AN: First story here. I hope you all like it. There are themes of Anthropomorphism, but nothing that hasn't already appeared in the anime or manga. This is a slight AU and some of the characters will be slightly off, for the purpose of the story, but nothing to terribly out of sorts.
Disclaimer: I don't own anything. Only the characters not seen in the manga or anime and the plot.
It was hot. Almost unbearably so. Kato paced the porches around the outside of the temple, voice raised as he tried to locate his target. "Aramani! Aramani where are you!" He shouted into the stagnant night air, loosening the collar of his yukata in an attempt to expel some of the heat from around his body. He sighed heavily. "Aramani!" He shouted again.
He looked out as the long grass of the courtyard rustled and large black cat appeared, meowing loudly in return to his question. The cat was huge, standing a few inches taller and longer than the average house cat, packed with lithe muscle. He came to sit at Kato's feet, green slitted eyes staring back at him unnervingly. Kato shivered. Sometimes he wondered if the cat was looking straight through him. Aramani mewed once and stood up, the little bell on the end of white silk ribbon on his neck jingling before he padded off into the depths of the temple.
Kato sighed heavily and followed the cat. He oftentimes wondered why Hotaru-sama insisted on keeping a temple cat, but the one time he'd asked the question out loud, the entire room had gone silent and he'd felt shamed when one of the head priest gave him a stern lecture about following tradition. As it turned out, Aramani was apparently one in a long line of temple cats that had inhabited the temple for the last one hundred years. They were supposed to bring good luck and prosperity to the temple while protecting it at the same time.
Aramani stopped in front of a pair of doors and mewed, placing one paw on the door and looking at him expectantly. Kato sighed and walked over, dropping to his knees in a bow and and knocking. "Hotaru-sama. I've found Aramani." he said. There was a shuffle beyond the door before a gruff voice answered him. "Let him in, Kato. Then you may return to your room." Kato leaned up and opened the door wide enough for the cat to slip in before he closed it and returned to his own room for the night, curfew fast approaching.
On the other side of the door Aramani paced over to an elderly man, mewing quietly as he came to a rest at his knee. The man smiled and reached his down, rubbing the large cat between the ear. "Hunting shrews again, Aramani?" He asked and then smiled secretively. "Or something a little more...challenging?" The cat gave him a steady look, blinking owlishly before he began to purr, rubbing against the large hand.
They continued the quiet petting for a few more minutes before the man spoke again. "You were very patient in prayer today. Thank you. I realize Kato is not your favorite person in the temple, but even he needs to learn patience and compassion, whether that's watching the children or watching you." Aramani snorted and his ears flickered, which drew a laugh from the man. "We better get ready for bed, Aramani. Tomorrow starts the beginning of the Solstice, and that always brings many people to the temple." Aramani mewed agreeably and large warm hands lifted him into the air after the man had stood up.
The ribbon was removed from around his neck and hung on a peg on the wall next to a much larger copy before he was gently carried over to a mass of blankets in the corner of the room. Aramani was settled gently into the bed and he mewed up at the man gratefully before turning around three times and settling down, curling into a ball and settling his tail over his nose. There was a few more minutes of shuffling as the man readied himself for the night, blew out the lantern and lay in his own bed before darkness overtook Aramani and he settled into sleep.
Soutaichou Yamamoto was looking at the reports with consternation drawn all over his face, wrinkles deeper and more pronounced. "Are you sure?" He asked. "Positive sir. There's no mistaking this Reiatsu." He sighed heavily. "Very well. Dismissed." The man he was speaking to bowed and left the room at a hurry. Sighing deeply again he called two hell butterflies to him and held out his hand. He whispered his message to them and flung out his arm so the two little butterflies could catch the gentle night breeze.
It wasn't more than ten minutes before there was a knock on his door. "Ukitake-taichou and Kyoraku-taichou reporting as ordered sir." He heard from the other side. "Enter." He ordered. The doors opened with a creak and he was joined by two other men, one with long white hair, the other wearing a floral pink kimono on his shoulder. There was a tense moment before he spoke. "I need someone found." He gruffed. Before either man got a chance to ask, he spoke again. "Shiranui Aramani must be found and convinced to return." There was gasp behind him.
"But, sir. Shiranui Aramani went into Exile of his own accord almost sixty years ago and vowed never to return." Ukitake said, eyes wide. "Yama-jii..." Kyoraku trailed off, looking unsure. Nobody had heard or seen from Shiranui Aramani for the last fifty-nine years. "We need his strength." The men behind him were about to protest but the Soutaichou spoke up again. "Recent intelligence reports from Hueco Mundo show a massive army gathering. However, it's far away from Los Noches and none of the reports indicate any of the Reiatsu from any of the deflected Taichous, Espada or Arrancar. There is, however, a large Reiatsu signature belonging to an unidentified person in the area. These Reiatsu signatures are making the hollows of Hueco Mundo restless, which is driving them into the world of the living. And into Rukongai."
There was a heavy silence as what the Soutaichou was saying to them sunk in before Kyoraku spoke up again. "Another army out to destroy the Soul Society?" He asked and all he received as an answer was a grunt. "I plan on bringing this up at the next meeting, but movements are pressuring me to prepare sooner than I'd hoped. We're going to need all the help we can get. Even if it means lifting Exiles we imposed years ago." He didn't sound happy with this and, even though Shiranui had Exiled himself, it was still implied.
"Leave tomorrow. You'll have to search hard for him. He's always been very good about hiding his Reiatsu and I'm sure he's only gotten better." Ukitake and Kyoraku, almost at a loss for words at this point, simply spoke the only thing that came to mind. "Yes Sir." The Soutaichou nodded and waved his hand in dismissal and the two men left the office to prepare for their mission.
Aramani awoke to the clapping of the boards as he had every morning for the past many years, standing up and stretching languidly. The old man was rising from his bed and dressing while Aramani quickly groomed himself to a silken shine, pelt smooth and clean. The old man picked him up and draped the bell around his neck again before he donned his own and they left the room. As was always the first order of the day they walked along the outdoor porches until they reached the hondo, the main hall, for the morning prayer. It was still dark and chill outside when Aramani hopped up onto the raised pedestal in the back that was meant for him. He curled his tail over his paws and kept respectfully quiet through the whole morning.
Breakfast was a hurried affair that morning, as people were already gathering outside and Aramani had been assigned to Takyu that morning to greet people at the gates and generally wander around and play the part of the good, well-behaved temple cat. Summer Solstice always brought large crowds to the temple, families and children and tourists who wanted to visit the shrine and take in Surētoiwa-ji's early summer beauty. It was also one of Aramani's favorite times of the year.
All was well until, hanging around the gate with Takyu, mewing quietly to a young girl dressed in a pink kimono when a bigger boy, probably the girl's brother, stomped on his tail with a booted foot. Aramani screeched pitifully and was quickly scooped up in Takyu's robed arms while the mother scolded the boy for harming the temple cat. After the boy apologized, Aramani quickly regained control, though his tail was hurting him. Takyu handed him off to Miru, the temple doctor, who carried him inside and to the kuri, the building that held the offices, galleys and kitchen.
Safely ensconced in Miru's office, the kindly man rubbed a salve into Aramani's now bent tail and wrapped it in white cloth bandages, tying it off. "Now I know you're going back out there, but you keep that tail out of the way before it gets anymore messed up and you end up with a pemenant kink in your tail." Aramani mewed in understanding, rubbed himself against Miru's leg and scampered back outside, more than content to resume his duties.
Another hour passed before, wandering up to the gate, he saw the strangest thing ever in his time at the temple. Two men, one with white hair and the other with wavy brown hair, were chatting with the temple's head priest, Aramani's caretaker, and asking if he'd seen a black panther. "Sir, with all due respect, there are no panthers here. I've told you this." The old man was getting agitated and Aramani couldn't have that, so he sauntered over and sat at the old man's feet, meowing loudly. The old man looked down and smiled wryly.
"Well, I see Takyu wasn't exaggerating. You really did get your tail all messed up." the old men bent down and scooped him up and he was all too happy to remain in his arms. Aramani looked over to appraise the two men in front of the old man. And froze. He recognized these two. He sniffed the air cautiously and bristled. Ukitake. Kyoraku. He rose his hackles and hissed loudly, upset and jumped nimbly out of the old man's arms and onto the ground. He gave another growl and raced away, deep into the depths of the temple.
"He knows you." The old man said slowly, firmly as he gazed at the two men in front of him. "And you know him." He continued. They were in the head priest's shoin, his study, sharing tea. The two men nodded. After Aramani had run away, the old man had invited them into the study for a very serious conversation. "Yes. We worked with him almost sixty years ago, before he left." Ukitake said, sipping his own tea before he leaned away to cough in his elbow. "Do you know what he is?" Kyoraku asked, looking at the head priest, who's name was Kyoji Hotaru. He nodded. "Yes. Aramani has been Surētoiwa-ji's temple cat for the better part of the century. I've been head priest here for forty years. I, and my predecessor, knew who Aramani really was and why he was seeking asylum here." The old man set his tea down. "Kyoji-san, with all due respect, we wish to speak with Aramani. We wish to bring him back to the Soul Society." The old man sucked in a breath. "I don't care if you speak to him. Aramani is his own person, no matter what form he decides to take. I've always given him free reign when it concerns his comings and goings from the temple. If he wishes to return with you, he'll have my blessing. If he wishes to stay, then he will have my protection. I've never stopped him from going out and fighting those creatures, the ones he calls hollows, and if he wishes to make a living out of it, then he may."
The old man sat back and looked over as there was a knock on the door. "Hotaru-jii, can I come in?" The voice was raspy and almost timid and all three men recognized it almost at once. "You can come in, Shiranui-kun. The cat is out of the bag, so to speak." The door slid open and every occupant of the room stopped to look up. Dressed in the light blue temple robes of Surētoiwa-ji, and looking deceptively young was Shiranui Aramani. He was tall, nearly seven feet at best estimate with piercing green eyes. He was well muscled and looked swift. But that was not his most striking feature.
Ask anyone in the Soul Society and they'll say that Komamura Sajin was the exception to the rule of humans only. Ask anyone who'd been in Soul Society seventy years ago, and they'd tell you there was one other, shining exception to that rule. Aramani Shiranui was no human.
He was a panther.
Shiranui slunk into the room and took his seat beside the head priest, who poured him a cup of tea. With fingers rusty from disuse, the cup was shakily picked up and help close. "Thank you, Hotaru-jii." He said, before taking a sip. The hot liquid seemed to bolster him because when he looked up this time, his eyes were piercing and determined as he leveled his gaze at the two men across from him.
"You wanted to talk. Now talk."
AN: Surētoiwa-ji literally translates to "Slaterock temple" and is a temple of my own imagination and does not actually exist in Japan. If the workings of a Buddhist temple were off, my apologies, I did as much research as possible to get it accurate. If anyone wants to know what Shiranui looks like, imagine Komamura, slightly shorter and smaller with panther features instead of a wolf. That's all for now! More soon.