It is a stupid thing to get so worked up about, Aika knows that, but she can't stop herself. What else is she supposed to do? Watch as the thief makes off with whole armfuls of precious inventory?

"Get back here!" she hollers, skidding around the latest corner fast enough to kick up dust. The scrawny kid—Bastion, she's sure, though with that ridiculous tarp over his head it's hard to tell—yelps and redoubles his efforts to get away. Grinding her teeth in frustration, Aika lengthens her stride even as her lungs burn for air. She needs those supplies. She needs the money they're worth. And while she knows that Bastion needs them too, there just isn't enough to go around in a town like theirs.

She misjudges a step and knocks her shoulder into some stranger's. It's like hitting a wall and she almost loses her balance. Getting her feet back under her, she tosses an apology over her shoulder and resumes the chase.

That tiny pause is enough to put Bastion solidly in the lead. He's heading for the abandoned half of town, and once he reaches there, Aika will never be able to track him. That's his territory, just like the shop and its surrounding streets is Aika's.

Her lungs are on fire. She won't catch up to him in time.

In the end, she doesn't have to. Bastion, in the middle of glancing back to see how close Aika has gotten, slams headlong into a man Aika could have sworn wasn't there a second ago. Bastion falls back on his butt, bags of food rolling in the dirt while he clutches his nose.

Aika stops, panting. The stranger bends down and retrieves the bags, holding them out to Aika. "These are yours, aren't they?"

His voice is smooth with a strange edge to it. Before Aika can take the bags, Bastion clambers to his feet and swats at them.

"Those are mine, fair and square! Give them back!"

The stranger just lifts them out of Bastion's reach and continues addressing Aika, paying no heed to the child jumping and clawing at his cloak. "You seemed like you were in a pretty big hurry when you hit me earlier. I hope I'm not overstepping."

Aika blinks. She hit this guy? While the shadow of his hood hides his face, she can see his hands and upraised right arm. His hands are calloused, his arms lean but taut with muscle. Is he a soldier? Yusuki was killed by one of them for—for just saying the wrong thing, if the rumors were true. "That was you? I'm—I'm so sorry, I didn't mean—"

"It's fine, I wasn't hurt." Aika gets the feeling he's smiling a little under that veil of darkness. "So, these belong to you?"

"Yes." Bastion, having given up, watches with sullen eyes as Aika takes back her shop's things. Aika gives him a hard look. "The next time I catch you stealing from me, I won't be so nice."

He sticks out his tongue and disappears into the labyrinth of burned-out homes. Aika sighs and hikes the bags up higher so they're a little easier to carry. "He'd be a good kid in a better town."

Without a word, the stranger steps forward and takes the two heaviest bags. "Tough times?"

"We've had three hollow attacks in the last two weeks. People are leaving this place in droves. The ones that stay are desperate or stupid."

The stranger, head-and-shoulders above Aika, glances down at her as they walk back to her shop. "Which are you?"

"Both. My family has lived here for generations, and I'm too dumb and too stubborn to try to move elsewhere. I can't take my father's shop with me, and I won't leave my family's only legacy behind." She stops talking, cheeks flooding with heat. She hadn't meant to say so much, but something about this man—the set of his shoulders, the tone of his voice, maybe just his aura—invites familiarity, invites trust. "Anyway, I, um, I never introduced myself." She can't exactly stick out a hand, but she does her best to make eye contact. "I'm Aika."

The stranger considers her for a long moment before inclining his head. "Ichigo."

"Well, thanks for saving my stuff, Ichigo."

"Not a problem."

When they reach the shop, Aika directs Ichigo, and together, they get everything put away within a couple of minutes. When they finish, Aika stands awkwardly behind the counter, not knowing the proper way to say her thanks. Ichigo saves her the trouble.

"I'll be heading out, looks like you've got things handled from here. Nice meeting you, Aika."

"Nice meeting you too. Stay safe out there."

He raises a hand in farewell and leaves. Aika returns to taking inventory, unable to get the strange man with the strange voice out of her head.

Hours later, she's selling her last bag of rice when the roar splits the air. Her hair stands on end and her muscles lock. The woman across the counter goes still as stone, her skin tinting gray with fear. They all know what that sound means.

"There's a trapdoor in that corner," Aika says, pointing with a shaking hand. They both scramble for it as screams carry in from outside. The open door, left that way to welcome customers, now beckons the demon. Aika hauls open the trapdoor and gestures for the old woman to go first. She refuses. "Either you go first or we both get eaten," Aika snaps, nerves too frayed to hold patience. The old woman begins her descent.

The street is silent.

A shadow falls across the ground just outside the door.

The old woman is only a few rungs down. There is no room for Aika. Fear rolls off her in waves. Her heart is the only thing moving in her whole body and she prays to whatever gods are out there that the hollow will keep walking, that it will leave her small shop alone.

But, of course, the gods are dead. The hollow's face swings around and soulless yellow eyes fix on Aika. The hollow's hunger pins her in place; slack fingers loose their grip on aging wood. The trapdoor swings shut with a bang, the old woman crying out in worry before her voice is muffled to silence. Aika can't move. She can barely breathe.

Maybe it won't notice her. She's in the back corner, in the shadows, and aside from the extremely loud sound of the trapdoor closing—

The second roar makes her ears ring. Her vision goes gray at the edges, the black hole of the hollow's mouth sucking at her vision, and she is so, so scared.

Aika watches, numb, a witness to her own end, as the hollow shoulders through the doorway. Wood splinters and the shoddy shelves collapse under the hollow's gleaming claws.

She should run.

She should really run.

But she can't even blink.

The hollow's spiked shoulders screech across the ceiling. The shoddy lights Aika replaced only a few days ago crack and shatter. Paint chips rain down, and as the hollow's jaws yawn wide, all Aika can think about is the corn spilling across the floor, torn out of broken bags.

It's such a waste.

She closes her eyes and braces for pain unlike anything she's ever known before—pain that never comes. She opens her eyes to see a clawed hand punched through the hollow's mask. The hand retracts, and a moment later, the hollow collapses and begins breaking apart.

The suffocating pressure holding Aika in place releases its grip and Aika goes limp, collapsing on weak legs against the wall. Her breath rasps against her throat. She feels dizzy. Is it normal to feel dizzy?

"Hey." The soft voice startles her out of her thoughts. "Whoa, it's okay, it's just me." Her eyes land on a shock of orange hair and, below that, a concerned face. Amber eyes meet hers and hold steady. The man holds out a hand. He's crouching in front of her, and while Aika doesn't recognize his features, she does recognize his voice. "Can you stand?"

Her gaze falls to his hand. Blood coats the skin, clinging stubbornly even as the rest of the hollow disappears. But Ichigo's hand is as human as Aika's—no sign of the pure-white skin or vicious claws that had torn through the hollow's head from behind.

"I can stand," she manages. Ichigo hauls her to her feet, and though the room spins for a moment, she forces it back to rights. "There's a woman in the basement."

Ichigo kneels and hauls open the door without any apparent effort. "Hello? It's safe to come out now."

Aika hears shuffling steps and then the woman's face gets illuminated by the sunlight bouncing around the wrecked shop. Her shoulders sag in relief when she sees Aika. "Oh, love, thank the gods you're all right."

Once Aika and Ichigo have helped the woman get back up, and once the woman has hurried home to see to her family, Aika takes stock of the damage. Her stomach sinks. She can't afford to fix all this.

"That's four."

Next to her, Ichigo is staring out at the street with strange intensity. "Sorry?"

"Four hollow attacks. Four attacks in three weeks. You're not that close to the frontlines. Hollows shouldn't be breaking through that consistently, and definitely not ones as powerful as this one." He nudges the decaying carcass with an uncaring foot. "Something else is going on here…just like he told me."

Ichigo mutters the last part as a comment clearly meant for his ears alone. Aika swallows. "I don't mean to be rude, sir, but who exactly are you? It's not just anyone that can take down a hollow like you did. Are you a soldier?"

Though he doesn't dress like a soldier. Last Aika checked, ratty old cloaks aren't part of the standard uniform.

"Ah, something like that," Ichigo says. He looks oddly bashful. "Anyway, what was up with the other part of town?"

"The—there were too many attacks, and then a fire. We just haven't been able to rebuild." There aren't even enough people left to populate it if they do manage reconstruction. "Why?"

"I need to go there."

Aika trails after him on reflex. "Go there? For what possible reason? There's nothing there but ghosts."

Ichigo pauses in the street, which is disturbingly empty. It will be a while before anyone risks leaving their homes. He glances around at the hollow's trail of destruction, a muscle in his jaw flexing before he focuses on Aika. "You should stay inside for a while, just like everyone else."

He clearly intends it to be a dismissal. Aika keeps pace with him anyway. "Why? What are you planning to do?"

When he realizes Aika isn't going to leave, Ichigo sighs but keeps walking. "A…friend of mine got wind that there might be some kind of…secret enemy base around here somewhere. I'm investigating."

That rings false. "Hollows aren't smart enough to build bases."

"And they're not smart enough to wage a war for nine years either, but here we are."

Aika bites her lip, only to nearly trip over Ichigo's foot when he suddenly stops.

"That's the kid from earlier, right?" He points to Bastion, who has one hand in Ms. Laakti's pocket.

"Yes, why—"

Ichigo disappears. Before Aika can even process the sudden void next to her, he reappears behind Bastion and yanks him into the air by the collar of his shirt. Bastion yelps. Shocked out of her stupor, Aika runs over.

"What are you doing?" she demands as Bastion starts flailing. "Ms. Laakti, I'm so sorry, he didn't mean it—"

"Let go a' me! Let go!"


He goes quiet when Aika snaps at him. She never snaps at him, even when he steals, but she's a bit frazzled. Gathering herself, Aika turns again to Ms. Laakti. "You should really go back inside ma'am, it's not safe."

Ms. Laakti blinks, clearly confused by the sudden commotion. "I was just checking that the fruit stand was locked up."

"You should listen to her," Ichigo puts in while effortlessly avoiding all of Bastion's attempts to hit him. "It's dangerous out here right now."

"R-right." Ms. Laakti retreats indoors, wallet intact. Ichigo brings Bastion up to eye level and glares at him.

"Seriously, kid? Robbing an old woman like that? And during a hollow attack, too? What were you thinking?"

Bastion scowls with all the venom he can muster. "Shut up! You're out here too, you jerk!"

One of Ichigo's eyebrows ticks. "I'm supposed to be here, brat. Killing hollows is my job."

"Well you're not very good at it!"

"Watch it," warns Ichigo, an eerie, echoing tone layered on top of his normal voice. It makes the hairs on Aika's arms stand on end, and even Bastion goes still, eyes wide. Ichigo pinches his nose with a free hand and lets out a breath. "Look," he continues, his voice back to normal, "I need your help with something. You help me out, the hollows stop attacking your town. How's that sound?"

Bastion glances at Aika, but she can only shrug. "Whaddayou mean?"

Ichigo sets the young boy back on the ground, and for once, Bastion makes no immediate move to run. "I was sent here on a special mission to take down an enemy base. I know it's somewhere around here, and I think it's in the abandoned half of town—your territory, right?" Bastion nods slowly, shooting another look Aika's way. She realizes rather suddenly that Bastion is out of his depth and knows it. She tries to look confident in Ichigo for his sake. "Is there anything strange out there? Doors that don't open, footprints that don't belong, anything that looks out of place?"


"Bastion." Aika crouches to his level. She's known Bastion all his life, and while they have never seen eye to eye, now is the time to build bridges, however temporary they may be. "You know that place like the back of your hand. I've never been able to catch you once you get in there. You know all the best places to hide. Think about it. Has anyone taken a spot that should be yours?"

He licks his lips, eyes flicking between Aika and Ichigo in the most obvious sign of his nervousness. "There might be a spot."

Ichigo smiles grimly. "Show me."

Bastion leads them through a winding maze of dusty streets. Aika focuses on staying oriented and ignoring the abandoned buildings. The shadows play tricks on her vision, hinting at people watching when Aika knows there is no one there. Ichigo leads the way, Bastion at his side. Bastion is constantly looking back at her, childish features pinched with worry he can't hide. Aika tries to be reassuring each time they make eye contact, but she really doesn't want to be here. This place has always creeped her out.

"What now?" Ichigo asks, stopping at a six-way junction. Bastion points left.

"It's the third house on the left. There's something weird about the floor, and…"


"I think I've seen stuff moving in there." Bastion's voice dips into a mumble. "Bad people."

Ichigo gives Bastion a considering look and then stops walking. "You two wait here." He gestures to the first empty house on the right. "There's enough cover there that no one'll see you if you stay low. I don't know how many hollows could be in this place. There's no guarantee I can keep them all contained."

Aika takes a few steps towards the empty doorway before she realizes Bastion isn't following. "Bastion?"

"You won't find it without me."

Ichigo frowns. "What?"

"It's hard to spot." Bastion puffs up his chest. "You're gonna need me to show you."

"I'll go too," Aika says. Seeing Ichigo's hesitation, she keeps going. "We can run if there's trouble. Bastion knows the safe spots around here."

"If you're sure."

Aika reaches out and squeezes Bastion's shoulder. He straightens, then strides forward. Aika falls behind, giving the boys a few yards' lead. The closer they get to the house, the slower Ichigo moves, until they are all moving at a crawl.

"Wait here," he murmurs when they are in the middle of the street. He disappears again. Aika, a little more used to it than Bastion, manages to hide her surprise. Bastion does not, but his whispered exclamation does not carry far. Ichigo returns a moment later. "Sensors," he explains without preamble. "We're good now."

"So there is a base here?"

"Yeah. If you see anything, say something right away."

Aika nods. They duck through a section of collapsed wall, picking their way around scattered bricks and mortar.

"Pressure plates." Ichigo's voice makes Aika freeze. "Step where I step. Bastion, how'd you get in here before?"


Aika glances at the far wall where the window lets in musty beams of sunlight. It's far too small for Aika and Ichigo to fit through.

After a tense minute, they are all inside, and—as far as Aika can tell—they have avoided setting off any alarms. Ichigo cedes the floor to Bastion, who takes a couple hesitant steps before he spots what he's looking for. He points to the far-left corner.

"It's a couple feet off the wall, see it?"

Ichigo gets closer, crouches, and peers at the floor. "There're seams. A trapdoor?"

Bastion shrugs. "Thought it might be a storage basement, but I couldn't get it open 'cause there's nothing to grab."

Ichigo gives the door a considering look. He reaches out and knocks against it a few times, head tipped towards the sound. He nods. "Okay, I think I've got it. You two, get back, and get ready to run if you spot trouble." He's already counting on a fight? "I can't guarantee your safety, but I'll do everything I can to keep the fighting down there."

"Good luck," Aika says in the lull. "Stay safe."

Bastion says nothing, but he sticks by Aika's side. Ichigo nods and holds up a hand. The edge of his cloak falls back, revealing his arm almost up to the shoulder. For a second, Aika doesn't understand what he's doing; his arm is just an arm. Where's his weapon? Every other soldier Aika has seen or heard about carried a sword.

His skin loses all color. It happens in splotches, spreading from his elbow down to his fingertips. White blooms over every inch as his nails lengthen into vicious claws. Strands of red hair thicken into a fur bracelet over his wrist. Aika can't tear her eyes away.

Ichigo flexes his fingers, sets himself up by the trapdoor, and, in one swift, brutal motion, punches through up to his shoulder. He leans over, hand still on the underside, and feels around for a few seconds before he smirks in satisfaction. The trapdoor pops open and Ichigo recovers his arm.

It's the same hand that punched through the hollow's head.

"What are you?" Aika whispers. Ichigo yanks the door all the way open and glances up at her.

"An ally."

He jumps down, but not before Aika catches a glimpse of white spreading all across his neck and face. She wraps an arm around Bastion's shoulders on reflex. He doesn't protest and even holds her arm in return.

Should they try to leave? But Aika doesn't remember the layout of the pressure plates and only Bastion can fit through the window. Those traps could be alarm triggers or—and her breathing catches at the thought—explosives. She can't take that risk without knowing there's something much worse coming out of that trapdoor.

After a minute, Bastion breaks out of her grip. He doesn't wander far, his gaze riveted on where Ichigo dropped down.

A hollow's roar, muted by distance and layers of underground infrastructure, abruptly cuts off. Aika shivers. Distant booms shake loose dust and dirt from the building's ceiling. She's in the middle of brushing off some residue from her shoulders when Bastion speaks.

"He wasn't normal, was he?"

Aika pauses, then very deliberately keeps at it. "He's a soldier."

"I've met soldiers before." Bastion almost sounds accusing, like he knows Aika is lying. "None of them could change their skin."

It's more than changing skin. The first time, Aika had been too caught up in the hollow trying to eat her that she hadn't noticed, but here, it was obvious: when Ichigo's arm transformed, the air grew heavy and dark—exactly like it did when any hollow was near.

"He saved my life."

"That doesn't mean anything," argues Bastion. "What if he's—" his voice drops—"a hollow?"

"Don't be ridiculous." Aika shivers. "He's as human as you and me. You saw. He's not a hollow."

As she finishes, a new roar pierces the air, this one louder and more feral than all the ones before it. The sound cuts through Aika's skin and makes her heart freeze in her chest.

Bastion's face is white with fear and Aika knows hers is much the same. She has never heard a roar like that. All the hollows she's heard have been almost…almost sad, kind of haunting, and maybe angry. But that one? That was a challenge, ripe with bloodlust.

It is, at its core, the signal for Aika and Bastion to leave. "Do you remember the arrangement of the pressure plates?"

Bastion nods and leads with fear-wracked limbs. Hollows' cries grow in number and volume only to disappear just as fast. When they make it to the street, the sudden surge of silence is deafening. Aika wordlessly grabs Bastion's hand and leads them at a fast walk down the street, Bastion half-jogging to keep up with Aika's long strides. Was it a left at the corner? Or was it a right?

The ground explodes. Aika shrieks and falls back, whole spine buckling for a moment as red drowns out everything she can see. Still feeling Bastion's hand in hers, she curls around him, aching back taking the brunt of the heat as the red energy dies down.

Before the ruined street can settle, a new cry echoes among empty buildings. Air rushes past Aika. She shifts and manages to get a glimpse of a dark shape—hollow—flying upwards with strange desperation.

A second shape shoots up after it, this one smaller, humanoid, and white. The two hollows collide in the air. Aika covers Bastion's eyes but can't look away herself as the white hollow rips a wing off the other. They both tumble to the ground. Squinting through the dust, Aika makes out the white hollow stabbing an arm down in a familiar gesture, and when the dust clears, there is only the white hollow and a fading lump of reishi.

Her heart thuds against her ribs. Bastion pulls her hand off his face. Aika doesn't look back to see his expression, but his grip on her wrist gets painfully tight.

"Bastion," Aika whispers, "when I give the signal, you run, okay? You run and you don't stop."

He doesn't say anything, but he gets to his feet when Aika does, and she loses the feeling of his fingers on her skin a moment later. Aika puts herself between the hollow and Bastion, unfamiliar bravery steeling her limbs when all she wants to do is turn tail and run until her lungs give out. If she can give Bastion a chance, then she has to try.

The hollow finally looks away from its dead prey. Aika nearly loses her nerve when burning gold eyes meet hers. Black lines slice through a mask framed by two wicked horns.


He runs. Aika doesn't look away from the hollow. It cocks its head as Bastion flees but makes no move to follow. Is it letting him go? Aika is the bigger body. More food?

She swallows. She can't hear Bastion's footsteps anymore. She hopes he finds a spot where the hollow will never look.

And then, unbelievably, the hollow speaks, and its voice—for all that it is grossly inhuman—sounds like Ichigo's.

"Are you scared?"

For a long, hysterical second, Aika thinks she misheard, but the words don't change when she turns them over in her mind. Her mouth opens without her brain present enough to stop it. "Scared? I'm terrified."

"You told him to run."

Is it Ichigo? The fur on its wrists is the same. It has more on its neck and ankles. Its hair is the same shade of orange, but it's far longer, stretching nearly to its waist. And Aika is willing to bet that Ichigo never had such a horrible hole in his chest.

"I did." The longer she talks, the more time Bastion has.

The hollow releases a rattling sound. A sigh, Aika realizes. "I should've warned you. Sorry about that."

A crack splits the mask. It's followed by a cascade of others. They spider across the hollow's entire body in a wave of broken lines. The white material Aika had thought was skin falls off in pieces that quickly become a rain, but all of it breaks into nothing as soon as it hits the ground. The horns, the mask, the hair, the fur—it all disappears, and when it goes, it leaves behind a very familiar man.

Ichigo unties and shrugs up the cloth wrapped around his waist. His cloak. With the familiar fabric settled on his shoulders, he looks nothing like the hollow that stood in his place seconds ago.

Aika has no words. Her mind is a single line of incomprehension. She can only watch as Ichigo brushes the last bits of white out of his hair. He walks over to her, face pinched with worry.

"You okay?" His voice doesn't have any of that strange double-toned sound it had before. He leans a little closer. "Aika?"

The sound of her name in his mouth pulls her back into her own body. She meets his gaze. "What are you?"

This time, the question is neither accusing nor afraid. It is numb, shocked beyond feeling. Ichigo's expression softens and he gives her space.

"I wasn't lying before. I am an ally, and I am a soldier, just...a special one." He rubs the back of his neck, glancing around with wary eyes. "How much do you know about the war effort?"

Not much. It must show in her face, because Ichigo nods.

"Well, I'm one of the captains. Kind of," he amends after a beat. "I'm a bit of a weird situation these days. How do I put this?" He chews his lip for a second, then settles on something Aika can only guess at. "Okay, I'm only going to say this once. I was born with a hollow in my soul. The army taught me how to use it to fight. After some rough times, I figured out how to do that the right way. A friend of mine sent me this way because he heard about some suspicious stuff happening in your town—that wasn't a lie either. Technically, I'm not supposed to be here, or even really exist at all, so if you could keep this quiet…" he trails off hopefully. To his right, a building clipped by the energy beam earlier finally gives way with a groan, crashing through the massive hole in the ground. Ichigo's expression turns sheepish. "As quiet as you can, anyway."

His focus skates over Aika's right shoulder and she turns to see Bastion peering around the corner. Her shoulders drop. "I told him to run."

"Looks like he didn't listen."

Bastion approaches slowly, warily, his eyes constantly switching between Aika and Ichigo like either of them will hint at what's going on. Aika certainly can't explain, and while Ichigo's crisp detailing most definitely passed through her ears, she hasn't parsed a word of it. The disintegrating hollow, its head disappearing before its tail, tips and slides into the hole with a resounding thud.

"Um," Bastion starts.

"Hey." Ichigo crouches down. "You all right?"

Bastion points a shaking hand at the crater. "That was you, wasn't it?"

Ichigo dips his head, takes a breath, and then musters a strained smile. "Yeah. Don't worry, I'm not going to hurt you."

Suspicion paints itself across Bastion's face. He still hasn't stepped past Aika; he's using her as a shield.

After a beat of awkward silence, Ichigo straightens, his tone turning businesslike. "Okay, I'm pretty sure I took care of all the hollows in there, but I have to do another sweep to make sure. You two should head on home—and whatever you do, don't go down there." One of his hands presses against a spot near his stomach. "There are some nasty traps in there. Deadly, understand?"

Aika nods and catches Bastion doing the same.


Abruptly, Ichigo switches his gaze to the sky. His eyes go wide, he curses, and then a blur shoots down from on high and tackles him to the ground. Aika only catches pieces of a conversation held between two figures doing their absolute best to pin each other down:

"—go—run—middle of—night!"

"Had—Kisuke—can't say no!"

The woman—because she is a woman—finally separates from Ichigo, kneeling across from him with eyes narrowed in suspicion. Her purple hair sways in the weak breeze. "Kisuke sent you here?"

Ichigo coughs for a second, massaging his throat, before he shoots her a spiteful glare. "You think I'd ditch camp in the middle of the night for anything else?"

The woman only raises an eyebrow. Ichigo rolls his eyes. "Gods, Yoruichi, I'm fine. I'm not gonna have another episode, and I'd warn you if I was. I wouldn't just leave. I don't do that."

Yoruichi finally seems to process that Aika and Bastion are still standing there and staring. She peers at them. "Who are your friends?"

"Just some locals that helped me out."

"And you told them, didn't you?" Ichigo's silence is damning. Yoruichi sighs. "You're too trusting, Ichigo."

"I didn't really have a choice."

"Please. There's always a choice." Yoruichi rises to her feet, lithe like a cat, and crosses her arms. She takes in the state of the street with clinical eyes. "Kisuke was right, then?"

"Yeah. Nasty stuff down there. You'll want to clear it out, keep it cordoned off for a while."

Yoruichi grunts. "Rest of the search team will be here in a few minutes. Better get your story straight before then. And you two," she looks at Aika and Bastion, "you should really get out of here."

Utterly lost, Aika looks to Ichigo. He nods. "Thanks for the help."

They somehow end up back at Aika's family shop. Bastion wanders around the broken shelves, nudging at spilled food and broken tools with his dust-covered feet. Aika rests her hands on the front counter, stares at the shattered doorway, and decides she's had enough of soldiers and hollows and war.

She has her shop, and that's all she wants to care about.