CHAPTER THREE — Strange Stranger

Raine stood there, frozen, out of shock. Hundreds of thoughts flashed through his mind, yet he couldn't manage to voice any of them. How does he know my name? Is he a Soul Reaper? He's not even carrying a Zanpakuto. He must be wearing a Gigai. Raine gritted his teeth and began to go through his breathing exercises before he had a full-blown panic attack. There are two possibilities. One: he is a tracker the higher-ups sent to find me; they would have briefed him. He would have memorized every detail about me. But I never even felt his Spiritual Pressure. A bead of sweat tickled his cheek, but he ignored it. He would have to be exceptionally skilled at hiding his reiatsu if I never felt it while he was trailing me.

The second possibility is that this man is someone from my past. With age comes power. And only those who are powerful to begin with would have lived this long, meaning this man is either a lieutenant, or—he shivered—a captain. He tightened his grip on Kasumiaka. The dark scowl of a man slowly developed upon his face.

Either possibility would explain how he recognizes me and knows my name. A high-ranking officer of the Gotei 13 would have no problems with concealing their reiatsu like this! A captain could easily capture, and bring me back to the Soul Society so the old codger could hand down my punishment from so long ago! Raine took a deep breath. Captains would be able to hunt me down with little difficulty, but would never expose themselves like this. Trackers are stealthy, but rarely above a sixth- or seventh-seat in strength. He's still in his Gigai, so he's either a fool…or he's not a tracker. Damn! I hope that he is. I don't know if I could survive a battle against an old captain…

Then again, there's always the possibility that he is a tracker and he just assumed I had become weak after all this time. He briefly glanced at the bracelet. He would have sensed only that small amount of reiatsu that leaked out when I used that Kido spell before. But would that really cause him to become so overconfident that he wouldn't even get out of his Gigai? I have to know—

"Speechless, I see," the stranger said, breaking Raine's rushing thoughts. "I suppose that's to be expected." From nowhere, he pulls out a fan, and—with a goofy grin on his face—begins waving it at the Soul Reaper teasingly as he continues in a jovial tone. "It isn't all that often that someone so devilishly handsome from your past walks up to you and says 'howdy-do'!"

From my—? Shit!

Raine's left hand moved down to Riku's hilt. He grabbed it in a reverse-grip, but did not draw the sword. I'm going to have to fight for my freedom. Considering what I was charged with, he will likely have permission to kill me if I resist arrest.

"Why are you looking at me like that?"

"Like what?" Raine snapped back.

"You're looking at me as if I were an enemy."

Raine scoffed. "Aren't you?"

"I'm a friend…you may not think of me as such, but at the very least you could call me an ally."

"Ally? Why would I consider someone like you to be my ally?"

"Someone like me? To tell you the truth, I'm a little hurt by that. I would think you would be a little more appreciative towards the man who helped you escape from the Soul Society all those years ago."

"Every single Soul Reaper in the Seireitei was trying to capture me! I was on my own. No one even tried to help!"

"You still haven't figured it out, huh…" The stranger reached up and put his hand on the top of his hat. "Well, then…" With dramatic slowness, the stranger removed the hat and stepped forward into the light. "How about now?"

Raine nearly dropped Kasumiaka in surprise. He could only stare at the sandy-haired man in front of him. How did I not recognize him before? The cane…those loud wooden sandals…that stupid hat. With an irritated sigh, Raine returned Kasumiaka to the chest sheath. "You could have just told me who you were." He began walking towards the man.

"But that wouldn't have been as fun!"

"Fun? I didn't think it was!"

"Sorry about that. No hard feelings?"

Raine stopped at the edge of the light, less than three feet from the man. "For playing games? None at all. I really am quite appreciative for this bracelet you gave me." He held up his wrist. "But now let's see how good your memory is…do you remember my departing words the last time I saw you?"

"Hmm? Oh…give me a sec—"

"How about a hint? I said, 'You are the reason I was forced to defect from the Soul Society'—"

He punched the man, sending him flying. He landed, hard, on the sidewalk. The hat tumbled through the air and landed gracefully next to the man.

"—Kisuke Urahara!"