A/N: An idea that simply would not leave me alone! A different direction from the Bleach/DxD crossovers that I've seen, I just really loved the possibilities that this brings.
For any who have read my work before, you know the drill: Read, review, but most of all, enjoy!
An unending wave of heat bore down on Ichigo as he wearily shuffled across the floor of some random ravine. The sandy expanse felt like a furnace, and the walls of the chasm only seemed to trap the heat.
Looking up, he had to shield his eyes from the blinding desert sun that was directly above him. As he pressed on, he looked over his shoulder yet again, keeping watch for the threat that had plagued him for days.
He could barely remember the days leading up to the present. A blur of pain, fear, and exhaustion, Ichigo had barely made it through the last week with his sanity, much less his life. Every time that he settled enough to catch his breath, he would catch glimpses of familiar black robes, forcing him to move once more.
Stumbling, he was barely able to catch himself on the wall of the ravine. Ichigo had to gasp for breath as he held onto the last shreds of his energy, yet the struggle was getting more difficult with every step. Pain seemed to define his very existence, at the moment, and the panic in his mind refused to settle.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. How had, in one instant, so many things had gone wrong?
Looking down to the shimmering orb that was so painfully lodged in his chest, he was thrust back into the memory of what had triggered his current predicament.
Blinking quickly, Ichigo opened his eyes to the blinding daylight. What had just happened? What could possibly explain why he was on his back, on the ground, and the fact that his body hurt like hell?
He remembered using the Final Getsuga Tensho, Aizen falling, a white substance beginning to cover him, and then…a bright purple light, then…nothing.
Slowly coming to his feet, he looked up to see that dust was still settling across the devastated plain. Turning, Ichigo's breath caught in his throat as he witnessed the seal that now entombed Sosuke Aizen. It was done, finally over. The battle, the war…his life as a shinigami.
The revelation was far from comforting, in fact pain was the one thing he was absolutely certain of at the moment. His body hurt, from his feet, to his burning chest, to his aching head. Still, it was surely a small price to pay for what he had saved.
He had made the decision, willingly sacrificing his powers—parts of his soul—to stop a man with dreams of godhood. That was a good thing, wasn't it? It wasn't so easy to tell, now. The choice had been simple, almost scarily so. A million souls were in danger, and he alone could save them. Was there ever really a choice?
A choice. The idea of a choice burned in his mind. Of course there was no choice. He was the only one who could stop Aizen, so he had to give up his mentor, and even that hollow asshole had been sacrificed in his final attack.
Shaking his head, Ichigo started at the sound of wooden clogs. Turning, he came face to face with a grim Kisuke Urahara. He never liked to see this look on the face of his former teacher. Nothing good ever came from those looks, and Ichigo felt immediate dread at whatever was about to come out of the shopkeeper's mouth.
Unable to wait, he broke the silence first.
"What now, Kisuke?" he asked, his stress evident in his tone. What could bring that look?! His mentor was never openly stressed about anything, even when face to face with Aizen, who so far outclassed him in terms of raw power, so what in the hell could it mean?! His mind raced with possibilities.
Zangetsu had told him that his shinigami powers would be gone, and he could feel them rapidly declining. Did his words mean that the entire spiritual world would be lost to him? Were there even worse consequences that he didn't know about? A widening of the eyes, as well as a long sigh from the older shinigami made him wary of the answer.
"Ichigo, I think the answer has already presented itself. Not to belabor the obvious, but the ramifications are definitely something to worry about," he answered, looking down to Ichigo's chest.
Ichigo, who had followed his gaze, blanched at the sight that greeted him. Burning painfully in the center of his chest was a glistening purple orb. Each breath seemed to elicit a throb from the orb, and his veins seemed to be alight with a burning sensation, however his eyes quickly widened in shock.
As he watched in horror, his human flesh seemed to actually materialize . The agony of it quickly told him that his mortal body was being fused with his spiritual one—while containing the hogyoku. His breath caught in his throat as his mind tried to catch up to the sensations that his body felt.
Before he could speak, Urahara continued, "It's pretty clear that the hogyoku chose you. Why, I could not begin to tell you, nor could I tell you why your mortal body is merging with your spiritual form."
"Kisuke…what…what the hell am I supposed to do with this?" Ichigo interrupted. Kisuke was right, of course: the ramifications for possessing the hogyoku were nearly unthinkable. Nearly. Unfortunately, thoughts of what had just finished were in the forefront of his mind.
"We just fought a damn war to stop this thing, and now it's in my chest?! Not only that, but it's pulled my human body along for the ride?! I go from a sacrificial offering to having a death sentence, just because of your little experiment?"
The elder shinigami flinched at the accusation. "Ichigo, I truly am sorry. Believe me when I say that I will do everything I can to fix this, but please also understand that right now—we need to focus. I mean, really focus."
Reaching into his coat, Urahara pulled out a small leather pouch. As he tossed it to Ichigo, he began to speak in earnest. "I hate to say this, but you're going to have to run. I don't think that either of us are naive enough to believe that the head captain will let this pass.
If I can offer some advice: Run far, run often. I don't know how well you'll be able to keep yourself concealed, but there is a band in there that is a seal. Try it out, but now that the hogyoku has been fully awakened—not to mention a likely massive absorption of the reiatsu that you unleashed with your final attack—it's probably worthless.
Still, there is plenty of money in there to keep you mobile, and a communication device. Do not use this except in the most dire of circumstances. It releases a lot of spiritual pressure, and will let any spiritually aware beings in the area know exactly where you are."
Ichigo stood in stunned silence. Though he had come to the same conclusion, his need to run, it was still shocking to hear the true gravity of his situation. Basically, he was a spiritual beacon, shining brightly for all who wanted to kill him. On top of that, where was he supposed to run?
As if sensing his thoughts, Kisuke spoke again as he began to draw several small pieces of metal from his coat. "Start somewhere remote. Find out what exactly the hogyoku has in mind, as well as how your reiatsu is actually working, then you can go to spiritually rich places. Yeah, there will be shinigami there, but the excess reiatsu can provide you with at least a little anonymity."
Watching as the scientist erected a small…something…Ichigo wondered how this was actually going to work. "What is that, and how am I supposed to actually get away from here? I can barely stand, much less run."
"That's what this is for," Urahara mumbled as he focused on something that looked like a remote. However, their attention was soon drawn to the sound of multiple 'swish' sounds.
"Ichigo Kurosaki, are you—" a gravelly voice cut off as Ichigo turned to face the newly arrived shinigami. Seeing that he was faced with large group of soul reapers, led by the now-glaring head captain, he began to slowly back away. He heard a soft click, and an even softer whirring noise behind him, but he couldn't take his eyes off of the menacing group in front of him.
"What have you done, boy?" the advancing soutaichou growled. Seeing his remaining hand reaching down towards the hilt of his blade, Ichigo tried to stall.
"I don't know! I beat Aizen, then woke up with this thing in my—seriously? You're seriously going to do that?" he asked as he saw the head captain remove his sword from its sheath.
The answer was an increase in heat in the area. Before anyone else could speak, Kisuke grabbed Ichigo by the shoulders and roughly pulled him around to face his setup which was…a device to make a garganta? All he could see was a small black rip in the atmosphere above the metal display.
He had no time to ask, as the hands that were gripping his shoulders pressed against his chest. "Do not forget what I told you. I set a destination that should be hard to find, but you'll need to move quickly. Good luck, Ichigo."
With those words, the hands against his chest pushed him into the garganta, which instantly sealed behind him.
Pushing himself off of the side of the ravine, Ichigo continued to stagger along. That little stunt of Kisuke's had dumped him out in Greece, of all places. While he appreciated the quick getaway, being dropped onto a grassy riverbank surrounded by miles and miles of desert was not exactly what he had been expecting.
Ichigo had thought that he'd have at least a day's head start on the shinigami, but the orb in his chest was occasionally pulsing with large amounts of reiatsu, and like Kisuke had said, it had proved to be a spiritual beacon. The band that he found in the pouch had helped to control it, yet he took it off almost instantly, as it made his chest burn as if on fire and sapped his energy to dangerous levels.
He also quickly discovered that the physical and mental strain that his situation—not to mention the orb—put on him was immense. The stress of someone trying to kill him wasn't bothering him as much as it should, but the sleep deprivation, and the…voice…were.
The struggle to convince himself that he wasn't going insane had become harder with each passing hour. From the moment he had first been pushed into the garganta, he had heard a soft whispering in his mind. Though there were no words that he could discern, the whispers ebbed and flowed with the activity of the hogyoku, which was chaotic at best.
Luckily, he was able to push the noise to the back of his mind and focus on moving. This proved fortunate, as within an hour of wandering the village that was near his landing site, he felt a small burst of spiritual pressure and saw a flash of black.
That had been the start of his flight into the desert. Ichigo knew that he was in no shape to fight anyone, much less an armed shinigami, and the open expanse was the least likely spot to be followed. However, he had begun to rethink his strategy within a day. The searing heat, along with the lack of sleep and constant movement, had drained every ounce of energy that he had.
The crazy shopkeeper had been prepared for this possibility, it seemed, as within the small pouch he had received, there had been pellets that seemed to be food of some sort. Whatever they were, they kept him alive. Hungry, and thirsty as hell, but alive.
'But', Ichigo realized as he stumbled on a rock, bringing him to a knee. But there was only one pellet left, but he had no idea where he was—or where he was going—and if what he had seen and felt were accurate, there were at least four shinigami within a day's reach of him.
'Looks like it was all for nothing in the end,' he thought bitterly, glancing down at the pulsating orb in his chest and drowning out the increasing murmurs in his mind. He didn't blame Kisuke, hell, the man had done as much as he could to help Ichigo throughout his spiritual life.
Still, the man's greatest creation was also going to be the death of him, whether by annoyance or by giving up his location.
The whisper was so soft that he almost missed it.
Again, it came. Barely audible, but the voice that spoke was laced with an authority, a confidence Ichigo couldn't deny. Almost subconsciously, Ichigo began to move. He didn't know where he was finding the energy, but his body was responding.
On the edges of his consciousness, he felt a sharp prick of pressure. He froze for a second, panic setting in. They were close, far closer than he had imagined. If he can feel them, really feel the shinigami that are following him, then they were too close.
'Damn it, no! I'm not ready for this! I didn't sacrifice my power, my soul just to be cut down in the middle of some forsaken desert. It can't end like this!'
The voice that had been no more than a whisper before, now burned with intensity and the orb in his chest shuddered. Needing no further prompting, Ichigo pushed himself to move, running almost purely on force of will.
Left, right, left, right. Ichigo kept his mind on the rhythm of his feet pounding the ground as he came the closest to running that he could.
'Damn it, move!'
His legs were slowing as his energy waned. Willpower was only getting him so far, no matter how much the voice in his mind was urging him to continue moving. Left, right, left…right…left…
Catching his foot on yet another stone, Ichigo crashed roughly to the ground. He had nothing left. He barely had enough energy to roll over, however he got a sharp surge of adrenalin as he heard multiple soft swishes, followed by the sounds of metal scraping. Turning, he looked to see the arrival of four shinigami.
Four masked, armed shinigami, who immediately began to fan out around his position.
Panicking, Ichigo used the energy from his panic to finally get himself to his feet. Looking around, he realized that he was well and truly trapped. The walls of the ravine towered over him, not that he could climb them, anyway.
All that he could do was walk backwards, not allowing them to get behind him. Though, if they used flash step, they could easily surround him. They must still think that he was dangerous. Shuffling away from the group that was here to kill him, he did the only thing he could to stall them.
"So I save your asses from one of your own, and you come to kill me?"
The pause he expected from them never came. Continuing to fan out, one voice called out, "You took the hogyoku, the weapon that spawned the most massive war in a millennia. What exactly did you expect?"
Ichigo sighed. He figured that they would say something like that, and it wore on his mind. He was tired. Tired of running. Tired of worrying. Tired of getting the short end of the stick. He couldn't give up, though. He wanted to. He had never wanted something so much in his life. It would mean peace, rest, quiet.
But he couldn't. He cursed his fatal flaw again and again, as he knew that he could never 'call it quits'. He would never walk into his own death willingly, it just wasn't possible.
'Just keep moving.'
The whisper in his mind was back. 'Just great. I'll die while going insane. Isn't that just lovely?'
'What would be lovely is you paying attention to your surroundings.'
Okay, Ichigo paused. That was disturbing. Was his mind really answering…his mind? It wasn't that hot out here, was it? Shaking his head, Ichigo continued his backwards walk, his eyes darting around to not only track the shinigami, but to the ravine around him as he hoped for—something.
A sigh echoed in his mind. 'To help your state of attention, I will let you know that your sanity is still in tact. Did you truly think me to be an inanimate object?'
Clarity dawned with the force of a wrecking ball. Hogyoku. The freaking hogyoku was—sentient. 'You know what? That's not even the weirdest thing that I've ever encountered. Still…Why in the hell did you get me into this mess?!'
Ichigo could not believe that he was having this conversation. He was demanding answers from an orb that granted the desires of those around it, or something like that, while backing away from his would-be killers.
'When I finally awakened, thanks to your massive release of reiatsu, I made the only choice that I could. You were the only one who could bear me, as I refused to be bound to Sosuke Aizen a moment longer. I am sorry that it came at such a cost, but all is not lost. We are inexorably tied together, and together we will find a way out of this. Be wary not only of your immediate threat, however. This place makes me…uneasy.'
Ichigo started at the answer. The hogyoku's voice was strong, deep, yet calm. As he briefly considered those words, he knew that he would have done the same, in that position. Shaking his head, he thought earnestly, 'But you're the freaking hogyoku! Can't you transport us like you did for Aizen in our battle?! Why do I have to wa'—"Ahhhhh!"
His thoughts were halted as the ground beneath him disappeared. Direction lost all meaning as Ichigo felt himself striking the ground multiple, painful times. After what seemed like ages, he finally landed onto a hard, flat surface.
Groaning in pain, Ichigo could barely turn his head. His entire existence hurt. Bones felt broken, blood was flowing, and he would not be surprised if he had a concussion. Opening his eyes, he looked up to see that he had fallen down a massive flight of stairs. So high, in fact, that he had all but lost sight of the daylight.
'Get up.' Hogyoku urged, allowing a small pulse of energy to flow into it's new host.
Crawling to his knees, Ichigo gasped for breath as he looked around. It seemed that whatever these stairs had led to had caved in quite some time ago. Boulders larger than himself blocked the entrance to some kind of underground…thing…yet the thick layer of dust remained undisturbed.
"There's no way," he muttered aloud to himself, wincing at the pain simply speaking caused. However, his head snapped to the side as he heard the sandy scuffs that announced his attackers descent. Searching the stones with what little light he had, he was frustrated with no options.
'Much of my energy is not yet compatible with your body, so I was hoping to save this for later. There is no time for questions, so simply do what I tell you, and I will explain when possible. Place your hands on the boulders in front of you.'
Having neither the energy nor desire to argue, he placed his hands on the massive rocks. Feeling a shudder in the hogyoku, Ichigo felt as if he were an observer in his own body as a torrential wave of reiatsu flashed from his hands and demolished not only the rocks in front of him, but for yards ahead of him.
In spite of the massive drain that he felt, as well as the increasingly flaring torture that was his body, Ichigo pressed onwards. Hoping that the attack would not only open the way forward, but give those following a reason for pause, he moved as quickly as possible into what turned out to be a large cave.
With the light given off by the hogyoku being his only source, Ichigo moved slower than he would have preferred, stumbling often on fallen rocks and debris. He didn't know how he was still moving, but he attributed it to Hogyoku's interference.
When he finally paused to gather his bearings, he came to the realization that the cave was cold, abnormally so. Deeply chilled gusts of air made his hair stand on end. Wherever he was, whatever this cave was, felt…wrong. Forbidding. He had never encountered this feeling before, and his instincts screamed in protest.
Knowing that he had no time to worry about it, Ichigo began to move again.
After a few moments of shuffling around, he heard the shinigami arrive. Knowing that the orb in his chest was a beacon as to his location, he quickly covered himself. It proved pointless, however, as the killers each cast kido spells to illuminate the room.
Staggering forward as his foot caught against something, Ichigo suddenly found himself falling up stairs. Seeing that they were not too high, he continued to pull himself forward. Inch, by agonizing inch, he dragged himself onward.
When he reached the top he collapsed, heaving, bleeding, and worn. Gazing around the room, he noticed a myriad of strange symbols and pictures on both the walls and ceilings. He also noticed that the gusts of air were stronger near him.
'Get up,' the hogyoku beckoned, a note of emotion in it's voice.
"I can't," Ichigo croaked, barely able to speak. His breath was coming short, and his vision was darkening. He hated to admit that this was the end. There would be no winning this time. He no longer had a hollow to take over, and if the hogyoku's voice was any indication, there would be no last minute rescue, either.
'You've got to be kidding me. Is this really how I go out? Fate sucks.'
Seeing four masked faces appear over his, Ichigo weakly groaned. Summoning enough strength to talk, he gasped, "At least tell Rukia to say bye to everyone for me."
After a moment of the faces looking to each other, a sigh met his request. "Yeah, kid, we can do that. Still, you know that this has to be done, so—"
Ichigo's hands gripped involuntarily as he prepared for the sword strokes that would end his life. However, a strange sound caught his attention. As his hands had closed, it seemed as if he had shuffled some gravel, which sounded like it was—falling?
His eyes snapped open as a small burst of adrenalin coursed through him. The gusts of air, as well as the falling gravel…there was a hole in the ground next to his hand! His excitement halted almost instantly, though, as it became clear the ominous feeling that filled the cave was coming through that hole.
Looking up at the swords that had been raised, he realized that he had no choice. Taking a deep breath, he forced his body to roll to the side. Coming to a stop facing the unexpectedly large opening, he once more forced himself into a roll, fully taking him over the edge.
Panic once more flooded his consciousness as the sensation of uncontrollable falling took hold. With no light, no heat, no sense of direction, and no strength to do anything about it, Ichigo tumbled further into the freezing pit.
After what could have been minutes, hours—he couldn't tell—the air became thicker. A strong smell pervaded the air around him, and Ichigo's eyes snapped open to see himself hurtling towards a rushing river.
The landing was horrendous. The bone-breaking impact of hitting the water was jarring enough, yet his body soon erupted in anguish as the water felt like acid. His every nerve all but literally on fire, Ichigo screamed impotently beneath the excruciating liquid. This only served to exacerbate the pain, as the water burned down his throat.
The pain was everything. It was elemental, it was complex. It was overwhelming, yet nuanced. Every contradiction possible was met as his senses were lost in a haze of torment.
However, with each passing second, he noticed a growth in his energy. Nowhere near enough to function normally, but he wasn't completely immobilized. Trying to gain some semblance of direction, Ichigo thrashed in the water, searching for the surface.
His search was cut short, though, as a hand gripped his shihakksho roughly and dragged him out of the water. Once his eyes had cleared, he found himself looking into the face of what seemed to be a cloaked human skull. Though the face could clearly hold no expression, he could hear the amusement in the voice that spoke in a language he had never heard before.
"What did you say?"
The being spoke again, this time with annoyance coloring it's voice. In the middle of whatever it was saying, it began speaking in Japanese. "-been so long since I have had to speak Japanese, how bothersome."
Seeing that Ichigo was understanding, the being asked, "Now just what is it that you're doing, swimming in the river Styx?"
The being paused as he stared at the weakly struggling boy in his hands. After pulling him closer, Ichigo heard a sniffing sound, along with a tightening of the grip on his robe. "A shinigami, no less? That explains you not understanding me, however...No…I smell soul reaper, but there's more. Hmmm, just what are you, boy?"
Ichigo couldn't respond. This…skeleton…was powerful. Immensely powerful, strong in a way that reminded him vaguely of when the head captain was very angry, only more so. His very aura was stifling the area.
"I do not like having to ask questions twice. Let us try something that your brain could handle. What is your name?" the being said in a tone that showed it was near the end of its patience.
"Ichigo Kurosaki," Ichigo responded. Though never one to back down from a challenge, Ichigo knew that he was at a disadvantage here. This being had him overpowered by infinitely more than when he had fought Ulquiorra while in bankai.
"Kurosaki? Kurosaki—" the being said, testing the word as if trying to recall something. Tapping his chin with a bone finger, he hummed in contemplation. "Your name, boy, why do I know your name?"
Having no answer, Ichigo silently watched as the skeleton's gaze slowly fell down to his chest. "Oho," it chuckled. "So that's why I know your name. I knew that you shinigami were having trouble with some brat, but it looks as if life there was more interesting than I was aware of. I felt your little skirmish, and that admittedly impressive attack that was launched. I'm assuming by you?"
"What do you want?" Ichigo croaked from his raw throat, wary of the being who held him. The presence was making him feel sick, as if he were dying.
The skeleton face snapped back to his. "What do I want? You come into my domain, dive into the river Styx, and you ask what I want? You have quite the nerve, young one. What is it that you want? Did you come here seeking invincibility? Are you soul reapers looking to challenge me?"
"I didn't come here because I wanted to! I gave up my powers, and when the hogyoku chose me as a bearer, they tried to kill me. I just ran from them, and fell into some hole, and…um…who are you?" Ichigo asked in confusion, grimacing as he knew that this question would gain him no favors.
The being holding him silently stared into his face for a long moment. Suddenly, an unfriendly chuckle rang throughout the cavern. "A hero-type, I see. I despise your kind. Noble fools, the lot of you. As far as my identity, I suppose that I could tell you. I am Hades."
Ichigo felt the blood that remained drain from his head. Even growing up in a Shinto culture, he knew who Hades was. Ruler of the Underworld, Hades was a god. A immensely powerful god. Not only that, but a cruel god who had never been known for kindness.
"It would seem that the fates hate you, boy. Cast out by the very ones you saved, even pursued to the point of death, and burdened with such a curse as not only the hogyoku—which I can sense is both killing you and keeping you alive all at once—but also the curse of the Styx. Heroes never learn, and it appears that you are no different. Unfortunately for you, Ichigo Kurosaki, life is never what you expect it to be. Regardless the circumstances, you have trespassed into my world. That's something I cannot allow to go unpunished, even for a so-called 'Death God', so I must..."
Hades paused after that, his body freezing before a ghostly chuckle rang out. "Actually, young Kurosaki, I just happen to be in a good mood today, so I will give you a chance to leave the Underworld under your own power. How so is your business, and it should be entertaining to witness. However, you are going to have to start in my…let's call it my trophy room."
Ichigo felt himself be brought closer to Hades face, now within inches of the skull face. "To make things more interesting, I have a little gift for you. I won't tell you what it is, though, but will simply watch what unfolds."
Noticing a tingling sensation in his chest where Hades held him, Ichigo tried to pull back before the entire cavern was illuminated by a large flash of light, then he could feel nothing as the world went black.
Hades chuckled to himself. He'd be grinning, had he any lips to smile with. Heroes were his favorite pawns to toy with. Even though this boy had been no demigod or descendent of legend, his mind had been similar to so many others.
Save the world. Protect the innocent. Blah blah blah.
However, his power was far different. Of course, the boy had claimed that he had given up his powers, and he rightly had. However, the god of the Underworld was no fool. He had been aware of this 'hogyoku' ever since the traitor shinigami's early failed experiments had sent several souls his way.
The power that now resided in that boy's chest was a wildcard in the grand scheme of things. With dragons aligning with factions, demigods attempting coups, so many factions facing off in stalemates, what would happen if someone were to introduce an unknown power?
An unknown power that could shift the very balance of power within the world.
Turning in the direction that he had sent the boy, Hades began to dissolve. If the boy was going to be given the chance to escape, it would only be appropriate for the god of the Underworld to be present.
Once he had reappeared, he waited out of sight for Ichigo to awaken and try to find a way out of Cocytus, his very own trophy room.
With a deep gasp, Ichigo awakened. His first realization was of cold. Bitter, biting cold that seeped into every inch of his being.
'What did he do? Where am I now?' he thought, testing his limbs for movement.
Could fate be any more of a bitch? He wasn't sure. He had gone from running in the desert, to falling into the Underworld, to swimming in the river Styx, to offending the god of the Underworld—one of the most powerful beings he had ever come across.
Of course, there would only be more. Now he was in some frozen ominous body of water, which felt like an icy river, with no power and no clue on how to get out. Not only that, but this place felt more than just ominous. There was evil here.
The feeling was oppressive, coming from all sides and in different ways. There was rage. Hatred. Malice. Pain. Jealousy. Resentment and more. All poured in unending streams, weighing on his mind, tugging on his consciousness.
Looking around, he found himself up to his neck treading what looked to be ice. The concept was confusing. Though the ice itself looked completely solid, he was able to—in a crude manner—swim through it. It was uncomfortable, it was unconventional, but he was moving.
Ichigo couldn't fully explain why, but it felt vital to him to keep moving. Whenever he slowed, the ice felt thicker, dense as if it were closing in around him. His energy had not come close to replenishing, but whatever had happened to him in the river had apparently given him enough to keep going.
'Going where?' he thought, taking in the sights around him. He was in another cavern, this one with sharp looking stalactites, tall rock formations in the middle, as well as sinister looking ridges at the edges. His breath caught though, as he saw what looked like an arm hanging over one of those edges. Next to it was a drawn face, open in a silent scream.
'What in the—' Looking around, he began to notice more bodies, each in positions and expressions of agony.
His thoughts were cut off as he felt pressure building on his legs. 'Move!' Hogyoku whispered in his mind. The voice was faint, drained, but he couldn't focus on that fact at the moment.
Ichigo didn't need to be told twice. The ice was tightening on his body, and his movement was slowing. Not sure where the energy was coming from, Ichigo continued to move, doing his best to swim towards one of the towering rock formations in the middle of the water. Perhaps he could see more from a higher position, and begin to plan a way out. If nothing else, it would provide a respite from the treacherous waters.
By the time that he reached the nearest rock formation, Ichigo felt the now-familiar fatigue setting in. Whatever energy that he had gotten from that hellish river—he couldn't help but roll his eyes at the unintended pun—was fading fast. His movements were more out of fear, than actual energy, and were getting more and more sluggish.
He couldn't die here, he wouldn't. This place creeped him out, and he couldn't get out fast enough. Everything from the feel of the water on his skin, to the ever insistent feelings that were pressing on his mind forced him onward.
Finding a small ridge, Ichigo began to pull himself out of the water. However, the moment that his body broke the surface he felt a tremendous drain on his energy. Each drip that fell back to the icy expanse below him seemed to take his very life force with it. After only a few pulls upward, he was gasping for air.
Inch by inch, his upward progress became like a vice on his chest. Every breath became shorter than the last, and his body began to seize. Onward, upward, he tried to force himself. There was nothing else he could do.
Attempting to reach yet higher, his hand slipped, leaving him dangling from the side. He had come up several feet, but was nowhere near the top. Feeling faint, he tried once more, keeping himself focused on moving to distract him from his unnaturally failing body.
Reaching again, his hand missed his target entirely. As the arm fell, the momentum carried him off of the side of the rock, sending him plummeting into the freezing waters. The instant he hit, he began sinking at a fast rate of speed as the water seemed sentient, intent on pulling him down into its depths.
Though the cave was dark, he still had the ability to see everything around him. Mutilated and tortured bodies floated around him, almost mocking his descent. He tried to swim upwards, as some of his strength had returned when he entered the water, but he couldn't do anything aside from falling next to the rock's underwater base.
Every foot that he fell, the sense of ominous pressure increased. The hatred, jealousy and rage were like needles through the top of his skin, and insects crawling around below it. Never had he felt something such a hideous sensation, but he knew that he never wanted to feel it again.
Hitting bottom, Ichigo searched desperately to find any way to get back to the top. He felt constantly on the verge of drowning, yet he wasn't losing consciousness. Rather, the water seemed to be thinning and keeping him awake as well as feeling as if he were about to die. Forcing the sensation down, he looked back to the base, hopefully for something to climb with.
He barely kept himself from yelling in horror at what he saw. A massive cross was leaning against the stone, but what horrified him was what was so intensely bound to it. A head with fangs out of the opened mouth, large black wings, a humanlike torso, with the lower body of an…Asian dragon?
In addition to the inconceivable body, there were spikes and tools pinning each and every part dozens of times over to the cross. Even the eyes were covered, dripping blood into the opened mouth. The sight was horrifying, yet pitiful, and even revolting.
Continuing to stare in horrified wonder, Ichigo wondered what could have possibly happened to cause this creature to be bound in such a cruel way. As if to prove that point, he noticed that a large pin was even nailed through it's mouth and into it's skull, yet he could tell that the creature was alive. Seemingly in response, a mournful moan escaped its mouth.
Cautiously moving closer to the being, Ichigo realized that words were written on each of the pins that sealed onto the cross. Though trepidation, and even pity colored his thoughts, curiosity was overriding them.
'Whatever this is, it may know what the hell this place is, and why I feel like I'm dying every time I leave the water.'
Immediately in front of the creature, he swallowed his revulsion and reached forward, pulling the pin that was in it's mouth. Unable to budge it, he peered into the opening and saw that there were letters on it as well. Seeing the letters, he felt his mind read the words without understanding, and he spoke while pulling the pin.
Instantly, the pin came loose. His skin crawled even more intensely as he watched the flesh that had been pierced by it knit itself back together and the mouth—aside from the fangs—returned to normal. After a long, relieved sigh, the being's mouth opened and a rich, rousing voice spoke.
"Ah, you kind, kind soul, you have lessened my endless torment. How may I ever thank you?"
Hades watched in amusement from his perch atop the cave. This was far better than he could have imagined. He had simply given the boy the ability to read the seals that had been placed within Cocytus, just in case he had actually succeeded in escaping.
However, for him to use that ability to unknowingly release the mouth of Samael?! Being from a Shinto culture, the boy would likely have no clue that the terms for Samael were used for a reason.
Seducer. Accuser. Destroyer. The very Venom of God.
Yet the boy had released his mouth? Hades chuckled to himself as he watched the scene unfold. He knew the words inscribed on the seals, and had even been told of their significance when God had brought Samael into the Underworld to be kept.
Hades openly laughed as he watched a bright light erupt beneath the surface of Cocytus. Neither Ichigo, nor Samael, had any clue as to the events that would unfold should one release the other, yet it seemed that they were about to learn.
Ichigo gasped for air as he broke the surface of the water. After a mere moment, he slammed his razor sharp fingers into the stone beside him. Over and over, he used them to drag himself upwards to the top of the stone spire.
Feeling a weight dragging him down, Ichigo nearly lost his grip as he saw a scaled tail hanging down. His pants, nearly completely destroyed, were ripped high enough to reveal what was left of his legs. Dark, glistening scales covered the lower half of his body, while fearsome claws protruded from his feet.
He had no time to focus on his changes, because once at the top, he grasped his head, growling under the strain within his body and mind.
"Destroy him! Destroy Heaven, bring the arrogant archangels to their knees!"
The voice bellowing within his mind was overwhelming. Unable to stem the roaring torrent of rage, he did the only thing he could. Finding the pack that Kisuke had given him, he fumbled for the phone. As if sensing what he was doing, the thoughts increased in intensity and a pair of wings erupted from his back and tried to begin flight.
Opening the device, he heard it dialing, and as he waited for the shopkeeper to answer, he could not help but look back at how he had gotten there.
"Ah, you kind, kind soul, you have lessened my torment. How may I ever thank you?"
Ichigo paused in shock at the kindness, the sincerity in the voice. Though he had no clue as to what was truly happening, he responded, "Where are we? What's going on? Who are you? How can we talk under water?"
Bubbles escaped the now frowning mouth as the being replied, "We are in Cocytus, the river of eternal torment. Our ability to speak is a part of the curse. Hope so close, only to be taken away the moment you move upwards."
The voice was tired, yet so rich, so inviting. Each word mesmerized Ichigo, as they flowed with such power and painted such a desperate portrait within his mind. Losing himself in the cadence, Ichigo couldn't help but to believe each word that left it's lips.
"As far as what is going on," it continued, "I can only imagine what happened to trap you here in this torment, but you have relieved such a brutal burden for me. You also asked my name. I am Samael, once a seraphim of Heaven who was betrayed, cast down and sealed into eternal torment by the very God who created me."
Ichigo pitied the being before him. His words wove such a tale of woe, yet one so similar to his own. Entranced by the very voice of the angel, Ichigo had to know more, had to hear the voice speak again and asked, "Why were you betrayed?"
"Why is anyone betrayed by those whom they serve? Fear, jealousy, resentment. I was tasked as the Angel of Death. I served diligently, yet God became fearful of my power, and resentful of the dragon nature of my being. In a fit of jealous rage, he sealed my powers, cast me out of heaven, and gave me to Hades to be watched over for eternity."
With every word, Ichigo was drawn even further into the spell of this being's charisma. Such a being had endured an even worse fate than himself, yet he understood the circumstances. Had he not experienced the same? He gives up his powers to save the Soul Society, only to be cast out, persecuted to the ends of the earth.
"Samael, I'm sorry that you suffered like that. I just went through much the same. I gave my powers to protect others, but the one's I sacrificed them for threw me away, then tried to kill me, which drove me here." He could not explain why, but he words were being forcefully dragged from his lips. In reality, he could not care less. This being, this betrayed angel was in such pain, pain that Ichigo could understand.
"I understand your plight, kind one. Were I able to remove these seals, I would free you from this prison myself. What is your name?"
"My name is Ichigo Kurosaki."
"Ichigo Kurosaki..." Samael whispered, power reverberating through his voice and causing Ichigo's skin to tingle.
"Can your seals not all be removed? I was able to free your mouth, so why couldn't the rest of you be freed?" Ichigo asked as if it were simply logical.
"You would do that? How could someone of your kindness ever have arrived in Cocytus? If you free me from the rest of these seals, kind soul, I would gladly offer all of my assistance in freeing you from this prison."
Pin after pin, Ichigo spoke ancient words to release the bindings on Samael. The words were powerful, his tongue heavy after each one uttered. Yet, he couldn't stop. The relief, the sheer gratitude that showed on the being's face drove him onwards.
After what seemed to be ages, Ichigo finally released the last seal, freeing the eyes of Samael. "You're free. Are you alright?"
With a satisfied groan, the being raised to it's full height, towering over his savior, and stretched his limbs and wings. A deep, guttural laugh came from its throat. "I am more than well, Ichigo Kurosaki."
A sense of dread spread over Ichigo as he heard his name spoken once more by the former angel. As if waking from a hazy dream, he looked up and took in the creature that was Samael. All of the feelings of hatred, jealousy and rage were reawakened with a vengeance, and he began to panic. Before he could move, he found himself pinned to the stone behind him.
"Be at peace, boy. Though I am not what you thought me to be, I will keep my word and free you. You should know that I have not lied to you. I was cast out of Heaven, as I am the half of God that he was ashamed of. His rage, his malice, and his hatred of dragons and more are what constitutes my existence. Though the Angel of Death, it seemed that the holy father couldn't be bothered to keep his other half."
"What are you going to do?" Ichigo asked, wondering just what he had unleashed. The bitterness in Samael's words was worrying. The hatred of the God of the bible? Was such a thing possible? Feeling the emotions bearing down on him, he could not help but agree.
A dark chuckle met his question. "What else? I shall to return to Heaven, and express my displeasure. Once it lies in ruin, then I shall turn my attention to the dragons that plague this world."
Before Ichigo could continue, a light began to glow at the center of Samael's forehead, as well as the spike that was still in Ichigo's hand. Seeing the creature grasp his head in pain, he soon joined in as thunderous words echoed in both of their minds.
"Samael the Seducer, the Accuser, the Destroyer. Though your bonds have been released, you shall be bound to the very being that you deceived. As with the heavenly dragons, your existence shall be bound into a Sacred Gear. Your curse shall be contained within a vessel not of your own existence. Such is the punishment for your crimes. This vessel shall be your bearer, your partner, your master."
At that, the light increased, piercing the darkness and binding both Ichigo and Samael together.
'No. No!' Ichigo thought. Bound to the Angel of Death, the bearer for the malice of the God of the bible?! It couldn't be possible!
He soon knew different, as the beam of light connecting them grew brighter, and screams of anger and pain erupted from the half dragon-half angel as he dissolved, the parts of him floating into Ichigo's body.
After what felt to be an eternity, an unearthly bellow rang out throughout the river, loud enough to shake the cavern, and Ichigo raced to the surface of the water.
"Why hello there, my star pu—" Kisuke's cheery voice broke through the memory, only to be cut off.
"Kisuke! Shut up and listen! I'm in the—ungh," his student said he groaned in pain. Instantly on alert, he quelled the panic that threatened to rise.
"Ichigo, what is going on? Where are you?"
"The Underworld. I fell into the river Styx, and Hades sent me to something called Cocytus. I didn't mean to, but I released seals for Samael, and then I heard God's voice say that he's my Sacred Gear. Help me, Kis—nngh!"
Urahara's blood ran cold. Though broken, those words were never ones that he wanted to hear. Though a shinigami, he was well versed in many religion's mythologies, and what he was hearing was a collection of the worst of them. Styx? Cocytus? Samael?! Even Urahara knew who that was, and he could not say that he was happy to.
"Where are you now, Ichigo?" he asked, desperate for any clue as to where he was going.
"I can't keep him back! He's taking over, and wants to destroy—nnggh."
"What? He wants to what?!"
"...Heaven! He wants to—" the words ceased as a monstrous roar rang through the connection before the phone fell silent. Looking at the device in his hand in shock, it took several seconds for his mind to catch up and force him to move.
Turning, he began to gather items he been preparing. Never assuming anything like this, Kisuke was nothing if not flexible.
"Going somewhere?" a gruff voice asked from behind him. Turning, he saw Isshin Kurosaki looking at him in concern.
"We sure are. Let's go see your boy," he responded, only to have an impossibly firm hand grip his shoulder.
"Kisuke, what's going on?" he asked, his tone offering no room for debate.
"We don't have time for this! Apparently, Ichigo visited both the river Styx and Cocytus, and is now possessed by Samael. He just escaped from the Underworld. Still want to hold me here?" Urahara snapped, frustrated at the interruption.
Knowing that the dumbfounded Isshin was simply a worried parent, he added, "Come on Isshin, I need your help. He's about to cross a line that he can't uncross."
"What do you mean? Where's he going?"
"Heaven, Isshin. He's going to attack Heaven."