Nothing was quite the same as it used to be ever since the creation of a new world balance. In fact, the entire dynamic of the spiritual plane had shifted into something that erred closer to the side of symbioses with the living world.
As it was, clashes between powerful spirits would cause unexplainable collateral damage in the human world. Human conspiracy theorists were abundant, and even more alarming were the cases of such events documented on live television and film.
In any case, the living die, and their spirts emerge either seeking the path to a garden of flowers, or the road of bones and fire in hell. The in-between, the location the Seireitei had originally existed with its Rukongai and Court Guard Squads, was no longer there to sort the spirits under the discretion of the Royal Guard and Central forty-six. And as much as any sentimental Shinigami would reminisce of such times, it wasn't quite as ideal as they'd made it to be.
The desolate state of the Rukongai bereft of proper order and filled with listless souls of starving children beaten at the hands of vendors selling wares was no heaven. A world in which spiritual aptitude was the only ticket to entering the Seireitei while the rest were left to their fates wasn't in accordance to the promised afterlife many of the living had envisioned.
With the former structure abolished, there was no longer a middle ground in the spiritual world. When the living died, should they choose to linger, they remain as nothing more than souls. Some refused to move on, while others shackled by chains from hell were dragged to the gates.
Hollowfication in particular was offset by Avalon's distant glow that soothed and healed the holes left behind.
The old prejudices of the past, the justification for battle, was no longer present.
In the end, what everything had become was nothing more than a case of soul against soul.
The passing of time would establish new orders, ambitions, and even desires…
-Five Years Later.
"In a string of continually odd incidents, more and more inexplicable anomalies have been reported throughout Japan and Asia."
"Large ploughs of land have been upturned and destroyed by what many conservationists believe to be no natural disaster. Fingers point to terrorist bombings, or more darkly, covert government military testing."
"Closer to home, more disturbing cases of undisclosed property damage and cut power lines have been reported again in the Narita are-"
The click of a remote shut down the flickering light of an old cathode ray TV haphazardly placed and wired in the middle of a shack in an isolated wood. Reception and electricity itself were horrible out in such a rural area, but the man who'd installed everything was nothing else but a genius.
A man known distinctly by the pair of hat-and-clogs he constantly wore, grumbled to himself while lost in thought. Blood seeped through parts of his tattered clothing, and the stubble of his beard had grown scraggily after neglecting to groom it for too long.
Kisuke Urahara had seen better days.
The Soul Society and the Shinigami of the Seireitei had broken off into smaller factions separated by ideology the day the old balance was destroyed.
Masaki led what remained of the Quincy into hiding to start over again from scratch, teaching their arts to talented spiritually aware humans. She was helped by Ryuken Ishida of all people, and Kisuke had thought the man would never pick up his bow again. Regardless, the Quincy's numbers were severely few, but one shouldn't be misled and consider them weak. The remaining Quincy were the strongest of the bunch.
The click of a door swinging open by its hinges alerted Kisuke to Yoruichi returning with more bandages in tow held in her hands.
"Ah, the life of a fugitive, how insufferable," Kisuke found grim humour in his present circumstances. Not like he wasn't a fugitive in hiding before anyway.
Kisuke, much like the other Shinigami, were being hunted by the radicals of the former Hollow factions. Most were comprised of those that revelled in the murderous feeling of battle, but others were motivated by more personal vendettas. Kisuke was the target of many of those.
"What's insufferable is your tongue," Yoruichi grouched, shaking her head, eyes laced with genuine concern. "Just how many enemies did you make?"
"Enough I suppose." Kisuke shrugged, trying to laugh it off, but Yoruichi wasn't laughing. He deflated. "Better a game of cat and mouse than the alternative."
Kisuke was part of the neutral faction along with Shunsui and even the former Head Captain, choosing to take a back seat in order to watch how the new situation played out. However, even if Kisuke considered himself neutral, it mattered little for those hunting him down. Fortunately, he made use of the radical faction of Shinigami who refused to put down their swords against former Hollows to blunt most of the fallout.
Squad eleven and their Captain fell heavily into this category.
Comparatively, the Shinigami of the new conservative faction found meaning in their existence by defending and mitigating the damage to the human world caused by clashes in the spiritual world. It was why most large-scale battles were fought outside metropolitan zones and populated areas. They also tasked themselves with ferrying stubborn souls to the lady spirit's heaven which would be troublesome if too many people died at once as collateral battle damage.
Slowly, surely, new structures of the afterlife were forming, and Kisuke had no real care for it when other priorities guided him forward even now.
"Just hold still." Yoruichi sighed, walking up to Kisuke and squatting beside him. "Raise your arms," she ordered. "I haven't finished bandaging you properly."
Kisuke complied, and Yoruichi began helping him dress his claw-like wounds from a recent ambush by spirits named Nnoitora and Grimmjow.
Idly wiping away at the perspiration over her brow with her forearm, Yoruichi suddenly tightened the cloth she was wrapping around Kisuke's ribs and causing him to hiss.
"Owe, owe, it hurts."
The two fell into silence, Kisuke no longer responding, knowing that Yoruichi wasn't in the mood for his sort of dry humour. Not when she was giving him that look again, her eyes drawn to his left arm, then to other less than fleshy parts of his body.
"You know," Yoruichi tried to persuade Kisuke again. "You could just grow it back using one of Mayuri's medicines or making one of your own."
"I could, but I think I kind of got used to this." Kisuke inspected his mechanical parts before focusing solely on his left arm, gripping it into a fist before relaxing it with a sigh. It was one of many injuries he'd sustained after using himself to goad Baraggan in the clash against the Royal Guard. He'd not come out unscathed. Shaking his head, he no longer thought of the past. "Besides, don't you think it looks cool?"
"Oh, shut up already." Yoruichi glowered at Kisuke, but she just couldn't hide what she really wanted for long. Everything else she'd mentioned before were just distraction leading to this. "The arm isn't the problem," she muttered.
It was the wisp of Baraggan's rot which lingered near Kisuke's heart, contained only by a hastily made kido barrier that needed a constant supply of spiritual energy to maintain. Good old Hachi's expertise was what was tentatively keeping the power at bay, but that balance could be shattered at any moment, and it frustrated Yoruichi more than anything.
"You promised you'd work on a solution."
"Maxwell's Demon, the concept of supplying an endless supply of spiritual energy to fuel the kido field." Kisuke shrugged, trying his best to console Yoruichi, but doing little when she only glared back. "Yes, yes. Honestly, I've been looking into it, but I've been kind of distracted as of late as you well know."
Yoruichi lightened her glare and grew thoughtfully pensive.
"They're coming, aren't they?"
Kisuke merely hummed in acknowledgment. Balance is only balance if both sides could contend against the other. It was the divide between major jurisdictions that didn't cross due to mutual vigilance.
"Too many things have changed here in the east for them not to."
Ichigo glanced up at the skies and sighed to himself, feeling as if the battles of the past had come and gone like the wind.
Nothing was black and white in this world, and as a person who'd once stood on either side, he took this understanding the most to heart. Even now after the battle of that day had ended and Avalon's light had let him regain his human form, nothing had changed.
The days of constantly pushing himself to greater heights in power to protect those he cared for had been ground to a halt. Rather than life and death situations, his days had settled on the side of the mundane. He only really had to look forward to life and death battles against radical members of the Shinigami and former Hollows who couldn't reel in their bloodthirst.
All his training and past efforts made him feel antsy, but he made do with training on his own, or helping out the Shinigami trying to prevent battles from affecting the innocent.
Ichigo's current situation was none of those.
"Nel," he called out while raising a bag of sweet he was holding into the air.
From the perspective of the non-spiritually aware, all they would see is the bag mysteriously floating before its contents were emptied out and vanished.
"You're slacking, Ichigo," Nel snorted from beside Ichigo, having appeared by his side in a burst of speed. The skull cap generally on Nel's head was gone, letting her hair flow freely behind her. With no Hollow hole, or any fragment of the sort, she looked just like the Shinigami, a spirit dressed in modern green attire. "I was wondering when you would notice I was beside you. Your instincts have rusted and dulled ever since you started pretending to be human."
'I am human!'
"Did you want to try this human food or not?" Ichigo sighed, pulling back the bag he'd offered, rummaging through it, and pulling out a stick with three coloured balls skewered through. "Dango's pretty good, you know?"
Nel's nose twitched, her eyes betraying her as they rolled over in curiosity.
"Tch, give it here," she snatched the food and promptly bit into the sticky skewer, her cheeks bulging from the sweet rice flour balls. "Oooh, it tastes better than I thought it would."
Honestly, Ichigo still couldn't get over the fact that Spirits could even eat when they didn't need to at all in order to exist. So long as they had ample spiritual energy, there should have been no problems. Then again, it was food. Ichigo imagined that the taste and pleasure of eating was what Nel found most desirable.
Suddenly, a burst of spiritual pressure created an onset of buffeting winds that caused numerous car horns to blare from parked cars and busy intersections.
Ichigo's features twitched, but Nel was the one really grimacing between the two of them. She knew exactly of the cause for the disturbance, and was the primary reason she was here. Ichigo had only been a pleasant encounter.
"I'll try to keep the rowdy ones in check by the cities." Nel stated, her spiritual energy gathering at her feet, before she paused and stared at Ichigo with a curt nod. "You do the same if you don't want any bigger conflicts after things just began to settle down from the war."
"Baraggan's people?" Ichigo asked.
Nel rolled her eyes and huffed noncommittedly. "Just remember what I said alright. I have some bastards to reel in."
Ichigo nodded, and just before Nel could leave, he stopped her by placing a hand on her shoulder. She raised a brow and craned her face at him in confusion.
"Here," Ichigo offered another bag which Nel took and looked into.
"More dango?" Not like Nel was going to refuse.
"For Shirou." Ichigo clarified with a knowing look that Nel nearly punched the shit out of if not for how accurate it was. "You had said something about not getting one upped by the shark? Food's your best bet, and I don't think Harribel has any human friends to recommend anything good to give."
"Y-You, whatever." Nel sputtered at a loss, but her expression had hardened at the word 'shark.' "Give it here."
"Ahem," Nel cleared her throat, trying to recreate the prior tension, but failing. Frankly, she just gave up and left. "Then, until next time."
"Until next time," Ichigo muttered softly before recalling Nel's reminder. She went to do her part, so he supposed it was time to do his.
It didn't help that the drink he was holding had spilled over him from another gust of wind. Ichigo's lips twitched in annoyance before he snapped and started shouting at the disturbance in Karakura town's sky.
"Karin, get your ass over here! He's not worth it!"
Yes indeed. One of the causes of the disturbance was Ichigo's own sister butting heads with a person roughly her match, their spiritual energy clashing into a storm.
"He called me a kid for trying to help when I'm practically just as tall as him! He's not even an adult either! Where does he get off telling me what to do?!" A tick mark formed over Karin's brow before she relented and pushed her sword off of the silver haired kid's own blade.
"Damn Shibas," Toshiro grimaced recalling his hectic days with Isshin as his captain and shuddering. "Like father like daughter."
Toshiro's current objective had already been concluded the moment Nel had stepped up and dragged the former Hollows making trouble in Karakura town away. He was part of the Shinigami belonging to the conservative faction trying to maintain stability in the human world.
In the first place, Toshiro and Karin shouldn't have been fighting at all since their goals had been the same, but one thing led to another, and the two had ended up bickering.
Toshiro idly turned to call out to his former lieutenant now associate. "Rangiku, we're leaving…Rangiku?!"
A buxom orange haired woman was touring through the streets in a gigai with a snake of a man in tow.
"Gin, Gin, over there, let's go there!" Rangiku pointed towards a movie theater, phone shop, and then a hotel.
"This isn't a vacation!" Toshiro fell into a slump. Why, why him?
The human world's culture was scary.
Incensed, Toshiro took off, chasing after his wayward subordinate before she made a mess of things. Left suddenly alone without her bickering partner, Karin's features rapidly shifted in thought before Ichigo appeared and grinded his knuckles over her head.
"Dad won't approve."
Karin frowned, pushing herself away and stiffly rounding on Ichigo. "Approve of what?" She demanded.
Ichigo shook his head, unwilling to dive too deep into something that wasn't really his business. What was, was reminding her why they were out in the first place.
"If we don't go now, we'll be late," he reminded, causing Karin to grumble, but relent.
Their extended family, the Shibas, were apparently coming over to visit, and Yuzu had tasked them with buying groceries while she cooked with their mother.
Speaking of their mother, she'd been busy not only with Quincy related matters, but with both Karin and Yuzu.
The two were mommy's girls. Given the chance, they had flocked to their mother's teachings about Quincy craft and abandoned old goat face's attempts to impart his knowledge about Shinigami training.
Even Orihime and the others were no different from Yuzu and Karin, especially Ishida. He'd gone right up and fallen in line with the other remaining Quincy with nary a hint of hesitation. Tatsuki, Keigo, and the others had also joined, learning in order to be able to better protect themselves. Besides, they preferred his mother's tutelage as compared to Isshin who was a Shinigami. After all, Quincy arts could be learned and honed even as Humans.
Ichigo shook his head, obviously getting sidetracked. He and Karin had already gotten the groceries that Yuzu needed and had to head back home.
Ruki and Renji were apparently joining the Shibas for the home visit; Rukia tagging along to reminisce of the past, and to help facilitate the bridge between some sort of cousin he'd never heard of.
In any case, by the time Ichigo and Karin returned home to the Kurosaki residence, it was filled with the noise of bickering, provocations, and alcohol. Orihime waving for the two to hurry as Ishida, Chad, and the others were already waiting, having come along with Masaki.
As for the people of the hour, the members of the Shiba family, they were standing by Rukia while glaring at old goat face.
Ichigo stepped forward, greeting each one.
Kukaku, Ganju, and…
"Kaien, was it?"
The passing of time could feel slow for many, but could feel just as fast for others. Shirou fell into the latter category, too many thoughts and events blurring together in a set period.
First of all, with both Hueco Mundo and the Seiretei absent in the spiritual world, Shirou like everyone else had to take residence in the human realm. He'd settled in this world's parallel of Fuyuki city. Landmarks and people weren't exactly the same, but what was, was Ryudo temple where Shirou ended up deciding to stay at. For him, the familiar location and setting was both the beginning and the end of the journey that led him here.
Idly, Shirou sat while staring upon a lonely hill in the distance, as if waiting for something to come his way to no apparent avail.
The events of the final battle of that day were likely engraved into everyone's minds, but of course, he'd been unconscious at the time, so he didn't have much of a direct account. Apparently, none of the Shinigami had been in much of a mood to capitalize on his weakness when Harribel and the others all but threatened death. And death was most certainly where the situation was leaning towards if not for Silent's intervention with the other Quincy complicating matters.
Haschwalth had declared Silent Yhwach's successor, and the spiritual energy gathered within her was an irrefutable fact.
Many such as Baraggan had not been discouraged, but as if under one final act of mercy, Avalon's glow continued to shine over Shirou, protecting him. Any and all attempts to make contact with him were met with the inability to even touch him, leaving no motivation for even the hardliner Shinigami to remain.
Everyone had begun to disperse from there, many former Hollows giving chase, but the ones who could actually make a difference refused to follow. All stood around Shirou until he'd recovered, Baraggan out of a sense of pride.
Baraggan would not risk the one person he found worthy of admiration to be given an underhanded death. If he and the others had left in pursuit, and Avalon's barrier stopped functioning, then without any defence, the Vasto of White would die.
It wasn't as if Baraggan had been in any rush anyway, Shirou mused, recalling the last time he'd seen Baraggan. The thrill of the hunt was a large part of that man's entertainment to begin with.
Like many former Hollows, Baraggan wasn't really one to stay idle, and the members that followed him spoke volumes, but Shirou had no plans of restraining him. To an extent, who Baraggan killed, or what he did would only be part of the world's natural course. You can't expect to provoke a conflict, and then to just simply walk away unscathed. Shirou wasn't that unreasonable.
Still, Shirou had done enough.
The present spiritual world looked to him as its strongest, but he was a person that neither sought prestige or recognition in the first place.
He didn't lead, but his reputation preceded him, setting unspoken boundaries to limit what can and can't be done to avoid his intervention.
Only those in the know would understand that he'd just gone into seclusion. The spiritual world's inhabitants didn't need him to make their decisions, and he didn't want to in the first place.
He was content with what he'd already wrought.
The wood of the patio in Ryoudo temple creaked as Shirou adjusted his posture, the action eliciting a squeak of protest from Lilynette who'd been startled at his sudden movement.
"Sorry," Shirou apologized, only for Starrk to snort in reply.
Lilynette had been the one trying to sneak up on Shirou in the first place.
Positioned near Shirou on Ryoudo temple's patio space were Starrk, Lilynette, and Coyote. Lilynette had grown restless and was pacing, but Starrk and Coyote were content lying on their backs, heads cradled with their hands, as they stared at the moon. Inside Ryudo temple, the incessant sound of bickering from Apacci, Mila-Rose, and Sung-Sun echoed before Harribel of all people was pushed out to join Shirou and the others on the patio.
As confident and aloof as Harribel normally looked, her features were somewhat flushed, her eyes glaring at her former Fraccion and their 'encouraging' looks. The feeling within her was strange. It was honestly the best way Harribel felt that she could describe it. Her wild mane of blond hair was tied up behind her, and she was wearing a loose one-piece garb made of cloth found in the temple unlike Apacci and the others who'd pilfered clothes from the shopping district.
Harribel's tongue refused to work, the woman settling on standing there in silence before a burst of spiritual energy drew everyone's attention.
"I'm back," Nel beamed, nodding at Pesche and Dondochakka who were watching her attempts in the distance.
Harribel's eyes narrowed stiffly, feeling that there was something off here. And she was proven right when Nel tentatively pulled out some bag and began approaching Shirou with clearly ulterior motives.
"I got something nice," Nel began, offering the bag in her hand to Shirou. "For you. It's dango! You know, a good tasting human food I found!"
"Oh," Shirou actually looked flattered, instantly causing Harribel a sense of crises while Nel looked hopeful.
"If you like it, maybe we could, ugh, go around sampling more human world food?" Nel proposed flightily.
"That cockblock! What sort of demeaning tactic is that?" Apacci hissed to Sung-Sun and Mila-Rose. She would have made a ruckus if Pesche didn't suddenly appear with 'I'll fight you to the death' vibes. He was fully intent on stopping her, but Apacci wasn't alone. Sung-Sun and Mila-Rose made their moves, but were distracted by Dondochakka and Bawabawa.
Unfortunately for Nel's plans and Harribel's inner relief, Nel's words had spurred someone else's attention.
The mention of human food had Coyote perking up her ears. Memories of the past returned to her as she sat up, looked towards Ryoudo temple's offertory food, and then began silently staring at Shirou.
Shirou himself got the cue. Well, he did have nothing better to do.
Maybe he should take up cooking again if Nel's sudden interest in Human food, and the gleam in Coyote's eyes was anything to go by?
"Women," Starrk grumbled before rolling onto his side and trying to cover his ears for peace and quiet. This failed the moment Lilynette snatched the dango Nel had brought back, was tackled by Apacci, and then got the dango sailing into Harribel's hands. She would not relinquish it from there, and immediately got into a silent duel with Nel.
Sighing, Shirou let things be and returned to staring up at the distant hill where a full moon could be seen through a cloudless sky. Comparing things now, to how things were before, it was almost surreal.
He didn't know whether he'd truly understood the purpose of his existence here, but like he'd affirmed in the final battle with the Royal Guard, it was fine. Even if he didn't go searching for it, who was to say that it wouldn't come searching for him?
So, for now, he was content to enjoy the current times for what they were: peaceful.
Thinking back at this point in the future, perhaps Shirou should have realized something when the image of the moon ever so subtly rippled.
Somehow, somewhere, that bastard must be smiling.
-All according to Keikaku.
Unfettered, a hell butterfly flapped its wings before the sound of shattering glass echoed then faded beside a sign labeled 'Soul Society West.'
In this universe, the spiritual world had always been divided by the balance of two sides who minded their own business: Europe and the West, and Asia and the East. However, representatives of the West could no longer ignore the extreme changes in the East. Ambassadors under the jurisdiction of the present Knight King, the highest authority of the West, would soon make a trip over, unaware of the brewing changes in their own legislation.
Legends speak that one day, the promised king would return.
The slumbering regal soul of a knight with the core of a dragon rouses, staring towards the nostalgic sensation of an Ever-Distant Utopia and a dream dreamt long long ago.
A destined meeting, beginning on opposite sides.
In the end, perhaps in this new era still, not everything had been drawn to a close...
Burn the Witch: Legends of Pendragon
Author's regards: First of all, thanks for reading!
I know I've had my fair share of criticisms in regards to character deaths and choices, but all the same, it's a learning experience that I will take while going forward. All in all, it's been a ride.
Thanks for the support and the journey!