Hey friends and fans, Kairomaru is bringing you another Force of Souls Chapter! Time to infiltrate the Soul Society! Ten days of crash-course, bootcamp training is over! Now it's up to the group of five that're going to rescue Rukia! Who will they meet on the other side? Allies? Enemies? Both?
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Chapter 23 – Entering Soul Society (Illegally)
Oh, all of us dream
That we are flying the skies
With our eyes open
"Captain? What're you looking through so intently?" Kiyone questioned her superior curiously, having brought him tea for a break.
"I'm checking the Shiba Clan's Family Tree from Kaien's line." Ukitake answered, accepting the tea and taking a sip.
"Lieutenant Shiba's? Why?" Kiyone couldn't help but wonder. It was very unlike Ukitake to randomly look through such things.
"That boy from the Living World...the resemblance was too close...there has to be some kind of connection." Ukitake set his tea cup down and looked at the papers before him again.
"You think so, sir? But he was human before he got his Shinigami powers from Rukia. It's not like Shinigami can have children with humans." Kiyone shook her head at the sheer ridiculousness of such a thing.
"Be that as it may, my suspicions have only increased after the preliminary surveillance report of the situation." Ukitake handed Kiyone a paper for her to look over.
"Kurosaki Ichigo...siblings Kurosaki Karin and Kurosaki Yuzu...mother Kurosaki Masaki...father Kurosaki Isshin." Kiyone raised an eyebrow at the fairly standard information. "I don't understand, Captain."
"Perhaps you don't recall the previous Captain of Squad Ten? The one that went missing?" Ukitake looked at his Third Seat patiently.
Kiyone noticeably perked up as her memory was jogged. "Oh yeah, that was back when I was just a low Seated Officer. They never did find out for sure what happened to Captain Shiba, did they?"
"He was labeled as 'Missing' for a few years, but when he never returned, it was changed to 'Killed in the Line of Duty'." Ukitake stated, before looking at Kiyone seriously. "Do you perhaps recall Captain Shiba's given name?"
"No, sir, I'm afraid not." Kiyone shook her head. He wasn't her Captain, and she'd maybe seen the man a handful of times during her service in the Thirteen Court Guard Squads.
Ukitake sighed lightly before speaking again. "The former Captain of Squad Ten was Shiba Isshin."
Kiyone blinked at her Captain's words. "Wait…" The blonde young woman looked at the paper in her hand again. "No...that's...that's got to be a coincidence...right?" She ran her left hand through her hair at the matching names.
"I'm beginning to have my doubts, since the place that Captain Shiba went missing was Karakura Town." Ukitake spoke, having been surprised by the matching names, especially when Kurosaki Ichigo looked so similar to Kaien. His initial curiosity was now leading him down a rabbit hole upon finding out this new information.
Ichigo, Tatsuki, Chad, and Orihime were gathered together in the underground training area. Their training time was up, and it was now time to enter the Soul Society. Naturally, the three young Shinigami were in their spiritual forms for this. But that did bring up a question of how Chad would enter the spiritual realm of the Soul Society. However, Tessai had assured them that Urahara had made the appropriate arrangements already.
"Okay, okay, kids!" Urahara clapped his hands to get their attention. "Pay attention, please!" He held his right arm out to the side and snapped his fingers. "And away we go!"
Four black voids appeared for a moment, only for square beams to emerge from each of them. The beams formed a square shape, colliding into each other at the ends, and then settled into a solid piece without seams. The simple structure was completely covered in large paper tags, each appeared blank, but they overlapped each other so much that it was impossible to tell for certain.
"All right. This gate leads to the Soul Society." Urahara told the four standing before him. "The Senkaimon, or Tunnel World Gate." His hat shadowed his eyes as he continued to speak. "Please listen carefully. I'm about to tell you how to pass through this gate without dying." Once he was certain that they were completely focused on him, Urahara continued. "This gate has a Reishi Henkan-Ki, a spirit particle conversion machine, on top of a regular Senkaimon. The two are connected by covering the gate with Ketsugō Fu, or Union Tags." He explained, tapping the seemingly blank tags with the end of his cane.
"Spirit particle conversion?" Ichigo looked at Urahara confused.
"Correct." Urahara looked between the three Shinigami and then at Chad. "As you know, the Soul Society is a spiritual realm. It is impossible to enter it with a physical body. As you three are Shinigami, you can freely pass through this gate." He pointed at Orihime, Tatsuki, and Ichigo. "However, Sado-san is a human, and even if we removed his soul from his body, it would still have its Chain of Fate attached. Severing it would leave him weak, barely able to move about, much less make it to Soul Society." Chad merely looked at the enigmatic man, knowing that he wouldn't have been trained if there wasn't a way to pass through the gate. "That's where the Reishi Henkan-Ki comes in! It converts the matter of the Living World into the Reishi of the spiritual realms! Which means that Sado-san can pass through this gate and enter Soul Society with his current form and with all of his power intact!"
"Yay!" Orihime cheered, her bubbly personality happy at the perceived good news.
Tatsuki and Ichigo couldn't help but chuckle at their girlfriend's exuberance. Chad merely smiled slightly and gave Orihime a thumbs up.
"Alright. If that's taken care of then let's go through already." Ichigo took two steps towards the gate before the end of Urahara's cane jabbed painfully into his side. The young Shinigami bit out a curse as he staggered and held his side in pain.
"And now for the most important point!" Urahara continued on, as if he hadn't been interrupted, or just jabbed Ichigo. "Passing through the gate itself is no problem. The spirit particle conversion is painless. And if you keep moving forward, you will indeed reach the Soul Society." His face became serious, making all four of them straighten up at the change in tone. "The problem is time. The Senkaimon can only remain open and connected to the Soul Society for a short time…four minutes at most." He held up four fingers on his left hand.
"Just four minutes?" Tatsuki looked at Urahara with some concern. The way he was speaking, four minutes might not be enough time to get to Soul Society.
"After four minutes, the gate will close. And you'll be trapped in the Dangai, the precipice world between the Living World and Soul Society, forever." Urahara stated with a cold finality. "In addition, within the Dangai is a restrictive current called the Kōryū that paralyzes souls to prevent the entry of Hollows and other foreign invaders. If even one of your limbs gets entangled in it the possibility of passing through the Dangai within the time limit becomes almost zero."
"Then how can we…?" Orihime was about to ask before she was cut off.
"Go forward." The masculine voice of Yoruichi spoke up.
"Yoruichi!" Tatsuki looked down, seeing her cat sensei near them without any of them having noticed the feline's approach or presence.
"The heart and the soul are connected. The state of the heart is crucial." Yoruichi spoke to all four of them. "The will to go forward will be your guide. Have no doubt. Have no fear. Do not stop. Do not look back. Do not think of those you're leaving behind. Just go forward." The black cat turned its head to look at the four would-be invaders. "Those who can do that, follow me."
"You're not going to dissuade us." Ichigo took a step forward, looking at the talking cat. "The moment Rukia was taken; all of our minds were made up!"
"Just so that you all understand…if you lose, you'll never return to this world." Yoruichi turned to face the Senkaimon.
"Then we'll just have to win!" Ichigo stated firmly, Tatsuki, Orihime, and Chad nodding sharply at his words.
"Exactly." Yoruichi agreed.
An odd rumbling sound filled the air as Urahara and Tessai began to pour their Reiryoku into the modified Senkaimon. The air and space within the square beginning to warp and distort.
"Are you ready?" Urahara looked at the five that would be making the journey into the Soul Society. "Run in as soon as it opens."
A reverberation was felt throughout the area, down into the bodies of everyone present. The space within the Senkaimon shone with a bright light as the gate opened. Without a second of hesitation all five of them leapt through the Senkaimon and vanished.
"I'm sorry, Kurosaki-san," Urahara stood up, still pouring his Reiryoku into the gate. He reached out to touch it, only for a shock to knock his hand away with force and leave it smoking slightly. "It's all up to you." He couldn't cross over to the Soul Society while branded an exile. No matter how much he wanted to go and deal with this problem himself.
"So this is the Dangai?" Ichigo blinked at the creepy tunnel the five found themselves in. It was dark, and there appeared to be bones scattered here and there.
"Is that a giant?" Chad pointed to a massive skeleton, easily three times his own height, seemingly floating among the shifting walls of the tunnel.
"This place is creepy as hell." Tatsuki mentioned; seeing the skeleton and the bones.
"Come! Don't just stand there! Run! The wall of Kōryū is coming!" Yoruichi yelled at the four of them while taking off running.
Klak Klak Klak Klak Klak
Marked tiles began to slide down a wooden frame, clacking loudly as they landed on the bottom. Each mark was a piece of information for the ones that were watching them. When the tiles stopped falling, their full message was a set of coordinates.
"Distortion detected in the west Rukongai! Alert regions three through eight! I repeat!" A Shinigami reported and proceeded to repeat the information over a speaker. The footfalls of dozens and dozens of Shinigami were heard as they mobilized to check out the area and find the anomaly.
"Huh?" Renji looked up from where he was taking his first break of the day. "What's going on?!" He'd only just sat down since starting his duties early this morning!
"The walls are collapsing!" Tatsuki called out as they ran through the tunnel in the Dangai.
Indeed, behind the small group of five, the flowing walls of the Kōryū were collapsing together. The strangely smoke-like, yet also water-like, walls of the current were quickly subsuming the tunnel they were running through.
"Don't look back! Run!" Yoruichi ordered the four of them, easily keeping ahead of them without trouble. "If the Kōryū swallows us, we're done for!"
The group continued to run for all they were worth as the Kōryū collapsed behind them. But it was Orihime that blinked when she heard something.
"Do you guys hear that?" Orihime questioned as they ran.
"Hear what?" Ichigo questioned, still looking ahead as they bolted towards the square of light in the distance that marked their exit.
"I hear it too." Chad nodded a second later. "Something's rumbling."
The rumbling that had only been faintly heard before grew louder and louder before a light was seen shining from within the Kōryū behind them. From the current a large, fuzzy…thing, emerged like a train along tracks.
"What is that?!" Tatsuki yelled out as the strange thing was bearing down on them faster than the Kōryū had been.
"It's a Kōtotsu, a cleaner!" Yoruichi yelled back to the group. "They pass through areas of the Dangai once every seven days… But why now?!"
"It's catching up!" Ichigo grimaced as the weird cleaner got closer and closer. "Did Soul Society send this thing after us?!"
"No! The Soul Society doesn't control any of the Kōtotsu!" Yoruichi sped up more.
"Then who does?! Can we tell them to stop?!" Orihime cried out as they continued to lose space as the cleaner caught up.
"Don't worry about that! Just run! Very fast! Run for your lives!" Yoruichi ordered the group.
"Chad!" Ichigo looked over at his best friend. "Can you keep up with Shunpo at all?!"
"Kensei…showed me the basics of it…and I figured out a bit." Chad nodded to Ichigo as they ran. "In his words 'It's a bastardized form that's only good for straight lines, but it's better than nothing.' So, I think I can use it here."
"That would normally be a bad idea, because the Kōryū is attracted to foreign spiritual powers, but in this case, do it!" Yoruichi gave permission right before blurring forward.
"Right!" Ichigo, Orihime, and Tatsuki all blurred forward as well.
"Hup!" Chad focused his Reiryoku into the bottom of his feet and blasted it out in one powerful burst, followed by a continuous flow afterwards. The gentle giant blurred forward as well, slightly behind his friends, but all five of them reached the exit at roughly the same time, crashing through the gate.
Five beams of light shot out of a glowing square suspended rather high in the air. They landed with a loud crash that threw up a large cloud of dust. All five had landed safely enough, though there was a shallow crater in the ground with cracks around it.
"Ow…that superhero landing thing is bullshit." Tatsuki complained, having landed in a kneeling position, her right hand on the ground in front of her. "My knee hurts a little now."
"I landed on my feet…and it still didn't tickle." Ichigo's legs were trembling slightly from the impact they'd just absorbed, though it couldn't be seen because of the hakama of the shihakushō.
"I'm alright." Chad stood up without much issue, once more displaying his insane durability.
"I'll heal you, Tatsuki, Ichigo!" Orihime beamed at them, having already healed her bruises from the awkward landing. She bounced over to her lovers and light-green Reiryoku surrounded her hands.
"Thanks, Hime-chan." Tatsuki sighed as the dull ache went away under the Kaidō that Orihime used.
"That's a really useful thing Tessai taught you." Ichigo praised Orihime, making the bubbly girl giggle happily as she removed the slight pain in his legs.
"Well, we've made it safely, despite the unexpected appearance of the Kōtotsu." Yoruichi, like any cat, had landed on all four feet and made it look easy.
As the dust cloud settled, the four from the Living World got to see the Soul Society for the first time.
"So, this is Soul Society?" Orihime looked around at the old-style buildings. All of them could've easily been at home in the World of the Living…about a century or so in the past.
"It's a bit…less impressive than I imagined it." Tatsuki looked around at the buildings, some could honestly be compared to sheds or shacks.
"This is the Rukongai, the place where souls come to reside after passing on." Yoruichi explained to the group since they'd regained their bearings. "It is poorer than the Seireitei, where the Shinigami live, but it is also much freer. It is where the vast majority of souls live and it lies outside the walls of the Seireitei."
"Really?" Chad questioned, looking around and not seeing anyone.
"It looks deserted." Orihime remarked, putting her hand over her eyes and looking around as well.
"Rukia told me a bit about the Soul Society…how the Shinigami live in the center and the surrounding land is broken up into concentric rings of districts and such." Ichigo spoke while looking around the area, noting the various small things that denoted the area as well-lived in. "Considering that this place is rather clean and tidy…I'd guess we're in one of the single digit districts?"
"Very good, Ichigo, you've learned well." Yoruichi nodded to him. "The Rukongai is divided into eighty districts numbered from one to eighty in concentric circles radiating outwards from the Seireitei. Each district has its own name, and the closer you get to the Seireitei, the better the standards of living."
"Why does the afterlife have different standards of living?" Tatsuki couldn't help but ask. It just seemed weird that if you got into Soul Society you could still technically suffer.
"I suppose a quick lesson won't hurt." Yoruichi spoke up, willing to answer her student's question. 'It'll also give me a moment to figure out where exactly in Rukongai we are.' Seeing that all four of them were listening, Yoruichi began. "As you know, Hell is reserved for only those that committed truly wicked crimes in life. However, not all souls that are spared Hell are equal in their 'purity' you could say. In the lower-numbered districts of the Rukongai, life is safe and easy. There is entertainment, food, and things to enjoy. There is work for those that want to enjoy these offerings as well, earning them Kan with which to pay for it. But for those souls that were not bound for Hell, yet still wicked in life, they are sent to the higher-numbered districts, further away from the Seireitei. There, life is harder, people are all equally rude, harsh, and self-centered. This is the punishment delivered onto such souls that lived wickedly but never committed Hell-worthy actions."
"So, are there like, walls to stop them from invading the better districts or something?" Orihime asked curiously.
"No, the Shinigami patrol the Rukongai, any souls that are causing problems are punished. Some are sent back to the higher-numbered districts, while others are detained. Truly horrible actions can even see them executed and sent back into the Cycle of Reincarnation without getting their time within the Soul Society." Yoruichi explained the workings of the Rukongai and Seireitei relationship. "Naturally, those from higher-numbered districts can cross into lower-numbered districts if they behave and follow the rules. It's not unheard of for a soul that was sent to a district in the forties to work their way to the single digit districts over time. In this way, they are reformed here in the Soul Society and can enjoy a better life. There are some that believe such self-reform also positively impacts the soul when its time in the Soul Society comes to an end and it moves on into the Cycle to be reborn." The cat gave its best version of a shrug at the last part.
"I get it." Tatsuki nodded at the system. It had some flaws, sure, but it was at least a chance to not be sent to Hell. From the way Ichigo had described the feeling that just the gate of Hell had given him, Tatsuki could only imagine how bad it must be there.
"That town over there looks a lot different." Chad pointed out now that the dust had settled entirely.
Indeed, the place across the way had paved streets, clean buildings, and what looked like telephone poles with electric wires between them. It was a stark contrast to the much more rustic buildings around them. It was a mix of older traditional buildings and more modern infrastructure that Ichigo recalled Rukia speaking about before.
"Yes, that's the Seireitei." Yoruichi nodded at the area. 'So, we are in the first district. That's good.' The cat mused internally with some relief. "We must've landed in one of the farming areas under the Ōtogawa Clan."
"We need to enter the Seireitei to get Rukia back, right?" Ichigo was already walking quickly towards the Seireitei as he spoke.
"Wait fool! Don't get too close! You'll die!" Yoruichi yelled out a warning to Ichigo.
"Huh?" Ichigo stopped mid-stride, but he'd already gotten too close.
Massive slabs of white stone fell from the sky, slamming down onto the ground with enough force to stagger Ichigo. Dust clouds rose up as more and more of the slabs fell into place, forming a massive wall that encircled the entirety of the Seireitei. The only part of the wall that wasn't stone was the massive gate in front of Ichigo's position. Instead it was a dark wood that was banded with black metal.
"Ichigo!" Orihime and Tatsuki cried out, unable to see their boyfriend among the clouds of dust.
"It's been a while since anyone has tried to pass through the Hakutōmon, the White Road Gate, that I guard without a permit." A deep rumbling voice was heard before another massive thing hit the ground. "At last, I have a customer. Welcome, boy."
Ichigo had to crane his neck to look at the face of the one that spoke. He was far too large to be a human. The only way to describe this being was…giant.
The giant was large and muscular, his hair was tied into a ponytail, which extended down his back to his waist. He had long sideburns, which continued down onto his neck and were long enough to be tied up in small ponytail like tufts. He wore armor on his left shoulder and upper arm, plus a red hat with tassels. The left side of his chest was left exposed by his uniform though.
"The ones that attempted to cross fell outside of the Hakut ōmon, so we can't do anything." One Shinigami spoke up, all of them now mobilizing since the Sekiseki walls had come down.
"No. But now they'll have to deal with Jidanbō." Another Shinigami spoke up, this one with two tattoos on his face, one a solid blue bar that ran across the upper portion of his left cheek and across the bridge of his nose, while the other was the number '69' just below the bar on his left cheek.
-Jidanbō and Ichigo-
The pommel of a massive axe slammed into the ground between Jidanbō and Ichigo. The giant wielded the weapon that was larger than a man as if it was merely a hatchet.
"Ho ho ho ho ho…" Jidanbō chuckled, raising his axe into a ready position. "Now, show me what you can do, boy!"
"He's…a giant." Tatsuki blinked at what she was seeing. "He can't be human, right?"
"His name is Jidanbō." Yoruichi spoke up so that Chad, Orihime, and Tatsuki could hear. "This is the Hakutōmon, and Jidanbō is its gatekeeper. Out of all of the giants within the Soul Society, he was chosen for this job."
"Gatekeeper." Chad looked at the giant. "So, we have to defeat him to get through the gate?"
"Yes. But it will not be easy." Yoruichi replied, golden eyes never leaving Jidanbō. "In the three-hundred years that he's been guarding this gate, no one has ever breached it."
"Three-hundred years?!" Orihime exclaimed with wide eyes. "He must be strong…"
"Extremely." Yoruichi acknowledged with a sigh. "He can kill thirty Hollows with one swing of his axe. His physical strength is not to be underestimated."
"How do we defeat him then?" Tatsuki questioned, even though she was already cracking her knuckles and getting ready to fight.
"We use our wits." Yoruichi knew how strong Jidanbō was, but also how…simple, he was too. "Hey wait!" The cat cried out, seeing all three of the others rushing towards Ichigo and Jidanbō. "Did you not hear a word that I just said?!"
"Hmm?" Jidanbō saw the three that were rapidly approaching and lifted his axe. "Hun!" He swung the colossal weapon and easily split the concrete covering the ground, applying force to make the fragments angle upwards to form a barrier in the same motion. This sudden wall naturally brought Chad, Orihime, and Tatsuki to a halt for a moment. "You people have bad manners. You must be from the country." Jidanbō spoke to the three with a patient tone. "Listen, cities have rules. Number one…wash your hands when you go inside. Number two…don't eat off the floor. Number three…duels are one-on-one."
"That seems like some rather random rules to be the top three." Orihime mentioned, tilting her head in confusion.
"The boy with the orange hair got here first, so I'll fight him. The rest of you wait patiently until I've smashed him. When you come to the city, you have to follow the rules." Jidanbō told them before refocusing his attention on Ichigo.
"Tatsuki, Orihime, Chad…can you hang back?" Ichigo requested through the stone wall at his back.
"Ichigo! Are you alright?" Tatsuki and Orihime called out at the same time. If the situation wasn't serious, they'd have burst into giggles at saying the same thing in unison.
"I'm fine." Ichigo assured them through the wall.
"Can you win?" Chad asked his best friend simply.
"Yeah, I think so." Ichigo replied, cracking his neck lightly as he looked up at Jidanbō.
"You better." Tatsuki spoke, a small grin on her lips.
"Are you done talking?" Jidanbō questioned Ichigo, looking down at the young man.
"I didn't ask you to wait for me, you know?" Ichigo replied as he drew Shingetsu and held his Zanpakutō at the ready.
"You must be a country boy too; you have bad manners." Jidanbō raised his axe above his head. "If somebody waits for you…SAY THANK YOU!" He brought down his axe with force and another cloud of dust was thrown up from the impact.
"You're pretty damn strong, huh?" Ichigo remarked, holding back the massive axe with the blade of Shingetsu. The fact that he was doing so with only one hand on the hilt was not lost on the giant.
"Wha-What are you?!" Jidanbō had never seen someone so casually block his axe before.
"I'm kinda in a hurry." Ichigo replied as he felt the pressure from the massive axe disappear when Jidanbō withdrew his weapon.
"Heh…Ho Ho Ho Ho Ho Ho Ho!" Jidanbō laughed loudly after a moment.
"He's laughing?" Orihime looked at Tatsuki and then at Chad for confirmation.
"You're not bad! Good! It's been decades since anybody blocked my axe!" Jidanbō praised Ichigo with a chuckle. "Alright! Today I won't hold back!" He gave a confident smile to Ichigo. "You're only the third person that ever blocked my first swing! But nobody's ever stopped my second move!" Jidanbō raised his axe high above his head, while standing up to his full height, he then brought the axe down with the full force of his body behind it, looking to split Ichigo in two.
"I'm sorry, but I don't have time for you to go through a whole list of moves." Ichigo narrowed his eyes and swung Shingetsu so fast that the blade was only seen as a flash of silver to Jidanbō.
A large plume of dust and dirt was thrown into the air as Jidanbō's axe hit the ground. The cloud was quickly blown away from the air pressure of the attack though. What Jidanbō saw made his eyes widen in shock.
"M-My axe…" Jidanbō gaped at seeing the top half of his axe sliced cleanly through, splitting the blade from the base of the axe head entirely. The handle and the metal block that was the bottom of the axe head had hit the ground, throwing up the dust and dirt, while the rest of the blade had crushed part of the impromptu stone wall behind Ichigo, allowing his friends to see him again.
"I have no desire to take your life; so, please move aside." Ichigo stared hard into Jidanbō's eyes.
"M-My axe…" Jidanbō's eyes teared up and the giant actually fell to his knees as he began to bawl like a child. "You broke my axe!"
"Eh?!" Ichigo, Chad, Orihime, and Tatsuki all gaped at the giant that was crying like a child that had just broken their favorite toy.
"I-I'm sorry…" Ichigo apologized, not used to this kind of situation at all. "But…like I said, I didn't want to take your life…so this seemed like a good way to end the fight."
"Y-You…" Jidanbō sniffled and Ichigo got a little closer to try and hear what the giant was saying. "You're a nice guy!" The tears falling down the giant's face, along with the sniffling nose, and the pouting lower lip, made Ichigo just stare at Jidanbō in stunned silence. "Big. You've got a great big heart!"
"What else could I do? You started bawling like a baby…" Ichigo muttered out.
"And look at me!" Jidanbō shook his head. "Crying over a broken axe!" He patted his robe with one hand. "I still have my other axe! It's not like you broke both of them! How can I call myself a man?" Jidanbō slowly got back to his feet. "Utter defeat."
"Huh?" Ichigo was honestly just lost at this point.
"Utter defeat! As a warrior and as a man! I've been utterly defeated by you!" Jidanbō loudly declared, his voice booming across the area. He wiped the last of his tears away before refocusing on Ichigo. "Three-hundred years I've been the gatekeeper of the Hakutōmon. I never lost before. You're the first man to beat me…" Jidanbō smiled down at Ichigo. "You can pass! Jidanbō authorizes you to pass through the Hakutōmon!"
"Th-Thanks!" Ichigo returned the giant's smile.
"Can…can we pass too?" Tatsuki pointed at herself and then motioned to Orihime and Chad.
"Sure. Your leader beat me, so I can't stop you." Jidanbō nodded to the three with a small smile.
"Good job, Ichigo." Chad fist bumped his best friend.
"Ichigo…is that your name?" Jidanbō asked as he turned to face the gate.
"Yeah. Kurosaki Ichigo." Ichigo nodded to the gatekeeper.
"Ichigo? What a cute name that is." Jidanbō mentioned, not knowing he was pressing one of Ichigo's buttons.
"It's not cute!" Ichigo roared out, pointing up at Jidanbō. "The 'ichi' means 'number one' and the 'go' stands for 'guardian'! There's nothing cute about it!"
"Be careful Ichigo, I do not know why you want to pass through this gate, but there's a bunch of powerful guys in there." Jidanbō cautioned the young man.
"I know." Ichigo stated, his face firm and set on what he was going to do.
"Well…as long as you know." Jidanbō nodded and squatted down to get his fingers beneath the bottom of the gate. "Stand back, I'm going to open the gate." With a heave of his arms, the gate began to rise. The giant stood up, using the strength of his legs to lift the gate higher, until he held it above his head slightly. Jidanbō suddenly stopped dead, catching everyone's attention.
"Why'd you stop?" Ichigo questioned, only to see sweat running down Jidanbō's face.
"Oh…ohhhh…" Jidanbō was staring at a single man in abject fear.
The man was thin, tall, and youthful, possessing very sharp features. He had unusual silver hair, not from age, but seemingly natural. His eyes were narrowed to slits, making it impossible to tell exactly what he was looking at directly. He also had a wide mocking smile on his face, as if he knew something that others didn't. He wore the standard Shinigami Shihakushō, but he had the white Captain's haori over it. At his waist was his Zanpakutō, a small wakizashi with a tsuba that resembled an 'S' in shape.
"Who the hell is he?" Ichigo questioned, feeling only a bit of the Reiatsu that the man was allowing to escape his body. He was on his guard, especially after seeing the same white haori on the man as Ukitake had been wearing. 'That marks him as a Captain…shit.' They'd all been warned to avoid the Captains at all costs before they'd ever left the World of the Living.
"Captain of Squad Three, Ichimaru Gin." Jidanbō uttered out, still not even blinking.
"Uh-oh…this won't do." Gin spoke nonchalantly. A silver flash was followed by Jidanbō's left arm separating from his body to crash to the ground a short distance behind the giant. Blood flew through the air from the sudden wound as Gin continued to speak. "A gatekeeper isn't supposed to open the gate."
"GAAAAAHHHHH!" Jidanbō bellowed in pain at the loss of his arm. The weight of the gate pressed down on the giant, but he stopped it by kneeling and resting it across his back instead.
"What was that?!" Orihime didn't understand what had just happened.
"I…didn't see it." Chad's eyes were wide, knowing the danger this person represented.
"What the fuck?" Tatsuki wasn't any better than the others. She only saw a brief flash and then Jidanbō's arm went flying!
'Shit! It had to be Ichimaru of all people!' Yoruichi cursed internally. 'These four have gotten much stronger, but they don't have a chance against a Captain!'
"My, my, you really are Soul Society's strongest giant!" Gin praised the wounded Jidanbō. "But as a gatekeeper, you're a failure."
"I lost…" Jidanbō huffed out through the pain of his missing arm. "The obvious thing to do…was to open the gate for the victor."
"What're you talking about?" Gin questioned, approaching the injured giant. "Didn't anybody tell you? A gatekeeper that loses doesn't open the gate." The wide grin on his face became distinctly mocking. "Because a gatekeeper that loses…dies."
Gin smacked away the pressurized ball of air that had been launched at him. The Kidō exploded against the paved street a few meters away, shattering the spot into fragments.
"Hey, jackass, what the hell are you doing?!" Ichigo pointed Shingetsu at the Captain.
'That's MY line, you idiot!' Yoruichi roared mentally at the brash boy.
"Only a coward would attack a defenseless giant!" Ichigo glared at the Captain. "If you want to fight someone, you can fight me."
"You're a funny kid!" Gin chuckled mirthlessly. "Aren't you scared of me, even a bit?"
"Hell no." Ichigo shot back, never taking his eyes off the man.
"ICHIGO!" Yoruichi yelled at him. "We need to retreat!"
'Ichigo?' Gin tilted his head at the name. 'Hair the color of a daylily…noticeable Reiatsu even when suppressed…then…' He grinned and spoke up to get Ichigo's attention again. "You must be Kurosaki Ichigo."
"You know who I am?" Ichigo eyed the Captain suspiciously.
"Yep…just as I figured." Gin drew his Zanpakutō and began walking in the opposite direction.
"Hey! Where are you going?!" Ichigo demanded, eyeing the Zanpakutō warily.
"All the more reason not to let you pass." Gin pivoted on his feet and pointed the tip of his wakizashi at Ichigo. "Shoot to kill…"
"GAH!" Jidanbō suddenly reeled backwards, the gate falling from his shoulders and slamming into the ground, separating Ichigo and the others from the Captain on the other side.
"Thank you, Sado-san." Yoruichi nodded to the young man.
"Mm." Chad nodded back, his right arm transformed and still holding on to the back of Jidanbō's obi. At Yoruichi's instruction, he'd yanked the giant away from the gate, letting it fall closed.
"What the hell did you do that for?" Ichigo questioned only for Yoruichi to launch into his face like a missile and knock him onto his ass. "OW!"
"You little fool!" Yoruichi roared at Ichigo. "What part of AVOID Captains at ALL COST didn't get through to you?!"
"Right…sorry." Ichigo held his face as he stood back up. "Orihime, can you help Jidanbō?"
"Yes! I'll do my best!" Orihime nodded as she rushed over to the barely conscious giant.
"I'll grab his arm." Tatsuki offered, before shaking her head at what she'd just said, and then going to retrieve the severed limb regardless.
"Huh…well, damn." Gin looked perplexed as to what he should do now. He sheathed his Zanpakutō and scratched his head. "They retreated…which was the point of me coming out here. But should I go after them? That's technically against regulations for a Captain to operate in the Rukongai without orders…" He was no fool, he could feel the presence of multiple Shinigami in the area. Best to just let this play out for now.
"Reject, Shun Shun Rikka." Orihime drew her kodachi and released it in the same motion. The sword vanished in an orange light, replaced by six flying blades that looked vaguely like birds with their wings spread. The crescent blades flew around Orihime under her will before two of them floated over to Jidanbō's injury. "As close as possible, please, Tatsuki-chan."
"Right…" Tatsuki placed the massive arm down next to Jidanbō, and while looking a little grossed out, moved the arm until the severed ends met up.
"Sōten Kisshun, I reject." Orihime spoke and an oval barrier of orange Reiryoku formed between the two blades, covering the amputated area. The injury slowly began to get better. The separated arm fitting back neatly against the shoulder, and then both connecting again as bone, nerves, tendons, muscles, veins, arteries, and everything else seamlessly healed back together. A minute later and the barrier vanished as the two blades went back to floating around Orihime.
"Woo~" Ichigo whistled, impressed. "Your power never fails to impress, Orihime." It looked like the injury had never happened in the first place after Orihime's healing.
"Heh heh…" Orihime rubbed the back of her head, happy at the praise from her boyfriend.
The murmuring and movement of several people caught the groups' eyes. Many people, all dressed in simple yukata and other such traditional clothing had come out of hiding now that the danger had seemingly passed.
"People." Chad mentioned, seeing young and old alike among the residents.
"Were they all hiding?" Tatsuki questioned, seeing that the people looked well enough, at the very least they weren't starving or filthy.
"Of course. Souls that illegally enter the Soul Society, ones that didn't pass on naturally or weren't passed on by a Shinigami, are called 'Ryoka'. They're considered a principle cause of problems in the Soul Society." Yoruichi informed the four of them. "It's little wonder that they're leery of strangers."
"So, we're considered ryoka then?" Orihime pointed at herself.
"Are they enemies?" Ichigo eyed the people, not seeing any hostile moves from them.
"I doubt it." Yoruichi denied. "Given that they've shown themselves, I believe they'll be friendly."
"Excuse me! Let me through, please!" A young boy emerged from the crowd and smiled brightly at the group. "Hey! Chad! How have you been?! It's me! Yūichi, the parakeet!" He waved at Chad as he ran closer.
"Yū-Yūichi?!" Chad nearly gaped at seeing the boy he'd protected again.
"Go on." Ichigo placed his hand on Chad's shoulder and lightly pushed him towards Yūichi. "You made a promise with him, right?" He smiled at his best friend.
"Thanks, Ichigo." Chad smiled back and quickly had Yūichi on his shoulders, carrying him around like he promised that he would when they met on this side.
"You know…sometimes I forget just how much 'Dad' energy Chad has." Tatsuki smiled as they watched Chad walk with Yūichi on his shoulders.
"It's cute!" Orihime giggled at the scene.
While Chad was carrying Yūichi around, he would learn more about the Soul Society and what happened to people after they passed on. Finding out that unless they all died together, that the Shinigami didn't help people find their families was a bit disappointing. But he had to reason that, according to Ichigo, some Hollows released dozens and dozens of souls all at once when they were purified. If that was going on almost constantly, even just in Japan and some surrounding lands, that would be far too many people for Soul Society to keep track of them all.
"So, you haven't found your mother yet?" Chad asked softly.
"Not yet…" Yūichi shook his head. "But the people that've become my family here have been really nice, and they're helping me look."
"You'll see her again one day, Yūichi." Chad assured the boy with a smile. "You have plenty of time to find her now, and I bet she's been looking for you too."
"Thank you, Chad." Yūichi hugged him as best as he could from atop his shoulders.
"You're all here, sit." Yoruichi instructed as Ichigo, Tatsuki, Orihime, and Chad entered the home of the elder of the area. It was a nice enough place, simple furnishings, a sunken hearth, and wooden floors. Clearly the first district of Rukongai didn't want for much.
After standing up to a Captain for Jidanbō's sake, and then healing his severed arm, the group had been welcomed with open arms by the local community who were all friends with the giant. They'd received some food, tea, and plenty of thanks from the residents. It was quite a warm welcome that none of them had been expecting.
"I will now explain our plan of action." Yoruichi spoke, placing a paw on a sheet of paper. "Now that the Sekiseki wall has come down around Seireitei and the Hakutōmon has been breached, the Seireitei will have all of its security raised. Going in through the gates is now impossible."
"We can't try the other gates?" Chad questioned, only seeing the Hakutōmon crossed out on the paper.
"It's a ten-day walk to the next gate if we push it." Yoruichi denied with a shake of the head. "We don't have that kind of time. Not to mention the security will have been raised at all of the gates."
"What choice do we have though?" Tatsuki questioned her teacher. "That wall is supposed to be impenetrable, right?"
"Never fear." Yoruichi looked at the four of them. "If the gates are blocked to us, then we won't use the gates."
"What's that mean?" Ichigo questioned the black cat with a raised eyebrow.
"Elder," Yoruichi looked at the old man across from the group. The old man perked up, looking curiously at the talking cat. "Shiba Kūkaku…do you know the whereabouts of said person?"
"Hmm!" The elder looked like he was nearly reeling just from the name alone.
"Last, I recall…that person was dwelling in the west of the Fugai District. As you may know, that one moves around a lot." Yoruichi let the old man know the last place that Shiba Kūkaku lived as far as the cat was aware.
"Shiba…Kūkaku…are you thinking of trying to go over the wall in that thing?!" The elder looked at the cat like he'd never heard of anything so crazy.
The sound of loud tromping was heard suddenly, the noise only growing in volume as whatever was causing it got closer and closer. The elder looked slightly panicked, but before anyone could ask why, things got weird.
A man barreled through the door, knocking it down, and slammed onto the wooden floor. He rolled a short distance and then lay still, clearly not in any shape to talk right away. Everyone was quickly on their feet, not knowing what to make of the situation.
"A guy?!" Tatsuki looked at the man on the floor. He appeared to be holding a broken rope in his hands.
"A human cannonball!" Orihime declared, pointing at the downed man.
"Why is there a wild boar here?!" Ichigo questioned, seeing the large pig in the doorway with a large bow on top of it.
"Ho, boy…Bonnie threw me again." The man got up with a shake of his head, showing that he wasn't injured at all from blasting through the door. "Hey! How's it hanging, old man?"
He was a rather tall, muscular man with chin-length black hair and was partially missing his left eyebrow. He wore a black, long vest with a golden-colored chain pattern along the bottom hem, a white bandana over his hair with red flower motifs, and a pair of goggles over his eyes. On his lower back was a sheathed sword with a ring pommel.
"Ganju! Why you… What're you doing here?! Go home!" The elder barked at the younger man, clearly having gone through this before with the strange man.
"Is that how you greet an old friend?" Ganju questioned the old man with a smile. "Look, you're scaring your guests!"
"You're the one scaring them!" The elder yelled at the man again.
"Wait…" Ganju's head whipped around to look at Ichigo, Tatsuki, and Orihime. "What the…" He pulled his goggles off to look at them closely. "What is a trio of Shinigami doing here?" Ganju demanded, glaring at the three of them.
"What?" Ichigo blinked at the man's sudden hostility.
"I asked you…" Ganju talked slowly, as if speaking to a dim child. "What's a lousy, no good, Shinigami doing here?" He patted Ichigo's cheek mockingly. "Well?! I asked you a question!" He grasped Ichigo's chin firmly.
He didn't see the left hook that slammed into his jaw from an annoyed Ichigo. "Koff!" He hacked out saliva and a little blood as his feet left the floor and he crashed to the ground almost two meters away. "You crazy, dandelion-headed freak!" Ganju shot to his feet. "Are you picking a fight with me?!"
"You picked the fight, pig straddler!" Ichigo shouted back at Ganju, raising his fist in front of him. "You started in on me for no reason! What kind of moron are you?!"
"I knew it would come to this." The elder sighed heavily.
"Who the hell is this guy?!" Tatsuki was half a second away from jumping in and beating this thuggish-looking guy within an inch of his life.
"What? You don't know who I am? What kind of backwoods Shinigami are you?!" Ganju demanded with a scowl. "Alright, I'll tell you!" He made a pose and pointed at himself with his thumbs. "My name is Ganju! Self-proclaimed 'Deep-Red Bullet' of West Rukongai! The self-proclaimed -but universally acknowledged- Boss of West Rukongai, voted number one for the last fourteen years in a row! And…GAUGH!" His over the top (and overly long) introduction was cut off by Ichigo's foot slamming into his stomach.
"No one cares what you call yourself!" Ichigo yelled at the man, launching him back out the door with his kick.
"BOSS!" Four men, who were all riding boars as well, cried out, seeing Ganju slide across the grass and dirt.
"Ichigo!" Orihime called out, trying to get to the door that Ichigo had just left through.
"Hey! Don't mess with the Boss Man!"
"If you do, you'll have to deal with us!"
"Fine by me!" Tatsuki declared, decking the man leaning close and trying to threaten Orihime.
"Gauk!" The guy with the afro was knocked off his boar and hit the ground hard.
"Tatsuki!" Orihime really just wanted the situation to de-escalate!
The remaining three men called out. It was looking like a brawl, even Chad was moving towards the door with a hard look on his face. He would always have Ichigo's back after all.
"Enough." Yoruichi stated with a finality that was enforced by a sudden crushing Reiatsu that nearly knocked out the Rukongai citizens even from the brief, second-long exposure. "Get back inside, Ichigo, Tatsuki."
"Wh-What the hell?" Ichigo blinked at the black cat, having only felt Reiatsu like that from Urahara on rare occasions.
"Yeah…sure." Tatsuki acquiesced to her teacher's demand, moving back into the house. Her face showed her surprise, even as she retook her seat next to Orihime.
A large alarm clock that was strapped to one of Ganju's follower's backs went off.
"Oh…oh no…Boss, we're gonna be in trouble! It's nine o' clock!" He cried out.
"What?!" Ganju shook off his stunned shock from the insane Reiatsu to look at the man. "We've gotta get back home!" He whistled loudly. "C'mon, Bonnie!" The boar with the bow on top slammed into Ganju, knocking the man to the ground. "N-No t-time for games, Bonnie…let's ride." He managed to get on the boar's back after some effort.
"Good, leave." Ichigo shook his head at the weird, boar-riding group of thugs.
"Shut your mouth, dandelion head!" Ganju shouted back. "I'll fix you later! You wait right here like a good, little boy! Don't turn to fluff and blow away until I get back!"
"You're not worth the effort, loser!" Ichigo shouted back as the group of boar riders took off.
Ganju didn't seem to hear him, given that his last fading words were, "Why didn't you set the alarm for eight?!"
"Haaah…" Yoruichi sighed, moving back towards the sunken hearth. "If we can get back to what we were talking about…"
"Y-yes…of c-course…" The elder visibly trembled, looking at the black cat in a new, and slightly terrified, light.
"Right…" Ichigo exhaled slowly to calm down. "So, who is this Shiba Kūkaku?"
Soul Society infiltration…partially successful…yay?
The group of five has gotten to Rukongai at least. Even if they're labeled as ryoka!
Chad gets to see Yūichi again and fulfill his promise of carrying the boy around again.
But now the gates will be sealed and fortified with reinforcements! That makes them a 'no-go' on getting into the Seireitei!
Luckily, Yoruichi knows someone that might be able to get them in without using the gates at all!
Who is this Shiba Kūkaku?
Ichigo and Ganju's fight was cut short by an annoyed Yoruichi! They can beat the heck out of each other later! Like when the group isn't on a time crunch!
How will the plan to infiltrate the Seireitei go?
Keep reading to find out!
Until I get your reviews, later!