By: Farmer Kyle

A/N: Hello all! Farmer Kyle here. Now you all may be wondering why I've started a new story when I should be working on Left Hand of the Death God and Champion's Route. Truth of it all is that I've been stuck in a rut with both of them. I've got a bunch of disconnected scenes written down for both, but it's trying to get it all into something cohesive that's been the hard part. And that's ignoring the fact that most of my time has been spent job hunting, getting everything packed up and ready to move, and a handful of family problems. But I've got a job now, so while I may not have as much time to write, that's one less thing for me to worry about.

But back to the point, I took up this and a couple other challenges set out by The Infamous Man to get my brain working again. Given how much we've collaborated over this, Stitches is likely to be my fastest updated story. But expect updates to still be random.

Lastly, I'd like to thank all my fans for putting up with me, and for all the Favs and Follows.

Good Luck in Life and Writing!

Disclaimer: I own neither Bleach, Fate/stay night, or Fate/Apocrypha. They are owned by Tite Kubo, Kinoko Nasu, and Yuichiro Higashide respectively. Inspired by music by Switchfoot, which I do not own. Also, this is written in answer to a challenge made by author, The Infamous Man. Also beta'd by him, thanks TIM!

Chapter 1: Just Another Desperation

"Alright you lot, settle down!" our history teacher told us, trying to get our attention. Well, he had my attention, but the rest of the students were busy chatting with their friends about what they would do during the two-week winter break, Christmas, and New Year's. It was the last class of the last day of school before it, so I'm not that surprised.

Not that I didn't have friends, but lately we seemed to be drifting apart. Not that I blamed them or anything, we simply couldn't do the same things we used to.

The teacher, a rather plain man who fit the stereotype of the Japanese man, black hair, around 5 foot, and wearing a white, long-sleeve button-down with dress pants, waited a few seconds as the class of second-year students quieted down. "As I'm sure you already know, the winter break is next week. But don't think that gives you a reason to slack, as I have an assignment for you that will be due your first day back."

The class groaned, myself included, at the news. Bad enough we had homework on regular days, but on our break too? A few students openly complained.

"Quiet down! Complaining about it won't change anything. Now, your assignment over the break will be to research a city or area that you will each pick randomly from this." The teacher picks up a small bowl that was on his desk. With his other hand he picks up and shows a slip of paper that had been in the bowl. I can barely see from my place in the classroom that something is written on it. "When I call your name, you will each come up and take one of these. On it will be the subject of your assignment."

The man then proceeded to call us up.

"Kurosaki, Ichigo."

Forgot to introduce myself now that I think about.

I'm Ichigo Kurosaki, I have red-orange hair, I'm seventeen and a second-year high school student in Karakura High School.

I also can't see ghosts. I used to, but not anymore. I gave up my powers to stop a madman who wanted to kill everyone in Karakua, my home. But more importantly, I did it to save my friends and family.

It's why my friends Chad, Orihime, and, as much as we deny being friends, Uryu have grown apart some. They still have they're spiritual powers and use them to fight the corrupted souls of the dead, the Hollows. It wasn't any big horrific split, we just grew apart. I've had to pick my life up from where'd I left it in order to fight, and Chad was doing what he was doing with Inoue and Ishida. It was no one's fault, my friends were just part of a world that I didn't belong in anymore. Hanging out with them would cause me to wonder, or it would put me in danger.

Because I can't fight with them anymore. I'm just a bystander now, a potential victim. Especially from invisible monsters that ate souls; some of which were the size of large houses and each had uniquely gruesome powers of their own.

I can't say I'm sad or complaining about it. Ever since I realized I could see ghosts back then, and later got my Shinigami powers, I'd always wished I could be normal. And now I am; just another high school student trying to get good grades to get into a good college so that I can get a good job.

It was all fine, in its own way. I don't miss the annoying buzz of ghosts as they follow me everywhere.

I don't miss the horrible and terrifying fights that I myself through, gambling my own life that I could win. I certainly don't miss being a Soul Reaper at all; it was a thankless job, why would I miss it? The robes were stupid, the rules were stupider, and I did it for free to boot! And most of the time I hardly got any 'thank you's, if anything I was told I screwed things up some way or the other.

My family and home are safe, at least for the most part. My debt to Rukia paid. In fact, she and the entire world owed me, not that anyone will admit it.

Truly, being a Soul Reaper was a thankless job.

So what if me and my friends had grown apart? So what if I hadn't heard a peep from the Seiretei since I saved them from their own problems? It was almost funny, but even Urahara seemed to have disappeared, not that I had gone to see him or anything. I certainly hadn't tried to find his "candy shop", only to find an abandoned lot. I haven't even seen any annoying black cats or perverted stuffed lions in a long time. So what?

So why do I feel so angry and lost?

"Hey Ichigo, wait up!" I heard from behind me. It was after school and everyone was heading home to enjoy the two-week break.

I stop and turn to see one of my oldest friends, Tatsuki Arisawa, running up to me. She hadn't changed all that much, other than how she wore her hair. Instead of stopping at the back of her neck, her hair now was reaching her shoulders. It was also a little less spiky. Though I would never say it, I thought it looked nice.

"Yeah? What do ya want?" I ask her when she catches up before walking again.

"You don't have to make it sound like a hassle you jerk!" she yells at me, but I know she isn't really mad. It's just how we got along. "I just wanted to know what you were doing over break."

"Eh." came my grunted reply, shrugging my shoulders too for emphasis. "I don't know. Figured I'd work on that project Mr. Soto gave us for most of it."

"Errr, damn that man!" Tatsuki growled out, beyond annoyed at the teacher. "He WOULD give us homework on a holiday! And making it count a quarter of our grade too!" She takes a few breathes to calm down. "What did you end up with anyway? I got Sapporo."

"Some place called Fuyuki City. You ever hear of it?" I'd never heard of it until today.

Tatsuki looked at me incredulously. "Seriously? Don't you remember there was that huge fire ten years ago that destroyed most of the city? A lot of people died and it was all over the news!"

"Oh." It was the only thing I could think to say.

"Don't 'oh' me! I swear, you're the most forgetful person I know! It's a miracle that you get such good grades!" Tatsuki huffs in annoyance. "Anyway, don't spend all of break by yourself. I'm getting everyone together for a New Year's Eve party."

"Yeah, yeah." We had reached where we would have to split up to get home, and I had already started walking the other way.

"Seriously Ichigo! I haven't really seen you outside of school, even though you-" Tatsuki cuts herself off.

I stop and turn around. I can see the worry on Tatsuki's face. But all I feel is a burst of anger. My scowl deepens and my brow crinkles in a glare.

"I don't need you watching out for me." My anger is obvious, and soon Tatsuki is returning it with her own.

"Fine then jerk! Spend the whole break alone for all I care!" she yelled back before storming off.

I stand there for a few more seconds, watching her, before I too head home. Not even a minute goes by before I'm hating myself.


The next few days I spent mostly in my room, stewing in my own guilt and self-loathing about what happened with Tatsuki and researching Fuyuki City.

Gotta love Wikipedia. It makes preliminary research easy.

Fuyuki City was an interesting mix between modern metropolis and classical suburbia. In fact, the said metropolis was mostly ten years old, the build up of the urban half of Fuyuki starting then. This of coarse led to me finding information about The Great Fuyuki Fire, specifically a newspaper article of a local Fuyuki group.

"The fire destroyed a square mile of the city, centered at what used to be the Fuyuki Municipal Hall. Eyewitness accounts claim the fire was 'unnatural' and that the scene was 'hell on earth'. There is still no accurate estimate of how many died, but is estimated that the death toll is within two to four-hundred. There were only thirty or so survivors, children all around the age of five, and were sent to the intensive care ward of Fuyuki Medical Hospital. All thankfully made a full recovery after weeks of treatment and were soon adopted. The cause of the fire is even more of a mystery. Officially it is listed as a gas leak, but speculation has gone from volcanic activity from nearby Mt. Enzou to terrorist activity. But given the accounts of unsolved kidnappings and murders before the fire, the terrorist theory has been given some merit..."

Christmas and the following week passed by quickly. Christmas was as lively for my family as ever, with Goat-chin, I refuse to admit someone that immature is my father, acting even more ridiculous than usual and Yuzu going along and feeding his ego. But with me and Karin on damage control we were able to keep the silliness to a minimum.

But soon enough it was New Year's Eve, and I found myself at Tatsuki's party. We had apologized earlier that week and I had agreed to come then. But anyway, the party. Really it was just me, Tatsuki, Orihime, Chad, Uryuu, Mizuiro, and Keigo drinking sodas and eating some pizzas while we waited for the New Year counter to go down. Orihime brought her own toppings and was trying to get us to try some of her combinations. Chizuru at some point crashed the party and began trying to woo her 'goddess', Orihime. Something about 'getting a head start on her New Year resolution'. Tatsuki was keeping the grabby girl away from Orihime with the usual level of force, enough to hurt but not cause injury. Mizuiro brought his latest girlfriend to the party, so was mostly sticking to her. Keigo was trying to convince all of us to play cards. Chad, me, and Uryuu were standing by the drinks, partly to make sure Keigo or Chizuru didn't get any ideas to lighten up the party and partly because we weren't wanting to do anything else.

I used the chance to catch up with them, and to see if they'd say anything about how the spiritual side of things had been lately. They didn't tell me anything of course, like always. Ever since I lost my powers they had avoided any kind of conversation involving spirits, even Orihime. It was like they didn't think I could handle it, regardless that a year ago I'd been right there with them. I always worry now if they're alright, if they'll come back from a fight. I know Orihime can heal just about anything, and I know they can all handle themselves, but I can't help but worry now that I'm not there to help them.

I give up after a few tries, grab a fresh soda from the cooler, and head over to Keigo. "I'll play ya."

Keigo lit up in his usual exuberance. "Alright! I shall defeat you Ichigo with my super fast, super awesome hand skills!" Holding up his fist and posing like he was in an anime.

Everyone stopped what they were doing to look at him. Well, except Orihime. It looked like she had gone off on one of her tangents. Something about 'zombie sentai'.

The brunette noticed the sudden quiet and stopped posing, looking around at us confused. "What?"

Besides Chizuru, who was blushing and staring intently at us, and Orihime, who was now mumbling about 'villainous cyber-sheriffs', everyone just shook their heads and turned back to what they were doing.

Keigo looks to me. "Do you know what that was about Ichigo? I've just gotten really good at Hanafuda."

I just shake my head. "Don't worry about it."

"What? I want to know now!"

"Just deal."

"Fine! I'll just beat you and make you tell me!"

Five minutes later and I've beaten Keigo 3 times, the brunette exaggerating his loss on the floor.

Eventually we're all surrounding the TV, soba noodles ready as we watch the last minute countdown of the Watched-Night bell. Just as it reaches 30 seconds though, Uryuu, Chad, and Orihime shoot out of their seats, saying they needed to leave but not why. Not that it was a great secret, everyone here but Mizuiro's girlfriend knew they had to leave because of Hollows. I can't say I'm surprised, I hadn't heard of any 'gas leaks' since the break had started.

And here I almost thought Hollows respected the holidays.

They're still not back when the clock hits zero. I look around as everyone yells out "Happy New Year!", and the bell starts ringing, I just can't agree. How can I feel happy when I feel so empty and lost?

The next morning at home, I find out just what happened last night.

"A horrible way to start the new year, though some students may disagree. Karakura High School was half destroyed sometime early this morning during all the festivities. Much of the facilities and buildings have caved in on themselves. Thankfully, there has been no sign that anyone was caught in what officials are calling another gas leak..."

I was walking home from the library when I here the shout. "Hey ICHIGO!", As soon as I hear the yell I'm already going through the motions of turning around to punch the guy I can hear running up to me. Keigo of course runs straight into my fist and collapses onto the sidewalk

"Owowowowowow!" he cries, holding onto his face. He immediately jumps back up, no worse for wear. "How come you always do that! I thought we were friends!" He points and yells at me acusingly.

"Idiot," I mutter under my breath, before turning back and walking home.

Keigo, not giving up, runs up beside me. "How can you always do this to me so casually? We're supposed to be friends! Traitor!" the brown-haired boy lamented dramatically as tears streak down his face.

"You're fine though, right?" I ask him, not even bothering to look at him.

"That's not the point! I have feelings too you know! The way you so casually ignore and abuse me, it's horrible!"

"So how are things?" I ask him.

"Great mostly! Did you hear about the school? We won't have to go back for another month now! I mean, I guess I feel bad that the school was destroyed, but another free month..." here Keigo drifted off, and from the look on his face, it seemed like he was trying to decide if the school getting destroyed was a good or bad thing.

After a few seconds, Keigo shakes his head. "Whatever. Anyway, you want to hangout?" he asks.

My reply is immediate. "No."

The boy looks heartbroken at my casual denial. "Aw come on! You didn't even think about it!"

"We have that project from history, remember?" I remind him.

Now Keigo looks outraged. "Are you serious?! You're telling me you'd rather work on some stupid school project that's not due for another month instead of hanging out with your friend?!"


"Traitor! I thought I had gotten you past this nerd thing Ichigo! Honestly, how can you be such a tough guy punk and still be a huge ner-" Keigo's whining was put to an end by my fist.

"Idiot." I mutter again. "I'll see ya later." I tell him as he once again exaggerated his pain.

That evening, dinner was more subdued than usual, meaning Goat-chin wasn't acting like a seven year-old, so it was what most people would call normal.

"You have all the luck Ichigo. I can't believe you get another month off and me and Yuzu have to go to school." Karin grouched around her chopsticks.

"Karin, you shouldn't talk with your mouth full!" Yuzu reprimanded her sister. "And I don't think it's good at all! What if Ichi-nii falls behind, or worse, gets held back!" The sandy-blonde worried.

"Oh Misaki, our boy is going to be held back by things beyond his control! What a cruel twist of fate!" Isshin, or Goat-chin as I prefer, wailed to the memorial poster of my and my sister's mother. I knew he'd goof eventually.

"Quit overreacting Yuzu, I really doubt Ichigo is going to be held back. He'll probably just have to go to school for an extra month or cram." reasoned Karin, before swatting at something beside her. Probably another spirit. She still has her powers, so they crowd her now instead of me. I pretend I don't notice, mostly because Yuzu is still in the dark about it all, but since Karin hasn't asked me about anything, I guess she's got it under control.

"Oh, I suppose that's true..." Yuzu relents after thinking it over.

"Our boy is saved Misaki!" cried out Goat-chin.

"Can it and eat old man!" Karin told him, prompting our dad to come back to the table to eat.

A few minutes of fairly quiet eating goes by before Yuzu decides to turn the conversation to me. "So Ichi-nii, what do you plan on doing for the next month?" she asks earnestly.

I'm quiet for a bit as I consider what all I had been thinking of the last few weeks, and recently with the school being destroyed. "I'm actually thinking of leaving Karakura for a bit, take a vacation." I told my family.

For awhile now I've felt off, lost. I'm really just going through the motions most of the time. Besides, don't people in movies and stories go travel when they're looking for something? I'm trying to find out what I want to do with my life, so that counts, right?

There was no immediate response. Karin looks surprised, and that seemed to be all. Yuzu was also surprised, but I could tell she was parts worried and excited. Dad actually looked serious for once, but after I kept eye contact with him, it passed, his face matching Yuzu's. I got his message though, he wanted to talk sometime tonight without Karin or Yuzu to overhear.

Karin broke the silence. "Really? How come Ichigo?"

Yuzu's eyes widened as she tried to guess could be the cause for my trip. "Is something wrong Ichi-nii?" the concern in her voice made me guilty for worrying her, regardless that I hadn't intended to.

And while my life wasn't quite where I thought it would be, I wasn't going to tell her that. "Everything's fine Yuzu." I feel worse for lying to her now. "I'm actually doing it for a school project I got just before break."

That seemed to have calmed her down, as her face eased and filled with curiosity. "Oh? What kind?"

"It's a history project. We picked a random city or area and have to do a fairly detailed report on it. I got Fuyuki City. Thought I'd use the extra month to get some local input." I tell her.

"Sounds cool." Karin replies. "When are you leaving?"

"Tommor-" I'm cut off when I feel myself gathered up in some kind hug. A hug from hell that is. When did that old goat get behind me?

"Oh my son! You're going out in to the world and making it your own! I'm so proud of you!" I nearly went deaf from Goat-chin yelling in my ear.

"Get off of me you moron!" I yell back, struggling to break my dad's grip on me.

"Haha! Never!" he shouted with a smile. I knocked it right off his face with a headbutt. "Gah!" he cried, letting go in favor of cradling his bleeding nose.

"Grow up for once!" I yell, grabbing him by the waist before tossing us out into the living room. I didn't want to ruin Yuzu's dinner more than it already had with Goat-chin's antics.

Just before I became too involved with fighting dad, I heard Karin sigh. "Yuzu, could you pass me the sauce?"

"So what's this all about Ichigo?"

Me and dad had tussled around for another ten minutes before the girls went to their rooms. We went over to the clinic area of our house to talk.

I sigh, trying to come up with the best way to put this. "I really do have that project." I pause a bit to think what I should say next. "I just feel... lost, I guess. Everything here reminds me of what I gave up."

Things are quiet for almost a minute, and I'm thinking of something to say when Isshin speaks up. "Do you regret what you did?" he asks me, eyes serious.

Rage explodes in me and I snarl, "NO!" I yell at him. All the frustration with my friends boils up; how they'd been keeping me out of the loop, the Seireitei seemingly disappearing, Uhrahara. All of it. I'm seeing red. I don't even realize I've thrown a punch at dad until he catches it.

His grip is a steel trap, and as my vision clears I see his eyes are the same. I stare at him, heaving breathes as I cool down. "I'd never regret that." I get out breathlessly. "I just feel useless now." I bow my head in shame. Not at what I'd admitted, well, partly, but in that I'd almost hit my dad. Sure we fight all the time, but that was just how we did things.

All I had wanted to do now was hurt him, badly. He's my dad, family. It shouldn't have come to this.

I hear my dad sigh, and he let's go of my hand. Before I can look up he's got me in a hug again, instead this one wasn't nearly as tight and I'm not sure I want to get out of it.

"It's alright Ichigo." He tells me. Nothing more, but it wasn't needed. I knew what he meant, oddly enough. "I went through the same. It's tough, being so limited. But you can do just as much good without those powers. Why do you think I became a doctor? I still wanted to save lives, so I made due with what I had." His hands move to my shoulders and pushes me out, and I look up at him. "I know you Ichigo, you'll get through this." And seeing the assurance in his eyes, I couldn't help but believe him.

"Thanks... and sorry." I mumble looking away.

"Ha!" Isshin quietly barks out. "You may be tough like your old man," he lets go of me to point his thumbs at himself. I scoff at him, he looks pretty stupid. My dad ignores me, "but you've got Misaki's heart. She could go from loving wife to angry she-devil sometimes, especially if she was worrying."

I couldn't really think of anything to say to that, so I just nod.

Dad just nods back, seeing the matter finished. "Now then, I'm fine with you leaving for the month. It'll be a good chance to expand your horizons. But how did you plan on paying for this trip of yours?" He asks, quirking his eyebrow as if it was needed.

I take a breath, calming myself, before I answer. "I've been hiring myself out to the sports teams at school." I had started doing it at the beginning of the school year, just to have some spending money. But since I didn't want to actually join any of the teams, they kept paying me to practice and compete. I'd saved quite a bit to even put some toward college, while the rest I kept for a rainy day.

"Ah yes, those accounts I helped you open!" Isshin replied, remembering. I was a still minor, so I needed a cosigner with a credit history. "Not to worry son, I shall loan you the money for transportation and wherever you might stay."

Oh no, I know that tone. I guess mature Dad couldn't last long. So now I have ask why, not that I'm not grateful. "Let me guess, you want a souvenir?" Not the most outrageous of things he's asked for, I could probably get something for everyone.

Goat-chin makes himself look stage surprised. Wide eyes and his hand over his mouth while he gasped. "Aha! Your detective skills are impressive son! Yes, something awesome would be most appropriate! And something cute for your sisters!" I really doubt Karin would want anything cute, but Yuzu would probably like a stuffed animal. I think I remember reading that Fuyuki had a large store full of them. At least the old man hadn't asked something stupid.

"You should also save that money for any cute girl you meet there! Please bring back my future third daugh-GAH!" Goat-chin's face? Meet my fist.

"Night Dad."

By 10AM the next day, I've packed enough clothes to last me a couple weeks. I'll find a laundromat close to the hotel I'll be at. Dad's already set up the reservation, easy given that most of the holiday guest have left, and paid for the month. I also have enough fare on me for a round-trip train ticket. But before we leave for the station, my family insisted on seeing me off, I decided to call Tatsuki to let her know I'll be gone.

Taking out my cell, I find Tatsuki's name in it and hit the 'call' button. After a few rings, she picks up.

"Yo, Ichigo. What'cha calling for?"

"Hey Tatsuki. Just wanted you to know I'll be in Fuyuki the rest of the month."

"What?! WHY?!" she yells at me, and again I'm almost made deaf. Twice in two days, I hope this isn't a trend.

I switch my phone to the other ear. "Figured I'd go the extra mile for that project." I think I earned a tease after almost losing an ear.

"Ichigooooo..." she growls out, and I can't help but chuckle.

"Alright, alright." I relent, then sigh. "I just need to get away for awhile, figure things out."

Well, she stopped growling. But now she's quiet.

"You'll be back after the month?" she asks.

"Yeah. Maybe not exactly a month, but I'll be back before school starts up." I assure her.

"Well... Alright, but be careful crybaby." I can imagine the smirk on her face saying that.

She wanted to play that game? What wouldn't she expect? "Sure... cutie." Did I really just say that?

I hear my best friend stutter, trying to come up with something, I picturing her flustered and gibbering is too much. I laugh.

"Grrr! That's it, you owe me a souvenir Kurosaki!" Despite growling at me, Tatsuki didn't sound mad at me.

"Yeah, yeah." I reply, still chuckling a little.

"I mean it!"

"Yeah. Be sure to tell everyone else too, please?" I ask her.

"You'll owe me TWO souvenirs then." she replies, sounding smug.

I smile. "As you wish... Hime-sama"

"GRRRR! Screw you Kurosaki!" she yells at me, but I just laugh.

Eventually though, the humor overcomes her annoyance and she snickers a little. After we both calm down, she starts talking.

"It's good to hear you lightening up, Ichigo."


After a bit of neither of us talking, I decide its time to get going.

"I'll talk to ya later Tatsuki. Be sure to let everyone else know, alright?"

"Sure Ichigo. Have a nice trip!"

I hang up, feeling better than I have in a long time. I guess this trip was a good idea after all.

The trip to Fuyuki City hadn't taken as long as I thought it would. While I had needed to transfer in Kobe, the whole trip had taken only two hours. Being noon by then, I stop at the first fast food place I find and grab a quick meal before trying to find my hotel. Eating on the go, I find the place after half an hour of looking. Thankfully I'm early for my check in, so I'm only at the receptionist's desk for a few minutes. I grab one of those free maps that are laid out for tourists, so I can at least pretend I know where I'm going. But as I stand there going over the map, I overhear a conversation by passing guests.

"I can't believe there are so many people in the hospital. I didn't think gas leaks were so dangerous."

"Right? And if that weren't bad enough, some murderer is out there eating people's hearts!"

"That heart eating thing is just a rumor..."

I can't help but think that's all oddly familiar.

I get my key though, and put the matter off for later. After taking an elevator up to the 5th floor, I get out and search for room 504. It's not far, and when I get in I find a decent room. Seems Dad decided to splurge, because I've got a huge bed and... wine? Great, Goat-chin is trying to get me hooked up.

After dealing with THAT, I see what I've got in here. Nightstand with lamp, phone, and clock; small dresser and closet; a mini-fridge with a coffee maker on top of it; and a cabinet with a TV in it. There's also a small table tucked in the far corner of the room with a couple chairs. A door leading to the bathroom is across from the table, the both of them framing a fairly large window that shows a view of the street the hotel is on. Lastly, there was a folding door closet to my left.

I set my suitcase of clothes by the closet and my duffel bag with my work on the bed. Checking my watch I see that it's 1:33. Guess I'll get a jump on the project.

Zipping the duffel open, I root around trying to find my notes. What I find first though stops me dead. The shape and feel of it are familiar, and when I pull it out I find my Substitute's Badge in my hand.

It's only a useless slab of clay or whatever now. Ever since I lost my powers, all its abilities stopped working. I guess I had forgotten I had put it in here at some point.

It's proof that I was a Shinigami, the only proof I have left.

I set it aside, and grab the notebook I've been using to keep track of everything I've learned so far. After skimming them, I find I have little information on a place called the "Ryudou Temple". Supposedly it was founded by some dragon-god or something. Again, I had very little information about the place. Looking at the map, I find it's on the other side of the city. I check my watch again, 1:45. Might as well.

Making sure I also grabbed one of the pens I'd thrown in my duffel bag, I made sure I had everything I needed. Notebook, pen, wallet, keycard for room in wallet, cell phone. I make my way over to the door when I turn back around, eying the badge on my bed.

"Guess it doesn't hurt to have a good luck charm." I grab the badge and put it in my pocket. Then I was out the door.

"Why am I not surprised?" I ask myself standing before the entrance of Ryudou Temple.

I had decided to walk to the temple, mostly because I wasn't familiar enough with the buses here yet. Eventually I found the bridge that divided the commercial and residential areas of Fuyuki, and from there it was a straight-forward walk to the temple. Overall it took about an hour, so it was close to 3PM now.

So it would figure that after an hour of walking, I'd find stairs. Lots of stairs. Lots and lots of stairs. I guess temple's followed the stereotype.

Deciding to suck it up, I crossed the first archway and felt the hair on my neck rise. I suddenly feel like I'm being watched. Looking around I see no one, but I've gone through enough to know... What am I saying? I really doubt I was being stalked by some soul eating monster.

I ignore the feeling and continue my climb.

It was almost the fifteenth hour when I finally decided to summon a Servant. Wait, that's not correct. Of course, I meant 3PM. It amazes me how little things like telling time or the ease of my soul stealing are things I still haven't quite gotten used to. But I suppose that will be something I can work on with Souichirou-sama during our life together. Hehe!

My future life with Master aside, last night I had determined that I should be able to summon a Servant of my own, being a Magus. It would give me, and thus Souichirou-sama, an advantage in numbers. But with my fortifications to the mountain and my own "temple", along with this being a nexus for the local leylines, the temple was a fortress. And every fortress needs a guard.

I started the incantation, my skill High-Speed Divine Words reducing much of the hassle of the summoning ritual. But I would still need to focus on the intent of the spell, so any distraction may cause it to fail.

"Kaléste Yp-" One of my perimeter spells tones out a warning, distracting me but a moment to who could be responsible. But it was enough, and the summoning array that had briefly appeared flickered away.

I huff at the annoyance, but it is no major delay. I would quickly get rid of the nuisance and summon my Servant after.

I begin a scrying spell, and soon an image of the intruder appears in my vision. Hmm... He seems to be a young man. The red hair is an oddity, based on what I have observed from the surrounding populace, but a minor detail. His od levels suggested no active Magic Circuits, meaning he was an ordinary human, but then he would have been turned away by the compulsion spells I had placed.

This bears further investigation, and so I alter the scrying spell for a more detailed look at the boy's soul.

"Oh... my..." I mutter to myself, stunned with what I find.

The boy's soul was so very worn, so used. Not in a bad way, no... It was like a well trained muscle that had atrophied or a worn sword nicked with scars. The boy's soul was used to power, he had most likely had some supernatural ability, but either lost the ability to use it or simply chose not to. And this was all ignoring the palpable well-spring of power further in. So much odic potential...

But the most interesting thing by far was the feel of his soul and potential power. It all reeked, was stained, by death. Not like with the necromantic arts, or even death dealing curses, but rather... the very presence? I couldn't place the feeling, but I knew one thing.

I must have it.

"Pheew, finally made it." It comes out breathy, given just how many stairs I climbed. At some point I started counting and had stopped caring around three-hundred.

But I had finally made it to the top. Passing the last archway and coming through the temple gate, I see a large courtyard. More a large open space with a path through it, ahead of me was the temple. I check my watch, 2:56. I hope I can find someone to talk to, I'd rather not to have made a wasted trip this far out.

Walking up to the temple door, I ring the bell off to the side for visitors. I hardly have to wait before the door is pulled aside to reveal a woman.

She had fairly pale, white skin, but not to the point it looked unhealthy, and long, blue hair fell to her shoulders that had a braid at the back. Seriously, blue hair? I know I get a lot of crap for my own red hair, but there was no way her's was natural. Her eyes were a shade of blue that almost seemed purple. She was wearing a sleeveless black blouse with a tied knot near her right hip, letting the left side fall to her waist. From there she had on a long beige skirt which reached down to her shins, the large buttons holding it up running down the left side.

I'm actually surprised. I only expected to find bald monks here.

"How may I help you sir?" she asks me. Her voice is smooth and deep in a way only confident women can achieve. She's a beautiful woman with a matching voice, and despite my experience with confident and powerful women, it takes me a moment to gather my thoughts.

"Uh, yeah..." I get my mind together. "I was wondering if I could speak to one of the monks here? I'm doing a project for school on Fuyuki City, and I'd like to learn about the temple."

She smiles sadly at me. "I'm sorry, no one is here right now. Is there anything I can do to help?"

I give a dejected sigh. "You wouldn't happen to know anything about this place, would you?" I ask her, hoping she'd tell me something at least a little useful.

My hopes are dashed when she shakes her head. "I'm afraid I don't. I only recently moved here with my fiance." She smiles a bit after saying that, so I guess she's really in love with the guy.

But I can't help but feel at least a little happy for her. "Congratulations, is he one of the monks here?"

The woman smiles a bit wider. "Thank you. No, Souichirou-sama is a teacher whom lives here at the temple."

Interesting, but I suppose I should head back to the hotel. Maybe see the sights; I can get an early start tomorrow. "Well, thank you for your time miss. Sorry to have bothered you." I tell her.

"It was no trouble at all." she assures me. "I hope your work goes well."

"Thanks." I turn around as I say it. I wonder wha-

A rustle of clothe.


I suddenly jump and roll to the side, my instincts screaming at me to get out of the way of some threat. I hear a 'wooshing' sound from the direction I dodged from.

I turn to where I had been, and find the blue-haired woman now holding a dagger of some kind. It was iridescent and had three jagged points, shining brightly in the sunlight. But it was too thin, and probably brittle, to be used as a killing weapon.

"I'm not sure whether or not I should be annoyed that you dodged." She says, her voice having taken a dark turn to it.

"What the hell are you doing?!" I yell at her, keeping an eye on her. I don't know how fast she is, but I had been halfway between the temple door and the gate. I wasn't taking chances.

The woman chuckles darkly. "Isn't it obvious?" she asks, as if speaking to a child.

It was, but "Why?" I ask her. Why attack me?

"It's really quite simple, boy." Black... something gathers at her feet, moving and billowing about like fog but not expanding out. I'd almost call it reiatsu, but I wouldn't have been able to see that. It crawls up her form, enveloping her in a moment, covering her head to toe in a smokey darkness that's blacker than night. But as suddenly as it came it dispersed, vanishing like vapors, and revealing the woman once more. She's wearing purple and black robes now, an ornate golden clasp holding a cloak around her. It reminds me of a witch. Her head was now hidden in a shroud, only her mouth clearly seen. It's set in a wicked smile. "I want your soul."

Hearing that was actually nostalgic. How many Hollows told me the same thing? But I don't have powers anymore, and I doubt I can fight her off. I need to find a way to get out of here.

"You should pay more attention boy."

The witch, because what else could she be, was suddenly in front of me, the gleam of the dagger bright as it heads for my-.

My body reacts, but its still not fast enough. A move that would have caught the dagger before it struck my chest, instead just presents it a different target.

"HA-grrgh!" I grunt, stifling the yell I wanted to scream. The dagger is blunt, and it hurts all the more for it. Some blood lands on my face from the blow that my left hand "catches", more blood seeping from the wound. My hand is not so much pierced as it is the palm punctured. Picture a hole-punch with my hand being the paper, and you pretty much have the idea. But I'm used to pain, and clench my other hand into a fist.

"Oh? You contin-" I cut her off with a punch to the face. She gasps and staggers back, but given the fact my hand feels like I punched concrete, it's out of surprise that I retaliated. But I don't waste the opportunity and pull my injured hand off the witch's dagger. I make a break for the gate.


But before I can even take a step, I'm blown off my feet by a gale. This time I do scream in pain as what feels like blades cut into me. I close my eyes and cover my head as best I can manage, hoping that it'll be enough to protect them from whatever spell or attack the witch used threw at me.

"Guh!" I crash into something hard and bounce off it to hit what I think is the floor. I lay flat on the dirt, bones aching, but nothing seems fractured or broken. My cuts though are further agitated, and searing pain encompasses me.

I slowly move my arm and open my eyes and spot the witch a meter away, her arm raised and hand facing at me.

"I'll make you pay for that boy!" she snarls at me. "You'll beg for death before I'm through, and I'll relish your cries as I tear out your soul!" Motes of pink light gather before her hand, collecting until they form a ball of light that will surely kill me, regardless what she says.

I was going to die.

For being in the wrong place at the wrong time, I was going to die. Powerless and alone, away from home, and for what? A school report?

"Screw that..." I growl out, slowly getting onto my hand and knees.

I get my legs under me, slowly getting back up. But I'm unsteady and lose my balance, falling back on the wall. I prop my right hand against it, finding a gouge to grip on. Probably came from whatever threw me into the wall. My side to the enemy, I turn my head left to glare at the woman.

She just stares back, or I assume she does, sneering at me. "Die." The light she'd been gathering shoots at me.

I wasn't going to go out like this! I hadn't come this far, given up what I had, just to die here! I didn't know what the future held for me, but I refuse to believe I was dying here.

"I'm not... DYING LIKE THIS!" I shout at her and the world, at anything that might listen, my defiance.

Something answers.

Crimson light explodes in front of me, engulfing the pink light. Looking down I find a circle filled with indistinct shapes and alien words, all glowing with a power that causes my skin to goose-bump. I try to find a source, and looking right under me I see the blood that's dripped under me to the ground is flowing into the circle.

"NO!" I hear the witch scream, and I look up in time to see the light flare brighter. "Impossible!"

The light continues to become brighter, and now the howl of rushing wind joins it as a whirlwind surrounds it, becoming faster and louder as it builds up.

A new pain erupts from my injured left hand, like it was burning. I take my eyes off what's in front of me and look at my hand. The top of the palm is glowing with the same light as the circle. Some sort of tattoo is taking shape.

But before I can tell what it is, the bloody light of the circle flares until its brightness rivals the sun. My eyes close before I'm blinded, but the light is too bright and it sears them.

The wind dies out, as does the light. Gone as suddenly as they appeared.

I open my eyes, but it takes a few moments for them to adjust. When I can see clearly, I find something that hadn't been there before.

Or rather someone.

Where the circle had been, stood a young girl. She couldn't have been older than Yuzu or Karin. In fact, she looked younger. Her hair was silvery and her eyes an icy blue that held... something that was beyond her youthful looks. She's also not that tall, probably only comes up to my chest, and slim, bordering on waif really. Her skin was nearly white, which made the leather she was wearing that much more noticeable.

She also wasn't wearing very much.

A modified black waistcoat, bordered in white here and there, was held in place by a belt around her collarbone and a belt wrapped just under her chest. Her hands and forearms were wrapped in bandages and two other belts were on each of her arms, seemingly for decoration. Oddly, she only wore one black glove, on her left hand. For her legs there were black, thigh-high boots, where from there black, white-bordered, ovular plates covered her outer thighs and hips.

But the most glaring thing for me was that she wore an incredibly revealing pair of matching black panties, the straps holding them in place little more than threads.

Quite frankly, she looked like she had come out of a fetish magazine. On the other hand, she also looked like a cute little girl. But before I could even think to say anything, she spoke.

"We are Servant Assassin. Are you our Master?"