The Left Hand of the Death God

By Farmer Kyle

Summary: Gandalfr; The Left Hand of God; This was the familiar of the Founder Brimir that would protect him during Brimir's spell chants. A master of weapons that would take on armies to protect its master. Who better for such a role then someone who has fought both the living and armies of the dead to protect those closest to his heart. Someone whose very name means 'one who protects'?

Disclaimer: Other than the idea to cross Bleach and Familiar of Zero together, I OWN NOTHING!

A/N: Howdy guys! I know this has taken a long time coming, but the real Chapter 2 is finally here! A lot of things have happened on my end that held this up. In my guilt I increased the word count to make up for the long wait. I also took three different turns on where I wanted this chapter to go. This actually would have gone up Saturday, but my friends kinda dragged me out of the house after a week of no contact. Had some fun, recharged my batteries so to speak, and even added some stuff they helped inspire. So then Sunday came up and I was putting on the finishing touches while going over some notes on my iPod. As I was picking it up, I dropped it. On the keyboard. I'm still amazed at what happened. I managed to press all the right keys to select all and delete the whole chapter at the same time my iPod hit save. So all Sunday and half of Monday I retyped the chapter from memory. So all in all, we now have a chapter over more than 10,000 words! Holy crap! Don't come to expect this.

So without further to do I present Chapter 2 v2.4!

Chapter 2: Of Shinigami, Runes, and Magi

Louise let out a sigh as she laid out on her bed, dressed in her night gown and staring at the ceiling. It was only hours before that she had summoned her familiar, 'Ichigo Kurosaki' she reminded herself, and she wasn't sure what to think about him. The thrill of performing the summoning ritual had worn off a while ago in the face of her new familiar. He was just such a large list a contradictions.

'He bears himself like a noble of the royal court. He certainly has the stoicness and frown for it. But that doesn't quite fit... he isn't so much stoic as calm and his frown doesn't seem to show displeasure. It's just there, like it's natural for it to be on his face. And while he doesn't flaunt it, he's filled with confidence. As if whatever happens, he will always be at the top. But from the way he's dressed in those rags to the difficulty he has with just speaking, he seems to be just another poorly educated commoner.'

She turned over on her side to see Ichigo sitting, while leaning back on the wall, on the pile of straw she had placed the day before. 'I was expecting an animal then. I was expecting a lot of things, but a human never even crossed my mind.' Louise rolled on her side so she was looking out the sole window in her room. Before she became claimed by sleep, Louise had one last thought on the matter. 'But maybe... I'll still get a friend.'

'She's finally asleep.' After waiting a few more minutes to make sure Louise wasn't going to wake up, Ichigo got up from his "bed". 'At least the straw is more comfortable than my shackles' he thought as he made his way over to Louise. Looking down at her as she slept, Ichigo experienced a flash of memory. In Louise's place now laid two young girls that had chin-length hair. One had blonde hair that was parted on the left side over her eye with a red, circular hair-clip near her temple making sure it stayed that way. The other's hair was black and free of any ornaments, parted in the center and exposing her forehead and covering her ears.

Ichigo's eyes widened, 'Who are they?'. Looking at them invoked a deep longing in his soul. 'I know them. I should know them.' But before he could think of who they were, the image of the girls disappeared and he could see Louise once again. He blinked a few times, hoping to see the unknown girls again. When that proved futile he sighed before catching movement from Louise. Refocusing on her he saw that she had turned to face him in her sleep. He also noticed that some of her hair had shifted to be on her face. Without really thinking Ichigo reached out and brushed the hair away. 'Why did I do that?' he asked himself. He watched her for a little longer before heading out the door, intending to find some answers.

'This can't be home. I know there weren't two moons when I was alive.' These were Ichigo's thoughts as he gazed at the two moons that reigned high in the sky, the larger a pale sky blue while it's diminutive sister glowed a pink akin to a light blush. 'I have to wonder why they're two different colors though. What do you think Zangetsu?'.

Ichigo was atop the building that Louise's room was in, a cylindrical tower several meters high with a round, protruding roof. It was one of five connected by a wall a third their height surrounding an even larger, grander tower, forming a perimeter the shape of a pentagon. Extending from the central tower were four hallways, each leading to a different tower than the one Ichigo was on. He sat cross-legged, hands in his lap as he waited to hear a voice only he could hear.

'I do not know Ichigo. Perhaps it is due to the strange reiryoku of this place.' The voice of Zangetsu was a deep baritone that carried a sense of wisdom.

'Yeah possibly. Any ideas on why the energy here feels so... off?' Ichigo asked. From the strange spiritual energy that permeated what he could sense of the countryside and those that lived here, the unknown language, the...'What were those called again? Started with a K. Hmmm. Ki... Kidou? Yeah, kidou.' the kidou he had seen used, and now the two moons. It baffled him. 'I don't think this is my home.'

'I do not. As to whether this is our home or not, it matters little. All that can be done is to move forward.' the sword spirit replied.

"Yeah." Ichigo whispered to himself, his voice rasping from misuse. 'That'll take some time to fix.' he thought as Ichigo brought his gaze down to his lap. His eyes drifted to the markings on his left hand. 'Any clue as to what this thing is exactly? All I've been able to tell is that damage has been done and something else.' he asked his partner.

'Yes, it has affected your Inner World quite extensively.' Zangetsu informed him. 'When the mark's power surged through you it did much damage, many of the buildings and trees were destroyed and I have seen little of the wildlife you placed here.' the spirit continued, regret in his voice.

'I'm sorry Zangetsu, I know how much you like nature.' Ichigo thought to his zanpakuto. While he had been imprisoned, he had managed to add the things to his Inner World that Zangetsu had always asked for: nature. From forests to animals, Ichigo had done his best to make the place that Zangetsu called home more to the zanpakuto's liking. 'It shouldn't take too long to rebuild everything though, and I could add some new things from wherever we are now. There's bound to be something here we've never seen before.' Ichigo told Zangetsu, trying to cheer him up. Nevermind that there had been dozens of creatures that neither had ever seen at the summoning, but Ichigo had been a bit more focused on Louise than anything else.

'Thank you Ichigo.' The previous regret was gone, replaced with something akin to cheer. 'But damage is not the only thing the mark has done. There is now a ruined castle in the distance. I sense something within it, a faded presence of something. I have not been able to enter.' Zangetsu sounded concerned. So was Ichigo. Unknown presences always meant trouble. From the Hollow to the Deceiver, anything other than Zangetsu or Ichigo in the Inner World meant bad things were to come.

'This can't be good. I expected some changes to my Inner World, but nothing too drastic. Damage was somewhat in that range. Another soul body or spirit apart of Zangetsu was my worst case scenario. For a whole construct to be present...' Ichigo thought, 'Let's see if I can do anything.' And with that Ichigo sat up straight and held out his hands palm up on his knees as if holding something, closing his eyes and letting go of the physical and embracing the unseen.

Across the grounds and near another of the outer towers was a small girl with a shepard's crook with her familiar, watching the odd familiar of Louise Le Blanc de La Valliere.

"Sylphid, closer." The familiar responded with a croon of hesitance before following her master's command. Like all the other familiars, Sylphid could sense the power of the dark being. But Sylphid knew of one thing more, one terrible thing that made her reluctant to let her new friend and master near.

She knew of what that power represented.


When his eyes opened again Ichigo saw the familiar panes of glass that served as his foothold on the skyscrapers that made most of his inner world, but not everything was the same. Throughout the years of his imprisonment Ichigo began to notice that the clear blue sky of his inner world darken and burn. Wrathful reds and vibrant yellows, sleepy purples and calming blues, all now painted the sky in a beautiful tapestry of dusk.

'I wonder...' the shinigami thinks, before checking his left hand. 'Hmm, they're gone.' Indeed, the markings that had been on his hand in the real world were gone.

"Let us go Ichigo." The deep voice of Zangetsu broke Ichigo from his thoughts. Turning to face the spirit, Ichigo pondered his change as well.

For the most part, Zangetsu looked the same after the fusion between Tensa Zangetsu and the Hollow. He still had the appearance of a 6'7", 40-year-old man with an unkempt beard that covered his lower jaw and had one long strip cross each cheek, altogether resembling an odd goatee. But one noticeable change was his once long ragged black hair that, while still ragged, was now peppered with pure white. The only other things that had changed were the spirit's left eye, which had taken on the black sclera and golden iris of hollowfication, and the hem, collar, and cuffs of Zangetsu's coat were replaced with white-grey fur.

"Alright, lead the way." And with that said Ichigo and Zangetsu dissipated from the naked eye, traveling at speeds none but a few could ever hope to follow.

It continued like that, leaping and running through the skyscrapers, going further away from the sky. Ichigo looked ahead and saw they were heading for a facet of his Inner World rarely seen, the ground. Like everything in the Inner World, this too represented a part of Ichigo. While the skyscrapers represented his hope and determination and the sky and weather his emotional being, the ground was his base, the core of his soul. It was here that the foundations of all that he was were made. The ground looked like the innards of a great city, streets and street lights; traffic lights and sidewalks, it was all there. And while there was light from the unseen sun that helped them see this far down, most of the World here was covered in pure darkness that was only broken up by the street lights that dotted the roads.

'This is serious. For it to be here...' Ichigo didn't finish the thought, a little unnerved that something had affected him so deep into his soul.

"We are here." Zangetsu announced.

Ichigo stepped up to be beside his partner as he looked farther on ahead. The first thing that immediately caught his attention was the abrupt change of surroundings; Bound by a glowing green line in the ground that brimmed with the mark's reiryoku was a forest. For miles on each side, all Ichigo could see in front of him was the forest and the line that kept it separate from the rest of the World. But the boundary was the only green he could see. What once might have been a mighty bastion of life, with its towering trees and rolling hills of grass, was now only a testament to how fragile that life was.

Those same towers of trees had thick but dying, gray trunks, the outer bark peeled off in large orders showing the sickly inner bark. Others that had fallen were rotting away, molds dotting the carcasses. Leaves layered the ground like the slaughtered troops of an army, their decrepit, brown forms crumbling under their own weight. Those that still had some semblance of strength held desperately on to the branches but looked like their fallen kin, dead and destitute. Barely visible through the dead army of leaves was a path worn from constant use, cutting through the forest like an open wound, the leaves a scab trying to cover it. Ichigo looked further still, but could not see the castle said to be there.

"I can't see anything past the trees, how did you see this castle if you can't get in Zangetsu?" Ichigo asked, turning to face the spirit.

Keeping his gaze fixed on the forest, Zangetsu explained, "From one of the skyscrapers. This forest " You could hear the disgust and sorrow the zanpakuto had for the forest; Disgusted that such a blighted thing had any kind of connection to them and sorrow for the death of nature in this place. "extends from the castle for a few miles in all directions."

The shinigami and zanpakuto were silent for a few moments, neither moving. "Well then, I guess I'll just have to go in." Ichigo announced in a confident tone, turning back to the forest. "After all, we won't find out anything just standing here." He looked back to Zangetsu with a small smirk on his lips.

Zangetsu gave a small grunt and nod of agreement before saying, "Be wary Ichigo. You will essentially be entering another's Inner World. I do not know how it will affect you."

"Right." Was all the acknowledgement Ichigo gave before taking off into the forest.

The Grand Library, one of the largest libraries in Tristain of magical knowledge both common and obscure. Situated on the ground floor of the central tower, it has housed many a student in pursuit of knowledge, most notably Louise Valliere. This late at night, the library was usually empty of any person or being. Except for this night.

Jean Colbert, the Head Professor of Fire Magic, was puzzled. The familiar runes of Miss Valliere's familiar were ones he couldn't recognize. While each individual rune had its own meaning, together they had an entirely new one. One of the responsibilities for the teacher that supervised the Springtime Familiar Summoning was transcribing the runic names of that year's familiars into the Academy records as well as their meanings. Many runic names ended up being like "Fire Dancer" or "Hard Rock" and others like them, all quite boring after a few years. Although there was one a few years ago that brought much debate, "Stormageddon, Dark Lord of All" or as Mr. Owens called him, Alfie. But it would seem that Miss Vallire's familiar would also be talked about, not only for being a human, but also for what seemed to promise a very unique runic name. So far he had spent hours pouring over many texts concerning runes and was now looking through "Les Familiers d'abord", which documented the first summoned familiars using the Springtime Familiar Summoning ritual.

Eventually, Colbert found not a helpful hint to translating the human familiar's runic name, but a match. "This is it." he said, an old grimness settling in his eyes at the revelation. It was especially rare for runic names of any sort to be similar, given the different nuances of the runes and how their meanings could change with how or where they are placed or written. "But how?" A match though? Unheard of. "I must inform the principal of this." As he went to close the book, something caught his eye. Looking closer at the runes, Colbert saw something was wrong. 'Comparing the two, they are slightly different. The runes for "gift", "need", and "inheritance" are off. They can still be read as such, but...' using an old trick he had learned, Colbert tried combining the odd runes. It worked and after reading it, Colbert decided he needed some sleep after adjusting his glasses. Taking the book and his staff before leaving the library, Colbert thought on this discovery 'They spelled "will". What could that possibly mean?' But regardless of the odd spelling of the familiar runes, there had only been one familiar marked as the Gandalfr, "The Left Hand of God".

The first familiar of the the Founder Brimir.

'Miss Vallire... Just who are you?'

Immediately upon crossing the boundary Ichigo noticed the change but refused to stop his sprint. Looking up, Ichigo confirmed his suspicions. Blue, cloudy sky met his gaze. 'It really is like a different World.' Feeling around, his senses picked up that everything in this "pocket World" was composed of the foreign reiryoku that seemed to be everywhere in the real world. 'So all this represents those markings on my hand? Just how powerful are they?'

It didn't take long for Ichigo to traverse the dead forest and reach the castle. 'Well, not so much dead now anyway' Ichigo thought. The forest had become progressively more alive and healthy the further he went, until the only evidence of the forest's former lack of life were the fallen trees and the odd brown leaf. 'I wonder what caused it.'

The castle itself was on a slight hill, nestled in a large clearing peppered with trees. It had not been affected by whatever had caused the forest's rebirth, but wore its apparent age well; despite that it looked hundreds of years old it seemed to be in very good condition. Worn and weathered stones and some ivy were the main staples. But the most noticeable feature was the massive tower that seemed to make up the majority of the castle.

A castle of pure white, a lone tower rising over the rest. Behind this a massive cliff hangs, a structure near its edge. He must hurry there, the Dancer needs him.

The image goes, but not the memory. It is one that is not easily forgotten. When he saved the Dancer, fought the Pink Steel, and when the Traitor first revealed the Monster he would become.

Ichigo shakes the memory away 'Gotta stay focused.' and starts walking toward the castle some 50 meters away. "Time to find out what's in there."

"Too late, I found you."

Rapid footsteps lightly danced upon the grass.

Fabric was ruffled by passing air.

Steel cried as it was drawn.

Spinning around, Ichigo brought Zangetsu out of the brown sheath on his back...

The sword he drew was simple with few adornments and could be identified as a katana. Slightly curved, the blade of the sword was about 3 feet long of steel and a nearly invisible hamon along the back of it. The tsuba, or hand guard, was bronze and rectangular with gently inward-curved corners. It was decorated with a stylized flame on each of long sides and a simple curved slit on the short sides. The handle's hilt was wrapped in red leather and tied to the pommel were two light blue tassels that had bronze flame pendents attatched to the ends. It was a masterfully crafted weapon, the perfect balance between power and elegance...

...but something was missing.

'WHERE IS HE!' This screamed through Ichigo's mind when he grasped the hilt of the zanpakuto.

The blade was empty. Where once there had been a something, a "weight", in the steel there was nothing. This was no longer a zanpakuto, but merely a hunk of metal with a sharp edge. Ichigo felt rage engulf him. 'NO! Not after everything that's happened!'

He swung high.


With that shout the swords met and time froze for a moment. The figure was in mid-air, the sleeveless dress, green as the forest around them, only confirming what the voice had implied; the owner of the voice was a woman. Much of her face was hidden by the brim of her hat, the angle of which only revealed a slender jaw framed by golden hair and adorned by a smirk.

The moment ended. The woman was launched away by Ichigo's swing, landing a few meters away. Both held their swords in front of them and Ichigo took the momentary lapse to examine the attacker again, his gaze filled with an inhuman hate. The woman's build and frame was slight, betraying the strength Ichigo had felt in her swing. Her dress was a simple thing, looking more like a clothe vest with an attached skirt that ended just before the knees. Around her neck was a gold choker with a green jewel inlaid in the center. She also wore green, clothe, fingerless gloves that almost reached her shoulders and brown leather boots that went past the knees and into the skirt.

Her sword could have been mistaken for a chokuto, if not for the width of the sword, the hand guard, and odd addition on the back of the blade near the base. The blade was about twice as wide as the typical katana and had a single, steel gray edge and grain, the rest of it the blackened, straight hamon. It had a simple, straight, bronze cross-guard that was a mix between the Japanese and European styles and a large quillon. The odd addition covered where an engraving or ricasso would be, enclosing the back of the blade, and seemed to be connected to the guard. It covered most of the base and decreased to to about half that as it traveled up the blade before stopping a full hand-length away from the gaurd, four rivets securing it. The grip was wrapped with white cloth and had a unusually small pommel.

"You've got a great reaction time, maybe I shouldn't have given you that warning." the woman said with a pleasant and teasing tone.

"What. Did. You. Do?" accused and asked Ichigo with hate in his voice, his grip on the katana tightening as he did. The casual and pleasant manner of this woman was fueling his rage further.

"Well," she started, shrugging her shoulders," I'm pretty sure I just tried to cut you. After that and landing I complemented you on how you stopped me from succeeding. Again, nice job!" the woman in green finished, honestly sounding pleased with the fact Ichigo had prevented her apparent goal. "But if there was something else, you'll have to be more specific." She paused a moment, "Hmm, are you wondering how I kept my hat on through all this?"

A low, savage growl crawled out of Ichigo's throat and his teeth were bared a small margin as he resisted the urge to rip her face off. 'I've got to calm down, she probably wants to get me mad. If I'm mad, I'll make mistakes. Mistakes she'll be all too happy to use to her advantage. So calm down.' So taking several deep breaths, Ichigo began to slowly calm down, his mouth returning to its usual scowl. 'Now, I still have a connection to Zangetsu. There wouldn't have been a sword to draw otherwise. So what happened?' Ichigo examined the sword carefully, looking for any clue he may have missed in his shock and rage. Finding nothing physically wrong, he focused his search through his spiritual senses and found something. He had almost missed it too. A thin and weak strand of reiastu was attached to the blade and went out to the forest. 'The same way I came from! Where Zangetsu is!' Ichigo realized. 'Zangetsu said he couldn't enter here.'

The woman's voice broke him from his thoughts. "Oh I know! You're wondering what happened to your spirit sword, right? Well, when you crossed the boundary you separated the sword and spirit. Don't worry, the spirit is fine." she explained, her voice cheery.

"Why is it that Zangetsu can't enter here?" Ichigo asked, curious.

"Because while the Gandalfr runes are a part of you, they are still separate. The spirit of your sword cannot enter because I will it. You can enter because you are now the Gandalfr, oh Master of Weapons." the blonde said.

Ichigo thought this over, ignoring the new name for now. He then spoke, "So if this place represents the power, what or who are you?" he asks, a troubling idea forming that caused him to tighten his grip on his sword.

The woman slyly smiles, "Indeed, this castle and forest are the power of the runes. Do you want to know why the forest was dead? Because of you." she says, ignoring the shinigami's question.

That information confuses the orangette. "How am I responsible for that? If that's the case, I guess I'm also the reason that it was revived." Ichigo said thinking aloud, 'If this place is the power of these "runes", then that must be because they expended a lot of power that I restored when I entered. Probably fed off my reiryoku. But what happened that caused such a loss in the first place?'.

"I can tell you're trying to figure out what caused all this." The woman said, breaking Ichigo from his thoughts. "It's really simple actually. Your power is so great that the binding portion of the runes had to use up nearly all of the magic that made up the rest of the runes. Even then, the normal connections that would have been formed, allowing a recharge, were blocked by your resistance to the runes. Entering this place removed those blocks.", she explained.

The word 'binding' caused Ichigo's scowl to deepen and he addressed it, "What do you mean by 'binding'?".

"Oh nothing that bad.", the woman shrugs her shoulders as if to enforce the idea. "All it does is make sure that you protect your summoner from anything you deem harmful to them, even yourself. There's also supposed to be a power boost thrown in there, but that was sacrificed to just accomplish the binding." she explains further.

"So do you represent this binding then?" asked Ichigo asked, hoping for an answer this time.

"Nope." she says simply, her smile now a grin. She laughs at the glare she receives. "No, I am something else entirely Master of Weapons."

Ichigo continues to glare while he thinks, 'There she goes again about weapons. How can I be a master of weapons I... never...' and then he knows what she is.

The woman notices. "My you're quick. I only had to give you two hints too.", she says, sounding pleased. The woman lowers her sword, holding it casually in her right hand. Ichigo kept up his guard. The woman continues, "I am the Inheritance of Arms, the Knowledge of War, and the Instincts of Battle. And because of the source of your power," here she brings up her left hand for Ichigo to see the back of it, "I am now the self-aware will of the Gandalfr runes." Light shines through the glove she wears, the Gandalfr runes shining like an emerald in the dark.

"So that's where they went." Ichigo mutters, his eyes squinting so as to not be blinded. "But if I'm this "Gandhi" person, why do you have the mark and I don't?" He questions, his earlier idea rearing its ugly head.

The woman gives him an irritated look before sighing. The runes dimmed until they are just barely visible as she takes what in one universe is known as the 'Rin Tohsaka Lecture Pose #3'. Shifting her weight to her hip, she placed her left hand on said hip and lifted her right arm up so that she was pointing at him with her sword. Giving him a dull look that said 'You sir, are an idiot', she gave voice to her stare, "And here I thought you were smart. For starters, it's Gandalfr, G-A-N-D-A-L-F-R. And they're runes! Not some mark." She says with a huff. "Lastly," she says as she begins to lower her sword, "because I will it." she finishes, a hard edge in her voice.

She quickly twirls the sword and stabs the ground with force, a snarl on her lips. "Why should I grant you this power? Your predecessor, the first Gandalfr, killed her summoner! Why should I give you my gifts when you could just as easily forsake your pact and kill your charge!" She yelled. "It would be easy with your power, you nearly destroyed the binding! So why should I make it any easier? WHY?" she demanded.

"Because I won't." was all Ichigo said, not knowing of anything else to say. "It's only because of that girl that I'm even here."

It seemed to be the right thing to say, or at least close, as the blonde woman stared at him, searching for any sign of deceit. After a few moments she gave a tired sigh before pulling her sword from the earth. "I want to believe you. You seem honest, but I can't take that chance." she said. The woman brought up the sword, returning to her earlier gaurd position. "I will test you the only way I know how. A test of skill and mettle." The runes on her left hand begin to shine.

Ichigo does nothing but tighten his guard, accepting her challenge.

"Well then," she began, the grip on her sword tightening, "I guess we can start this."

For a single moment everything was still. The breeze that had been blowing through the forest had stopped, as if the world was holding its breath. The trees and grass that had been blowing with that passing breeze had froze, perhaps struck dumb at the sight of these two warriors. All but the shinigami and the woman seemed to be bleached of color, existence pallor at the thought of these two clashing.

The moment passed.

A god of death did battle with unlimited arms.

It had been twenty minutes since they had dared to be near Death. She couldn't comprehend why Big Sister wanted to be where Death was, or even be within seeing distance of it, but she chalked it up to Big Sister being a scaleless-squishy-two-leg. Two-legs could be really stupid, and they seemed to like giving up their own to Death with the pointed shinys. She was not scared of Death. All things under All-Father's Eye and All-Mother's Hearts would meet Death, it was inevitable. But that did not mean that she would seek it. But there she was, watching her Big Sister watching Death. Big Sister moved closer to Death.

A crooning growl sounded in the night, causing Tabitha to look at her familiar. "Sylphid, quiet." she ordered. The dragon did so and Tabitha turned back to the man that was the familiar of one the most well-known students here at the Academy, Louise de La Valliere, mockingly known as the "The Zero" for her utter failure when it came to casting magic. But she knew it for what it truly was, as King Joseph of Gallia, her Uncle, loved to talk.

The Void.

And so she wondered about this man. What was his power? What was he like? Would he be anything like Sheffield? Was he the cause of the great force that had brought all but Louise and Mr. Colbert to the ground?

Tabitha noticed a change in the man's face, a deeper scowl. 'His body is tensed. Does he know that he is being watched? Is he hoping to catch me with a surprise attack?' Sylphid also noticed the change as she came up behind her. That was another thing, all the familiars that became aware of his presence shied away from it. How could this man, this familiar of the Void, cause such a reaction? The bluenette already had ten spells on the tip of her tongue, ready for what ever may happen. But she was not.

A cut suddenly appeared on his right bicep, some blood shooting off with it. It was small, but is still looked like a fresh sword wound. Tabitha's eyes widened in shock 'How?' was all the mage could think before more wounds appeared. A cut on the left forearm, then another on his leg. His cheek suddenly bruised as if punched. Then his shoulder was nicked with a wound by what may have been an arrow. All thoughts of attacking had left her as she moved to use a healing spell. The spell was just about to leave her lips when the pressure forced her down to her knees.

It was the same as before. It felt as if gravity had singled her out and put all of it's force on her. Her lungs could no longer take in air too heavy for them as they were crushed. The world and everything in it began to lose its color, replaced by grays and becoming grainy. The edges of her vision were blackening. Just before losing consciousness, the pressure stopped as she felt being pulled back and a woman cried out. 'Mommy?'

Deep breathes were taken as Ichigo and the Gandalfr woman stood across from the other, sweat crawling down their cut strewn bodies. The battle so far had been hard for the soul reaper. The woman matched him speed for speed, strength for strength. They were equals in combat, for neither had kept any small advantage over the other. While Ichigo had a longer reach, the woman made up for it with a fluidity in her movements that was hard to match. Hurting water would be easier than trying to hit her, but that had lessened as the fight wore on. The woman also had another point in her favor. Her sword was more than just a sword.

Not long after the fight had started and Ichigo had starting to use his reach against her, her sword stopped being a sword. In the blink of an eye, where a sword had been coming in for stab, a spear was nearly at it's target. It had gone on like that, from one weapon to the other. He had seen her shoot serrated arrows and swing a whip-like sword to attack him at impossible angles, thrust tri-bladed katars or bladed tonfa to impale him, and nearly cut him to pieces with wakizashi to odachi and everything in-between. But now as exhausted as she was, it was just a sword.

The minute reprieve was over, and the fighters once again lept towards each other. Ichigo was quick in his over head swing, outside her range. She blocked but then turned right , causing the swords to cry as she slid forward with her hilt making a bee-line for Ichigo's head. The shinigami jumped to the right to avoid her, using Zangetsu to push the woman away as he did so. She barely moved and with the new distance charged at him and was nearly there before he could guard, her sword held over her right shoulder ready for a swing. Ichigo matched her with with his own upward swing. A wind swept the area as the shinigami and the will of the runes clashed, each struggling to gain the advantage.

"You're pretty good kid." Said the woman, acting like she wasn't in fierce combat with her opponent. "You're quite the monster in this sort of thing." This was followed by a front kick that caught Ichigo full on the stomach. This caused her to lose balance and fall backwards with her leg still extended, Ichigo following her down. When she hit the ground she brought up her other leg, planted it in his stomach with the other, bent her legs, then using the momentum rolled on her back and kicked out, launching the man off and behind her. She ended the roll sitting up in a seiza position, her sword across her lap. Turning her head to look over her shoulder she saw Ichigo on his back with limbs spread out and panting, "But no matter how good you are, I will always be better."

'Can't give up.' He really couldn't. He knew what could happen if a any part of him was left unchecked. It had left him weak and brittle, full of fear and doubt. He would not let that happen again. So ignoring the pain that was his stomach, he turned over on to his hands and knees, took a few breaths, and then got up, swaying a bit as he tried to find his balance. She was already standing, watching him, and now looked as right as rain. All the cuts and bruises were gone, and her clothing looked as they did before the battle.

"Still going I see." she said, that sly smile on her face again. "I can respect that." She brought up her sword and her pleasant demeanor washed away, serious again. "But I will not let you have my power."

"Fine then, keep it." Ichigo said, finally standing straight. "I don't need it to keep that girl safe. Hoard it for all I care, but I will not let you just have your way in here." Saying that, he brought up Zangetsu.

The woman snorted, obviously amused. ""Keep her safe" he says." you could hear the contempt in her words. "How can you protect your master if you can't even protect yourself? This power of yours, this skill, is vast. You are right to say that you might be able to protect the Master with it. So why do you fight to subjugate me? For more power? Is that why you are as you are? You fought and you fought to attain new levels of power you didn't really need." Ichigo's head tilted down, orange hair hiding his eyes. "And for what? To lord over all? What do you even know about protecting someone?" She then saw Ichigo trembling and laughed. "Oh? Did I strike a nerve? So you are just a selfi-" Pressure suddenly tried to crush her down.

Ichigo seemed unaffected by the sudden increase of gravity, his trembling coming to a stop. He lifted his head, and the woman tried and failed to gasp.

A mask, made from what appeared to be bone, that was a sick parody of a human face. It had a wide forehead that covered the bangs of Ichigo's hair and a very small ridge above the eyes that was only clearly seen at the temples of the mask. Lower was a tapered down nose, almost resembling a lizard or snake. The edges of the mask turned as though following the cheek bone before coming down to form the jaw. The lower jaw was pointed with a pointed chin as well, framing the bared teeth of an angry animal. Decorating the mask were two thick red stripes that contorted to match the surface of the skull-like visage, emerging out of wide eye-holes and traveling down into both sides of the lower jaw or past the very top of the mask. But the eyes were what really caught her attention. The whites of them were now as black as the abyss, leeching the light around them and feeding it to their now shining, amber irises.

And the Hate.

So much hate was trapped in those eyes, just waiting to be released.

"How dare you." The monster in front of her growled just loud enough to be heard, hate straining its voice as it tried to speak. There were traces of Ichigo's voice there, but they were covered by something else's and some kind of echo effect. "How dare you say that!" the beast in human skin yelled before leaping at the woman. She could barely bring up her guard fast enough. CLANG "You have no idea what I have gone through to attain this power!" CLANG "I never wanted this!" CLANG "I only took this power to save my family!" CLANG "My friends!" CLANG "And those who needed it!" CLANG Each strike had been more powerful than the last, until finally the woman was knocked away. She tumbled some distance away before coming to a stop. Flipping herself over she dodged a downward thrust from the the berserking shinigami. She retaliated with a thrust of her own, aiming for the thing's eye, but it disappeared with a boom. Following her instincts, the woman turned around and brought up her sword. "I stormed fortresses to rescue those dear to me!" CLANG "I fought armies to protect mine and ours!" CLANG "I was even ready to give up all this power for my loved ones!" CLANKIRIIK

The woman's sword could take no more punishment. As the shattered remains of her sword fell so did the woman, landing on her butt. She had brought up her arms as soon as she could to shield her face, said arms now had new cuts, but her hat didn't come out unscathed. It had remained perfectly in place throughout the fight and had been untouched. Now it was behind her, shrapnel from her sword having knocked it off as they punched holes in it. She removed her arms only to see the point of a sword in her face. Looking up she found Ichigo, mask-less, gazing down at her with a cool stare.

"I will protect this girl the same way I have others; with or without you. But hinder me and I swear..." His eyes flared back to amber, "I will end your existence." he declared with a deadly finality.

As Ichigo stared down at the woman, he noticed that she was quite a beauty. She had golden, blonde hair that splayed out as it reached the back of her neck with bangs that were just long enough to cover her eyes but not hinder her vision. Two especially long locks of hair framed her face while another between her eyes reached the bridge of her small, delicate nose. Her eyes were like transparent emeralds with long lashes above them. Her lips also looked delicate, looking somewhere between full and thin. With a small, pointed chin and soft looking skin, she had a beauty that was magical. But it was her ears that stuck out the most. Long and thin, they came away from her head before ending in a point. He then saw the light of the runes on the woman's left hand dim and then extinguish as she let go of the broken hilt.

"I know." the woman whispered just loud enough for Ichigo to hear. "But I had to see it for myself." she said, louder this time. She smiled, "I had to see your conviction, your will to protect." Seeing her smile, so did Ichigo as he let the katana to dematerialize but kept out his left hand, bending over to help her get up. The woman's smile widened and she took the hand. After being pulled up she didn't let go, instead she brought her other hand to grasp it as well. Before Ichigo could ask she spoke. "Ichigo Kurosaki. I grant you my blessings and my power."

Nothing happened.

"What? Did you expect some great flash of light? A surge of power or anything else dramatic like that?" the blonde woman asked after letting go, seeing Ichigo's confusion.

"Uh, yeah?" Ichigo admitted, only to scowl as the woman laughed.

"Oh poor, poor Ichigo." the woman said after getting a hold on her laughter. "That's just theatrics. Nothing so over the top is needed. Now, look at your hand."

Ichigo did so, and saw the runes there.

"See? All taken care of." The woman said with a smile before turning around and walking to her hat. Picking it up she inspected the damage, turning it this way and that, before patting off the dirt. "I do believe you killed my hat."

A tall and lean-built man wearing wooden geta and a bucket hat that shadows his eyes.

'Hat-'n-Clogs.' Ichigo remembered. Shaking the memory of his odd teacher off, he saw that the woman had put the hat, good as new, back on, but in a way that no longer covered her face.

"Well, I suppose it's time to go." she announced as she turned around and began to walk away. Ichigo looked in that direction and saw the castle. "It's been fun. Maybe we can do this again some time, without you going psycho on me." You could hear a bit of humor in her voice, showing that there were no hard feelings.

Ichigo nodded, about to return to the Real World before a thought struck him. "Wait!" He yelled. "What's your name?"

The woman continued walking away, appearing to ignore the question. As the soul reaper prepared to shout again, the woman answered.

"Call me La Guerre."

Waking to the Real World, Ichigo immediately noticed something wrong. Actually two somethings that hadn't been there before he used Jinzen.

A child with white hair wearing a white coat and wielding a sword taller than himself. Swinging the sword down, a great serpentine dragon made of blue ice with crimson eyes leaps from the blade.

He fought back the memory, focusing on the blue-haired girl above whom was what was obviously her familiar, a blue dragon. The younger girl wore the same outfit that Louise and the other children earlier had. She had short, shaggy, light blue hair that came down just past her neck and was also wearing thin, red, half-frame glasses. Not to far from her on the roof was a long crooked staff, reminiscent of a shepherd's crook, that had one large and one small band of blue, nearly a match to her hair, near the head of the staff.

The dragon was quite large, easily 5 times larger than Ichigo, and had a wider form than the dragon of ice he remembered, though not overly so, with bat-like wings. The dragon's limb's were long and well muscled, hands and feet tipped with black claws. The dragon's head had two small, protruding, skull ridges that on each side of its cheek and another large one curved back slightly on top of the head, two black horns on either side of it. The dragon had light blue eyes matching the girl's hair, going along well with the coat of navy blue scales and white underbelly and wing membrane.

The girl looked unconscious, so Ichigo moved to help her. But the dragon stopped him, moving to be between him and the girl and growling. And as if that wasn't enough, the dragon started talking.

"You will leave Big Sister Tabitha alone Death!" Ichigo's eyes widened in surprise, both at understanding the words spoken as well as the dragon's name for him. "Big Sister still lives! She is not ready for Deathwing's realm! You will have to take Irukukwu first!" The dragon declared, ready to die for her big sister.

And this left the problem of communication to Ichigo once again, as he had no idea if the dragon, Irukukwu, could understand him. There was also the fact that unlike in the Inner World, he couldn't speak well for lack of use of his voice. "Help sister."

"You are Death! Why else would you want Big Sister other than to take her to Deathwing?" Irukukwu asked, not really expecting an answer she would accept.

'Well, that means I can talk to a dragon. Sweet.' "Just help." was Ichigo's answer. "You right. Sent souls to other side. Only dead. Promise not harm sister." He really hoped that came across well.

It appeared it did. Now Irukukwu looked unsure and looked back to the girl, then back at Ichigo. She did this a few more times before staring at Ichigo, trying to discern the truth of his promise. "Do you really promise?" the dragon asked.

It was only then that Ichigo noticed how much the dragon sounded like a little girl. "Promise." he said, nodding to emphasize it.

Irukukwu changed gears swiftly from protective to unsure and worried. Quickly getting behind Ichigo, she used her head to butt him toward Tabitha. "Please, please, oh please help Big Sister! Irukukwu is worried that she won't get up!" The young sounding dragon sounded close to tears.

"Do best." Ichigo replied. Being next to the girl, he turned his spiritual senses to her. 'There's the problem. Her soul has had too much exposure to too strong a reiatsu. My fault most likely.' Ichigo then placed his hands over the girl, a pale green glow covering his palms. 'This should help along her recovery.' After a few more moments of this he stopped, the glow of reiryoku fading as he pulled his hands away. Picking her up in a bridal carry, he turned to Irukukwu "Fine now. Be hungry when wakes. Needs sleep now. Lead to room?"

The dragon was more than happy to lead the way.

Ichigo wandered the halls of what he hoped was the tower that held Louise's room, having decided to enjoy a little sleep. When he had entered the tower he had found the brown red-head 'I think her name started with a "K". Kindle?' from earlier sitting on the ridge of a fountain rather closely to a boy about her age, each talking quietly to the other with the girl giggling now and again to something the boy said. After a few moments of pantomiming his desire to find Louise's room, she also pantomimed some directions. 'Not really sure I can trust these directions. That girl really seemed to have it out for Louise. Pulling a prank on me to get to her doesn't seem that far fetched.' But it was his only lead, so he continued to follow the directions. As he turned from another flight of stairs, he came across a rather flamboyant, blonde boy in a shirt left open to expose the chest. Along with the flared out sleeves and and enough frills to make a Shakespearean pirate jealous, Ichigo judged him. 'Either he's a playboy or gay.' As he came up to the boy he saw a girl, perhaps younger by a year, looking at the blonde with adoration, a blush clearly seen across her cheeks. Snorting, he thinks, 'He could still be either.'

His snort though alerted both to his presence. Looking for the source of the noise they found a tall, intimidating man neither knew, scowling and glancing boredly at them.

They screamed in fright.

Chuckling Ichigo moved on, ignoring the boy as he yelled something at him.

Siesta cleaned. It was a statue that had so wrapped up her attention right now, her feather duster playing over it with simple, light touches. Each flick of her wrist was dusting off yet another imperfection from the smooth marble bust portraying the head and shoulders of the grim looking old man. Then again, being rendered in marble tended to make anyone look grim, but something else bothered her. Of course, the statue of a past headmaster would be enchanted to protect against the elements, but the fact that dust still layered on top of the surface just made her a little frustrated.

'Hmm, that's odd. I could have sworn I just heard a chain rattling.'

Of course on nights like these, it was easy to remember the ghost stories that her grandfather used to tell. Stories about horrible black beasts without hearts roaming the night, searching for prey to sate their endless hunger. Of how they wore masks to hide themselves and frighten others. Of how they used to be people too, before being turned. The stories always gave her nightmares. And so she busied herself with work, to try and distract herself.

'There's that noise again. Perhaps one of the nobles left a locket hanging by the window.'

But she always had been fascinated by the stories, because they were also of how her people had fought those monsters. With the power of their souls, her ancestors had fought the darkness of the beasts. And no matter how many times the rest of her family told her they were just stories she believed they were true, just like Grandfather did. Because she wanted to believe she was special, that she mattered. That she wasn't just another commoner that nobles could look down.

'Strange. It seems to be getting closer.'

And everyday since his death she has worn his cross, to remind herself of him and his stories, the history of her people.

Deciding that the bust was as clean as could be, Siesta turned around and froze. A tall black thing was right in front of her, and considering just what she'd been thinking about her reaction was expected. Screaming in absolute fright, she threw her feather duster at the thing's head before turning to run.

Too bad the bust was in the way.


Ichigo quickly turned to where the girl's cry came from, and got a face full of feathers and dust for a reward. While coughing and rubbing the dust from his eyes, Ichigo heard what was most likely the one responsible.

bam thud "Owie." Came the voice of a young girl.

Freeing himself of the dust, Ichigo looked down and saw the girl.

She was wearing a black, long-sleeved dress with with noticeably puffed shoulders. Over this was a white apron with frilled shoulder straps and two thin, brown/green lines along the bottom edge, tied at the back of the waist with a semi-large bow. At her wrists were simple white cuffs, matched by the white collar and turtleneck she wore. And clasped at the junction of her neck and the rest of her body was a small yellow scarf by a sapphire set in gold. Next to her head was a small, white, tri-cone cap, small circles sewn into the points of the cones and rectangles framing the dips.

She had light black hair in a bob style, just barely past her small square chin, that was now frazzled with her fall. And if her fluttering eyelids were true, she had bluish grey eyes.

Leaning down and leaning her up right, Ichigo asked the obvious question. "You alright?"

She at first seized up in panic, but looking up to his face she seemed to calm down. Then she noticed how close they were and blushed, her whole face crimson. Then before Ichigo could react she was gone, already running down the hall. Ichigo blinked before standing up. 'Huh, I didn't even get her name.' He then noticed that while the feather duster had disappeared, most likely the girl, the cap was still on the floor. Picking it up, Ichigo resumed his search for Louise's room. 'Guess I'll just give it to her next time I see her.'

'Oh I'm soo embarrassed!' the maid Siesta thought as she continued to run for the Servant's Quarters. When she had seen such a handsome man holding her so close, she panicked and decided to run. 'How could I have ever thought he was a Hollow?' There would be much gossiping among the maids over the unknown man she had "met". But there would be one other thought other than her usual fantasies of Dukes and Maids, one that wouldn't surface to the fore of mind for some time to come.

How did that man with orange hair and warm, brown eyes know her Grandfather's secret code?

When he finally got back to the room, Louise was up and sitting on her bed.

She did not look happy.

"And just where have you been familiar?" she asked.

Of course Ichigo didn't really understand what she was saying, but got the general idea. Pointing out the only window in the room, he answered. "Outside. Looked around."

She took the hint. "Outside? But did I give you permission?" she asked, standing up off the bed. Walking towards him she grabbed her wand off the nightstand. Now in front of him, she jabbed her finger into his chest. "Just what do you think you were doing, going off without your master's permission?" She jabbed harder, but Ichigo couldn't really feel it. "You will not do that again, understand?" Ichigo stayed silent but scowled just a bit more. He imagined a tick mark would be over his eye right now. While he couldn't understand her words, he did understand the intent behind them. "Don't you scowl at me! A familiar must have proper chastisement when it has done something wrong. And what's this?" She grabbed the maid's cap that had been in his ungloved hand. "Oh I see... You were out parading with some tramp of a maid weren't you? I will not allow it! The familiar reflects the mage and I will not have you drag the Valliere name through the mud with your gallivanting! Now explain yourself!" the little spitfire demanded, regaining her breath.

When Ichigo remained silent, the little pink-haired fireball roared into an inferno. "You will speak when I tell you to familiar!" After no reply Louise simmered for a bit before drawing herself up again. "Fine then! I'll just force you to speak." So after a small chant and some wand waving she pointed her wand at Ichigo.

Cue explosion.

When the smoke dissipated the reaper looked exactly as he had before, no evidence of any kind to suggest that he had been subjected to one of The Zero's infamous explosions.

"Done? Want sleep." The statement was emphasized when Ichigo yawned.

"Hey, I understood that! Say something else!" Louise was ecstatic! She had done another spell correctly, even though there had been an explosion.

Ichigo didn't react to the sudden break in the language barrier. "Goodnight." was all he said, before laying on the hay that was his bed. 'Still better than the shackles.'

"Familiar? Familiar? Do not ignore me when I'm talking to you! WAKE UP FAMILIAR!"