Ripples – The Living World
Something had been tugging at the end of her senses all day. A feeling. A thought. And Tatsuki hadn’t been able to place it. Whatever it was, it kept her on alert, feeling stretched thin. She watched the sky. and she couldn’t concentrate. She wished that someone was there to answer her questions.
And when a sense of power suddenly swelled, she felt it in her spine. Everyone noticed when she stood in the middle of the street and stared up at the sky, mouth agape. She swore that the blue and the clouds flickered, like a heat mirage over asphalt. And something settled brightly inside her.
The unknown sensation crawled over her skin in pleasing tingles, warm and welcoming. It filled her with a sense of hope, and somehow, Tatsuki just knew. It had something to do with Ichigo; she was sure of it. Even though she hadn’t seen her childhood friend – he or Orihime – in more than a year’s time.
A car honked, and she started out of her reverie and moved quickly to the sidewalk with an apologetic look on her face. It passed, the driver giving her a look of confusion, but Tatsuki barely noticed. She was too occupied by the tree in the yard of some stranger.
It was green. No, not just green. Utterly vibrant. Filled with life and blossoming from nearly every branch. Funny, but she’d passed this tree every day in her usual route from home to school and back again. In seventeen years, she’d never once seen the damn thing so much as sprout a single blossom. And here, it was. Vibrant.
“Did you hear?”
A voice from behind her, tone slightly echoing. She whirled to find another ghost standing there. A lost spirit. She’d been seeing more of those lately. The chain hanging from the boy’s chest swayed, and the metal tinkled.
Tatsuki was suspicious and glanced around. “Hear what?” she asked, wondering why she was humoring a spirit of all things. At least this one wasn’t making out right in front of her.
And the ghost smiled at her, the first time she’d ever seen something so genuine and honest in the face of a dead person. “There’s a new king,” he said, body rippling and flickering, as though unable to decide whether to stay visible or not. “A new king. Do you know what that means?”
“No,” she replied but was even more sure now. Ichigo had something to do with this. Somehow. He was always doing things like shaking up the world.
The ghostly kid laughed and danced in place, as if wanting to spin but not quite making it. “I don’t either. But I’ll bet it’s good. Ya think so, nee-chan?”
“If Ichigo has anything to do with it, I can almost guarantee,” Tatsuki replied with her own smile reflecting the spirit’s enthusiasm. She didn’t care that people were probably staring as she talked to nothing.
Maybe that meant they could come home now. That she could see Orihime again after worrying about her for so long. She could see Ichigo’s scowling face again and ask Ishida to fix her gi for her since no one could get the stitches as tightly as he could. And Sado, he had been such a good sparring partner. She thought of the Kurosaki Clinic, growing dusty in their sudden absence, and the smiling faces of Ichigo’s twin sisters.
Yeah, maybe they could all come back, and things would be normal again.
The boy grinned even wider. “Yep!” he agreed and then cocked his head at her, eyes becoming impish. “Say, do you know where I can find the nearest shrine?”
Tatsuki pointed him the right direction, and with a happy wave, the boy took off running, chain swinging back and forth. She hoped that some Shinigami came along before a Hollow did because no one deserved that fate.
Grinning to herself, Tatsuki looked up at the sky. It seemed to ripple back at her.
They were coming home for sure.
– – –
He’d been restless all day. More so than usual. Even his teachers had noticed. Of course, that might have had something to do with the fact that he wasn’t sleeping or teasing the girls or trying to poke Mizuiro in the back of the head.
Keigo couldn’t explain it. He just knew something big was about to happen. It was a feeling that wriggled about in his stomach, like trying to catch a fish barehanded. Not that he ever had. By the time school let out, Keigo had a bunch of pent up energy inside of him. And nothing to do with it. Mizuiro didn’t really seem to notice, just walking on as always.
Keigo thought it had something to do with those weird guests of his who had vanished all the sudden. Or with Ichigo, who had also disappeared without so much as a goodbye. Che. Some friend. Or Sado and Ishida and Orihime – Oh, the lovely bosoms of mountainous joy! – they had all vanished without saying anything to him. And he didn’t like it one bit.
Contrary to popular belief, Keigo wasn’t exactly stupid, just lazy and not really inclined to do much unless it interested him. He noticed these things. Who wouldn’t notice four of their friends abruptly up and leaving without any knowledge of their destination. The teachers didn’t find it odd; their classmates didn’t find it weird. But Keigo did, and sometimes, when Tatsuki looked at him, he knew that she found it weird, too.
Anyway, he was walking home with Mizuiro, still feeling that weird twisting in his belly, when something finally broke. He couldn’t explain it. There was a massive pouring of power that traveled up his legs to the roots of his hair, and it nearly took his breath away. It tried to crush him to the pavement, but it was so brief and didn’t last. And Keigo stood there gasping, wondering what the hell had happened.
He had the urge to look up and found nothing but normal sky and clouds. Mizuiro was staring at him, trying to figure out why he was acting so weird again, and Keigo didn’t have an explanation. Something had happened; he just wished he knew what.
The voice came from nowhere, as did the following cry of surprise and the body that landed on top of Keigo. Now, he was flattened to the concrete with something heavy sitting on top of him. It wriggled. and a foot landed in the center of his back.
“It’s absolutely terrible,” the man continued, sounding two steps away from a fit of epic proportions.
Keigo moaned and twitched. He hurt.
Mizuiro wasn’t even fazed, just looking at the newcomer and waiting for Keigo to pick himself up off the ground. “What’s terrible?”
“The world, it’s coming to an end,” the stranger explained.
Keigo blinked, pushing himself up and pinning a bleary gaze on the man. Dark clothes and a sword. Ah, that cosplayer dude. Who was always acting out stuff. What was his name? Keigo couldn’t remember; it was filed under the rather unimportant stuff.
Cocking his head to the side, Mizuiro displayed a lot of patience. “How’s that, Zennosuke-san?”
Ah, that was his name. Kami, Keigo hurt. It felt as if the man had landed on him. Which, consequently, he had. Maybe he should go to the doctor?
“It’s just terrible!” Zennosuke wailed and went running down the street, leaving the two students to gape after him.
Mizuiro blinked. “That was rude.”
“My head hurts,” Keigo groaned and considered passing out then and there. He just wished he knew what was terrible. And what had happened.
Idly, he thought that Ichigo must have had something to do with it. Ichigo was always causing trouble. And he still got good grades. Che.
– – –
He was out shopping because he had nothing better to do, and they couldn’t really trust Inoue to do it. They never knew what she would bring back. Yuzu was willing to do it, but Sado didn’t want the little girl wandering unfamiliar streets. She couldn’t protect herself like he could, and Sado had promised Ichigo he would watch over his little sisters.
His senses had been tingling all day. There was a feeling of battle in the air, of expectation. They’d received news that the final assault on Seireitei was going to take place soon. At least, that was what Kurosaki-san had said. That probably explained why his arm ached and why he felt his power swirling in his chest.
Sado wanted to be up there with Ichigo. He wanted to be fighting alongside the others. By Ishida and his best friend. He knew that he had another purpose here, to watch over Ichigo’s precious family and Inoue, but he still wondered who would watch Ichigo’s back for him. Ichigo’s letters never really said much.
When the first tendrils of power curled across Sado’s senses, he half-turned expecting some sort of Hollow to be in the general area. But there was nothing, not even the slightest hint of one. Just the wind and the passing populace, all going about their normal lives as if nothing had changed.
The power struck again, a heavy reiatsu that seemed to completely swamp him. There was the sense that reality had changed. Things would never be the same again. He felt his own power flickering within him, answering the call with a polite surge. His fingers twitched.
He didn’t recognize the main bulk of the reiatsu, but on the edge of it, something was familiar. He’d know that heated press of power, which spoke of determination and recklessness, anywhere. He’d always know Ichigo.
He paused in the middle of the crowd and tipped his head back, looking up at the sky. Sado half-expected to see something tangible, such as the sky ripping open or power to spark across like lightning in a thunderstorm. A cloud lazily drifted by, obscuring the sun for all of a moment before bathing them in the full force of its rays once more.
And yet, Sado’s entire body thrummed with energy and possibility. He could feel it pouring through his veins and his hand tingled. He had the urge to summon Brazo Derecha de Gigante; he thought that he felt stronger.
Only one thing could possibly explain it.
The battle had already begun, and Ichigo had proved victorious. Not that Sado would have believed otherwise. Ichigo had a talent for making the impossible possible and proving sheer stubborn willpower could defeat all odds.
Sado lifted his right hand, clenched and unclenched his fist and watched the motion. He felt the power flowing through him. Maybe he was strong enough now. Maybe.
And Sado smiled.
– – –
‘It has begun,’ the voice had whispered in the back of Isshin’s mind late last night or early this morning depending on how one looked at it. His zanpakutou had woken him from a deep sleep to let him know what he’d already figured.
After that, Isshin couldn’t sleep. He felt restless, on edge. His senses were stirring, and his zanpakutou was distracted.
He roamed around the house, doing menial things and half-completing other tasks. All the while, his senses were somewhere else, watching a battle he wasn’t taking part in. He worried about his son and his friends; he worried for the outcome. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe in their victory, but things could happen. Things no one could anticipate.
He knew when Aizen used the key because he had felt it. His zanpakutou gave a shiver of recognition, and Isshin took that moment to stop pacing the house. He shed his gigai and climbed onto the roof, standing and studying the sky. Without the enclosing nature of the fake body, it was more telling. Power rippled through him, stirring something that he long thought he would never regain fully.
Isshin could feel it in the air that the spirit world was hovering on a precipice. His soul longed to follow the tugging of the key’s use, but it was grounded to the earth. He could only watch and wait, feeling as if his every breath was caught in his throat.
He felt it when the power started to gather, when it curled and twisted in the air, pulling unconsciously towards some unknown location. It was as if the whole world around him had taken one great breath, swelling and pulling at his senses. His zanpakutou thrummed at his side, vibrating with desire to join whatever was going on in that other world. Humming in sync with a beat only the most sensitive could hear.
The sun crept higher and higher in the sky, past the harsh heat of noon and heading towards early evening. The sky remained blue, and for all that, it seemed so unchanged.
Until Isshin was suddenly filled with an unusual urge to laugh. Not out of an emotion he felt, but one that his zanpakutou echoed. An urge that was borne out of happiness and celebration, rather than amusement.
‘God has been chosen,’ his zanpakutou whispered in his ear. ‘A new world has been born.’
The words didn’t make sense. Isshin didn’t know anything about what was supposed to happen when someone sat on the throne. No one did since it was such an unprecedented event. But he knew, somehow, that Aizen Sousuke had been chosen by their world, that he’d become the god they were all waiting for. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have been feeling a sense of great victory.
“Sousuke, you sly dog,” Isshin had murmured to himself, grin stretching his lips as he balanced his hands on his hips. He looked up at the sky and half-imagined he could see Seireitei and heaven just beyond the blue. “You did it.”
“What are you doing up there?” Karin’s voice floated up to him, shouting from where she stood at the front of their home and on the sidewalk. Yuzu stood at her side and waved up at her father.
Chuckling to himself, Isshin leapt down, his shihakushou a familiar weight around his body. “Just admiring the view.” He grinned broadly.
Karin eyed him suspiciously, lifting one brow. “Ichi-nii won, huh?” she returned instead, crossing her arms over her chest.
He should have known that they would have felt something as well. Ichigo might be the one with all the spiritual power at the moment, but Isshin didn’t doubt that his daughters would find some of their own as well. He was their father, after all.
“We could feel it,” Yuzu added, eyes filled with so much hope. “Didn’t you?”
Isshin grinned, reaching out and pulling his daughters into a tight hug, despite Karin’s initial resistance and neighbors who were probably staring in wonder. He ruffled one hand over Karin’s hair and squeezed Yuzu tightly.
“Yeah,” he responded, able to feel the changes in the air like a tangible presence. “I felt it.”
– – –
It was a beautiful, small town. Somewhere close enough to the sea that she could smell the salty air and occasionally see a seagull pass overhead. Orihime wasn’t exactly sure where it was, but Yoruichi had assured her that Soul Society wouldn’t be able to find them there. Something about their reach being limited in this area.
When she was restless, Orihime often wandered the quaint streets, taking in the sights and the friendly faces of the strangers. She was restless often, she noticed. She missed her friends in Karakura; she missed Kurosaki-kun. She even missed Ishida-kun, who had left to join Aizen in Hueco Mundo along with Hanatarou-kun. It felt strange to be separated from them, and it bothered her that all those friends she made in Soul Society had turned on her. That Toushirou-kun would plot to do such a horrible thing.
She thought in that moment that she understood what everyone felt when Aizen had suddenly turned on them. Betrayal stung heavily, and it weighed on a person, even long after the traitors had stepped into the light.
Passing by a street vendor, Orihime bought some kind of iced, fruity drink and took it to a nearby bench, sitting underneath a tree. It was already green, flowers just beginning to peek from their buds. Everything seemed so peaceful, which was a direct contrast to the madness swirling beyond her senses.
And that had driven her to her restless wandering of the lovely town. It started early that morning, a prickling on the edge of her skin. A sense that something was happening, and it had bothered her enough that she had risen from bed earlier than usual.
She had almost sworn that she could see things shifting around her. That reiatsu was swirling and condensing, forming a tangible presence. The back of her neck itched as though someone watched her. And Shun Shun Rikka was restless, too. The fairies occasionally popping out on their own to mumble something incoherent before returning to her hairpins.
Everyone else was acting strangely, too. Kurosaki-san looked to the distance, his brow furrowed as though concentrating on something. And Sado-kun had taken to pacing the house before finally deciding to do something with his energy and heading out for groceries. Yuzu-chan and Karin-chan were quieter than usual. Everyone seemed to be waiting, their senses attuned to what their eyes couldn’t see.
Orihime sipped at her drink, hardly tasting the sweet concoction as she focused inwardly. It was like watching a play, one complete with musical and dancing numbers. Right now was the rising crescendo, a fierce mélange of noise and battle, strong wills clashing. She didn’t know why her senses were so keyed, but she swore she could feel them.
Kurosaki-kun and Ishida-kun, fighting against high-leveled opponents. And Urahara-san, so close to Aizen-san, who was expelling huge amounts of reiatsu. Yoruichi-san was fighting as well, but Orihime didn’t recognize who she battled against. Although there was a faint flicker nearby, like the taste of spring flowers. And Ukitake-san was a sweeping rush of water against the bright blaze of the captain-commander, Ichimaru-san a flowing and elusive presence intermixed with theirs.
She felt the Espada as well, their darker energies pulsing against the lighter energies of the Shinigami. She felt those that were snuffed out, and they tugged at her heart. She recognized several people that she had known. Hisagi-san and Rangiku-san. She had even felt when the busty woman had fallen to Kira-kun. It just… didn’t seem right for lack of a better word.
Orihime really hated war.
If Kurosaki-kun hadn’t asked her to stay here and protect his sisters, she would have joined them. Surely, they would be in need of her healing abilities. And maybe she couldn’t fight like the others, but she still could have helped. Yet, Orihime had promised, and she was determined to keep that promise, even if she could do nothing else.
But she felt it then, an abrupt shift in the flow of reiatsu that had been swirling around her. Where it had been turbulent and eddying, it now formed a steady current. It grew stronger and stronger, blending entirely with Aizen-san’s power. She knew it was his thanks to her time previously spent in Hueco Mundo. She had remembered his reiatsu as being very overpowering but with a refined sense of delicacy. Half the time, she never even realized it was there until he lost control for a second, however brief it might have been.
Her fingers flexed around her cup, but Orihime didn’t see it. All she could sense was the reiatsu, twisting and churning, flowing into one huge stream. There was the sensation of change, of a lock clicking into place. It settled with such finality that there was no untangling the permanently enmeshed threads. As if everything were coming together for the first time in a long time. Perhaps ever.
Sitting there on that bench, Orihime felt her lips curl into a smile. It had happened. She could only surmise that Aizen-san had taken the throne. She had felt nothing like this before. Not when Rukia had been on the Soukyoku or when Kurosaki-kun invoked his Hollow abilities. Not when Aizen-san had released his reiatsu in Las Noches.
They had won; she knew it with every part of herself. Kurosaki-kun and the others, they had won. And with that, she rose from the bench, tossing her unfinished drink in a trash bin before heading back towards the safe house.
– – –
Tessai knew from the very moment it happened. He and Ururu and Jinta had all known. Sitting down to tea in the main room, their senses locked and watching, they felt every last step in the battle.
It was almost as if they were there, what with the way the reiatsu stirred around them. The calls of Hollow had gone almost silent, as if they too were respecting the changes the spirit world was bringing. And Tessai had the strange urge to look to the sky, even though he knew it wouldn’t grant him a view of what was occurring. It was hard to fight the desire, however, when it seemed the press of reiatsu was coming from the heavens.
It wasn’t painful or debilitating, but it was definitely there. An annoying something beyond his sight that rolled over his skin like the tide. Unrelenting and full of an unfathomable depth.
“Che,” Jinta muttered around his cup, tough exterior failing to the hide the worry he must have been harboring. “Always gotta do things with a bang.”
“I think in this case, Jinta-kun, it is more Aizen-san’s fault,” Tessai corrected the young man. “Though I wouldn’t be surprised if he did have a hand in it.”
Ururu smiled lightly, thinking of the man she considered to be her father. “He’s having fun,” she commented softly.
Tessai could only agree with her. It had been some time since he had seen his friend so animated, and he was glad that the boss had turned to Aizen-san’s side.
“Things are going to be different now,” Ururu continued, sipping at her tea with anticipation brimming around her. “We can go to Soul Society, right?”
“Hmph. Who’d wanna go there?” Jinta argued, just to be contrary. But he couldn’t quite hide the eagerness in his expression.
Inclining his head, Tessai realized that both had a point. He thought of the place that had been his home, which he hadn’t seen in so long. He thought of the position he once held and how it had been so swiftly ripped away. And he thought about how that didn’t really matter anymore.
Aizen was king now. No doubt he would immediately remove their exile. He could go home for the first time in decades. He really could go home.
And a smile lifted Tessai’s expression. “Yes, Ururu, we can all go now.”