Guardian of the Dead
- Chapter 1 -
It had been six months since the end of the Winter War, and things had not gone as he'd hoped.
When he gave everything to defeat Aizen, the megalomaniac with dreams of godhood, he really didn't care what happened to himself afterwards as long as he'd won. As he looked back on it now, he realized what an irresponsible way of thinking it was when it came to such an important and life-changing decision for himself, especially when it was his soul on the line. But he didn't care back then, and that sentiment still hadn't changed now.
The way he saw it, there were only ever two options. The first would be him sacrificing his powers in an attempt for victory and the second would be him keeping his powers and letting Aizen win, the choice was incredibly easy to make back then, and in truth, it should have been for anyone in his position.
Yes, he was losing his powers, his ability to do that which he loved, protect, but he wasn't the only one capable of safeguarding the souls of the dead, there was a whole army of Shinigami dedicated to that very task. And besides, when all was said and done he would still have his friends and family, so what was the problem? Eventually, his powers would return to him, and when that happened, all would return to normal.
Or so he thought.
Sure, for the first couple of weeks after the final battle in which his powers were slowly but surely fading away his friends stayed by his side. They constantly checked in on him, making sure he was truly happy with the outcome of the battle and that there were no complications. But, after that fateful day in which he watched Rukia fade from existence in front of the Kurosaki Clinic, everything changed.
His father tried to maintain some normalcy by keeping up his goofy antics and routinely attacking him, but as time passed his 'training' became less frequent and less intense. Isshin had always been better with the girls; and so despite what either of them wanted, a divide formed and it became quite awkward between the two, neither fully sure how they should act. It was a shame.
His so-called human friends treated him as if he were made of glass, like his supposedly fragile state would shatter at but the slightest whispers of the supernatural. Always hushing up their discussions when he approached, never able to look him in the eye, and on the occasions which they would return from Hollow hunting out of breath with smiles on their faces, it would all disappear when they noticed his gaze upon them.
The Visored, who claimed him to be a part of their family on multiple occasions – something that truly made him happy since he'd never felt like he really belonged anywhere, with any specific group – never once came to visit him, and sadly it was the same with the Shinigami.
At first, he thought they were busy with the aftermath of the war, but as days turned to weeks and weeks to months not once did someone come by to see him in a Gigai. Even on the rare occasion that he went to the Urahara Shop, no messages ever awaited him.
Kisuke and Yoruichi still treated him normally – something he appreciated more than they would ever know – and although he considered them both to be good friends, without his powers, there was just never a need to go over there. Urahara was always busy with his research and experiments, and Yoruichi frequently bounced between the world of the living and the Soul Society doing whatever it was the free-spirited cat liked to do.
So really, the only sense of normalcy he got on a daily basis was thanks to the two little angels he called sisters. He was so proud of them; they were already growing up to be incredible woman, and he tried his best to not show them his increasing sadness, but sometimes it just slipped out when he thought no one was looking. Instead of trying to make him talk during one of the moments, however, they would just do whatever they could to get his mind off of it, be it Karin asking him to help her practice with soccer or Yuzu asking him to help with the grocery shopping.
He was so grateful to them, and he tried to show it as much as possible, but they were growing older, and he didn't want to be that over-protective big brother so much. Instead, he wanted them to go out and forge their own paths leaving him to watch from afar and give advice only when needed. Unfortunately, because of this, he was left with much more free time on his hands, time in which his mind could wander and think of all the negative things that weighed him down.
A tinge of sadness would always enter his heart at those moments, though it would quickly pass and be replaced by frustration; frustration at his situation and at everyone around him.
They were fools, all of them.
This continued endlessly for weeks, and after a while of being pushed away, he could safely say he had fallen into a pretty bad case of depression. He began to second guess himself, constantly wondering if all of his supposed friends ever even liked him in the first place. Maybe that was why they had all abandoned him now, maybe it was all an elaborate ruse they created to use him and his vast power.
It certainly made sense, why else would they all disappear from his life now that he no longer had any of that vast power? Perhaps he had never been more than a weapon to them in the first place, someone who would clean up all of their messes for them under the guise of friendship, meanwhile they were all laughing at his naivete behind his back.
Honestly? He was just being really pathetic. It was one of the many long nights during those months of powerlessness that he realized this, then everything changed.
He'd been thinking about his time as a Shinigami, and more importantly his time with Zangetsu and even his Hollow, the lessons he'd been taught by them. The former Shinigami had never really noticed it before but most of the things he had learned, had been learned from his Hollow and not old man Zangetsu. This confused him because for all the times his Hollow had gone on about how he wanted to consume Ichigo's soul and take the crown for himself, his attempts made at it were always quite lazy.
If he looked back on everything now, he could easily recall a couple of times where if his Hollow really wanted then crown than he could've taken it, and there would have been nothing Ichigo could do to stop it. And yet he never did. He always gave Ichigo another chance, always said the right thing to push him in the right direction, always taught him how to win. It didn't make sense.
It was during one of those moments of reminiscence that the realization him like a slap to the face. He had been acting so weak and out of character, the old man would be so disappointed in him right now. It was he who had always told Ichigo to abandon his fear, to look forward, move forward and never stop, that he would age if he pulled back, if he hesitated he would die, yet that's what he'd been doing this whole time.
Ever since that day Rukia left he had fallen into a state of stagnation and let despair take hold. Well no more. It was about time he put everything behind him and started walking forwards again.
It was that moment that everything changed for him. He threw himself into a heavy training regime because even without his powers he wanted to stay in shape. He loved getting his adrenaline going, pushing himself to his limits and then smashing through them like he always had.
When he wasn't training, he was studying. He'd always been smart, however, with his Shinigami duties taking up a lot of his time his grades eventually fell no matter how hard he tried to balance the two of them. With some effort he managed to get himself up into the top five of the school right behind Inoue and Ishida at third which to him was perfect, he was close to starting his final year of high school and would need good grades if he wished to get into a good college.
On the subject of his friend's, things were still awkward. They still tiptoed around the supernatural subjects when he was near which annoyed him to no end, but some form of normalcy had ensued during school hours, and that was good enough for him.
He had more than enough to do anyways between studying, training, and saving up money from his part-time job. He would keep moving forward, keep improving, and when the day eventually came that his powers returned to him, he would be smarter, faster, stronger, and just more prepared overall to do that which he was meant to. Protect.
It was also when he made that self-discovery that something else changed within him, something he had yet to tell anyone else about. Ever since the end of the war, his sleep had been plagued by a strange dream. As time moved on it would appear more and more frequently, and more details would be revealed to him with each passing night.
It was odd, continually seeing this fantasy-like world filled with Angels, Fallen Angels and Devils, massive Dragons which soared high in the air, their dominant roars reverberating throughout the sky. There were even some smaller creatures which after some research he learned to be Nekomata and Kitsune and so much more.
He didn't know why his mind was constantly showing him these scenes, but he was more than happy just letting it pass without telling anyone, well that was until he started hearing a voice. It was after his personal self-discovery that he originally began hearing it, just soft whispers in the back of his mind that he couldn't quite understand. As with the scenery and creatures that became less clouded as time passed, so too did the voice become louder until the message was clearly being received.
"Wake up. When will you wake up, Ichigo Kurosaki..."
"This world needs a saviour, there are still so many counting on you..."
He was going to brush it off at first, after all, it was probably just his minds way of telling him that he missed his powers, which he did. But then he reconsidered. He'd already experienced far too much in the supernatural, learned too much about the human soul and its capabilities to just brush it off. So, with a feeling of dread bubbling in his stomach he asked himself the one question which kept coming to his mind, 'Aizen is gone. Defeated and locked away. So who does the world need saving from..?'
To answer this question, he went to the one man who seemed to know everything. Kisuke Urahara.
~ Urahara Shop
"And you've been having this dream since the end of the war..?" The shopkeeper reaffirmed; an odd look on his face after hearing out the teens problems.
These two people had an uncanny ability to piss him off. The way his two mentors were looking at him made him really think he was losing it. "Yeah," he affirmed with a nod, "they started after my powers fully vanished."
Urahara hummed briefly in thought, his eyes never once leaving those of the young man before him. "And what have these dreams consisted of?"
Ichigo's heart thumped heavily in his chest as he caught that brief flash of intensity in the shopkeeper's eyes, the same one which always appeared when something big was going on. 'But what could be so big about these dreams...'
"It has always been the same, only more has become clearer to me as time has passed. I see Angels, Fallen Angels, Devils, Dragons of all sizes, those half-human half-animal beings called Kitsune and Nekomata, and it's always really sunny and warm..." he finished, trailing off slowly. The hair on the back of his neck stood as his two mentors gazed through him, small lines of concern forming at the edges of their eyes.
"Is there anymore Ichigo? Maybe voices or..?" Yoruichi questioned eagerly, maybe too eagerly she realized as Ichigo's eyes briefly narrowed in her direction.
"Yes actually, though that only started recently after a sort of... self-discovery I guess you could call it. It's always a female voice, and her message never changes." Okay now he was getting a little self-conscious, where were their usual teasing remarks? Instead, both of them looked on more seriously than before.
After a couple more seconds of the awkward staring contest, he released a sigh and told them, though not without a flush of embarrassment rushing to his cheeks first. "Wake up. When will you wake up, Ichigo Kurosaki... This world needs a saviour, there are still so many counting on you..."
That was the only response he got, they were probably going to start laughing at him any time now. 'Oh my Kurosaki-san your hero complex is as large as ever I see,' is what the shady bastard will probably say as he waves that stupid fan in front of his face. Surprisingly however that wasn't what happened. Instead, the shopkeeper rose silently mumbling an 'I see,' and 'I'll be right back,' before leaving the room.
The man didn't come back for a good ten minutes leaving Ichigo and Yoruichi in an awkward silence that just didn't feel right. He couldn't read the look she had on her face – though when could he really? – but the woman seemed content to just sit there staring at him the whole time bringing a light flush to his cheeks, a fact she didn't miss if the cat-like smirk gracing her lips was anything to go by.
When Urahara did finally return, Ichigo was surprised to see his father trailing a couple feet behind him.
"Oyaji? What are you doing here?" The man in question did briefly meet gazes with his son and nodded his head slightly in acknowledgement, but he didn't reply. Instead, he chose to sit and take a moment to collect his thoughts only stopping to thank Tessai who brought him a cup of tea.
A couple more tense moments passed in silence, each person just nursing their warm drinks and mulling over the situation. Setting his cup down with a little more force than he probably meant Isshin's eyes went straight back to those of his son. In his gaze was a myriad of emotions, fear, sadness, apprehension, all of them conveyed strongly to the former Shinigami. It was obvious that whatever Isshin was about to say had been weighing heavily on him and had been for a long time.
"Ichigo, do you remember during the battle for fake Karakura, when you told me that you would wait for me, that I could tell you everything when I was ready? He asked, getting a hesitant nod from his son. With a nod of his own, Isshin let out a deep sigh and continued, "well, due to recent developments now is that time."
Ichigo's heart rate picked up at the words, "recent developments? You mean the dreams? But what do they have-" the words died in his throat when Urahara stuck his hand up and gave him a look that conveyed a simple message. 'Listen first, ask questions after.'
Isshin sighed again and scratched at the stubble under his chin before leaning back into a more relaxed posture, his eyes becoming cloudy as he reminisced. "You should know that you were never really a true Shinigami, nor have you ever been just a human either.
Ichigo, your mother... your mother was a Quincy."
'What?!' He screamed internally, outwardly his eyes had bulged. "A Quincy?!"
Now his father slumped forwards, eyes falling to the cup of tea in his hands. "As you already know, I'm a Shinigami, and I used to be Captain of the tenth to boot. Well back then we kept receiving reports of a mysterious but very powerful Hollow that had been stalking the nearby Naruki City and killing all the low-levelled Shinigami stationed there. The problem was that the bastard would seemingly appear out of thin air and then disappear just as quick without a trace, as such we could never get a proper reading on the thing or dispatch a Captain to go kill it.
I knew something had been odd about the whole situation even if no one else wanted to admit it, so I took a little trip down there myself to check things out. It didn't take long for the Hollow to make an appearance and it was... surprising, to say the least. It was fairly human in shape much like a Vasto Lorde would've been and damn did it have the power to match. It was all black, and its Hollow hole had been filled with some unknown substance which was most curious of all.
Anyways, I engaged it and was forced to release my Shikai pretty early on but even still I was struggling. It could fire frightening cero's from the horns on its head, and it had two blades for arms which it cloaked in its black and red reiatsu to further strengthen its blows. It felt like the longer this battle went on, the stronger the damn thing would get, I was fully prepared to use my Bankai if things dragged on much further."
There was a slight pause in Isshin's story as he noticed his son tense. He, as well as Kisuke and Yoruichi, knew what had struck the teen so harshly and it was by no mistake that Isshin gave such a blunt bit of foreshadowing. The ability to coat one's blade in their black and red reiatsu to strengthen the blows, the ability to fire a Cero from the twin horns sat atop its head, both abilities would sound shockingly familiar to the boy across from them.
With a deep breath his father once more began to speak, "at the time I wasn't aware of who it really was but now I know that it was Aizen who was lurking in the shadows, hiding with one of Kisuke's cloaks so that he could witness his experiment in person. He must've known that I was planning to release my Bankai because the bastard struck me from behind and deeply wounded my back making me unable to gather my reiatsu properly and go all out, not without some major detrimental after effects at least.
I'll admit that things weren't looking good for your old man, however, not all hope was lost, just as the Hollow was readying to finish me off your mother swooped in and saved my life. She ended up tricking the Hollow and finishing it off with a single shot."
Ichigo couldn't help but crack a small, sad smirk at that information. It was shocking to hear that Aizen's machinations extended so far back as to even affect his father, but he guessed he really shouldn't have been surprised. But, to hear that it was his mother who saved him all those years ago was something he could easily picture.
"Sadly, that isn't the end of our story as your mother was quite the reckless one. When I said that she tricked the Hollow, she did so by letting it bite her so that she could get one clean, point blank shot at its head which would put it down for good. It worked, thankfully, but there were some negative side effects. A few days after the incident she collapsed and began to undergo Hollowfication.
Unfortunately for Quincy, a Hollow is like a deadly poison to them. So, unlike the Visored who has a chance at subduing and gaining control of their inner Hollow, a Quincy will only die if infected. Or so we thought. It turns out Kisuke through his research had developed a method to stop this from happening which was what brought about our initial meeting.
In short, I would enter a special Gigai that would tie my soul to hers and with my Shinigami powers, I would be able to suppress the Hollow inside thus sparing her life. Only upon her mortal death would the link break allowing me to exit the Gigai and regain my powers. At least that's how it was supposed to have worked. When she passed away on July seventeenth my powers did start returning to me, however, there was something blocking them from coming back completely."
"Me," Ichigo replied simply, finishing his father train of thought. "I am partly Shinigami and Human from you, and Quincy from mom, and when I was born the Hollow that your reiatsu was suppressing fled to my soul in hopes of escaping."
The three adults nodded their heads approvingly at his deduction. "You guessed it, though unluckily for the Hollow his plan didn't have the desired effect. Yes, he was able to transfer himself to you but the link to my powers came along with it. It was only after your powers started growing at a tremendous rate during your raid on the Soul Society that mine was no longer able to suppress it, and the link shattered allowing your Hollow to fully awaken."
'No wonder Aizen always treated me like I was some crazy science experiment,' he mused bitterly, then something else clicked in his mind. 'Wait, if I have been part Hollow since birth then that would mean that he has been here since the beginning as well and not just the shattered shaft like I previously thought.'
Ichigo frowned further as he continued to think about the psycho he called an inner Hollow. 'Then again... he did always try and tell me that he too was Zangetsu, I just never wanted to believe it. I always thought he was my enemy, but looking back on it now he was the one who saved my life more than anyone else.'
Shaking his head lightly he changed the direction of his thoughts, first and foremost he needed to consider the man before him and everything which had just been revealed. 'Do I wish he would have told me sooner? Damn right. Perhaps if I'd begun training at a younger age things would have turned out differently, maybe all of this could have been avoided...' Shaking his head again he dropped that line of thought, it was already done and dwelling on it further wouldn't accomplish anything.
And besides, he'd just realized something else.
"Y'know, it just hit me," he started, looking towards his father with a grin, "you said you were going to release your Bankai against that Hollow and yet mom came along a defeated it with a single arrow... you must've been a pretty weak Captain huh?" He finished cheekily, grin growing further as he noticed his father's eyebrow start twitching at his comment.
"Why you little..." Isshin began, only to be interrupted by the laughter of his two old friends sat at the table, in response he too couldn't resist letting out the laugh bubbling in his stomach. He was just glad that Ichigo had accepted everything so nicely and it seemed like he wasn't holding anything against him for keeping such large secrets for so long.
Clapping once Urahara drew the attention of the room back to him, "Now then!" He started, a cheery expression on his face as he addressed the youngest of the four, "with all that backstory out of the way we can finally get onto the main order of business."
Ichigo perked up at this, sure he was glad to finally know everything about himself and his family but clearly there was something more to the dreams he'd been having and he was really anxious to find out what.
"I should start by saying that everything you've been seeing in those dreams, as well as so much more, is a hundred percent real, Kurosaki-san."
Ichigo sat wide-eyed at the statement, looking towards the shopkeeper as if the man had just sprung a second head.
"Come now, surely you didn't think that the Shinigami, Hollow, and Quincy were all that inhabited this vast world of ours?"
The teen looked ready to smack him, "and how the hell would I know otherwise? Those are the only races I've ever seen."
Urahara's eyebrow rose dubiously at the words, almost as if asking 'are you sure about that?' further annoying the teen. "Well, what about Komamura-taichō or our very own Yoruichi-san? The former is a wolf and the latter a cat, surely you don't think they are just regular Shinigami like the rest of us?"
Ichigo couldn't help but nod in acceptance at the man's words, it had been rather shortsighted of him to not realize that a wolf and a cat aren't exactly normal even in a world of Shinigami and Hollow.
"The fact of the matter is that we Shinigami and Hollow are the minority in this universe of supernatural beings. Furthermore, our role as the keepers of balance is much too important to have jeopardized and thus we are kept separate from the other pantheons of this world."
"Kept separate from everyone else? By who? Does it have anything to do with the woman whose voice I keep hearing?" He wasn't sure how to feel about what he was hearing, the way Urahara had said that made it sound like they were prisoners, forever kept in solitude and unable to interact with the rest of the world as they did their duties.
"Yes, I'd say it has quite a lot to do with the woman who wishes to meet you considering they are on in the same. We cannot go into too much detail Kurosaki-san so just know this, she wants to meet you, and should you agree then all the questions you have will be answered."
Ichigo's eyelids fell slightly, appearing to be in a daze as he watched the leaves in his cup of tea swirl, giving a simple reply of 'I see.' as he mulled over the most recent topic of discussion between the four at the small table. It was obvious that his father and two mentors wanted him to meet this woman, or at the very least trusted her enough to where if Ichigo agreed to meet her they wouldn't be hesitant in sending him to wherever he would have to go.
He'd be lying if he said he wasn't curious. Whoever this woman was, clearly she was powerful and likely of a different race to anything he'd ever seen before. Hell, if Dragons, Angels, Devils and who knows what else exists out there then would it really be so far fetched to think that Gods did as well? And, knowing his luck he wouldn't be all that surprised to find out it was a God of all things that wanted to meet him."
'It's suspicious though, why would this person want to meet me of all people, especially now that I've lost my powers.' It just wasn't adding up to the teen, not to mention... "If this woman is such a big secret then how do you three seem to know her? And why me anyways?"
"Why you? You heard her Ichigo, this world still needs a saviour and who better to save it than you?" Yoruichi finished with a smirk, even if the kid wouldn't admit it he loved to play hero and would gladly do so again if given the chance. She would admit that she'd grown quite fond of him since their first meeting and that selflessness of his was a big part of it. "As for how we know her? Well, I can't speak for Isshin but you know this guy loves digging into things he isn't supposed too," she finished, jabbing her thumb at the man with the striped hat.
The youngest of the four scoffed at that, he wasn't surprised in the slightest to hear that Urahara had once again dug a little too deep and found out something he shouldn't have, his thirst for knowledge was far too great to expect otherwise. Shifting his attention to his father now he could only wonder what he had done to meet this mysterious woman but he wouldn't push it for today, he'd already been told a lot that Isshin probably wasn't fully ready to tell but had to due to the circumstances.
No, anything else his father had yet to tell could wait until the appropriate time, all Ichigo wanted now was to know what his father thought of all this. Sure they had never been the closest through the years and there were a lot of lies told and secrets kept that didn't help the situation, but he loved his father just as much as he loved- still loves his mother and he knows that Isshin loves him just as much as he does Yuzu and Karin. So as valuable as his two mentor's opinions are to him, nothing could beat his own fathers.
It only took a brief second of eye contact for the message to be conveyed from father to son, 'Do it, you weren't born to waste away in this town studying for exams, your purpose is far greater than that, you are a protector, so go and do your name proud.'
"Alright, I'll meet this woman, just tell me how."
"I'm glad to hear it, Kurosaki-san!" The shopkeeper replied jovially while rolling up the right sleeve of his kimono confusing Ichigo who without his powers was unable to see the faint golden glow which surrounded the man's arm.
Even though he was unable to see the glow he did feel the familiar tugging sensation he used to get when separating from his human body, though before he could question any of the three on what was happening the back room of the Urahara Shop he was in vanished leaving only the three adults who occupied it with him.
"You know he won't be able to come back for a while Kisuke, what happens when Soul Society notices that he's gone?" The Goddess of Flash pondered, earning a sly look from the man in question.
"Why whatever do you mean my feline friend?" He responded, pulling out his fan a waving it much to enthusiastically in front of his face, "I am but a handsome, humble shopkeeper, surely I cannot be expected to know the whereabouts of our young friend at all times."
Isshin and Yoruichi smirked at the reply, Urahara had already told them that his ties with the Soul Society had long since been severed and that he would always have Ichigo's back, even if it meant going against the very organization which he used to call home.
Any who were lucky enough to set foot in the high planes of heaven would be stunned by the beauty of the sight before them, it was nothing short of breathtaking. The planes themselves were set onto a large floating island, green grass and rolling hills as far as the eyes could see, rivers of crystal water weaving and cutting through the land. The sounds of birds chirping lightly echoed in the air as various animals of all shapes and sizes scurried and roamed the vast ground without a care in the world.
On the northernmost part of the island, an intricately crafted marble bridge arched out over the abyss below connecting to a golden gate which bridged them to the human world. A large village sat on the opposite side of the bridge which acted as the home to a large part of the Kyuubi population that lived under the Shinto Trinity and more importantly the Goddess of the Sun.
It was always peaceful here, never raining, the skies were always blue with various amounts of clouds rolling overhead. The temperature was almost always perfect in the Heavenly Planes. The motherly Amaterasu who loved all of her children was not immune to moments of frustration and sadness herself thus the temperature would rise and fall varying on her mood at the current time.
Today, however, was different, the temperature was perfect, not to cool and not to warm which meant one thing, the Goddess of the Sun was very happy.
The reason for her heightened joy and slight anticipation lay in the arrival of a very special guest for not only the Shinto Trinity but the faction as a whole. After seventeen years of patiently waiting for the son of Isshin Shiba and heir to the Shiba Clan – not to mention Amaterasu's favourite young hero – Ichigo Kurosaki was coming to the planes to finally meet her and hopefully usher in a new era of peace for the supernatural worlds.
She had first met his father Isshin when she did the one thing she was never supposed to, she left the Heavenly Planes and entered the mortal realm to use her powers for the purpose of cheating death. On that rainy June night eight years ago Ichigo Kurosaki was supposed to die along with his mother, but something called out to the Goddess of the Sun, the mother of the Nihon jin, in the depths of her soul something screamed at her that this young boy with a bright smile and hair like the sun could not die, it was not yet his time.
Isshin was of course eternally grateful to her, he'd lost his wife that night and was seconds away from losing his only son too, he promised her that if there was anything he could do to thank her, he would. She was blunt with him in stating that when Ichigo had aged some she wished to meet him face to face, they would know when the time had come but she made it clear that she would not rush it.
Part of it was simply because she wished to see what kind of man he would become in the future, the boy she had saved, sure she could watch over him from above, and she would, but there was nothing quite like meeting someone face to face and laying everything to bear. That was only half of it, however, the other part of her knew that when the time finally came in which Ichigo would step foot onto the Heavenly Planes she would ask him to carry yet another heavy burden on his already weighted shoulders.
She would ask him to be the Shinto's connection the rest of the supernatural once more, for far too long they had kept to themselves and it was time that changed. Tensions between the factions of this world were growing ever higher, teetering dangerously on the point of breaking out in a war which would shape this universe none for the better.
With the re-emergence of the Infinite Dragon God, it was about time the Shinto stepped back into things and helped in the efforts of bringing peace between the pantheons and forging an alliance that could fend off any threat to the peace currently holding the world, be they Man or God.
And, perhaps it was a bit petty of her but she also wanted to send Ichigo down there to curb the Devils ever-growing arrogance before it could grow any further, though honestly, her patience had already thinned to dangerous levels. She had been gracious in granting the Devils permission to use her land of Japan to set up their little 'territories' as they called it, the only condition being that they had to follow certain guidelines as to ensure her children's safety.
Now, however, those territories had simply become areas where their arrogant and naive children could live and experience a human life all while believing themselves to be the rulers of that land and doing whatever the hell they pleased on it. Well no more.
For hopes of peace the Goddess of the Sun really didn't want to terminate their deal with them and essentially give them the boot but they as well as the Fallen Angels were pushing their luck just a little too far. Their behaviour was unacceptable and she would be lying if she said she didn't wish for Ichigo to verbally or physically if need be put them back in their place.
A devious smile crept onto her face as she thought of all the possibilities the future might hold.
~ Unknown Location
'Typical Urahara, never explains what he's doing and just does it,' Ichigo groused as he stood in unending darkness. When the Urahara Shop vanished and he could once more feel solid ground beneath his feet he opened his eyes to see nothing, just an endless void that reminded him way too much of a Garganta for his liking, all that was missing was the blue reishi path beneath his feet and it would be exactly the same.
This, however, was not a Garganta, and there was no reishi path beneath his feet, just a single golden archway that stood proudly in the distance providing the only source of light in this otherwise black world.
That was the goal he'd been trying to reach for the last few minutes or so, just aimlessly walking towards the gate that he assumed – hoped – would take him to where he needed to be, some unknown world with an unknown woman who wished to meet him and could potentially answer all of the questions he had.
What would he want to ask though? He wanted to learn more about everything else that existed, of that he was sure, his curiosity had long since been peaked. Another big question would be why the hell she wanted to meet him of all people, asides from being a freak of nature who was born a mix of Shinigami, Hollow, and Quincy, there wasn't really anything too special about him.
But, he supposed such question would be answered when they met, for now, he had some walking to do.
Upon finally reaching his destination he studied it briefly, sure it didn't seem dangerous at first glance but Urahara was involved in this and that always meant risks. Tentatively he rose his hand and stretched out his index finger lightly touching the flat golden doorway causing a small rippling effect to roll out from the point of contact. He waited for the surface to calm once more before reaching out again, this time becoming more daring and pushing his hand and arm through the golden surface up till his elbow, letting a couple seconds pass once more he retracted his arm and further scrutinized the gate.
'Well, even if there is a danger on the other side it'll still beat standing around in this creepy place any longer.' He mused, giving the black world one final look over. Then with his decision made he sighed and stepped forwards, his body passing through the gate into the unknown.
He quickly became alerted to the fact that the marble bridge he stood on while beautiful in design was floating over nothingness, as too was the immensely large mass of land laid out before him, no matter how much he concentrated he couldn't see how far it stretched in either direction.
Glancing back ahead he could see mountains off in the distance, rolling hills and lush forests that blocked out most of the scenery from his sight. One plus from his scouting so far was a set of houses he'd spotted just peaking through the trees a tad bit northwest from the bridge. Hopefully, someone would be there that could give him a bit of information concerning where he was and more importantly who he was supposed to be meeting.
It took him a little longer than expected to reach his destination although his less than brisk pace could be to blame for that. It was hard to rush through this place where there was so much beauty for him to look at. It was so peaceful here, it reminded him a lot of the Soul Society and the times when Rukia and himself would go out exploring the forests of Rukongai.
The temperature here was perfect, it along with the slight breeze brushing across his skin was comforting and really set his soul at ease. The sounds of birds chirping echoed through the forests and every once in a while he would catch a glimpse of an animal darting by or eyeing him from the shadows, oddly enough they were usually foxes he saw.
Upon finally arriving at the village he noted that it was quite large in size with many people each going about their daily lives, some of them spared him a small glance and others outright stared though he couldn't blame them, his orange hair, white, v-neck shirt and black jeans were a far cry from their Yukata's and more traditional Kimono. One glaring fact that he had noticed about all the people before him, be they man or woman, adult or child, one trait that they all seemed to share with each other were the two fluffy fox ears atop their heads and a tail to match.
'What the hell...'
"Welcome to Takamagahara, Shiba-sama, we have been expecting you." A small voice spoke up from beside him, startling him slightly. The voice came from a relatively short girl with brown hair reaching her shoulder blades, green eyes, and a light dusting of pink on her cheeks. She wore a white Yukata with pink cherry blossoms decorating its right side which was secured at her waist by a red Obi. After studying her for a moment he noticed that she, much like everyone else he'd seen so far, had a pair of ears atop her head and a tail swaying softly behind her.
It was then that he actually realized what the girl had said, "Wait, Takamagahara?" she nodded, "As in the high plains of Heaven and the home of the Shinto Trinity?" Seeing her nod once more he could only look dumbly out over the land as the realization of his current situation hit him, "I thought this was all a myth..." he breathed out a few seconds later, voice barely above a whisper.
She nodded again, "It's understandable for you to think as such however I can assure you they are very real, as are most other things you would likely consider to be myths." After watching him survey the land for a short while longer she spoke up again not having any more time to spare. "I apologize for rushing you Shiba-sama but I was sent here to escort you to your meeting with Amaterasu-sama. And, while you were granted some leeway I don't think we should keep her waiting for too long."
There was a short pause before his composure slipped and his voice rang out, "I'm here to meet the Goddess of the Sun?!" He shouted, rounding on the short girl with wide eyes. He couldn't believe it, Urahara couldn't have given him even a small hint or something? He understood why the man couldn't go around using that name freely but come on, not even a heads up that he was meeting someone really important?
"Oi, and whats with this Shiba-sama nonsense? I'm not a noble so just Ichigo is fine."
"Unacceptable, Shiba-sama. Shiba-sama is the son of Isshin Shiba and the rightful heir to the Shiba Clan which holds an elite spot even among the other five great noble houses of the Soul Society, I must address Shiba-sama with all of the respect that Shiba-sama deserves." She finished turning away from him and facing down one of the paths which led away from the village and deeper into the planes of Takamagahara.
Ichigo's eyebrow was twitching rapidly as his annoyance peaked, only further being stirred by the fact that he was damn sure he'd seen a smirk on the corner of her lips as she turned away, "Tch, whatever," he grunted out with a small pout, "What's your name then?"
"Its Ayame, Shiba-sama," she replied still facing away from him no doubt still hiding her little grin. After briefly listening to him mumble curses to himself she stepped forwards and started down the pathway into the forests knowing that the tall teenager would be following shortly behind her.
Neither spoke as they walked as both were comfortable with the silence around them, he could see her stealing glances at him occasionally but it didn't really bother him. His mind was far too preoccupied with inspecting the lands around them, no matter how much he saw of it he couldn't get over the sheer beauty of this place. Eventually, they did reach something which drew his attention away from the landscape around him, an incredible multi-storied shrine of sharp brown's, vibrant reds and gold which shone as bright as the sun decorating it.
"That is the shrine of the Shinto Trinity Shiba-sama. Amaterasu the Goddess of the Sun, Tsukuyomi the God of the Moon, and Susanoo the God of the Sea and Storms," she informed, noticing the former Shinigami's awe-filled and curious stare.
Ichigo hummed in acknowledgement of her words but kept his gaze on the elegant building, "Is that where we're going then?"
Ayame's hair swayed softly as she shook her head in the negative, "No, we are currently headed towards Lady Amaterasu's manor." In the corner of her eye, she noticed Ichigo's own eyes briefly widen before setting themselves back to normal though that was all the reaction he gave, instead choosing to continue their walk in silence.
It took another twenty or so moments after reaching and passing the shrine for them to reach their final destination, the home of the Goddess of the Sun. The young man assumed that they must've had another more efficient way of travel than walking around everywhere as this was quite the distance to travel, perhaps they had something similar to Shunpo? Or hell, maybe they could just outright teleport themselves, he wouldn't be at all surprised anymore if it was possible now that the existence of Gods had been confirmed.
As for the manor itself? It was as ridiculously big as one would expect from the Goddess of the Sun. He wouldn't tell the man in person but truthfully Byakuya's house wasn't looking so grand anymore.
"This is the home of our Lady, please follow me inside," she piped up beside him before stepping through the gates.
It was a beautiful property, as they walked along the porch he could see neatly trimmed hedges lining each of the pathways which weaved through her vast courtyard and gardens. There were three ponds he could see from his vantage point, the one in the centre of her garden was much larger than the other two, the surface of its water decorated with fallen petals from the cherry blossom tree which stood proudly over it.
When the garden vanished from sight now being hidden by the inner walls of the home he shifted his attention back forwards and paid attention to the rout he was taking through the winding halls of this place. It didn't take long for him to really start appreciating having Ayame as his guide. Without his powers and furthermore his ability to sense reiatsu he would get completely lost in here without her as everything around him looked exactly the same. He was pleased to finally see some variation when they came upon two large sliding doors, one guard perched on each side of the entrance way.
It was odd, during his whole walk through the manor he hadn't seen any other guards stationed like these two, hell not even the entrance to the grounds had any stationed guards. So it was weird that there were some here yet nowhere else, perhaps because the Goddess of the Sun was just on the other side of those two thin doors? Then again, if he had to take a guess at anyone who could protect themselves it would be a God, so perhaps this was just a formality, or maybe there was something deeper to it, a hidden purpose? He couldn't say.
"She is just beyond these doors Ichigo-sama, head in when you are ready."
"ah, thank you Ayame," he nodded giving her a genuine smile at the use of his actual name, sure she kept the honorific but at the very least it was better than Shiba-sama.
With a smile of her own and a slight bow, she turned on her heal and started back down the hallway which they came. Turning back towards the doors he slowly started to slide them open, carefully peaking inside the room with every new inch that was exposed to him, honestly, he was really nervous. The room was fairly large with polished wooden floors, white walls and a small ground level throne which reminded him a lot of Kūkaku sat against the far wall partially hidden by a low wooden table with cushions laid out around it.
The most shocking things about the room, however, was the woman inside of it.
Ichigo had seen beautiful women before, his journey through the supernatural made sure of that. Be it Yoruichi-san, Rangiku-san, Unohana-san or even Rukia and Suì-Fēng from the Shinigami, to Nel and Harribel from the Hollow side of it, he had certainly seen beautiful women. But, as beautiful as each of them was, nothing could compare to her.
She was divine, ethereal, and for the first time in his life, he'd found his breath had been taken away.
Long strands of ebony hair fell down her back contrasting beautifully with her porcelain skin, thin pink lips were set into a warm and alluring smile and long eyelashes framed her vibrant golden eyes which looked as if they were burning with the fire of the sun itself. She was dressed in a red kimono decorated with golden suns that hugged her generous figure, it had long sleeves that covered her hands and was held together with a yellowish golden Obi that reminded him of his own Hollow eyes.
Coming to his senses he noted that he was staring quite heavily at her, much to his embarrassment and her amusement he could feel his cheeks heating up quite quickly the longer he gazed at her, and soon enough he found it hard to meet her gaze any longer.
"You need not be embarrassed, Ichigo-kun," she assured in a melodic tone sending shivers down the teen's spine and soothing his nerves.
Lightly he cleared his throat before bowing slightly and greeting the woman before him, "Hello Amaterasu-sama, it's a pleasure to meet you." Mentally he patted himself on the back, his voice was steady and it came out cleanly however when he noticed a slight frown cross her face he wondered if he had actually messed something up.
"While it's nice to finally see you learning some manners I can't help but think that being polite really doesn't suit you Ichigo-kun, so please be at ease around me." Her tone was teasing and her smile playful which showed that her words weren't meant in a negative way. No, in truth she found his brash and abrasive manors while in the company of 'superiors' to be quite charming.
Outwardly he showed surprise, everyone always told him to be more polite and now that he meets the Goddess of the Sun and actually is, she tells him not to be anymore, though inwardly he was thankful. He hated kissing ass, even if he respected someone he would never beg for something. "Well, if you're sure..." he replied finally, taking her words to heart and sitting down on the cushion across from her.
Her warm smile from earlier came back which made him happy, he couldn't understand why but he had an unnatural desire to make this woman before him smile, to make her proud of him, it was odd.
For the first couple of moments both of them just sat there gazing at each other, both content with trying to read into the others thoughts, though after enough time passed Amaterasu spoke first and took a more direct approach. "What is on your mind Ichigo? What are you thinking?"
It was a simple answer, "I'm wondering why the Goddess of the Sun wanted to meet me of all people."
"Straight to the point, very well," she nodded in acceptance. I have watched over you since you were born, I knew from the very beginning that you would be special and no, not because of your heritage either. I knew that someday you would become an incredible man who would inspire all others around him and I was right." The genuinity in her tone brought a flush to his cheeks, the young teen couldn't help the reaction he was having, it felt as if he was being praised by his very own mother.
"Then how do Urahara-san and my Oyaji know you then? It was pretty obvious with how they spoke about it that not many people know you exist, not to mention everything else out there as well."
The Goddess' molten gold eyes went dim for the briefest of moments, filled with a sadness that did not go unnoticed by her young hero. "On the night that your mother passed away, you were supposed to die with her," she began in a sombre tone causing Ichigo to stiffen.
"But how could I let such a thing happen? From a small, ever giggling baby with bright orange hair I watched you grow, witnessed glimpses of the wondrous man you would become, have become." She smiled warmly again seeing the flush of embarrassment rise to his cheeks once more. "As the one who would become our Hero, the one who would make even fate shrink away in fear, how could I let you be claimed that night? I couldn't."
"And so I did what no God ever should," she paused briefly, the memory of her brothers scolding her for her reckless actions coming back, "I descended from these Heavenly Planes and entered the mortal world, it was then that I met your father."
As for your shopkeeper friend, he has quite the habit of sticking his nose into places where it doesn't belong. But, I supposed it's to be expected for a scientist of his calibre, the man is far too smart for his own good."
As she finished giving her reply her voice held a slight tone of annoyance whilst speaking of Urahara, something which Ichigo would have found quite amusing had he not just been told that without this woman he would currently be dead. How was he supposed to react? How could he ever repay her? What could a powerless former Shinigami do for the Goddess of the Sun?
"Thank you. I don't know if I'll ever be able to repay you for saving me," he spoke truthfully, Ichigo wasn't one for theatrics nor was he the type to throw around thank you's and praises without reason so he just hoped she could tell the genuine gratitude he had.
She merely scoffed and wove her arm in a dismissive manner, "Don't be silly Ichigo-kun, you have already repaid me by growing up to be such a strong and kind-hearted young man, and lets not forget the many times you have already fought with your life on the line to protect the Soul Society and the human world. I would never demand anything of you, and in truth, it is I who owes you for all that you have done."
Ichigo simply nodded head in response, he understood that nothing he could say would be able to change her mind and so, for now, he would just let it go, besides there was something on his mind that he really wished to ask about. "I get now that there is a lot more to this world than what I first imagined, but how is it that no one knows anything? Surely the different races would bump into each other eventually, right?"
"Normally that would be the case," she agreed with a nod, "but we have taken measures to counter this." Pausing, a thoughtful countenance found its way onto her beautiful features. "Hm, how should I explain this?" Amaterasu murmured.
"There are two versions of Japan in the human world, both of which exist in the same place at the same time." She began slowly, her left index finger lightly tapping her chin as she searched for the right words.
"Imagine that both of these Japan's are layered together, the bottom one is the original and the top a protective shell.
We- my brothers and I, created that protective shell, a parallel dimension to the original and it is what you and the other Nihon jin call home."
"So it's a fake?" He asked bluntly, an odd feeling building within himself. To hear that the world he grew up in, had friends and family in, was nothing more than a fake created with a likeness to the original was a little unsettling if he was honest.
"In a sense, yes," she replied honestly. She could sense the unease building within the young man before her, it was understandable, she knew what thoughts plagued him.
"Do not dwell on it, Ichigo. I may have called it a fake, but it is not so cheap as the word implies. Everything you've experienced in your life, with friends and family, is real."
He nodded gratefully at her words. "But why did you guys do it? Create the fake I mean?"
"To protect the Shinigami." She answered bluntly, her voice a tad bit colder than previously before.
"The Hollow are a disgusting sin on this land. A curse laid upon my children because of petty vengeance," she hissed out with venom. "Their origins are perhaps something you will learn in time Ichigo, but my brothers and I did what we had to for the safety of my children and more so the world."
There was a slight lull in the conversation as Amaterasu worked to regain her composure. It was rare that she lost herself like that but she was not immune to darker emotions. "The Shinigami's role as balancers is far too important to risk being compromised. The parallel Japan we created serves two main purposes.
The first is to keep the innocent unaware." She paused, seeing a look of confusion seep into Ichigo's eyes. "Do you know where our powers originate from, Ichigo?" A simple shake of his head was the answer.
"They come from the Dimensional Gap. All of the residual energies from this universes creation swarm between our separate dimensions. It is this energy that seeps into our worlds, imbues itself in the plants, flowers, trees, water, the very air that we breathe. Then, though that air that we breathe, the water we drink, the plants and animals we eat that we too are imbued with energy.
Our parallel dimension cut off the residual energy from entering Japan, the air we breathe and the water we drink. It kept my children powerless and unable to see the spiritual."
"To keep the innocent unaware," he repeated softly, Amaterasu true meaning finally becoming clear.
It all clicked in Ichigo's mind, 'so that's why humans can't see Shinigami or the Hollows...' He'd always been curious about the fact, now it made sense. 'And she specifically said spiritual beings too, meaning not the Quincy, that is why humans can see Ishida despite him having powers.'
The woman before him nodded pleasantly.
It's kind of hard to grasp," the teen admitted, bringing a curious light to the Goddess' eyes. "This parallel Japan I mean, to think that it's existed my whole life and I was completely unaware." He scoffed lightly, "I guess the fact that it exists in the first place is the craziest part of all."
Amaterasu let out a small chuckle at his words. "This is a world of Gods, Ichigo. I am the Goddess of the Sun and with my two brothers Tsukuyomi and Susanoo we complete the Trinity, something like creating a parallel dimension is a simple task for us."
On his face was a look of incredulity. Creating a dimension was a simple task? It truly put into perspective just how insignificant he was. Even at the height of his power, the Final Getsuga Tenshō, how insignificant would he be against this woman before him? He couldn't say he was all that eager to find out.
Letting his mind fall back to the task at hand he posed another question which had been poking at the pack of his mind. "I get the importance of balance, but isn't this all just a bit excessive? Surely the Shinigami can protect themselves. Isn't Jii-san supposed to be the strongest Shinigami ever born?"
He couldn't help but doubt his own words even as he said them. He could think of a few moments off the top of his head when they couldn't protect themselves, and he was forced to step in for them. He was wrought from his thoughts by Amaterasu's melodic laughter.
"Yes, 'gramps' as you call him is indeed powerful, frighteningly so. In fact, there is only one Shinigami who could hope of besting him, and that is merely due to the abilities of his Zanpakuto. That's not to say he isn't powerful in his own right, of course, it's just... Shigekuni is someone who common sense can't really explain." With a light shake of her head, she regained her original train of thought. "The problem lies not with their ability to protect themselves, Ichigo. And this leads to the second reason my brothers and I did what we did. It is because of everything else that exists in this world. There are many others who would like to accomplish what Sōsuke Aizen could not."
Ichigo grimaced at the thought, 'I'd rather not have to see another Aizen so soon.' But he had to wonder, "how many times has that actually happened? Someone invading the Soul Society?"
Amaterasu gave him a wry grin, "You mean before you did?" Her grin widened when the teen shrunk in on himself, embarrassed at the reminder. "It has happened once," she continued, deciding she could tease him later.
"It was nearly a thousand years ago now that the Quincy armies marched onto the planes of the Soul Society; they lost as you would guess, but it was far too close a battle for my liking. If the Shinigami did not have Shigekuni leading them; they would have certainly lost that war." When she'd finished speaking her tone had grown quiet and her eyes distant; it was clear she was lost in a distant memory.
Then, after a moment of silence, she came back to the present world and continued her explanation. "The Quincy were never meant to co-exist with the Shinigami and Hollow. It is by no mere coincidence that so few other races are found within our borders."
"Never meant to co-exist? Does this parallel dimension you created also block other people from entering it then?" He asked, though oddly enough the Goddess shook her head negatively.
"No, the other races stay out simply due to agreements with us." She explained. "As I've said before, the Shinigami's role as balancers is far too important to risk, the other Pantheons know this just as well as we do and thus even groups we are unfriendly with respect Japan's borders.
That isn't to say we are alone here, there are times when the other Pantheons need to enter our borders and it is allowed. More so, there are those I have granted permission to live in this country as long as they follow my rules. Those who enter without my permission or are negligent in upholding my conditions find themselves... dealt with."
Ichigo felt a shiver run up his spine at the dark tone the Heavenly Mother had taken for those last words.
"So if the Quincy aren't originally from here then why did they want to invade?"
"It was because of Yhwach, the Quincy King and their progenitor," she answered, her mouth twisting downwards in distaste. "To say he is the son of the Reiō wouldn't quite be right as they were originally one and the same, but it works for now.
The Reiō was a God, an immensely powerful one too due to the ability he possessed. Precognition. Alone it is a frightening ability, however, his was twisted, not only could he see the future but he could immediately understand anything seen in the visions as well, and that isn't all.
Imagine that all of the different flows of time are grains of sand, each one possessing an alternate reality to our own. His power, Ichigo, is to simultaneously see each of those grains of sand and 'jump' to them, changing our current timeline as he wishes, such as instantly destroying a Shinigami's Bankai or infinitely erasing his own death from ever happening."
He felt overwhelmed by what he'd just heard. Amaterasu had just said this was a world of Gods where making dimensions was a simple task, but hearing that such a broken ability existed was just hard to grasp. He just couldn't imagine it, releasing his Bankai during a fight and having the blade suddenly snap in two. It was a ridiculous notion.
After giving Ichigo a couple moments to sort his thoughts the Goddess of the Sun continued from where she left off, "The Reiō fully understood the magnitude of his power and he understood how dangerous it would be if it continued to exist, thus he split himself along with his power and created Yhwach.
The both of them possess the ability to see the future and understand everything within it, though thankfully neither can change it to suit their need any longer. Yhwach, of course, deemed this as unacceptable and immediately set out to reabsorb his father and regain their true power, this time with him controlling it.
I recognized the danger that would come if such a thing were to be allowed and so I reached out to the now Reiō and offered him the position of regulator for the souls. Were he to accept, he would be safe from his son in another dimension with an army of Shinigami to protect him should Yhwach somehow find his way into the Soul Society."
"I'm guessing that the Shinigami don't know that part of the story?"
"Of course not," she replied with a shake of her head. "Sometimes it is best if you don't give all the details, instead tell them simply that there is something they must protect no matter the cost."
A couple of moments passed in silence before a light sigh escaped the teen. "Y'know, this is a lot to take in, putting aside the fact that I'm in Takamagahara talking with one of the Shinto Trinity with the knowledge that Dragons, Angels, Fallen Angels, Devils, Kitsune and who knows what else exists out there, now I learn that the history between the Shinigami and Quincy go far deeper than I could ever imagine. It's just a lot to take in," He breathed out, tone relaxed and somewhat distant.
He wasn't complaining about all the knowledge being pushed onto him, in fact, he was happy about it. He'd always had a thirst for knowledge but this was just simply a lot to take in. These weren't small secrets you shared with a friend in elementary school, these were world-shaking revelations.
That was something which had always pissed him off, most people just treated him as a naive and dumb child who could understand complicated situations and topics. As such they would always unnecessarily dumb down explanations for him. That was one of the reasons he loved spending so much time with his two mentors, they were two of the few people who actually realized his true intelligence and would hold meaningful conversations with him.
It was for that very reason he would have tea with Kyōraku-san every time he ventured to the Soul Society, and usually Ukitake-san as well considering they were always together. Even though he put up such a lazy and uncaring front the man who hid his eyes behind that straw hat was anything but, he was scarily perceptive, analytical, and had seen right through Ichigo the first time they met.
He had been present during one of the Captain meetings after the incident with Amagai and the Bakkōtō and as usual, they were treating him like a child who couldn't understand what the grownups were saying. Kyōraku had been very quiet the whole time and in truth, Ichigo had forgotten he was even there.
It was surprising considering the outlandish pink kimono he always wore atop his haori. But that was one of the things which made him so scary, the ability to seamlessly blend into a situation and analyze everything before acting.
At one point during the meeting, Ichigo had caught the eyes of Kyōraku peeking at him from under the brim of his Sakkat. He'd be lying if he said it hadn't put him on edge. Though in the end, it seemed he worried for nothing because after the meeting had finished the man approached him with a warm smile and an offer for tea.
Well, it was actually sake that was offered but after much convincing to the man that he was a minor and unable to drink alcohol they settled on tea.
So, sat out on a porch at the eighth division with tea and sake in hand respectively the man had spoken up very bluntly and asked, 'why do you let them belittle you?' It had caught him off guard, to say the least, but in the end, that was the start of a great friendship. Well, perhaps friendship wasn't quite right, in truth he was like an uncle to Ichigo.
Pulling himself from his memories he made the alarming discovery that for the past few moments he had been completely ignoring the Goddess of the Sun, and judging by the knowing smirk on her face and the twinkle of mischief in her eyes she knew it as well. Thankfully, however, she didn't seem bothered by the fact. "Sorry, I was lost in thought," he mumbled out sheepishly.
"No need for apologies Ichigo-kun, as you said this is a lot to take in."
With a nod of his head, he made the decision that since he'd already been given so much to think of today he might as well just finish it off and ask her the question he'd been holding in since Kisuke told him the things in his dreams were real. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't curious so could you tell me more about... well everything?"
"I don't mind however it would take much too long to tell you, so instead how about I show you."
Any confusion which may have stemmed from her statement was quickly blown away when she lifted her arm over the table between them allowing the sleeve of her Kimono to fall back and reveal her dainty hand, pushing down any feelings of embarrassment he reached his own larger, more calloused hand across and grasped hers lightly within his own. 'I really am a prude,' he grumbled inwardly as a blush began warming his cheeks, thankfully before it could get too far his mind went blank and images along with information began assaulting his brain.
The Shinto Trinity of Amaterasu, Tsukuyomi, and Susanoo as well as the Kitsune who call Takamagahara home. The Allfather of the Norse Odin, his brother Loki and son Thor. Sun Wukong the Victorious Fighting Buddha and first Monkey King. The Hindu Trimurti of Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma. Lugh, the Celtic God of War and Aten, the Egyptians own Sun God.
It was frightening to learn that Trihexa, the beast recorded in the book of the apocalypse was real, that discovery led to the Dragon's starting first and foremost with Great Red who much like Trihexa was the Dragon recorded in the book of the apocalypse. He was a being with complete authority over the dream, the both of them so powerful that if they were to ever fight than this world would be destroyed.
Only slightly below them was the Infinite Dragon God, Ophis, who much like the other two could end everything on but the slightest of whims.
Below them, you have the twin Heavenly Dragons, Ddraig and Albion as well as the six Dragon Kings which became five when Tannin the Blaze Meteor Dragon became a Devil for reasons unknown. And, if that wasn't enough Dragon's for you there were also the eight evil Dragons though not all of them lived anymore. Crom Crauch through vigorous training was able to reach and surpass the original strength of a Heavenly Dragon and Apophis and Aži Dahāka weren't too far behind from him.
This was all frightening information to someone like Ichigo who for the majority of his time as a Shinigami believed Aizen was the biggest threat he would ever face. Aizen was nothing more than a spec of dust to some of these beings and it took Ichigo literally everything he had just to weaken the man enough for him to be sealed. And now he finds out there are all these people who could make short work of him even after his Dangai training and he didn't even have that strength anymore.
It was then that the really interesting information came. The Great War between the three factions that have each been decimated to an almost irreparable level, the God of the Bible along with the four original Satan's of Hell had each perished in the war.
The Devils had something called a peerage system which would allow them to reincarnate beings of other races to re-bolster their numbers. The Angels, on the other hand, had been pretty screwed until this point and as such had fallen behind in the power race. Now they had the Brave Saint system which was modelled after the Peerage system and allowed them to reincarnate people as Angels, however, their system was much more strict and thus even though they could perform reincarnations it was much harder for them to find worthy people than it was for the Devils.
This was a troubling bit of information for Ichigo. He had nothing against the Devil race per se as he'd never actually met one, but a balance between the Angels and Devils was something that just seemed really important on a base level and currently, there was none. The Fallen Angels, while low in number weren't in too dire of a situation as they took in anyone from any race, as such their numbers would replenish easily enough over time.
The Devils four Satan's were now titles to be earned and not actually inherited through bloodline, two of their current four were also Super Devils which put them on far different levels compared to the rest. While Heaven couldn't replace the God of the Bible they still had their original ten Seraph and four Great Seraph.
Out of everything shown to him the thing which interested him the most was the sacred gear system created by the God of the Bible which allowed humans to have a better chance of fighting for themselves and protecting themselves against the other races.
It reminded him a lot of the Zanpakuto considering they each had the possibility of gaining a released state called the 'Balance Breaker.' There were many low tiered ones, however, there was also the 13 Longinus named after the True Longinus. Each of these 13 weapons held the potential to kill a God and two of them actually held the souls of the twin Heavenly Dragons.
When the images finally stopped he experienced a brief moment of excruciating pain throughout his head, though it was to be expected considering all the information he just had forced into his brain in an instant. So deep in thought he was that he didn't even notice the curious smirk Amaterasu was sending his way, when he did notice and was about to ask what was so funny she simply glanced at their still joined hands which had remained as such even though the flood of information had stopped a good couple moments ago.
He quickly retracted it after that and refused to meet the gaze of the woman before him due to his embarrassment, though it lessened slightly when the sound of her laughter reached his ears.
"You really are a prude, Ichigo-kun," she teased slyly, though inwardly she was smiling. She knew he wasn't really a prude, he was just a good man who respected women, there weren't many true gentlemen around like him anymore and so it just solidified it all the more that she made the right decision when she saved him all those years ago.
When their long conversation had finally come to an end, and he'd stepped outside the room, Ayame was already there waiting for him. She was thankfully still calling him Ichigo even if there was that annoying suffix at the end, though he'd pretty much figured she was only doing it at this point to bug him.
As she had on their initial walk to Amaterasu's home, she was stealing more glances in his direction as they walked. The further they got along the stronger her blush became.
It would be a lie if Ichigo said he didn't know what was going on. He had been told on multiple occasions by women – Shinigami and Human alike – that he was attractive. And, despite what they thought he wasn't actually dense. He simply played the part to avoid romantic situations. He wasn't scared of romance, he just never had a particular interest in it, he was always too busy.
After winding his way throughout more hallways then seemed conventional they reached the baths. 'Huh, I thought I'd be eating first,' he thought curiously, then shrugged. Who was he to say how they should do things?
Well, although he tried to keep such an open mindset it was difficult with the words that next came out of her mouth.
Apparently – as was the custom in Takamagahara – he needed to soak for equal amounts of time in two separate baths.
Now, maybe it was just Ichigo being paranoid but the whole thing just screamed suspicious to him, however, that didn't mean that he thought Amaterasu was plotting against him or something equally stupid. So, he settled for levelling the short-statured girl next to him with a skeptical gaze.
And he had to give it to the girl, she had a damn good poker face.
The first of the two baths he was made to enter seemed relatively normal, the water was oddly white but with all the steam rising from the surface he passed it off as maybe a trick of his eyes. The second bath she asked him to enter was when he really became guarded. It was hot, the kind of hot that made you wonder if your skin was going to melt away before your eyes yet it didn't hurt, in fact, it felt incredible.
No, the reason this spring gave him pause was the fact its waters were blood red. As with the first he was required to spend exactly thirty minutes soaking in the waters though for what reason he couldn't say, any attempts at questioning Ayame were swiftly deflected and he quickly gave up due to a realization that he wouldn't get anything from the girl.
It was... a weird experience to be sure, but he couldn't call it a bad one. To say he felt refreshed would be an understatement, the throbbing headache he'd received from Amaterasu's information transfer was nearly gone and his body hadn't felt this light in a long time, not since he was a Shinigami.
Donning the yukata which had been provided for him – a deep Prussian blue with silver firework designs running up the right side – he stepped into the hall where his guide was once again awaiting him. Any greeting that might have been shared between the two was cut off by a vicious growl escaping his stomach.
Embarrassed, he rose a hand to scratch the back of his head and fell into step behind the girl.
The dining room was as grand as you would assume. A large rectangular table with a beautiful potted flower in the middle. The far wall was composed of three large shoji doors, each of which was open exposing the garden.
There were a handful of servants waiting diligently along the wall to his left and another group bringing in endless amounts of food. He could only stare wide-eyed as the pile continued to grow higher.
When all was said and done it looked as if they were planning a great feast, yet he was the only diner in sight.
"If you would, Shiba-dono," and elderly Kitsune spoke up suddenly from the far end of the table. He had pulled the head seat out and was waiting patiently for Ichigo to make his way over.
It was too much for him, he had never been one for all this extravagance, but for fear of being rude, he would comply. He knew they were only doing their jobs.
Sitting down he let the man gently slide him back in towards the table. With a small thanks, the elderly man bowed and returned to his post at the side of the room with his fellow servants, waiting diligently for an order.
Turning back towards the feast before him, his nose was assaulted with a heavenly smell. He couldn't help but dig in, he tried to be humble and hold manners but the more he ate the hungrier he got and the faster he felt the need to scarf the food down, he couldn't control himself.
By the time he was finished he'd eaten enough to make himself explode a few times over and honestly he was quite embarrassed with himself. None of the staff around him so much as batted an eye however so maybe it was normal in the supernatural to eat so much? He didn't know but he was definitely thankful for their lack of reaction.
When he was finally finished and had been escorted to his new room the first thing he'd done was plop down onto the futon laid out for him. It was a shame that it'd gotten so late because with how great he felt at that moment he would've loved to do some exploring. But, as his head sunk into his pillow his body was overtaken by sudden exhaustion.
It was odd, there were many nights he could remember that had been limited to a couple hours of sleep due to his Shinigami duties or trying to catch up on his neglected homework. Yet right now it felt like he hadn't slept in years, no matter how hard he fought it his eyes drifted shut and he fell into a peaceful sleep.
When he woke up it was definitely Karakura Town staring back at him. Well, if he could call it waking up, he was just stood in a random street when his eyes opened. The last time he checked he couldn't sleep standing up nor did he sleepwalk, so why or how he got there he couldn't say.
The town was eerily quiet. All that could be heard were the flipping pages of a nearby book that had been left open and abandoned.
More than the creepy atmosphere around him though, what really put him on edge was the lack of people.
He went up and down the street a couple of times, making sure to peek his head into each shop he passed but it was no use, there was no one.
Making his way back to the book which had been left open on one of the tables outside a cafe he shut it with a soft thud. "Can't Fear Your Own World... huh?" He whispered softly, he'd never heard of the book personally but he'd be lying if he said it didn't fit his current situation a little too well.
Glancing into the cafe window he was once more given evidence to support his theory. 'Half-eaten plates of food, just like everywhere else...'
The most off-putting thing about the whole situation was not the lack of people, however, it was the state they'd left the town in. Car doors open with grocery bags dropped ungracefully on the pavement.
Street vendor stalls left in a mess, some of the shelves knocked over and their wares sprawled out on the ground. Books sprawled out messily in the nearby store as if a tornado had run through the place.
Whoever was here, they had left in a real hurry. And, in most of the places he searched it was more than just mass panic, there were signs of struggle, like they were desperately fighting something.
He was broken from his musings by a flash of black in the reflection of the glass window above him. Slowly he tilted his head up as not to make any sharp movements, the white-knuckled grip on the glass table he was hunched over unrelenting.
He couldn't help the surprised grunt which escaped him when he laid eyes upon the figure, thought what it was he didn't know. It was just a mass of swirling black, vaguely human in shape but more monster than anything else.
Every so often a long, smoke-like tongue would slither from its mouth that sent him on edge. It was like he was staring into the eyes of a snake.
Hearing the blood pumping in his ears as his heart thrashed in his chest his adrenaline soared. Whatever it was, it was right behind him and getting closer.
Scanning the area around him for anything that could be used as a weapon he realized that there was no more time left. Darting forwards he grasped a metal chair in his sweaty palm and swung it around behind him with every ounce of strength he could muster.
When the chair passed through nothing but air he froze temporarily, a tenseness holding his form in place. Refusing to relent his makeshift weapon Ichigo made his way to the centre of the street and spun quickly on his heels, eyes scanning every nook and cranny as sweat beaded down his forehead.
But, no matter how long he searched, there was nothing.
And the silence returned.
Letting his posture fall lax he stood up straight and set the metal chair down gently on the pavement beside him.
'I need to get home...' he thought finally, his senses sharp and nerves frayed.
Without sparing the area another glance he set off in a sprint towards the Kurosaki Clinic. In his hurry, he missed the reflection of the black monster staring back at him, its jaw set into a dangerous grin.
'Faster... I need to go faster...'
His lungs screamed in protest with every breath he took, the muscles in his legs burned with each new step he took. He made the right call in running home, there was something seriously wrong here, his family was in trouble.
He knew what had happened now- what may still be happening. Anytime he would pass a window or some other reflective surface time would slow and a scene would play out of the black figure attacking a civilian, their screams echoing in the streets as the creature devoured them.
Grimacing as another vision played before his eyes he pushed even harder.
He didn't know whether to be relieved or scared when he rounded the corner onto his street, perhaps a mix of both.
Well, he supposed it didn't matter in the end because when he laid his eyes on the clearly forced open door his heart sank. Stumbling into his home the evidence of the situation was clear, there had been a struggle.
The table in the entryway had been broken in two, the flower vase that usually sat upon it was shattered across the floor. There were some deep gashes in the wall and it looked as though a body had impacted it quite heavily if the dent was anything to go by. Clearly, his dad had given the intruder quite the hard time.
Rounding the corner into the split kitchen, dining room, living room area the table was moved out of place and a chair had been toppled showing that the struggle continued further inside. Approaching their couch which had been flipped on its front the teen noticed a sight that caused his heart to thrum painfully, 'Oyaji... I'm sorry.'
Just as he was about to crouch at his father's side a muffled cry came through the slightly ajar doors to the attached clinic. Leaping forwards he burst through the two glass doors and was met with a horrific sight. There it was, the black creature which had been haunting him, at its feet was an unconscious Karin and struggling in its grasp was Yuzu. Seeing her small hands clawing so desperately at the misty claws constricting her throat made him see red.
"Yuzu! Don't worry, I'm here now!" He shouted drawing the young Kurosaki's attention, though even as he said that he wasn't sure what the powerless him was supposed to do, but he'd be dammed if he didn't even try.
"O-Onii-chan..?" She choked out, a faint glimmer of hope appearing in her bloodshot eyes.
Just as he was about to launch himself forwards it all ended.
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or Highschool DxD. All content belongs to their respective creators.
I actually had this chapter done yesterday but I wanted to wait an extra day before posting it xD I know a lot of people are suspicious if this story will even be re-written or just abandoned because usually when authors say a re-write is coming it never does. So, I'll give you an update.
I spent all day today re-working the original 12 chapters of GOTD and it is now complete, I can start re-writing the chapters as soon as tomorrow, I also have another two or three chapters planned passed the original 12. So don't worry, this re-write will be happening.
Now then, back to the chapter at hand. It honestly wasn't too different from the original, the major changes won't start to appear until the Zanpakuto plays a bigger part in this story which I think is actually chapter two, so you won't need to wait long. Mostly in this chapter, I just improved the quality of writing and fixed mistakes.
I also made some tweaks to how the world works in Guardian of the Dead which you would have noticed during Ichigo's conversation with Amaterasu. It was partly the same as before but I also took some inspiration from my other story 'In Darkness, Reborn,' and how that world functions.
The second and biggest change in this chapter was the dream at the end. Obviously, since the Zanpakuto was changing the dream had to as well. Much like the previous one, this dream doesn't last too long, its short and to the point like most dreams are, but man did I have a blast writing it!
Anyways, that's all for now!
If you have any thoughts on this chapter than feel free to leave a review, I'm always looking to improve my writing and so constructive criticism is always welcome. Or, if you have any specific questions or would just like to chat with me then feel free to send me a message, I always reply when I can.