And I'm back with the sixth chapter of my serialized fanfic.
Title: Long Way to Goodbye VI
Rating: The much beloved T, where characters may swear and possess sexuality, but not so much that I will be banned for posting this.
Summary: Rukia and Ichigo disappeared and, although she tries, Karin has no idea what happened to them. Did Ichigo abandon everyone or did he and Rukia die?
Genre: Exciting murder mystery melodrama with humour and action.
The heat wave burned with newfound strength to herald July. With nary a drop of rain in weeks, Karakura was quickly transforming into a desert; the grass had browned and new layers of dust, brought in by warm winds, covered the streets every day. Moreover, dead bodies were discovered with disturbing regularity. People were panicking and with good reason, Yasutora thought. Even in Mexico City, it had never been this hot, nor had the streets felt so dangerous. Could this unprecedented weather be related to the sudden surge of Hollows? In any case, Yasutora could do something about the latter problems.
On the large, steel bridge over the river, Yasutora stretched calmly, ignoring the especially hairy demon on the other side of the bridge. Unfortunate, really, but it couldn’t be the mysterious Hollow that Urahara spoke of. Not strong enough. Perhaps angered by Yasutora’s nonchalance, the hairy Hollow spat and hissed like a rabid dog. Honestly, Yasutora worried more over pulling a muscle than being hurt by this weakling. So he stretched—this was his first fight since the madness in Hueco Mundo, and he would do it right.
Streetlights and a sliver of moonlight shone on the bridge’s steel plates; a fitting place to test his strength. Yasutora breathed in and out, his stretching complete. Yet still, he did not attack the Hollow. His body was a coiled spring, full of energy demanding release, but he would wait for the Hollow to strike first, even if it took all night.
Yasutora’s powers were Hollow-based, he knew. When his right arm first transformed, he hadn’t been aware. But in Hueco Mundo, when his left arm changed, it became obvious that a Diablo dwelled inside him. Later, the inevitable consequences of such powers were revealed to Yasutora, and he couldn’t help but be repelled. For months and months, he had trained in Urahara-san’s basement to suppress his powers, to find a way to avoid being consumed by hate.
Eventually, Yasutora realized his soul was a bridge between the humane and the unhallowed. Having crossed the boundary, he could not purify himself. Not without losing his means to protect his friends. The strength he needed, it seemed, was only obtainable through accepting his Hollow within. Thus his personal dilemma: evolve and become what he fought against, or retain his humanity and die. Neither answer satisfied him and so he sought a third option.
The Hollow screamed and ran on all fours across the steel bridge to attack Yasutora. Without the slightest hint of trepidation, Yasutora remained perfectly still; he did not so much as flinch with the Hollow’s claws a hairsbreadth away from his face.
The answer to his inner conflict was so obvious it had stunned him once he finally understood. So obvious he wondered why it had taken him so long to figure it out.
His body unwound in a flash and his fist crushed the Hollow’s face. The hairy thing froze for a few seconds, its face no longer capable of snarling, and then disintegrated into dust.
Really, all Yasutora had to do was stay on the bridge separating man from Hollow.
In a wonderful twist, Ishida and Inoue-san were enjoying a rare day off. And how did they take advantage of this pleasant opportunity? By indulging in the Karakura High’s sewing club and catching up on their arts and crafts, of course.
Yet Inoue-san groaned, evidently fatigued. Several grueling weeks had passed since the near clash with Renji. Now Inoue-san was nearly too tired to work the needle and thread. Another reminder to Ishida that he wasn’t the only one working overtime. Luckily, the evening was late and the other club members had left—ergo, they could talk freely.
“Is it just me, Ishida-kun, or have Hollows been popping up way too often these days?” she complained, tending to a bruise on her left arm. If only Ishida had been quicker yesterday…Alas, her stupendous powers did not work on herself. “There’s been so many we can’t even search for the Hollow that murdered that priest!”
“We’ll find it, I swear,” Ishida promised, disregarding his own doubts. “And yes,” he continued, frowning, “it’s not you, Inoue-san. Hollows should not attack in so many numbers. They’re stronger than they should be, too,” he grimaced.
“But why are they multiplying?”
“That I cannot answer, although I have my suspicions.”
“Your ideas are always so smart, Ishida-kun! What do you think, huh?”
Did she have to say that so earnestly? A man’s cool, dignified countenance could only take so much praise before collapsing.
Anyways, Ishida’s theories were far from cheerful. “A lot of people died in the Winter War,” he explained, “I think we might now be facing the ramifications of that widespread slaughter. Perhaps those lost in the Winter War possessed more hatred than usual, because of the circumstances, and they’re stronger, as a result.”
“Oh, that’s sad.” Inoue-san said, looking pained. From what Ishida had gathered, her own brother had returned as a Hollow. “I wonder how many others families are suffering like mine did…”
She looked so dejected that Ishida dearly wished to hold her hand. Unfortunately, his next words were most melancholic.
“Or,” he added, “it may be that powerful Hollows had existed for millennia in Hueco Mundo, and only recently were driven out by something worse. Although, if my guesses are correct about this mysterious Hollow with a sword, and that Hollow is the cause of our mess, then I can’t say why Hollows continue to appear so frequently…”
Ishida trailed off, overwhelmed by Inoue-san’s silence. She must have understood his implications about who this powerful Hollow was; this topic was taboo and avoided for a reason. He waited for her to contradict him, as she often had, but she said nothing. Why was her speechlessness so much more terrifying than her shouts?
Feeling uncomfortable, Ishida cleared his throat. “Well, whatever the reason for the Hollows, the consequences belong to those who remain. It sucks to be us, I mean.”
“Yes,” Inoue-san nodded glumly. “That’s why I’m so glad Sado-san’s fighting Hollows now, too! For one day, at least, we can relax. Heh heh!” She brightened considerably, thankfully.
“Indeed. I’m grateful he came to talk to us after class the other day, unlike someone else we know.” Ishida sneered. “Yet, even though we’re sewing, I find it impossible to relax. Just last night, so many Hollows appeared that I still can’t figure out how we saved Yuzu.”
Inoue-san sighed and rubbed her bruise again, “That one was too close,” she agreed.
“It certainly justified our nights of missed studying. Not that my father is going to forgive me if I fail to make Tokyo University.”
“But you’re still top of the class, Ishida-kun! I don’t know how you do it. I’ve fallen out of the top ten and am barely staying in the top twenty.”
Ishida put a hand on her shoulder, snatching a chance to comfort her. “It’s only because my father is a slave driver. You’re really talented to still get the marks you do, Inoue-san! I mean, Sado-san has fallen out of the top fifty…”
“He must have been training all this time. I can’t believe how strong he is…Like, he can do more than the two of us together!”
“I know,” groaned Ishida. “It’s depressing to think about it.”
They hung their heads in shared shame.
“You know,” Ishida went on, “we won’t have many more breaks at the rate Hollows are appearing. We need to catch that one Hollow or risk failing to make a good university!”
“I’m worried that all of us working together won’t be enough to catch that Hollow.” Orihime fidgeted in her seat. “Um…Ishida-kun?”
Ishida perked up. “Yes?”
“I’m glad that you’ll be with me to the very end.”
Seriously, how was he to retain his dignity? Thus, he broke down and smiled warmly.
At last! Karin left the school and punched the air in celebration—exams were finally over! Furthermore, she was certain she had passed so goodbye, summer school. Those agonizing afternoons she had endured, locked in a room and forced to study endlessly, were no more. Well, for a month, at least, she was free and she was going to enjoy walking home.
God, Karin was relieved to finally rid herself of a problem. She risked peeking at Yuzu; unfortunately, Yuzu still hadn’t seen the error of her ways. What did Karin have to do to get a well-deserved apology out of her? Karin had even thanked her twin for the—albeit harsh—tutorial sessions. Geez.
Most of her sources of anxiety were far from gone, yes. Karin had mulled over Renji’s words about Ichigo and the only explanations she could imagine were grim at best. In the end, Renji being mistaken seemed the only viable conclusion to Karin. However, she hadn’t glimpsed Renji, Ishida, or Orihime since that night in June, way before exams. Neither had she seen Chad, even though she lingered around Urahara Shop whenever she could. Bah, they were probably all avoiding her!
No, no, don’t think about that! Think happy thoughts! She told herself. You defeated the academic bullshit, Karin. You will enjoy this walk with Yuzu, even if it is ridiculously hot outside, even if Hollows have multiplied like cockroaches and you still couldn’t fight any of them, even if…Argh! Come on, surely something pleasant could distract her!
What day was it again? The thirteenth of July. Only two more days until her brother’s birthday. Suddenly, Karin smiled. She knew the perfect birthday present for her brother: being back home with his family.
As it turned out, the rest of her walk was a delight.
On the night of the fourteenth, Renji jumped from rooftop to rooftop, scrutinizing the streets around him. His patrols around Karakura had intensified, but he had yet to encounter the mysterious Hollow. Blood slid down his cheek from yet another cut on his face; the newest entry to the collection. His breathing came out in rasps—he was overworking himself. But he would die before he stopped. He leaped onto another building. That one Hollow, whoever it was, wasn’t getting away tonight! The stronger the Hollow, the more Renji wanted to kill it. Until he killed the man he hated above all else, he was insatiable.
A voice inside Renji whispered to him that he desired no butchery, that hunting Hollows night after night would never alleviate his pain. Stubbornly, he squashed the thought down and prepared himself for the task ahead. The chance he had waited two years for inched closer by the day.
The Hollows were getting stronger, yes? How much stronger could they get before the strongest arrived? Yes, only a little more time and patience would reward him. The man Renji despised most would show up—soon. Renji could rest later. Not long now and Renji would fulfill the oath he had sworn to his soul.
Somehow, “Ichigo’s” birthday party this year surpassed last year’s celebration as the worst ever. Perhaps because Karin’s bold plan to bring back the real Ichigo had gone nowhere, she was doubly sour. If she didn’t get out of the room soon, she would go insane.
“Come on, Onii-chan! Eat the cake!”
Kon looked at the massive castle-shaped cake, stunned, but drooled in spite of himself. “Ah, yes. Thank you very much, Yuzu-chan.” He took a timid bite.
Small wonder Kon wasn’t his usual piggy self. He knew he was eating Ichigo’s cake! But Karin was relieved to see the mod soul could, at the very least, feel guilt. It made him seem more human.
Also, Dad wasn’t being his normal abnormal self. He seemed distracted and kept glancing outside. His cheeks had sunken and large bags drooped under his eyes. Work had taken its toll on him.
“What’s up, Dad?” Karin asked, partly to get her mind away from Kon and Yuzu.
“Huh?” he blinked. “Just thinking…ah, never mind!” Dad put on a grin; it lacked exuberance. “Hey, you going to join this party or what?”
“No,” she bluntly replied.
“Karin!” Yuzu stared at her in shock. “It’s Onii-chan’s birthday today!”
Karin shrugged listlessly, much too aware that their actual brother wasn’t here. Her family life was mired in despair. She had to get out soon.
“Girls, don’t fight,” Dad broke in, sounding as tired as he appeared. “Yuzu, you can’t force your sister to have a good time.” He glanced out the window again. “Besides, I don’t think I’ll join in, myself. Should get back to the clinic…”
Both Karin and Yuzu did a double-take as Dad walked out of the room and away from a party. Karin could not recall Dad ever missing a chance to freak out. What was wrong with him?!
“I can’t believe it…” Yuzu whispered, shaking her head in disbelief.
“He’ll need help,” Kon promptly said and left the majestic cake behind to don his pink scrubs.
“B-But…” Yuzu stuttered helplessly.
“I forgot, but I promised a friend I’d visit him today,” Karin lied and stood to leave. With Kon and Dad gone, now was her greatest chance to escape.
Scandalized, Yuzu watched Karin go to the door. “Karin,” Yuzu halted her.
“What?” Karin retorted while slipping her shoes on. “Don’t even dare to think you can stop me, Yuzu!”
Her sister hesitated. “Be careful. Aren’t there a lot of those…those Hollows out there? It’s not safe, right?”
Karin slammed the door.
A grin nearly cracked the mask of the Hollow with a sword. There the girl was. Alone. This was too funny! It spent ages thirsting for her blood and couldn’t touch her because she was constantly guarded. And now that the Hollow was strong enough to challenge the Shinigami and the other two, she appeared alone!
But the Hollow with a sword didn’t laugh at its good fortune; instead, it followed the girl and worked up its appetite. This meal was going to be delicious.
At the Urahara Shop, Kisuke looked at his high-tech, super awesome Hollow detector in alarm. Oh, he did not like what he saw. Abruptly, the detector shorted out and smoke leaked out its sides. He really didn’t like what he saw.
“Do you even need that thing?” Something soft and warm brushed his leg as a deep voice spoke to him. “Even the weakest Shinigami could tell you that a stupid amount of Hollows are attacking Karakura right now.”
Kisuke looked down at his favorite black pussycat and rolled his eyes.
“Yoruichi, if no one used my own inventions, what would be the point of making of them?” he asked, shaking his head incredulously.
The cat growled, “Then why don’t you make useful things?!”
“You never have understood the deeper idiosyncrasies of science,” Kisuke sighed and chucked his failed experiment into the trash.
The cat jumped onto Kisuke’s counter and stared at him dead in the eyes.
“More importantly, Kisuke, what are you going to do about them?” The cat nodded in the Hollows’ direction.
“Oh, nothing, I expect.”
“Nothing? What kind of man are you?”
He put his arms up defensively. “Well, Ishida-san and Sado-san can surely take care of the Hollows! I think we have bigger problems to worry over, Yoruichi. A few of my past mistakes have been neglected for too long.”
Abruptly, the cat sat on her haunches. “So, you think it will happen tonight? Is this why so many Hollows are out there? Because he’s returning to Karakura?”
Kisuke smiled out of habit.
“Yes. Now get ready.”
Isshin looked at the large lineup of patients and sighed. Another long night ahead. This certainly excused him from the sham of a birthday party, but it wasn’t worth it. Not when untold people were dying.
A teenage boy, not much younger than Isshin’s own son, was gushing blood onto the tiled floor. A horrible gash on the arm, it appeared, was the source. Isshin hustled to the operating room with the boy. Seemed he never left the room these days. Not a surprise, really, under the circumstances; outside, the presence of countless Hollows bludgeoned his spiritual senses, sending shivers down his spine. How many more people would stumble into his humble clinic tomorrow? Well, to be honest, Isshin worried more about those who would never walk again, except to step into Soul Society.
For a moment, Isshin wondered how many souls wouldn’t need a doctor if he was fighting out there. His skill with the scalpel had never matched his skill with the sword. That always irked Isshin, that he was better-suited for killing. That always tormented him—Masaki would still live if he hadn’t thrown aside his blade.
He ground his teeth and focused on patching up this kid. Time enough for regrets in hell. Here and now, Isshin was content so long as he saved lives and kept his babies safe. Priorities: Isshin had them and nothing would distract him.
A small knock on the door distracted him.
He swore loudly. “Ah, sorry,” he apologized to the injured teenager in embarrassment; the kid merely moaned in agony. “What?” he grumbled, answering the door. “You all know I don’t like to be interrupted unless it’s something important…”
“I’m sorry, Dad!” Yuzu burst in anxiously. She noticed the patient with the torn arm and squeaked. She lowered her voice to a whisper, “It’s Karin. I couldn’t stop her from leaving, but I thought maybe you could do something…”
Isshin’s eyes widened. “You mean she’s gone? Why didn’t you tell me sooner?!” Karin was out there with all of those Hollows? Not again!
His poor daughter squirmed. “You were busy, you now…What are you going to do? I’m worried…”
He slapped a palm to his forehead. What was he going to do, indeed? That kid groaned in pain again, and who knew how many more like him were in his waiting room. How many more would come before dawn arrived?
And so Isshin made his choice and hated it. Priorities, ha! However, there was only one option for Isshin, but damn him if neither choice was fair. If only he could forget that he was better at killing than healing.
Karin walked away from the Urahara Shop, dejected. She shouldn’t have gotten her hopes up; of course, Chad wasn’t there. When had she ever seen him there, anyways? Never.
That uneasy feeling of being watched fell upon her. Where were Orihime and Ishida? For once, Karin didn’t detect their reiatsu. And, sensing an obscene number of Hollows in the distance, it came to her that this evening might not be the best for a strolling alone. Where were those two?
Hmph. Karin could take care of herself in a fight, and she would not succumb to paranoia. To make a point, she resisted the urge to break into a run and calmly left the alleyway. Not because she was scared, dammit.
Still, it sure felt foolish now to ditch home. Why, she could have been eating cake, smacking Dad around and glaring at Kon. She could have been patching things up with Yuzu, instead of slamming a door in her face and making matters worse.
But oh no, she couldn’t enjoy the afternoon with them and the fake. She’d walked right into this one.
“Argh! Where are those two?!”
Karin trekked through Karakura, feeling increasingly agitated. Why weren’t Hollows attacking her? She was used to not encountering them, yeah, but it made her uneasy knowing Ishida and Orihime weren’t in the shadows. If they weren’t around, how come no Hollows approached her? She hastened her pace. Seriously, she could sense Hollows in all directions! What kept them away? Where were Ishida and Orihime?!
Something primal shrieked in the distance.
She was running, Karin realized. She forced herself to stop and breathe whilst passing through her favorite soccer field. It would calm her if a Hollow attacked. All her nerves vanished once she began fighting, she knew. Come on, why couldn’t she shake that feeling of being watched?!
Where’re Orihime and Ishida?!
In the residential sector of Karakura, Ishida and Inoue-san battled against a multitude of Hollows.
“Where did they all come from?” Ishida wondered, shooting arrows indiscriminately. “This is absurd!”
Pressed against his back, Inoue-san maintained the shield around them. “We need to get to Karin and Yuzu! They’re unprotected!”
Three Hollows converged on them, but two fell to Ishida’s arrows in an instant. Inoue-san swatted the third down in the nick of time.
Ishida eyed the endless Hollows surrounding them and muttered, “I know we need to get to them, but we need to get out of this mess first. We’re no help to anyone if we die!”
Inoue-san turned to glare at him and he shrugged. He’d only said the simple truth.
“You’re right,” she nodded finally, cooling down. She focused her anger on the Hollows instead. “But I say we finish them off as soon as possible!”
That they should hurry went without saying. However, judging by the sheer number of enemies, they weren’t going anywhere soon.
The slender Hollow licked black blood off its sword. Killing its brethren was never as satisfying as murdering the innocent. But the Hollow with a sword had no mercy for anything that got between it and its prey. Besides, the Hollow gained strength from devouring souls of any sort.
But enough of that! The Hollow with a sword had destroyed nearly all of its competition also vying for the girl. The slender Hollow supposed the rest of its kind, those it hadn’t killed, had run off.
Oh, but the Hollow with a sword couldn’t think lucidly. Nearby, she stood by herself and had no idea of its existence. Ha, that park would be a suitable grave for her! Now, time to eat!
As the Hollow sped towards Karin Kurosaki, it never considered that someone stronger might be lurking in the neighbourhood.
“Watch out, Ichigo’s little sister!”
Only the sudden warning and lightning reflexes allowed Karin to roll to the side in time. The sound of air being sliced whistled where her neck had been a second ago. Her body racing with adrenaline, Karin came to her feet and looked at her attacker. A Hollow with a sword, of all things! Its ivory-white mask was twisted in disbelief at its failure to kill. Also, it—no, she should say “he”—was more humanoid and slimmer than any Hollow she’d seen before. He wore clothes, too, though only a striped tie was recognizable among his grey and white rags.
Her pulse calmed and she panted. Something had been after her! But, more importantly, someone had saved Karin. Again. Regardless, why hadn’t she sensed the Hollow or her rescuer?
The Hollow with a sword allowed her no time to think further. After his first slash missed, he spun and lunged at her again before Karin could blink.
Only, this time, someone got between the two and stopped the Hollow in his tracks with a solid punch.
Karin recognized the newcomer. She knew who he was as soon as he warned her. His timing could have been a lot better, yeah, but I think I can forgive him today.
Facing the Hollow, her rescuer spoke to Karin, “No need to worry.” He threw her a thumbs-up over his shoulder. “I’ve got this one.”
Karin's jaw dropped. Oh my god, he's still a huge dork!