Hello, guys! Sorry it took so long, but college takes precedence over writing. I try to add what I can when I have free time though. About this chapter now. It's all about a look into the Dawn Festival in Night Fall. You find out some interesting aspects about the colony of Exiles and even a twist is added. Enjoy!
It had been a rough night. No matter what I tried to do, sleep just wouldn't come to me. I stayed up in the beams near the roof, watching idly as the sky surprisingly started to lighten up gradually. I remembered that Ryzen said we arrived in time to see the festival that takes place in this dimension but didn't think that it would be as cool as he said it would be. From what Taliya told us earlier as we headed back into the castle after our late night excursion, the queen was forcing us to take part in the festival just like the citizens of Jikan City. She also said that when drums rang out from within the city, each person would then be randomly assigned a role to play during the festival and no one ever played the same role twice. This roleplaying aspect only lasted a few hours before everyone changed into formal attire.
As my thoughts were slowly focusing on a certain snowy haired individual, a loud explosion of sound resonated throughout the air and into the castle. The beam beneath me shook slightly and I heard Ichigo immediately sit up on the bed once he felt it as well. It didn't take either of us very long to figure out that it was time for the festival to begin. I hopped down from the beam, rubbing my eyes gently when I landed on the floor, then waited patiently for Ichigo to collect himself before we heard a knock at the door. A quick clicking noise could be heard before Taliya burst into the room, looking overly excited and happy.
"Are you two ready for the Dawn Festival?" she asked us, bouncing a little on her toes. "The Changing has begun and now we're going to have a bit of a reenactment later between the games!"
"Which role have you been assigned?" I asked her groggily.
"No one knows the roles until we go to our designated areas set up for the festival. It's a wonderful set up of technology we've developed. It takes the clothes you're wearing and morphs them into the costumes for your role. Not only that, but it morphs a second time into formal outfits for party, ones that are ideas taken from your subconscious."
"Exiles are strange," I sighed under my breath, getting Ichigo to chuckle softly.
Taliya ignored my remark and led us both out of the room with a bounce in her step. "Is there a reason why you look like you stayed up all night, Imayru?" she asked politely.
"Because that's exactly what I did," I stated plainly. "I'm in a place I'm not familiar with and there are people out there that want to kill us. There's not a chance in hell that I'm sleeping until I get back to the Soul Society."
"If I had known that was what you were up to, we could have slept in shifts," Ichigo told me with a yawn.
"I still wouldn't have slept," I said tiredly. "Besides, I'm a captain. I should be the one staying awake so that you can get your rest. You need it more than I do."
Taliya led us down a few halls and down a flight of stairs before we came across Ryzen, who was waiting on the landing. He had this grumpy, irritated air about him, making me wonder if our argument the night before was the cause behind it. He turned on his heel and walked down another corridor where a large group was already waiting. They were all waiting in line at one door as one or two people would come out of another, wearing their costumes for the festivities.
"Don't mind Ryzen," I heard Taliya say, making me look away from the crowd and at her as she stood by my side. "He's usually not so grumpy during The Changing. He just received a bit of news that he's not overly fond with. He might be following us around all day just to get out of it."
"What bad news is he not happy with?" I asked her, feeling curious.
"Well, if I'm right, which I think I am, then you'll find out at some point," she said with a slight frown. "Not only that, but it won't be hard to miss. It has the subtlety of a tsunami."
I could only wonder what she meant when the crowd took notice of us, more specifically Taliya and Ryzen. I could hear their low chatter as they began to move aside to let us go past them, which both Ryzen and Taliya did while leading us along. None of the others tried to attack Ichigo or me and what surprised me most was the fact that I didn't see any animosity in their eyes. That thought slowly faded away as we walked into the room and the door shut behind us.
In the room, a large, ornate mirror stood in the exact middle of the room, drawing my focus to it. I could hear Taliya telling me something, but I seemed to drown it out as I slowly walked closer to the mirror. I felt as if I was magnetized to it and before long, I stood in front of the reflective surface. What surprised me most was that I didn't see my own reflection, rather a woman that looked similar to me. She was a few inches taller and had this proud, majestic look about her as her dark eyes blazed with approval. Another surprise was her outfit since it looked almost exactly like the one I wore when in Bankai. A few differences were that the colors were inverted, the ribbon-like cloth that stretched down to her ankles was now completely connected like a coat, and the symbols belonging to Squad 5 were gone. Not only that, but a silvery crown rested on her head at an angle, the same crown I remembered the queen wearing. Without realizing it, I felt my arm stretching up as the reflection did the same, both of us touching the glass of the mirror. There was a huge explosion of light that blinded me and I heard a yelp behind me before the light gradually faded from existence. When I could finally see again, I noticed that the woman was gone and my own reflection was back, only I was now wearing that skimpy outfit she had on, along with that silver crown.
"No way!" I heard Taliya exclaim and I turned around to face her, noticing all of their surprised expressions. "That's Caino's costume! Only the queen wears it because it is the only one that hasn't been in circulation in hundreds of years!"
"Why is that?" I asked.
"Because it only chooses the one who is worthy to wear it," she laughed before looking at Ryzen, who was groaning in exasperation.
"Our mother is going to be pissed," he sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose with his eyes closed. "That's just great, another complication I don't need right now." He then turned to Ichigo with a stern look and pushed him forward in the direction of the mirror. "Go ahead, add yet another complication. You better hope that you don't get Magnus."
"Who's Magnus?" Ichigo asked as he headed towards the mirror.
"Magnus is Caino's Guardian and also her brother," Taliya said quickly. "You also better hope you don't get her king! I'll tell her husband and he might take that as an opportunity to kill you!"
He grimaced a little before heading to the mirror as I walked over to where Ryzen and Taliya were standing. This time, there wasn't an intense flash of light. It was over in the blink of an eye and Ichigo was wearing a simple Guardian outfit. It was a black sleeveless shirt with brown leather strips that attached to his waist and up to his shoulders like a mix of suspenders and a belt. On his left shoulder was a metal shoulder pad with spikes. He also had dark pants and black combat boots. He let out a sigh of relief before he walked back in our direction.
"You know what I don't understand?" I said as I looked over at Taliya.
"Why I can't have clothing that isn't revealing like everyone else. Do you see what I have to put up with?"
"That's nothing," she scoffed as she walked to the mirror. "Last month, I was chosen for a ninja character that was in the royal family a long time ago. She preferred skimpy clothes and I was freezing all day." She pressed her hand to the mirror and with a blink of an eye, she changed into her costume. It was a frilly blue and white dress, the skirt being short in the front and then extending down to her calves in the back. The sleeves were white and bigger at the wrists than the shoulders. A blue bandana was tied on her head, knotted at the nape of her neck and used like a headband. "This isn't the worst I've been chosen for. I wish I wasn't about to go barefoot, but I think I can survive for a few hours. Your turn, Ryzen!"
When he went up to the mirror, his costume was a long black leather coat with a hood and dark pants that covered most of his boots. He said that the gold cuffs around the ends of the sleeves meant that he was Magnus, which was the role he had been wanting for a long time. He said that he would be sticking by me the entire time and, judging by the look on his face as he said it, I knew it had something to do with whatever news he had received. He pulled up the hood over his eyes before all of us headed out of the room altogether.
An hour later, the drums rang out through the air as we all headed down into the large courtyard below. The citizens of Jikan City that were able to participate in the festival had already filtered inside the walls surrounding the castle and were wandering around the different stands that had been set up. It was as we were walking past one with good smelling food that I heard a female voice calling Ryzen's name. He groaned a little before all of us turned around to see a woman with long dark red hair running towards us. She had on one of the skimpiest outfits I had ever seen before and it was amazing that anyone would ever wear it. It had to be the ninja outfit that Taliya described. Before I could think more on the topic, she threw herself at Ryzen with a giggle, who had an annoyed expression that he was trying his best to hide.
"I get the feeling that this is the bad news you were talking about," I said softly to Taliya, who chuckled.
"Your feeling would be quite correct. That's Kaori. She's Ryzen's fiancée."
"I doubt that," I said gruffly. "He wants nothing to do with her and she's trying too hard."
"That's because she's his arranged fiancée. The queen hoped that he would get more serious about the throne if he had an arranged marriage to consider. Too bad this girl is a psychotic harpy that just wants more power than she already has."
"Ryzen, who is that woman?" a voice said and I turned to see that it was coming from Kaori, who was glaring nastily at me. It took her longer than expected to realize my identity and she pulled a dagger from her boot. "It's that Soul Reaper!"
She ran at me faster than Ryzen could stop her and all I could do was frown. I definitely couldn't attack her with my Zanpakuto but I wasn't going to let her stab me. When she got close enough, I let out a concentrated blast of spiritual pressure that flattened her to the ground, making her skid along the grass and giving her a mouthful of dirt. Both Taliya and Ichigo let out loud, uproarious bouts of laughter at the sight before them, causing a scene that caused even more laughing from others. Even the ever serious Ryzen was having a hard time staying solemn, a slight smile playing along his lips as his body shook slightly with a tiny laugh.
"I guess that Soul Reaper captain can't be too bad if she put that brat of a noble in her place. The whole Hirano family acts just like her," a few older men said under their breaths before moving on into the crowd.
"So she's a member of the Hirano family?" I asked Taliya when she could finally breathe.
"That's right," she said as she wiped away tears of mirth. "It's one of the higher families in Night Fall, the descendants of the warrior clans that first arrived here. We refer to direct descendants from those clans as the aristocrats or nobles. There are twelve noble families and the Sakurai family is at the head of it all. That's Ryzen's and my family."
"So in other words," I said as I looked down at the red head on the ground, "this is one I can't kill in retaliation." Kaori paled slightly at my words, but still glared angrily at me.
"I wouldn't glare at her, Kaori," Taliya said sternly. "She doesn't take these things lightly."
The red head spat out the dirt before getting up on her feet. "Neither do I. You better watch your back, Soul Reaper!"
I reached over quickly and rapped my knuckles against her forehead before she could react. "Is there a brain in here or is this just for show?" She made an irritated noise before storming off and I turned to Ryzen with a sigh. "Seriously, find a way to get out of that arranged marriage with her. She is an idiot and people will lose their respect for you."
We walked along between the stalls as both Ryzen and Taliya talked a bit more about Night Fall, focusing more on the aristocratic families. They told Ichigo and me that there were five powerful families, the Sakurai family included. The other four were the Hirano, Kinoshita, Iwasaki, and Ogawa families. Each family was renowned for some special aspect and the Sakurai family was known for their warriors. Taliya said that most of the royal family had a mythical creature for a Zanpakuto spirit.
"Mine is Fenrir," she said excitedly. "He's my wolf spirit. He's absolutely huge and can take down my opponents whenever I let him run free."
"My Zanpakuto spirit's name is Helioptrix," Ryzen said quietly. "She is a phoenix and definitely one of the strongest spirits in Night Fall."
"What about those abilities of yours?" I asked them absentmindedly as my attention was drawn to stalls with food.
"That's an interesting topic and I'm sure I can shorten it down so it's not time consuming," Taliya said as she ran out in front of me so I could focus on her, noting her smile from excitement. "You remember how Ichigo's reiatsu was completely sealed, along with his Zanpakuto spirit?"
"Of course I remember. It was one of the biggest mysteries I've been involved with in a few years."
"Well, let's stick with that example," she said as she lifted her index finger. "Ryzen's ability is that he can seal a person's Zanpakuto spirit within their mind so they can't access it by normal means. If a person has a supremely strong will, it is possible to break it free. He does this by letting this red smoke engulf his blade and then cuts his target. Once it gets into the bloodstream, it's all over for them."
"Taliya's ability is the exact opposite," Ryzen said as he moved closer to my side. "She can unlock a sealed spirit and combined with mine, it can be neutralized. However, let's think about this in reverse. Let's say that she shot Ichigo with her ability first before I even got to him. It would manifest his Zanpakuto spirit out before us and let it roam free. If I surrounded them both with the red smoke, it would be neutralized."
"It's a good thing that didn't happen then," I said with a cringe.
"Why's that?" Taliya asked curiously.
"Because my Zanpakuto spirit, Zangetsu, is a Hollow," Ichigo explained. "At least, one of them is. The other two aren't nearly as bad."
"What about yours, Imayru?" Ryzen asked as he bumped my shoulder lightly with his arm.
"Mine is just awesome," I said with a grin, refusing to say more on the matter.
I finally managed to convince my group to get something to eat and we walked along to find a place that I thought smelled the best. Most of the stall owners gave us wary looks, especially when they noticed that Ichigo and I were the Soul Reapers, but quite a few were eager for it. A specific scent caught my attention caught my attention and brought back memories of going to the fair. I walked over to the stall where the smell was coming from and gave the owner a bright smile.
"You can make corndogs here in Night Fall?" I asked him.
"That I can!" he said proudly. "Not a lot of people will eat these because they're from the Human World, but I think they are good."
"Well, I certainly love them, so can I have four?"
The stall owner seemed quite happy to do so and handed one to all of us. I was thrilled that there was at least one thing that was familiar to me. We ate the corndogs, throwing away the sticks once we were finished, and watched the different games that were being played further in. Ryzen said that there was a tournament each month to test out one's skills and that he usually would take part in it. He seemed to notice my eager expression before immediately leading all of us away from that area.
"I don't need you getting into a ring with a bunch of Exiles," he grumbled.
"What, you think I can't handle it?"
"No, I'm afraid of what will happen to your opponents if you join in."
"Too bad because I want to fight them!" I yelled with a laugh, flash stepping away before anyone could stop me.
It didn't take me very long before I found the mock arena where the tournament was being held. I stood up at the tallest part of the stands, watching as it seemed like an all-out brawl while they fought with wooden swords that wouldn't cause their opponents any damage. On a separate set of stands that seemed more like a dais sat the queen of Night Fall. She must not have been participating in the festivities for she was just wearing an elaborate silver dress, her long white hair draping down her back. A man with salt and pepper colored hair and green eyes was standing beside her and I knew that he had to be her personal Guardian. Much to my approval, he noticed me standing there and leaned down to whisper in the queen's ear. She looked up to see me and stood, a hush soon falling over the arena and the fighting stopped altogether.
"Soul Reaper," she said, her voice ringing out from around the arena, "are you here to partake in the festivities?"
"Prince Ryzen told me about the tournament," I called back to her, ignoring the sudden headache that formed while looking at her.
"You're quite welcome to join if you think you can keep up with my warriors," the queen stated with a slight smile.
"Mother, I don't think that's a good idea," a voice said and I turned slightly to see that Ryzen was standing there. "She might be too wild for these guys to handle. She is a Soul Reaper captain after all."
She looked over at her Guardian. "Hayato, will you do me the honors of fighting her? That way I know for sure that my warriors won't be injured too severely."
"Of course, my queen," he said, his black leather coat making a crinkling noise that even I could hear from where I was standing.
"I've wanted to fight with him for years… yet she allows you to fight him," Ryzen said bitterly. "Something is definitely off and I need to find out what that is."
"Why is this such a big deal for you?" I asked him as the Guardian jumped down into the arena.
"That's Elite Guardian Hayato Maeda. He's one of the best Guardians in the history of the Exiles, almost as skilled as Magnus was in the past."
"So, in other words, I'm about to have one hell of a fight," I said with a grin.
Maeda grabbed two bokkens from one of the racks, then threw it at me so fast that it was a blur. I jumped through the air, catching the hilt with my hand, and hit the ground before rushing at the Queen's Guardian. With an elated battle cry, I lunged at him with my bokken; a large cracking sound could be heard as our weapons connected. Just like Ryzen, he seemed to be a fighter that concentrated more on strength than speed. With his green eyes gleaming, he pushed me back and went to heavily swing his bokken at my neck. I felt a devious smirk form as I dived to the side under his slash, swiftly jabbing my weapon at him when he somehow managed to block my attack. He's pretty good for an Exile, I thought to myself. I won't go all out, but I'll take it up a notch.
I increased my speed and the force behind my attacks as he increased his strength. I could tell that he was holding back still just like I was and soon enough it was like the world around us was a blur. He managed to knock me into the air and I did a little flip before landing lightly on the ground, crouched down with my weapon at my side and watching as he rushed at me. I tensed my muscles before launching myself at him, swinging the bokken at him as hard as I could as he did the same. There was a huge explosion of air and dust as an earsplitting shattering sound could be heard. There were a few screams from the loud noise and when the dust cleared we could all see that both of our bokkens had snapped from the guard down.
I heard a slow clap and looked up to see that the queen was the one who was doing it, a slight smile on her face just as the others watching began to clap as well. "Well done, Captain Hitsugaya," Maeda said over the cacophony, bowing his head in respect. "It's a nice change of pace to fight someone of the same caliber, even if they are a Soul Reaper."
"I could say the same about you, Elite Guardian Maeda," I told him kindly, bowing my head in return. I handed him what was left of the broken bokken before flash stepping back to where Ryzen was standing, now with Ichigo and Taliya by his sides. "That was fun! A little challenging, but fun."
A few hours later came the dancing in the ballroom of the castle, which explained why we needed fancy clothes at a later point. With the sounds of the slow beat of a drum, the costumes we were wearing all glowed with a white light for almost thirty seconds before it faded to reveal what we would be wearing next. I shifted my gaze downward to see a black and white halter dress, the material moving with the breeze or whenever I walked. Not only that, but I had a black mask with silver metal around the borders of it, which was another thing that they would do during this festival day. I thought it was kind of odd how they implemented a few aspects of human culture into their own, but didn't once comment upon it whenever a noble was around.
All of the males had the same suit on, except there were varying degrees of intricacy involved. Ichigo's was all black, no obvious differences between those of the other regular Exiles. Ryzen's, however, had silver edges along the collar and other different places. His mask, along with those from the royal family, was all silver with red accents. Taliya's was silver with green accents with a fancy green dress while Ichigo had a white and black mask. Ichigo stayed by my side the entire time as we walked into the ballroom, glaring at anyone who tried to get close to me.
"I'm not going to let Toshiro have my head if someone dances with you," he said vehemently, making me laugh.
"The only way that would they would leave me alone would be if you danced with me," I told him, lightly bumping his arm with my shoulder. "You and I both know that you won't do that."
His eyes instantly lit up and he opened his mouth to ask me to dance with him when Taliya appeared, grabbing him by the arm to lead him away and saying, "You're dancing with me and not the married woman!"
"Uh oh…" I heard a voice say and I turned my head to the right to see a pale faced Ryzen, his eyes locked onto someone in the crowd. I knew automatically that it had to be his fiancée, even without looking. "You're coming with me."
He grabbed me by the wrist and dragged me out into the crowd of people that were already dancing to the music being played. Before I could protest, he took one hand in his and placed his other hand on my back between my shoulder blades while I placed my free hand on his arm. We were dancing before I knew it and I laughed a little when I caught sight of his fiancée, glaring angrily at the both of us until she disappeared in the crowd.
"Thanks for cooperating," Ryzen said, his lips close to my ear so I could hear his voice. "I can't stand being around her and yet I'm being forced to marry her. All she wants is to be the next queen."
"Like I said before, get rid of her as quick as possible," I told him, noticing that we were being watching by quite a few people around us. "Why are they all watching us?"
"The rumor still going around is that you are the Lost Princess, remember? They're trying to assess if that rumor is true."
"It's not true at all!" I growled, trying to pull away but Ryzen pulled me closer to pin me up against his body.
"You get awfully angry whenever this topic is broached. Why is that?"
I glared up at him fiercely, letting my eyes shift red and feeling him flinch, before saying, "I don't want your people or even you to get your hopes up, only to have them crushed in the end when you find out that what I say is true."
He let me go out of surprise and I found myself walking out of the ballroom, feeling like holes were being burned into my back from everyone watching me. I could see out of the corner of my eye that Ichigo was trying to follow after me, but Taliya was keeping him by her side. I walked out of the room and soon found an office to sneak into so I could be alone. I hopped up on the desk, placing my hands behind me on the flat surface so I could lean back. I tilted my head back and closed my eyes, taking deep breaths to calm myself down. I wanted more than anything to have Toshiro with me so I could talk this over with him. He could keep a level head whereas I was too close to the situation.
"Look at how far the great Imayru has fallen," a mocking voice said, sounding scarily familiar. My eyes flew open and I quickly sat up straight, gasping a little when I saw someone standing in front of me with his face quite close to my own.
"You're dead," I whispered. "This isn't possible…" Standing there with a wide, arrogant grin was Zayn Drabek, the former Quinto Espada of Las Noches.
"I'm not dead in here," he said before poking my forehead with his index finger. "This is where I'll always live on. And besides… I've been here ever since you killed me."
"What's that supposed to mean?" I growled at him.
"Let's put it this way," he said as he hopped up to sit on the desk beside me. "When I stabbed you through the chest and nicked your heart, I implanted a piece of my consciousness into your reiatsu. In this way, I figured I could atone some of my sins by being the only reason why you were actually able to keep both your shadows and light. Had I not done this, you'd only have your original power back."
"If you think I'm going to thank you for that, you're dead wrong," I said with a smirk.
He snorted a little at the last part of what I said. "Dead wrong… I see what you did there. Anyway, I didn't expect you to thank me. Consider me to be like what Zangetsu is to Ichigo, only I hold no power of you. I can only reveal myself to you like this and that's about as far as I can go."
"Is there a purpose behind this chat or is it to just drive me crazy?" I asked impatiently.
"You're doing that on your own," he said before standing up and moving in front of me. "There's a part of your brain that is completely locked away from you. I'm doing my best to unlock it for you because I feel like it's something you need to know about."
"Wait, are you the reason why I have headaches every so often?" I asked suspiciously.
"When are you having them?"
"Whenever I look at the queen of Night Fall."
"Hmm…" He seemed to be pondering this over in his head before he spoke again. "I'll look into it. It's probably nothing, but you never know." He flicked my forehead quickly and moved away before I could hit him. "By the way, this is possible because I can freeze your perception of time in your brain. It takes the blink of an eye. Now, I better go. Your dragon spirit is trying to break into this and put an end to it."
He wasn't kidding for the next time I blinked, he had completely disappeared from sight and I could hear the sounds of footsteps approaching the room. The door opened and I saw Ichigo peek his head inside. "Please come back out," he said. "Taliya won't leave me alone and keeps making me dance with her." I smirked a little before following him outside and back into the ballroom.
It was a few hours after the festival and it was a little before we were about to leave to go back to the Soul Society when a Guardian appeared, telling us that the queen requested an audience with us. Ryzen and Taliya gave each other odd looks before we followed the Guardian towards the throne room. It was one of the largest rooms in the entire castle. What I wasn't expecting were all the guards that lined the walls of the throne room. The looks between the two nobles with me unsettled me even more because it meant that they didn't know what was going on either. As we walked closer to the throne, I could see at least four men dressed in the garb of the Queen's Guardians. It was when I got a clearer look of the queen that I felt a jolt of agony pass through my brain. I blinked and immediately Zayn in front of me again, his hands on my shoulders and a wild look in the one eye that wasn't covered by his Hollow mask. None of the guards or the people in my group moved, so I knew that what Zayn said about stopping my time perception in my brain had to be true.
"I know what's going on now!" he yelled, his image seeming to shiver as if something was trying to erase him. "It's the memory in your head that's locked! It has something to do with the queen!"
"Zayn, that can't be possible!" I growled. "I don't know these people!"
"You know the queen somehow, that much I do know! She has an evil aura I can sense, like something within her is poisoned and twisted! Whatever you do, make sure that you don't look like you're suspicious of her! She might react badly!"
There was a loud roaring in my head, one that sounded like it belonged to Tatsuya, before I blinked and everything went back to normal. Tatsuya, get ready for a fight. Things could get ugly if we aren't careful, I told the dragon as he growled in response. As I made sure to keep an outward appearance of calm, I walked closer with my little group to the dais belonging to the queen.