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Ribbon (Bleach AU, Original Character)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Sarius, Dec 21, 2020.

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  1. Sarius

    Sarius Not too sore, are you?

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    Synopsis:
    Grayson Carter. Legally blind, early twenties, Asian-Caucasian, adopted. Grayson’s life could be boiled down in such a way. When his life was destroyed all too suddenly, thrust from the comfort of home, he was forced to make a move. So where else would he move but his ancestral home of Japan?

    This is the story of Grayson and what he learns about himself, the world, and the others around him in a little-known place that just so happens to be the most spiritually active place in all of Japan. Karakura Town.


    A few words:
    This story is one I started with the express purpose of trying to have fun, which then quickly became me trying to think of ways to make a good Bleach fan-fic, that then lead to me placing the events of this story after the events of cannon. In short, this is a post-cannon fan fiction, which is a little atypical from what I've read of fan fictions, but it affords this story far more freedom than those with the chains of cannon binding them to a regimented storyline. This fiction stars an OC main character and most of the main cast, though do not worry! Appearances of old characters will be there, and will be a prevalent part of the story, focusing on how they evolved and changed after the end of cannon Bleach, and how they change through the course of the story.


    What should you expect?
    Within the first month or so of posting, this story will be posted around 3 or 4 times per week and then after that period, there will be a drop to 2 chapters per week.


    Hope you enjoy the story!
     
  2. Threadmarks: Chapter 1: A Place to Go
    Sarius

    Sarius Not too sore, are you?

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    Chapter 1: A Place to Go

    I have a pet suspicion that planes are really temporal devices in disguise.

    Every time I have been on a plane, the flight either takes only an hour, or what feels like twelve, irrespective of the actual amount of time the flight is slated for. What it is that makes this happen, I’m not entirely sure. You could certainly put it down to how you feel about your destination, or maybe what activities you have on the way there, but I don’t buy it.

    For months I’ve been in a fugue state, content to sit and contemplate nothings rather than go out and get at ‘em. So, it was strange to me that a flight to Japan, a pretty lengthy flight, felt so short.

    I made this decision to move to Japan quite radically, not a usual mainstay of my personality, for sure.

    I’m what you would call risk averse. Maybe there are good reasons for me being that way, but when it really comes down to it, it’s usually out of self-preservation or apathy. Maybe I keep it well hidden from others, or they choose to ignore it out of politeness, but these emotions, or maybe states of being is more accurate, rule my life.

    Nowadays I’m a little better. The benefit of good parents, I guess. Socialisation, the case worker had called it. Socialisation and learning to trust.

    In the end there I really did try. I tried everything I could, but I’m not sure that I changed all that much from who I was back then.

    There was a sharp sound as a crackling noise came over the plane’s PA system. The unassuming voice of the captain came over the speaker and talked about landing, and I just zoned him out, content to sit in my bubble and relax my brain before what was bound to be chaos for at least a few hours.

    “Are you alright, sir?” I heard someone say from directly on my side, before gently tapping me on the shoulder. The feminine voice was heavily accented English, so much so that I wasn’t entirely sure that she was capable of having a nuanced conversation in English, having probably learnt the phrase for the job.

    To avoid a possible misunderstanding, I looked in her general direction, smiled and nodded. That seemed to pacify her, and she bustled off to probably go tell that guy a few isles back to quiet down again.

    Over the course of the next twenty minutes I felt the plane slowly tilt downwards, a strange experience for everyone, I’m sure. Thrilling in its own way. The moment before touchdown is my favourite, the strange little lurch before the pilot feels comfortable committing to putting down the wheels of the plane was something I adored for signalling the end of a long flight.

    Not that I hated flying, but more that I’d rather be in a hotel room sleeping.

    The plane touched down and slowly pulled into the little airport that Karakura had. Thankfully they had one, otherwise I’d be forced to endure another two, almost three hours of travel from the nearest airport. From here it was only a good ten minutes and I was where I needed to go.

    Ten more minutes of taxiing the plane to wherever it needed to be, and I was gently tapped on the arm again.

    “Sir, we have begun disembarking, do you require help retrieving your bag?” This was another feminine voice, smooth and unhindered by an overly strong accent. She was obviously much more learned than the other air hostess. I pushed up the thick lensed glasses that had fallen down my nose ever so slightly.

    “Yes, thank you. Will I be passed off to someone else after we get off the plane?” I asked. I didn’t really need to know, but conversation never hurt anyone.

    “No, I will be guiding you to retrieve your luggage and then to a taxi if needed. After that, it’s the end of my shift.” She said, a hint of tired joviality in her voice.

    “Ooh, lucky.” I put on a faux jealous face and she laughed. “I’m Grayson, by the way.” Sticking out my hand in a rough approximation of where hers would be.

    “Suzumi, nice to meet you.” She grabbed my hand and pulled it farther to the right. Almost had it.

    “What brings you to Japan, Grayson? Meeting with family?” A question I’m sure she’s asked a million times, but a helpful one nonetheless.

    “Oh no, I might be a half,” I gestured to my vaguely Asian features, broken by blue, lidded eyes and strong jaw, “But I don’t have family here that I know of. It was a diversity visa, apparently. Wanted a big change in life, and it seems like Japan decided to open its doors to any sort of diversity it could get for the first time in, well… ever.” I laughed, and Suzumi followed with her own peal of laughter.

    “Ah, I’ve heard of it. Quite controversial at the moment. Many purists are not happy, but they are old now, new governance is making a push for a ‘better Japan’. Has been a long time coming.” I nodded thoughtfully. I had always heard that, at least in the past, Japan was relatively xenophobic due to relative global isolation and extremely low population diversity, but it was good to see that not everyone held the same values.

    “Good to hear. The whole world seems to be going through a big change in governance these days. Politicians are quite a fair bit younger than previous decades. Almost everywhere is receiving some much-needed progress.” I could feel that she was nodding along. A progressive minded person it seemed.

    While chatting about minor changes in the world she gently helped me from my seat and guided me towards the exit of the plane, leading me down a long flight of metal steps. The height of it definitely worried me, entirely too uncomfortable with not knowing how high up I was and feeling the warm, slightly humid air bushing past my face.

    As we slowly descended the stairs, one arm held tightly by Suzumi and the other clasping the metal handrail that I swear was too flimsy, Suzumi spoke again.

    “A lot of Japanese business and business culture is opening up to outside influence. There is probably a political reason for this, but many people’s lives are changing rapidly in their workplace, and they are reflecting it into their regular lives. Its…” she paused for a moment, thinking of the right word as we stepped down onto the tarmac and she guided me towards the door into the international terminal, “endearing. It’s endearing to see the world change like this.” She said, her voice proud of her usage of the word. I laughed gently.

    “Well, it’s allowed me to be here, so I’m not going to complain.” Suzumi laughed and quickly talked in Japanese to, assumedly, another employee before leading me through the terminal once again.

    One thing that, without fail, throws me off about other first world airports is the ‘familiar, but not the same’ sensation. Simply being here, the smells were similar, mostly, the same flooring was used for basically any airport, either tile, weird carpet, or that weird plastic wrap stuff that I couldn’t honestly describe if I tried. But there were differences as well. The way crowds moved, the realisation that someone wasn’t speaking English in a private conversation, the smell of food as we walked by a storefront. The smell of a different chemical being used to clean the toilets than what I’m used to. All these things compound to give an uncanny valley experience, something that I prepare myself for every single flight, but always managed to affect me unduly. Suzumi tapped me on the shoulder gently.

    “Grayson? Are you alright?” She asked politely, but there was an undercurrent of concern. I smiled towards where she stood beside me.

    “I’m just acclimatising. Maybe coming to terms that this is possibly going to be my home for a while.” I could feel a spike of concern from Suzumi, a flicker of something entered the murkiness of my vision, but I pushed it down. My tone had been a little sadder than I had meant it to be.

    “Are you sure?” She struggled for words after that, but simply let the question stand. I slowed the pace of my walk for a moment and thought.

    Was I sure? Was I okay? Was I alright?

    “No, I’m probably not alright, Suzumi,” I looked towards her and smiled again, trying to be as genuine as possible, “why else would anyone be so ready to leave their home and go somewhere else?” I laughed gently, politely even. Maybe she understood, maybe she didn’t. I couldn’t see her face to tell.

    There was silence for a moment. I wasn’t a man uncomfortable with my own emotions, but I was unsure what Suzumi’s reaction would be. I could have potentially committed a terrible faux pas and would be forced to commit seppuku along with nine generations of my family, if they can find them anyways.

    But it became apparent that it was contemplative silence. Maybe she knew a lot of travellers like me, seeking the new to drown the old, and had prepared a long speech over the course of several showers and restless nights.

    “I see.” She said simply.

    Or not.

    But I could tell she cared about what I had said. It was… refreshing. Over the course of our short interaction I had uncovered a woman who cares, truly cares, about a total stranger. I could feel a bond form that escaped direct words, as she gently held onto my arm and slightly increased the tightness of her grip, I could tell that she had that same gripping attention.

    It was then that a ribbon formed, directly in front of my eyes. I looked at it and felt an odd wave of calm. I tried to push it down and, as expected, I wasn’t able to. I could never actually push down the important ones. A soft peal of laughter escaped me as I looked at the ribbon that directly lead back to Suzumi. I could feel the concerned look but used my other hand and waved it away.

    “I’m sorry, an old friend just popped into my head.” I grinned. I heard a rustle of hair and clothes, which I presume was a nod or some other gesture, before she realised.

    “Oh, sorry. I nodded.” I laughed again, and I swear I could feel the blush on her face through the ribbon in front of me.

    “It’s alright. It happens more often than you’d expect. We say so much through our bodies, it is hard to separate language from that. Even I do it on occasion.” I smiled kindly, directly towards where the ribbon led, shrugging for effect. There was a moment of silence where I felt a very specific question brew. I could tell it was coming, so I decided to take the pain out of it.

    “Degenerative neurological disorder of some kind. They think.” I chimed in. There was a short, shocked pause.

    “Oh, I’m sorry…” She trailed off, lost for words, the ribbon in front of me gaining a little bit of tightness to it. It sounded really scary to be fair. I just laughed.

    “No, don’t worry about it. There is a reason for the ‘they think’. Honestly, they have no clue what it is that I have. I may well be the only person in the world with this specific set of symptoms. I even see ribbons, apparently as some sort of weird workaround for my brain to visualise people.” I shrugged. The ribbon loosened, relaxing to a happy state.

    “I’m unsure if that is a good or bad thing.” She said, her voice still laden with concern, but with a joking edge to it.

    I looked forwards into the murky fog that was the remnants of my vision. A cloud of murky grey, lights, and shadows. Suzumi’s ribbon drifted into my vision once more, vying for my attention. I chuckled.

    “Why does it have to be either?”

    We simply walked in a comfortable silence, enjoying the short smattering of words between us as we waited for my luggage at the unloading area. Then slowly made our way towards a booth that was going to link me up with a business that was effectively bankrolling my stay here, in return for me being a worker in their office. I had heard the term ‘white monkey’ jobs being thrown around, but it wasn’t like I was going to care if they picked me for such a simple reason.

    Suzumi gently guided me along, surprisingly considerate of things that normally weren’t thought of by those with sight. No sudden jostling or pulling, gentle suggestions and not a single time were my feet were stepped on, or was I pulled out of the way of anything suddenly.

    We arrived at the small booth and I greeted the person that I assumed was behind the counter. There was no response initially, so I tried another few times before I realised that the attendant probably just didn’t know any English and was effectively avoiding having a conversation with me.

    I turned towards where Suzumi was standing behind me and she moved forward and began to speak rapid fire at the employee. It was a moment later that I heard some of the only Japanese that I know.

    What is his name?” The employee asked Suzumi in Japanese.

    “Grayson Carter.” I said to the employee, lightly startling them, and then slowly going back to spell out the name letter by letter.

    There was a moment of silence before the employee spoke some words that included “I’m sorry.”

    I felt a strange foreboding sensation before Suzumi even turned to look at me.

    “Grayson… The company that was accepting you went bankrupt a few days ago.” An existential dread pierced me, anxiousness hitting me in a moment. “Do you have anywhere to go?”

    That one single question cut deeper than I expected it to. An open wound simply being cut wider out of pure circumstance. I closed my eyes for a moment, leaving only the pure white ribbon floating in my vision, radiant against the darkness of the eyelids. I opened my eyes and looked directly into the source of the ribbon.

    “No. No I don’t.”


    A/N: Thank you for reading the first chapter of Ribbon! This story will be updating more very soon, as well as my other fictions; Unwieldy and Fixture in Fate!
     
  3. Threadmarks: Chapter 2: An Application
    Sarius

    Sarius Not too sore, are you?

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    Chapter 2: An Application

    Suzumi pulled out what seemed like a futon out of a cupboard while I sat on the nearby couch. I guess this was as close as sleeping on someone’s couch as I would get here. She grunted briefly with the effort of moving the heavy thing, and I wished that I was confident enough with my surroundings to be able to help her.

    There was a thump as the futon hit the floor of Suzumi’s small apartment. It was all of three rooms, if you counted the open kitchen. It felt more like a hotel room than anything, lacking the space that houses back home had in droves.

    We had ascended five flights of stairs to get to her floor, a total or one hundred and fifteen steps. Knowing that number would make it easier for me to get up and down with less assistance. I whipped out my phone and started to navigate it, the sound of a woman’s voice at eight times the normal speed sang out from the speakers as I navigated to my maps app and quickly input where I was staying using the braille keyboard, giving me a quick rundown of the stores nearby and the nearest train station.

    There was silence for a moment, Suzumi having stopped moving, and even her ribbon tilting its end to the side, like a confused puppy. I laughed and looked at her, eyebrow raised. The ribbon shook itself free of its confusion.

    “I’m sorry, I’ve never seen a blind person use a phone. Not like that anyway.” She said, flustered while returning to setting up a small space for me to be able to sleep on the loungeroom floor.

    “No worries, I don’t think most people think we can even use phones.” She laughed awkwardly, obviously only just learning as much. She seemed to finish setting up the futon and plonked down beside me on the couch.

    “Thank you again for allowing me to stay. I’d have had to find a hotel last minute.” She made a gesture that I assumed was waving the statement away.

    “Honestly, it’s no problem. It was my own fault for jinxing it by talking about how the workplaces are getting better.” I laughed at that, and then was reminded to check my emails. After a moment of navigation, I ended up laughing bitterly.

    “Received 6:22 AM.” The robotic voice of the text to speech sounded. Suzumi groaned, having caught on.

    “Seriously? That’d have been only a few minutes before the flight!” The email sent from the company to tell me that the entire company had gone bankrupt had only been sent to me three whole minutes before my flight boarded.

    “So embarrassing!” Suzumi groaned and seemed to be rubbing furiously at her face in rage and cringe. I just laughed at her antics.

    “Oh well, what’s done is done. Maybe I won’t end up being in Japan all that long after all.” I sighed, resigned to simply being unlucky. But it seemed like Suzumi had a different idea. She quickly apologised before bouncing off of the couch and into the other room, which I could only presume was her bedroom, before running back out and launching herself into the air and landing beside me.

    “Okay! I have my laptop. We are going to find you a new company!” I turned to her eyebrow raised.

    “Would anyone even bother? It took weeks on weeks to set up a position in the other company, who wants to take a foreigner on this short a notice?” Suzumi shook her head, mirroring it in her ribbon and, like the ball of optimism she was she started to read out position after position.

    A good half or three quarters of them were way out of my capabilities, being blind and all, but some that include simple rote tasks I had proven in other workplaces that I was capable of performing. And if I was allowed access to certain specialised equipment, I was able to pretty easily use a computer, having spent a fair share of my life desperately trying to use the computer for games to play with school friends.

    The evening progressed into night, having only managed to send a few resumes to some of the larger companies. It slowly progressed to be more and more local companies, ones that both Suzumi and I had less faith that they would take me on. After discussing with her just how much work it’d take for a company to give me the ability to be an effective worker, we decided to apply to only the small businesses that I had immediately transferable skills in, like some retail jobs and simple rote learning.

    There were a few cafes that were focused on disabled employees and we applied, not looking a gift horse in the mouth, but I secretly hoped that someone else would accept me first before I had to work in a place like that.

    Not to stigmatize or anything like that, but it sounded like the job had its own challenges. Especially with the other employees, and I wasn’t sure that I was all that prepared for that kind of environment.

    It’d been hours now and was well into the early morning. Why Suzumi was so committed to helping me out was totally beyond me at this point, even if she had no flights tomorrow. I was about to tell her to go to bed, after her downing a few glasses of wine, when she burst out in uncontrollable laughter. I had no idea what it was she was laughing at, but her semi-delirious laughter was infectious in the best sort of way. I couldn’t help but start giggling myself while desperately trying to get it out of her.

    “What? What’s so funny?” I said, grabbing her shoulder and shaking her gently. She laughed louder at my touch before eventually calming down enough to speak.

    “T-there’s a job posting for a candy shop and it sounds so macho!” She burst out in another wave of laughter before she started to read the listing in a bad manly voice.

    “This job is only for those with the utmost limits of human physicality, striving towards strength beyond strength and willing to challenge themselves to their absolute ends. The weak will not be accepted. If interested, please send a letter to attached address.” At the end her voice cracked, releasing another fit of laughter, one I joined in on in earnest. In fact, it ticked us so much that in the next ten minutes that we spent giggling to ourselves, cracking jokes about how I was going to become the strongest person alive at this candy shop, we managed to print off my resume and envelope.

    On the front, as a joke, Suzumi wrote ‘To become the Strongest’ on the front of the envelope, making us giggle even harder, before there was a bang on the roof from the apartment above us, reducing out giggles to snickers.

    After a long moment, having finished out almost thirty-minute-long giggle fest, Suzumi and I sat on the couch, tiredly gazing into nothingness.

    “Thank you for this.” I said, after a long moment of silence. She didn’t bother to try and reflect the genuine thank you, just nodding her head in a subtle response. I couldn’t help but wear a comfortable smile on my face. Something that I swear I hadn’t worn in months. Maybe a year at this point.

    “Well, I think I should go to bed.” She said but didn’t move. Subsequent moments passed, and she still didn’t move. I turned towards her, and I could only assume that she was looking back at me. I smiled and wrapped my arms around her, holding her tightly for a moment, breathing her presence in. Those few moments were glorious, and then I pulled away, getting up myself and carefully navigating around the coffee table in the centre of the room, eventually laying down on the futon.

    “Good night, Suzumi.”

    I’m not sure that she ever moved back to her own bed






    There was a long, drawn out hum from a strangely dressed man sitting on a stool in front of a large and even stranger machine. He pressed a finger to the machine and it growled to life, before a high pitched screeching noise started to emit from it, a piece of paper being printed with rapidly fluctuating statistics.

    The man himself growled, taking off his hat and scrubbing his unruly blonde hair. He rarely ever got frustrated while working, but this machine had been annoying him for the better part of a few decades. It’d always been a little off, some interference here and there, but this was ridiculous.

    As it was, the machine was practically unusable. In theory, the machine was perfectly stable, he must have checked every part and every element thousands of times, replacing them just as many times with more and more advanced parts. It was undoubtedly the most advanced and the most sensitive Soul Reader ever made. As far as he was aware anyways, that bastard always ended up cribbing his stuff and doing crazy things to it.

    As far as the man was concerned, he had created the most soul sensitive device ever, and it was going haywire for no apparent reason.

    But the man knew himself too well, planned too well, to let ‘no apparent reason’ slide. Just because the reason was not apparent, didn’t make it any less insanely dangerous.

    He had always considered the possibility that it was a captain class being, or maybe beyond captain class in the orange haired brat’s case. But it was too consistent to be that way. It was always reading the same, and all other variables would shift. Even when major powers would end up here, the readings would always be the same.

    It took years for the realisation of that fear to kick in. Something was lurking in the shadows and he had no idea what it was. Not knowing at all was a new kind of terrifying to the man. A special kind of fear that he hadn’t truly experienced in a long, long time.

    He had always had pieces of the puzzle, at least a few. But this was the only one he had, and it was just downright confusing.

    The keening wail of the machine suddenly began to grow louder and louder. The man’s eyes widened, before he turned to the door of his lab, rapidly picking up his cane, whose length disappeared to become a sword. He hastily pointed the sword at the door, as it flew open to reveal a tall, muscled man with tanned skin, hair tightly pulled into small braids. There was a moment of silence between the two before the sword was lowered and the large man pushed his glasses further up his nose and coughed gently, before holding out a letter.

    Immediately the screeching machine started to burn, shocking the large man, dropping the letter on the floor and making him take a step back.

    The blonde man coughed and spluttered as he desperately turned the machine off and waved away the fire and smoke with a hand. After the fire died down, the two men were left looking at each other quizzically.

    “I’m going to go tend to the store.” The muscled man said factually, before turning on his heel and closing the door behind himself.

    As soon as the large man left the room, the blonde-haired man picked up the letter on the floor. There were words written on the front, “To become the Strongest”. The man’s scepticism rose, apprehension filling ever moment as he slowly pried the clean, white envelope open to reveal it’s contents. He hesitantly allowed the envelope to empty itself onto his lab table, watching the paper fall to the table, waiting for something to happen.

    A moment passed, then a second. He nodded to himself and evaluated the probability that the contents were a trap and found it exceedingly unlikely. Even still, he decided to lift it off the table without the use of his hands, slowly floating the paper into the air and unfurling it while it floated far enough from his face that he was able to create a simple barrier in time for a possible explosion or other external effect.

    As the paper unfurled in the air, a look of consternation passed over his face. He read and re-read the contents of the paper over and over. Even looking his wariness and going so far as to hold it in his hands. He looked for clues, codes, anagrams, secret messages, signals, anything.

    But there was nothing. No hidden trick or clue, no mysterious threat or bargain. Just a simple…

    “Job application?”


    A/N: Hey there! It’s the first day of my true uploading process for my stories! As such, you get another chapter of this story. I hope you enjoy!

    Also, join my Discord, if you can!
     
  4. Threadmarks: Chapter 3: Hourly Rate
    Sarius

    Sarius Not too sore, are you?

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    Chapter 3: Hourly Rate

    I awoke, snuggled within the futon on the floor of Suzumi’s apartment, hearing and smelling the cooking of food from only a few metres away in Suzumi’s kitchen.

    I quickly began to rise from the floor and plopped myself down on the couch. I checked my phone, the same robotic voice telling me that it was 12:43 pm. The sound of the super speed voice alerted Suzumi to my wakefulness.

    “Grayson! You’re awake!” She said cheerfully. I looked over in the direction of her ribbon and smiled gently.

    “Good—well—afternoon, Suzumi. Have you been up long?” The stove was turned off and food was being removed from whatever it was being cooked in and plated.

    “Oh, you know, just going around doing odd jobs and all. I’ve been up a few more hours than you already.” She said as she bustled over to the couch and placed a plate or bowl on the wooden coffee table in front of me.

    “What’s this?” I asked, curious. I felt out in front of me, placing my and flat on the table and sliding it across to where I thought the plate was so I didn’t accidentally get a hand full of food.

    “Just quick egg fried rice. Nothing special. Picked up western cutlery from a store on the way home though.” I picked up a decently sized bowl with one hand, and my other hand had a spoon gently placed into it and I started to eat.

    “Hey, this is pretty good!” I exclaimed. Truthfully, I’d been worried about the differences in foods but this was pretty close to home for me, so if worst came to worst, I was able to survive off of egg fried rice.

    “Why thank you, kind sir.” Suzumi said smarmily and I rolled my eyes at her. She giggled a little and continued to eat her own.

    “Oh! I also put that letter in the post for you.” I thought for a second before I remembered the silly job posting and we broke out into another little giggle fit.

    “I wonder if I’m going to get a reply from them. Or anyone really.” I said ponderously, but Suzumi cut in, seemingly thinking I was getting down on myself.

    “If you don’t, then I’m sure I can pull some strings with my mother. She wouldn’t be able to get you anything fancy, but she’d be able to get you something.” I hummed into a mouthful of food and then swallowed.

    “What does your mother do?” I said before taking another spoonful and shoving it into my mouth. I was hungrier than I thought.

    “Owns a small business on the other side of town. She knows basically every small business owner in Karakura, a real socialite she is. Really good at buttering people up too.” She laughed like she’d stumbled upon an inside joke for the first time in a while, and I smiled at her antics.

    “Ah yes, now I see where it comes from. Apple never truly falls far from the tree.” Even Suzumi’s ribbon looked scandalised by that one. I let out a peel of laughter while Suzumi jokingly tried to argue.

    We spent a few hours, just sitting near each other talking about nothings. I learned that her full name was Suzumi Hamase, that she was a ‘half’, her father being American and her mother being incapable of anything but the most basic English—despite her father being both incredibly well learned in English, doctorate level apparently, and also being fully fluent in Japanese plus being obsessed with learning new kanji.

    As the story went, he was so terrified that his future daughter would ask him about a kanji, or how a word was said, or what it meant, that he spent years cramming as much Japanese into his brain as he could. He had worked as a high-level English and Japanese teacher, much to the chagrin of the other Japanese teachers who couldn’t beat him in niche kanji structures. It was then that I realised that the stories of her father contained a lot of ‘had’ and ‘did’, and not much about what he was doing now.

    I wrapped an arm around her shoulder as she recounted stories about her father. His wacky hijinks, the strange situations he always seemed to get himself into, all the way to the otherness that her and her father faced together. The slight exclusion, the feeling of inadequacy to her peers because of her heritage, and her frustrations with being unable to show everyone how great her father was, without being looked at oddly, without it being commented on.

    Before long we arrived at the part of the story that we both knew had been coming. While she sunk deeper and deeper into my half-hearted embrace, she told me of the day her father hadn’t come home. The day that his bicycle remained at work and he had died because of a simple fall in the street. She recounted the terrifying anxiety as the police arrived on their doorstep, when they rushed to the hospital, unable to get there before he had sunk into a long, long sleep.

    There was a silence between us after that. I could feel the wetness on my chest, her face buried into as comfortable a place as she could. I couldn’t say anything, mostly because I too had tears running down my face. I knew her every word was filled with so much emotion, so much experience behind it. I could almost see the moment when the blue and red light showed through the thin curtains, the horrible suspicion that your door was going to be knocked on, and then the knocks on the door that changed the course of your life forever.

    For just as much time as we talked, we sat there in total silence, a lazy hug and gently rubbing circles on her back while she lay on my chest. I wondered if she was now sleeping in my arms, but slight sniffles every now and then said otherwise.

    “I’m sorry, I don’t usually dump this sort of stuff on strangers.” She said, almost mumbling it into my chest. I let out a low chuckle.

    “No, you’re alright. I’m sure that you also don’t let strangers sleep on your living room floor. You’ve done a lot for me recently. The least I could do is listen.” She lifted her head from my chest and her ribbon mimicked her looking directly into my eyes. I lifted my hand from her back and embraced her cheek with my hand.

    Her skin was smooth. It was warm and wet with tears, but I gently bushed them away, taking utmost care to not accidentally jab her in the eye. I felt her lean into my touch ever so slightly. I could only smile, if only a little uncomfortable with the intimacy of the situation.

    “Your father sounded like an amazing man. I wish I could have met him.” Her ribbon quivered ever so slightly, and a hot tear rolled onto my thumb.

    “You are a lot like him.” She choked out, sadness and happiness intermingling in an odd fusion of emotion. I chuckled, leaned forwards and gently touched my lips to her forehead, a risk that I somehow knew was fine to take.

    “A compliment of the highest order!” I said boisterously as I moved back from her forehead and grinned. She laughed, a sound that must be divinely created to soothe the greatest of pains. Just as I was about to speak there was a knock on the door. A heavy knock.

    It broke the moment, but I grinned through it.

    “Sounds like we have a visitor.” Suzumi jumped up, filled with a renewed energy, and just about skipped towards the door. A real energizer bunny, that one. There was a momentary pause before the door unlatched and Suzumi opened the door. Suzumi said something in Japanese that I think was ‘Hello, can I help you?’. There was a sound of a throat being cleared and then a very deep, resonating voice reached my ears.

    “Is Grayson Carter living here, ma’am?” This was spoken in fluent English with no noticeable accent.

    “Uh, yes? What do you want from him?” Suzumi responded unsurely. I sensed the nervousness in her voice and decided to get up and carefully wander towards the door where Suzumi was standing.

    “I received a job application from this Grayson Carter, and my boss has made it very clear that he is to be notified of his acceptance as an employee as soon as possible. Ah, you must be Mister Carter.” I moved beside Suzumi in the tight doorway space, looking out towards this person who I could only see the feint outline of. From that much I could tell he was huge. He was easily six foot five or taller, just from eyeballing it. I couldn’t see what he looked like, but his voice was intimidatingly deep, almost enough to rumble the thin walls of the entranceway.

    “I’m sorry, I believe that you may have your hand out. I am legally blind, so if you could clasp my hand…” I reached out my hand and was gently clasped by a very large hand. The man was gentle and considerate despite his size, no squeezing matches against this guy thankfully.

    “Yes, I thoroughly read your application. Your specific skills gained from past experience in the workforce and your willingness to learn shone through quite clearly. I know of very few that have elevated their lives past such boundaries as lacking sight, it is highly commendable.” The man clasped my hand with his other as well, and bowed in front of me, quite respectfully if I remember correctly from what I read about bowing. I quickly bowed deeper.

    “It’s quite flattering of you to say that. I was not always without sight, so I feel I have always had more to gain from a life without it.” There was a grunt of pleased acknowledgement from the man as my hand was given back to me.

    “My name is Tessai Tsukabishi, you are free to call me Tessai, I work as a store clerk for Urahara’s Sweets. Mister Urahara would like to meet you as soon as possible.” As soon as possible? For a sweets shop this recruitment was quite fierce. The vibe that I was getting from Suzumi clutching my wrist tightly wasn’t great.

    “You must realise that I can’t help but be a little sceptical of this. It’s hardly usual recruitment tactics to show up on their front doorstep.” There was a rumbling hum from the large man in front of me.

    “I see. I have not ever hired someone through ‘normal’ means. We had employees in the past, but they have since moved on to greater things. I have put up a job listing but have not received any application other than yours so far. The title of your letter was quite compelling, may I add!” There was a quiet snort from Suzumi, but it seemed to go unnoticed. I sighed. The man seemed genuine, from what I could tell anyways. Just because he was odd, and his boss was odd as well, didn’t mean that he was malicious at all. In fact, he was quite endearing.

    “Mister Tessai, I’d be glad to go with you to this interview, but I’d like to make myself… presentable.” I gestured to my attire, nothing more than a tee and a pair of sweatpants. I got the distinct impression that Tessai nodded and I retreated back into the home to quickly clean up and threw on some clothes that were more appropriate for a job interview. Or job acceptance interview?

    It took surprisingly little time, having already been to the bathroom once in the middle of the night, and having precisely set up my luggage so that I could find everything I needed in no time at all. Not fifteen minutes later I was wishing Suzumi a quick goodbye, saying that I’d call her once the interview was done, and her promising that she would pick me up. I begrudgingly agreed, only because I didn’t have any way of getting home on public transport yet, I’d need someone to guide me through the process at least once.

    Tessai guided me carefully down the steps, though I remembered how many steps there were and was relatively confident in getting down the steps without issue. Soon enough I was in a relatively small car, surprising for such a large man, but he seemed to fit in fine.

    The drive was punctuated with small snippets of conversations, but Tessai seemed like a man prone to internal pondering and was just as comfortable with silence. I listened to Japanese radio for the first time, which was a very strange experience, but at least the songs were enjoyable—for the most part anyway.

    Before long we had arrived at what I presumed to be Urahara’s Sweets. As I got out of the car, I looked to see a strangely shaped building, much in what I imagine was a more traditional Japanese style, rather than the modern stone block buildings that surrounded it—a sharp contrast with the regular surrounding buildings. I was led towards a set of doors that slid open sideways, and into a storefront filled with two rows of product.

    Honestly, it seemed good. Small and easily able to navigate if I had to restock and potentially manage customers, though I wasn’t sure how I’d get around the language barrier just yet. Tessai guided me towards the back of the room where I was lead through a few long corridors and into another room that was far less spacious than the storefront. In the room was a table, low to the ground and who I assumed to be this Urahara character.

    Tessai led me to my seat but moved around the table to sit traditionally with his boss. Urahara said something in Japanese to Tessai very quickly, almost impatiently.

    “Urahara would like it if you were to drink the tea in front of you, Mister Carter.” I got a wave of the heebie-jeebies, but did so, not one to disappoint.

    After one sip of the liquid, I almost spat it out for how disgusting it was, but I desperately swallowed the revolting warm liquid—feeling the strange fizz of the liquid course down my throat slowly, like drinking a syrup. A second passed, and then another, and an inexplicable pressure began to form in my ears.

    It was a strange and somewhat disconcerting feeling, as the pressure started to rise and rise, and the strangeness only began to increase. A flood of words entered my mind, starting as a trickle, then a torrent. For just a moment, I thought I was going insane, before the words stopped and all became still once more—the pressure lessening until it was finally all gone.

    “Well, I assume that worked its trick.” A bored voice intoned. I scrunched my face up in confusion. I could swear that the words he was speaking were Japanese, but I interpreted them as English?

    “Uhm, sir? What was that I just drank?” I said, slightly nervous.

    “Unimportant. What is important is why one of the strongest souls I have ever recorded has walked into my humble little shop?” The same voice, obviously belonging to Urahara, stated, darkening slightly. I gulped, swallowing a sudden overproduction of saliva. I shifted uncomfortably in my kneeling position on my cushion, my knees spontaneously hurting for no reason.

    “I don’t suppose that we could discuss my hourly rate?”


    A/N: Hey there! Hope you all had an amazing Christmas! I didn’t post yesterday to spend some time with my family and enjoy the day as best as I could, but I’m back onto it now! Full steam ahead for little old me!

    Hope you all enjoy a Christmas gift, just for you! :)
     
  5. Threadmarks: Chapter 4: Terse Conversations
    Sarius

    Sarius Not too sore, are you?

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    Chapter 4: Terse Conversations

    Silence reigned over the small room, the two men sitting opposite me quietly observing. This Urahara was speaking absolute nonsense, and I had no idea what to even say to it. Souls? Strongest recorded? What did that even mean? Was this some kind of ridiculous scam? The man opposite me sighed impatiently.

    “Are you going to let up your ruse, or will you force me to drag it out of you?” His voice progressively became darker and darker as he spoke.

    “Honestly man, I have no idea what you’re talking about.” I said, honestly somewhat offended and mightily confused. There was a snapping sound of a fan being aggressively closed, and the sound of cloth rustling, the shadow of Urahara rising to loom over my sitting form—though much shorter than his co-worker.

    No idea, he says.” the man intoned darkly, as if tasting the words and finding them to be revolting, “Not a single clue why your soul might be so powerful that it interfered with a soul sensitivity machine over five thousand kilometres away?”

    The man wasn’t quite yelling. He was the sort of man with a voice that made you question if he was even capable of it. But if I had to pick the single most intimidating presence emanating from a man, this would top the charts.

    “Uh, no?” I mumbled, almost genuinely questioning myself. If that whole sentence wasn’t so ridiculous, I would be far, far more unsure of myself. This man could just about tell me that I killed three people last night in a forklift massacre, and I’d believe him just on how intimidating he is.

    As I uttered the words, I could swear that the temperature of the room dropped, so much so that I began shivering, my body suddenly feeling weak and my breathing becoming laboured. I started to gasp for air, my lungs seemingly incapable of generating enough force to pull in air. The moment dragged on for an eternity, and I began to see clouds of black in my vision of murky grey. My body sprawled on the ground, my muscles unable to hold myself up in even a sitting position, fighting desperately against what felt like gravity itself, as if I were transported under an ocean, bearing the endless weight. I desperately gasped one last time before I knew unconsciousness was coming, or maybe it was death, but no air entered my lungs.

    Just as I had given up, there was a bright flash, something that cut through the murky grey of my vision so clearly I’d swear I could actually see it. A dome of pure white energy suddenly surrounded me, lifting the huge weight off of my back. As soon as the weight had been released, I instinctively took in a breath that left me spluttering, gasping in between coughs, trying to get my diaphragm working in order again.

    “What are you doing Tessai?” The question, that was really more of a statement, hung in the air like an incorrigible scent. His voice itself embodied the word black. It was filled with what I could only describe as murderous intent.

    “I believe that Mister Carter may be simply entirely unaware.” The deep voice was a point of calm within the whirlwind of terror that surrounded me. I swear, at any moment the dome that covered me could go down and I entirely believe that I would die, probably terribly.

    “Unaware? Unaware of holding a soul this powerful? Even Kurosaki manifested his powers in ways, and he had nowhere near as powerful a soul as just a kid!” Urahara’s voice reverberated through my very bones, making my body shudder with the effort to simply resist falling apart to it.

    “He is blind, it is entirely possible that–“ and then it hit me. Powers. Manifestation of powers? I had always thought that the ribbons I saw were a power, unexplainable by any number of specialists I saw. I remember clearly as a child being overwhelmed by just how many there where, sprouting from everywhere and everything, covering my entire vision in a brilliant white blockade of intangible cloth.

    “The ribbons!” I blurted out, and the conversation between the two men instantly died. I immediately felt an entirely new sensation, separate from that of the crushing weight from before. Now it was simply an intense focus, a really intense focus. It was like I was suddenly in a petri dish, an unwilling subject in an experiment that may just cost me my life.

    “Ribbons?” Urahara’s voice was less dark but holding a warning of what may come if I don’t answer satisfactorily. I try to scramble for the words that I always told the doctors when they asked me about it, but I hadn’t been to a doctor in years at this point.

    “I see ribbons. I used to see them everywhere, but I think I managed to filter some of them out, and now I only get the ones that are important to me,” I said, similarly to how I did when I used to discuss it with a therapist, but suddenly realising that Urahara was probably as far from a therapist as I could get, “I- I mean, I think.”

    The silence was renewed, but Urahara’s extreme attention never wavered.

    “What do the ribbons look like?” He said coolly.

    “White, excessively clean.” I shrugged.

    “Have you seen ones of other colours?”

    “No?” I answered, questioningly.

    “Mister Carter, are you able to see a ribbon from either of us?” The large man rumbled. I felt my face scrunch.

    “I mean, I could try? I’ve never tried to see more ribbons, only trying to see less.” There was a silence directly following my words, and it was obvious I was expected to do so. I sighed frustratedly, trying to quell my nerves in the presence of the terrifying men.

    I closed my eyes and concentrated. I immediately saw Suzumi’s ribbon out of the corner of my vision, bobbing in the air not a metre away from my face. It took another moment before other ribbons started to pop into view. It was only a few at first, but as I slowly released my tight grip on this strange sense of mine the ribbons grew, popping into existence from beyond the murky grey wastes. It went from tens of ribbons, to hundreds, until an uncountable amount of them covered every centimetre of my vision, battling each other for space, pushing and jostling others.

    I could still immediately tell which ribbon was Suzumi’s, staying the closest to me out of the thousands that sit in front of me.

    “I can see… well, a lot of them. I don’t know how to specifically see yours though.” Scratching my head in frustration, trying to sift through the huge amount of them, trying to tie them back to the two men in front of him.

    “You may need to focus more locally, Mister Carter. Imagine the bounds of your awareness to be confined to this room, the walls a barrier between your sense of the soul to reach beyond. Constrict it to just this room and what is within it.” I nodded, and with some effort I reigned in my sense, drastically cutting down the of ribbons further and further, though Suzumi’s ribbon stubbornly remained in my vision. However, as the ribbons slowly dissipated, being pushed away by my constriction of my senses, two ribbons began to shimmer into existence slightly further away from my face than normal.

    At first, they were unremarkable, not clear enough within my vision to see correctly, but as my curiosity grew, my focus on those two ribbons became hyper specific.

    They were both a striking red. A colour I had never seen a ribbon be before, only seeing the same pure white for everybody. But it went further than just the change in colour, as I looked at them more closely, I saw patterns weaved into the ribbons, as if they were conglomerations of hundreds of different ribbons sewn and weaved into one, blood red ribbon.

    “I see them! They are red, and look like they have designs in them even, I’ve never seen anything–“ I was cut off buy another wave of even more intense pressure. The smell of ozone filled the air, as if it were about to rain. Due to the white barrier that surrounded me, assumedly thanks to Tessai, I wasn’t as affected as I was last time, but my breathing became laboured and began to feel shaky again.

    “He can see our reiraku, in untraceable gigais created by me!” Urahara was very close to yelling at this point, and a spike of fear shot through me. This man had been so close to knocking me unconscious, if not killing me, only minutes before. I had little doubt, after feeling that pressure, that he could kill me if he wanted to, possibly even with Tessai trying to stop him.

    “And he clearly as no idea what that means, Kisuke. Absolutely oblivious to how extremely difficult that would be.” Tessai’s tone was different now. Before his voice was light, despite its deepness. He was clearly servile to Urahara, and extremely respectful of him. But this tone was different, it was commanding, a magnetizing force in its own right. Tessai was drawing a line.

    “With this sort of power, he’d be capable of exposing almost anything we did, if the wrong person managed to get their hands on him, he could singlehandedly change everything.” Urahara’s voice was low and quiet now. Menacing in its intensity. But Tessai moved swiftly, surprising for his big frame, instituting himself in between me and the murderous candy store owner.

    “And we have him in our hands. He is a living version of the soul reader we have been working on for decades!”

    “He is too dangerous. If we let him live, someone will find him, and then there will be another war.” Tessai paused at Urahara’s words. I could feel it from how Tessai’s ribbon coiled into what almost looked like a rope. A dreadful anticipation built inside of me, waiting for something tantamount to a bomb going off. Tessai’s ribbon shifted and I braced for impact.

    “I see. If you cannot see reason, then perhaps I shall call upon Kurosaki.” The room went freezing cold. Straight to my very core I believed right there and then that I would die. Then it was gone. The barrier, the pressure and that gaze. All gone in a split second. Urahara huffed like a petulant child.

    “Fine, keep him as a pet if you want, Tessai.” And he strode out of the room calmly. As his footsteps receded down the hallway, and his ribbon disappeared from my view, Tessai turned to me, placing a large hand on my shoulder.

    “Are you alright, Mister Carter?” I shook my head immediately. I was decidedly not alright.

    “What the actual fuck was that, Tessai?” I said, genuinely angry and terrified at the same time. Tessai grumbled something about swearing but let it pass.

    “Mister Urahara has been making a device that is supposed to be top secret, only known to me. He created it to serve as the warning for a potential invader into the Human World. It has been suffering from many issues, despite being the most advanced soul sensitivity device ever created.” He paused to sit on the other side of the low table from me, sighing.

    “What is a soul sensitivity device?” I asked, having only heard Urahara talk about it earlier.

    “Think of it like a radar, but for souls. Especially powerful ones. Though keep in mind that calling it a radar is a gross oversimplification.” I nodded, some of the anxiety slowly seeping away now that I was getting answers for what was going on. I suddenly realised that I was absolutely covered in sweat, my clothes soaked and sticking to my skin. Thankfully, Tessai was observant and offered me a handtowel of some description, that I started to use the wipe myself down as best I could.

    “Anyhow, we had created this device to sense for powerful intruders to the Human World, something that has become a more recent event in the past few hundred years. However, the device always seemed to encounter issues with interference that neither Mister Urahara nor I were able to account for.” Tessai paused, maybe for dramatic effect.

    “That interference was you, Mister Carter. From an extremely long distance, your soul itself is so potent that it was capable of interfering with the device. Your job application letter on its own caused the device to burst into flames when in the same room as it. And yet we are unable to detect your actual power, even while doing so much as physically touching you. It is unheard of.” Tessai’s voice was like a stone wall. There was no room for questioning whether what he said was true or pure fiction, just that it was.

    “How is it possible that you are unable to sense it? If it made the machine blow itself up, wouldn’t that mean that you’d be able to, I don’t know, feel it?”

    “We should. And that is precisely why Mister Urahara acted with such hostility.” I scrunched my eyes up in confusion and frustration.

    “What do I even do with any of this information? I know absolutely nothing about any of this!” Frustration bled through into my words more than I had expected them to. But hell, it was damn justified. Tessai simply hummed in thought for a moment, his silhouette shifted tilting his head to the side and raiding his hand to meet his chin.

    “We train you.”


    A/N: G’day, g’day. How’se you been doin’ this past little while ‘ey?
     
  6. Threadmarks: Chapter 5: A Rush of Emotion
    Sarius

    Sarius Not too sore, are you?

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    Chapter 5: A Rush of Emotion

    I was absolutely destroyed.

    I’d done far better than I had expected, but I hadn’t run anywhere in so many years that I couldn’t even fathom how long it had truly been. The sudden addition of cardio to my exercise diet was shocking, to say the least.

    My body was shaking from the effort of simply standing now, quivering uncontrollably against the weight of gravity.

    The day had taken possibly the oddest turn it could have. From attending a job interview, to accusations of being an interdimensional interloper, to pumping iron with a very buff 6’6, almost 6’7 guy, who is now effectively my personal trainer.

    I was blown away by just how quick things had moved. I had almost been killed by this Urahara guy, and now I was being trained by Tessai? It was just baffling. All the while I was dwelling in my confusion, I heard a car pull up hard, the door opening and rushing footsteps towards me.

    I admit, I panicked a bit. It had been a long day. I threw my arms and practically cowered. There was silence.

    “Grayson?” I heard Suzumi’s voice. It’s warm tones with just that tiny hint of a Japanese accent warmed and soothed me in a way that I’m not sure that I had since… well, a while. Then suddenly, a spike of anxiety hit me. I had just drunk that potion that made me able to understand and differentiate between Japanese and English. I actually needed to be careful to not speak in Japanese. I paused to make sure I was thinking in English.

    “Oh, Suzumi. Sorry I called you out here so late.” I said hesitantly, returning to a more neutral stance towards her, but she wasn’t having it.

    “Grayson, what the hell happened?” She exclaimed, coming closer and touching me gently on the arm, moving close to me.

    “Oh, you know. Nothing that interesting.” She growled in a half intimidating, half cute way.

    “Grayson, you look like you’ve seen a ghost and ran a marathon to get away from it!” She slapped me gently on the arm in admonishment.

    “I mean... yeah, kinda?” There was a pause of possibly just befuddlement.

    “What do you even mean ‘kinda’? You saw a ghost? You ran a marathon?” She was getting genuinely angry, in a ‘I’m worried for you’ kind of way.

    “A marathon, mostly.” I got the distinct impression that her eyebrows were severely scrunched.

    “Why would you have run a marathon, Grayson? In a suit of all things?” Incredulousness was practically leaking from her words.

    “Uh,” my mind blanked, unable to think of any excuse that would remotely explain what had happened today, “I was just told to, alright? I don’t think I really had a choice in it. Part of the job description, I think.” Even her ribbon looked incredulous now. She was preparing to speak again when I simply put my hands on her shoulders and looked into vaguely where her eyes were.

    “I understand that its weird and that it sounds really bad. It really might be that way in the end. But if I let you talk yourself into a fit, you are going to walk in there and demand answers, and I just don’t want it. Not now.” I pleaded.

    Her words stopped, stuck in her throat. She was almost growling with the exertion that it took for her to resist barging right into the shop that sat behind me and trying to suplex Urahara, but she did hold back.

    I just sighed, exhausted.

    “I’ll tell you more about it soon, I swear. But right now, I need to just go home and have a shower and stop standing up. Please?” There was a soulful moment between us, an unspoken conversation had simply by existing near each other, reassuring her that I was fine, but just didn’t want to deal with it right at this moment.

    Promptly after the silent conversation, she slipped herself under my arm, allowing me to lean on her ever so slightly, making it easier for me to walk to her little car. Once inside, the car ride home was almost silent. More out of necessity of me being wiped than either of us brooding.

    The drive home felt long, maybe forty minutes of driving. Far too long for Suzumi to do every morning, especially if she is going to have a shift as a flight attendant again. I have to figure out a way to easily get to Urahara’s shop. I wonder if Urahara’s shop is on my maps app.

    When we arrived home, I suddenly realised that there were steps up to Suzumi’s apartment. Each step was just frustrating, though surprisingly my body held up.

    All my cares flew out the window when I walked inside the cool apartment and struggled to make my way towards the shower. I had to sit on the floor of the shower because of just how little I trusted my legs to keep me upright. It took almost 30 minutes to do a rudimentary wash of my body.

    I stumbled out of the shower, wearing a set of clothes to just relax in. I flopped down on the couch, face down in the soft cushions, too weak to lift myself and reposition. After a moment, Suzumi walked into the room and sat on the couch next to my laying form.

    “So, what are you going to explain?” I almost groaned, but I had promised that I would explain… something. I sighed and forced myself into a sitting position. I took a moment of silence to collect my thoughts.

    “A lot of weird stuff happened in there.” I said.

    “Well that much is clear. You were made to run a damn marathon, Grayson!” She said, a little outrage leaking into her voice. I nodded.

    “I know, but that’s the least weird thing that happened in there. I was told a lot of things. Things I have no idea how to understand or interpret.” The anxiety was starting to get to me now. I had all this crackhead information. If I told her all this, she was basically confirmed to think I was batshit insane. But… it was Suzumi. Maybe, just maybe I could convince her.

    “What sort of things?” Doubt clear in her voice. I sighed, resolving to tell her some things that might simply lead to me being thrown out of her apartment.

    “I was told about my soul. Urahara told me about this thing he was making, had been making for years, decades even. He told me that there had always been interference. He told me that letter we sent, and it came within the same room of the device it exploded.” I was exasperated beyond belief. How had this become my life? This stupid, fantastical sentence summed up the reason why I now know that the ribbons I see are reiraku and, according to Tessai telling me afterwards, are visual manifestations of someone’s spiritual aura, if not their soul.

    “What kind of device would blow up when a letter gets into the same room as it?” She was frustrated with me, a random man from another country who was suddenly spouting near nonsense at her. And she was well within every right to simply throw me out right then, but she simply balled her fists and stared at me so hard I could feel the burning gaze.

    “A ‘soul sensitive machine’ made by the same man that made me able to speak fluent Japanese with tea!” I didn’t quite yell, but the frustration in my voice reached a peak that I wasn’t quite comfortable with, the frustration bleeding through into the latter half of the sentence where I had spoken in Japanese. I quelled the frustration but was only left with anxiety and fear. I felt liquid touch my lips and realised that tears were streaming down my face, leaving hot, wet scars in my face as if the frustration and anxiety was being pushed into the salty liquid itself. I sobbed uncontrollably once, before I clamped my throat shut and furiously wiped my tears away with the sleeve of my shirt.

    There was stunned silence from her, lasting one minute, then the next. Each minute that passed worried me more and more, preparing for words that I simply don’t know if I could handle at this moment. If I couldn’t hear her light breathing beside me, I’d almost have believed she had disappeared right then and there and be done with the crazy talking foreigner.

    “You… can speak Japanese now?” She said in Japanese, still baffled by that discovery.

    “Yeah. I have no idea how he did it. But I drank this foul tasting liquid and it felt like my ears were going to burst, then I could talk with Urahara in Japanese. It was terrifying.” I shook at the memory of the experience. The feeling of pressure in my ears wasn’t that bad, but the conversation with Urahara was easily the most terrifying singular moment in my life.

    “But how? I know that your Japanese was terrible. You couldn’t have faked being as bad as you were, not with how fluent you are now. This is insanity!” I heard a shift of cloth against the cushions of the couch as Suzumi moved closer to me, hugging my arm into herself and moving close into my ear.

    “I don’t know, Suzumi. I just drank this stuff and I could. I can’t understand what the hell he did exactly, I just thought it was a terrible traditional tea or something.” Despite myself I laughed at the past stupidity and just in a self-deprecating way. Suzumi held my arm tighter.

    “Well, okay. I mean, it’s really hard to believe, but the effect is absolutely undeniable. You speak in perfect Japanese with a perfect Japanese accent. I’ve even been using old, obscure Japanese words to speak without loan words, and you can still follow along. How did this even happen?” She said, the doubt still in her voice, but the worry began to subsume it. I had thought myself capable of not telling her the whole truth, but here I was, ready to spill out everything. I just sighed in resignation.

    “I think I almost died today, Suzumi.” There was a sudden shock, her arms clamping around my arm heavily.

    “Remember when I told you about the soul sensitive device thing?” She nodded in response.

    “Well, it turns out that Urahara was making that device because he was worried about someone threatening the ‘Human World’.”

    “The Human World?” Suzumi said, slightly baffled. I shrugged.

    “That’s what he called it. The reason he made it was to detect souls that were powerful, and just act as a warning system. I’d been showing up on this sensor thing basically since I was born, Suzumi. Decades.”

    “What does that mean?” Suzumi said, still baffled but a slight realisation dawning.

    “He thought I was the intruder into the Human World. When I didn’t have the information he wanted about ‘who’ I was and ‘what I was doing here’, I felt this… pressure. It was terrible, like someone increased gravity on me by ten times. I felt crushed by an invisible hand. I couldn’t breathe. I thought I was really going to die, Suzumi.” I realised I was crying again.

    “Tessai saved me. A barrier, I think. Tessai stopped him from doing anything else, just that he called on a name, Kurosaki, and told him off about it. He stopped and told Tessai to manage me and train me. That’s why I ran a marathon.” I was still sobbing, unable to hold the weight of my emotions anymore, strong enough only to curl up in a ball and brace myself against my emotions.

    Suzumi didn’t ask any questions after that, but I got the distinct impression that she believed me. It was intensely relieving to be believed with a story that I felt so obviously false. It made me feel trusted, even though I wasn’t sure that I trusted myself to truly understand what had happened today.

    For the rest of the night I sat there quietly, Suzumi leaning against me, acting as a vital support pillar. Hour after hour passed, the night slowly overtaking day, the TV only paltry background noise to the trauma racing through my mind, the seemingly unending tears.

    I don’t know why Suzumi was treating me so well, like family. We only met a day ago, but already we had shared so much, and conveyed more than I had with very few others in my life, certainly among those that still lived. We had been physically intimate, hugging and even going so far as kissing her on the forehead, but there was nothing in it that made me uncomfortable, that made me wonder what I was doing, questioning my own sanity. Only an overwhelming sense of closeness, a connection I desperately needed.

    After night came in, the rest of those waking hours were spent in a delirium of sadness, an overwhelming, rushing tide of emotion that I had no way to constructively handle, only to desperately brace myself and pray that the next day I wasn’t going to feel the same way.

    At some point I remember being supported and walking, then being laid down on a mattress. The cool sheets and pillow enclosed my body in a solitary fortress against my whirling mind, not a cure, but a soothing agent to sting of the wound.

    It was moments later that I fell asleep, unbeknownst of the beast that I had awakened inside of Suzumi.
     
    lazerwolf, Foxfax, thethomas and 7 others like this.
  7. Threadmarks: Chapter 6: Ribbon Snatcher
    Sarius

    Sarius Not too sore, are you?

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    Chapter 6: Ribbon Snatcher

    The moment I woke up I was already anxious. There was no blessed grace period, where your brain hasn’t truly figured out what to think about for the day and is just booting up. This time, as soon as I woke up, the anxiety was present and sitting over my shoulder, watching me, licking its lips, and waiting for a moment to pounce.

    I struggled up from the bed that I barely remember being placed into, rolling off the side and onto my feet. I walked out into the main living area, greeted with the smell of coffee and pancakes.

    “Good morning.” Suzumi’s voice chimed. Though it wasn’t as cheerful as you would normally hear from her, nor as soft. It had a hard edge to it that was hard to identify.

    “Morning.” I responded, hesitantly, as I felt around for the stool that I knew sat underneath the counter. Finding it and then sitting down, I took in the smells that bloomed from the kitchen in front of me.

    “Is that maple syrup I smell?” I said, sniffing the air, anxiety still present, but allayed by the smell of homely food. A food that held a host of memories, all of them tied to a comfortable home and the love of a mother I wasn’t sure I deserved.

    “Yup! It’s not the weekend or anything, I just felt like it was a good start to the day, especially after yesterday.” Her voice was smiling, but the emotions behind it were not. I just nodded, waiting quietly while Suzumi finished cooking the pancakes. The sounds and smells created a comfortable atmosphere that allowed me to confront the fact that I needed to go back to Urahara’s shop.

    There was no avoiding it. I wasn’t under the illusion that it was possible for me to run away, not in the slightest. If I ran, Urahara would find me easily, and I wouldn’t be given a second chance.

    The man was terrifying, and he had haunted my dreams the night before. A looming presence, a person that believed so strongly that you shouldn’t have the right to exist. It was terrifying. But Tessai was going to train me, whatever that meant. For now, it seemed like it was just becoming physically able, but how long would that last? When would it become something like what Urahara had done to me, or what Tessai had done to protect me?

    It was all a massive unknown.

    “Here you are!” Suzumi placed a plate on the table, sliding it across the linoleum surface. I smiled weakly at her and felt around for the knife and fork before digging in.

    They were different than ones I had eaten back home. Lighter and airier, less density. I had always found pancakes to be too ‘cakey’ or ‘bready’ for my tastes, so this was a welcome change. Despite the headsman approaching, the marker for the rest of the day, I felt my mood begin to improve.

    Maybe it was the moodiness from sleep slowly being washed from my brain, or maybe it was just the food, and sharing it with the woman who was now sitting next to me, the clinking of her cutlery reaching my ears.

    “Thank you, Suzumi. For everything.” I didn’t receive a direct response, but there was a slight touch on my hand, a fleeting gesture of kindness. Maybe affection if I were a lucky man.

    The world slowly narrowed as we ate pancakes together, the outside and future becoming less relevant as we simply ate and rubbed shoulders. An odd thing really, that something so simple was able to calm me so absolutely.

    But, in the end, those moments passed. The tell-tale sign that my mind was starting to wander was the ribbons. Not just any ribbons either. I had seen them once, and now they appeared before me again, as if they were keeping watch on me. Their crimson red a foreboding warning.

    “I think I need to get to… work.” I said. Suzumi stiffened.

    “You don’t think you can just not go?” I shook my head. The silence dragged on afterwards, silent contemplation maybe, before she sighed heavily.

    “Alright. I’m going to drive you.” Her voice was more authoritative than I had ever heard from her, but I wasn’t going to complain. I wasn’t all that sure I could handle getting there alone, emotionally or physically. It took only another thirty minutes to finish getting ready, a quick shower to wash before a day that was destined to be a long one, and quickly shaving off the beginnings of a stubble, more out of habit than anything.

    The drive there was uncomfortably tense. Maybe it was just my anxiousness talking, but I could feel an aura radiating from Suzumi, and it begun to make me worried in the last ten minutes of the drive. I wanted to bring it up, but I couldn’t find the strength within me to question her on it.

    Or maybe I didn’t truly want to stop her.

    It was the moment that the car stopped that Suzumi got out of the car uncharacteristically fast. I knew what was happening and called after her, trying to get out of the car as quickly as I could without ending up with a face full of curb.

    I rushed in after her, but it was already too late. I saw Urahara’s and Suzumi’s ribbons right next to each other when I hear the crack of a hand against a face. I was shocked still, standing at the door.

    It was shock first, then fear.

    She had just slapped Urahara. The fear turned into a determination that washed away all self-preservation. I stumbled forwards, using what little I remember of the layout of the shop, somehow managing to not knock into anything hard enough to send me bowling over. When I got close to Suzumi’s ribbon, I reached out my hand, miraculously managing to grab her hand, and I pulled her into me, twisting away from Urahara, shielding her with my own body, as little as I was sure it would do.

    The blood was rushing through my ears as the footsteps behind me sounded out, walking closer step by step. The pressure started again, but lightly in comparison to yesterday, a hand on the shoulder versus a boulder weighing me down.

    “You protect her from me?” The monotone voice asked. There was an underlying current of emotion that I wasn’t quite able to identify. I didn’t respond, the rush of adrenalin quickly subsiding and being consumed by the same fear as yesterday. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t even breathe, let alone talk.

    I could tell that Suzumi felt it now, she was sweating, obviously far more effected than I was. She was struggling to breathe under that same pressure. Another rush of adrenalin hit me.

    “Stop with the pressure,” I growled, anger leaking into my voice, “she can’t breathe!” I could hear Suzumi gasping for air, but the pressure wasn’t subsiding. Urahara still stood there, gazing down at us, the pressure increasing just a little.

    Make me.

    Make him? The anger that I felt grew like a bonfire. Make him? How dare he hold Suzumi hostage and demand that I stop him.

    How dare he.

    In my anger, I forget what it was that I did. It would only be hours later that I figured it out. Tessai would tell me that it was impossible, that stealing reiatsu–spiritual pressure–was something that wasn’t ever theorised properly yet.

    And so when, in the height of my anger, I reached out and grabbed Urahara’s ribbon and ripped it from him, along with it came the idea of someone’s soul being sacred and untouchable. It all came crashing down, like a house of cards.

    Urahara gasped, suddenly devoid of any spiritual pressure, and fell to his knees, his body unable to handle the sudden change. But I wasn’t done, my anger overflowing and bubbling over at the edges, destroying my ability to think.

    I, with Urahara’s ribbon in my hand, yelled incoherently and made a bludgeoning motion with the ribbon. At first, it didn’t even seem like anything happened. But the next moment a burst of power rang out like a bomb, hitting Urahara full on, sending his body straight through the floor of the building, the wooden floor splintering into a million pieces and scattering around the room.

    I felt the ribbon in my hands dissolve, leaking through my fingers like smoke, as if it were never there. Suddenly, I felt drained. More drained than I had after being made to run for hours with Tessai. My eyes began to close, unable to fight the sudden fatigue.

    My eyes closed as I heard Suzumi’s scream, drifting off to a dreamless sleep.





    “Kisuke, what exactly has gotten into you?” Tessai asked, looking over to the perfectly fine Urahara. Urahara grinned from underneath his green and white striped hat.

    “It wasn’t a big deal, I don’t know what you are so worried about!” His tone jovial and dismissive as a whole. Tessai doesn’t get truly angry very often, and most times it is simply a stern sort of anger.

    “What. Were. You. Doing.” This was not one of those times. Urahara peeked from beneath the brim of his hat and sighed heavily, letting go of the jovial façade.

    “I was testing him.” Tessai’s face grew darker.

    “That much was obvious. What were you testing, exactly?” Tessai’s voice barely constraining his anger for the sake of his scholarly curiosity.

    “What his abilities are, of course. The kid is a wimp, I had to push him into a corner to get even a chance of seeing what he was capable of.” Tessai exploded from his sitting position, the table sitting between them being launched off to the side, and Tessai grabbing Urahara by the collar of his shihakushō.

    “And you thought that the best way to do that was to threaten him with the life of his mortal companion?” Tessai boomed, incredulous. Urahara’s expression darkened, looking directly into Tessai’s eyes.

    “Yes.” The two men looked at each-other, each possessing a burning conviction in their eyes. Tessai’s jaw clenched, the muscle rippling in restraint. He grunted, dropping Urahara to the floor. After which reset the table and sat cross legged with arms crossed across from Urahara, devoid of any of his normal respect. It took almost an hour before either of them spoke, the intensity of their stares almost visceral.

    “He stole my reiryoku and used it against me.” This made Tessai’s eyes widen slightly.

    “He repurposed, absorbed?” Urahara shook his head.

    “Stole.” He said, his conviction iron.

    “Your soul?”

    “Undamaged. However, it’ll take time for my spiritual energy to recover properly. It’s not easy to collect this much energy in the Human World.”

    “This is… worrying.” Tessai rumbled, but Urahara shook his head.

    “There seems to be a limit. If he had truly hit me with my entire spiritual energy reserve… well, many would believe that there was a bomb dropped. It seems it took a certain amount of his own energy to do so, the rest dissipated. I was able to collect most of the energy before anything bad happened.” Urahara shrugged.

    “The boy has yet to wake up. Were you not worried about killing him?” Tessai’s voice was hard, but Urahara just shrugged, nonchalant. Tessai stared at him, stony eyed until Urahara gave in.

    “Fine! Yes, I knew the risk and did it anyway. I had an idea that he’d be able to interact with the spiritual ribbons, so I just let him. Yes, I know, it could have killed him to handle that. But it seems there is a natural protection against destroying his soul from handling spiritual energy far surpassing your own capability. I could have stopped him from doing it pretty easily, he’d only be able to pull that stunt with someone on his own level of power, maybe a bit above if they’re stupid.” Urahara huffed. Tessai rubbed the bridge of his nose, pushing his glasses up.

    “Kisuke. You’re going to help train this boy.” Tessai’s words travelled into Urahara’s ears and there was a moment of delay before they truly sunk in.

    “What! No, I most definitely will not train him!” Tessai looked deep into Urahara’s eyes and saw the same petulant child with a genius’ mind, so he treated him as one.

    “You will, and you will also apologise for how you have acted towards him. You have caused extreme harm to both Mister Carted and Miss Hamase. In fact, you will teach both of them.” Urahara’s mouth opened, gaping like a fish out of water.

    “What? You can’t seriously expect me to train a human and whatever the kid is! I have machines to build, experiments to run! There are so many things I can do with th–”

    Kisuke Urahara,” Tessai’s voice rang out with an authority that few possess, even in Soul Society, “you will train the both of them, I will brook no argument from you.” There was another long moment of silence before petulant man sighed, taking off his hat and frustratedly scrubbing his hand through his wiry blonde hair.

    “Fine, but just an hour each, a day.” Tessai nodded. This could be considered generous by Urahara. An hour of the man’s time was something that not many but Kurosaki and his group and Tessai would receive. Maybe Mayuri, if he was lucky.

    “Acceptable.”

    “Good, finally I can go make useful things.” Urahara immediately stood up and glided out of the room on his wooden sandals. Tessai just sighed.

    “What do I do about you, Mister Carter?”


    A/N: And thus, it begins.
     
  8. Threadmarks: Chapter 7: Study Room
    Sarius

    Sarius Not too sore, are you?

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    Chapter 7: Study Room

    I had awoken from my unconsciousness feeling very confused, and very tired.

    My body didn’t want to respond in the ways I wanted it to do, and as I tried to push myself up from the futon that I had been tucked into, I felt my arms wobble with the effort, my muscles complaining under my own weight.

    “Grayson! You’re awake!” An excited voice sounded out in the quiet room.

    “Suzumi?” I pushed myself upright quickly, ignoring the weakness of my muscles. “Are you okay? Were you hurt?” I reached out towards her ribbon, quickly coming in contact with the silky skin of her arm.

    “I– I’m okay. Better than I thought I would be. I understand what you mean now, it was terrifying…” She trailed off, but quickly perked back up.

    “Oh! By the way, Tessai came in earlier and told me that I was going to be trained with you?” I blanched at that.

    “Wait, you want to be trained? If training was anything like before then it’s going to be terrible!” I said, worry overtaking my voice in an effort to convince Suzumi. There was a pause before she spoke again.

    “I think it might need to happen regardless of if I want it or not, Grayson.” I opened my mouth to speak again, but her hands enclosed around mine. Her grip was steadfast, not too tight, but strong enough to let me know of her conviction on the matter.

    “Why?” I asked dumbly. She just sighed.

    “I don’t want to feel like you are out doing dangerous things while I lay at home in bed at night. I want to be able to help you, be able to be by your side when you need me to be. Just like you were…” I flashed back to when I raced forward, dragging Suzumi out of the way of Urahara’s wrath. I hadn’t been able to protect her from a candy shop owner, how was I going to be able to protect her from anything else.

    Why was this connection to each other already dragging one another into dangerous situations? We hardly know each other, and yet this unknowable connection has silently bound us like steel cable, making it seem almost ludicrous that we move apart now.

    I felt something soft and wet gently press against my cheek, and suddenly realised that Suzumi’s face was right next to mine. I almost recoiled, if the sensation wasn’t sending shivers down my spine. After a long moment, she pulled away.

    “That’s for saving my butt back there.” I could hear the smile in her voice, maybe a bit of embarrassment too. I opened my mouth to respond but was cut off when a sliding door was opened quickly.

    “Ah! Mister Carter and Miss Hamase, I must say, its excellent to see you both awake and seemingly doing fine. Mister Carter, are you experiencing any weakness?” Tessai walked through the door and knelt next to me.

    “Uh, yeah I am. I’m feeling pretty tired overall.” I could head the cap of a bottle being twisted open, the neck ring snapping easily under Tessai’s powerful hands. He offered the small bottle to me, which I accepted with hesitancy.

    “This concoction should taste slightly better than the other we had you drink, I assure you.” I nodded, still hesitant, but the man hadn’t so much as fibbed to me yet, so I put my trust in him and took a swig of the small bottle. The effect was immediate. I felt a little bit revitalised, my eyes not quite so dreary and stomach stopped revolting at the lack of rest. I quickly chugged down the rest of the bottle, the strawberry flavoured liquid slowly giving me my energy back.

    “Wow, that stuff is great!” I said, wondering where this drink had been all my life. Certainly could have used it during high school.

    “It is indeed. It is intended to service those with minimal spiritual energy of their own, replenishing it. However, drinking more than one a day will make someone violently ill, unfortunately.” I nodded, I guess there had to be a downside somewhere.

    “Are you going to give Suzumi one?” I heard Suzumi begin to rise to stop me from hassling him, but Tessai spoke before she could.

    “Unfortunately, at this moment, Miss Hamase has little to no spiritual energy to speak of. Humans naturally generate very little spiritual energy. However, her soul itself is unusually strong. Whether that is an effect of being close to yourself, or simply an inherited trait is not discernible at the moment.” I hummed in interest.

    “You think I may have the ability to strengthen souls?” Tessai grunted.

    “I believe that it is possible, given your ability to apparently steal spiritual energy from someone. The ability to alter souls, or grant people power in such ways, is not unheard of, but increasing the power of a soul is an incredibly complex process. It is, quite literally, easier to create a fake soul than it is to enhance an existing one,” The giant of a man seemed to think on his words for a few moment before concluding, “it is extremely complicated, and very few understand souls on the level needed to dramatically alter their abilities and power. I am most definitely not one of them, at least in that specific department.”

    I couldn’t help but be a little confused by that explanation. If you could make a soul, couldn’t you enhance one that already exists? Maybe it was a bit like gene editing. Unknowably complex, but all theoretically possible to implement in humans, just with insane reparations if incorrect. I ended up simply shrugging. I wasn’t sure if I was doing anything to Suzumi in the first place and worrying about it was a total waste of time. If I could seize the ability to do it consciously it’d be a different story entirely.

    “Well, alright. I don’t really know what to do with that information, but I hope it’ll come in handy?” Tessai laughed, a deep rumbling sound.

    “You do that, Mister Carter. Knowledge is truly power in the world we all live in, even if it doesn’t seem so.” Tessai stood back up from his crouched position and I heard his footsteps receding towards the door.

    “As you both seem physically able at this point in time, you will be trained by myself, and then Mister Urahara will train you personally for an hour.” We both stiffened and Tessai sighed.

    “I understand that what Mister Urahara did was uncouth, on many levels, but there is no-one that I would trust more in finding out about your abilities and increasing your power overall. I urge you to put aside your doubts and listen to him despite his… more recent shortcomings.” Tessai walked out of the room without another word, leaving Suzumi and I sitting alone. I listened for a while, but it didn’t seem as if Suzumi was going to speak.

    “Are you okay with this?” I asked, my voice strained with worry.

    “I think so. I don’t like Urahara, and I’m not sure that I ever will. But that power…” She trailed off, but she didn’t need to say anymore.

    Urahara was clearly extremely powerful, on another entire level in fact. I understood little about what Urahara and Tessai were and where they came from, but I can only imagine that there are far, far more than just Urahara at that level of strength. Tessai had even brought up a Kurosaki, someone who apparently even worried Urahara.

    “Yeah, I know what you mean.” There was no more that needed to be said.

    We both stood and walked towards the door, meeting Tessai outside.

    “Good. Today we will be training in the Study Room.” I quirked my eyebrow.

    “Study Room?” Tessai didn’t respond, and started walking towards the back of the shop, his steps quick and consistent. After a few moments of walking, we came to a door that opened and released a burst of warm air towards us, through my hair and skin. I could hear the air rushing through what I could only assume was a staircase.

    “Watch your step, the steps are quite steep.” Tessai said, already moving efficiently down the steps. The day before I had run on an outside oval in a park nearby, this was entirely new to me. Suzumi grabbed my arm, linking it in hers and slowly we started to move forwards.

    “Is it dark?” I asked. I felt her nod.

    “There are torches, but this staircase goes on forever.” She said, nervousness apparent in her voice. I hummed in thought, the dark never really scaring me, obviously.

    “We’ll be just fine, one step in front of another, Suzumi.” She took a deep breath in and we picked up pace. I was counting the steps the entire way, but there was a truly astronomical amount. This staircase was like the equivalent of climbing a hundred stories without the help of an escalator.

    By the time we reached the bottom of the staircase, indicated by Suzumi, we were both puffing from the exertion, but I realised that there was a hell of a lot of light for an underground ‘study room’.

    “Wow! All of this underground?” Suzumi’s voice was filled with genuine astonishment. I furrowed by brow, trying to squint enough to get an impression of what I was supposed to be looking at.

    “What it is? Can’t see, remember.” I distinctly felt that she was blushing a little bit.

    “Uh, right. Its like a whole mini mountain range under here. Its huge, and the walls look like they’ve been painted to look like the sky. Its really impressive!” My eyes widened in second-hand amazement and I heard Tessai laugh heartily from in front of us, the warm air carrying his voice.

    “I’m sure that Urahara would be quite chuffed with your praise. It took him years to make this area.” The mood soured a little at that, but I guess even shitty people can do amazing things.

    “Either way, Mister Carter, Miss Hamase, this is the study room. In here, many of exceptional power have trained and found themselves great power to fight equally against foes of greater strength, and so I have decided that you will train here from now on.” Tessai stopped and thought for a moment before he continued.

    “Training will take up all the time you are capable of giving. Your training will not keep you from loved ones in need, but to train with me and Urahara, nothing but your absolute best will be accepted, and this likely means that you will be unable to do outside work. You will be paid for this time, we have quite an amount of human currency that we do not use, and you will easily be able to subsist off of those funds.” I turned to Suzumi, wondering how she would react to that. She didn’t respond verbally, so I assume she nodded.

    “Good. You will both be worked extremely hard. You will exercise physically with me, learning basic hand to hand combat as well as refining techniques that you learn with Urahara. Urahara will teach you new techniques that will be extremely difficult for you to put into practice. But once he manages to teach you something, then I will refine that so that he is able to teach you something new. I will not understate how incredibly important Urahara’s understanding of your abilities are. He knows much, and him sharing it with you is extremely generous.” Tessai’s voice was like iron, a commander in truth.

    “We will start with basic cardio. Follow my lead.” And he began to run.

    Both me and Suzumi quickly learned that Tessai could run fast. In fact, just keeping up with the man felt almost impossible, but just when you got the tiniest handle on the speed you were running at, the man cranked it up just a little more.

    As you could imagine, trying to run over a rocky landscape was precarious and extremely anxiety inducing. Before long, me and Suzumi had worked out a system making it so that I could traverse the landscape while following the man’s red ribbon.

    “How can you follow him so well!” Suzumi exclaimed, in between puffs, desperately trying to get enough air. I laughed as Suzumi called out a stone ahead, allowing me to avoid it.

    “Remember when I told you about my neurodegenerative disorder?” I said, in between gasps for air myself.

    “Yeah?”

    “Well, that ribbon thing I talked about was apparently me seeing souls.” Suzumi called another hazard and I managed to only stumble without falling on that one.

    “That sounds amazing! Can you see mine?” I turned towards her ribbon and smiled.

    “From day one. I only see the important ones, even when I don’t want to see any.” I laughed when her ribbon coiled in embarrassment.

    “Well, it seems that I am not working you tow hard enough, given that you are still both capable of flirting!” Tessai’s booming voice called out, before he sped up once again. I think we both blushed at that.

    We raced after Tessai, trying our best to keep up. It wasn’t long until I realised that I was actually performing quite well, no, really well. I was barely puffing anymore, able to keep up with the giant man as if he were jogging.

    Suzumi was struggling, but she also seemed to be doing better.

    “Ah, it seems that they have both started to utilise their spiritual energies.” A voice called out, cutting through all other sounds.

    “Urahara.” I growled.
     
  9. Threadmarks: Chapter 8: Structure
    Sarius

    Sarius Not too sore, are you?

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    Chapter 8: Structure

    “Yes, yes. It is indeed me. No need to get your panties in a twist.” Urahara said, attitude flippant. Tessai looked over to the man with a glare, making him turn away from the gaze and sigh.

    “I am sorry from attacking you, though I thought it best to push you so that I was able to draw out what you are capable of, without protracted testing.” Urahara said, his voice not apologetic at all, but Tessai looked mollified, so it was possible that Urahara was never sorry about anything.

    “Your apology was terrible.” Suzumi spoke out, sporting a glare of her own. Urahara shrugged, his overcoat, a haori, rustled along with. Suzumi had explained Tessai and Urahara’s appearance to me earlier. They certainly stood out in Japan.

    “Do you want training or not?” I gazed up at Urahara’s red ribbon, flicking side to side like a cat’s tail. I rolled my eyes.

    “Sure.” I said, making sure he knew from tone alone, that I wasn’t glad about it. He sighed heavily but continued on.

    “Alright then. Thanks for getting them to a point where they can use spiritual energy at all, even if subconsciously.” The taller man gave a nod that reflected in his ribbon, and walked away from us, leaving us alone with the hat and clogs guy.

    “Now that you two both have unconscious access to your spiritual power, all we really have to do to grow that power is to put you under a lot of stress, a happy side effect of today and yesterday’s mishaps.” I gave the man a glare, but he didn’t seem to care.

    “So, I have this magic now?” Suzumi chimed in, her not being any happier than I was, but the curiosity a more burning issue.

    “Well, magic is an entirely different concept. It isn’t even called magic, mind you. Too western for the tastes of the very Eastern Soul Society.” Urahara waved a hand.

    “‘Magic’ is called Kidō, using spiritual energy in a routine way, instead of freeform, but less structured options. Most aren’t extremely well learned in kidō because it takes a lot of effort and time to be able to properly perform it. I would recommend that you learn other avenues and basic kidō barriers before you bother dedicating yourself to it.” Urahara’s voice was rapid-fire, answering many questions before we had even gotten to answering them.

    “What you currently have access to is pure spiritual energy, with no real way to channel it other than through your bodies or expelling it outside of your body and creating spiritual pressure as a by-product. That ‘attack’ that I used against you was simply spiritual pressure.” I grunted, remembering the term from the day before, but it had been a bit of a blur.

    “So… what are you going to teach us?” I asked, eyebrow raised.

    “Well, there are a few interesting things happening here. For one, we have what could be considered a base human with no real special attributes, albeit a slightly stronger soul, and an entirely unknown being, though presenting human, with a massively powerful soul. Though, said being lacks actual spiritual power reserves, interestingly. Something that will no doubt scale exponentially within the coming years.” Out of nowhere I felt a ripple around me, as I heard a clack of something wooden against the stone.

    “Tessai has decided that both of you will be trained, and we have trained base humans before—though mostly soul sensitives—to great effect, but this entire process is changed by whatever it is that you are, Mister Carter,” the sound of the wooden sandals that the man wore rung out against the stone as he walked closer to the two of us.

    “In just the past day alone, since Tessai first met Suzumi, and to when I was subduing her with my spiritual pressure, her soul has drastically strengthened by a not insignificant amount.” The man stopped only a metre or so away from me, and I felt a distinct circular object press into my chest. In that singular moment, I realised I was just as vulnerable as I had been when I laid on the floor, suffering under the man’s aura.

    “What do you think that this tells us, Mister Carter?” I felt like a student that was stood up in front of a class, being forced to answer questions he didn’t know the answer to.

    “I promote soul growth?” I answered, hesitatingly, the man poked my chest and let what had to be a wooden cane fall down, tapping the ground with its end.

    “I told you that already. What it tells us, is that you are able to make base humans that are capable of wielding spiritual energy.” The man walked away from me, his sandals and cane clacking against the stone, moving closer to Suzumi.

    “Why is that any different?” Suzumi asked after a moment of silence, playing into the man’s theatrics.

    “Why, what a good question,” he replied, his voice a little too jovial, “it is different simply because humans, while not devoid of spiritual energy, are rarely capable of a significant soul sensitivity. Some are most definitely capable of interacting with spirits, controlling spiritual energy like yourself and have enhanced physical attributes and so forth. We call them high-spec humans, and those that we have trained before are considered as such.” There was a sudden whipping of cloth as the man turned, the crack of his cane against the stone ringing throughout the cavernous space.

    “However! To have those around you improve their soul in such a way is extremely unusual. The last time there was anything that came even close, it was an object of such power that it created an enemy that we had to lock away under a truly astonishingly powerful set of seals, and they still grow stronger despite that fact.” A chill washed over me, a sudden realisation of just why the man was so quasi hostile towards me. In fact, it was starting to make me worry about all those who I had been around before… those that I may have accidentally gifted supernatural abilities with no knowledge of what they are and what they meant.

    “So, you are worried that I will start raising the power of humans around me, granting them spiritual powers?” In that moment, the man’s eyes cut through the fog of my vision, his grey eyes piercing straight into me. I saw a harrowing preciseness in those glowing eyes, like a knife cutting to my very soul itself.

    “No, it isn’t you I worry about. I worry about who it is that gets their hands on you and decides to empower their army to attack everything I know and love.”

    The words rung out like a clear bell in the space. The words were not angry or sad. They carried shockingly little emotion. The words were, however, fierce. I pondered for a moment, trying to absorb just how terrifying the outside world suddenly seemed.

    “Am I destined to become a tool?” The man scoffed.

    “Destiny? No. Anyone who truly believes in destiny will die to the sword of a man who has the willpower to break it. The reason you are alive right now is because I feel that you could potentially be able to protect yourself. I really don’t want to make a habit of letting powerful artifacts and beings go walkies, furthering another step towards an apocalyptic event.”

    “So, when are we going to learn?” Suzumi spoke up, more curious than anything now. Urahara chuckled briefly.

    “Well, funnily enough, I’m going to start by hitting you with my spiritual pressure, ramping up through the levels and hopefully coax your souls into figuring out how to protect itself.”

    The pressure was immediate, but very light. I heard Suzumi gasp, as if she had been punched in the chest.

    “Hey! I thought that we were done with this!” I shouted, incensed that the man would just do exactly the same thing that he did before.

    “No, we aren’t done with this. We are, however, done with me crushing you for little gain. In this format of training, we are effectively training your soul and body to utilise spiritual energies to counteract my own spiritual pressure. For some this comes naturally, for others like us and most others you will meet, we need to train this ability.” The weight increased further on me, but Suzumi seemed to stay stable.

    “Mister Carter, you are doing well, likely a benefit of your soul being the way it is. Though a strong soul will only get you so far before you need to find other ways to mitigate the hostile aura.” The weight continued to grow and grow, my mind slowly being consumed by the weight of it, trying desperately to hold myself upright as it bears down on my body with relentlessness.

    “How do I–” I began, but the weight increased further, like I had been punched in the stomach, my body dropped to the floor, just barely staying on my knees.

    “Paradoxically, if you are asking the question, you are doing it wrong. Can a fish explain to you how it breathes in water? It is something so inherently natural that an effort to explain it is only of any use after you have learned it.” The weight increased again, forcing my torso closer to the ground, my arms shaking with the invisible weight placed on my back.

    Suzumi, however, didn’t make any noise whatsoever. There were the barest grunts of exertion coming from where she was, not five metres away from me.

    “Good Suzumi. You are getting an idea of what it is you need to do. Regardless of if it is instinctual or not, you need to take hold of that feeling and hone it. Make it a core process as if you were breathing. If you cannot do this much, then there will come a time when someone only a smidgen as powerful as I will simply kill you by walking past you.” Fear hit me.

    Suzumi’s life was that frail? A person could kill her by total happenstance? No, I couldn’t let that happen, not on my life. I gritted my teeth so hard that it hurt, my jaw groaning under the abuse. I began pushing back against the weight in defiance. I could feel it tremble ever so slightly, but it quickly reasserted itself with much more strength, my face now being pressed into the hard stone, my knees being compressed into by chest.

    “Very good, Mister Carter, you somehow managed to bypass the entire point of this exercise and learn how do something else entirely. Using your spiritual pressure to battle someone else’s is the kind of contest you want to be sure that you can win. You cannot. Instead of using your muscles, use your brains.” I let out a strained growl, but quickly returned to trying to combat the seemingly relentless onslaught of weight increases.

    Wait, combat? He had just told me that I couldn’t win. It was like trying to have a go at a tsunami. No, I needed a way to circumvent the crushing weight on my shoulders without directly combatting it. Physically combatting it was just as stupid as the spiritual alternative.

    So, I did what I do best, and closed my eyes. In a single breath the world around me stilled, though still pressed under the same weight. A second breath allowed for my chest to expand further. Another breath, and another. Each a laboured reprisal of my own mind, freeing it from thinking about the situation, and simply letting my body act.

    As I took in a breath, I felt power circulate within me, and with a breath out I felt that power slowly exude from my body. As I continued this breathing, the spiritual energy that was being slowly pushed out of me was creating a capsule of space around me. Using minimal amounts of my energy, I shaped the capsule around me to create a slipstream of sorts within the mire of crushing spiritual pressure. I slowly refined it, creating the barrier around me so that the pressure itself was almost cut, where the force of the pressure was sliced through like the hull of a jet cutting through the air that surrounds it, its aerodynamic shape allowing it to reach speeds greater than sound itself.

    I could still feel the intense weight pressing down on me, but it was like a sudden skill that I now know that I always had, and that was ingrained within myself to a degree that I didn’t fully understand. However, with my brain disallowed from making any judgements, the sudden memory of a time when this skill was mastered flowed through me, the shape of the capsule around me changed significantly, far past the primitive conical shape I had been suffering with.

    The change was rapid, the large capsule suddenly became vacuum fit to my body and as I felt each shift in the energy, the capsule that had become a second skin changed in texture. From a rough and untamed, hazy grouping of energy, it became a solid and incredibly slippery texture that interacted with the spiritual pressure and thankfully not my physical self.

    The pressure suddenly disappeared from my back, the weight becoming almost nothing more than a pebble. I could feel the weight increase again, but this time it was different. I knew I had the protection to sustain it, but I also realised that the only way to break through the defences with this type of onslaught was to simply overpower it.

    I began to stand up hesitantly at first, making sure each movement was a stable one, not risking Urahara increasing the weight and pushing me back into the ground. In only a few seconds I was standing once again. I moved over towards where I knew that Suzumi was, the pressure entirely disappearing once I passed into her area and felt around for her form. I managed to catch the top of her head, realising that she was sitting.

    I sat down beside her and wormed my hand into hers, realising that she was effectively taking the same option as I chose to, and was meditating. I felt my energy touch hers and impart just a tiny fraction of its stability to her energy, intertwining for a moment, learning from each other in that crucial moment.

    Like wildfire, the new structure that Suzumi’s energy had observed propagated, leaving her with a far sloppier version of my own structure. I glowed with a pride that was instinctual and also happened to wake up my mind from its brief hiatus.

    As my mind returned, any pressure that was being forced down upon the two of us was suddenly entirely gone. I looked towards Urahara’s ribbon, that had its end tilted in such a way that reminded me of a curious puppy.

    I heard Suzumi beside me gasp in relief, the stress fading from her body as her mind receded into unconsciousness in my arms. I held her gently, glowering up at Urahara. He didn’t speak for a long while, before I heard the distinct sound of fingers roughly combing through hair.

    “Well, can’t say that I expected that one.”
     
  10. Threadmarks: Chapter 9: Memories of Never
    Sarius

    Sarius Not too sore, are you?

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    Chapter 9: Memories of Never

    Suzumi and I sat, our new and strange energy barrier surrounding us. Urahara still stood a distance away, mumbling to himself about things that I couldn’t even properly understand.

    I looked towards Suzumi, who was still panting even after the weight had dissipated from her shoulders.

    “Are you alright now?” I asked, my voice soft as I reached out and clasped her hand. There were a few more moments of her panting before she managed to suck in a breath that allowed her to breathe easily again.

    “Yes, I think so. I was doing pretty well I thought, but the weight kept getting heavier. I managed to slice through the weight a bit, and then I felt you touch me…” She trailed off, thinking back to the moment. I did as well, remembering that supremely odd sensation. I had shared with her the form that my energy had moulded itself into, and seeded it within her own energy, as if the slight connection had taught her of the structure it should take.

    I knew little and understood even less about what happened only moments ago, but the thing that truly does stand out in my mind is the fact that I remembered that structure from somewhere. It was like the muscle memory of a sport you had done years ago, and when you picked it back up again, everything seemed to fall back into place rudimentarily as you started to go through the motions.

    There were no memories that came along with the action itself, just a feeling of almost getting it right, but not being good enough yet to do it properly. A feeling of primal frustration, maybe. An instinctual understanding that I could do it better, that I should be able to do it better.

    The structure clung to my skin even still, an action that took no thought, just as simple as breathing or standing. It quietly shifted from form to form across my skin, bizarrely feeling like nothing, but also being prominently there to my mind.

    “I’m assuming you haven’t been taught any of this?” Urahara spoke at me intensely, breaking me from my rapture. I shook my head and he grunted out an affirmation and continued to mumble to himself. I felt Suzumi’s thumb slowly stroke the back of my hand in an inquisitive way.

    “Are you alright now?” She asked. Maybe she had realised that I’d been under a larger weight than she was, or maybe she was just borderline telepathic, but I answered her nonetheless.

    “Honestly? I feel somewhere between amazing and frustrated.” I sighed, not sure if I was able to get the emotion across in words, but I begun to feel her grip on my hand weaken.

    “Suzumi?” I asked, worry making an appearance despite my best efforts.

    “Sorry, I think I might be a little tired. I might just pass out…” She trailed off, her sentence half forming but becoming a jumbled grunt when making it out of her mouth.

    “Urahra! Suzumi is passing out.” I called out, clasping Suzumi’s limp hand in mine and trying to lie her flat on the stone, moving to pick up her legs to keep her blood moving, but Urahara’s voice appeared right next to my ear, making me jump.

    He snatched her hand from mine and felt for something a few seconds before he spoke, “Ah, perfect! I needed to talk to you anyways. She is simply exhausted, give it a few hours and she’ll be just fine. Tessai!” The man yelled, rapid fire in his pace and his voice booming across the league of manufactured rocky landscape. It wasn’t that he had strained his voice or that it was spoken with any more intensity than normal, but that the word travelled much, much further, even managing to bounce back and reach my ears a time or two.

    Moments later I heard a strange ripping sound in the air itself, feeling a wave of air being displaced.

    “Ah, you have completed your training with Mister Carter today? It hasn’t been an hour, Urahara.” Tessai spoke harshly, a warning perhaps.

    Urahara scoffed lightly, “Don’t you worry your head about it, Tessai. I am merely calling you to take care of Miss Hamase. I am going to… inquire about a few things with Mister Carter over here.” Urahara spoke secretively, and the air tensed between the two men. A slight amount of that same pressure Suzumi and I had been battling against snaked forwards, eyeing each other up before Tessai audibly changed his attention to Suzumi, who was still lying in front of me.

    “Mister Carter, I commend you in the extraordinary use of your own spiritual energy to shield yourself from spiritual pressure. Do not let Urahara convince you it is anything but that.” Urahara huffed but didn’t bother to comment on his employee’s warning.

    There was another sudden displacement of air as I saw Tessai’s ribbon flash from right in front of me to hundreds of meters away. Suffice to say that my mind was sufficiently boggled. The magic, or spiritual pressure, was one thing to comprehend but moving with a speed that was clearly not possible according to physics, or at least not immediately obvious it’d be possible, was something else entirely.

    Urahara didn’t let me think too hard about it, “Let’s move ourselves then, shall we?” My arm was roughly grabbed and with a strange whizz of air around me, like I was suddenly in my own personal tornado. Suddenly, we were no longer in a warm and dry climate, but the very same climate of the room I had first met Urahara in. I sat back, shocked, pulling away from the arm that Urahara had grabbed.

    “God damn, give a man some warning?” I said, scandalized, as I felt my world spin around me for a moment, my brain desperately trying to come to terms with just how fast I had just been moving. We had somehow travelled all the way from the study room, all the way to the steps, up them, down a corridor and through a door. By this quick calculation, my mind was sufficiently boggled and I just let the dizziness run its course.

    “People find it even more jarring when they prepare for it, in my experience.” Urahara said, thumping down to the floor in a sitting position while I haphazardly make my way to the other side of the table, trying to wipe the unpleasant feeling from my mind. He let me sit and recollect myself, before deeming me to be fit enough to answer his myriad questions.

    “So, tell me how you came up with the spiritual shielding that you used.” For some reason, as he spoke, I couldn’t help but see him as an excitable child, begging to be told the answer to a question he had asked his annoyed parent. I snorted at my own mental thought and tried to come up with a ‘how’ for this strange shield that had popped into my head.

    “If I’m honest, Urahara. I just seemed to remember it. It just popped into my head one moment, and the next after I was able to use it. I wasn’t thinking about anything when it happened, or well, nothing important anyway.” I heard the man rub the stubble on his face while he hummed in thought. Urahara was the kind of person that you could tell was smart just by being around him. You didn’t need to be told, it was just something about the way he held himself, the sort of aura he emitted. Disregarding my obvious distaste for the man, I couldn’t help but be somewhat in awe of his presence, even as he chewed on the new information I’d just supplied him with.

    “A racial trait maybe?” He pondered aloud and I lifted an eyebrow in response.

    “I’m half Japanese and half random assortment of European ethnicities. Do you think that it’d make that much of a difference?” I asked, and even his ribbon shrugged. I had realised the ribbons were becoming more expressive as of late.

    “Well, I can’t say I know much about that. Information on ‘afterlives’ or spiritual organisations in other countries are… well-guarded, as is the information about the Japanese and Eastern Soul Society. We all live parallel to each other, rarely intertwining.”

    Confused, I asked, “Uh, Soul Society?”

    “Oh, right. You haven’t had any of that explained to you properly yet?” I shook my head, “Well, I guess you are in the fold now, and Tessai and I being mysterious about it wouldn’t be helping anyone.” He cleared his throat and I resigned myself to listen to some information that was surely going to change my view of the world as I know it.

    It was then that the door to the side of us opened, “Urahara, Mister Carter. Miss Hamase is currently resting in one of the spare rooms. Can I offer you tea?” I flared with an instinctive frustration, being so close to this information that had been trickle fed to me over the past day. Urahara perked up, taking a green tea from Tessai, and I simply took a water. Urahara cleared his throat again after taking a long, noisy slurp of the tea. It was probably on purpose to frustrate me.

    “Alright, back to business,” I heard the cup of tea being placed on the table, and I did the same with my glass of water, “Soul Society is simply an afterlife. Other countries and places may call their Soul Societies by a different name, but either way it represents the same thing. All of Japan’s dead, and a lot of mostly eastern countries that manage to make their way to us, live in Soul Society amongst other souls of the departed in the Rukongai.” I could hear the man tapping on the table, thinking about his words carefully. I mulled over the information, trying to consolidate the information to keep up.

    “Essentially, Soul Society—with their army of Soul Reapers—largely act in the interest of those departed souls, delivering them to Soul Society, protecting them from what amount to corrupted souls called Hollows, and protecting the cycle of reincarnation and therefore the balance of all the different realms.” I cringed at how dense that single sentence was in the sheer amount of branching questions that just opened up. I heard a chuckle come from across the table.

    “Lots to take in, and just as much information is yet to make it to your hands.” The tapping of his finger on the table returned, signalling more thinking. He sighed thoughtfully, maybe it was difficult to know just how much information was even useful to me at this point, or what would cross the line and just be confusing or just downright scary.

    “I guess what is most important to you is just why I believed you to be, and still believe you to be, an invader of sorts.” There was a swish of cloth, signalling the raising of his hand, before I could respond, the air in the room cooled with the heaviness of the topic. This was obviously a lecture, the sort of lecture that was best experienced in an unbroken format where my questions were left to the end.

    “Not so long ago, only a few decades in fact,” I raised my eyebrow, only a few decades? He coughed dryly and I let him off. “A few decades ago now, there was a massive world extinction level event. Apocalyptic, perhaps. It was something that only a few even saw whispers of coming, and the sort of event that the precursor for only became obvious in retrospect. Not knowing more and acting on flawed or limited information is my largest and most crushing regret. We left the survival of the worlds down to what even you would consider a group of children, when we should have been prepared for something of this scale long before it ever happened.” Despite Urahara’s voice being as calm as ever, his ribbon was slowly coiling, tightening against itself. It seems Urahara was a hell of a lot more riled up about this than he was outwardly displaying.

    “Regardless of all that, I’ve been working very hard to uncover hidden threats to at least our Soul Society. That you showed up in any of those tests just goes to show how dangerous of an unknown you are. Even though you clearly are half of a western ethnicity and half Japanese, your actual origin is unknown, your powers are unlike anything I have ever witnessed before, and a highly advanced spiritual shielding technique simply popped into your head.” There was a distinct wariness seeping into his voice at that point, making the hairs on my arms stand on their ends. After the short pause, he continued again with the room remaining in silence.

    “A spiritual shielding technique that let someone with fairly minimal spiritual energy sustain against someone with qualitatively and quantitatively superior spiritual energy. This is all unheard of.” Urahara’s voice was dangerous and low, but in contrast his ribbon swayed from side to side, like a cat’s tail as it eyed its new toy. I didn’t like either option.

    “This isn’t about if you remember, or what you know. This is about the fact that someone with a new origin of power suddenly appears, with no knowledge of the spiritual arts at all. Yet, when he is pushed to his limits, out of nowhere you are supplied with a totally original spiritual shielding technique on a level of complexity that matches some of the most powerful people I have ever met.” The room was dead silent, and I could see Urahara’s eyes once again, cutting through the fog of my vision like it was nothing. Two grey, glowing discs stared at me with an intensity that made my back prickle with sweat.

    “What will you remember next, Grayson Carter?”
     
  11. Threadmarks: Chapter 10: For Tomorrow
    Sarius

    Sarius Not too sore, are you?

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    Chapter 10: For Tomorrow

    Urahara had let me off after his impromptu lecture. Maybe he thought it wasn’t worth trying to grill me with questions I definitely had no answer to, or maybe he was just waiting for something else to happen. Maybe for me to ‘remember’ something and analyse me like a test subject.

    Over the next few days, I came to understand the sort of man that Urahara was. In his lessons he was strenuous, testing my shielding to the nth degree, finding its quirks and interests like a scientist dissecting a rat for study.

    Most days Urahara would teach Suzumi how to get into contact with her spiritual self, something that I seemed very easily capable of, after the remembrance of that shielding. But Suzumi had to slowly learn to do it by herself. Her own shielding still retained some of the characteristics of mine, but highly diminished. I could ‘refresh’ the effect, and her shielding would mimic mine much more closely, and Urahara seemed intrigued by that fact.

    He had explained to me, after annoying him for hours, that the average Soul Reaper wasn’t able to directly affect another being’s spiritual energy that way, past supressing it with their own or if they had specific abilities tailor made to do so.

    It was much like my ribbon stealing ability in ‘uniqueness’, just more helpful.

    Probably just another mystery to be solved, in Urahara’s mind. For me, it was something that kept me up at night. A worry that I was a pawn in a game much larger than what I understood. If I was able to ‘steal’ and ‘alter’, what would stop me from unintentionally harming someone’s soul?

    Urahara made it pretty clear that Suzumi’s abilities were increasing incredibly quickly for what amounted to a slightly spiritually sensitive human, and it was likely that she was growing so quickly due to me.

    For some reason this didn’t seem to bother Suzumi. When I had asked her about it, she had said:

    “I don’t see what’s wrong with that. Maybe your soul is just sharing the wealth around?” Shrugging all the while.

    But try as I might, I couldn’t possibly take it so easily, so nonchalantly. I couldn’t help but worry that I was hurting those I was around, just by being there. Maybe it was silly of me, I’m sure that Urahara would laugh in my face about it.

    I sighed and got up from my futon on the floor. Trying my best to not wake up Suzumi, who was only a metre or so from me. I set foot lightly on the cool wooden boards, the early morning chill still lingering, my skin quickly covering in goosebumps from the abrasive cold.

    The morning sun was only just starting to crest, judging from the foggy light creeping into the halls, down from the windows and the open store front. My sock clad feet padded down the hallway, trying to remember where the bathroom was again.

    It was then that I heard… sweeping? Maybe Tessai was already awake. It was coming from the outside courtyard, just in front of the main doors to the store. I walked towards the sound, confident in remembering a solid pathway through the mess of counters and display bins for products.

    I reached the door and slid it open, quickly being buffeted by the cool morning air.

    “Tessai?” I called. There was no vocal response, but there was sound of a broom clattering to the ground, and then someone falling, accompanied by a gasp of surprise.

    A very high-pitched gasp of surprise. From somewhere far below Tessai’s height. It was then that I checked the ribbon of whoever was standing in front of me and realised that this definitely wasn’t Tessai or Urahara’s ribbon. This was a pure white ribbon, standard for non-Soul Reapers.

    “Excuse me, are you alright?” I asked hesitantly, crouching a little and extending my hand towards the ribbon I saw in front of me. The quiet dragged on for a long time before I heard some light shifting and a small, cold hand being placed in mine.

    “U–um, I think so!” A small girl’s voice said, quiet enough that a light gust of wind almost blew it away. I pulled on the little hand gently, allowing the girl to rise to her feet easily. Once she had, she quickly pulled her hand away from mine and picked up the broom and began sweeping again.

    I stood there, somewhat shocked. Was I being ignored?

    “Hey, I’m Grayson. Are you Urahara’s employee?” I asked tentatively. There was another pause, the sweeping stopping entirely. I assume that the younger girl turned to look at me.

    “U–uh, my mum told me not to speak to strangers!” The young girl blurted out quickly, her voice somehow both energetic and nervous. I smiled and nodded along.

    “That’s good advice!” I said agreeably, “But I’m just worried about you being all alone out here so early is all.” Another pause, but shorter this time.

    “I–it’s okay! I’ve been doing this since I started school!” She said, a bright spark of confidence entered her voice.

    “Really?” I asked, a little more worried now but determined not to let it show, “That’s impressive! Do you just clean the yard in the mornings?”

    “Yup! Yard in the morning before school and helping restock shelves on weekends!” She answered happily, much more comfortable talking about her work, apparently.

    “I see, you’re very hard working.” I heard a little noise of excitement or embarrassment.

    “Thank you!” She said, and the sound of sweeping continued. I stood there for a moment, wondering if the little girl was going to say anything more, but the sound of sweeping continued. I nodded to myself, deciding to get back inside where it was warmer.

    “Uyu.” A whispered voice reached my ears as I was closing the door behind me.

    “Pardon?” I poked my head out of the door again, eliciting an ‘Eep!’ from the small girl. I gave a warm smile with a chuckle. I could only imagine her pouting face.

    “M–my name is Uyu Hanakari! Nice to meet you!” The young girl basically yelled out her words before turning and furiously sweeping the concrete. I made sure I didn’t laugh too long at the outburst.

    “I’m Grayson Carter. It was nice to meet you, Uyu.” I gave the girl’s ribbon one last smile before disappearing back into the shop, and making my way towards the toilet, like I had planned to before.

    Looks like Urahara has more employees than just Tessai. Too bad I couldn’t see Uyu, she sounded super cute. Bet she had big cheeks just made for pouting.

    I chuckled to myself at that image.







    The day passed as close to as usual as it could. Tessai took us through the regular run, steadily increasing in speed until we were forced to use spiritual energy to reinforce our body.

    It was harder than the shielding for me, not coming so easily or naturally. Though I was able to give myself a good amount of speed, just enough to keep up, really.

    Suzumi, however, had made it clear that she was simply better at this than I was. Sure, her shield was shabby in comparison to mine, but I couldn’t help but feel I had just been handed that particular achievement.

    Suzumi, in comparison, was far more efficient when it came to physical enhancement. Something I can’t say that I expected.

    “What do you mean you didn’t expect me to be good at this stuff?” She had exclaimed, jokingly scandalized. “I’ll have you know that I was on the national level for three different sports as a kid!”

    Those sports had turned out to be Ballet, Gymnastics and Karate. She did admit, though, that she had stopped doing all those when she went into high school. She had only done the sports at a competitive level because she had a self-proclaimed ‘knack’ for sports. Though she had none of the athletic abilities she once did.

    “I see!” Tessai’s voice boomed from in front of us, “This is consistent with our understanding that you were spiritually sensitive in some way before meeting Mister Carter. May I ask a personal question, Miss Hamase?” I turned my head towards Suzumi’s ribbon, which twisted to face me as well.

    “Uh, sure you can Tessai.” She said, her words hesitant. I turned back to the blurry form of the big man, interested in this question that was so private. I turned back to Suzumi’s ribbon and found that it was ramrod straight, looking more like a very white plank of wood than a ribbon.

    “As a child did you experience dreams or illusions of phantoms speaking to you?”

    Suddenly Suzumi was quiet. The silence dragged on so long that Tessai simply nodded his head, his ribbon following suit.

    “I see. Those phantoms were, in fact, real spirits. Those either unfound by Soul Reapers, or incapable of moving on to their respective afterlife. This is an early childhood indicator of spiritual sensitivity. Night terrors and other similar afflictions are also indicators of such. If these connections to the spiritual world are harnessed, the child may become capable of entirely seeing spirits and even interacting with them. Some are so spiritually potent that seeing spirits is simply their way of life.”

    Suzumi didn’t seem to want to respond to Tessai, stewing in her own thoughts, so I asked my own question. Honestly, if it kept the atmosphere away from utterly awkward silence, filling the social air with the smell of an old wound being re-opened.

    “Am I capable of sensing spirits myself?” I asked. I hadn’t ever experienced any of the things that Tessai had said were spiritual sensitivity. I did have the ribbons, but there was a chance—

    Tessai and Suzumi’s ribbon whipped around to stare at me. I swear to god that I could see their incredulousness impressed upon the ribbon.

    “Of course, you can, Mister Carter.” There was a moment of hesitation in Tessai’s sentence, “Though your visual impairment may have impeded your ability to interact or even notices the spirits. Spirits tend to keep to themselves unless it becomes obvious that someone can see them.” There was a collective ‘Aha!’ moment between Suzumi and I.

    “Though I am surprised you have not encountered a Hollow, or the equivalent for your prior location.” I just shrugged.

    “I lived out of the way of big cities, and most of the time before that was… unpleasant.” I smiled sadly, and I felt the conversation die. In the silence, we merely redoubled out efforts, Tessai always one step ahead of us.







    Night fell after the training with Urahara. It was another session of a fairly rote exercise. This time I was encouraged to try to battle Urahara’s spiritual pressure with my own, which was obviously an impossible task, but it was as close as I could get to resistance training. Basically Urahara spent most of the hour doing the spiritual equivalent of bitch slapping me hundreds of times a second, while Suzumi did a tamer version of the same exercise.

    After that I had spent some time helping out Tessai in the store. The man always had something for you to clean or do. I didn’t have the sight to verify, but I was absolutely sure that the place was cleaner than a hospital.

    I’m not sure that I was required to help out in the store, but it was what I had applied for as a job, so I may as well deliver on it a little. Plus, Tessai lit up like a Christmas tree when you complimented him on his work and became a different sort of person when you were doing work for him.

    He ran a tight ship, and expected things done in a very particular way, which typically meant efficiency, but he was warm instead of harsh. Unless you were being stupid, but thankfully that was a rarity. The man was like a big teddy bear, and he treated worker safety incredibly seriously.

    I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy being fussed over by the big man when I accidentally cut my finger, but it was kind of ridiculous. I was laughing most of the way through, but I don’t think Tessai minded.

    And here I was, laying in bed only a metre or so away from me was someone I had connected with so quickly over these past few whirlwind days. But earlier today made me realise just how little I know of her. And how little she knew of me.

    I looked over to her ribbon, its radiant whiteness somewhat muted in her sleep.

    It wasn’t any of our faults that we didn’t know much of each other. I knew about her dad, but she didn’t know about my parents, or anything else about my life. Actually, I’m pretty sure we haven’t had a single conversation about me from before I moved to Japan.

    These handful of days have been the most insane tonal shift in my life, and I was sure the sentiment was the same for her. She had a job, a life. Aspirations and conceptions about her home, and they were all torn apart as soon as I stepped foot in her life.

    Since then we have both been blind, desperately learning inside the bubble that was Urahara’s Sweets.

    I wasn’t sure if she still had her job as an air stewardess, though I doubted it seeing as she hadn’t left the shop in the past week, the same as myself. Did her mother know about this? What was happening to her life?

    I reached out a hand and gently caressed the side of Suzumi’s face as she slept. She gently moved, leaning into my touch. I resolved myself.

    “A conversation for tomorrow.” I whispered to myself, before allowing myself blissful sleep.


    A/N: Chapter 10! Whew, that was a lot of work to get here. 22 some thousand words, with much more to go in future.

    I hope you're enjoying the story so far, and I can only thank you for reading by giving you more to read.

    To more chapters!
     
  12. Mazerii

    Mazerii Know what you're doing yet?

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    This is rather good so it surprises me the thread is so quiet. I always appreciate well written Bleach.
     
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  13. Sarius

    Sarius Not too sore, are you?

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    Aww, I'm glad to hear you think so! And yeah there is probably a collection of reasons the thread is so quiet, but mostly because I'm a pretty small writer and don't really have much of a name going for me. It'd be great to have more interaction on my story threads, but things take time before people are actually interested in talking about the stories and such :)

    Though my tiny little discord server is probably a better way to talk about the stories as a whole, but again, small writer means not much conversation happening!

    The story goes on however!
     
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  14. Threadmarks: Chapter 11: The Final Family
    Sarius

    Sarius Not too sore, are you?

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    Chapter 11: The Final Family

    I awoke earlier than Suzumi did, as has become the norm. I went and took my customary morning toilet trip, and quietly making my way across the cool floorboards I traversed back to the room. When I quietly slid the door open, I saw Suzumi sitting upright in her futon, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes and stretching. I grinned at the sight.

    “Morning, Suzumi.” I whispered quietly. I got a weary grunt in return. “You up for a coffee? Hot chocolate?”

    “Chocolate.” She grunted out, as she dragged herself out of bed and began to do some basic stretching that she always started her day with. A tradition she shared with her mother, apparently.

    I walked back out of the room, making sure to close the door to keep the warm air inside and travelled down a long hallway to the small kitchenette. There was probably a bigger kitchen in the place, but this was the closest one.

    I boiled the kettle and relaxed for a moment as I listened to the whine of the heating coil, then the bubbling of the water. I grabbed the milk from the mini fridge and the packet of hot chocolate mix in the cupboard.

    I quickly mixed the drinks and picked them up, carefully balancing the cups evenly, making sure not to accidentally tip one too far one on my way back to the room.

    When I finally returned, Suzumi had finished with her stretches and looked considerably more awake while sitting up against the wall, cross legged. I carefully handed her a cup and sat beside her, taking a tentative sip of the too-hot liquid.

    We sat close to one another in the ten minutes that it took us to finish the cups in silence. We hardly ever spoke over our morning beverages, content to sit in silence and enjoy the quiet company. But soon enough, the cups were empty and sitting on the floor next to us. There was still a good forty-five minutes until we were expected to properly be up and out of bed, ready for the day’s training.

    “Suzumi.” I said quietly. She turned to look at me questioningly and I just sighed wryly.

    “You know yesterday, when Tessai brought up all that stuff about spirits. You froze when he asked about if you’d ever seen any.” I could feel her stiffening, but I placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. “It just made me realise… that we don’t know each-other that well.” I turned to her and smiled, but I could tell from the way her ribbon moved that she was uncomfortable.

    “I… I don’t know, Grayson. I’m not really comfortable with that memory…” I shook my head, and wrapped an arm around her body, pulling her closer, her head resting against my shoulder.

    “No. I thought that maybe we should start with my past.” Suzumi shifted against me with some surprise and I chuckled softly.

    “I never even thought about it. We’ve been so busy that I’ve forgotten to ask about you.” She said, her tone apologetic. I huffed with laughter as I rubbed her shoulder consolingly.

    “It’s fine. To be honest, I forgot to bring it up. We’ll chalk it up to us both being at fault here.” We both giggled stupidly together, dying down into a contemplative silence. I took a deep breath in and prepared myself.

    “My parents were amazing people.” I said simply, but Suzumi embraced my side, supporting me already. “They weren’t always my parents. But they took me in when I was thirteen. A blind child that surely had no future in anything and had upwards of five specialist appointments a month, a massive financial burden.” I paused for a moment to think, letting my thoughts properly coalesce into something capable of verbalizing.

    “I wasn’t always in their care. I was shuttled from one foster home to another, the system so intent on keeping me out of an orphanage. I’m not sure what I would have preferred honestly.” I chuckled humourlessly, and Suzumi intertwined her fingers with mine. “I don’t know who my real parents are, but knowing the area I grew up in, they were either two young, too poor, or on drugs. Probably all of the above. The foster parents weren’t much better. Though they weren’t abusive monsters like you see on TV, I’m not sure they really cared either.”

    “When I was a younger kid, I loved making friends. New school, new home, new friends. Apparently, I was a high value friend, being legally blind. Got you out of classes whenever you wanted.” I grinned, and I could feel Suzumi grin, her cheek pressing into my arm. “But time after time, I’d move. New school, new home, new friends. And I slowly grow to care less and less. I stopped paying attention in school, closed myself off from friends, learned to hate my fosters. After years and years of festering, I became the child no one wanted. Being blind and all the medical testing and special needs requirements didn’t exactly help.” I could feel Suzumi’s thumb slowly drawing circled on the back of my hand, fingers intertwined with hers. I let out a long, suffering sigh. There was that bubbling feeling of emotion at the bottom of my throat, threatening to make itself known.

    “I was a little monster at that age. Vehemently nasty, terrible in any way I could think up. All I wanted was to be alone.” I heard a sniff from Suzumi, as she pulled my hand up to her cheek, pressing it against her face consolingly. I smiled.

    “And then they came. They were just another set of foster parents to me. They lived far outside of the city, well and truly into the countryside. They were the only ones who would take me, after all. On the car drive there, I felt the most abandoned I ever had. Sequestered out to the middle of nowhere, to never be seen or heard of ever again. I remember when I first pulled up to the small farmhouse and as soon as I left the car, I felt a large hand wrap around mine and give it a firm shake. ‘Welcome, son.’ Ray had said.” I laughed as tears slowly began to trickle down my face before I could wipe them away. “I’d have never admitted back then, but that’s when I knew something was different. That they weren’t the same as the other fosters. Even so, for about a year I was a terror. But every single time I acted out, screamed at someone, broke something; I was never yelled at, never physically disciplined, never preached at. I was met with the disappointed voice of Sera and told to go to my room and to come down when tea was ready.”

    Suzumi pulled herself up and hugged me powerfully, her face firmly planted into my neck, the wetness on her cheeks telling me she was crying as well.

    “It took me a year to realize that I wasn’t going to be sent away. Ray taught me everything he could, despite my blindness. I could never fix a car, or machinery, but I managed to learn to cut wood, to tend to chickens and horses, even how to ride a horse a few, very frightening times. He taught me that putting effort in the right place could overcome my disability.” I grinned as I remembered the old, leathery hands teaching me how to swing an axe safely and helping lift me up to sit on the saddle of a small horse.

    “Sera taught me to cook. The kitchen was a dark and scary place for me, filled with hot surfaces, sharp implements, and breakable things. The kitchen had always been a place that was severely off limits to me. I was told over and over that I would hurt myself in there. So, when she asked me for a hand in washing up, I was flabbergasted.” I laughed heartily, getting a small sound out of Suzumi. “I learned from her that being afraid of something was normal. You need to be afraid of some things. But it’s how you choose to interact with them, and how you go about it that is important. That kitchen was specialised so that I could cook in it. Appliances that I had never heard of that gave me that tiniest bit more safety when cooking something, small optimisations in where I placed things. That’s what she taught me.”

    There was silence for a long time after that, a quiet contemplation of the warmth that life had given me, every single day. I can remember the worried hug I received when I was having a bad day, the smell of lavender from her perfume as she did. Not to mention the strong and determined grip around my wrist when I almost cut my pinkie finger off with a chef’s knife. I took a deep breath in and sighed, smiling sadly.

    “I saw it in their ribbons first. Something I wasn’t comfortable with at the time. I had always been told that it was an illusion that my mind created to reinterpret the signals my eyes were sending my brain. But I could see this strange… detachment happening to their ribbons. But I ignored it, day after day. For months I saw it getting worse and worse and did nothing. Both of their ribbons slowly drifting further from their centre. It was only when Ray began to cough blood did I realise what I had been seeing.” The silence was longer this time, a harrowing thing, me desperately trying to hold down the pain I felt resurfacing.

    “It was skin cancer. Both of them had it, and it was already everywhere. Ray had it in his lungs and liver, and Sera had it in her bones.” I choked back a sob and continued forth. “They… they chose against treatment. They were already old, almost in their nineties by that point. They had adopted twelve children during their lives, lived to grow old together and decided that they would die together to complete the package.” The tightness of Suzumi’s hug was almost painful at this point, but in a way it reassured me more than anything. I wrapped my arms around her, nestling my cheek against the back of her head.

    “Maybe I could have done something, maybe I couldn’t have. I’ll never know. But never again. I decided the night that they died that I would never disregard a sign like that”

    “Never again.”

    Sobs and cries reigned between us for what must have been hours, until we were simply hugging each-other. I waited for eternity for the knock on the wooden doorframe, Tessai’s large form lurking on the other side of the sliding door. But it never came.

    We laid there in a mutual embrace, disregarding the world. At least for a while.







    “Ray and Sera Carter. Died at 87 and 85 respectively. Their entire history is accounted for, every step of the way has proper documentation. The same goes for every foster parent and official that Grayson ever interacted with.” Urahara recounted to Tessai, who was just coming down from an impassioned rant about how he shouldn’t have put secret cameras and microphones inside of their room. Apparently, that was breaking ‘privacy laws’, not that it bothered Urahara. Who were they going to report them to, exactly? The Soul Reapers?

    “So that leaves his parents then?” The taller, and much angrier Soul reaper asked, clearly not happy about having this conversation.

    “You’d think so. Except they check out as well. I cross referenced Grayson’s listed birthday with births in the area. His biological mother even gave him his name.” Urahara tapped his lips in thought while Tessai sucked in air and huffed out a suffering sigh.

    “What then, Almighty Kisuke Urahara, is the missing link?” The blonde-haired man gave an insufferably shameless grin and widened his arms theatrically.

    “Absolutely no idea!” Tessai let out a deep, rumbling groan, making Urahara cackle like a madman before suddenly growing completely serious. “There is, however, only one lead. His name.” Tessai raised an expectant eyebrow, pushing his rectangular glasses up his nose ever so slightly, regarding the wily man.

    “His mother gave him a name, much like everyone else on the planet. What is new or interesting about this one?” Urahara sprung from his chair and began to pace.

    “Well, for one. She was massively addicted to methamphetamines, reportedly not stopping her usage throughout her entire pregnancy. Grayson should have suffered severe effects from this, possibly death immediately, or in the next few weeks after birth. However, he was born perfectly healthy. In fact, extraordinarily healthy.” Urahara turned quickly and paced the other way. “However, his mother was not so lucky. Not minutes after his birth, she died. After giving birth she immediately began to seize, only mumbling about being told by ‘God’ that his name was Grayson. She apparently said this a total of ten times before she stopped breathing and died regardless of treatment.” Urahara grinned widely.

    “So… you think there was an interloper in Grayson’s birth itself?” Kisuke shrugged heavily.

    “As I said, no idea. I’ve never heard of anything like this before. Even through my contacts in other spiritual organisations and Soul Societies. To be honest, I’m not sure that it wasn’t just a junkie’s rambling.” Tessai sighed, unamused.

    “So, what are we going to do with this information, Kisuke.” The blonde-haired man snatched his bucket hat off of the table next to his keyboard and dropped it onto his head, adjusting it till comfortable. He turned to grin at his large partner.

    “We have been teaching them the bare minimum so far, testing and observing. We’ve done all that analysis we can for now. The only choice we have is to teach them more and see what happens then.” Tessai nodded, in agreement with the infuriating man he called is partner.

    “It’s time to teach them to fight!”
     
  15. Threadmarks: Chapter 12: Respect
    Sarius

    Sarius Not too sore, are you?

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    Chapter 12: Respect

    After what felt like hours of laying on the floor and simply enjoying each other’s presence, there was a collection of gentle but firm knocks on the doorframe into our room.

    “Miss Hamase and Mister Carter. Are you willing to train today?” He asked, his usually booming voice made gentle and soft.

    However, something struck me as odd. He had never asked if we were willing to do so. It had always been a foregone conclusion. That, added with the extremely late calling time, meant that he had forewarning that something had happened or been talked about in this room. Unless he was able to hear us talk, or had somehow been close enough to the door to eavesdrop with regular human hearing, which I can confirm that he wasn’t, as his ribbon was over near Urahara’s…

    Urahara. That control freak.

    “Tessai. I respect you a lot, and I’m sure that you wouldn’t knowingly let Urahara plant surveillance in our room. I just want the immediate assurance that they will be taken out of the room. I’ll talk to Urahara about it in a moment, when we both get properly prepared for training.” I spoke in a low and even tone. There was a moment of quiet from beyond the door, but I got the distinct impression that Tessai was frustrated. Probably with Urahara.

    “Of course, Mister Carter.” He said, simply. His tone was absolute with that same leader-like quality he had showed on rare occasion. The steps receded from the door and Suzumi tapped me on the hand.

    “What was that about? Did you know about those cameras?” She whispered; confusion evident.

    “A glorified guess, honestly. But I don’t know. Tessai acted oddly, like he knew what happened. Tessai wouldn’t peak on us, he’s to professional and just plain nice for that. But Urahara is a douchebag.” I shrugged. Against her form.

    “Cool,” she drew out the word longer than normal, a smile touching her voice, “my boyfriend is a detective.” I grinned, a sudden flush of heat coming to my cheeks and in my chest.

    “I’m your boyfriend now, am I?” I said, half joking, but I practically saw her grin through my foggy sight.

    “Maybe. I can’t see myself going back to normal, regular, boring boys now that I know that you are the world’s greatest blind detective.” I rolled my eyes in mock offense.

    “I’ll have you know, I’m the best blind detective in all of the spiritual realms, thank you very much.” I said, stone-faced, until I broke into laughter. We laughed together for a few minutes, before I felt a soft pair of lips lightly press against mine and then retreat before anything else could be said or done. That small flush in my chest was now a raging flame.

    “Alright time to get up and get ready for this training. Need to go tell off discount Japanese batman with a bad sense of fashion.” Suzumi said quickly. I barked out a laugh, despite how badly I wanted to pull her into a hug, but she was right. We had work to do, unfortunately.

    Mixing an intimate relationship into the mix of ‘not being human’ and ‘having my world view destroyed’ can’t be healthy, but you know what, fuck it. The universe can get fucked for a while. Maybe it’ll add some stability to the rapidly changing landscape of my mental understanding of the universe.







    Walking down what felt like an infinite staircase to the study room was infuriating. Especially because I didn’t know the exact number of steps I needed to take, and also probably because even if I did, I would miscount somewhere. So, I had to trust in the strength of my newly minted and tenuously dubbed ‘relationship’ and give Suzumi the important responsibility of not letting me plant my face into a nice little patch of concrete.

    Thankfully my trust in her turned out to be warranted, and so I directed us towards where both Tessai and Urahara’s ribbons were. It took another few minutes of walking to get to that spot. Why the hell did they make this place so inconvenient to get around?

    “Good afternoon gentleman and absolute douchebag. How are you today.” I said as we approached the two Soul Reapers. There was a miffed silence from both of them. As we stopped in front of the duo I leaned over to where Urahara’s location and in a suitably loud stage whisper, “The douchebag is you by the way.” Suzumi giggled at my antics, but I could already feel the argument brewing in Urahara’s head.

    “Nope, you don’t get to play with you stupid ‘save the world’ arguments this time, Urahara. I let you fly with that one last time. This time, you’re just an out and out jackass who can’t see far enough past his own paranoia that it makes me look like I have the eyes of an eagle.” Silence reigned as the air between the two of us suddenly became dense and thick, but I ignored the man with own shielding.

    “I’m not playing around Urahara. You are being an incorrigible ass for no good reason. If you had asked for any of the information that you could have possibly gleaned from spying on me, I would have gladly given it to you. In fact, I would have been just as interested in what you could do with that information seeing as I have no fucking clue what the hell I am and would like to damn well know!” I was near close to yelling, a sudden anger boiling close to the edge.

    “So, If you can’t treat me like an equal, deserving of at least the smallest bit of respect, I will walk right out of here and go find somewhere else to be trained where I might just be treated like a human being, even if it so happens that I’m not.” I heard Urahara growl, the spiritual pressure surrounding me shaking with Urahara’s petulant anger. I felt a rush of displaced air as collar of my shirt pulled me up and hung me just far enough up that I could only place my tippy toes on the ground. I heard a yelp from Suzumi, but as she tried to draw closer she was mercilessly pushed to the ground and had no choice but to retreat.

    “What makes you think I’d let you leave alive?” He said, doing his best batman impression. I just laughed at him, his anger somehow making mine evaporate entirely. I just looked directly into his ribbon.

    “Look, I don’t know much about you, Kisuke. In fact, I know nothing. I think you’re kind of an ass. I think anyone you could even remotely call a friend also thinks that. But I think you and Tessai are really good friends. Partners, working together for a long time and having known each other for longer.” I said calmly, not even trying to resist Kisuke’s grip.

    “So, Kisuke. I have a good feeling that he already knows he is going to have to clean up after you being a childish moron. I bet he has done just that thousands of times, like he has tried to do for you every time you have mistreated us. But this is different Kisuke. This is a breaking point.” I smiled down at the man’s ribbon and reached out with my hand and grabbed the ribbon and tearing it away from the man, discarding it without a second thought. Kisuke immediately let go of me, surprised maybe. I heard a high-pitched keening noise slice through the air but before it could reach me a deep, rumbling voice called out.

    Pale Lightning.” Those two words felt superfluous, but so intently powerful. There was a bright flash through my fog, almost sharp enough to pierce through the fog in truth. I heard a clattering as what I presumed was a sword fell to the ground.

    “Do you really want to fight the same man that has been helping you all these years? Because I’m not sure how fights go in Soul Reaper land, but I can’t imagine they end well.” I looked stoically at the Urahara’s ribbon, that had quickly regrown, but wasn’t as large anymore. Though the air in the study room did feel denser now. There was a long silence, and it was Tessai who broke the spell.

    “Leave, Kisuke.” Tessai said, the presence of his words amazingly powerful. Maybe this was what Tessai was like when he was actually really angry. Scary.

    The silence dragged on for a little while longer before the displacement of the air in front of me signalled Urahara’s departure. There was a loud clearing of the throat from Tessai.

    “I am deeply sorry for this.” He started, but stopped midway. “I will not make excuses for him. You have brought up a good point. He has not acted this way for a long time, and I believe it is time for me to truly put my foot down.”

    “Tessai, it’s all good. You are hardly the one at fault here.” I shrugged. “It’s not like I can’t see where Urahara is coming from, either. He has a world that he desperately wants to protect. I have no doubt that he’d gladly be wrong about me, and have treated me terribly, than have treated me kindly and have me be exactly what he fears.” A smile quirked itself onto my face. I was fumbling my way through this situation, but I had to advocate for myself somewhere, otherwise I’d just be walked all over by Kisuke and I can’t say that I fancy that very much.

    “I understand your fears, Mister Carter. I have to say, not many have been able to talk to Urahara like that. He is a man of singular drive and focus. He is, in certain ways, unfathomably intelligent to you and I, but lacks the barest understanding in others.” The large man sighed heavily, filled with emotion, “We have known each other for a long, long time. Initially brought together in scholarly pursuits, we worked closely as partners in many projects. I am a very skilled kidō practitioner and our skills combined were incredibly potent. We have saved each other from terrible fates many times over. However, it seems that he has become… obsessed with his past failings.” He shook his head sadly, silhouette clearly defined in the fog due to the artificial light hidden in the ceiling somewhere.

    “Again, Tessai. This isn’t your fault. I’m not really sure it is anyone’s fault.” I laughed as I walked forward and patted the immensely tall man on the arm. “Either way, I still need training. So unless Kisuke decides to kick me out or kill me, then training is still on?” There was a deep laugh from the man who quickly turned away from us.

    “Indeed. As such, I will go and collect your training partner for the day.” Displaced air gently brushed against our skin as Tessai left us in the study room alone.

    “What the hell Grayson!” Suzumi yelled suddenly, making me jump. She rushed over and slapped me on the face, which surprisingly hurt very little.

    “What?” I asked, bewildered and concerned.

    “What do you mean ‘what?’, do you have a death wish? You intentionally provoked Urahara! He pulled out a sword.” I grimaced. That probably did look scarier if you could actually see what was happening, but I just got to hear it.

    “Honestly Suzumi. I’m not sure I was thinking about that too hard. Plus, I trust Tessai and I know that Urahara trusts Tessai. I felt secure enough that I wouldn’t be actually killed.” Suzumi slapped me again, this time I felt my shielding strain with the spiritual energy she infused with the blow.

    “Tessai shot lightning out of his finger! Lightning! And then they stared at each other and the whole place started to get heavy. I could barely breathe.” Her voice started to get quieter and quieter, her anger subsiding into fear. I drew closer to her and gently started to wrap my arms around her form, which seemed smaller than before.

    “Hey, hey. It’s okay. Tessai was going to protect me just fine. I know it was scary, but I think this is our life now. I don’t think scary people are going to be any less scary because we are weak, Suzumi.” I felt her look up into my eyes, and I looked directly into her ribbon, which always seemed to coincide with their eyes, and smiled gently.

    “Why do we have to suddenly be wrapped up in all of this?” I thought for a moment before speaking, trying to make sure I didn’t say it wrong.

    “Suzumi. You don’t have to. This is a me thing, something that being around me will bring. I’m not sure I have a choice here. You do. You can go home to your mother, try and pick up your job again. You can go back to your normal life–”

    “And leave you.” She said with finality, ending my sentence. She shook her head. “No, that isn’t fair. I can’t leave you here to face this all alone. I’m not sure that I could walk out those doors and go back to a normal life knowing that there was more than I could ever know still out there, waiting to destroy everything that I love. These Hollows that eat souls and kill people and Soul Reapers that protect us from them. God knows how many other different afterlives and their versions of Soul Reapers. I can’t.”

    There was a certain steel in her voice that let me know that she wouldn’t have it argued about. I honestly couldn’t tell if I wanted her here at my side in all of this, or safe somewhere, where she won’t be hurt. But it wasn’t my choice, and she deserves to make that choice herself.

    So, I just held her close and respected it.
     
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  16. Threadmarks: Chapter 13: A Bout of a Lifetime
    Sarius

    Sarius Not too sore, are you?

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    Chapter 13: A Bout of a Lifetime

    It seemed that emotional moments were fated to be interrupted, a rush of air displacing behind us caused up to jump slightly and pull apart to face the source of the disturbance.

    The regular form of Tessai was visible through my fog but there was another, far smaller shape alongside his large shadow. I squinted my eyes at the form, trying to get a better look at the person’s outline, but it was then that their ribbon popped into view. As of late, identifying people from their ribbon alone was becoming easier and easier, and as soon as I saw the stark white ribbon and immediate recognition came over me.

    “Uyu?” I asked, somewhat dumbfounded. I felt Suzumi turn to look at me, questioningly.

    “U-uhm, yes. Hello!” The small girl said, almost yelling, before bowing deeply towards us. I just gave Tessai a dumbstruck look.

    “Yes, Uyu will be assisting in your training today.” The large man said, as if there were absolutely nothing wrong with this picture.

    “What do you mean assisting!” Suzumi said, a note of outrage dwelling in her tone, ready to escalate.

    “W-well, we’re going to fight! I brought my gloves!” The small girl slung a bag off her shoulder that hit the floor with a mighty sound like someone dropping a concrete. This seemed to go unnoticed by Suzumi who continued to question Tessai.

    “She’s just a little girl! She can’t be more than ten, Tessai. I thought you were reasonable, but this is insane.”

    While I agreed with everything Suzumi was saying, I couldn’t take my eyes off of Uyu. Even while Tessai was trying to give a half reasonable explanation for why we were going to fight a little kid, my eyes were fixed on the foggy form of the small girl as she pulled out two large gauntlets, smoothly fitting them over her hands. And then I felt it.

    Slowly, the gauntlets filled with spiritual energy, little lines of white in my vision filled the gauntlets, like roots of a tree in soil. In only a few brief moments the gauntlets were a radiant white colour, before fading in its brightness and reducing to a dull glow.

    I looked the silhouette of the small girl over, and her tiny form made the frankly impractically sized gauntlets look even more ridiculous.

    But if you looked closely, even in the silhouette, the fingers of the gauntlets, which couldn’t possibly house her fingers because of how big the gauntlet was, were all moving independent and naturally.

    “Uyu,” I asked gently, “did Kisuke make you those gauntlets?”

    “Y-yes, they were for my eighth birthday!” She replied happily.

    “Do you use them to fight against Hollows?” Suzumi’s argument with the stoic Tessai died down, turning to listen to the little girl.

    “Of course!” She said confidently, placing the massive hands on her hips, “Daddy takes me out to beat up the silly Hollows. Though I don’t get to fight the big ones…” She trailed off sadly. I could only nod with a consoling smile on my face, trying not to show my surprise. A girl this young was capable of fighting against a Hollow? I hadn’t ever encountered one myself, but Kisuke and Tessai had made them seem very dangerous.

    This meant one of two things. Either they were lying, and Hollows are much weaker than I was told, or this girl is far stronger than we’ve been giving her credit for.

    “Suzumi,” I called, “I think we should fight her.”

    “What you too?” She growled, scandalized, but I ignored her, walking towards the little girl and then bowed deeply.

    “I’ll be in your care.” I said as politely as I could, hoping that if she was going to lay me out, she’d at least try to be gentle about it.

    “O-of course!” She said, responding with a nervous bow.

    And then the fight began.

    Or, should I say, I got punched so hard that I could have sworn that it rang like a bell. The moment that Uyu had stood up from her bow I could tell that the battle had already commenced, her entire demeanour changing into one of decisive action.

    As such, I had immediately put up my shielding. That, clearly, was a good call. The punch from the gauntleted fist was gargantuan. I had only experienced force like it a few times before at the hands of Kisuke, but he had never punched me, simply restrained me.

    The blow to my shielding transferred directly into my body being blown back into an uncontrollable few seconds of airtime, the rushing wind surrounding me in a terrifying moment as I was spun in every which direction before I hit the ground in a clamour of limbs tangling together at odd angles.

    “Grayson!” Suzumi called, befuddled but also worried. I can’t imagine what it would have looked like to her, as I spun through the air and landed on the rock ground around ten metres away.

    “I’m fine!” I called and, strangely, I was. In fact, I felt virtually unharmed, despite the short moment of vertigo as I recalibrated, standing up to face the small girl who stood with her arm still outstretched from the blow she had dealt me.

    “Not going to go easy on me, then?” I joked, but I received no reply as the girl ran towards me, covering the space between us in a mere moment. I hastily put my arms up to block, planting my feet on the ground, giving myself as much stability as I could.

    The rush towards me didn’t end with another forward punch, as I had so naively assumed, but an uppercut that blew straight through my guard and crashed into the shielding that was extended around my body my only a few millimetres. This sent me flying once again, but this time I at least managed to stop myself from spinning in circles and completely disorienting myself.

    This time, as I fell back down from my trip towards the ceiling of the study room, I prepared myself. I couldn’t simply stay on the defensive, it clearly wasn’t working. I could definitely try to snatch her ribbon, like I had managed with Kisuke, but I was also falling towards the ground with only scant few moments to prepare.

    So, instead of doing some overcomplicated special move, I simply focused and pushed my strength into my right arm and prepared myself to punch as hard as I could. I could feel more than the usual muscle strength coming to aid me, but also a considerable chuck of my own spiritual energy as well.

    I just hoped that this amount wasn’t way too much.

    I prepared myself as I fell the last metre and whipped out my arm towards the small girl, trusting that she could block this amount of power. However, what I wasn’t expecting was her to respond in kind, the vague silhouette of her form blurring for a moment as her large, gauntleted hand surged forwards, meeting my fist dead on.

    The sound was enormous, like a flashback had gone off right next to my ear. The pain of the sonic blast was hardly the first think on my mind, as I had once again been blasted back through the air. This time, the speed at which I’d been flung back was much greater than either of the other two times, and it ironically gave me more time to think before I inevitably hit the ground and got turned to paste.

    The answer was obvious enough, as I flipped myself backwards and jammed my feet into the ground, ramping up the shielding and strengthening to my feet and legs. For a moment I felt like I was ice skating, the speed that I was moving at making it hard to get any grip on the ground at all. However, with a bit of persistence, I managed to dig in with the toes of my shoe enough that I slowly began to slow down.

    My legs quaked against the force of my momentum, but surprisingly managed to hold up. The momentum slowed down from a blistering speed to only a few kilometres an hour over the next second or so, until it finally stopped leaving me standing in a ditch of rock and displaced dirt.

    The exertion from just the last few seconds of fighting was more than I’d ever put into anything in my life. My mind was still racing, wired on adrenalin and heart pumping so fast that it felt like a marching drum to my sore ears.

    It was when I saw Uyu’s form cresting the ditch that I had formed, running at a similar speed that had led to the first blow, I just sighed, the adrenalin fading and leaving soreness and exhaustion.

    As the terrifyingly strong little girl approached me, in my half-addled mind I simply reached out and snatched her white ribbon from her without a moment of resistance. Immediately I saw the gauntlets, that had been glowing dully through the fight almost instantly go dark, sucking a lot of the power out of the punch that was headed directly for my stomach.

    As the punch drew closer, the power that I had snatched with my hand sang with the need to be used, and I simply acquiesced. I lowered my hand that I had snatched her ribbon with towards her gauntleted hand, grabbing it and pushing it away from my gut and off to the side of my body and letting it go.

    I was expecting the girl to stumble, maybe fall over at most. What I wasn’t expecting was for her arm to swing wide uncontrollably, away from my body, and pulling the rest of her body with it, slamming her into the dirt pile in the ditch next to us, compacting it under the force, and leaving her laying up against a wall of compacted dirt I had launched her into.

    I heard the wind be pushed from her chest, but she began to struggle to stand up, ignoring her breathlessness.

    “Hey, hey, time out.” I called, making a ‘T’ with my two hands, breathless and exhausted myself. “I think that might have been enough for one bout, right?” The young girl continued to struggle up. I couldn’t see any facial expressions, but I could tell from her ribbon alone that she hadn’t stopped the fight.

    “Uyu, I give up!” I said frantically as she trudged towards me again, getting ready to throw a punch again with her unpowered gauntlets. But, before she could reach me, a dark shadow crossed over my vision, and with a thump Tessai stood before me, blocking my view of Uyu.

    “Miss Hanakari, the battle is over.” He said gently, almost like soothing a babe. It was quiet for a second before a nervous voice made itself known.

    “U-um, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to lose control like that!” The little girl said, a swift change from the unstoppable battle machine she’d been not moments earlier.

    “That’s quite alright, Miss Hanakari.” Tessai said, accepting her apology with grace. I then saw the little girl’s ribbon turn itself towards me. It took me a moment to realise that I was meant to speak as well.

    “Oh! Yeah, you’re fine. I don’t think I’m seriously hurt or anything.” I said, just before another form showed up, standing up on the side of the ditch I had been punched into.

    “Grayson! Are you alright? Are you hurt? What happened—” I waved my hand towards Suzumi with a smile.

    “Suzumi, I’m fine.” I received a look of disbelief form her ribbon, which only made me roll my eyes. “Do I look hurt to you?” I said as I opened my arms up for viewing. After a moment, Suzumi grunted in defeat and let up with it.

    “Actually, it was kind of fun in a way. Like a rollercoaster.” Suzumi, Uyu and Tessai all looked at me, ribbons showing distinct note of disbelief. “What? I didn’t get hurt and I spent more time in the air than I did touching the ground the entire fight. It was great!”

    The first to laugh was Tessai who, despite his usual polite chuckle, have a deep belly laugh, which spurred the other two to start giggling. Suzumi was soon wiping tears from her eyes, and Uyu who seemed to be desperately trying to hide her giggles and stop laughing all together. I couldn’t help but let my face be split by a wide grin.

    “How—” Suzumi continued hysterically laughing trying to pull herself together to say a few words, “How did you find being a human punching bag for a little girl fun?”

    “Hey, I got some good ones in there!” I said indignantly, which only made Suzumi howl with laugher harder, eventually forcing her to kneel against her light headedness.

    “H-he did! He stole my spiritual energy somehow.” Uyu said, coming to my defence, obviously only adding to the hysterics for Suzumi.

    “Oh? You managed to do that move in the middle of the fight?” I nodded and he turned towards Uyu, “Could you have resisted it at all?” The back-to-business conversation managed to sober up Suzumi from her hysterics and she made her way over to me and hugged my arm, giggling uncontrollably every now and then.

    “N-no, I don’t think so. It was very strong, like when Mommy beats Daddy in arm wrestling!” I could feel a slight smirk make its way onto Tessai’s face for a fraction of a second before he managed to quash it.

    “Well, your goal now is to try to fight against that technique from now on.” Uyu nodded quickly and Tessai turned to Suzumi.

    “It’s your turn now, Miss Hamase!”


    A/N: Hey there guys, I'm sorry about the short and unintended hiatus. Unfortunately my pup passed beyond the veil, and I've needed some time to just spend time with her before she passed.

    Hopefully I will be able to return to normal schedule from now on.
     
  17. Threadmarks: Chapter 14: To Sense Spiritually
    Sarius

    Sarius Not too sore, are you?

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    Chapter 14: To Sense Spiritually

    After my first bout with Uyu, Suzumi had her turn.

    She fared not so well against the young girl. Obviously, I couldn’t see much of anything, but Tessai was kind enough to give a running play-by-play of the fight. Suzumi, it seemed, was much better at staying on the ground than I was, not getting juggled by the small girl’s gauntleted punches.

    If how Tessai described it was even remotely close to the truth, then Suzumi was impressive in her own right. Though she wasn’t able to shut down Uyu like I had been capable of, or really fight her equally at all, but the shielding that she had slowly inherited from me over time allowed her to block most of the damage only sustaining minor cuts to her arms and face. Though it seems like she figured out how to use her spiritual energy to root herself in place for the most part.

    That was the big difference between Suzumi and I, when it came to spiritual energy.

    Sure, I had the fancy pants powers that dumbfounded Kisuke and Tessai, potentially making me a threat to all of the spiritual realms, but Suzumi had a weapon that I certainly wasn’t as good in.

    Suzumi had a natural inventiveness in using her spiritual energy that surpassed anything I could muster so far. Tessai didn’t comment on it directly, but I could tell that he was impressed by it as well. She had never trained to root herself to the ground before this fight. It had either been total instinct, or she had invented her own method from the ground up as soon as she needed it.

    Both of those options were mind blowing to me. I had the easier time in actually utilizing spiritual energy, for whatever ancestral reason, but Suzumi seemed to iterate on her own technique, blazing past what she had been taught by either Kisuke or I.

    The fight ultimately ended with Uyu managing to pummel Suzumi’s shielding to breaking point, which was when Tessai stepped in and called the match. I excitedly approached my, tentatively titled, girlfriend, helping her up from her spot in a ditch that Uyu had managed to pummel her down in.

    “Wow! You were amazing, Suzumi. You even managed to root yourself in place with spiritual energy.” I gushed. Suzumi just laughed at me.

    “Oh, shush flatterer. I didn’t even win against her.” She said disappointedly, brushing the dirt and dust off of her clothes.

    “I don’t know that we were really supposed to win, Suzumi. Uyu is one scary girl. I doubt that I’ll win the next bout against her.” I said, flashing a reassuring smile. Suzumi seemed to grudgingly accept, and I started to get ready for my second bout.

    Getting ready consisted of me trying to puzzle through Suzumi’s technique that allowed her to root herself to the ground. I tried infusing my spiritual energy into the ground, like you’d classically think of roots. However, the tendrils of spiritual energy just dissipated into the rocky surface beneath my feet with seemingly no effect.

    Though, things changed when I reimagined it as if I were wearing shoes with hooks attached to them, like cleats for soccer. As soon as I used that imagery, the spiritual energy formed more solidly. I don’t think that the energy had solidified into an actual hook attached to my shoe, but it certainly felt like it. There was no added weight, but when I decided I wanted my foot stuck to the ground, it really stuck.

    Obviously, I spent some time performing gravity bending tricks, like bending backwards far past tipping point and pulling myself back upright.

    After that, the fight started and I got absolutely clobbered to no tomorrow.

    Uyu was strong and fast and, if she wanted to be, absolutely ruthless. My only saving grace was my shielding being nigh impervious to anything that Uyu could throw at me. I’m sure that she had things she could do that would break through my shielding, it wasn’t that amazing, but those same attacks would also probably vaporize me.

    However, even as I was being clobbered, desperately trying to keep up with the insanely fast and powerful ten-year-old, I realized something.

    I was having fun.

    I had been limited my entire life by my eyesight, physical activity had never been an option in my brain, left at the absolute bottom of my list of what I could imagine I’d be capable of. But here I was, fighting a superpowered young girl, sensing her positioning almost entirely based on tracking her ribbon and interpreting what she was doing from her silhouette. Though I was starting to find myself unable to keep up with just that.

    It also helped that all this fighting made me realise how physically powerful I’d become with just learning how to utilize spiritual energy, even to a minor degree.

    “It seems that you figured out Miss Hamase’s tricks. Managing to keep yourself rooted against Uyu’s attacks.” Tessai said from beside me, helping me up from yet another ditch that Uyu had dug with my body.

    “Well, you could say that I had good incentive. I didn’t really want to be knocked around like a human basketball.” That got a chuckle out of the burly store attendant.

    “I have to ask.” Tessai began, “How, exactly, are you managing to keep up with Uyu. Are you able to use spiritual senses?” I scrunched my eyebrows at the men.

    “Spiritual senses? No, I just use her silhouette and her ribbon to keep track of her.” Now it was Tessai’s turn to be confused.

    “I can understand that you are capable of seeing spirit ribbons to a freighting degree of accuracy, certainly enough to locate someone quickly and effectively, unlike the typical longer-range tracking use for spirit ribbons. However, I was under the assumption that you were entirely blind and were using spiritual sense to determine exact locations and movements.” I turned to the man, somewhat dumbfounded.

    “Wait, this spiritual sense. Are you saying it can reproduce eyesight?” Tessai’s ribbon shook its end.

    “No, it far more like echolocation than anything else. I only know of one or two users of the technique, as there aren’t many that would even require to learn the technique in Soul Society.”

    “Can… would I be able to learn to use it?” I asked tentatively. Vision, even if only limited to an echolocation derivative, would be a massive step up from what I can currently see. Being trapped in a decidedly grey and largely colourless world of shifting fog wasn’t something that I enjoyed. I can still barely remember small things, paintings and pictures I saw more than a decade ago, jealously guarded in my memories.

    If I can regain even a small bit of that through spiritual sense, even just to see someone else’s face, I’d be more than happy.

    “I am not sure, Mister Carter. I myself haven’t ever bothered to dabble in the art myself. Though I suppose that I do have experience with it. I, at one point or another, have taught kidō to one or two that were capable of using it.” Excitement rose in my chest quicker than ever before.

    “However, I do warn you, Mister Carter, that developing and using spiritual sense is an incredibly difficult feat. It is usually born of many decades worth of dedicated study. It would be remiss of me to not mention that those that I have encountered who were capable of using spiritual sense, were some of the most powerful people to live within Soul Society. Some of which became Soul Society’s enemies.”

    And there went the excitement, replaced with a sullen disappointment.

    “So not really?” Tessai nodded.

    “Not really.” Tessai said thoughtfully, rubbing at his chin, “However, you have also displayed that you are easily capable of sensing the spiritual ribbons to a degree of which I am not sure many could possibly reach, even if they had the power to do so.

    “There aren’t many like you, Grayson Carter. The only other person I have met that was as much of an anomaly as you has subsequently become one of, if not the most powerful people of all spiritual realms. I would recommend that you take any ‘impossibility’ with a grain of salt and try it yourself first.” I could feel the warm smile on Tessai’s face without even needing to see it. What else could I do but nod?

    From then on, Suzumi and I took turns fighting Uyu. In between my bouts, Tessai tried to explain spiritual sensing to me. It became evident that it was a complex topic, especially when discussed as analytically as Tessai was capable of, but the short of it was using spiritual pressure to ‘feel’, determining the shape of something and interpreting.

    It could be seen as a complex form of echolocation, except the spiritual pressure didn’t necessarily need to return to you to allow you to sense something. Spiritual pressure was just the force that resulted from your spiritual energy from being released, though it seemed like you could release your spiritual energy and have it follow you around like a blob, subsuming anything that surrounded you and enacting itself on them.

    It was a complex topic, and the more that Tessai expanded on the nature of spiritual energy and spiritual pressure, even lightly touching on kidō, the more it overwhelmed me.

    I managed to pick up one good first step, however. I needed to properly master spiritual pressure, at least to the point where I can have it surround me like a cloak, from there I can figure out something to actually sense things with that spiritual pressure.

    The alternating battles with Uyu and training to properly release my spiritual energy was draining to say the least, leaving me utterly exhausted. But somehow never truly crashing and falling into a heap. I don’t know if that’s thanks to the spiritual energy or the sudden motivation to improve that I’ve found.

    Releasing my spiritual energy properly was hard. Using it within my body, or for simple tasks like the rooting technique was simple enough, and I was able to get the hang of them relatively quickly, but truly moving the energy outside of my body and into the atmosphere around me was way harder.

    The only parallel that I had was the shielding technique that popped into my head out of nowhere, but that followed a strict structure that seemed as second nature to me as anything, so it may as well have been the same as the rooting technique for me, even if it technically was formed of spiritual energy outside of my own body.

    So, I went back to absolute basics. I tried to release spiritual energy around my finger alone. Trying to wrap it with the energy like a bubble of water.

    It took hours of trying to get it to work, even a little bit. I didn’t even know what it did, though it certainly did feel like my finger was clamped in something heavy. For some reason that weight didn’t bother or affect me. In fact, it made me feel heavier instead.

    In that next fight there didn’t seem to be any different because of it, not that I could keep it surrounding my finger for very long, after being clobbered by Uyu. Though this time I managed to steal her ribbon twice, but still got my ass handed to me.

    Afterwards, I worked on getting a second finger covered, then a third. It slowly became easier to manipulate, but it was really hard to maintain. The releasing part was easy, but maintaining it was difficult, especially with what I was doing. I think–massive emphasis on think there–that I am condensing the released spiritual energy around my fingers, and the spiritual pressure that emanates from it is surrounding that. It’s very confusing, and I tried to have Tessai explain to me a few times, but I think the man is used to teaching someone who already understands the basic, if not higher concepts of spiritual stuff.

    I wasn’t all that sure what I had actually created, honestly. Was it just a rudimentary version of shielding that sat underneath my better, more advanced shielding?

    I continued to work on it either way, and it started to get harder to maintain multiple fingers at once when I reached all five fingers, but I was able to manage it. The task from there was to cover the entire hand, which was an interesting task. It took two more bouts between me and Uyu to manage it, but when I did I felt accomplishment like never had before. I sat there and just felt the heaviness and solidity of my hand.

    It was like my hand was encased in concrete, or maybe metal even. I could feel the peculiar weight that it now had, as if moving my hand was moving an object hundreds of times heavier, but with no extra effort that normal.

    “Grayson! It’s your turn.” Suzumi called out.

    “Y-you did great Miss Hamase!” Uyu said to Suzumi nervously. Turns out that those two got on like a house on fire. It was like a big sister, little sister dynamic. Cute to see.

    I got up from my spot on the rocky floor and walked over towards Uyu’s ribbon. The little girl had been fighting with only a few breaks the whole time, and she still seemed like she was going strong. She was clearly more experienced than us and probably capable of fighting for much longer too.

    “Hey Uyu, I’ve been trying to do stuff with my spiritual energy, do you mind if I use it on you to see what it does?” There was a moment of hesitation from the small girl.

    “U-um, sure! I don’t see why not…” She said, somehow both encouraging and cautious. I nodded and the fight began in earnest.

    I focused on maintaining the glove of spiritual energy as the small girl rocketed towards me like a speeding car, arm wound back ready for a punch. I focused on her and then, just at the right moment, punched forwards with as much force as I could muster with my gloved hand.

    My spiritually gloved hand connected with hers, and a loud boom followed. I desperately pumped energy into my feet to stop me for flying away myself, and only marginally succeeding. But when the dust settled and I could focus on something other than not being blown away, I looked up to see Uyu’s ribbon very far away and another ribbon I hadn’t ever seen before.

    A very powerful, stark white ribbon.

    “Who tried to kill my daughter?” A voice boomed out from far away, but still managed to exude enough force to make the ground shudder beneath my feet.
     
  18. Threadmarks: Chapter 15: Worried Futures
    Sarius

    Sarius Not too sore, are you?

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    Chapter 15: Worried Futures

    There was a tell-tale rush of air as Kisuke Urahara’s form appeared in front of me, his silhouette implying that he was facing away from me and towards where I had blasted the poor girl.

    “Ah, Jinta. You’ve slain that Hollow, I see?” Kisuke called out casually. There was another displacement of air as a tall man, maybe six or so feet, appeared right next to Kisuke, laid over his shoulders a massive snakelike form.

    “Of course I did!” The man’s middle-aged voice said aggressively, the snake-like form thumping to the ground as the man shrugged it off his shoulders. “But that’s not the point. Someone just tried to kill my daughter, and I’d like to kill them.”

    The man brushed past Kisuke and made a beeline towards me, an aura of menace moving closer to me, the dark silhouette lighting up with the usage of spiritual energy. But as the man grew closer, Kisuke turned around and grabbed the man by his shoulder, stopping him.

    “Now, there’s no need for violence.” Both me and the man snorted amusedly. Ironic coming from the sadistic asshole himself. The man, who I could only assume to be Uyu’s father, whipped his head around to glare at me, shrugging off Kisuke’s hand.

    “Picked up another pet project, have you?” He said as he rolled up his sleeves.

    “Uh, sir?” I said gently, “Me and your daughter were having a sparring match and I tried something new, and it packed more of a punch than I thought it would.” I bowed, as it was the Japanese way. “I’m sorry and it won’t happen again.”

    This Jinta, however, wasn’t appeased. Walking towards me faster, spiritual pressure screaming off of him in droves.

    “Say that after I give your hide a good licking!” He yelled, however before he could punch me, another voice rang out.

    “S-stupid Pops! You’re embarrassing me!” Then Uyu, who had run all the way back from where I’d punched her off to, slammed her gauntleted fist into Jinta’s face, sending his body cartwheeling off into the distance with a force that I’m confident that I couldn’t produce.

    The fiery man went flying into the distance with accompanying incoherent yelling. I just stood there, dumbfounded, and ultimately confused by the display.

    “Uh,” I stammered out, “well I guess we know where Uyu gets her energy from.” I chuckled, and Kisuke snorted.

    “Don’t let him hear that, it’d make him irrationally happy.” Kisuke said dismissively. The man acted like we hadn’t had a massive argument not even a few hours earlier, though honestly I welcomed the change, if he acted better at least.

    “Well, well, what do we have here?” Kisuke intoned as he crouched to the ground and started poking and prodding at the snake-like form laying on the ground. It was huge, for a snake, but not much larger than a bear in total size.

    “What is it?” I asked curiously.

    “This, my good sir, is a Hollow. It’s a small thing, but size never means anything with Hollows.” He gave the snake’s form a push and it rolled over easily. “This little thing has been going around terrorising and eating human souls, we call them plusses academically, for a good while now. He only recently showed up on our radar.” I nodded thoughtfully, getting closer to the thing to see if I could make out any more details. As I drew closer, I managed to make out what looked like a mask where the snake’s head should be. It looked vaguely snakelike, with a jaw and a mean looking set of fangs, but past that it looked more like a human skill, with ridges all across it.

    “Watch those fangs kid, they have a mean poison.” Jinta said from behind me, making me jump and pull back from the Hollow.

    I whipped around to see the man standing there, arms crossed. Though it seemed that he had lost all of his earlier aggression. I couldn’t help but sigh. Why were people so bi-polar around here.

    “So… this is supposed to be one of those Hollow things, right?” Suzumi said, standing from far away with Tessai. “Why are they called Hollows anyway?” I looked back towards the snake Hollow and tuck my whole arm through a gaping and perfectly cylindrical hole in its forehead.

    “I’d assume that it’s this hole here?” I answered tentatively, turning towards Kisuke who was still poking and prodding at something in the Hollow’s midsection.

    “Ah, very astute of you. Basically. Hollows are human souls gone wrong, after all. The hole in their bodies are where the chain connecting them to their bodies and the physical world used to be. Once those souls stick around in the Human World too long without passing on, they lose that chain and they turn into a Hollow. Their ‘heart’ then turns into their mask.”

    “Uh, what?” Suzumi said, aghast, “You’re telling me that Hollows are human?” Kisuke shrugged, blasé.

    “They were, sure. Once they turn into a Hollow, things get weird. Sometimes they just turn into mindless beasts, hellbent on evil and vile things, usually towards those they loved in life before branching out, probably like this one,” Jinta nodded to confirm, “and sometimes they retain some degree of intelligence and their memories, but in my experience, that seems rather torturous for the Hollow.”

    “What happens after that?” Suzumi said, clearly not entirely comfortable with the idea that she was looking at a corrupted human soul, of sorts. Kisuke grumbled something about kindergarten lessons.

    “Lots of things, Suzumi. They could be found and sent to Hell by a Soul Reaper—”

    Hell?” Suzumi yelled, running a hand through her hair, “You’re telling me that Hell actually exists?” I got the distinct impression that Kisuke was rolling his eyes at that.

    “Of course, Soul Society could be considered Heaven. Though it isn’t much of a Heaven in my experience.” He snorted derisively. “Anyways, Hollows can be sent to Hell and go through processing there. And before you ask, I know a little bit about what that entails, and even I don’t want to know more.” That genuinely gave me a bit of a shock, the idea that Kisuke wouldn’t want to know absolutely everything about Hell, which probably held some of the most dangerous and nastiest people around, was frankly absurd.

    “If a Soul Reaper doesn’t get to them, they continue to go on a rampage, feasting on human souls before they get to powerful and can’t sustain themselves on human souls anymore. From there they either starve and die slowly or manage to make it to Heuco Mundo, the Hollow’s spiritual realm.”

    “It’s fine,” Jinta managed to interject before Suzumi could become overly worried, “if the Soul Reapers don’t get to them, me and my associates do.” He grinned reassuringly. Suzumi nodded, seemingly mollified by the idea that a group of Jinta’s were running around and keeping things somewhat safe.

    “Well, it seems like something managed to get to this one before you, Jinta.” Kisuke intoned lazily as he revealed a large chunk bitten out of the snake, “Unless you have taken a fancy to the taste of Hollow?”

    “Ew, no way. Hollows taste like garbage.” Jinta denied, vehemently enough to confirm that he has indeed tried to eat a Hollow before. “Though you’re right. Thankfully that bite slowed him down, made him much easier to shoot. Though I have no idea what did it.” Kisuke hummed for a moment.

    “No idea at all?” he asked to confirm, which made Jinta pause for a moment.

    “Well…” The middle-aged man sighed, but continued on, “there is a possibility, other than it just getting bitten in a fight it got itself into.” Kisuke waved a hand to hurry him along, making Jinta grunt.

    “The Soul Reapers we’ve been working with are just calling it Phantom.”

    “Phantom?” Kisuke inquired, interest piqued. Jinta nodded.

    “It’s a Hollow that they can’t catch. Apparently, he has been around for a few decades now, around when the Kurosaki guy ran off to god knows where.” Kisuke rose from his crouching position, pulling and arm from his haori and scratching at his chin.

    “I haven’t seen anything on my equipment… Is it powerful?” Jinta shrugged.

    “Probably not, though no one can really verify. They haven’t been very forthcoming with information about it, as per usual, had to get a lot of people drunk for some good info.” Jinta laughed merrily before Uyu said words that made the man deflate.

    “I’ll tell Mum that you’re drinking again.” She said coolly, easily blackmailing her father. Jinta coughed with embarrassment and continued shakily.

    “Uh, well, all I really know about it is that it’s capable of disappearing. It’s either incredibly fast, incredibly stealthy or amazing at hiding it’s spiritual energy and pressure. Possibly all of the above.” Kisuke almost growled.

    “I don’t like it when a Hollow can get past our spiritual detection that easily.” Jinta shrugged again.

    “Apparently they brought out a Vice Captain at one point and they still couldn’t find the thing. Though they don’t seem too worried about it.”

    “Why not?” Kisuke asked darkly.

    “Well, they’ve been saying that it doesn’t eat human souls.”

    I had never seen something get Kisuke’s attention so quick other than myself.

    “A Hollow that doesn’t eat human souls?” Jinta nodded.

    “Weird right? Every time they’ve encountered it, they’ve always found it eating other Hollows only. It looks really humanoid too. The Soul Reapers just think the thing is creepy and try to stay away from it.” Kisuke was tapping his lips in thought as he stared down at the large bite out of the snake Hollow.

    “I see. I’ll try to see if I can make something that can find it. High sensitivity equipment is hard to make, especially for when you’re trying to find something so close, but I’ll see what I can do.”

    “Alright then. I’ll tell the team to keep an eye out for this Phantom of our and see if we can get any sightings for you.” After that, Jinta turned towards Uyu and reached his hand out.

    “Time to get home for us, Uyu. Your Mother is already angry enough with me as it is.” Uyu nodded.

    “B-bye bye guys!” she said as she waved to us with gauntleted fists, and I just waved back, grinning.

    “See you soon Uyu!” Suzumi said excitedly as the two figures disappeared from sight.







    “I don’t like it Tessai.” Kisuke said as he knelt on a pillow, staring down into his tea with a glare.

    “I know you don’t, Kisuke. But I’m not sure you’re ever had as much control as you believed yourself to have. Even Aizen himself fell into the trap of believing himself the arbiter of all happenings.” Tessai said stoically as he gently sipped from his tea. He had changed out of his store attendant’s uniform and into a set of comfortable striped pyjamas the man had been wearing for a past few centuries, at least. Kisuke idly wondered if Tessai had made them by hand, unsure if humans even created pyjamas in that style that long ago.

    “Fine, I’ll admit that while I have a lot of plans and contingency plans, I don’t have all the information. But over recent weeks I’ve been getting… flashbacks. Small things seem out of place in my spiritual detection apparatuses, and especially with the appearance of both Suzumi and Grayson.” Kisuke sighed, taking a hefty swallow of the light brown mixture.

    “Suzumi and Grayson, though unexpected, aren’t exactly the lynchpin that hold the world together, Kisuke. Just because Grayson isn’t exactly of explainable origin and Suzumi is growing far faster than a high-spec human should, doesn’t mean that everything is falling apart.” Kisuke shook his head, taking off his hat and placing it on the coffee table, scratching at his unruly blonde locks.

    “I’ll remind you that we thought similarly with Rukia being sent to Karakura.”

    “That was different and you know it. We knew much of what Ichigo was even before Rukia granted Ichigo her Soul Reaper powers. We already knew that things were going to happen to the boy, we just weren’t expecting them to be on as massive a level as they were.” Kisuke scoffed.

    “I’m sorry but I can’t help but think they are the same, just this time we don’t know what is happening behind the scenes with Grayson’s past. We have no idea what he is or how he can ‘snatch ribbons’ as he calls it. He managed to cloak his hand in spiritual energy in a few hours Tessai. As far as I can tell he hasn’t undergone anything remotely similar to awakening Soul Reaper powers for whatever he is. It doesn’t help that Suzumi can somehow follow along at a similar pace!” The man was slowly becoming more and more hysterical before Tessai spoke.

    “Kisuke. Calm. You are doing yourself no favours by becoming hysterical, as deserving as it is.” Kisuke took in a few shaky breaths before going back to his tea, cup shaking slightly as he swallowed a few mouthfuls from it.

    “I–” the green cloaked man paused to sigh resignedly, “I can’t help but compare the boy to the Hōgyoku. Able to influence someone else’s spiritual energy and soul to such a degree. He was able to turn someone who was maybe minorly spiritually sensitive into someone with some of the highest spiritual potential amongst a pure human I’ve ever seen in a matter of days.” He rubbed his stubbly chin.

    “It… is concerning, I will grant you that.” Tessai conceded.

    “And then with this new Phantom business…”

    “Kisuke, we don’t even know if this Hollow exists, let alone has any importance at all!” Tessai said, voice rising frustratedly, but Kisuke simply sat there, his mask of general indifference and snark let down while in the company of Tessai.

    Tessai observed his friend of untold centuries and realising that he may have only seen the man in this state once or twice but it was worse this time. He looked to his friends face, the same one that usually carried an easy going smirk now held a haunted expression that Tessai had seen one too many of in his time as Captain of the Kido Division.

    It was the face of a man who had lost too much, seen too much. One who had gone to war and never quite come back home. Tessai stood from his kneeling position and moved around the table, wrapping his friend in a warm hug. The usually touchy man stiffened only slightly before he leaned into the hug sombrely.

    “Maybe you’re right, Tessai.” He said, slowly, “But I have a hunch. A terrible hunch.”
     
  19. Threadmarks: Chapter 16: Gentle Talks
    Sarius

    Sarius Not too sore, are you?

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    Chapter 16: Gentle Talks

    Laying in bed at the end of the day had become my reprieve from the world around me, ever shifting and evolving past my imagining.

    Before, my bed was a trap, a sweet one that tricked me into its warm embrace and silent whispers of depression, but now it was a comfortable moment of safety before sleep took me.

    But tonight, sleep didn’t want to come, no matter how long I held my eyes closed for or thought about mundane topics. My brain never truly found the right lull to settle into.

    For the first hour or two it wasn’t half bad. Suzumi seems to have quietly decided that, since we were slowly making our way towards a relationship, that our futons should be conjoined. A larger set of sheets had been acquired and spread over the two sleeping mats.

    It was pleasant, being so close to one another. Luckily both Suzumi and I slept like rocks and barely moved during our sleep, which sure wasn’t true for everybody.

    I spent most of those couple of hours contemplating my relationship with her, as strange and sudden as it was. I haven’t heard of any other relationships that seemed to come out of nowhere like this, becoming increasingly important over only a matter of days. Granted, it wasn’t as if I or many of my friends back home had a hell of a lot of experience, and a lot of that experience was high school relationships which, well…

    After those hours it just became obvious that I wasn’t getting to sleep any time soon. I untangled myself from the sheets and gently left the bed, Suzumi’s sleep going unperturbed. I made my way out of our room and through the corridors, all the way down the hundreds of steps into the ‘study room’ as it was so lovingly called.

    The air was mostly stagnant down here, but it was a pleasantly cool place to be, during the night anyways. Over the past week I had worked hard in this room, and now it was beginning to feel like a place of productivity.

    Idly I started to wreath my fist in spiritual energy, letting it add it’s strange heaviness to my hand. I had no idea how it worked, but it seemed like internally infusing spiritual energy increased physical strength and wrapping yourself in it made you heavier? More durable?

    I couldn’t possibly understand it fully, I only got to use it once before Uyu’s dad showed up with that Hollow.

    “Hollows, huh?” I mused to myself.

    They were weird things, all parts of the equation were weird, really. Human souls or ‘Plusses’ are usually sent to the afterlife, but if they stick around, they become Hollows who eat other Hollows and Plusses. But sometimes human souls become Soul Reapers, sort of?

    It didn’t sound like there were that many of them, to be honest. Kisuke and Tessai also keep talking about decades passing like I would talk about a year, so I’m not sure if I’d be surprised to learn that they were a few centuries old, or something close to that.

    Honestly, I think I understate how bewildering it is to learn all of this stuff at once, Soul Society, Hueco Mundo–the Hollow’s realm–and actual Hell? What’s next? Are there other spiritual beings out there, other than Hollows and Soul Reapers, that will once again change how I think about the world?

    I let a big sigh out as I sat down on the rocky ground after clearing myself a spot, laying my back down and looking up towards the roof, which was totally obscured from my vision. Though I could imagine the juxtaposition of the darkness of night and the painted clouds and blue sky.

    While I was laying there, slowly wrapping and unwrapping my fist with spiritual energy, I felt a gentle displacement of air, significantly quieter than the normal movement that Tessai and Urahara typically use.

    “Can’t sleep?” Urahara’s voice rang out in the darkness. I just gave a short nod to the man, continuing my silence. I heard the man’s cane clack against the rock underfoot, then slowly lowering himself to sit next to me.

    We sat in silence, for no reason in particular. There was a surprising lack of tension in the air, despite how we’d butt heads quite a few times. The man was an oddity, and I could never be entirely sure what angle he was approaching something from. Which made him almost entirely unpredictable to me. He seemed unpredictable to even Tessai himself, which basically made him a massive wildcard, as far as I was concerned.

    “Y’know. We once knew a boy like you.” He said casually, but I could tell that somewhere in his voice there was a heaviness you didn’t find in casual conversation. I nodded.

    “Kurosaki, right? You guys mention him every now and then.” Kisuke nodded slowly.

    “Ichigo Kurosaki is his name.” Tapping my fingers on the rock floor beside me, I felt the stone give way underneath my cloaked fingers relatively easily.

    “Who is he?” I asked quietly, almost afraid to break the truce we had silently formed. Kisuke chuckled.

    “A handful is what he was. And possibly one of, if not the strongest beings in existence. In various ways.” I scrunched up my nose at that.

    “Really? Was he always that way?”

    “In some ways, yes. In others, he was as weak as could be. Even now you would have been competitive with him, if he had learnt normally that is.” I heard the scratching of the stubble that was ever present on the man’s chin.

    “What did he do that was different than me?” I asked, curious. To become someone powerful enough that you could easily say that he was one of the strongest was… enticing. Kisuke just laughed.

    “Everything. For one, he never did any basic training. In fact, as soon as he was granted any abilities at all, he was off galivanting around and killing Hollows. Though that didn’t last long.” I felt myself physically recoil. No training at all? Was he just immediately good at everything? A genius?

    “I can already tell that you are thinking about him the wrong way. Ichigo Kurosaki is an exceptionally gifted person, true. But for him to become as he is now?” The blonde headed man went silent, thinking for a long moment.

    “I did many things that I’m not proud of to launch that boy to that position. For him to become the way he is… cost a lot. He was an insect, thrown into a pot with others, left with no alternative. When the lid was removed, he was the only one remaining. The pinnacle.”

    “But at what cost?” I mused, amusement at the cliched line not lost on the man, who chuckled darkly.

    “At the cost of all autonomy until that last moment when he was finally free.” The man paused to sigh heavily, “He was a pawn to the powerful, a piece on a chessboard that they utilized to play a cosmically unknowable match with, until the pawn became a queen and chose it’s own colour.”

    “So, you think I am the same?” I said, cutting to the chase, though Kisuke didn’t answer immediately.

    “I’m not sure. You have unknown powers and unknown origins. It’s bad starting point. But I don’t think you are controlled as he was. The fact that I know nothing of you, and that all the intelligence that I was able to get on your also comes up clean just means there is something else going on entirely.”

    “Then why the hostility?” I ask. I kept any heat out of my voice that I could. To his credit, he kept his cool just fine as well.

    “I’d like to say that there is a highly reasonable explanation for it, past the obvious, but really there isn’t. A fear of fate, you could call it.”

    “Fate? Is fate a real thing?” I asked him, but I was met with a wry laugh.

    “It’s just as mystical a concept to mortals as it is to Soul Reapers. I’d sure hope that fate didn’t exist, but Ichigo Kurosaki was hundreds, if not a thousands of years of build-up in the making. For it all to come together; I have no explanation other than pure luck.”

    “Both of those options being unappealing.” I added

    “Extremely.”

    The silence regained its grip on the two of us. Slowly but surely, I was starting to understand the man more, in a general sense. His personality was more alien to me than anyone I’d ever met, so I could very well just be reading him wrong, but I think I had the outline of it.

    He wanted to protect. For what reason past his own self-preservation, I couldn’t say. Though he was willing to go so far as to kill a possible threat, regardless of whose side they were on, or if they had a side at all.

    But in a way, he seemed like a scared child. Gifted with clear intellect and cunning, enough to create a high sensitivity thing that was able to use to detect my soul from over an ocean or two away. But stuck fighting against the world, against endless possibilities.

    I was glad I didn’t have to live inside the man’s brain.

    “Well.” I said casually, “Now that we have contemplated the scary stuff. Have you got any pointers on spiritual pressure and spiritual energy? I want to use spiritual sense.”

    “Ooh, spiritual senses, hmm?” The man stood from his spot and tapped his cane against the floor in thought. “Spiritual sense is still a little out of your wheelhouse, but you’re doing a pretty good job at covering your body in spiritual energy. You learn that a year or two into the academy”

    “The academy?” I asked, confused.

    “Of course. Soul Reapers have to learn about being Soul Reapers somewhere.” Urahara scoffed but returned to thinking. “What you have been doing so far is a good way of using spiritual energy, further adding to your combat abilities and even adding a bit of durability, though your shield is soaking up most of what you’re being given. For now, continue what you’ve been doing and try to get your entire body covered, then compress that and add another layer. Soon enough you’ll be punching holes in buildings.” I rose an eyebrow, but the man was already walking away.

    “Hey!” I called out, making Kisuke stop for a moment, “Thanks for the tip.” The man lifted his cane and waved it around dismissively before disappearing altogether, the displacement of air not even recognizable from this distance.

    I contemplated going back to my room but decided against it. Making myself able to punch through buildings sounded a whole lot cooler.







    After that, days passed in a blur of strenuous physical training at the hands of Tessai, Kisuke being helpful and properly teaching Suzumi and I spiritual energy manipulation, and Uyu coming to the shop after school to show us how terrifying a little kid with the ability to blast us to outer space could be.

    The more that I learnt, fought and accessed my spiritual energy the more I realised just how much fun I was having. There was a constant array of problems being thrown at my brain from every which angle and I had to solve them the best I could.

    Things started slowly, with just the running with Tessai and Urahara forcing us to use our spiritual energy under threat of his own spiritual pressure, but after that things only sped up. With the baseline things we had achieved, Suzumi and I were able to evolve our techniques into new avenues.

    For one, Suzumi had almost completely decided to go fisticuffs all the way. She had modified her shielding to wrap around her arms more concretely, while she used her spiritual energy to focus more heavily on her hands, fingers and forearms. This made her a bit too glass cannon for my liking, but when I saw her fight…

    Well, it was awe inspiring, to say the least. It was an all-out slugfest between Uyu and Suzumi, both of the women going at it with as close to no holds barred as you could get without there being a body to cremate after the match.

    Suzumi was way better at ‘localizing’ spiritual energy covering than me. She was able to double coat her fingers and do a single coat of her hand. Though she did something that she called a half-coat on her arms, making them more durable, but forced her to focus more on pushing spiritual energy to that area.

    I, however, specialised differently. I went with balance. As of now, I was capable of doing a single coat to around sixty percent of my body, which is both arms, most of my upper body and legs and, obviously, my head. Though this left my midsection and a lot of my back vulnerable.

    My fights with Uyu, or even Suzumi now that Tessai considered us capable of not accidentally killing each other, went a lot different to Suzumi fights. I played a game of endless cat and mouse, playing on the defensive and lashing out when the time was right, playing the weaknesses of the other fighter.

    It didn’t always win, far from it. But when I did win, I won almost absolutely. Typically, I crushed the two girls by stealing their ribbon and then smacking them around to stop them from regaining their composure again.

    “Well, you’ve all been fighting so impressively recently, I think it’s getting to the point where It’s ridiculous to expect you to fight each other any longer.” Kisuke called from across the manufactured stony hills, causing all of us to turn towards the man.

    “We’ve been training you for almost a month now, and while most recommendations would have you waiting for another year or so, I see no point in following the archaic rules of the Soul Society.” He turned away from us, and I could feel a wide grin plastering itself onto the man’s face.

    “Come on ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to hunt a Hollow!”
     
  20. Threadmarks: Chapter 17: Preparations for a Day
    Sarius

    Sarius Not too sore, are you?

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    Chapter 17: Preparations for a Day

    Kisuke, after a stern talking to from Tessai, allowed us a day to prepare. It also seemed like Uyu was coming along with us, though it sounds like she’d been on Hollow hunts before with her father.

    Speaking of Uyu’s father, we were apparently going to be directly supervised by him on this hunt, and I was somewhat anxious about it. He’d been a firecracker when I had met him last, though with his daughter around he seemed relatively harmless, especially under the threat of his wife’s ire. I had enough wacky characters to manage with just Kisuke, I certainly wasn’t excited to have more to juggle.

    I let my hand explore to the side of me in the sheets of the futon, quickly finding Suzumi’s sleeping form, her soft pyjama shirt tangled in the sheets, not that she seemed to mind given her light snoring.

    It had been a bit of a hurdle to get over the first few nights, always having found it difficult to find sleep, but after a while the soft sound was what calmed me in the late hours of the day. Suzumi, bless her, managed to find sleep in mere moments and stay asleep, so I never had to worry about my multiple trips out of the room waking her. I woke frequently during the night, though with solid sleeps between.

    At the moment, it was about five minutes before the alarm on my phone would usually go off, more an emergency measure around the unlikely case of me oversleeping. I quickly moved over to my phone and turned off the upcoming alarm, sitting up and pushing my sheets away I grabbed my clothes and quickly got out of my own pyjamas and got into some normal clothes.

    Tessai had told us last night that there was going to clothes made for us, possibly by Kisuke. He hadn’t exactly elaborated at all, and I had no idea what the clothing would look like, but judging by the casual clothes everyone seemed to wear, even while fighting, it didn’t seem like protective clothing like armour did all that much in comparison to spiritual shielding and enhancement.

    I quickly walked to the toilet, went through my routine and walked back to my room, closing the door behind me and opening the blinds to let in the dim morning light illuminate my foggy vision.

    “Suzumi!” I called gently, shaking her body gently. Hearing her mumble something incoherent I called her name again and she jolted a little.

    “Ah, I’m up, I’m up.” She groaned at my harassment, making me laugh. She was always groggy in the mornings, even if she typically went to bed earlier than I did.

    “Good, remember that we have that Hallow hunt today. I’m going to go grab a hot chocolate, do you want something?” She requested coffee, two sugars, and I walked back out of the room to oblige her.

    I walked towards the kitchenette, filling the electric kettle with water and carefully directing it back towards it’s baseplate, then fumbling around with the cups and the coffee and chocolate powders and just waited silently for the kettle to boil.

    But just as the kettle did exactly that, I saw Tessai’s ribbon move at his general walking pace towards Kisuke’s room. Kisuke was in his basement, a room he spent most of his time in directly underneath what I could only assume to be his sleeping quarters.

    The man was usually out at this hour, god knows where, maybe at a market or something similar, but today seemed to be an exception. I heard Tessai call Kisuke, muffled through the various layers of building in this deceptively large estate. Kisuke’s ribbon moved up from the basement to meet Tessai. There was a short, muffled conversation and they both walked out of the room and towards me.

    I quickly finished making the coffee and hot chocolate, and as the two men walked around the corner I called out to them.

    “Do you boys want coffee or something?” I asked, not looking at them. None of us were surprised to see the other, which probably just meant they were as away of my movements around the house as I was theirs. I wonder how they did that.

    “Coffee for me.” Kisuke said wryly and Tessai said the same, just more politely. I did as such, leaving those on the bench and walked back to the room to give Suzumi her coffee. I walked into the room to see from her silhouette that she had already changed out of her baggy pyjamas to a pair of shorts and a t-shirt.

    “By the way,” I said between my sips of hot chocolate, “Tessai and Kisuke are up and at ‘em, so finish up drinking so we can see what they want.” She nodded and we quickly downed the hot beverages and walked out of the room together towards the meeting room that I’d had a few conversations with Kisuke in.

    “Ah! Good morning you two!” Kisuke greeted jubilantly. We sat at the opposite side of the table and looked inquisitively towards the two men.

    “So,” I began, “what time do we get going?” Kisuke waved his hand dismissively.

    “Not for an hour or two yet. Uyu is taking the day off school and her father will be leading us. Tessai and I will merely be observers, not that we will be meeting anything of sufficient strength to warrant our presence.” He said with a haughty tone, but I could tell it was mostly play acting on his part. He was probably being entirely truthful.

    “So… do we have to wear armour or anything?” Suzumi questioned thoughtfully, “I know we are capable of having full on fights against each other in normal clothing but fighting something that wants to actually hurt us in shorts and a t-shirt seems wrong.” I laughed while Tessai nodded his head thoughtfully.

    “Indeed. Soul Reapers rarely wear protective clothing, mostly because of spiritual energy being used for protection instead. Most simply wear the standard garment called a shihakushō, which amounts to a black robe with a white sash and sandals. With minor adjustments based on personal tastes.” I reeled back, a little dumbstruck.

    “Wait, you’re telling me no-one uses armour or anything?”

    “Some do,” Kisuke piped up, “but again, it’s either usually for flair or practicality. Most Soul Reapers would try to simply increase their own spiritual defences before they decided to try create armour of any sort.” I could already feel a headache forming.

    Why? Surely there is a way to create spiritually enhanced armour of some sort. You guys have special mystical soul swords, don’t you! How do you not have armour?” I asked incredulously.

    “They are called Zanpakutō,” Kisuke corrected dryly, “and no need to argue with me about it. I tried to tell the old man to put funding into armour years ago, but he just went on and on about how Soul Reapers needed to be masters of the spiritual, and using armour would be a crutch against proper learning and training, not that it stopped Zaraki.” He grumbled, his voice growing with frustration as his elaborated.

    Well at least Kisuke had thought about it before.

    “So did you ever try to make it anyway?” I asked curiously.

    “Of course I did!” Kisuke responded happily, his anger washed away with the allure of the new discussion, “Though, to be honest, they were all duds. My scientific partner at the time was… uninterested in the idea, for whatever reason. I had next to no funding for it, so most of what I built came out of what I could scrounge up and even then I was tinkering with ideas that were way out of my league.” I raised an eyebrow and guessing from Tessai’s ribbon this was the first he’d heard of this as well.

    “Like what?” Suzumi asked, confused but trying to keep up with he conversation. I’d tried to explain what Kisuke had to me about Soul Society and all that, but she asked lots of questions I didn’t have any answer to, so she was even more confused about it all than I was.

    “Well…” he coughed embarrassedly into his hand, “I was trying to, well, apply the ideas of a Zanpakutō to armour.” This made Tessai burst out in a fit of laughter and the two of us look even more confused.

    “What? We were all young once!” Which only made Tessai laugh harder. I had never seen the man as unprofessional as this, the sheer juxtaposition of his usual demeanour to this made it difficult not to laugh along as well. As the entire room chuckled, even Kisuke’s ribbon glowed with a blush slightly. The ribbons were getting even more emotive, which was weird but helpful.

    “It occurs to me that you may not understand why…” Tessai giggled in the middle of his sentence, “why exactly that was so comedic to me. The Zanpakutō is a marvel of spiritual creation, each blade a masterwork that at first reflects the soul of the weilder, then becomes one with their soul, and potentially even advances to become one with their wielder themselves. The Zanpakutō’s creator Ōetsu Nimaiya is a genius of untold proportions in the smithing and creation of Zanpakutōs. Kisuke has been a fan for many years.” Kisuke looked even more embarrassed now.

    “You tried to create a soul bound armour?” I asked inquisitively. Kisuke gave Tessai a withering gaze when the man began to chuckle again at the man’s old aspiration, but returned his gaze to me and sighed.

    “Yes, in a sense. In fact my idea was to somewhat piggyback off of the connection that Ōetsu made with the Zanpakutō’s spirit, and the power and soul of the Soul Reaper wielding it.” He hummed as he puzzled through his own thoughts, “hijacking that connection would allow the spirit of the Zanpakutō to theoretically empower the armour, and if I can create it correctly I could even potentially allow the armour to change form much like a Zanpakutō can, though that is all theoretical to the highest degree, I might add.”

    Tessai, who was quite amused at the idea before now seemed to actually be thinking about the prospects of the armour.

    “Would… could that possibly be used to further our connection to our Zanpakutō?” Tessai mumbled thoughtfully, but Kisuke just shrugged.

    “It certainly could, but it also could simply act entirely the same as before. There’d be no way to tell until it was made, and I can’t make it if I don’t have a truly monolithic amount of funding. Like, all of the four Noble Houses put together type of funding. Though, Ōetsu would be handy so that I could pick his brain.” Tessai nodded, accepting Kisuke’s review of is. I had no idea who the four Noble Houses were, but I’d assume they were filthy rich.

    “In either case, I have a present for you two, under the topic of armour and clothing.” Kisuke said jovially as he pulled something out of thin air and placed the two things on the table.

    I couldn’t see them very well, their silhouette being pretty confusion, but it didn’t take long for Suzumi to talk about it.

    “They look like fancy kendo uniforms?” I tried to picture a kendo uniform, but came up with nothing, but Kisuke barked out a laugh.

    “Fair enough. And for the one of us who visually impaired, I have created clothing for you two to use for todays hunt. It is a long baggy set of pants and a loose shirt, similar to that which martial arts schools use for their uniforms. It is in a traditional fashion so they may be difficult to wear initially.” I nodded, and Suzumi explained to me in more detail.

    The pants were a very dark blue, large and flowy, which made them look like a robe, but the legs were independent from each other. The shirt was a stark white with no symbolism, except for a sash that was tied around where the pants and the shirt intercepted, being a lighter blue than the pants.

    “Are these protective?” I asked, curiously.

    “Unfortunately not, making something protecting enough to be useful in a fight with a Hollow in a single night is a bit of a stretch. Though I have made weapons capable of fighting Hollows before, but they took many weeks of time to create.” I nodded, a little disappointed, but I guess out last topic was a good enough explanation as to why that was the case.

    “Alright, I guess we should go get changed then.” I said as I picked up the bundle of clothes that sat in front of me, seeing Suzumi do the same. We walked out way back to our room and started trying to get changed.

    Suzumi was exceptionally unconcerned about changing in front of me, probably because I was next to blind, but hey I could still see rough outlines, so that was always a treat. The clothing turned out to be exceptionally difficult to put on while blind.

    Thankfully Suzumi was good at this sort of thing and helped my useless ass into the thing. It was simple enough once I’d learned where all the holes were and how to tie the sash, but I would be useless trying to get it on myself.

    Of course that didn’t stop Suzumi from giggling at me trying.

    “Alrighty then.” I said as I gripped onto the lapel of my new shirt and grinned towards my sorta-girlfriend. “Ready to go smack around some scary monsters?”

    “I’ll make sure they don’t scare you too much, darling” she said, sarcasm dripping, pushing me playfully. I just laughed as we both walked out of the room, preparing ourselves for the day ahead.
     
    Dahding, thethomas, Mike439 and 3 others like this.
  21. Threadmarks: Chapter 18: First Contact
    Sarius

    Sarius Not too sore, are you?

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    Chapter 18: First Contact

    Before long we were out and about on the streets.

    Tessai and Kisuke chaperoned us towards a meeting place on foot, running and a speed that was likely faster than driving a car or a bike. This was one of the first times I had actually been outside for a significant period of time since arriving in Japan.

    I had never really gone wandering or exploring, certainly not on my own. I had forgotten about going outside at all really, so caught up in becoming stronger at a rapid pace and all the spiritual business. So much so that it didn’t even enter my mind.

    Now though, it was different. The middle of the day was glorious and bright as we dashed from one rooftop to another, dancing across the suburban landscape. It was dexterity and agility that I hadn’t thought about putting into practice in such a way. My first instinct walking outside of the house was to look for the car that was going to take us to the meeting place, without realizing that we were faster than cars.

    It was a far cry from Tessai or Kisuke’s instant or near instant movement, but honestly, I think I’d enjoy this more than suddenly arriving at my destination. I felt like I was flying, even having enough leeway to spin and flip, testing the limits of my own dexterity.

    Suzumi was doing just about the same, her long black hair fluttering in the wind as she twisted and turned, jumping high into the sky and dolphin diving downwards, only to catch herself in the last moment by springing back up with her hands, flipping into an upright position.

    Frankly, it was absurd. I had issues seeing, obviously, and I was nigh blind. But in following the movements of Suzumi, Tessai and Kisuke, I was able to keep myself from falling, just with a little less gung-ho tricks side of things.

    Though it was liberating, above all else. I had never moved like this, outside of training. I had barely run or moved at anything other than a stilted walk all my life, but now I was sprinting at a speed faster than a car over the top of buildings.

    “Woah!” Suzumi called out, “Sorry!” I turned towards her, confused.

    “What happened?”

    “I just ran by a lady sitting on her balcony. Scared me good.” Suzumi responded in a yell.

    “Oh, no need to worry you two, I have implanted small spiritual devices into your clothing to keep you invisible to the living. You two are currently incapable of being separated from your physical bodies, so I thought it best if we keep it strictly physical, yes?”

    “So we can’t be seen by anyone?” I asked him, and his ribbon shook its end.

    “No, anything with a powerful enough spiritual sensitivity will be able to see you, so stay away from children in particular. We don’t want a large number of children all talking about people running across the rooftops at once.”

    “Ah, well I wouldn’t be able to see them to know either way. Guess I’ll just go bumping into people at high speeds to give them a good scare.”

    I nodded solemnly, but I think Suzumi just rolled her eyes at me and then the man.

    “We have arrived.” Tessai grunted in his bass-y voice as he jumped down into a park, landing gently on the grass, lighter than a feather. Suzumi and I followed after him, decidedly less delicate about it, as out feet thumped into the ground with sizable force.

    “Uhm, good morning!” Uyu’s voice rang out from in front of us, the young girl’s ribbon lightening up with recognition.

    “Hello there, Uyu!” Suzumi said gleefully, running over to the smaller girl and pulling her into a tight hug. Uyu squirmed and complained nervously, but her Ribbon said that she was loving the attention. I laughed at the delightful antics of my sorta-girlfriend, the two of them together, Uyu and Suzumi, was heart-warming to witness.

    “She talks about her all the time, y’know.” A gruff voice said softly from beside me. One look at their ribbon told me that it was Jinta. I nodded.

    “So does Suzumi. Thinks of her like a little sister.” Jinta’s ribbon nodded happily. After our less than stellar initial encounter, Jinta mellowed out towards me quickly, though he was the fiery sort in general. If anything was going to temper his flame, it was his daughter, or his wife who I’ve yet to meet.

    “That’s good. I think Uyu always wanted an older sister. We’re too old for another kid, so this’ll have to suffice.” He chuckled before walking towards the two Soul Reapers.

    “Alright! Let’s get going on our patrol, shall we?” He said, metaphorical engines revving at the thought, “You two eggheads got all your fancy gadgets?” I could feel Kisuke roll his eyes.

    “When did you get so uppity, Jinta. Did you forget that I handcrafted all your tools?” Jinta scoffed heartly but seemed to take the comment as an affirmation.

    “Let’s get a move on then.” He said, voice more intense now, less unrestricted forest fire and more focused welding torch.

    We started to get a move on, everyone going silent and keeping their head on a swivel, looking out for something with their sight. Everyone sunk into a method with ease, Jinta at the lead, followed by Kisuke and Tessai at each side, then Uyu behind them, with me and Suzumi behind her.

    Maybe it was the natural leading abilities of Jinta, or simply the experience of all barring Suzumi and I that compelled us towards a structure. Though, I didn’t have much in the way of sight, I could try something else to keep a lookout instead.

    “Jinta,” I called, breaking the silence, “do you mind if I expand my soul sensing abilities? I might be able to get a better idea of what’s going on around us.” He didn’t respond verbally, but he nodded succinctly, showing through on his ribbon.

    I did as I had said, expanding my soul sense past just myself and a few others for the first time in a while. Now that I had a lot more control over my spiritual energy in general, I found it much easier to restrict the area my soul sensing ‘bubble’. I don’t know if it surrounded me like a sphere or a circular area of effect, but I could feel my aura reach further outwards towards the city limits.

    By that point my vision was filled with the ribbons, thick or thin, wavy, crimped or straight, sharp-edged or feather soft, they were all slightly different. I’m not sure it was something I was capable of seeing before, a sense that was blocked to me by my inexperience in what was allowing me to see them in the first place. They all imprinted in my mind as easily as the name and face of a person, of their smell or their voice.

    But there was way too many of them, thousands, tens of thousands maybe.

    “Jinta,” I called again, choosing to refer to the team leader of this temporary group, “is there a way to differentiate between living humans and dead human souls?” Thought it wasn’t Jinta who answered.

    “You believe you can narrow the ribbons you see?” Kisuke asked, intrigued, and I nodded, “A living human’s soul ribbons will feel tighter, like water being held in a balloon, whereas souls without a body and without correct precautions will feel like water spilt on the floor.” I frowned at the odd examples, but when I recontextualized what I was looking for in my mind, the thousands of ribbons cluttering my view suddenly became only twenty-eight.

    “Twenty-eight souls without physically bodies within Karakura town.” There was a moment of shocked silence from all that surrounded me, well except for Uyu and Suzumi who seemed to be surprised at the shock in their seniors.

    “Accuracy on that, kid?” Jinta called out, his gruff middle-aged voice lightened by surprise and interest.

    “Uh,” I thought for a moment, trying to scrutinize my own senses, “as accurate as you’d think your sight is? Probably more? It’s another sense for me, sir.” I answered with difficulty.

    “Well I never.” Kisuke laughed excitedly, “A boy with a spiritual sensitivity that accurate… maybe captain level, at least, better than mine for sure, and that’s saying something.” Tessai’s ribbon quirked oddly at that, though I couldn’t parse the expression.

    “Do you have a direction for us, Carter?” Jinta continued, ignoring the Soul Reaper’s monologue.

    “Uh, depends, sir. Do you want to move to the nearest one, or do you want me to look for something specific about them?” Jinta’s ribbon tilted it’s end in thought.

    “Is there any that are moving in haste?” I looked over the ribbons for a moment and found one. A ribbon that was fairly close, the same ‘spilt cup’ feeling emanating from them that Kisuke had talked about earlier. It was moving at about a running pace from what I could see. The ribbon itself was fairly plain, but it was slowly becoming paler, a slight rip beginning to appear in the ribbon in a suspiciously perfect corner of a circle.

    “One soul moving at roughly running speed, potentially in the process of becoming a Hollow?” I questioned towards the team leader.

    “Direction.” Came the immediate response, Jinta’s voice rock hard.

    “Thirty-five-ish degrees to our left, no idea how far out.” I responded, tone clipped and short, trying to get as much information into as little time. Immediately the direction of our team shifted, the intensity heightening.

    Not a word was spoken, only the sound of rushing air, the beating of my own heart, and footsteps against rooftops could be heard as we raced towards our destination.

    The soul that I was keeping an eye on was still running, frantic from what I could only assume was a Hollow, the small rip in it’s own ribbon ever so slightly becoming larger, a timer to the corruption of the soul.

    “We’re here!” I yelled out as we got close enough, but I received no response, the whole group dropping from the roof to the concrete below, finding ourselves on a long strip of road by the edge of steep decline to what sounded like a trickling river.

    But that wasn’t the only thing that was making noise. There was a shrill scream, and then a far more terrifying roar.

    No, not a roar, but like the wailing screams of something that used to be a person, garbled with white noise, clouding it’s own vocalization.

    The noise was unlike anything I’d ever heard before, something entirely alien and incomprehensible. I could feel Suzumi stiffening at my side, presumably for the same reason. I steeled myself against the horror of it.

    “Help! Please help me!” A man cried, the same soul that I had tracked to get here. I could hear the jangling of a chain or some sort as the man ran from the Hollow that pursued him with large, thumping strides.

    “What do we do?” I yelled towards Jinta as they moved to the side. It was our first Hollow hunt, after all.

    “Whatever you feel in necessary, every moment you are talking to me you are putting that soul in danger!” Jinta responded gruffly, and I simply nodded in response. But even as I made to move forward first, Suzumi had already moved forwards instead, leaving Uyu and I behind.

    “Sir!” She called out to the sprinting soul, “Please get behind me and my friends, they will be able to keep you safe!” The soul responded with an incoherent scream but managed to race behind Suzumi.

    I didn’t let a moment go to waste as the Hollow moved forwards. I couldn’t get a good read on the Hollow’s ribbon, seemingly not possessing one, or at least one that I could sense correctly. But I could tell roughly where it was based on sound and Suzumi’s ribbon. I backed up Suzumi as the Hollow thumped forwards, still trying to chase the soul that it wanted to make its snack.

    “Over here, you dumb thing!” Suzumi yelled as she jumped into the air and, with a mighty crack, gave the Hollow’s wide chest a kick, sending it stumbling backwards, only just forcing itself away from the steep decline that would’ve forced it to fight at a height disadvantage.

    Now that I was able to get a better look at it, the Hollow was almost comically top-heavy, if it weren’t so menacingly built. It’s chest and arms were oversized, almost like a gorilla’s and its legs, or what should have been legs, were replaced with what looked like claws or hooks attacked to a prehensile tail. I couldn’t tell what the patterns were like on its mask, but it was shaped like a diamond, seemingly lacking eyes on its silhouette, but a large, grinning mouth instead, tusks twisting outwards from its gaping mouth.

    “Jesus, you’re an ugly bastard, aren’t you?” Suzumi said, a bit disturbed.

    “I can tell that much and I can barely see worth a damn.” I said, somehow managing to make light of the tense situation.

    “L-less talking more fighting!” Uyu yelled as she launched herself over Suzumi and I’s head, winding back a large, gauntleted fist as the Hollow let out another ear-piercing scream and lunged forwards with one of its oversized fists.
     
  22. Threadmarks: Chapter 19: Bone White
    Sarius

    Sarius Not too sore, are you?

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    Chapter 19: Bone White

    There was a resounding boom as Uyu’s fist met the Hollow’s, both seemingly equal in force. I didn’t let the opportunity go to waste, and I slunk forward quickly, trying to keep myself as inconspicuous as possible. I finessed my way underneath the gargantuan arm and planted a fist solidly in its side.

    The Hollow screeched again, more anger than pain and lashed out with its tail like appendage, forcing me to take a few steps back while Suzumi approached from a different angle, leaping towards the thing and planting a bone shattering blow directly into its collarbone. Though, unfortunately, aside from a screech of pain, it didn’t seem to impair the Hollow at all, taking a swipe at Suzumi as she also danced just out of its reach.

    So far so good.

    Now that I had actually touched the Hollow, I could kind of make out its spiritual energy, or maybe its signature, but I still couldn’t visualize a ribbon, which meant that I couldn’t just steal its ribbon and summarily beat it to death. Maybe that would’ve been too easy.

    The Hollow lumbered forwards, using its fists to rush towards us, the thumping against the solid concrete able to be felt through the sandals that came with the new uniform.

    “Go in!” I yelled, mostly to Uyu, who still had the largest amount of pure firepower of us but had to give her gauntlet some time to power up to full. Luckily, she had been hanging back and recharging since that first punch.

    She leapt again, seeking to punch the Hollow in its face, but the Hollow leaned on one arm and swiped, hand open, trying to slap the little girl away, but I was ready for that.

    With quick and precise movements, I positioned myself behind the swinging hand and jumped to grab the Hollow’s fingers, using all my weight plus a good deal of enhancement to my muscles using spiritual energy. I managed to wrestle the thing’s hand to the ground, allowing me to straddle its wrist and let Uyu’s fist fly into the Hollow’s face.

    The fist that was swinging towards me, trying to get me to release its other hand from my hold, suddenly redirected towards it’s face as it screamed bloody murder.

    “I-I got it!” Uyu cheered, but I wasn’t so quick to celebrate. There was a pitter patter of what almost sounded like shattered ceramics on the ground, but all was soon drowned out as an overwhelming scream rang out, the world suddenly becoming heavier with the spiritual pressure the this was releasing.

    “It was toying with us!” I screamed as I unhanded the straining wrist, just before it was going to break free and send me flying.

    “What do we do?” Suzumi yelled back as the Hollow used its tail for the first time. It shot out like a bullet, catching the Uyu in the chest as she tried to retreat behind us. Suzumi, only seeing the blur of Uyu’s form as she flew past into a brick wall, immediately turned to make sure that Uyu was alright.

    However, as Suzumi did so, I saw one of the Hollow’s fists rocketing towards Suzumi, hoping to catch her off guard while she worried more about Uyu than herself.

    “Suzumi, eye on the Hollow!” I yelled at her, trying to be as commanding as possible. I raced towards the incoming fist and, using as much force as I could muster on short notice, slammed my fist into its wrist. With a sickening crack, whatever it was that held the thing together broke, and with a scream it pulled its injured hand back, leaning mostly on its other arm.

    “You little–” Suzumi began but was interrupted with the Hollow screeching out it’s pain, the air around us becoming even denser than before, forcing Suzumi to readjust her footing to stay stable.

    Seeing its chance, the Hollow’s tail lashed forwards again, it’s clawed end seeking her flesh. However, Suzumi was a smart cookie.

    Knowing that the Hollow was more animalistic than anything, she made sure to emphasise her moment of weakness as she ‘stumbled’ forward. Really, she’d put herself at the perfect angle to enhance her leg muscles and effectively kick against the ground, making the ground shatter slightly underneath he forces, launching herself forward, grabbing onto the Hollow’s tail and dashing underneath it’s torso.

    When she reached the other side, with a scream of exertion and enhancing herself to such a degree that I could see her ribbon glow with power, she pulled on the tail with all her might, forcing the Hollow to strike at the ground, planting its fingers into the earth to hold back against the might of Suzumi.

    Of course, I wasn’t going to let my sorta-girlfriend’s awesome moment fail. Running forwards to where the Hollow’s hand was planted, I took a deep breath in, making sure that my hand was entirely coated in spiritual energy and enhancing my right arm with as much as I could spare, I brought my fist down on the Hollow’s other wrist.

    This time, it didn’t simply break, it tore. My hand passed through the strange flesh of the Hollow, its skin giving a token resistance to the force of my fist, then travelling through the strange not-flesh and, with a small bang, reaching the other side. Thankfully, my fist did more damage than just allowing me to sink my arm deep into the Hollow and having me be flung around, but it created a wide hole that didn’t quite sever the arm from the hand.

    Though, Suzumi’s forceful pulling did the job for me, as the flesh stretched past it’s limits and eventually tore apart. The Hollow then went flying overhead, and in less than a second, slammed bodily into the concrete on the other side of Suzumi, a stilted screech the only thing that it could muster.

    I wasn’t panting with the exertion of the past few moments now, and I’m sure that Suzumi was doing similarly, but I had greater things to worry about.

    “Uyu! Are you alright?” I yelled, making sure to not take my eye away from the hollow, who, unable to stand on its arms anymore, could only resort to flailing with its tail, which Suzumi was only semi-successfully pinning down, exhausted by her earlier heroics.

    “J-just fine!” I head as a dark shape flew overhead. With a single glance I could see both Uyu’s ribbon and her gauntlet glowing with a powerful white energy. I couldn’t help myself and grinned madly.

    With a massive boom, and the sound of shattering ceramic, the fight was over, the weight in the air died as the Hollow’s mask shattered in its death, though the body stayed there, fully formed. Tessai had told me that Soul Reapers were capable of purifying the soul and sending to Soul Society or Hell, depending on the crimes of the soul, but I guess just breaking its mask with brute force won’t necessarily purify it and may just disable it depending on the Hollow.

    Quickly recovering from the fight, I made my way towards the Hollow’s body, tentative at first, making sure that there wasn’t going to be any surprises. But after a long moment of waiting, the body didn’t do so much as twitch.

    I reached out my hand, placing it on the body of the Hollow and feeling its unnaturally cool skin, just below a comfortable temperature to touch but not so much that you’d pull your hand away. The spiritual energy of it was still all there, keeping the Hollow’s body corporeal, but I was having difficulty making sense of the thing’s ribbon.

    It was there, it definitely had one, but I just couldn’t get it all together. It was different with human souls and Soul Reaper souls, they were basically the same, just varying levels of powerful, but this thing was alien in its essence. An inversion.

    “An inversion!” I mumbled excitedly as I looked towards the hole in the Hollow’s chest, and then looked towards the destroyed mask, one large piece of the thing’s mask still whole. It was a part of the mask’s mouth and tusk, laying on the ground. I couldn’t see what was underneath the Hollow’s mask. But it just seemed like incomplete spiritual energy, not really anything other than a fountain of black spiritual energy, unformed and taking on a similar guise to blood. Interesting.

    I walked over to the largest share of the mask and picked it up. I could hear Uyu and Suzumi talking in the background, mostly Suzumi fussing over the smaller girl, but I ignored them for a moment just allowing myself to think about the mask shard in my hand.

    “What are you looking for?” Kisuke’s voice questioned lightly from beside me, but I didn’t respond, my mind only just registering the man’s voice in the first place, but other things taking priority.

    As I held the mask, the convoluted mass of spiritual energy started to align itself, able to be traced back further, like untangling a mess of yarn. I picked apart the stings from each other, slowly learning more and more about what it was that the Hollow actually was, not just was it had become.

    I already knew that it was once a human soul, but now it was painfully obvious. After the death other soul, the clock begun to tick. The soul’s unsettled grief and pain slowly compounded, warping the mind of the soul, no corporeal body to keep the soul’s mind healthy and regulated.

    Then, when the chain begins to die, and the soul inevitably succumbs to it, the heart of their soul, everything that was once that allowed them to feel, to love, to empathise and dream is torn from them, and warped horribly.

    The worst part is that they are the same, deep down. Nothing has changed but their heart, the ultimate corruption of how they feel. Their mind is the same, still loves the same people, still feels the same emotions, but their heart tells them the opposite.

    Rage at those that they love, feelings of betrayal, grief in excess. It clouds their minds, slowly corrupting it as well. Only the most mentally strong could possibly stand against that force, and even still, it threatens to strip away everything that you once were, forcing the newly formed hollow to sacrifice parts of itself to its now corrupted heart.

    The mask.

    And now, it made sense. Not total sense, but enough. I could see the thing’s ribbon now, a thick, extremely pale white affair with a gaping hole in its tip, the edge of the hole was lined in a pure darkness.

    “Grayson?” Kisuke’s voice prodded, no worry inherent in his voice, but a quiet curiosity that the man seemed to hold with him everywhere.

    “I can see the ribbons of Hollows now.” I said plainly. The man’s ribbon nodded thoughtfully.

    “I had assumed that you’d be able to do as such at some point. I was readying myself to teach you the difference in Hollow spiritual signatures, but it seemed that you are ahead of me.” He chuckled to himself before tapping his cane against the concrete underneath out feet, “How about you give it a whirl? See if you can pick out any nearby Hollows.”

    I nodded and closed my eyes. I hadn’t encountered difficulty in trying to sense someone’s ribbon before, but I also have to keep in mind that I had never encountered a living Hollow before today and I’ve spent my entire life surrounded by humans. Sensing human souls and derivatives of, like Soul Reapers, was hardly difficult.

    Now, however, as I spread out the range of what I was sensing, I could only get faint ideas of locations and forms. It was far less precise, but the closer the Hollow was, the better idea I got of its ribbon.

    “Wait, I’ve got something weird.” I said, as I felt a strange jolt in my mind. I searched around for it within the mess of strange and garbled ribbons in front of me, but no matter how far I pushed my senses out the feeling didn’t subside. I was missing something.

    I could feel my face pull itself into a look of consternation as I drew in my range again, focusing my sensing strength into a closer and closer area around me. Soon enough it was only a kilometre or two, then nine-hundred metres, seven-hundred, four hundred. Now it was like I was having the worst migraine of my life, but I pushed further. There was something here, and I needed to know what it was.

    I pulled the range in further, three-hundred, two-hundred, now my mind was on fire, as if my hair was alight and was eating away at my flesh with reckless abandon.

    “Grayson!” Kisuke yelled, “Stop! You’re hurting yourself.” Kisuke’s voice rang out, but I didn’t register it. One-hundred and fifty, one-hundred…

    Then I could see it. While my mind was exploding with a pain far surpassing anything I had ever felt before, I could see the ribbon I had been seeking.

    It was thin, only the width of a few fingers in contrast to the usual three or four. It’s pale white was qualitatively different than that of the meagre Hollow we had just fought, a totally different shade altogether.

    The shade of bone white screamed of desolation, death and an empty hunger. My eyes trailed up its long length as it reached the neat little hole in its end, out of the small hole a long black strip of blood leaked, pulsing slowly but ever determined.

    My body began to shake violently as I fell to my knees. I could feel the blood rushing out of my nose, forcing me to cough violently, blood splattering my clothes and the ground below me. I heard a chorus of worried voices and Suzumi’s shrill scream.

    But when I looked up, I could see it. Standing there upon the rooftop. Watching, waiting.

    “T-there.” I stammered out, pointing weakly towards the roof before my mind swam, and with a brutal spike of pain, my world went dark.
     
  23. Threadmarks: Chapter 20: An Apparition
    Sarius

    Sarius Not too sore, are you?

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    Chapter 20: An Apparition

    As Grayson’s body fell to the concrete Kisuke Urahara’s spiritual pressure roared to life—defensively whipping around to stare at the point on the rooftop that Grayson had been pointing at as he fell unconscious.

    On top of the rooftop there was a figure, small and extremely humanoid, but not at all human.

    Without a second thought, Kisuke’s cane became a wicked sharp Zanpakutō, screaming with the energy leeching from its surface. With a single step, he was beside the figure, swinging his blade at a speed most would barely be able to see at all.

    Kisuke, however, sent his mind into overdrive. This was a testing attack, something not intended to necessarily kill the target, to allow him to gain information instead. First was it’s form. It was indeed a Hollow, though even as he stood directly in front of the Hollow, it was as if it didn’t exist at all. It was distinctly humanoid, short even. Kisuke was hardly tall, but the Hollow was a few inches shorter than he.

    It’s mask was oddly featureless, covering the face and smoothing out features that are barely impressed upon the mask. It fell into a teardrop shape as the mask made it’s way towards the chin, two simple holes cut out for dark recesses where eyes would be, and large defined teeth low down on the mask. Apart from those standard features, there was no colouring, no patterns and no edges or hard lines.

    The Hollow, instead of letting itself get hit by the blade, simply vanished and appeared behind Kisuke. Urahara had expected as such, and let it happen, waiting for a blow to arrive in short order… but nothing came. Instead, as he whirled around to face the Hollow, it simply stood there almost as if it were analysing him.

    The Hollow’s body itself was covered in a bone white shawl, covering up anything that may be lying underneath, except for it’s arms that protruded from underneath folds in it’s robes. They weren’t the typical black skin and flesh of a low-level Hollow.

    An Adjuchas? How? There should be no way for a Hollow of that level to sustain itself, even in Karakura town. And to travel from Hueco Mundo without any of my sensors detecting it? Kisuke thought, his mind awhirl with possibilities.

    Kisuke struck out with his blade, quicker and harder this time, intending to do at least a little damage. But just like before, the Hollow simply disappeared, even leaving behind an after image which was sliced apart by Kisuke’s blade.

    Again, when he turned towards his back, the Hollow was there, silent and waiting.

    “So you have a hunting instinct, then.” He spoke dryly, giving the Hollow a questioning glance. The Hollo remained entirely silent.

    “Why do you not attack, little Hollow?” Kisuke asked, voice dropping dangerously, his haori billowing with the undulations of his spiritual pressure spewing forth from his body, wrapping itself around the Hollow.

    They stood like that, staring into each other’s eyes, or eye holes, for a long time. Kisuke kept pushing up his spiritual pressure, far past what Grayson had taken during his training, and substantially stronger than he was capable of enduring even now after a month of training, even with how quickly he had progressed.

    “An Adjuchas would be able to converse with me easily, even some low-level Hollow are capable of a such. What are you, exactly?” The spiritual pressure that Kisuke was unleashing was far too much for even Jinta to reliable stand against, however the Hollow stood as silently as it had before, without even a slight expression of difficulty.

    There was the tell-tale displacement of air as Tessai made his own way into the small area of highly condensed spiritual pressure.

    “A Hollow?” Tessai exclaimed warily, raising a hand, palm facing towards the Hollow and, with a small grunt of exertion, a barrier appeared around the it. Chains quickly rose from the concrete roof, wrapping each of the Hollow’s limbs, and then a larger chain wrapping the entire body in a thick layer of pure spiritual energy.

    This seal was extremely impressive, an original creation of Tessai’s, one he knew so well that he could easily perform the bakudō without an incantation at full power, a feat only few could possibly claim to have reached in even the simplest of kidō.

    However, even under both spiritual pressure and sealing bakudō, the Hollow didn’t even do so much as move, let alone struggle against it’s bindings.

    “What is this thing. It’s as if I am not even binding it at all!” Tessai called to Kisuke, eyebrows furrowing underneath his rectangular glasses, a concern in the man that he hadn’t seen in years. A concern that his kidō wasn’t sufficient.

    “I don’t know…” Kisuke spoke softly. The Hollow didn’t even seem dangerous, it was easily the most docile Hollow he’d ever encountered, barring it’s habit of using sonido to get behind it’s targets, a clear holdover for some hunting instinct that it has retained.

    “I haven’t seen a non-hostile Hollow like this, not one to this degree. It isn’t even an Arrancar. You could almost convince me that it was a Dragon, like the Europeans have, if I didn’t know better.” Kisuke said, humming and hawing.

    Honestly, Kisuke was reluctant to kill the Hollow. It had caused even Grayson, a living spiritual sensor that was only becoming more and more precise, an inordinate amount of difficulty to actually detect at all. For it to also be non-hostile to such lengths as not even struggling against both spiritual pressure and sealing bakudō was possibly the rarest type of Hollow you could encounter, maybe even entirely unique to itself.

    “Hollow, are you capable of understanding speech?” Kisuke probed. There was no response, however, the Hollow standing entirely still, looking more like a statue than anything, staring into Kisuke’s eyes.

    Kisuke wasn’t a fool, he was more than ready to release his Bankai and exterminate the Hollow with impunity, and he was entirely sure that he’d be capable of it, but it was a goldmine of information on Hollows, that was so difficult to procure due to the inherently obscure nature of souls.

    That was, however, before the Hollow moved.

    It wasn’t the small shift that any normal Adjuchas would be barely capable of under the circumstances, no. The Hollow entirely disregarded the chains and spiritual pressure altogether, walking through the chains as if they were mere apparitions hanging in mid-air. Kisuke thought himself dreaming when he saw that sight, and before any other instinct made it’s way to his mind, he had only one thought.

    How interesting.

    And then the Hollow disappeared, totally untraceable.









    Waking up was terrible, I realised.

    Maybe it was the total, utter feeling of lethargy, or the dry mouth, or the lingering taste of blood covering my tongue.

    But it was probably the massive headache, like someone was driving a spike through my skull, one heartbeat at a time. Each pulse of pain made me regret waking up at all, destroying any possible coherent thought I could have potentially conjured from the black pit of pain that was my mind.

    At some point I had a cup of water forced into my hand, letting me absentmindedly sip on the cool cup of revitalizing liquid. Sometimes water truly tasted like a god created drink, personally crafted for you, to bring your body back to it’s perfect state. At least, that’s what it tasted like after the first few swigs, those just tasted like blood and gunk from a dry mouth.

    “Grayson?” A soft voice whispered, in a concerted effort to be quiet. It still sent a tingle of pain down my spine as my head lit on fire with pain again.

    “Suzumi.” I replied softly to the voice, feeling her hands clasp around my own gently.

    “Are you feeling okay?” she asked, and I definitively responded my exact physical state with one simple grunt. She gave me a forced chuckle, “You just love to make me worry about you, doofus.”

    I almost laughed, until I realised what a terrible, terrible idea that would be. Just thinking of laughing sent my brain into backflips, so I settled for a forced smile.

    “I think that’s where half my worth comes from.” I could feel her roll her eyes just from the mood.

    “Twenty-five cents tops.” She jibed.

    “Sold, to the lovely lady who’s kinda my girlfriend!” I exclaimed with a lack of enthusiasm, only due to my lack of actual energy to put in. Though, if I had to guess by her barely restrained laugh, she didn’t mind all that much.

    What came next was a soft sensation against my cheek and a gentle hug that lasted a few minutes, simply enjoying each other’s presence and warmth.

    “Well, since I now own you, we may as well be officially together, then?” She whispered, a smile on her lips before she kissed my own gently.

    It wasn’t an overindulgent kiss, simply a confirmation of what we already knew. This small, little thing that had grown spontaneously from a chance meeting on a plane, to staying at her apartment and listening to her talk about her father, to finding a ‘job’, to becoming involved in a mysterious spiritual world, all culminating in that one confirmatory kiss.

    It was a simple, no frills thing that we had unconsciously cultivated for no other reason than we enjoyed each other’s company. Maybe it wasn’t some star-crossed lovers situation, as I’m sure that Suzumi would be perfectly fine simply working as a flight attendant, never finding out what was hidden in the world at my side. But maybe that just made the simplicity of it even more special.

    A chance in a chance.

    We hugged each-other for a good while afterwards, enjoying the warm silence as my headache slowly, slowly receded, becoming a humming pain in the back of my mind that complained whenever I tried to reach out my ribbon sensing field. I could still see Suzumi, as well as Kisuke and Tessai, but I couldn’t even force myself beyond that.

    “What happened out there, Suzumi?” I asked after a long time. She just sighed.

    “Truthfully, I didn’t catch it all and we were all in a bit of a rush when you collapsed, but you pointed out a Hollow on the rooftop and Urahara went to investigate. After that he released more spiritual pressure than I’d ever felt before condensed right on top of this Hollow. Tessai went up and,” she waved her hand around emphatically, “did something and chains came out of nowhere and wrapped around it.”

    “What happened to the Hollow?” I asked, unsure if I really wanted to know what happened to the Hollow that blew my mind, almost literally.

    “Well, after that, the Hollow just kind of… walked out and disappeared.” I furrowed my brow intensely.

    “Walked out?” I asked, incredulous.

    “Yup, just went straight through it all like it was an illusion.” She said, her voice frivolous, but body tense with concern. Yet again we have encountered something that ‘shouldn’t be possible’, and yet it was possible. First me, with my interacting with souls and ‘ribbon stealing’ and then Suzumi becoming significantly more spiritually sensitive as quickly as she has, then this new Hollow.

    I sighed heavily, I’m sure that Kisuke has ideas, though getting the out of the man was a difficult talk. I got the distinct impression that he has been oddly forthcoming with me, despite our spats, and even then, the information is vague and generalized. I hadn’t ever seen one of his labs, though we both knew that he had them, and multiple at that. But I imagine he didn’t want me in there.

    I struggled against gravity as I sat myself up, preparing myself to get up properly as Suzumi helped. My body, however, was not having it, determined to stay as immobile as possible.

    With a few minutes of struggle, I got placed in a large, comfortable chair, and Suzumi promised that she’d go harass Kisuke into coming to meet with me.

    I let time blur after she left, my mind sinking back into a power saving mode to help me recover from my headache, though unfortunately a new one walked into the room just as I reached a proper relaxing state.

    “Ah, it seems you are doing better than I thought you would be.” Kisuke said jovially, scratching at his chin and waving his cane around playfully.

    “I make it look good.” I grumbled, eliciting a small chuckle from the man.

    “I have to say, I’m quite impressed with you right now, Grayson.” I quirked an eyebrow at him, an unspoken question. “You managed to sense that Hollow we saw, something even I wasn’t capable of. It is simply called Phantom, which is surprisingly accurate in contrast to the usual naming scheme that Soul Society uses for Hollows.” He laughed at his own joke. I didn’t even know they gave Hollows names, though I had heard about Phantom before.

    “Is it dangerous?” I asked.

    “Is it dangerous?” He repeated, “Extremely! If it wanted to be, it could probably kill any Soul Reaper sent to Karakura town to investigate until Third Seats and Vice Captains. A Captain could easily kill it.” He said dismissively.

    “So dangerous, but not that dangerous?” I queried.

    “I think you may have a skewed idea of what is dangerous. I am a Captain level combatant and even with the help of someone else who is quite a bit more impressive in battle than I, we were unable to restrain it with regular means. There is no way for any but the top fifty to one-hundred Soul Reapers to feasibly kill it, let alone contain it.” He paused dramatically.

    “Effectively, being sent to contain or defeat this Hollow is a nigh death-wish!”


    A/N: Hey there guys, Sarius here.

    So, this is a relatively big milestone! Twenty whole chapters up, over three different stories no less. It's a pretty wild feat, in my opinion. It's something I’ve been working towards for months now, and I'm glad that I've finally delivered.

    But that brings me to a little announcement. I'll be opening a Patreon where you could potentially gain advanced access to 30 chapters of each of my stories. At the highest tier, that's a total of 90 chapters covering all of my serialising stories. If the service were available right now, you'd be able to read Chapter 50 of Ribbon and Fixture of Fate!

    It's a pretty big deal, and it's not ready yet, but it will be soon. If you want to get in on this, I urge you towards my little discord server!

    Hope you all have a great day, either way!
     
  24. Threadmarks: Chapter 21: Perfect
    Sarius

    Sarius Not too sore, are you?

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    Chapter 21: Perfect

    With the help of a spiritually enhanced body and the blessing of certain tonics that Kisuke had me imbibe, I managed to get myself back to full health in no time at all.

    Honestly, it was a bit ridiculous how quickly I ended up back on my feet. I went from experiencing the worst mental pain in my short life, to being entirely fine and actually feeling energised again in the grand total of three or four hours. Though, Kisuke and Tessai both warned me against using my ribbon sense again for the day, citing a supposed ‘repetitive stress’ situation.

    Which, along with granting Suzumi a day off, meant that we were both free to do whatever the hell we wanted to for the rest of the day. Originally, I was content to just stay inside and relax the day away, like I had on so many other days in my past. But Suzumi started to pout at me and before I knew it, we were out and about. Of course, I wasn’t made privy to exactly where we were going, much to Suzumi’s delight.

    Now, after jumping into the store’s little car and driving for a good forty minutes, Suzumi excitedly jumped out of the car. She then came around to help me out as well, not that I needed all that much help. I had become significantly more mobile for whatever reason, maybe it was the improvement in my senses in general.

    “Alright, alright. Guess where we are!” Suzumi said giddily, punctuated with an excitable giggle. I pulled my face into a hesitant grin, eyebrows furrowed in a mix of bewilderment and anticipation.

    “Uh, a restaurant?” I asked tentatively. Suzumi giggled again, her ribbon dancing along with her emotions. Thank god I could at least see the important ribbons, though I’m too far away for my weakened field to pick up Tessai and Kisuke’s.

    “Close!” She said happily and started to push me away from the car gently. I followed along, being careful where I placed my feet, and finding myself on a footpath, then towards a very floral scent wafting towards me atop a cool breeze, contrasting the mild temperature. I realised pretty quickly, as the cool breeze and powerful floral scent increased in their strengths, that I was being pushed into a store.

    “A florist?” I questioned, puzzled.

    “That it is!” An older, matronly voice responded. There was an initial shock to being answered by someone other than Suzumi, but then something felt familiar about the voice in a distant way. My eyebrows creased in earnest now, my brain whizzing through scenarios, trying to understand what was going on.

    Evidence piece number one; we were in a flower shop, yet Suzumi said that it was ‘close’ to a restaurant.

    Evidence piece number two; Suzumi was overly excited about all this. This had meaning to her.

    Evidence piece number three; there was something distinct within the other woman’s voice that was familiar to me in a powerful way. I could almost taste a specific flavour from the way that they talked. I thought on those evidence pieces for only a few seconds, for that was all that it really took.

    Suzumi’s excitement, the familiarity in the voice, a ‘restaurant’.

    “Good evening Mrs Hamari. It’s great to finally meet you.” I smiled pleasantly, dramatically shifting to a more formal form of Japanese.

    Behind me, I could practically feel Suzumi deflate, the wind taken out of her sails. Mrs Hamari herself just laughed pleasantly, and in a few short steps she walked close to me and embraced me in a gentle hug.

    “No need for that, just call me Yua.”

    I got a lot of information from that hug. I was hardly a tall man, but Yua was significantly shorter than me, maybe five foot at best. She smelled like the warmth of summer, and her skin was soft but wrinkled with age. I couldn’t be sure of her age, but likely in her late sixties, from her voice and general feel. Though watch me be wrong about that.

    “Yua it is then,” I chuckled as I released her from my embrace and backed off a step, “I’m Grayson, in case you didn’t know.”

    “Oh, I know alright. Suzumi has mentioned you at least once a day since she took you home from your flight.” I could just about feel the grin in her voice and a flabbergasted splutter from the woman in question.

    “I hope all good things?” Yua snorted in a dignified way.

    “All good things, I can assure you. Though Takahashi was the same…” She trailed off, smile on her lips.

    “Mum! Shush!” Suzumi drew out the words like a petulant child would, eliciting a laugh out of both Yua and I.

    “I have to say, for a hafu from outside of Japan, you speak perfect Japanese. Did your family speak it?” She enquired gently. My brain kicked into overdrive, trying to think. I was half Japanese, but I never saw any benefit from that, other than some basic Asiatic features, skin and hair. Other than that, my face is far too European to believably pass as fully Asian.

    It was a difficult thing to account for, and I don’t know if Suzumi had spoken with Yua about my inability to speak Japanese. Though, Suzumi squeezed my arm afterwards in affirmation and I picked a believable lie. Sorry, Yua. Hope this won’t have to be a recurring theme.

    “Uh, well, unfortunately not.” I stammered out, “I was adopted very young, and I suspect that my biological parents wouldn’t have been equipped to give that gift to me anyhow. I studied Japanese independently, online and with other Japanese speakers.” I shot a wide smile towards Suzumi, “Though learning here has been incredibly helpful.” Yua made a sound of acknowledgement, her murky form bobbing its head along with.

    “There are very few that can speak as precisely as yourself. My husband was very much the same. I swear I learned more Japanese while talking to that man that speaking with my own grandmother!” She chuckled in remembrance and I couldn’t help but smile in concert. It still made me feel bad, even if it was a pretty harmless lie in the end. There would be a point where Yua would need to be made aware of the spiritual nonsense that goes on in the Human world, no doubt. When was a different question altogether.

    “I have to say,” I spoke sombrely, “Suzumi has told me a little about her father. He seemed like an excellent man, and I wish that I had the chance to meet him.” Yua made a soft sound as she moved forward and pulled me into another hug.

    “Desmond was a protective father, so he would likely be interrogating you right now, but thank you dear.”

    With the initial greeting having gone over well, the next few hours were devoted to talking about life in general. It was a treat in itself, that I found myself in Yua’s presence. Just from her voice alone I could tell that she was a beautiful woman, not necessarily in the physical sense, but a deeply spiritual sense.

    The way that she helped me to a place to sit, knowing that I was as close to blind as you could be for someone with spiritual powers. The way that she listened and regarded each of my actions and words with thoughtfulness.

    I realised quickly that Suzumi was her mother’s daughter in the truest sense of the word. She was warm and welcoming to the utmost degree. I swear that she could bring a group of people together in the morning and make them great friends at the end of the night.

    I ended up talking more about my past than I would have expected, and Yua was understanding, though I think it affected her more deeply than I expected.

    “Honestly,” I began again after a long pause in conversation, “you are a lot like my mother. That gentleness that you and Suzumi share… it’s something that I’ve been missing for a long time now.”

    There was a moment of warm silence that we all shared, quietly sipping on our various drinks around the table Yua had brought us to. Once you had moved past the front room, the shop opened up into more living areas that Yua could entertain in. I suspect that Yua uses it extremely often. The pillows that we were sitting on were plush and comfortable and the squat table was made of heavy wood and had a glass centre, surrounded with the wood it was sitting in.

    It was a pleasant atmosphere, with the potent smell of flowers and the warmth of the early summertime. It was relaxing all by itself.

    Though, it wasn’t for much longer that I’d be allowed to sit on my butt and do nothing. Apparently, Yua had been cooking dinner beforehand and had left the stew to cook whilst we talked. She decided, abruptly, that I was the one to help her.

    “But he’s blind, ma!” Suzumi protested weakly.

    “Well, you don’t need to see to keep an old lady company, do you Grayson?” Yua asked slyly. I just rose from my place on the floor, wry grin firmly in place, and moved to follow Suzumi’s mother—summarily ignoring Suzumi’s childish protesting.

    I knew that what I was going to face was somewhat of a rite of passage when it came to a new boyfriend. Yua was the matriarch, probably of every social circle she could find herself in. I think it wasn’t too much to ask that she have a moment alone with me, or to let her put me through the ringer a bit.

    The woman led me through the conjoining house with ease, finally making our way to a tile floored room that smelt of the food of gods. People forget how great a simple stew can be when done right.

    “Sit.” The matron said gently, though more commanding than in front of her daughter. I nodded in response, easily following the woman’s order.

    “I understand that you have only been in Japan for… less than a month?” I nodded, not particular enough to correct her. I believe is somewhere in the realm of thirty-five to forty days. Though I could easily be just as wrong about that, I haven’t exactly been keeping count.

    “What are your plans from here on out?” Though it was a question, it was a demand in truth. I quietly thought on it for a while, even though I had a knee-jerk response, just to make sure that I wouldn’t be lying to my girlfriend’s mother. If I could help it.

    “If I’m to be totally honest, I’m not totally sure.” I felt the presence of the room stiffen a little, but I continued, “My life changed rapidly after my adoptive parents died. I spent a long time mourning, and I still am, to be truthful—but moving to Japan was totally of the cuff. I absolutely never could have expected to have my world changed so rapidly around me.” Yua seemed content to let me monologue, and I jumped at the chance to explain myself fully.

    “Meeting Suzumi was something of a fluke. There was an immediate connection there that just doesn’t happen often, and then that was only reinforced by my sponsor going bankrupt, her to take me back to hers, both getting a little tipsy and sending out job applications together.” I ran my hand over my leg, feeling the texture of the denim and letting myself think.

    “I got a job, and a lot happened that drew us together extremely quickly. Far faster than I’ve had even a friendship could evolve. Honestly, this very sentence will be the first time that I say, out loud, that Suzumi is pretty much my girlfriend.” I smiled towards Yua’s form, who I could only guess was looking towards me. She snorted gently and turned around to the stew.

    “I can understand.” She began, though it took her a long time to get around to the but, “But, my daughter has fallen hard for men in the past. She clings desperately to the beginnings of a relationship and hopes it will bloom into something more, though she leaves herself no alternative.” She shifted around some things, idly reorganising her kitchen bench.

    “What do you intend with my daughter?” She said, with a light smile on her lips. I guess the cliché line was too tempting not to use.

    “I don’t know. I wish I could see into the future and understand what we will become, but I just can’t. What I can say, as of now, is that Suzumi has been invaluable to me for this past month and I just hope that I can be the same for her. I don’t think I’ll be going anywhere soon.”

    The quite reigned in the kitchen after that, though it was a warm, comfortable silence, rather than the cold and exclusionary one I had feared I would face. Yua moved towards me, giving me a warm hug, though I couldn’t help but feel something a little off about it. It wasn’t the mood, or even the action itself, but something that I knew I was missing and overlooking right now, that I should be cluing into.

    Regardless of the odd feeling, we ate. Dinner was as nice as you’d expect. Tasty with great conversation to wash it down. Though apparently Yua’s MO had become to embarrass Suzumi in any way possible. Including the time where Yua had to stop Suzumi’s father from going in and chewing out a toddler because Suzumi said that they were going to marry.

    Other than that, I think it was about as perfect as you could get.
     
  25. Threadmarks: Chapter 22: A Bottleneck
    Sarius

    Sarius Not too sore, are you?

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    Chapter 22: A Bottleneck

    “To your left!” I called, as a Hollow sprung forward towards Uyu. I could see it’s ribbon move through the air in almost slow motion. That was, before Uyu’s gauntleted fist connected with it’s face, blasting it through the nearby concrete wall.

    “Why are there so many?” I heard Suzumi groan as a another Hollow’s ribbon went flying into the air, along with it’s body.

    We had gone hunting again, for the fifth or sixth time this week, waging war on the seemingly horde or Hollows that Karakura town seems to have in endless supply. This particular group of Hollows were all weak, made of tissue paper in comparison to the one we had taken out on out first hunt. Thought they made up with their weakness with numbers. Or tried to at least.

    “Hollows can conglomerate if they think it’ll get them more chance of a feed.” I said dryly, regurgitating Kisuke’s nugget of wisdom. With a grunt of exertion, I pushed off from the ground and rocketed towards one of the larger hollows in the group and slamming a leg into it’s unprotected midsection, making it fall over.

    “I know that, it’s just–“ the crack of a fist against mask sounded out from Suzumi’s direction, “it’s just so gross!” I laughed as I danced out of the way of a wild punch from the Hollow I’d kicked. I kneed the originating point of the Hollow’s ribbon, it’s mask.

    “T-they aren’t gross!” Uyu said defensively.

    “Are so!” Suzumi called back as another Hollow went flying.

    They had been having an argument about whether Hollows were, or were not gross for the entire week. I could only sigh as I pummelled the last of the bigger Hollow’s fight out of it and moved on to another.

    “Is this really important enough to be arguing about it while fighting a small horde of Hollows?”

    “O-of course! Hollows aren’t gross, t-they need to be purified is all!”

    Suzumi made to reply, but it the argument ground to a halt when the air began to rumble with spiritual pressure. Instinctively I upped my own enhancement and cloaking with a burst of spiritual energy, readying myself for a fight.

    Interestingly enough, going on regular Hollow hunts and fighting against opponents that have a vested interest in actually trying to kill me had done wonders for my advancement. I hadn’t managed to get an entire coat over my body with spiritual energy, but I was probably within five or ten percent of doing so. In short, I had a hell of a lot more artificial weight to swing around, along with the strength to roughly match.

    I widened my ribbon sense and taking count of fifteen Hollows that I already knew were there, plus one ribbon that was just a little wider than the rest. It seemed that the wider or more complex a ribbon was, the more powerful the being it alluded to. Tessai and Kisuke were good examples, even going to far as having a pattern in their crimson ribbons. Though, the exception was that Hollow, Phantom.

    “Right at the back, just around the corner. Probably the leader.” I said, keeping it short. Both of my teammates nodded, mirroring onto their ribbons. We had started to fall into some semblance of a pattern as a team.

    Typically Suzumi worked on taking out the chaff, due to her general speed and precision. Uyu was great at taking down the bigger brutes in one blow but could only do that every so often. When her brute busting attacks were down for recovery, I came into play.

    Cat and mouse had become my game. I wasn’t particularly nimble, or even all that fast. Suzumi would win nine out of ten battles if I relied on just speed. No, I was simply good at keeping track of things.

    You’d think that me being effectively blind would relegate me to the back lines, and you’d probably be right in any other context. But the ribbons changed everything.

    I could see three different Hollows racing towards me, revenge for their fallen superior. Or just their unending hunger. Even in the gloomy light of the evening sun I could see a faint outline of the approaching Hollows. Though, if I was relying on my sight I’d be dead by now.

    I used the sound of their terrible screams, the slight change in the air, the every so tiny sensation of their spiritual pressure interacting with mine, and I spun underneath the leftmost Hollow, plunging a fist deep into it’s gut.

    The other Hollows quickly changed course to follow me, but as the Hollow I had punched flew higher into the air, I smacked another in the face. That hollow was launched backwards into it’s other little friend.

    In the brief moment of pause before the Hollow I’d sent flying came back down, I checked in on my teammates. Suzumi was doing as she did best, taking on six Hollows at once, hitting them so hard and fast that they didn’t have much recourse.

    Uyu was waiting patiently just behind the both of us, using us to protect her from the tide of Hollow. Her target was still playing shy, waiting behind their own defences.

    Abruptly, the Hollow I’d launched earlier fell at my feet and I punted it in the mask, receiving a satisfying crack in response. The other hollow, who’d been pushed over by his friend came rushing towards me.

    “Making a push!” I yelled out to the team and, not waiting for a response, I reached out and grabbed the mask of the human sized Hollow and, with my other hand, stole it’s ribbon.

    There was a moment of adjustment as the spiritual energy transferred into me. Infusing more of that spiritual energy into my own muscles, I crushed the Hollow’s mask with my fingers and spun towards the rest of the dwindling group.

    In tandem, Suzumi managed to finish with her own group, leaving us with six Hollows, barring the leader. With a burst of speed, I closed in on the first of the group, leaving it with a cracked mask, which Suzumi shattered with a follow up blow behind me.

    The energy of the Hollow that I’d stolen wasn’t much, but it got me through shattering an extra two masks before my next blow exhausted the rest.

    “I’m out!” I called, and without a second thought Suzumi jumped over my head to crush the Hollow I had injured. I fell back a few paces, taking a supporting role, readying myself to sneak in a blow between Suzumi’s strikes.

    In only another ten seconds, Suzumi had fought her way down the street, taking out the rest of the weaklings.

    “Uyu!” I commanded pre-emptively. Just on cue, the hulking form of the leader jumped out from behind the corner of the street. Using its multitude of legs, it crawled up from the asphalt surface of the street and pulling itself up onto the side of the abandoned industrial building. With a howl, the massive hollow raced across the building’s side, blowing out windows with it’s legs.

    Though, it’s furious charge was short lived.

    As Suzumi and I stood and watched, Uyu’s compact form flew overhead, directly towards the raging thing. It lunged forward, but was only met with her fist, and an ear-piercing bang that blew out any of the windows that had survived.

    The Hollow, now sporting an extra hole through it’s body, fell to the ground with a tremendous thud and remained there.

    “Good work guys,” I said, grin growing wide on my face, “that has to be the cleanest run we’ve done.” Uyu tapped onto the ground beside both me and Suzumi, her ribbon twisting with excitement.

    “I-I know right!” The young girl punched the air with enthusiasm, “We were even faster than daddy’s teams!” I raised an eyebrow.

    “Aren’t they all high-spec humans, though?”

    “Me and Uyu are both high-spec, so it counts.” Suzumi said imperiously. I could only laugh.

    “I’m pretty sure you two are a little more that high-spec now.”

    “He’s right about that much!” Kisuke called from a nearby roof, promptly dropping down and beginning the clean-up.

    “Hey!” Suzumi complained weakly. There was a multitude of shining lights coming from where the Hollows laid defeated.

    “You are perfectly impressive, Suzumi.” I said consolingly. I could hear my girlfriend pout with an exaggerated humph.

    “Impressive indeed.” Tessai’s deep, resonant voice said from atop the rooftop Kisuke had dropped from. It was their new favourite pastime to watch us hunt Hollows, apparently.

    “So, do we want to go find another fight?” I asked idly, reaching out my ribbon senses and finding a vague smattering of ribbons I couldn’t quite sense. I was getting better at sensing the general location of Hollow ribbons, but I still wasn’t able to sense them all clearly like other human or Soul Reaper ribbons.

    “U-uhm, I need to go home, I think… My daddy will worry.”

    Oh well. I probably had a few more fights in me, but I’ll just redirect it all to training instead.

    From there we split ways, Tessai taking Uyu home after Suzumi hugged her goodbye. Suzumi and I just decided to take the walk home, leaving Kisuke to the dirty work of purifying the Hollows.

    “So, how’re things?” I asked with a smile, earning a light punch from Suzumi. She still allowed me to grab her hand and weave my fingers through hers, though.

    “I don’t know.” She said after a moment, a thoughtful tone in her voice.

    “Why’s that?” I prodded gently, enjoying the feeling of her soft hand in mine. We were roughly the same height, her being maybe an inch or two shorter, so out hands comfortably fell next to each other.

    “My mother likes you, y’know?” There was a seriousness to her voice that I wasn’t expecting, but the good news made me smile anyway.

    “I like her too.” There was a little burst of warmth in my chest as Suzumi squeezed my hand. We walked in silence for a while, bathing in the moment, the rapidly cooling breeze of the late evening surrounding us.

    “There’s more, isn’t there?” I asked, making Suzumi jolt ever so slightly. The tension that I could feel building in her released in a moment.

    “Yeah. She knows there’s something up.” I quirked an eyebrow at that.

    “About me?”

    “I quit my job ages ago, Grayson. I cashed my sick leave and quit. I really liked that job.”

    “So, she knows something had to happen to make you quit.” I continued for her. She nodded slowly beside me.

    “She’s worried that I won’t tell her what happened, or where I’m living, or what I’m doing.” Suzumi stopped beside me and I swung around to face her.

    “I’ve never not told my mother things, Grayson.” I could feel the emotions in her voice now. She hadn’t told me about this, maybe just due to our life being full of training and fighting, but now I could remember moments where she seemed a little sombre. Moment’s I hadn’t acted on.

    I pulled Suzumi close to me, embracing her fully, letting my head rest just beside hers and she pulled herself into the crook of my neck.

    “I’m sorry, Suzumi. I just don’t know if we can tell her.” I heard a little sniffle, and I swear that it hurt more than any punch I’d received over the past week.

    “I know…” She trailed off, her voice too laden with emotion to continue.

    “One day, I swear.” I said, my voice steely. “But, as accepting as your mother is, there is no way she’d accept this so soon. We barely understand what’s going on as it is. I don’t want to bring anyone else in without knowing the actual risks.”

    “How long?” She asked tentatively, “How long do I need to hold that from her?”

    “I don’t know, Suzumi.” I said softly, thinking back to the older woman with a torn heart, “I don’t know.”







    Working with spiritual energy was an almost meditative experience now that I’d figured it out.

    Sitting on the rocky landscape of the study room, I simultaneously pulled in spiritual energy from the atmosphere, circulating it through my body at thoroughly as possible and then slowly adding that to the coating of spiritual energy that sat over my skin.

    It was a complex process. To create a good coating of spiritual energy took a lot of time and patience, but once you did it once, you could reproduce it again. It was a big effort to continually add to the coating, as I did.

    Suzumi did it a bit differently, relying on the shielding and muscle enhancement and only focussing on the parts that mattered for fighting, namely the fists and arms. She had double coated her fists and arms up to her elbow now, though I had pushed her into at least coating her head once.

    I decided on a more wholistic approach, covering the entire body at least once, and then going for the double coat after. I had asked Kisuke about it on multiple occasions now, asking about optimal methods but I’d never got anything more than a shrug.

    “We’re human—or were human, I guess. Most of us, anyway. There is no optimal method. Do it in whichever way you can think of, whichever way feels right. That’s what spiritual power is, at its core. Do what feels correct.”

    Not words I’d hoped to hear, or thought I’d hear from a man like Kisuke.

    “What feels right, huh?” I mused to myself, feeling the spiritual energy course through me.

    It felt… good. But not right. I knew, somewhere deep inside, that it wasn’t the right way, not quite. Maybe it was from the same place I had once found that shielding technique from. Maybe not, but I knew it wasn’t quite there.

    I let out a long breath. What was I missing? Somewhere in the process I was lacking something vital. What was the bottleneck for me?

    I ground my teeth in thought but came up blank. I was pushing everything through my body as best as I could, taking the most comprehensive path through the body, then adding it to the coating. The only real bottleneck would be the…

    Amount of energy I could take in. I screwed up my nose at that. I’ve been taking in a consistent amount of spiritual energy since I started, way back when I didn’t even know what to do with the energy at all.

    I wonder if…







    Kisuke, having temporarily abandoned his soul sensitivity device, was working on a piece of metal. His hand was hovering over the blue coloured metal with a small tool, poised and ready to begin his work. The tool was little more than a tiny razor blade attached to a stick, yet Kisuke Urahara stared at the metal a determination.

    Just as his blade lowered to touch the metal, an odd feeling washed over the man.

    “Wha–” Kisuke said in surprise as he jolted out of his seat. But in only a second, the strange sensation became almost painful.

    It was as if all of the oxygen was being pulled out of the air, all at once. No… it wasn’t oxygen, it was spiritual energy. It was all gone.

    “Grayson.” Urahara growled.
     
  26. Threadmarks: Chapter 23: Dark Waters
    Sarius

    Sarius Not too sore, are you?

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    Chapter 23: Dark Waters

    It all started with a little question. The question grew and grew, pervading my thoughts, forcing me to act on it—the curiosity a piece of searing metal in my mind.

    Kisuke had told me that I had a strong soul, repeatedly. As prideful as the man was, he had admitted to me that I was something worthy of being worried about. My soul had destroyed or interfered with his devices for almost as long as I’ve been alive.

    But what did that mean.

    What did having a powerful soul actually entail, what benefit did it provide? So far, I’ve seen no substantial difference between myself and Suzumi. Both of us had progressed at a fairly even pace, both of us focusing on our own path forwards.

    She was faster than me, capable of more powerful punches, flurries of devastating blows. Aside from my spiritual shielding, I was mostly on par with Suzumi in combat and all other practical measures. Or, physical ones.

    Maybe I was looking at this all wrong. I’ve been thrusted into a world of ancient Japanese death gods, capable of fighting off all the souls that get a little overripe and go really bad. Nothing makes any sense at all, all of it just a little too kooky to be considered logical, at all.

    Like, why are there so many different ‘Soul Societies’? Why haven’t they all just banded together, create a ratified structure, open the knowledge of an afterlife up to the common person, educate and teach those capable of interacting with spiritual energy to become protectors, rather than leave it all up to a bunch of extremely powerful Soul Reapers, or whatever the equivalent is.

    There are so many ‘why’s to this new and fantastic world. So many that there could only truly be a few answers.

    Spiritualism, tradition, ignorance.

    Maybe those with an almost blinding amount of power believe so strongly in the tradition of their Soul Society, their afterlife, that they must protect it from others. Protect their ways and understanding of the soul from every other afterlife instead of sharing knowledge and watching it all change.

    And then I realised that was me.

    Maybe I wasn’t that ultrapowerful Soul Reaper, sitting up on high and enjoying their enforced status quo, content to let those who have always suffered suffer longer at the hands of conserving the normality of their centuries long life.

    But I was trying to conserve something. I was trying to conserve my understanding of myself and the world I thought I knew. The understanding that I was just a visually impaired half Japanese, half Caucasian kid whose most interesting quality was that he could see ribbons, for some reason. That I wasn’t someone that, for unknown reasons, possessed a wildly powerful soul, the ability to empower other souls, and the ability to rip the spiritual energy straight out of someone else’s.

    I was still too focused on the physical. How hard could I punch, how fast could I run, how long until I couldn’t do either any longer? Important, yes. But only one dimension of a greater whole. I only interacted with my spiritual energy because it gave those results, like an office worker who uses a computer two decades out of date with software just as archaic, unwilling to learn the new software that could do his job in a few button presses, muttering, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

    Yet, where does that line begin and end? Where something archaic becomes just as inefficient as using a broken tool?

    Well, it begins with me. I took a deep breath and reconceptualised myself, searching my own psyche for answers to who I actually was.

    Who was I now? An idiot kid, raised by a family that taught him to lean on others just as much as himself. The same idiot kid who relied on a pair of thick, high-prescription lensed glasses so little that he’d lost them on his first day in a new country and hadn’t thought about them for more than a moment. An idiot kid who’d seen ribbons most of his childhood, and only understood that it meant something more when someone told him so.

    Now, we were at baseline. The beginning of who I was before everything changed.

    I had changed from being that idiot kid, now, finding myself with power that outstripped anything I could have imagined. Attained mobility that was, frankly, impossibly for someone with a visual disability as severe as mine, the only explanation being my newfound power. I could survive under a weight most would be crushed under, the force of the spiritual pressure being deadly enough to make any normal human instantly pass out.

    But no, those were all physical things.

    I looked deep inside, far further than the flesh that I had relied on, had pushed energy through for hours and hours, slowly building strength in rote. Now, I let myself venture deeper, past the flesh and muscle, past the bone and marrow. Deeper and deeper into the dark I let my conscious plunge, feeling the haziness fall over me as the desolate darkness consumed my mind, tearing it away from the reality around me.

    I felt as if I’d pushed a boat out to sea, jumped in, and let the waves take me. Time drew out, the endless horizon, devoid of anything to see, barring the faint shadow of the land I had once tied myself to. Yet, before long, that had faded into nothing, the ties cut with no way back.

    It might’ve made me panic, if I wasn’t so sure of my safety. Even as the proverbial ocean stretched on and on, into infinity, my mind sat safely aboard the boat, observing as the unchanging scenery remained that way. Unchanged.

    Even as the boat picked up speed, gliding across the water, threatening to lift from the infinite waters and take to the sky instead. I could feel my eyebrow furrow as the boat’s bow angled upwards, I felt a distinct sense of incompleteness.

    No, this isn’t what I wanted. I looked up towards the sky and felt safety, surety, confidence. I knew it would be so easy to let the boat drift into it and venture ever onwards, at peace and in safety.

    But that’s what I had always done, let myself be taken on a boat to wherever it would take me. As I looked upwards into that sky, I could feel it tempt me with that very same emotion that lead me everywhere in life. The very same that brought me here, to Japan.

    The need to go, to ignore what lay deeper, under the skin of it. The need to run away from it all.

    I stood from my spot on the boat, tearing my eyes from the sky above, and looking to the depths below, the dark and murky beneath the thin veneer of a glistening surface.

    That’s when I first felt the fear, like a drop in the stomach you’d feel when you jumped from something a little too high. The boat took to the skies, lifting it from the surface of the water at an unstable pace, as if it was desperately trying to stop me from looking further, from letting the idea fester any longer. But it was far too late, now. I allowed myself one terrified gasp before I coiled the muscles in my leg and jumped.

    The wave of regret was immediate but was washed away as soon as my feet touched the waters, my mind fixated on those depths as I sunk into them deeper and deeper. The shock of cold I had expected never came, left with a warmth, even in the complete darkness as the magnitude of water overhead drowned the light with its density. When the complete dark surrounded me, a comfort came to me, different than the one I had possessed before.

    Instead of the order I had once found comfort in, sailing on the surface of it all, I now found myself embroiled in the chaos that the order disguised, hidden beneath the illusion of understanding. Now that I was swimming in its waters, the ties cut, my eyes adjusted to the darkness, able to see the definition in it all without the distraction of the light.

    Still, without a defined destination I moved forwards with a purpose I had crafted for myself the moment I leapt from that boat. The deeper I moved in the inky black, only barely able to see ahead of myself, the scarier it got, but so did my will, my drive, my purpose.

    I would find what was down here, deep within myself somewhere. No matter how deep I had to go, no matter the time it took, or the energy it sapped, or the pain it might cause.

    I pushed myself deeper into the depths, unquestioning of the direction despite being devoid of the sight I had above the surface. My purpose was true, and that was all that I needed, even without sight—

    Wait, when had I ever needed sight? I scoffed at my own idiocy. With barely a thought I opened myself to the sense I knew better than maybe anyone, and in front of my eyes, one single ribbon appeared.

    It was frail and weak, its length dropping away into the darkness and almost disappearing. I began to follow it with all my might, adding a direction to my purpose. As I followed it, the faint little ribbon that had greeted me in the darkness grew brighter, the light it propagated in the dull of the darkness. The frailness never truly disappeared, but my conception of it changed.

    Instead of the skinny little dog I had once thought it was, in actually, a starved lion, its fur falling out in clumps. The skin beneath pulled against the bones underneath. But still a lion, its eyes alive with the power it once possessed.

    Once, yes.”

    The voice rumbled the water I was in, stopping me in my tracks. The sheer magnitude of voice sending me tumbling through the water with an invisible current.

    We can’t be having that.” The voice spoke again, the current only becoming more erratic, throwing my body in every direction like a crazed rollercoaster. Yet, even as my body flailed in the water, something grabbed my leg and yanked. The water rushed past me, the force of the water pulling me ramrod straight.

    Once I had power far outstripping a mere lion.” The voice intoned, hearable even through the deafening rushing of water. The power of the voice was stronger now, even more so than before. I tried to resist the pulling, but it was entirely futile, it was like being sucked into a black hole…

    Except it wasn’t so black. In fact, the waters were lightening, the distance at which I could see wasn’t necessarily increasing but the light was getting more powerful against the dark. Eventually my murky vision was a blinding cloud of white—and that was when whatever had grabbed my leg released me.

    I didn’t stop immediately, but over a course of time I drifted, spinning head over heels in the light waters. Slowly coming to a speed where I could stabilize myself upright, whatever direction up may have been. Out of the corner of my vision, I could see the glowing of the ribbon receding ahead of me, its whip-like movements giving me the impression that it had been what was pulling me.

    “Very astute.” The voice said neutrally, though I sensed some derision to it. The voice, while still just as powerful, didn’t send the waters into a flurry. The drifting finally came to a stop, my form slumping slightly as it no longer had the force of the water to push against.

    I looked around, hesitantly. The brightness was almost just as overwhelming as the darkness had been, but there was something right near me, I could feel it. Pushed myself towards the presence gently, but that was all it took.

    There, in the bright, murky waters, sat a small mote of light, no bigger than a basketball, glowing with a pure golden light.

    “Hello?” I spoke, my voice echoing as if I had yelled within a tunnel, repeating the noise gentler and gentler until it faded entirely.

    “I’ve waited down in these depths for many years, Grayson Carter.” The voice said, reverberating from the golden ball like a shockwave, but it didn’t buffet against me so much as greet me with its embrace.

    “How long?” I asked, the question ripping itself from my mind before I could think. The voice hummed gently, slowly gaining definition and identity compared to the almost featurelessness it had assumed before.

    “Since you were born, and not for long before. I tried to make you come here as best I could, but you ignored yourself.” The voice was distinctly male now, a deep timbre to it that whispered wisdom and gentleness.

    “Tried to make me come–” I scrunched my face up in confusion, “How did you do that?”

    “I took your eyesight, I believed that without the use of your eyes to see the physical world, you might decide to explore the world within.” I suddenly felt as if I’d been struck, the heat of anger flushing into my chest and face, readying my tongue to lash out—but I paused.

    “But it didn’t work.” I said, bitterness laden in my voice.

    “Not how I believed it would. Instead, you found the ribbons and saw through them instead. It had me discouraged as I watched you navigate life, disabled by my own hand. I believed you would remain throughout your life just as you were.” The powerful voice quieted in mourning before speaking again, “How fitting it was, that you found me with the sight you had unknowingly developed.”

    I stared at the golden orb, and I could feel it stare back, its focus entirely on me.

    “What are you?”

    “You. And me.” It spoke—I spoke. A slight shock ran through me, making my body twitch.

    “You’re me? My soul?”

    “Yes.” The bright waters shuddered with satisfaction at the words. “I am you… but different. I came from far beyond, beyond the veil—guided by nothing more than chance and fate. To the body of a small, dead infant within the womb of a sick mother.” I looked at the orb sadly.

    “She was addicted.” The glow of the orb lessened, holding its silence for a long time.

    “…I did not know.” I recognised the tone of the voice. It held the same emotion I had when I was told the truth. Though I didn’t twist the knife as the foster mother had, gleefully mutilating the dreams of a small child who wanted nothing more than a loving mother.

    “What happened after?” The orb brightened again, its focus back on me.

    “I discarded what remained of what I was, and nestled myself in the bright waters of your own soul once resided in.” I blinked with confusion at the contradictory words.

    “Doesn’t that mean I am you?”

    “Yes.” The bright waters shuddered again, a distinct glee of recognition. “We are both you and I. We are we.” The waters shook along with my being at the declaration, as confusing as it still was. Then there was a protracted silence as we merely stared at… ourselves. At us? At me and him?

    The voice, my soul—both me and someone else too—chuckled.

    “It is confusing but is the truth all the same. Though, it would do no harm to differentiate, as no matter the terms, we are still both ourselves and one whole.” I nodded tentatively, before letting out a bark of laughter of my own.

    “You know, I came here because I thought I would find power, break a bottleneck that I had in my training.”

    “Who is to say that you wouldn’t find that here? I did call you here, after all.” I could almost feel the grin on… his lips. I could feel his personality evolving, quickly enough that it was perceptible. It was beginning to both feel like I was talking to myself and talking to someone else entirely.

    “You know something?” I asked him.

    “Of course, what did you think that memory of a spiritual shield was? It was me, and also you.” Now I could feel him being cheeky. I struggled to keep a grin off my face, focusing on the important information.

    “You have more memories?”

    “Forgotten.” He said dismissively, “With a chance of being remembered once again. Someday. No, I speak of the dark waters that drown us.” He thought for a moment before correcting himself, “That drown me.”

    “The dark waters? They aren’t meant to be there?”

    “They are as much part of me and you soul as the bright waters, but they are dead. The dark waters stifle me, my light unable to force into them. They are parts of us that are lost and discarded, the unravelled soul of the dead child we were, and the parts of who we once were that I removed to allow us to live.” I held up a hand, letting myself process the madness of his words for a moment before interjecting.

    “What do you want me to do?” The orb glowed a little brighter at that, an excitement in the waters that surrounded us.

    “We need to work together as one to reclaim what was once us as individuals and restructure them to become us as we are.” I stared at him; eyebrow raised questioningly. With a long, suffering sigh he said, “I want you to pull in the dark waters by compressing it with the spiritual energy from outside us. While you do that, I will revive the dark waters that you can bring to me.”

    “Compress?” I thought back to the seemingly endless ocean of dark water, “I don’t have anywhere near enough spiritual energy for that. That’s sort of what I came down here for.”

    “What you seek, you shall find, if only you ask yourself nicely.” I rolled my eyes uncontrollably at that.

    “Can I please have the vital method of gaining spiritual energy so I can save our collective ass as well as our wield duo soul?” I snarked. If had a physical, or visible form, I swear he would have bowed mockingly.

    “Touch me, and you shall know.” And so I did.

    The next moments were a blur, before I realised that the limitation I once thought I had never existed in the first place. By reaching here, I had already found the solution. All I needed to do was… condense it all down. I paused for just a moment, looking towards the golden orb once again.

    “What… do I call you?”

    “Grayhom.” He said instantaneously and without hesitation. I furrowed my brow, but nodded, returning to the task ahead of me.

    I took a deep breath, and became a vortex, pulling at the spiritual energy that I had merely sipped on before. Now I skulled it, litres at a time, without so much as a break for air between gulps. But even then I was hindering myself.

    I did away with the drinking mentality. I didn’t merely drink the energy, not did I eat it, or even consume it. No, that was too little. Too small. It didn’t touch on the faintest image of what I could do, what I was.

    No…

    I was the energy. All I needed to do, was take back what was rightfully my own, parts of me that I’d lost accidentally.

    So, I called it all back to me.


    When I opened my eyes, I saw a man standing in front of me, panting and sweating. His grey eyes wild and filled with a dark promise, even more so than the wickedly sharp blade that sat a hair from my skin, between my eyes.

    His pale blonde hair shrouded his face, pushed down by the white and green striped hat he wore—tastefully contrasting the dark colours of the black overcoat with white diamonds patterned at its hem and a dark green shirt and pants underneath.

    It took me a moment to recognise the man as the murky figure I’d always been able to see, next to his much larger friend.

    “Holy shit, Urahara,” I said, ignoring the sword at my throat, “do I have some wild shit to tell you.”


    A/N: Well, here we are! Time for my first proper Patreon plug!

    Have you ever wanted more chapters? Have you ever wanted way more chapters? Well, if you go on over to my Patreon, then you’ll be able to find up to 30 chapters of the story you’re currently reading!

    Sounds too good to be true? But wait, there’s more!

    For every tier you buy, you gain access to the same number of chapters on all of my other stories! That’s right! You can get access to a grand total of 90 whole chapters, right now!

    Every Patron will have their name etched into the footnote of every chapter from now till 50 days from now! So, get in fast folks, while stocks last!



    Was that infomercial enough for you? Anyways, if you enjoy, and feel like throwing a few bucks my way, have at it. I’ll appreciate you for it
     
  27. Threadmarks: Chapter 24: Malleable Perception
    Sarius

    Sarius Not too sore, are you?

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    Chapter 24: Malleable Perception

    I could see.

    Like, actually see. Not much, mind you, only a few meters of clear vision that surrendered to the familiar murky grey past that. My only complaint was that the first person I actually saw was Kisuke Urahara, especially while he was holding a thin, katana-like blade to my throat.

    Thankfully, that misunderstanding had been cleared up on short notice, mostly by me ignoring Kisuke’s death-glare and offering the man information. Kisuke normally acted with a flippancy that was almost scientifically engineered to be as infuriatingly punch-able as his stupid face, but it was all an act.

    Underneath the flippancy held one of two people, depending on the situation. An entirely chill, but serious guy whose probably just a bit depressed—or a cold-blooded psychopath, ready to rip out your throat, if need be. Interestingly, I almost preferred the psychopath to the ‘go with the flow’ vibes he used as a mask.

    Maybe once it wasn’t a mask, and now he just desperately clings to it like a child clings to their blanket. I looked at the yellow haired man sitting across from me and furrowed my brow. That was a depressing thought. Wouldn’t be surprised if it were true, though.

    “So,” Kisuke ground out, as if he could hear my internal monologue, “what the hell was that, Grayson?” I shrugged, genuinely not sure what he was referring to.

    “What do you mean by ‘that’?” I asked, and the infuriated man looked about ready to blow a fuse. He didn’t go red or anything, but the muscles in his jaw clenched in anger, squirming underneath the skin of his cheek. Man, sight was awesome.

    “I mean,” he punctuated the word with another death-glare, “why did you suddenly become a blackhole for spiritual energy? You were tearing the spiritual energy from my own reserves.” I grimaced. That would definitely piss off the incredibly neurotic, paranoid, and possibly immortal Soul Reaper.

    “Well,” I said gently, with as little condescension as I could manage, “I called it all back to me.” Which obviously didn’t answer anything, but Kisuke needed to be led into wanting a longer explanation, rather than supplying one upfront. That way, he feels like he got it out of you, rather than you just handing it to him on a silver platter. That’d just made him suspicious.

    Back to you?” He growled, but I could see the interest spark behind his eyes. Hook line and sinker, baby.

    “Yup, back to me. I went down into my mind to have to see if I have a soul—which is apparently only partly true—and when I got there, I realised I was basically sipping on spiritual energy this whole time.” The man’s face just about spasmed, but I continued regardless of his personal crisis of reality. Not so nice to be on the other end of the stick, hey?

    “So yeah, I worked through a few different mental models. Like drinking, eating, consuming, etcetera. Then I realised I was thinking way too small, so instead I just considered myself the original owner of the spiritual power, and voila. I am a spiritual energy blackhole.” I threw my arms wide for a healthy dose of theatrics.

    Kisuke, somehow managing to endure the multiple aneurysms concurrently occurring within his brain, scrunched his eyes closed and let himself think. While I let the man chew on the reality breaking bombshell attacking his puny little mind, I reached out my ribbon sense with a natural ease.

    In moments I pinpointed exactly who I wanted to see. Tessai’s patterned crimson ribbon stood side-by-side with Suzumi’s radiant white ribbon, both navigating their way through the deceptively large estate, making a beeline towards this very room. I could see Uyu’s ribbon, stretching towards somewhere off in the distance. I idly wondered if they had felt the effects of whatever I’d managed to do.

    The door to the sitting room flew open, revealing a massively tall man with tanned skin, his features hard as stone itself. His eyes were hidden behind a set of small, rectangular glasses that sat delicately on his powerful features—giving the almost comically masculine man a distinct scholarly quality. His finely braided hair swung with the movement of the action, as he exploded into the room with gusto.

    “Kisuke, Mister Carter, is everything alright? I felt like I–” I nodded quickly.

    “Was having the spiritual energy sucked right from your reserves?” I said sardonically. Tessai halted and nodded quickly, “Yeah, that was me. Sorry about that. Looking awesome, by the way. You look as good as the work you do.” I said, smile on my lips. The flattery hit the behemoth of a man right in the heart. He went silent, his cheeks warming a cartoonish pink before he coughed delicately.

    “Why, thank you Mister–” He began, but was rudely interrupted.

    “Wait, what? Grayson? You can see?” The voice called as a figure pushed past Tessai’s bulky form that was blocking the doorway.

    So, going to be honest. I regained some of my sight and somehow, it didn’t even enter my mind that I’d get to see my girlfriend. But now that I was thinking about it? Holy shit was I glad I had my eyesight back.

    Suzumi—currently dressed haphazardly in one of my tee-shirts and a pair of form fitting short shorts—was possibly the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. Though, I guess my expectations were limited to the foster mothers and child services ladies I’d seen before my eyesight went.

    Her gorgeous black hair was long and straight, reaching far down her back. Her face was a mix of Caucasian and Asian features, just like myself. Double lidded eyes, and a strong nose, in comparison to my far more Asian nose. Her eyes were a hazel colour, just bright enough to delineate it from a mundane brown. Her lips, a full and lovely pink—contrasting her slightly warmed but still pale complexion.

    I grinned wildly, butterflies flittering within my stomach at the mere sight of her.

    “Hey beautiful. Come here often?” I winked sleazily for effect. With a shrill noise, Suzumi raced towards me and wrapped me in a powerful hug that probably included more than a little spiritual muscle enhancement. Thankfully I was running high on reserves, so I was protected.

    I heard a scoff of distaste from Mr Bucket-Hat himself, though I just sent him a smirk. What are you gonna do about it? He rolled his eyes, and let the moment continue uninterrupted. I let the hug drag on, the beautiful woman in my arms hugging me as tight as she could. We let it go until Suzumi finally pulled away, slightly embarrassed. She looked about ready to ask a bunch of questions, but I made a pointed glance towards the glowering man sitting across the table, his hand hidden in the sleeves of his overcoat. I mouthed ‘well talk later,’ and she nodded, turning her attention to the unamused store owner.

    “So,” Kisuke began as Tessai settled down beside his friend, “apparently there are a great many things to ask.” I nodded, genuine this time. All of a sudden, I had a bunch of information without any understanding of how to apply it. Kisuke waited to see if I would interject, then continued when I didn’t.

    “Firstly. You say that you just… considered yourself to be the owner of the spiritual energy around you?” I nodded slowly, trying to figure out how to best explain it.

    “Yeah, basically. When I was down in my soul, I realised that I was working with a skin-deep understanding of what my soul was capable of. Like, even you said that I have a really strong soul and all that.” Kisuke nodded patiently, letting me make my point, “So, I started to ask myself what that actually meant. I went on a little mental journey to the bottom of the sea—that was really my soul in metaphor—and realised just how… magnitudinous it was. I realised just how little I was really taking advantage of. Like I said, I was sipping before.”

    “Where does you considering yourself as owner of the spiritual energy come in?” Kisuke asked, his patience wearing thin. I sighed.

    “Well, I just tried to think of something that mentally equalled the magnitude of spiritual energy my soul was actually capable of gathering. What’s more mentally powerful than reclaiming what was already yours?” I asked, and both Kisuke and Tessai grimaced. I had stepped on a massive fuck-off landmine and I didn’t even know why.

    “That… sounds dangerously close to an old foe of Soul Society, Mr Carter.” Tessai explained, making me wince myself.

    “The same foe who bred a generation of people, propagating and growing his power just to cull them to destroy the balance between life and death.” Kisuke continued darkly, ignoring Tessai’s warning gaze.

    “Hey now, I didn’t mean to bring that comparison up. I’m not going to go breed a generation of people just so I can kill them off. I don’t even know if I’m capable–” There was a loud bang as Kisuke’s fist crashed through the delicate wooden tea table between us, suddenly towering over me.

    “You were stealing spiritual energy right from my soul at a distance!” Kisuke thundered, his voice cracking like a whip, “You may not be capable of it now, in your nascence. But how long will it be before you could?”

    I felt the need to make a scathing retort, but it died on my lips. There was no witty retort, no joking remark that was appropriate. Why? Because when I looked at the enraged face of Kisuke, I see only a superficial layer of anger. Underneath the bubbling lava of hate and rage, there is freezing ice and water, kilometres of it. I saw true fear.

    “I don’t know.” I said carefully, making the enraged Soul Reaper pause despite his rage, “I barely know anything, and I can only say that it is theoretically possible I could do that. You would honestly have a better idea than me if I could or not. But it doesn’t matter, because it won’t happen.”

    The room was silent, both Suzumi and Tessai were doing their best to not jump to their feet and defend me from the fuming Soul Reaper. I stared directly into the grey eyes that Urahara seemed so desperate to hide beneath the brim of his hat and his unruly fringe.

    “Fine,” Kisuke growled reluctantly, returning to his sitting position, hands hidden in his sleeves—no doubt clutching his Zanpakutō’s handle, white knuckled. I nodded passively and waited for Kisuke to ask another question. It took him a minute to come around to it, but eventually he let the question leak from between his snarling lips.

    “You said that you having a soul was only ‘partly true’.” He commanded, more than asked. I nodded, acquiescing to the man. Then wracking my brain on how to explain the mess of a situation that was my soul.

    “So,” I began slowly, “I’m both two people and one person at the same time.” The immediately dumbfounded look I was granted by every person in the room was easily worth regaining some of my sight alone.

    “Explain, Mister Carter.” Tessai said quickly. When even Tessai was getting impatient, you knew that you were so far up in the ‘importance levels’ that it’d probably top a nuclear warhead sent straight for the shop. I cleared my throat theatrically, earning a glare from all three participants.

    “As best as I understand it. I—the identity that I am personally—died in the womb shortly before birth.” According to the expressions from the two Soul Reapers in the room, I needed to bring the ‘importance level’ estimate up a lot of pegs. “The other identity is a soul that somehow found his way to me by pure chance. From here things get weird.”

    “They get weird?” Suzumi squeaked, the rest of the participants mirroring the sentiment. I smiled wryly.

    “So, after I—the identity I consider me—died in the womb, my soul unravelled and was stuck in a limbo state. Don’t ask me why that is–”

    “Because before birth, a soul isn’t fully actualised, just the building blocks for what comes after birth. If you die within the womb you are spiritually considered both dead and alive, making you…” Kisuke’s face scrunched in thought, rapidly flicking through ideas and concepts, “making you unable to be a hollow, and unable to be taken to Soul Society until the foetus is removed or birthed. After which the ‘unravelled’ soul, which has had no personality or identity impressed upon it, will naturally return to Soul Society through some extremely complex fundamental laws of how spiritual energy works.” I sat back trying to process, and so did everyone else in the room, including the man himself.

    “Right. That seems very… obscure, doesn’t it?” I asked hesitantly and Kisuke nodded.

    “It’s a strange edge case of souls that I discovered… maybe three-and-a-half decades ago? I’ve never thought about it a single time since then. I’m not sure many other than me actually know that’s an edge case that happens.” Kisuke sighed heavily, the looked up at me wearily, taking off his hat to scratch through his hair roughly. I quickly re-evaluated just how old I believed the mid to late thirties looking man to be. Three-hundred-and-fifty years, just as nonchalant as that. I could see Suzumi do the same, sharing a look.

    “So yeah, that was me.” I continued, sufficiently perturbed, “Then there is this other identity—which is still also me, but our identities are technically separate—who is currently serving as my soul. He goes by the name Grayhom, apparently.” Kisuke’s eyes narrowed.

    “What does he look like?” He asked quickly, another landmine maybe?

    “He looks like a floating orb about the size of a basketball.” Which thoroughly stumped that line of inquiry. “He says that he was the identity of the soul that melded with mine, cutting away parts of itself to integrate with my unravelled soul. However he did it, it left a lot of our souls by the wayside. There is a lot of dark water surrounding my soul, which I assume represents the dead or non-functioning parts of my soul after the melding process?” I looked to Tessai and Kisuke who just seem flabbergasted, “So yeah, I compressed my soul’s mass in a lot to let Grayhom add some of the dark water back to our bright waters. So that’s basically how I regained some of my sight.” The dead stares bored into me like nothing else I’d ever experienced.

    “Anyone want a drink?” Suzumi called and both of the Soul Reapers nodded absentmindedly.


    A/N: Hah! Finally made it back after that massive mass uploading to Patreon. Jesus, that was a lot of work.

    A massive thanks to my three 10-dollar Patrons; Thomas H., TheBreaker, and Dyson C.!

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  28. Threadmarks: Chapter 25: The Journey, The Return
    Sarius

    Sarius Not too sore, are you?

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    Chapter 25: The Journey, The Return

    I have to say, watching Kisuke, Tessai, and Suzumi get drunk was way more fun that I thought it would be.

    Personally, I had my bets of Kisuke becoming a depressed, mopey mess, but actually what happened was he revealed that part of himself that was constantly thinking and theorising. The problem was that he had entirely lost the ability to dumb it all down.

    Kisuke’s topic of interest today was, unsurprisingly, how the hell my soul mechanically existed. The whole conversation was extremely interesting, even more complex and even more difficult to follow. It all boiled down to my soul being almost impossible—‘almost’ being emphasised to the highest degree. I obviously existed, so it was possible, but exactly how wasn’t clear.

    Kisuke talked a lot about a guy called Mayuri, who had a long running project nicknamed Nemuri. The concept was actually pretty simple, creating a true artificially manufactured lifeform, body soul and all. Capable of learning, changing, and becoming—for all intents and purposes—a legitimate being. Even in his drunken state, Kisuke was hard-pressed to admit that the project’s results were impressive, but he did explain how exactly it applied to me.

    The Nemuri project was a mixture of two separate spiritual tech, Gikon; Artificial Souls, and Gigai; Faux Bodies. Both are inherently complex, but the two technologies were almost once used to create an army of disposable souls and bodies. At some point this was shot down, and the idea was scrapped. Kisuke admitted that—while the science was integral and beneficial—it was better that it was canned. Though, even that old project had nothing on the lengths that Mayuri went to.

    Gikon and Gigai are certainly not mutually exclusive, and one could be put inside another without much hassle. But the creation of a soul truly capable of inhabiting a body so seamlessly that it could be considered a genuine being by all rights? That was a whole other level of science. Much to Kisuke’s chagrin, he admitted that Mayuri had actually been extraordinarily successful. To the point where he had accomplished the unthinkable.

    An artificial being, created with spiritual science, capable of wielding and bonding with a Zanpakutō in truth. Nemuri Hachigo.

    While I didn’t specifically understand the context behind why that was so important to Soul Society, just the way that Kisuke said it made chills run down my spine and my arm hairs stand on end. An entirely artificial creation, soul and all. I wondered if living humans would ever create something like that? We had the capability for cloning, technically. But would that be considered entirely artificial? Was that just a case of a normal soul being sent into the body of a physically cloned being?

    Kisuke continued with lots of math and spiritual principles that, frankly, was lost on me. He did bring up the name Ichigo a few times, mostly in reference to his own soul being a bit of a clusterfuck. Apparently, I was part of the gang now. Maybe I’d have to go snoop around and see if I could find the guy, get some advice or something.

    Kisuke managed to get back onto some of the more theoretical sides of the analytical breakdown on the composition of my soul, which was mostly barren of complicated numbers and theorems. Now he was onto the soul composition of a Hollow, specifically Menos Grande.

    I hadn’t heard of them, but Menos are Hollows that have consumed or assimilated with hundreds of other Hollows, typically growing to be massive—tall as skyscrapers—though even more mindless than the sometimes-cognisant individual Hollow. The reason why they are part of the discussion at all is because its theorised that Hollows, as they are assimilated into the greater whole of a Menos become a sort of ‘soul soup’. All the different personalities, powers and identities of those individual souls are left by the wayside and the imperative of eating to sustain the Menos’ form becomes more important. From there it’s a game of survival of the fittest, where the luckiest and strongest Menos wins, consuming its Menos brethren and assimilating their ‘soul soup’, at which point the most powerful, domineering, and dominant soul is effectively chosen as the main identity, and the rest of the souls become that identity’s being.

    It was all very confusing. Point was that Kisuke theorised that the unravelled foetus soul could possibly be similar enough to that ‘soul soup’ to be malleable. Though when asked how it’d be tinkered with the way the other, foreign soul had done, Kisuke had no real answer.

    Long story short; confusing. Kisuke continued on, but I left him to his own devices after I realised that he was creating and disproving extremely technical theories ad nauseum. I left to talk to Tessai and Suzumi, who were having a good time of their own.

    Honestly, it was a little heartening to see that Kisuke had actually decided to get drunk while I was in the vicinity. While the paranoid candy store owner had been overly aggressive after the whole ripping-spiritual-energy-from-your-soul thing, it seems he had decided that I wasn’t actually a threat. Or not enough of one to be able to take advantage of his intoxication.

    Suzumi and Tessai were sitting just opposite from each other, apparently talking about anything other than my whole soul fiasco. Suzumi had managed to get herself fabulously drunk in my time away from her, which I noted as something I’d have to look out for in future if there was alcohol around. Tessai, however, acted entirely normal—the only sign of him being drunk at all was two very rosy cheeks and a looser smile.

    I let myself enjoy the company of my girlfriend and possibly our closest friend. Socially interacting was so much better being able to actually see their faces, even if I could make do with their ribbons. The way that Tessai’s eyes crinkled slightly at their corners, the way that Suzumi’s face lit up with excitement every time she had something she desperately wanted to say, barely holding herself back in waiting for Tessai or I to finish our own thought.

    It was something I didn’t realise I had missed until I had it back. For some reason it was now that I remembered the faces of those I had talked to as a child, their small facial mannerisms and body language. Now I was hyper aware of each moment Suzumi and Tessai made, my mind struggling to compute what they meant by that movement, or what it signified. I came to realise that, just as reading a ribbon was a skill, so was reading expressions and body language. Some things came across and were naturally understandable, and some as obvious quirks, but everything in between was a muddy grey of half-understanding.

    Tessai specifically was a hard nut to crack. His posture was perfect, back extremely straight and hands placed gently on his powerful thighs as he knelt on a cushion with the utmost professionalism. I suspected that, if he weren’t drunk—aside from intentional mannerisms—the man would be almost entirely unreadable. But, as he was, I could see minor movements around his eyes, a contemplative adjustment of his glasses, a small furrow of the eyebrow and so on. Suzumi, in comparison, was wild; her hands waving with no shortage of theatrics that both Tessai and I found to be endearing.

    When the clock hit midnight, Tessai and I collectively agreed that it was time to pull the curtains closed. It was surprising to me just how much information you could effectively convey over just the few scant glances he had sent my way while Suzumi drunkenly rambled. Suzumi gave a token argument before she saw Tessai rise from his kneeling position to leave himself, which she decided was a good enough end to the night as any.

    I looked worriedly over at Kisuke, who had been sitting in the corner of the room where I’d left him, muttering some incomprehensible jargon.

    “Should we be worried about him?” Tessai let a gently breath release from his nose in amusement.

    “No need to fret, Mister Carter. Kisuke rarely gets drunk, but I assure you that tomorrow he will be in his lab, working on something that he thought up while drunk.” I laughed and Tessai let himself chuckle more fully. Tessai walked over to the man who had found himself in a scientific fugue and gently looped an arm underneath Kisuke’s stomach, pulling the man and his multiple layers of clothing over his large and muscled back.

    As Tessai gave one last farewell nod after we’d all left the room, he retreated down the hallway with Kisuke’s form still slung over his back, hanging bonelessly. Just before they left the range of my vision, I saw Kisuke’s hat slip form his head. I just about called out to Tessai before Urahara’s hand snapped out from its hanging position and grabbed the wayward hat, slamming it back over his blonde locks, never faltering from his audible muttering.

    Both Suzumi and I both choked back a round of raucous laughter, trying not to pee ourselves as we stumbled back to our room. Then came a dire few minutes as I waited outside the toilet that Suzumi had used spiritual energy to get to first. Blind drunk and still faster than I was totally sober. Bitch.

    We laid down in bed, the lights off and our semi-clothed forms hugging closely together, still struggling to stop ourselves from laughing about the hat. It took us another ten minutes to calm ourselves fully, and then a few more in complete silence. I could feel Suzumi pressing herself close to me now, far closer and more intimately than she had done before.

    I felt a joyous warmth fill my chest as I felt her soft form against my side. I repositioned to get more comfortable and hold her closer myself. A handy usage of spiritual energy; enhancing the parts of your body underneath your partner and their weight won’t even feel uncomfortable, let alone make you lose blood supply to the area. Gotta say, I was prouder of that little discovery than I really should be.

    “Grayson?” Suzumi whispered. I’d have expected her voice to be drowsy and slurred, but her voice sounded sharp—cognisant. I furrowed my brow.

    “Yes? Are you okay?” She was quiet for a little while afterwards but hugged me tighter to let me know she was still there, just thinking.

    “Tonight was… scary.” She said slowly. I felt a flush of ice cold go down my spine but Suzumi quickly amended it with, “but kind of amazing?” I let out a breath I didn’t even know I’d taken, and slowly let my nerves resettle.

    “I’m sorry.” I said simply, letting the words hang in the air while she chewed on what to say next.

    “It’s okay. I was just worried that Urahara would do something. Especially when he talked about that guy who culled generations?” I nodded gently. That had been scary, even from my position. I didn’t like being called what amounted to the spiritual world’s Hitler, but I had gotten good at letting it slide off me. I didn’t realise that it’d effect Suzumi so much instead.

    “And then the… soul stuff? I–” her breath hitched slightly and gave her pause, her voice returning with much more emotion, “I don’t know how to process that. How do I even help you with that?” I let out another sigh of relief, unbidden. I had almost been expecting her to say that she couldn’t do it, but it seems that my opinion of Suzumi had once again fallen short of just how amazing the genuine article really is.

    “Suzumi,” I said, my voice calm and even a little bit of a smile to it, “you don’t have to worry about the soul stuff.” There was just enough light to see her hazel eyes squint in distrust, and I could only chuckle. After a moment of thinking about how to word my thoughts, I spoke.

    “When I went down to the bottom of my soul—where Grayom is—it put a lot of things in perspective. The way that I’ve been going through life, just how unaware of myself I actually was, how much of my limitations were self-imposed.” I paused, and I could feel Suzumi cuddling up to my shoulder more closely, “When I finally met Grayhom… I realised that I, both metaphorically and literally, had parts of myself that were locked away and left alone, and that I had surrounded myself by limitations without ever bothering to look deep enough underneath my own self to even see that it was me holding the chains all along.” The room was silent, and I could feel that Suzumi wasn’t quite happy.

    “Don’t put yourself down like that,” she whispered as her eyes roamed gently over my face, “maybe you’re right, that you were the mastermind of your own demise… but aren’t we all? When I was a child, just after dad had died, I saw him hovering over me. He sat by me in the days after his death, he read me the stories I loved, he watched over me as I fell asleep, when I felt most unsafe. One day, only a week or two after I first saw him, he never came back. Now I know that he was real, with all this spiritual stuff and souls… that he wasn’t a figment of my imagination, that my father had been right there in front of me—comforting me, desperate to show me that he loved me…” her breath hitched.

    “And I had ignored him—not even daring to look at him—because I was afraid that if I spoke, he would disappear.” As I looked upon the guise of the most beautiful woman I could conceive of, letting the tears leak sideways down her face, I cried. I kissed her on her forehead and cheeks, hoping to give her any comfort I could. She hugged me in turn, her powerful arms gripping me like I too might disappear, just like her father had.

    That evening I had set off on a journey to discover myself, and I had found so much of myself; parts of myself that were forgotten by design, and parts that I had shunned from my mind, forever left at the bottom of the sea. But who would have guessed that it wasn’t the journey, but the return that taught me to forgive myself for years of self-neglect… if only a little.

    As we both choked back sobs, staring each other in the eyes with the warmest love I had ever experienced, I forced myself to grin haphazardly.

    “I’m really glad I can see you.” She snorted, even while she shuddered with sobs.

    “Shut up—you’re lying.” She scowled in mock protest, but I let a face of pure seriousness take over.

    “Suzumi, you are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.” Suzumi was stunned for a moment, her face looking as if I’d slapped her, then flickering through a hundred other emotions, her pale face slowly warming with an intense blush, visible even in the low light. Then she got the joke, just as my shit-eating grin hit its peak and suddenly she was wearing her own.

    “That’s cheating!” She quickly flipped herself up, straddling my stomach and looking at me with a blazing fire in her eyes. I was shocked for a moment, confused even, but then her lips clashed against mine with a pure heat and fervour as her hands began to roam my–

    Oh, that’s a little too graphic. Let’s leave it at that, shall we?


    A/N: A massive thanks to my three 10-dollar Patrons; Thomas H., TheBreaker, and Dyson C.!

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  29. Threadmarks: Chapter 26: A Learning Curve
    Sarius

    Sarius Not too sore, are you?

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    Chapter 26: A Learning Curve

    “Isn’t she the cutest!” The red-haired, middle-aged man gushed childishly as he held his daughter, suspended in front of him by her armpits. The man—somewhere in his mid-forties—was pretty short, standing somewhere close to my own height. He wore a tracksuit set in a light red, a few shades brighter than his fiery coloured hair which—despite his age—showed no sign of losing its colour to the grey of age and wisdom.

    For reasons clear to just about anyone.

    In his hands hung his daughter, who he was absurdly proud of. Uyu’s face sported a mixture of deadpan boredom and embarrassment on her strangely melancholic features—an affectation of the way that her face naturally sat in an expression of anxiousness or worry. I could understand why Suzumi loved doting on the girl she professed as her little sister, much to Jinta’s own excitement. The young girl had slightly darker hair than her father, though still a deep red—just a quieter flame in contrast to her father’s burning red. Uyu’s darker red hair was pulled into two pigtails on each side of her head, exploding outwards from just behind her in a grand display of dichotomy between the excitement of her hair and her somewhat dour face.

    “She definitely is.” I said, playing along with the father’s game. He pulled her back into his chest, twisting her away from me and assuming the face an overprotective mother gorilla.

    “You can’t have her, she is property of–” He didn’t get the chance to finish his sentence as a un-gauntleted fist slammed into his face, launching the man into the air and to the far side of the Study Room—screaming all the while. Uyu tapped to the rocky floor below, letting out a slight huff of exasperation.

    “Whose property!” I just laughed at the antics, having long since decided to go along with the charade. There is a genuine and affectionate relationship there—there was just a very strange dynamic that sat over top of the surprisingly normal and supportive relationship. “I-I’m sorry!” Uyu said after a moment of silence. Realising I hadn’t said hello to the girl I waved her anxious hand wringing away.

    “That’s okay. How are you doing today?” I asked inanely and started listening to her answer.

    Outside of being an incredibly powerful high-spec human, able to beat a relatively powerful Hollow into the ground in the span of a few minutes—Uyu was a normal schoolgirl. From how she looked and acted, I had expected she was significantly younger, but she had actually started high school this year. That made her somewhere around fourteen, which was only a little mind blowing. Though I guess it didn’t change much.

    I happily listened to Uyu as she talked about the classes she was taking and friends she was making. It seems that Uyu—despite being a timid girl—is a bit of a friend magnet; people naturally surrounding the girl they think needs the most protection. Apparently, her hair is an excellent conversation starter and the challenge between the girls of her grade has been to try and tame her hair. None other then Uyu’s own mother has succeeded and—to Uyu’s endless frustration—she won’t tell her how she does it. Knowing her father, I’d say it is a conniving plan to get her daughter to talk to her if she wants her hair done nicely.

    It was cathartic to hear about Uyu’s fairly normal life, outside of what she does with us and her general involvement with the spiritual world. It was a breath of fresh air, to hear about a life so disconnected from anything going on in the mess of the spiritual world, regardless of how interesting and fun it might be. Maybe it gave me a little hope as well—that some day this will all calm down and I could create that for myself, and instead of the spiritual stuff being my entire life, it can be something akin to a day job.

    We started to warm up while we talked, ignoring Suzumi’s absence from training today. She may have been able to push away the effects of the alcohol with spiritual energy for the latter part of the night—or early morning if you were feeling pedantic—but it certainly doesn’t help with the hangover. Both Tessai and Kisuke had refused to help her recover from the hangover with medicines or a technique, stating simply, ‘She will need to figure that out for herself. Or she could just not get blind drunk.’ Or something to that effect, anyway.

    While Suzumi was hungover, the symptoms weren’t all that bad, and we were able to have a quiet and thoughtful conversation in the morning—as we both enjoyed the slow nature of it. We talked a lot about the more detailed stuff I missed out on explaining last night; the other identity, if it was me or someone else, what the whole taking from other peoples reserves thing was about, etcetera.

    The answer to all of those were sort of simple. I explained what the other personality was like; originally bland and one-note, not even really possessing identifying features or personality. I explained how, over the short conversation that we’d had in my bright waters, the identity had grown into his own—becoming Grayhom and somehow more me as well. After confusing her with that, I explained that it was like being adopted at birth and never knowing you had a twin. When you finally meet, you realise just how similar and different you are at the same time. That seemed to bring it together for her, though the situation was a little more complicated than that, the metaphor did its job.

    After that I explained more about how—while the Grayom is his own identity—he’s just another identity of me. We are inextricably linked, one and the same at the most fundamental level. It was like we were one being with two heads; both able to talk and think independently but sharing the same body that builds their personality. Suzumi was relieved to accept that. She was worried that Grayom might want to take over, but I could only shrug. As little as I knew about Grayhom, I knew he was me, and that I wouldn’t do that—so he wouldn’t either. He also knows that because he would totally let me out to have a bit of a life, that I would as well. Mutual understanding on an extremely complicated but basic level. Though I guess I had to find a way to do that in the first place.

    Then the most difficult question to answer. I don’t really understand exactly how it works—though I’m not without theories—but I do understand how the ‘blackhole’ trick is different from how I steal ribbons. Sort of, anyway.

    Effectively when I become a ‘blackhole’ for spiritual energy, I am just calling all nearby spiritual energy to me. This means all nearby spiritual energy—meaning its not targeted, and I’m not even sure it could be targeted. All the mental model does is take from the most convenient sources nearby, which might just so happen to be the reserves of a Soul Reaper—after it exhausted the immediate vicinity of spiritual energy, of course.

    Which means that the blackhole trick I do is vastly different from the ribbon snatch. For one, the blackhole trick requires me to ‘slowly’ sap energy from the surroundings. Someone could easily defend themselves against the relatively slow leeching, or even just run out of the radius of my reach—until I consume the other easy sources of spiritual energy to return to that particular being. In the sort of way that a single cell organism breathes, being small enough to rely on the principles of diffusion—with maybe slight supplementary ‘suction’—to allow the oxygen to pass through the barrier of their cell wall and assume the empty space where the cell had consumed the oxygen before.

    My point is, there is severe diminishing returns. At some point, the ‘surface area’ of the blackhole I create will be too small in relation to the mass it requires to reach more spiritual energy—making it impossible to sustain itself, inevitably collapsing in on itself. So, I couldn’t just sit there and continue to widen the area of effect until it covered the entire world, just like a human can’t supply themselves with enough oxygen through their skin cells. Or something like that, anyway.

    Now, the ribbon snatch works with the same basic mechanism—I would assume—but focused. Instead of widening the spiritual energy sources that my soul will accept to everything and anyone, it instead limits it to a simple soul, or ribbon. That way—as long as I can make contact with the ribbon of the being, or maybe even their body at some point in future—I can steal a portion to all of their reserved spiritual energy at once.

    Now, this has its own limits—just like the blackhole method. Sure, I can take a large portion of a soul’s spiritual energy, but it can fairly easily be resisted. Especially if the target is aware of their own reserves—like any good Soul Reaper likely would be.

    Take Urahara for example; it only took him a matter of seconds to figure out that the air around him was being leeched of spiritual energy, then even less to figure out that it was leeching his own reserves as well—then figuring out it was me.

    However, even if I am able to steal spiritual energy from an opponent’s reserves, there is no guarantee that I am able to seal all of it—or even most of it. I think this is due to my soul being in the state its in. It was immediately noticeable after utilising the blackhole method that my soul is almost squishy—which is not at all normal. Souls are compact machines of pure spiritual excellence, they are packed tightly with integral components that are the literal building blocks for who and what you are—also giving you the potential to be more than that.

    My own soul is nothing like that. The dark waters represent the equivalent to semi-functional hardware strung together in a daisy chain of Rube Goldberg machines that—while the components used are powerful—don’t accomplish anything. It would be like having a computer that is technically has the most processing power, but the software could never take advantage of the ludicrously inane way it’s been strung together—complete with chewing gum and sticky tape.

    So, when I go to steal power from someone, the same bloated soul that says that I’m immensely powerful gets in the way of my own reserves. Making sure that even if I do try to steal more energy than my diminished reserves can hold, it’ll simply bounce right back off my soft and rubbery soul and into the atmosphere for that person to take right back into their own reserves.

    Meaning that, while ribbon snatching allows me to temporarily use more spiritual energy than I can hold in my reserves for a few attacks or so, it eventually dissipates. Therefore, the best I could do against an incredibly strong opponent would be exactly what I did to Urahara the first time I stole a ribbon; hit them with a burst of their own spiritual energy when you still are holding most of it. Though Urahara also came out totally unscathed from that, so it clearly isn’t a winning strategy.

    Another bummer about ribbon snatching versus the blackhole method; only the blackhole method can compress my soul, allowing Grayhom to work with the dark waters—adding the nigh infinite spare parts to a grand tapestry that I certainly don’t understand, but apparently I do somewhere deep inside.

    Now, ribbon snatching is fast—I grab the ribbon of someone like Urahara and suddenly I have one-hundred times the spiritual energy I could possibly hold in my current reserves. This rush of spiritual energy floods inside my reserves and batters against my soul at odd angles in non-uniform patterns. This just makes all that excess spiritual energy bounce off uselessly.

    The blackhole method is different. Its slower—at least comparably—for one. It slowly injects a fine mist of spiritual energy into my reserves, filling the reserves slowly to their maximum and then pushing just a little more. Now, since both the ‘walls’ of my reserve and my soul are nigh indestructible, this tiny bit of pressure is almost nothing. But little by little, more pressure is added—making the soul compress itself and bringing more of the dark waters close to the bright waters. There is only a consistent and dispersed stream of spiritual energy entering the reserves.

    Uyu and I began to spar after finishing our long warmup process that we’ve completed what feels like hundreds of times—one that we honestly didn’t even need to do anymore, our physical ability far surpassing the need for a warmup. I shook myself of my contemplative stupor, trying to put my mind into gear for fighting.

    As soon as we began the fight, I realised—once again—how difficult it was to adjust to actually having sight. Sight was great but worked to your great detriment when each attack threw up a flurry of dirt and stone—making my little monkey brain focus on the falling detritus. As soon as I’d gotten my limited sight back, my brain had decided to take everything I saw as gospel, even if what I was looking at was nonsense to my other senses.

    For example, I could see Uyu’s ribbon and that could easily pinpoint exactly where she was in all the dust and rock—yet my brain made me search for the girl rapidly with my eyes, swinging my head to and fro. My still poor eyesight couldn’t even see far enough to correctly identify her anyways.

    That earned me a gauntleted fist to the face, sending me flying backwards through the air without me preparing the spiritual rooting technique. As I flew through the dry, warm air of the Study Room I could only think one thing.

    Well, this is going to be a learning curve.


    A/N: A massive thanks to my three 10-dollar Patrons; Thomas H., TheBreaker, and Dyson C.!

    If you want to support me, and receive up to 90 total chapters in advance, check out my Patreon!
     
    Foxfax, zake, CloudSkyke and 2 others like this.
  30. CloudSkyke

    CloudSkyke Making the rounds.

    Joined:
    May 29, 2019
    Messages:
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    Excellent story thus far, thanks for the read.

    Also noticed that chapter 6 isn't threadmarked.
     
    Sarius likes this.
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