Guardian of the Dead

- Chapter 8 -

~ Thursday Evening

"You're being far too dramatic about this Ichigo," Ikomikidomoe breathed out, eyes rolling when her wielder remained silent, choosing instead to continue brooding in his apartment. For all of the teen's usual composure and swagger, the once devourer couldn't believe how big of a baby her new master was being.

"You're letting something which is based on speculation affect you far too much; we can't even be sure that the Devils spotted you with the exorcists. Judging by where they stood outside, it's more than likely that you were cut off from their view, leaving them with two exorcists talking to an unknown person or person's. And even if they did, so what? What does it change?"

"A lot," Ichigo finally grumbled out, the sourness in his voice evident.

"It changes nothing," she pressed on firmly, drowning out any other thoughts Ichigo may have had.

"What's the worst that could happen? Does the Hyoudou boy tell his master who in turns tells the Sitri heiress resulting in the both of them growing weary and coming to you for answers? Hah! A lot of good that would do. I sincerely hope that they're foolish enough to cross you; it would be amusing to watch those arrogant brats try and force something from you."

"Don't be crazy," he grumbled back, "if I tried whatever the hell you're thinking in retaliation, I'd end up with at least two pissed of Satans at my doorstep who – as much as it pisses me off to say – could very easily kill me in my current state."

"Perhaps, but in return, Amaterasu would blanket the underworld in the wrath of the sun, it would be one of the greatest massacres in known history,' she spoke in a low tone, a twisted excitement reverberating from her core at the mention of the brutal scene.

The pen in Ichigo's hand froze mid-stroke, mind drifting toward the spirit he now called partner, though before he could think on it further her mood abruptly shifted, so much so that it actually startled him

"I wonder if you truly understand what it is you're asking for Ichigo," she asked in a distant tone, as though her mind was somewhere else completely. "This is the second time the idea of Amaterasu saving you has been brought up, and both times you've firmly protested against it. You may not have said it out loud, but do not forget that your thoughts are clear to me."

"To not need protection from the Goddess of the Sun, someone who could be considered power wise to be in the top five strongest of this world excluding the three world-eater's... do you truly understand what that means?"

No, when he really thought about it, he couldn't say that he did. And why should he? What experience did he have as an all-powerful being? He had none.

For all but two years of his life, he was a powerless human, and for his time in the supernatural, he'd always just been powerful enough to defeat whatever enemy had appeared at the time, he had never been in a league of his own, someone who could look down on others.

Aizen was the only person in his life that fit the mould Ikomikidomoe's words put into his mind. He had always been stronger than others, more cunning and intelligent too, and of all the goals one could have, he wanted to be a literal God. He wanted to sit on the throne above everyone else, and yet when Ichigo finally clashed blades with him as an equal, all the teen felt in his Zanpakuto was loneliness.

Urahara never did respond to Ichigo's thoughts that day, his belief that Aizen wanted to become normal. And, for obvious reasons, he never got a chance to speak with Aizen again either, so it wasn't like he could ask the man itself what it was like at the top, though what would Aizen actually say if Ichigo were to ask?

Even if Ichigo's assumption was right, would he admit it? The teen highly doubted it. Well, not that it mattered in the end, the guy was locked up for twenty thousand years, and Ichigo would hopefully be long gone by the time he came back out.

He never did want to live forever.

With Aizen out of the question, who could he go to for answers, Amaterasu maybe? Mulling over the few options he possessed, things weren't looking good, and then, like a light going off in his head, it hit him.

'Wait, what about Ikomikidomoe?' She was a Hollow once labelled as a walking disaster with infinite evolution, and by her own word was someone who revelled in the silence. If he needed someone to shed light on the path he was walking, then perhaps he needed to look no further than his own soul.

"Hmph, took you long enough to realize, I'm both the personification of beauty and a wealth of knowledge, I'm essentially a Goddess..." Ikomikidomoe paused briefly, a hum of thought escaping her, "on second thought, Goddess' are too pure, I'm more of a Demoness," she smirked, "anyways, the point is, you needn't go far if you have questions."

Ichigo couldn't resist rolling his eyes, unsure if he should be more concerned with the fact that she referred to herself as a Demoness or the fact that it suited her perfectly.

"Well, what was your time as a Hollow like?" He asked finally, pushing the unnecessary thoughts to the back of his mind.

"It was quite fun in the early years," she answered with a touch of nostalgia, "as well as other Hollow, I had the chance to fight many unique beasts such as Basilisks, Demons, Orcs, Chimera, Giants, and even the odd Wyvern or young Dragon with more pride than common sense."

"What?! But how? Isn't Hueco Mundo a world for Hollow's, how did other creatures find their way in?"

"It is," she agreed, "but the world wasn't always as it is now, modern intelligent humanshomo sapienshave only existed for a couple hundred thousand years at most, but were they the only ones who existed before then? Of course not. Gods and beasts alike have existed long before even the most primal of humans roamed the earth, and back then, the world wasn't so tightly bound.

It was much freer, and most creatures could move between dimensions without hindrance. You remember Amaterasu's words, don't you? She said that the world was once in a chaotic state."

Ichigo nodded, he did remember the Goddess' words, and if that was the case then he supposed it made sense that Ikomidomoe would have interactions with mythical creatures, 'but wait...' something wasn't adding up.

It was Ichigo's understanding that Hollow's were something unique to Japan and it's people. He had never heard of Hollow attacks anywhere else in the world, nor did Shinigami-like beings appear to defeat them, so how did they come to be? Now that he thought about it, it didn't make sense.

Amaterasu said 'millennia ago when the spiritual world had still not completely taken its current shape and during the dawning era of Hollows', but Ikomidomoe just confirmed that Hollows existed before homo sapiens which means Amaterasu either lied to him – for what reason he couldn't say – or she just grossly understated the time frame they were working with.

But with all that said, he was left with one question, "where did Hollows come from?"

"In the early stages of evolution, most humans were used as subjects for experiments by evil deities, and usually those who dabbled in the dark arts of necromancy, the Greek Goddess Hecate was particularly thorough and cruel with her magical curiocities. It wasn't just humans mind you, there were some other high-level creatures used for experiments as well, but the vast amount and low intelligence of unevolved humans made them the perfect subjects. At some point, one of the more daring experiments which focused more on the soul of a being went terribly wrong, and the cursed existence of Hollows was born."

He nodded again, he understood what Ikomikidomoe had said, but it only rose more questions for him. "So why Japanese people? Was it just coincidence? I feel like if a Greek Goddess was one of the major players doing these experiments than shouldn't Hollows be a problem in Greece as well? And what about the Soul Chain? Was that a byproduct of this curse?"

"That I don't know," she admitted, "most Gods did focus their experiments on the early humans around them, and yet now it seems to be a problem centralized around Japan, the reason behind that baffles me just as much as it does you. The Soul Chain seemed to appear around the time the Hollow population shifted to Japanese people as well though I know not their purpose," at those words the once Hollow paused, humming thoughtfully.

"It can't just be a coincidence though, perhaps Amaterasu could tell you the reason, though I'm not so sure she'd be willing to divulge such a secret even if she knew it."

He didn't think so either, but it was definitely worth trying.

"So when did things change? You said the world used to be much freer, but it isn't like that anymore."

"As humans continued to evolve and begun worshipping Gods and Goddess', those deities started wanting to protect their followers, and thus barriers were erected protecting the masses from other supernatural beings, namely Hollows.

However, leaving the Hollows to roam earth wasn't ideal either, but instead of finding a way to purify the curse and save those transformed, they created a dimension and banished the cursed souls there."

"Out of sight, out of mind, huh?" Ichigo mumbled out, a sour expression taking over his features. He was already furious at the Gods who did such experiments, but to learn that no one even attempted to help the people that had been dished such a cruel fate... it sickened him.

"I'm assuming that Amaterasu and her brothers took over that dimension at some point? Likely when the Japanese fell under the curse," he spoke, looking for confirmation from his spirit which he received in the form of a nod sent visually through their connection.

After a couple of moments of silence passed, a new question started eating away at him. "So, how do you know all of this?"

"I... do not know," was her surprising reply, though Ichigo couldn't bring himself to doubt her.

He didn't get the sense that she was trying to deflect, the feelings of uncertainty and despair that arose from her when the subject was brought up were just too real.

He could feel a sense of detachment from reality, as though she was lost in space, unaware of who she was or what she was meant to be doing. Ichigo had experienced that sense of emptiness to a degree when he'd lost his powers, just floating apathetically through life with no purpose, but she had lost a lot more than just her powers.

The scope of her loss was something that terrified Ichigo just to think about, but could names really hold so much power?

Urahara had once told him that memories are connected, and you could even go so far as to say that they form bonds with people. So, if one person's memories were harvested completely, then at the same time, all of the events related to that person would disappear from the memories of the people around them.

Could it possibly work the same with names? Is that why such emphasis was placed on them? While a person's name doesn't form the basis of their personality, it is a major component of their identity. Usually, when someone asks the question 'who are you?', the common reply is a name.

Our name is also what distinguishes ourselves from others. An example being when we read history, we learn the names of people to form a distinction of that person from others.

Names are important in the identification process; however, they do not influence one's life and personality. A name does not have much of an effect, if any, on how people are perceived by others, and neither does a name influence their aptitude, skills, or abilities.

But our names are like a signature for the things we've done or accomplished, proof that we were there. If you forget that signature, or it is stricken from history altogether, then how would you remember the things associated with that signature? Or would they have ever happened in the first place?

It was a significant concept to think of, and if true, made the reality of Oshō's powers all the more frightening.

"Y'know, this was supposed to be a conversation about the life I was walking toward, and instead, I had some pretty major bombs dropped on me," he spoke softly, a mirthless grin doing well to describe the feelings swirling within him. He couldn't help the morbid curiosity bubbling in his heart at the thought of what other dark secrets regarding the founding of the supernatural world may lurk out there.

Ikomikidomoe – seemingly over the depressing emotions already – just sent a mental image of her shrugging nonchalantly, "the short answer is that it's lonely. Amaterasu has the power to shape worlds, and because of that, she must seclude herself in Takamagahara, unable to interact with the masses because of the detrimental effects her presence would have on them, and you want to reach a state where you don't need her protection?"

'Ah, so that's what she meant...' he realized. Ichigo already had a taste of terrain altering power in his fight against Aizen when every one of his swings would destroy hills and smaller mountains, and he had seen firsthand the destructive effects his own unrestrained power had on the surroundings, burning away the atmosphere and warping the dimensional walls surrounding him.

And yet what was he to Gods like Amaterasu, Shiva and Hades? What was he to the powerful dragons like Crom Cruach or Aži Dahāka? All of whom could alter whole continents with their might, not just small mountains and hills. What would his life be like if he ever reached that level?

It was something that he needed to seriously consider. Ikomikidomoe revelled in the silence, but could he?

~ Friday Morning, ORC Clubroom

"Kiba?! Why are you here? I thought..." Rias trailed off, watching dumbfoundedly as her sole Knight strode into the clubroom followed by an oddly serious looking Issei, she was at a loss for words. He had made it very clear the last time they the last time they'd spoken that revenge on the holy sword Excalibur was his only goal no matter the cost, so why was he back here already?

The possessor of Sword Birth could only direct an apologetic look toward his master before bowing at the hip. "I'm sorry President," he began slowly, slowly rising again to meet her gaze, smiling softly as their eyes met. "I was overcome by emotions, and I regret the way I handled that situation. Issei and Koneko called me out recently, and we had a lengthy discussion, thanks to them I've begun to see reason in all of this confusion."

The Gremory Heiress' eyes lit up with the hope that he would be abandoning his suicidal quest for vengeance, though the longer she stared into his steely gaze she realized that wasn't the case. With this realization, her expression quickly fell.

"I haven't given up- can't give up... but, I've realized that there are better ways to accomplish my goals than abandoning my friends, my comrades, my family." The passion in his voice was palpable, though before he could speak further, he was enveloped in a hug by the girl who had saved him all those years ago.

Just hearing that was good enough for Rias, she still wasn't completely okay with him wanting revenge even if she could understand why he wanted it, but this was enough for now. She was just so happy that he was back here with everyone. When two hands rested on her shoulders and applied a small amount of force, she relented her hold on the swordsman only to be met with a serious gaze that her pawn matched behind him.

"What's wrong Kiba? Issei?" She asked softly, making eye contact with both of them. All sorts of horrible ideas began playing out in her head as they remained silent, but nothing could prepare her for the headache-inducing news she was about to receive.

Knitting his brows further together, Kiba finally began to speak, "After my discussion with Issei and Koneko yesterday, due to the time, we decided to have dinner out together before calling it a night and heading home, however, it was during our walk to a restaurant that we made an alarming discovery, something that could mean much larger things are moving behind the scenes that we could imagine."

"What did you see?" She pressed further; tone sharp as her brows tilted downward.

The new transfer student – Ichigo Kurosaki – was with those two exorcists," he answered in a sour tone, thinking about the pair meant remembering his humiliating defeat suffered at the hands of the blue-hair girl. But now wasn't the time to dwell, so pushing those frustrating memories away he continued, "we were too far away to make out their conversation, and we didn't want to alert them of our presence by getting closer; however, one thing I can say for sure is that it wasn't simply a gathering of old friends."

Rias' eyes met that of Issei's and a simple nod of his head confirmed with her what Kiba had said. It wasn't that she didn't trust her sole Knight, she just couldn't afford to have any what if's in this situation. With that in mind, she turned finally to the smallest member of her peerage that was – for once – not munching on snacks and was instead sitting quietly beside Asia.

The girls perceptive and sensory abilities were far above any other in her peerage including herself, so if she wanted to know something about a person like what race they were, if they were being their true self in her presence, things like that she would immediately go to Koneko, and this time was no exception.

"What's your take on it Koneko?"

"They were very docile... when they were fighting Issei-senpai and Kiba-senpai they were confident they would win, and it showed, but with Kurosaki-senpai it was different, it was like they felt what we have..."

The Gremory Heiress eyes shut slowly as a sigh escaped her; Sona, herself, and both their respective peerages had spent ample time around the new transfer, and each of them knew very clearly what that feeling was.

He felt almost like a regular human, giving off just enough energy to tell them he had the potential for growth, but not enough for them to think he could be anyone special even with training. Yet even knowing that they couldn't help but feel on edge in his presence, it was as though an ocean floated above their heads that could and would crush them at any second.

The two exorcists weren't weak by any means, they easily dealt with Issei and Kiba, and Rias knew that if the two got serious, it would take both her and Sona just to draw even with them. If those two really felt the same thing around him that they did, and it was enough to make even them docile, then it meant that they doubted their ability to beat him in a fight, and if they couldn't defeat him then neither could Sona or herself.

Clearly, the Gremory Heiress' Queen had pieced everything together just as she had and something was bothering her about it all, so with a troubled look on her face she stepped forward from her position by her King's side and spoke up. "Kurosaki-san can't be with the angels," she began bluntly, "no matter how you feel about him personally, we can all agree that he hasn't once made us feel threatened, quite the opposite actually, and even Koneko says that she feels no malice from him, so I can't see them being fearful of him due to his personality. But if it isn't that, then all that's left is his power, but even that doesn't make sense because if he was their ally, then no matter how strong he was there wouldn't be a need to fear him, in fact, the stronger he was, the better it would be for them."

Everyone in the room agreed with her deduction, it didn't make sense.

"But he was definitely meeting with them about something supernatural related... perhaps their goals align?"

No one disagreed with Issei's words, it was most likely that they were working toward a common goal, but what that goal was they couldn't say, it was all too confusing.

"He definitely isn't a Devil, and we're pretty sure he isn't an Angel which only leaves the Fallen, but the exorcists want to retrieve the Excalibur fragments, and that's something the Fallen Angels would never go along with which rules out the possibility that he's with them too."

A few seconds of silence passed before Rias groaned in frustration, there were just too many unknowns.

~ Friday Afternoon, outskirts of Kuoh

Ambling down the crowded sidewalk, he couldn't help the bored yawn that escaped him. It had been another dull day at school, the lessons were laughably easy, and no one dared approach him, which had its pros and cons. He didn't particularly care for being stared at like a piece of candy, so for that reason, he was glad the girls kept their distance, and the boys... well they just pissed him off, so it was good that they kept their distance too.

But Ichigo could get lonely just like anyone else, and although he appreciated the constant presence in his soul, he sorely missed the interactions with his friends at Karakura high.

Well, he wasn't completely friendless, it was – ironically – the presence of two Devils at Kuoh Academy that was keeping him sane, the student council president and her right hand were both fun to talk to and had intelligence to spare, conversations with the two added much-needed sustenance to his currently mundane school grind.

Though in fairness, he never had a problem with the majority of Devils at this school, just one in particular who thankfully hadn't made many attempts to speak with him yet, only sometimes jumping in on the conversation he would have with Sona and Tsubaki.

On the occasion that she would jump in, he tried to be cordial, but it was difficult. Even if he put aside the information he knew of her and her older brother, the girl's personality just rubbed him the wrong way, it just felt like a mask of forced cheerfulness, and if she really wanted to get into his good books, that wasn't the way to do it.

He'd always been a straight forward guy, saying whatever he really thought without beating around the bush and he respected others who could do the same – Urahara being one notable exception – so for her to dance around him with that sham of a personality, it got on his nerves.

With an annoyed huff, he tossed a cautionary glance down both ends of the road, the final barrier between him and the forested area outside of town which acted as his training grounds in this part of the world.

Stepping past familiar trees to his favourite open space, he was quick to notice something odd about the area. 'A barrier?' He questioned mentally, clamping down on his reiatsu and lifting a hand to gauge the invisible wall. 'It isn't very strong; I could probably shatter it with a small burst of reiatsu, the only question is what's it doing here...'

Sharpening the reiatsu in his fingers, he found a 'seam' in the barriers structure and slipped inside. Making sure to keep his own presence masked he stretched his senses out, though he couldn't stop his brows from lifting in surprise at the familiar signature he sensed.

'Koneko?' He affirmed, shifting silently through the trees until his eyes laid on a diminutive figure doing martial exercises in his favourite spot.

Silently he watched as the minutes passed by, his own frustration growing as the clocked ticked quietly in his mind, it was all wrong, there was nothing in her movements but fear.

Ichigo could understand her feelings; he had to face that same emotion many times along his journey thus far, most notably when he first took up the sword with Rukia's execution pending, and when Zangetsu – disguised as a bloodthirsty and monstrous Hollow – starting visiting him in his nightmares.

There is nothing, but fear reflected in your sword. When you dodge, you're afraid of getting killed. When you attack, you're afraid of killing someone. Even when you try to protect someone, you're afraid of letting them die. Yes, your sword speaks to me only of absurd fear. What's necessary for a fight isn't fear. Nothing can be born of that. When you dodge, 'I won't let them cut me.' If you protect someone, 'I won't let them die.' If you attack, 'I will kill them.' 'Well, can't you see the resolve to kill you in my sword?'

Yes, those were the words Urahara had spoken to him the night his training began, and how true they were. Even now, after all this time, he found himself reminiscing on them once in a while, they helped him keep pushing onward.

And now this girl was going through the same thing he did. She was stuck at the same wall that held him back when the fear of his Hollow loomed. He'd hoped that if he kept training, kept focusing on his Shinigami powers – on old man Zangetsu – that the problem would just go away on its own, but how could that be the case? A person's soul is hardly so simple.

Deciding that he'd watched her pointless exorcises long enough, he removed himself from the shadows and leaned casually against one of the trees. "Y'know, mindlessly pushing your body like that isn't going to make the problem go away," he finally called out, causing the girl to jump in shock.

She stood there stunned for a moment, eyes wide like a deer caught in headlights. It seemed as though her brain wasn't keeping up with the scene playing out before her.

Ichigo just continued to watch calmly, not moving an inch from his spot leaned up against a tree. He noticed the girls hazel eyes dull briefly as her own energy stretched out, though an obvious confusion was present on her face when she realized that the barrier was indeed still in place.

And then her attention shifted back to him, a weariness in her eyes that didn't suit her. Her posture would seem relaxed to any normal passerby, though Ichigo could easily see the way her muscles tensed in preparation to attack should the need arise.

"Why are you here? How did you pass the barrier?"

Why? The same reason you are," he answered simply, he figured a blunt answer would be best in this situation. "Though imagine my surprise when I come to my favourite spot only to find a barrier erected, as for how I got in without you knowing?" He shrugged, "it isn't too hard, it depends on the person's skill, but a barrier of this level is easy to bypass, you just need to open one of the seams."

"One of the seams..?" She repeated slowly, unsure of what he was talking about.

Ichigo was surprised as well though for a different reason, 'they're using barriers but don't know about seams?' It didn't add up in his mind.

"Of course," he finally answered, "barriers aren't just walls of magic, they're made up of intricately connected 'tiles' of condensed energy, the more skilful you are at casting them, the smaller and more numerous the tiles will be, and thus it will be harder to find the seam between the tiles. It's the same with dimensional walls, where do you think the idea for barriers came from? Just find the seam, apply some focused energy and widen the gap."

The Nekomata was baffled, she had been taught about barriers before, but no one had ever mentioned something like this. They as Devils used magic circles to bypass barriers – only if the person was skilled enough at controlling magic, of course – and the same applied to dimensional travel, but this transfer student, it almost sounded as if... "you can open holes in the dimensional walls?" She asked wide-eyed, she still couldn't fathom it.

She watched motionlessly as he nodded, his hand lifting up to the empty space between them. She squinted slightly as his fingers pinchedsomethingwhich she couldn't quite see, and then, as though he was snapping his fingers flicked apart and it opened, a gaping black maw leading to an infinite plain of iridescent colours.

"It's pretty easy once you get the hang of it," he spoke nonchalantly, clearly unaware of the significance of his actions, "though I wouldn't recommend traversing the Dimensional Gap unless you know what you're doing, one misstep and you'll be lost forever."

It was obvious that he spoke from experience with the way his mouth twisted distastefully at the thought, though she couldn't seem to focus on that at the moment. Koneko only knew of two ways to enter the dimensional gap, the first was with the aid of a Dragon, the only being in existence who could tear holes in space, and there were rumours that the Holy King Sword Caliburn could do something similar, but they were just rumours.

And even if it was true, so what? It was a known fact that anyone less than a God would instantly die after being exposed to the potent energies of the Dimensional Gap, so who was this transfer student that could not only open up a portal to the Dimensional Gap, but safely traverse it as well?

She was pulled back to reality when the black maw snapped shut again with a horrifying screech; the sound was awfully fitting considering what lay on the other side of its jaws.

"So," Ichigo called out again, grabbing Koneko's attention, "what are you trying to accomplish here? You have to know your efforts are futile," he asked bluntly, earning a sour look from the girl, though his harsh words couldn't be refuted.

When she made no move to speak, Ichigo took at as a sign to continue, "there's a great power locked away inside of you, what that power is, I don't know" – well, actually he did know, but he figured it would be best to leave that part out – "but if you truly want to get stronger then you'll have to let it out, and the only thing stopping you from doing so is a wall of worthless fear."

"Worthless fear..?" She repeated lowly, eyes darkening, "and how would you know?!" She finally snapped back, what could this transfer student possibly know about it?! "You don't share these malicious abilities that drove my sister drunk on power, that caused her to slaughter our master, the man who took us in and gave us a home! How could you possibly know?!" She yelled, sadness in her hazel eyes and a frustration knitting her brows, though the anger directed at her new Senpai was just ire from her own insecurities bubbling within.

It only took her a moment to realize what she'd just let slip, and feelings of regret quickly quelled her anger, though she wasn't given much time to dwell on it for the world had shifted before she even realized, and a once lush green forest and clear blue sky was now a dull grey, a supernatural darkness sucking the life out of everything around her.

Faster than she could blink the transfer student appeared before her, glaring down into her eyes with hauntingly golden iris' and tendrils of black. When his mouth opened again, the words weren't carried on his usual confident tone, it was a demonic whisper, a sort of dual-toned voice that warned her soul of the ever calling abyss that loomed just beyond her mortal vision.

"Trust me, I know all too well about the demons in your soul that you'd rather keep locked away, clawing at your sanity just begging to be let out, and I know what happens when you aren't strong enough to hold them back, the damage you can cause to those you swore to protect..." he trailed off, letting silence reign once more between them. He hadn't meant too, but images of his battle on the roof of Las Noches fluttered into his mind, the picture of his Tensa Zangetsu run through Ishida would forever be burned into his mind.

Koneko couldn't help the shiver that raced through her body as he spoke, it felt as though he was gazing into her very soul, but then he blinked, as though nothing had ever happened in the first place the world returned to normal, though she would never forget this experience.

Lifting his right hand, he lightly chopped the girl on her head as though he were admonishing a naughty child, he couldn't hold back the smirk as she glared half-heartedly up at him, her own hand coming up to rub the spot which he had hit.

"Anyways, as much as you want to keep that power locked away, trust me when I say that it will only lead to more problems in the future. The only way to truly deal with your inner demons is to face them head on and crush them, if you try and ignore them then they'll just grow stronger in the silence and crush you instead."

Koneko couldn't bring herself to doubt his words, the wisdom and experience they held were unquestionable.

"I'll help you if you want," he suddenly said, surprising the Nekomata, though truthfully he surprised himself as well, "my inner battle was a lot easier because I had experienced people looking out for me on the outside, so if you want I'll help you too..." he trailed off, feeling a little sheepish. While it was true that he wanted to help the girl, he hadn't planned on being so blunt about it.

"Why would you be willing to do so much for me?" She asked, glancing dubiously up toward her Senpai.

Ichigo smirked, this was an easy question, "it's because you reminded me of my little sisters, I can see a little of both of them in you."

Again she couldn't bring herself to doubt his words, they were far too genuine, the warmth in his eyes as he spoke of the two filled her from head to toe and reminded her of the days when her older sister would look at her the same way, the feelings he was showing her were real.

All she could do was nod softly in acceptance of his offer.

"Okay, so if I'm going to help you, I'm going to need to know a little of what's going on," he began, sitting down cross-legged across from Koneko, an action she mimicked. "You don't need to tell me all your secrets," he tacked on seeing the hesitant look in her eyes, "I only need to know what this hidden power is, and what I should expect from you trying to use it."

Although calm outwardly, inwardly Ichigo was torn between feelings of guilt and indecisiveness. Guilt because even though he told her that she didn't need to tell him all of her secrets, he already knew a vast portion of them due to the data received from Amaterasu.

And he was feeling indecisive because of the subject of her 'hidden power.'

Nekomata could hide their tails and ears in an attempt to appear more human and blend in with society, however, when they did this, their abilities were dulled to an extent, and when they released their ears and tails once more, their abilities would return to their actual level. It wasn't the crazy transformation which Koneko seemed to think it was, it was just her 'true form' so to speak, there was nothing dark or scary about it.

In truth, Ichigo wasn't even sure where the Devil's came up with whole the 'drunk on power' excuse because from what he could tell, Nekomata didn't have any abilities that caused them to potentially rampage.

So here's the dilemma. Does he keep playing along with the charade even though he knows she has nothing to fear or does he come clean with her about her sister and tell her that her 'hidden power' is actually harmless?

It was hard to say. He didn't want to keep lying to her about her powers, but he knew the timing wasn't right to come clean about her current master and the false Lucifer either.

As much as he thought about it, the only choice was to keep up the charade.

"I'm a Nekomata," she finally spoke out, pulling Ichigo from his thought, "but I'm sorry, I don't really know much about my power, after hearing about what happened with Onee-sama I just locked it away and refused to talk about it..."

Ichigo nodded, smiling softly at the girl, "it's okay, no need to apologize, I understand," she really did remind him of Yuzu and Karin.

Ichigo let his head fall forward slightly in a contemplative manner, partly because he wanted to give the impression he really didn't know what was going on, but also because he wasn't quite sure the best way to handle things, though the more he thought about it, there really only seemed like one answer.

"I'll be honest, I'm not too sure how to handle this, I'm by no means an expert, but if I learned anything when dealing with my own demons is that trying to baby it won't accomplish anything, you just have to go for it, so... maybe just try and bring your power out and we'll go from there?"

Koneko nodded in affirmation of his idea, though he could see she was hesitating, he could tell that she trusted his words, but she was scared of failing and hurting someone, there was only one thing he could do.

As though dealing with his own sisters he shifted so that he was resting on one knee and placed a hand on each of her shoulders, it was meant to give the impression that he was bigger than the world when they looked up to him, that there was nothing he couldn't beat. When Yuzu and Karin were younger, and they got scared he would do the same thing, and they always said it helped them, like he was their shield against the darkness.

Koneko wasn't a little girl like his sisters were, of course, but deep down, Ichigo got the feeling that she wished for something like this anyways. Ichigo lost his mother when he was young, and to this day he missed the warmth of her love, but Koneko lost her whole family at an even younger age, he couldn't imagine the loneliness that she felt.

Amaterasu could never replace his mother, but the warmth she gave him did help with the loss, and while he didn't want to replace Koneko's family, if he could help her even a little bit then that was good enough for him.

So, with those thoughts in mind, he gave her a simple assurance with all the same warmth and care that he would give his sisters, "I swear I won't let anything bad happen to you." If only he realized how close their thoughts actually were.

She had to wonder how weird he'd think she was if she let the tears out that were threatening to spill. She was young when her mother died, so she didn't remember her all that well, and her father was never around, so he was like a stranger to her, and her sister... well, she hadn't seen her in a long time.

And although Rias had been great to her so far, treated her like family, it just wasn't the same, that all-encompassing warmth that a families love gave just wasn't there.

And yet here her new Senpai was, a boy she hadn't even known for a month, giving her that feeling she'd sorely missed. The protective aura that surrounded her at his gentle touch, the tenderness in his eyes as he comforted her, the absolute assurance that nothing bad would happen as long as he was here... was it wrong for her to say she envied his two little sisters?

Glancing back up she was a little disappointed to see his comforting gaze no longer on her, well that wasn't exactly right, his eyes had just shifted to the top of her head. Turning her own concentration upward to see what had grabbed his attention, it was then that she made a shocking discovery.

Smiling brightly, there was only one thing Ichigo needed to say, "congratulations."

At the sound of his voice, a flush quickly rose to her cheeks, pressing her ears to the top of her head and staring intently at the ground was all she could do to keep from dying of embarrassment, only Rias had seen her ears and tail, and that was only briefly when they were first introduced, no one else, not even her fellow peerage members had seen them before today.

Ichigo having looked after his sisters for so many years could pretty much guess why she was reacting so shyly, and so he decided it would be best not to draw direct attention to her ears or tail – as cute as they were. "So how do you feel?"

Still refusing to remove her gaze from the ground she did a mental inspection of herself and surprisingly found nothing wrong, there wasn't even a hint of mental wear from using the power, it was odd. "I feel normal," she finally answered.

Ichigo nodded knowingly, "see, I told you it would be fine," he said, falling back down into a seated position. "Fear is a scary thing, it can make a hill look like a mountain, and it will destroy you if you let it. Often times, the fear of facing your fear is more frightening than the fear itself."

"So my own fear blew the danger of this power far out of proportions, is what you're saying? No... but Nee-sama went mad off of it, so I think I was right to fear it."

He nodded again in agreement, he really hated the fact that he had to lie to her, the fact that she had to separate from her sister because of Devil greed lit a fury in his heart, but it wasn't time to reveal everything yet, he wasn't strong enough to face the backlash, so for now he'd just have to grit his teeth and bear it.

"Yeah, but you're not your sister, some people are more natural at things than others," he reasoned earning a small nod, and then with his next words he planted a seed in her mind, the seed of doubt that would slowly grow, slowly bring her to question the situation. He didn't like putting so much pressure on her, but it would make things a lot easier if she realized something fishy was going on rather than him letting the cat out of the bag.

"And circumstances always play a part in things," he continued, "you were able to awaken the power in this peaceful forest with someone watching over you, it might not have been such a favourable situation for your older sister, perhaps that played a part in things."

It made sense to the Nekomata; if one awoke their powers under peaceful conditions, it would stand to reason that things would go quite well considering a person's powers are usually quite affected by the wielders state of mind, but if that person was heavily stressed out or under some sort of pressure, perhaps it would lead to the power running wild.

Koneko couldn't really remember the night it all happened, she had already been in bed when Kuroka got up saying she had to speak with master about something... she had fallen asleep before her sister returned only to be woken up by explosions rocking the mansion where they lived. Due to fear, she'd just hidden under the covers until everything died down.

When the door to their room finally opened again it wasn't her sister who came to get her, it was an unknown man who she'd later learn was a part of Lucifer-sama's Peerage. It was only an hour or so later that she was brought before the man himself and told of what happened that night, that her sister had gone mad and killed her master along with the rest of his peerage and was now an SS class wanted stray Devil...

What had she spoken about with their master that night? Koneko had never even thought about it... could something have happened?

Shaking her head heavily, she pushed those dangerous thoughts from her mind.

"So what kind of powers do Nekomata's have? I'll admit I don't know much about them," Ichigo asked, changing the direction of the conversation. He could see the gears turning in her mind when he'd said that last little bit, the harsh shake of her head meant that something had come to her mind, but it would be best for her to not think too strongly on it right now.

"We mostly use Youjutsu and Senjutsu," she began, "Youjutsu is a sort of Yokai spellcraft that is quite difficult to learn, and if someone inexperienced tries to teach you there can be very negative consequences. Senjutsu is the power to control the life energy in all living things. You can strengthen your internal and external bodies with it or even cause the plants around you to wither or bloom. Due to it's ability to sense and manipulate ki, Senjutsu also has great tracking and healing capabilities, it even has the ability to restore someone's life span. As beneficial as it can be, it can also be used to disrupt another person's ki in a negative way thus leading to great spiritual damage or even death."

"...Senjutsu sounds scarily powerful," Ichigo breathed out, unable to keep the surprise off his face at the description of the technique, to be able to control the flow of life in all living things, to the extent of extending or shortening one's lifespan was a scary concept.

Koneko could only nod in agreement, it really was a frightening power, "it comes with a great risk though," she continued, "while it lets the user read and control spirit power, it also take in the malice and ill will that flows throughout the world, so if an amateur was to use it irresponsibly, then the malice could end up corrupting them."

Ichigo deadpanned, 'so that's where the Devils got the whole mad on power excuse from,' it was kind of surprising that Koneko never noticed anything suspicious about it, 'but then again, why would she ever have reason to doubt the kind and compassionate Sirzechs Lucifer who pleaded with the other nobles to spare her life,' it took everything the teen had to not roll his eyes at the thought, the girl across from him would probably think he was crazy.

"Do Yokai have any melee based abilities?" He asked, bringing his attention back to the conversation at hand. He knew from his 'lesson' with Amaterasu that there were martial art focused Yokai like Sun Wukong, and they could probably use Senjutsu to enhance their abilities, but he wondered if they had anything that acted like his Hollowfication which just boosted all of his natural abilities to extreme levels.

"Mm, Touki," she hummed in affirmation, "those who are trained in Senjutsu can create an aura of life force that surrounds their body, increasing speed, attack and defence by a large margin."

"So it's like Shunkō then..?" He murmured, though it was loud enough for the girl across from him to hear, especially with the two cat ears atop her head.

"What's Shunkō?"

"It's a technique one of my old teachers created where she pushes a large amount of her energy throughout her body thus enhancing all of her base abilities, though her Shunkō also has a lightening element to it, and her first pupil shares the same ability though it is wind-based instead of lightning."

This time it was Koneko's turn to look on shocked, "just who is this former teacher of yours?" It sounded very close to Touki with the exception of energy being used instead of life force, and it was unheard of to infuse an element with the Touki, the strain of such a technique would be immense.

"She's a Nekomata, but I only found that out recently, she doesn't have cat ears or a tail like you though, well at least in her human form," he tacked on absentmindedly.

"What do you mean her human form?" She asked, feeling a headache coming on, she could tell that her new Senpai had no clue of the severity of the things he said, to him it was all normal, just where the hell did he come from and what was he?

Nekomata we're on the verge of extinction and all of the living ones with the exception of her and her sister lived in safety under Magari-sama, so who was this supposed Nekomata that came from wherever he did?

"Well I guess I shouldn't say she doesn't have ears or a tail, I've just never seen them in her human form, but she can also take the appearance of a small black cat," he answered with a smirk as he reminisced, "I had already met her by the time I learned that Yokai existed so that really helped explain things, but you can imagine my surprise when I suddenly met a talking cat back then," he continued, huffing lightly with laughter at the memory.

When he heard no response from the girl across from him, he glanced back up but was taken aback by the look of absolute shock on her face, "...what is it?" He asked slowly, worried that's he'd said something he shouldn't have.

And then, as though someone hit the play button on a remote Koneko snapped back to reality and shook her head, "no, I just don't think you understand how amazing your former teacher really is," she answered, feeling awfully tired all of the sudden. Seeing that he wasn't quite understanding, she continued, "There is only one Nekomata that I know of who has a cat form, and she's the leader of the Nekomata in the east Yokai Faction, she has seven tails in her true form which signify her age and power, how many did your teacher have?"

Ichigo mimicked her shocked expression at the answer, "I only ever saw her with one tail, she looked like any normal house cat."

"It's possible that she was hiding most of her tails, though I don't know why she would, this explains why she was able to craft such an ability though, I've never heard of Touki users adding an element to it."

Ichigo hummed in acknowledgement of her words, he always felt that there was something more to Yoruichi-san, he just could never figure out what it was, perhaps she really was more powerful than she let on, but why would she hide it? He couldn't say.

"You said that she and your other friend use their own energy to form the Touki shell, are you sure it's not life force? Especially considering she is a Nekomata, it would make more sense that she used ki."

"No, it's definitely their energy, is that really such a big deal though?"

"It is," she affirmed, "there is only one non-Yokai who can use the ability, and they only unlocked it by chance while hellishly training their body and pushing their life force past the breaking point."

Okay, something wasn't adding up, "just to be clear, you're talking about something like this, right?" He began, raising his arm and pushing reiatsu into the limb until a soft golden glow rested atop his skin. 'I'll take her bug-eyed expression as a yes...'

Letting his arm fall back down and the reiatsu dissipate he mulled over the situation, there was something he was missing. A couple moments of silence passed between the two, the girl could tell he was deeply thinking about something and thus kept quiet, and Ichigo for his part was about to give up, he just couldn't figure it out, but then it hit him, "I get it! It's because we're-" he paused, shifting a glance toward the Nekomata who was looking very interested all of the sudden, no doubt wishing he would continue that sentence.

Unfortunately for her though, it was not yet time to reveal his identity, 'but I think I've figured out the connection, we Shinigami are souls, our reiryoku is our spiritual energy, it's our life force, so where other beings like Yokai have spiritual energytheir life forceand the regular energy that they use for spells, our life force and our regular energy is one and the same, so when we learn to control our reiatsu, we're learning to control our life-force as well, but obviously Shinigami aren't running around using Senjutsu, and only Yoruichi-san and Suì-Fēng can use Shunkō so there gotta be something more to it, but I've at least figured out the base connection.'

"What are you, Senpai?" She figured it would be best to be blunt, she doubted he'd answer anyways, especially not if she tried to beat around the bush with it.

"Mm, let's not worry about that right now," he spoke softly, hoping the girl wouldn't pursue the subject, "I'm not your enemy if that helps."

"Who is your enemy?"

"That's a tough question," he hummed, "I fight for the innocent who cannot defend themselves, so my enemy could be anyone."

Koneko's lips twisted, her face looking as though it was stuck between two expressions but couldn't decide which one would be better suited. She wanted to be sour because he had so many secrets that he refused to give up, but how could she when he was such a good person? He was that mythical Knight in shining armour that fought for the people at his own expense, how could she think negatively about someone like that?

~ Human World, Unknown Location

"So do you think he knows what you've been up too?"

"Mm, it's hard to say, I've been careful to not let anything slip that I shouldn't, but it's Azazel we're talking about so I'd be more surprised if he didn't at least suspect something was going on."

"Well, it's not like it's suspicious for you to stay quiet, especially with that silent, Mr. Cool Guy act you've got going on," a female voice called out from her position in the room, the half-hearted glare sent back her way made it all the more difficult to suppress her giggles.

"Le Fay, you should be more respectful to your peers," the third male of the five-person groom chastised.

"Hahah! Don't be so stiff Arthur, you know she has a point."

"Be that as it may, I'm sure Vali is quite proud of his persona, we shouldn't tease him for it," the now named Arthur responded, a small smirk on his own face as Vali's glare now directed itself toward him.

After having a good laugh at their leader's expense, the original speaker brought the subject back on track, "so when are you going to reveal yourself? Surely the Vanishing Dragon has a grand scene planned for the moment of his betrayal."

"Betrayal is such a strong word; I'd prefer if you called it a search for strong opponents, as for the reveal? You know I've never been one for theatrics, but with that said, I've caught wind of a possible peace meeting coming up between the factions, an opportunity may present itself there."

"I find it odd that there would be peace talks right now considering all the trouble Kokabiel is stirring up," Arthur murmured speaking more to himself than anyone else.

"Azazel already has a plan to deal with it," Vali answered, excitement buzzing in his voice, "he's just waiting for Kokabiel to make his move so he can clear his name with the other faction leaders."

Le Fay having caught this, rolled her eyes at the battle maniac, "and I'm guessing you're the one who gets to fight him?"

"Of course, it should be exciting if Kokabiel has kept up with his training since the Great War ended, though I'd much rather fight one of the faction leaders."

"Hahah! Typical Vali, a Vice-Governors of the Fallen Angels isn't enough to satisfy you, most people would be happy having a shot at someone so highly regarded among the factions, but then again, you aren't a normal battle freak."

"You're one to talk Bikou; you can be just as bad as Vali sometimes-nya," the final member of the group finally cut in, she had been somewhat listening to the ongoing conversation, but her mind was mostly occupied with something else.

"Well well, look who finally decided to grace us with her presence," Bikou called back, voice haughty but in a joking manner.

"Bite me."

"So how was your visit to Kuoh?" Vali cut in, unwilling to let the two argue any further, once they started, they tended not to stop for a while, "how is my rival progressing?"

Kuroka couldn't help but roll her eyes at the question, "of course, that's the first thing you ask about-nya. He's improved, but considering how weak he was to start, it's not surprising that there was some growth."

"I see, and Balance Breaker?" Vali asked, though he only received a simple shake of the head from the Nekomata which caused his interest to fizzle out, "that's disappointing then."

"You should cut the guy some slack Vali, not everyone can get as lucky with their heritage as you did."

"I agree with Bikou; he was born to two human parents, was he not?"

"Excuses," the Vanishing Dragon cut in unsympathetically at Arthur's words. "He was born with one of the thirteen Longinus, and the Boosted Gear no less, he has immense power already in the grasp of his hands, he just doesn't have the resolve to use it."

"I heard he's a total pervert, I doubt gaining power and fighting you is anywhere on his priority list Vali," Le Fay giggled, earning another small glare.

"Well, before you get too depressed, I have some information that might interest you-nya."

"Oh? And what would that be?"

All eyes turned eagerly toward the mischievous cat, there were few things that Vali found interesting, and at the top of the list was powerful opponents. And, although none of the others loved battles as much as the White Dragon Emperor, they still found interest in strong people just as he did. "I saw a new guy there who's either really good at hiding his presence, or he just popped out of nowhere, if I hadn't been there at that moment I probably would've missed him altogether."

"Well? Don't keep us waiting, how strong is he?" Bikou prodded.

"I only got a brief feel of it, so I can't say exactly, but I'd say he's strong enough that if you made the mistake of underestimating him, you'd be dead before you could regret it-nya."

Vali's smile was nothing short of predatory; he lived for words like those. He fought for the sole purpose of gaining power, and he gained power only so he could keep fighting stronger opponents, so he could feel the rush of battle, the euphoria of knowing that you're fighting with your life on your line, that if you let up even a little that could be it, you could die.

"Interesting..." he spoke softly, a spark of excitement in his eyes.

When he'd heard what type of person his fated rival was, an average human born to average parents and a massive pervert who's sole interest in life was the female body and their breasts, he would admit he was disappointed.

He was a half-blood, partly a descendant of the original Lucifer on his father's side and partly a human from his mother, but thanks to that human aspect he was blessed with a Sacred Gear, one of the thirteen Longinus, the 'Divine Dividing.'

He was, as Azazel had so kindly put it, a freak of nature. But he was okay with that because it meant his growth potential was infinite, and he could keep fighting stronger opponents until either he reached the top and became the true White Dragon God Emperor or he died because he wasn't strong enough.

But it seemed he was not so fortunate after all. He was born in an era of peace, a world where God and the original Satan were already dead. A world where the Angels, Fallen Angels and Devils had been weakened to a point that they'd likely never go again lest they want to be completely eradicated. Vali's only hope left was the Red One, the host of the Boosted Gear, the Red Dragon Emperor and his rival, but even that hope was crushed, this generation's Welsh Dragon was pathetic.

Now though, with the emergence of this new person, there was a glimmer of hope once more.

"So how did you come across him anyways? You said it was perfect timing," Le Fay asked though she couldn't help but feel a slight regret at opening her mouth when Kuroka's expression fell into a heavy frown.

"He was with Shirone."

"Hahah! And he's still alive? Impressive."

Kuroka smiled wryly at the monkey, "I was suspicious, of course, but they seemed close, or at the very least, Shirone seemed to trust him, so I let it be-nya." Truthfully, the only reason she'd been so lenient was that the boy wasn't a Devil, she didn't know what he was if she was honest which didn't happen often, but at least he wasn't a Devil, there were already enough of them around her sister than she cared for.

She couldn't wait for the day when she could finally may them pay for what they'd done to her and her sister. The Nekomata promised herself long ago that she'd make them wish they remained hidden in the depths of Hell.

~ Kuoh Academy

As she approached the old school building that acted as home base for the ORC, she couldn't help but feel conflicted.

Her master would have no doubt felt the varying changes that occurred during her training session, the evil piece embedded in her chest connected them together almost like a monitoring system, and while it had never bothered her before, right now she couldn't help but feel a little annoyed with it.

And that was where her inner turmoil stemmed from. Why should it matter if her master felt what happened during her training session? Why shouldn't she tell the girl who looked after her since her sister killed their former master exactly what went on in that barrier and everything she now knew about the transfer student?

She was a Rook under the service of Rias Gremory. It was the only logical choice.

So why did the thought of it make her feel so guilty?

'Because it feels like I'm betraying his trust...' He went out of his way to help her when he had no obligation to do so, and only because she reminded him of his younger sisters, he had no ulterior motives, he just genuinely cared.

Instead of actually training afterword they just talked, it was like they were old friends with how naturally they got along, and again, when he had no obligation to do so, he told her things about himself, about his former teacher, he showed her a couple of the things he could do, he extended her a hand of trust.

And then, to top it all off, just before they were about to part, she asked him to train her, and what did he say? He said yes, immediately, there wasn't even a second of hesitation on his part.

She just couldn't believe how warm and genuine he was despite all his power, and she knew he had power. Of course, he hadn't actually said how strong he was, nor did he do anything which would give it away – though being able to open holes in the dimensional wall and survive in the dimensional gap was a pretty good indicator – but, she just knew that none of them could hold a candle to Ichigo Kurosaki.

So with all of his warmth and genuineness, with all of the help he'd already given her and the help yet to come with their training sessions, would she really slap away the hand of trust he extended to her?

With a tired sigh, she grasped the door handle and entered the club's main room. As anticipated, there were five sets of expectant eyes on her when she entered the room. The undivided attention of her fellow peerage members made the walk to her usual seat seem excruciatingly long, or perhaps it was just the annoyance from her sour mood that did it, but she just wished the day would end already.

"How are you feeling Koneko?" Rias called out after the girl had finished sitting down.

"Tired," she answered simply. It was times like these that she was glad people didn't expect her to talk a lot, she probably said more in that conversation with her new Senpai than she had all month and she was just about done for the day.

"I bet, you must've had a big breakthrough today, I felt your power jump quite highly!" The excitement in Rias' voice was palpable, she was truly happy for Koneko, even if not all of her reasons were exactly good.

Koneko couldn't help but sigh out again in her mind; this was the moment of truth for her. She had to tell Rias about her Nekomata form; there was no way to explain her jump in power without it, but telling her about that meant telling her about Senpai, as with the jump in power, there would be no way to explain why she'd finally gone back into that form after so long. Rias knew how scared she had been of it.

"Mm, I used that, Kurosaki-senpai helped me out a lot with it."

The room went still.

"K-Kurosaki-san did..?" But you... what was he even doing there? I never felt anyone pass through the barrier?!"

Koneko couldn't blame them for being at a loss of words, they had just talked about him yesterday at Kiba's return, about how he was spotted with the exorcists, about how dangerous he may be, and now this happened.

"I didn't either, he just sort of appeared, apparently that was his favourite spot to train, I asked how he got in, but he wouldn't say..." ah there it was, her first lie to her master, what was she doing she wondered?

Rias, of course, looked disappointed to hear he wasn't a blabbermouth – even though he actually was – but Kiba was the voice of reason, "well I'd think he was crazy if he suddenly started explaining all of his abilities to us, at least we know he can bypass some barriers," everyone nodded at his words.

"So how did he help you overcome your fear?" Rias continued, she would admit she was a little hurt with how it all played out. She had been trying for years to help Koneko, and now this mysterious new student comes along and does what she couldn't in such a short time.

"He told me of his own personal experience fighting inner demons and how he beat them, listening to him just made me realize that maybe it wasn't so scary after all."

She nodded reluctantly, someone with personal experience would be able to help a lot better than someone without, and she supposed that in the end, all that mattered was that Koneko got over the fear of her own power, and because of it grew immensely.

"It's not that I don't appreciate him helping Koneko, I just find it odd that he's doing so much for her, do you suppose he knows her from somewhere?" Kiba cut in, a troubled look on his face.

"And he's working with the exorcists, he's dangerous!" Issei yelled from his place on the couch, "if you need help with anything than come to me Koneko-chan! Not the scary transfer!"

"...that will never happen."

"Gah... you're so cold to me Koneko-chan."

"Ufufu, well putting aside Issei-kun's rejection, for now, I agree with Kiba in that it's odd how supportive he's being of her, did he say anything regarding that to you Koneko?"

"He said that I reminded him of his sisters," she answered, though her frustration grew at the dubious looks her fellow peerage memory wore at the answer, "I trust him," she tacked on, a finality in her voice that left no room for debate.

Everyone knew what a great judge of character she was and thus tempered their suspicions. If she was going to defend him so adamantly then it had to be for a reason, they would just need to trust her.

"Well, if you're sure..." Rias spoke softly, still sounding unsure but unwilling to push the subject any further. "Is there anything else you learned about him?" She asked, pushing the conversation back on track, "anything you feel we should know?"

"I asked him to train me."

Again the room grew tense, "Koneko, I don't think that's smart-"

"I want to be stronger," she cut in, "if I'm wrong and he is our enemy, then that's all the more reason to get stronger right? If he really wanted me to stay weak, then he wouldn't have helped me, either that or he knows that no matter how much we grow, we will never be able to defeat him; but if he really is destined to be our enemy, then I want to at least go out knowing I gave everything I had, even if it means being trained by the one who will eventually defeat me."

No one spoke, what could they say? Her logic was flawless.

~ Outskirts of Kuoh, Later that evening

"It's all well and good that you've got a friend now, but don't you think agreeing to train the little kitten will draw too much attention to you?" Ikomikidomoe reasoned from her place against one of the nearby trees.

She had taken to partially manifesting during Ichigo's Kidō training sessions due to boredom, watching him sit there for hours on end meditating and holding casted spells was about as fun as watching paint dry, so she would do some exploring in the nearby areas while he worked. Unfortunately, she couldn't wander very far from his location without dematerializing and returning to their inner world, nor could she manifest without his permission, but considering that no one but Ichigo could see her, he wasn't too uptight about it.

A soft sound of shattering glass filled the clearing again, though just as every time before, the translucent shards would dissipate into particles before ever touching the ground. With a sigh, he brought up an arm to wipe the sweat which beaded his brow. He couldn't hold back the satisfied smile that spread across his lips, after many long hours of tedious work his Danku training was nearly complete, all he had left was to get some battle experience with the spell.

As boring as they were to learn, he understood that defensive spells needed to be the top of his priority. It was as Oshō said, his destructive potential has always been overwhelming, even after losing the Getsuga Tenshō, it had been replaced immediately by the Bala and varying levels of Cero, so that was a non-issue, but he had no defence.

Well, that wasn't exactly true, he had incredibly powerful Hierro thanks to the merging of his Shinigami and Hollow powers at birth, but it would be the height of foolishness to rely on that Hierro to be his total defence. So what if it could block the majority of an enemies attack? The more you got hit by those attacks, the higher the damage would stack until eventually you'd get overwhelmed.

Or what if you got overconfident and tried to tank a deceptively powerful spell leaving you heavily injured and unable to fight effectively afterword? That would be a pretty pathetic way to go out.

So as much as Ikomikidomoe wanted him to go all offence and just destroy everything, he would properly train in all aspects of combat and prepare himself appropriately.

"Hm, no response?" Ikomikidomoe taunted, "ignoring me won't remove the validity from my words," she continued, a smirk forming as she heard her young master curse under his breath.

Okay, he would admit that accepting her request right now did sort of hinder him, and it would cause Rias to watch him with a more critical eye since Koneko was with her, but he couldn't just say no...

"You didn't have to say no, just tell her you'll train her after the whole stolen Excalibur thing dies down."

"...I didn't think of that."

"Clearly," she smiled wryly, "you were too focused on a set of fluffy white ears and a matching tail."

Ichigo could nothing but hang his head in embarrassment; the truth in her words was indisputable.

"I couldn't help it; it was the first time I've ever seen a true Nekomata... well I suppose Yoruichi counts, but she never showed-" Ikomikidomoe wordlessly returned to their inner world when it hit them, that twisted and sickly reiatsu he'd been hunting ever since arriving here.

He didn't still in surprise or pause to think about it, as soon as he felt it brush against the edge of his senses he was gone, launching from the ground in an explosive burst of Shunpo. It had consistently slipped through his fingers until now, but it wouldn't happen again.

The teasing conversation from just a moment before was all but forgotten as he blurred across the town, his mind was set on one thing. Although nighttime was quickly falling and the streets were still bustling with activity, he had no concerns of being spotted, the distance he could travel with a single 'step' meant that he rarely had to touch down on solid ground before continuing again.

No, the only concern he had right now were the two Devil Heiress' sharing Kuoh who most definitely knew what was happening right now and would want to investigate it themselves.

As he touched down on the pavement outside the latest victims home, he made sure to clamp down on his reiatsu as not to alert the person inside of his arrival. Glancing briefly in the direction of the Academy, he was pleased to note that none of the Devils had left yet, so with hopes of getting in and out before they could arrive he immediately set out up the stairs and through the open door.

It was hard to resist the urge to cover his nose with his shirt once he crossed the threshold into the home, the stench of blood, death and decay assaulted his senses more strongly with every step he took. After venturing in about ten steps the living room was made clear to his eyes, and along with it, the latest victims mangled corpse.

He couldn't keep the bile from rising in his throat, "oh god-" he paused, gagging again, "for fuck sake-" he couldn't stand it, this was far worse than anything of the prior cases. It was so hard to resist closing his eyes as he fell back against the wall for support. He tried his best to settle his breathing as he wiped his clammy hands on the denim of his jeans, but it was a futile effort.

He had seen and experienced some tough things in his time among the supernatural, and upon coming here to Kuoh and investigating these murders, those boundaries were steadily pushed further. But despite that, he'd somehow managed to keep his emotions under control until now, but this- this was just sick, it took torture to a whole new level.

"I was hoping you'd be able to appreciate such fine art considering how persistently you've been trying to catch me, but in the end, it seems like you're too big a pussy to really understand its true beauty," a disturbed and honeyed tone called out from the shadowed corner of the room.

In response, Ichigo eyes that had been blurrily gazing at the stained floorboards snapped up toward the sound of the voice, the absolute fury and hatred burning in his golden iris' seemed to only amuse the man further.

Pushing off the wall he'd been using for support, he spun and faced the killer head-on, "you have five seconds to explain what the fuck this is," he began, waving an unsteady arm in the direction of the corpses, "before I rip the life out of you," he finished in a low growl, tendrils of black creeping into his eyes.

For just a moment, some of the insanity left the killers expression, and he found it hard to speak due to the lump sitting in his throat. Freed wasn't sure if the punk realized how much energy was rolling off of him, but for just an instant it felt like he was in the presence of an enraged Kokabiel.

His mindset quickly corrected itself, 'bullshit, like this scum could be stronger than me,' he hissed internally before bringing his attention back outward. "It's no big deal, I was just cleansing this earth of Devil loving filth~" he sang out, every bit of madness that had left his features coming back tenfold.

Ichigo's teeth locked themselves together in rage as he watched the killers tongue slither from his mouth and lick some of the blood off of his face.

Before the killer's next breath could be taken, his body was slammed through a wall, and a lightly tanned hand was locked around his throat. His own pale hands clawed at the vice around his neck, and his red eyes turned bloodshot as he struggled for air.

For the first time in his life, he felt true fear. This wasn't a human that was attacking him; it was a monster, and all he could see reflected in the golden iris' and black sclera was his own death.


Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or Highschool DxD. All content belongs to their respective creators.

Okay, so I expanded on the backstory of Hollow's and hinted at Ikomikidomoe's true identity, just who was she in her past life?

The main change for this part of the story was the removal of the whole Kendo thing, even I will admit that it was the fanfiction equivalent of Anime filler xD I definitely wanted to keep the Ichigo and Koneko interaction though so I did something better this time around; I'd like to comment on some of their interaction though.

I know that in canon Koneko is shown not to talk a lot, and in contrast, she spoke quite a bit in this chapter. I get the impression from her character that she's just bored with everything, and that what happened with her sister when she was younger is the main reason for that. However, I feel like if you gave her something to talk about, like her powers or her race, things she might care about, then she would open up and hold an interesting conversation as she did in this chapter.

As for her snapping at Ichigo when he called her fear worthless? She's been living this whole time thinking there was some malevolent power in her that could cause her to snap and hurt/kill her new family at any time should she try and use it, so I think it's justified that she would be angry when someone tries to downplay her fear. Ichigo baited her because he knew nothing would change if she was left to dwell on things forever.

As for the whole hollow eyes and grim world thing? Ichigo needs to extend a hand of trust if he wants her to do the same, she won't trust him to help her if she doesn't know he's dealt with something similar.

As with the original story, Koneko reacts quite strongly to Ichigo, and some might say it's unrealistic, but I disagree. Koneko genuinely has it rough, and although Rias has been great to her, even in canon, there was no one who was really like a family to her.

Rias and Akeno kind of acted like big sisters but they aren't really the greatest of role models, and Issei definitely isn't a brotherly figure. Even Kiba, as good as their relationship was, wasn't really a good role model until his feelings of hatred and need for vengeance against Excalibur were quelled.

So when you have someone like Ichigo who is so genuine in his feelings, and the fact that he is such a great brother to Karin and Yuzu, I honestly think that Koneko would strongly react to him as an older brother figure.

And last but not least, is Yoruichi more amazing than we originally thought?

Okay, so onto some non-chapter related things, I recently re-watched the Overlord anime and read all of the light novels and damn, what a dark story it can be, but it's a great read. I also read the Evileye side-story and man, if Evileye wasn't already the best girl she has that spot firmly locked now.

Now, of course, being a fanfiction writer the first thing I thought of when I finished reading it all was how cool a crossover would be between Overlord and Bleach (with Ichigo as the MC, of course) but after thinking about it further, I don't think he suits the world that Maruyama has created.

The hardest things Ichigo had to face in the Bleach-verse are nothing compared to the dark shit that happens in the Overlord world, Demiurge's 'happy farms' are all the proof you need of that. Ichigo would not be able to handle it.

There are a couple of other reasons why I don't think he suits the world as well, one of them being the idea of an 'Adventurer.' If I was to write an Overlord story, I'd want my MC to be an adventurer and do cool shit while also kicking Nazarick's ass, but Ichigo doesn't really fit one of the key aspects of an adventurer, the gear. Ichigo has Zangetsu, he needs no more weapons than that, and can you honestly see Ichigo in a suit of armour? Hell no. I tried looking at all the coolest suits of armour I know of from other media for inspiration, and it just doesn't work, I can only see Ichigo in his Shinigami clothing, but that doesn't really fit the theme of an adventurer.

It's like, "oh look at all those Adamantite ranked adventurers in their suits of full plate armour, they look so cool!" (or light armour for thieves etc...) and then there's Ichigo in some basic clothing with no defensive bonuses... it just doesn't fit in for me. And I get it, "with Ichigo's natural defence and Hierro he doesn't need proper armour, no one could pierce his skin anyways," blah blah... but where's the fun in that?

And that leads to my next issue with Ichigo in the Overlord universe. Power. I don't mean to sound like a Bleach-elitest, but Ichigo with his true Bankai and Horn of Salvation would destroy the combined might of Nazarick, it wouldn't even be fair, and obviously, that doesn't make for a good story. So do I nerf Ichigo? Do I buff Nazarick? Nazarick is already so far above anyone else in the new world that they don't need a buff and it would just be pointless power scaling.

I thought about trying to re-shape Ichigo's powers using the Yggdrasil system and just letting him keep Zangetsu as a divine class weapon, but there is nothing in Overlord that matches Ichigo's powers, the closest match you can make is the demon/devil race, and that's only because Ichigo's Vasto form looks like the devil incarnate.

So yeah, long story short, I talked myself out of a Bleach/Overlord crossover xD

But – and this was where I wanted your guys' opinions – what would you say to a Dark Souls/Overlord crossover with Artorias and Sif going to the Overlord-verse? I've always through Artorias was one of- if not the most badass swordsmen ever. His name is awesome, his epithet 'the Abysswalker' is dope, he has one of the coolest armour designs ever, he wields a giant sword which automatically gives him extra cool points xD

I would have to make one change right off the bat with him though, and that would be an edit to his height. Artorias is supposedly over ten feet tall, and he would not blend in with the overlord-verse at all.

And can I just quickly talk about height for a second, the Overlord characters are deceptively short. I thought that Momonga would be at least 200cm/6'5" considering he's portrayed as a big skeleton, but according to Maruyama, the dude is under 6', like what? Artorias would be almost 2x as tall as him which while funny would be very immersion breaking.

I've tried looking into Artorias' race, and from what I can gather he's either a giant, a Lord (Demi-God), or a mix of both, so I get that he would be different from most other people, as such, I was thinking of making Artorias like a flat 214cm/7' if I did the crossover, that way he'd be taller than everyone else but not twice their height.

The main problem with Artorias – which is the complete opposite of Ichigo – is that I feel he might be a bit under powered compared to the Nazarick gang. I know his swordsmanship is unmatched, and his combat power/destructive potential is probably off the charts, but he can't use a lick of magic, and that's a serious disadvantage in the Overlord-verse, all Ainz would have to do is cast [Grasp Heart] or [True Death] and Artorias is screwed.

I've thought of a couple counters to this, but I'm not too sure how believable they are. I also came across a certain type of magic in a Manhwa I was reading that would suit him perfectly if I decided to go through with it, so that would help balance things out, but I'm still undecided. I don't want to spoil it, but I'll say it isn't your usual elemental type magic. Other than the problems of balance, I'd have to think of what he'd look like under his armour because he couldn't just stay geared up all the time, people would grow suspicious if he never took his helm off. I'd also need to flesh out his personality a bit, we don't know much about Artorias, and what we do know wouldn't really fit in with the world so some changes would have to be made.

But anyways, after all of that rambling, I'll leave you with a question. Artorias and Sif in the Overlord-verse, would that be a cool possible future story idea? Artorias vs Ainz, Sif vs Hamsuke, battle of the century.

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.

- Vertius