji out of the way of Dastan's fully-powered Hado 92 spell during their final confrontation with the ex-Royal Guardsmen. He didn't seem to care about them, thought, and made up all these grand tales about saving' his friends and family from a burning' building or some such lies to impress the girls. The core truth was there, however. Kusaka had received those burns saving' a friend from an attack Kenji seriously doubted he would've survived.

Kazuma lowered his head in and then popped up and sighed a relaxing sigh. "Boy am I happy I left with you guy's... This is heavenly!"

Kusaka cocked his head in the direction of the door and grinned broadly. "Hey, Kenji! Look you idiot." Kusaka pointed to the door...

Ino full pic

Ino Choyo.

Kenji looked at the door and felt his mouth hang open. "It's her! Oh damn it is she good looking'!" He thought. The girl was called Ino Choyo and was on holiday visiting Egypt. She had a great body, long blond hair and soft amber eyes a guy could get lost in.

She walked past and stopped, looking down at the three with a smile and a flirtatious look for Kenji. "Hello again, boys." She said in a musical tone. "Back again, then?"

They had met her at this very Hot Spring not five days ago and had spoken for at least a few hours about this and that. She was previously a student studying in Japan who came for a vacation in Egypt when she finished her education.

"Yeah, you need ta relax every now and then, Ino." Kenji replied quickly. She told him to drop any honorific on her name because she didn't care for it. She in turn called all three by their first names as well.

"Well, saying as how you're back early this time, maybe we could..." She trailed off, blushing slightly.

With a cough, Kusaka rose and dragged Kazuma off with him. "We'll see ya later, Kenji. C'mon Kazuma, stop squirming' ya little shit!"

"No, I want my Hot Spring! Nooooo!" He cried childishly.

"Ah, can it! Who's being' a child now, eh? You're gonna ruin any chance he has, shouting' like that! Think you moron." Kusaka succeeded in shutting him up and even got him out of sight.

"Sorry about that," Kenji said slowly. "You were saying...?"

"Oh! I was wondering if we could met up later and talk a bit. I'm supposed to be on vacation, but there's no one here my own age apart from you guys. And well... the other two seem a little..."

"Weird?" Kenji finished for her. "Trust me, I know all about it. Sure, when you wanna met up?" He asked her quickly.

After giving him a time, she left and both Kusaka and Kazuma returned shortly afterwards. Lowering himself into the water, Kusaka made an inquisitive look. "Well? How'd it go?" The Shinigami asked eagerly.

A large grin split Kenji's face in two. "I'm meeting up with her later, which means you guys are handlin' our next job."

The two pals bumped fists, but Kazuma sighed sadly. "How's this even remotely fair? You get the hot, good-looking' girl and Kusaka and I get a date with an ugly hollow."

Kusaka sighed and shook his head. "Don't worry kid, I'll make sure the hollow gives ya a big, sloppy kiss."

"You do that, and I'll introduce my foot to your backside!" The two laughed away, but Kenji only had thoughts about Ino. Just what the hell was he going' to say to her? She'd already dropped more than a few hints that she wanted to travel with them, but she'd only be in danger, especially since they were Bounty Hunters hunting hollow. "Ah, to hell with it! I'll find out soon regardless." As usual, the voice of Kyo, the being who shared Kenji's consciousness, answered him. "At least you have the luxury of meeting new girls. Sure, Aoi Inazuma's a pretty lady, but we've been speaking' to one another forever man. So cheer up and quite complaining' for once. Those other blighters do enough of that for three people anyway."

Taking their time at the spring, the three left about two hours after arriving. Kenji headed off to met up with Ino and Kusaka and Kazuma went in the opposite direction, back towards the desert to deal with a hollow that was causing more than a little trouble...

Kenji stepped confidently as he walked towards the spot he had agreed with Ino. When he got there, she was already standing, overlooking the desert's setting sun as it painted the horizon a twilight color. "Now that view is exactly why I left..." Kenji muttered as he approached the even more beautiful figure of Ino Choyo. She was wearing her normal clothes, but her perfume caught his nose and she smelled like fresh flowers. "You look nice. I like your perfume."

"Thanks." She said, hugging him as he approached. "I know I've already asked you... but I want to leave with you guys and see the world." Her tone was soft and caring. Her eyes held a yurning for adventure Kenji hadn't seen since the day he left the Soul Society with Kusaka and Kazuma. Kazuma had that same look back then as well. Maybe that's what brought the next words out of his mouth before he even thought about it. "Okay, you can come." "Ah shit! There ya go, Kenji bloody Hiroshi! Think before ya speak, you moron!" He thought angrily as Kyo laughed somewhere at the back of his mind.

"Really!?" Her entire face lit up, if that was even possible and made her look all the more radiant. "Thank you so much!"

But looking at how happy it made her, Kenji couldn't help but smile. That perfect smile of hers made his knees go wobbly and his heart start pumping all the more. "...You know, you really are beautiful." He said quietly.

Ino's cheeks went bright red and she hid her face from his view. "Oh, now you've made me blush. Thanks, you're pretty handsome yourself, Kenji."

Laughing, he swept her off her feet and kissed her passionately.

Meanwhile...

Kusaka looked over the desert's sandy terrain with Kazuma muttering about this and that in the background. "So unfair" and "Such a drag" could be heard from the youngster at regular intervals. Touching the sand, Kusaka closed his eyes and concentrated. "Hmm...the ground's shaking' something' awful. Great, this guy's either gonna be big...or just plain ol' annoyin'."

Standing up straight, he sighed and thumped Kazuma on top of the head and managed to look completely unaffected and dejected while doing it. Practice did that for ya. Kazuma hit the deck with a thud. "There, quiet sure beats complaining'." Scanning the area carefully, Kusaka felt everywhere his senses could reach. Beneath the sand. Above their heads. The small, cave-like home buried a few feet beneath them that held a small hovel of hollow. Those weren't his target though, so he went on. A small air pocket, a small water source that would make an oasis in a few years and a whole list of other areas that came up fruitless. "C'mon Kazuma, lift yourself off the floor and keep moving'."

Spitting sand from his mouth, Kazuma lashed out with his foot and caught his mentor in the back of the knee. Buckling over, Kusaka cursed as he hit the sand. "HA! How you like eating' sand!?" Kusaka rose with fire in his eyes. "Ought oh! Umm, Kusaka? You okay?"

"I'm gonna kill ya! C'mere!" Kazuma leapt to his feet and dashed as fast as his legs could carry him. "Sorry, sorry, sorry!"

"You're right you're gonna be sorry! When I get me hands- Hold it!" Kusaka stopped and scanned the area quickly. "That doesn't feel right... not one bit."

Kazuma knew when his master was faking, and he wasn't right now, so he risked walking over and asking him what was going on. "You found our mark, then?" He asked, both suddenly grim seriousness. Kazuma extended his own senses and shuddered. "Now that ya mention it...I do fell something. Not quite a Shinigami...but not a hollow either."

Kusaka breathed out carefully and checked the condition of the sky. With a tut, he spat. "It'll be another two hours at least before the moon's out." He muttered more to himself than anyone else, but Kazuma knew what he was talking about. Kusaka's zanpakuto allowed him to enter a transformation that allowed him to fight on equal grounds with a Bankai user, but he could only use it with a moon dominating' the sky. He had admitted to working' on a special Kidō spell to facilitate the same effects, but so far, he'd come up with nothing.

Kusaka spoke, grim seriousness again. That didn't help Kazuma's nerves any. "What ya sense, kid, is called an Arrancar. Kenji and I've ran into one before, and he almost killed us. Don't think for one minute that this opponent is just your run-of-the-mill hollow. They've crossed the threshold, similar to what Kenji did not long ago. But how they do it, or even how Kenji managed it, is beyond us. All we know is that hollows gain Shinigami-like powers and become more humanoid and that a Shinigami gains hollow powers by donning' a hollows mask. Arrancar's doin' it seem more natural though."

Kazuma sighed and gripped his zanpakuto. He still hadn't managed to actually release it, but Kenji said he was getting close. Any Kidō he used that had either an earth or water nature was strengthened beyond the levels the spell would normally be capable of when used by someone of the same level. Kenji thought that Kazuma's sword would be a nature-type, because his own zanpakuto being lightning strengthened his lightning Kidō. Or it may just be his zanpakuto's spiritual energy mixing' in with his own. Either way, he was growing closer to obtaining his Shikai, but he still had a ways to go yet.

"How much more natural we talking' about here?" Kazuma asked slowly. He liked knowing' what he was going' to be going up against.

"Right now, Kenji can hold his hollow mask a good bit. We ain't sure how long, because he hasn't used it since our last training' session. Arrancar's though...well, they ain't got a damned time-limit. We think it's part of a hollows evolutionary chain. My bro, Sojiro, told me about the evolutionary process Menos-level hollow go through, and it could come through that someway, but we ain't sure. Just be sure to keep your wit's about ya. We'll attack together and see what's what. And Kazuma," The youngster turned his head, knowing Kusaka was serious. "Be careful."

Next Story > The Arrancar With a Grudge

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