This story is a work of fanfiction. As such, it owes a great debt to the creators of the characters used herein: Rumiko Takahashi and Tite Kubo.
An Unsuitable Person
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(Where is enough things both glorious and creepy.)
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A/N: The floor numbering system used here is that of USA, Japan and Russia: the “first floor” is the floor directly at the ground level, the same as the “ground floor” in the British system.
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This late in the morning the normal young people, not burdened with all sorts of things supernatural, hurry to their schools trying to get there before the gates are closed. But these three girls gathered on a secluded clearing, standing in the well beaten circle. Rukia as always stood at the edge of the clearing, this time with Kai in her hands, who bore herself as quietly and inconspicuously as possible.
Cologne pulled out the envelope of compromising materials the three girls hated now with passion, and they sped along the usual spiral. The usual barbs, compromising photos and other intimate details were invoked, but to much lesser effect than yesterday.
“It seems, they are getting used to it,” Rukia noted quietly.
“Alas, so.” Cologne nodded. “There are almost no sore spots left to push. That's why only the scant few could master the obvious form of Hiryu Shoten Ha.”
“The obvious form?” Rukia raised her brow.
“Of course,” Cologne replied with a smile. “As with most our techniques, the true goal of learning Hiryu Shoten Ha is hardening the trainee, build up a great resistance. In this case, to taunts.
“Oh yes,” Rukia nodded in agreement. “For the warrior, resistance to the enemy taunts is one of the cornerstones... But there are other such techniques?”
“Aplenty,” Cologne replied with pride. “For example Bakusai Tenketsu mastered by young Hibiki Ryouga. The obvious designation of this technique is blowing up rocks with a touch of your finger, but its true designation is hardening the trainee's body under the hail of weighty boulders and stone shards.”
“Blowing up rocks with a touch of your finger?” Rukia was intrigued. “I myself am not bad with Kidou but I never heard of such effects. Or does this Bakusai Tenketsu work via pure brutal strength?”
“No, it's a pure ki technique,” replied Cologne. “You need to see the resonance point in the non-living thing and sharply pump your ki into it, causing an explosive disintegration. But maybe in the spiritual world the matter has different properties and such an approach just wouldn't work...?”
“I doubt that. More probably, there is such technique but it is considered secret, so only the higher-ranking members of the Kidou division know it. It doesn't work against the living things, right?”
“Right. It works only on the non-living things. Though it somehow slipped my mind to mention that to Ryouga, the Son-in-law's rival.” She smiled at the warm memories.
“Oh? Then it's useless against the Hollows... But could be very effective against the walls and doors, for infiltrating the most forbidden chambers. No way that the Central 46 Chambers would allow such a thing to remain a public knowledge.”
After several fruitless runs the compromising materials come to an end. The girls stood in the circle, but turned to Cologne when the command to begin didn't follow as usual.
Cologne made a point of overturning the empty envelope, then regarded the trainees with a harsh glare. “This step of your training is finished. You are familiar enough with the Soul of Ice, now move to the second step.”
A long silence ensued.
“What second step, Sensei?” Shampoo asked at last.
“Ukyou, Akane,” Cologne turned to them. “Both of you have participated in the Son-in-law's training. Explain the basics of the second step to my unwise descendant.
Shampoo pouted but didn't say anything.
Akane was the first one to speak: “Umm... The trainee must stay cold, not letting out even a flicker of battle aura. Because it's the spiral created from her cold aura and her opponent's hot battle aura that creates the tornado. This part is called... umm... Body of Ice.
“Good,” Cologne commended her. “Now begin. But remember: if you fail to master it until the end of this day, it means you just don't have it for the Rising Dragon Rampage,(note 7-1) and the further training is useless.”
“Just don't have it?” Ukyou asked her.
“Exactly,” replied Cologne, not explaining anything.
“Sensei,” Shampoo asked hurriedly. “What if we have to interrupt by alarm?”
“Then we will finish tomorrow morning,” replied Cologne. “The limit lies in what you have already achieved, not in what you have yet to achieve.”
“I see, Sensei.” Shampoo bowed to her.
“In short, it's the Soul of Ice,” said Ukyou who finally figured it out. “You either have a talent for it, or you don't.”
“Begin,” Cologne commanded.
* * *
There was a barely discernible blurring over the clearing, the air filled with conflicting energies. Time and again the girls repeated their spiral, fighting their own fervor, trying to stay cold so that a single mistake, a single slip on their rivals' part would send them flying.
Time and again Akane failed to stay cold. A couple times she felt the wind tugging at her dogi. If this continues, she'll never be able to master this technique, never be able to surpass Shampoo and Ukyou.
And again they returned to the start. Akane made the decision. Taking a deep breath, just like before jumping into the cold water, treacherous and deadly, she called upon her memories of the moments unpleasant like slippery, cold frogs. She called upon the part of herself she always tried to forget, to suppress, to hide, striving with a great zeal to become a counterpart of Kasumi-oneechan. But they were always a part of her, and now he called for them: her icy contempt and cold-blooded cruelty, her petty vengefulness and frigid disdain. Were these the cold she was seeking, or just a dangerous self-deceit? She didn't think about that.
Unknowingly for her, her lips curved slightly in a disgustingly cruel smile, and Ukyou and Shampoo faltered, flaring with annoyance if not anger. The spiral was rapidly closing, but Akane already felt the cold she summoned seeping through her, enswathing her like a cocoon of revolting icy slime. But she didn't waver. A bit longer... Just one step left... The girls reached the center, synchronously throwing their fists up. But this time Akane's was something more than a simple uppercut. She felt the disgusting cocoon of cold whirling around her, slipping up her raised arm...
And found herself amidst the endless blue filled with sunlight. Deep below, the tiny waves of the faraway ocean rolled almost imperceptibly to the eye. The flocks of white ice fields drifted majestically in the sky above her, the sun shining through them. This space was so fundamental, so impossibly vast, that she found the breath caught in her throat. Akane sharply inhaled the frosty air, her eyes wide with astounded wonderment... And then she shuddered, suddenly feeling somebody looking at her back.
She jerked, turning around as fast as she can, and found herself face to face with... her snow copy, that was her first impression. Her double clad in a purely white Shinigami garb had the hair color of fresh snow, her face crowned with a white tiara incredibly pale, and the eyes... Akane felt the frosty cold of her double's gaze piercing her very soul, she stumbled back with a shudder and couldn't remember the color of these eyes afterwards. Were they white like a chilly blizzard? Or gray like a razor-sharp shards of ice? She could only say she never, ever met anything so devoid of warmth. So devoid of human compassion.
Akane had no time to gleam any more details: the fact that she stood on the air reached, at last, her awareness. With that came the feeling of falling. Her stomach twisted, the frosty air rushed by, burning her face. Tumbling in the free fall, Akane yelled with all her might, sharply remembering that she couldn't swim, feeling with her entire being the ocean below, still far away, but coming closer. The resilient wind ripped the scream off her lips, muffed it and carried it away. Unable to breathe, she stumbled, making an involuntary step from the center of the ring...
“Aw, crud,” grumbled Ukyou, untangling herself from the branches. “Akane-chan, you've bested me here.” She jumped down from the tree.
“Long overdue,” commented Shampoo, returning into the ring from her landing spot. “Will be normal Shinigami now, was painful to watch.” Judging by how immaculate her clothing was, she landed on her feet. Well, what else to expect from a cat?
“Oh-ho-hoo?” Cologne noted with irony from her gnarled staff. “And here I thought my great-granddaughter would be first?”
Shampoo snorted arrogantly: “Just you wait! Granny... Sensei will see yet me achieving success!”
“Then back into the ring, my pupils,” commanded Cologne. “And try to catch up...”
“Wait!” Akane interrupted her. “Just now, something strange happened to me. Right when I finished the technique.”
“Something strange?” said Rukia. “Haven't you, by any chance, met the spirit of your Zampakuto?”
“The spirit of my Zampakuto?” Akane echoed, surprised. “Well, I suddenly found myself in that strange place, amidst the sky, there was the ocean below and the ice floating in the sky, and all of this was so terribly vast... But what most scary - there was a me... I mean, not exactly me, she had white hair, and her eyes too, they were... white, I felt chilled by her eyes. And she wore a white Shinigami garb, and...
“There's no doubt,” Rukia cut her babbling short. “That was the spirit of your Zampakuto. But did you hear her name?”
“Her name?” Akane was taken slightly aback. “No, she didn't say anything. Well, I didn't even have time to look at her closely. I mean, there was nothing to stay on, so I... I just fell down.”
“Nothing to stay on...” Rukia drawled, deep in thought. “You are definitely not ready. Which is not surprising. You have a long way to train.”
“Yes, Sensei.” Akane wilted a bit.
Rukia's cell phone rang, announcing the arrival of another soul-eater. “Let's go,” she held Kai to Akane.
Akane's eye twitched. Kai started fidgeting, wishing dearly to be somewhere else. Somewhere far, far away.
“Me, trust this... this... with my body?” snarled Akane. “One time was enough!”
Kai's face went blue, she gave out a shriek and hid behind Rukia. Yeah, sure. They say, Antarctic is good this time of year.
“Trust her with your body?” Ukyou walked closer, peering intently at the stuffed absurdity. “This means that...”
“In the stuffed cuttlefish is the soul of warrior who fought yesterday in Akane's body!” exclaimed Shampoo.
“I'm bunny!” Kai exclaimed indignantly.
Shampoo approached from the side and bowed to Kai. “I...” She paused for a moment, then continued with resolution: “I owe you. You brought us victory in the battle where I... Where I failed to fulfill what I took on myself.”
“Oh, that was nothing...” Kai replied, suddenly shy. “In my place, anyone with a conscience...”
“Girls,” Rukia interrupted them. “We need to hurry! Akane, are you swallowing or not?”
“Me, trust this...”
“Let me guard your body,” Cologne proposed with a sigh.
“Thanks, granny,” Akane said with relief, bowing to her.
“And you, my stuffed beauty?” Cologne turned to Kai. “Mind keeping the old woman a company? Could also tell me how you got like this.”
“Everything is taken care of?” asked Rukia, pulling a fingerless leather glove emblazoned with a flaming skull onto her right hand. “Then let us go.” She pulled her arm back, aiming it at Akane. “So we have to do it in a less elegant way...”
* * *
The Hollow looked like a huge, bulging caterpillar sitting on the roof of a seven-story office building. Its white mask was rather inelaborate, without the usual black patterns, its mandibles rather small for such a bulk. It circled the roof lazily, looking for the prey from above, and didn't show any inclination to get down.
The girls swore: even Ranma couldn't jump so high. But they didn't want to lose the factor of surprise. So they had to move a twisted way along the fences and walls of the one-story houses surrounding the caterpillar-crowned concrete office box. Evoking the suspicious glances from people passing by, they reached at last the entrance watched by two security cameras, with a security guard visible through the glass doors. Rukia mercilessly burned the cameras out with some weak electric spell and they bravely moved forward. Akane walked in the front, so she hit the glass with her nose since the automatic doors weren't constructed to react to the spirits. She jerked back, trying hard to forget as her nose, it felt, passed through the glass for a moment. When Ukyou and Shampoo caught up with her, the doors reacted as intended, and the three girls entered, bold like tanks.
“Who are you? Show your ID!” The agitated security guard asked them nervously, glancing at the suddenly dead monitors.
“Ramen delivery order for Takeda-san!” Rukia popped up from behind her teammates like a Jack-in-the-box. “Neko-ucchan, the best okonomiyaki ramen in all Japan!”
The guard's brain was still locked up trying to process this rubbish when Rukia reached his counter. *Poof!* the cloud of colored smoke blooming in his face, the guard slumped to the counter a second later.
“Come on, we have no time to waste!” Rukia made a gesture for the dumbstruck girls to follow her inside.
“Umm... Sensei, where are you going? There's an elevator here!” Akane called for her, pressing the call button.
“An elevator?” Rukia turned around. This moment the doors opened with a melodic “ding”. “What should we need a closet for?”
“Umm... Sensei, it's for going to the top floors. Don't tell me you have no elevators in Soul Society? We have these in all buildings higher than a few floors.
“For going to the top floors?” Rukia said approaching the elevator and surveying the car with some suspicion. “No, we have never had anything like this. In Rukongai, there are no houses higher than three floors, in Sereitei no Shinigami would ever think of such an improper luxury.”
“Any way, it's an excellent way to sneak upon it unnoticed,” noted Ukyou. “If we go there while calmly staying put, the Hollow wouldn't be able to sense our Reiatsu. And this is faster than sneaking up the stairs.”
“To sneak up on an elevator,” Shampoo said, entering the car. “Never thought I'd will.”
“I too,” Ukyou admitted, entering and standing next to her.
“Are you coming, Sensei?” asked Akane, already in the elevator.
Rukia entered the car looking like she rode elevators her entire life. Only Ukyou did notice that she overacted a bit.
Akane pushed the seventh floor button. The doors closed, elevator started moving up. Ukyou used the short respite to pull three spatulas from her bandoleer, deftly wrapping them in the wet paper wards. Shampoo shrugged, straightening the unfamiliar knot of hair at the back of her head. She pulled, as always from nowhere, a pair of scimitars instead of her usual maces. Akane didn't notice, this happening behind her back, but Ukyou raised a brow in surprise.
“Changing weapon,” Shampoo explained curtly. “Old one was wrong.”
This moment the elevator stopped though the panel displayed only the fifth floor. The doors opened with a melodic “dong” and a businesswoman stepped into the car blindly, completely occupied with some papers. And reeled back, stumbling onto Akane who was invisible for her. And lifted her eyes, seeing some strange girls armed with lethally-looking sharp things. The folder she held flopped onto the floor, the office lady backing away on shaky feet.
“Sorry, this elevator goes up,” Ukyou tried to relive the situation, pushing the door closing button with a beaming smile.
Cold-blooded like a boa, Rukia calmly pointed her brainwashing tool at the closing doors. *Poof*. *Ding*.
“We are like men in black,” noted Shampoo.
“Like who?” Ukyou didn't understand the reference.
“Is a serial. Granny likes to watch stuff,” explained Shampoo. “In there, Americans hunt aliens, wipe everybody's memory with a very similar thing.”
Meanwhile they have arrived at the top floor. They crept stealthily up the stairs to the roof and held their breath opening the door a crack and peering out. The small concrete storey turned out to be inside the ring formed by the Hollow's body. From time to time, a wave rolled through the round segments, accompanied with movement of the segmented feet.
Rukia quietly opened the door a bit wider, poking her head outside. She looked to the right, then to the left, then turned back to the three warriors explaining in a whispered tone: “Its head is at the left, hangs down over the edge. The tail is there too, still on the roof. We won't get it like this, we have to make it move its head closer.
“Then attack it all at once,” Shampoo whispered in return. “Me and Ukyou chop tail, Akane at ready. It lunges, she cuts it down.”
“Too dangerous,” objected Rukia. “It could start thrashing instead of lunging at you. Then you risk being thrown off the roof.”
“Then we sneak to the right and poke it in the middle,” Ukyou suggested a new plan. “Even if it wraps around this storey we could escape into the corner between its wall and the roof surface. The Hollow's body is round.”
“And Akane waits in ambush for it to leave its muzzle open,” Shampoo finished for her. “Good plan.”
The cook and the amazon slipped outside without a sound, skulking to the right along the wall. Akane carefully unsheathed her Zampakuto, with a great relief seeing a flawless, undamaged katana. Then she stood at ready. Rukia carefully opened the door wider.
The tense waiting didn't last for long. The Hollow emitted a deafening shriek, its long caterpillar's body convulsed in waves of motion and the monster ran in panicked circles, chasing its tail like a demented merry-go-round.
“This, we didn't expect,” Rukia noted. “Have they just put the salt into its wound?”
For two revolutions Akane stood still, gauging the relative speeds. At the third one she jumped from her cover, with a mighty “kyah” smashing her sword into the mask speeding by. The Hollow's wail abruptly cut off, it flopped onto its belly, the inertia carried it for a few more meters before it finally stopped and began dissolving into the thin air.
“What did you do to invoke such a stampede?” Rukia asked Ukyou and Shampoo who just emerged from behind the storey. “Tried to flay it alive?”
“I only poke once, little-little,” Shampoo said, showing her sword. “Just once.”
“Exactly.” Ukyou nodded with disgust. “With her unprepared swords to boot, unable even to pierce its skin. Dammit, to waste three silvered wards on such a sorry weakling! I didn't even have to hit it.” She displayed her three unused throwing spatulas. “Bugger. They'll dry up till evening, then count the wards wasted.”
“Maybe they won't go to waste yet,” Rukia noted grimly.
“What do you mean?” Ukyou asked her, suddenly suspicious.
“The Hollows appear in this town too often,” explained Rukia. “Abnormally often. There shouldn't be so many of them. There is probability of a breach somewhere in the vicinity.”
“Breach to where?” Ukyou asked. “Or should I say, from where?”
“From the realm of hungry wraiths, of course,” Shampoo replied instead of Rukia. “Where eternal night rules supreme over the desert white as dead bone. The countless hordes of hungry Wu roam free, and woe to the mortal who finds herself in their land.”
“Where did you get such details from?” Rukia asked her intently.
“Legends.” Shampoo shrugged. “Tribe has many stories, even one about the fire-breathing bird people. Who knows where is truth.”
“Well, in this instance your legends are quite precise,” said Rukia. “Most Hollows dwell in the world called Hueco Mundo that looks, according to what they teach us, as an endless white desert shrouded in eternal night. The spiritual matter density there is so high that the Hollows don't need to eat souls to survive. Though they wouldn't be against trying if you end there. Unfortunately, it's rather easy for them to penetrate the living world or Soul Society.”
“Sensei,” Akane asked a question they all felt was vital. “How many of them are there, in that... Hueco Mundo?”
“According our scientists' estimates, their number is up to one third of the currently living humans .”
“So there are... two billions of them?” Akane almost broke to a shriek.
“But they don't swarm all in one place,” Rukia tried to calm them. “Though I should admit, there were a few precedents of breach leading to a literal hotbed. Whole divisions were rallied to contain the invasion...”
“I hope that won't be case this time,” grumbled Ukyou. “I already have a lot on my shoulders, I don't need to fight hordes of monsters on top of that.”
“Would be bad for business if many clients eaten,” Shampoo agreed.
Akane just shivered silently. Why Ranma is never there when you need him? Granted, he's an insensitive jerk-ass, but still...
* * *
We see a cargo container rolling on a long container carrier platform in the tail of a long freight train. The container's doors open a crack, all we could see are someone's eyes glinting inside.
“Looks like suburbs,” a girl's voice notes. “We'll be home at sunset, unless this one goes to the marshaling yard too.”
Her reply is a content quacking.
* * *
Some place dark and cavernous. The lantern in the man's left hand gives much more light that a mere glass box with a candle inside should be able to, but it's barely enough to keep the darkness at bay. We see the man from his back, as a dark silhouette lined in light amidst the lit circle of rough stone floor. He stays alert, since beyond that circle of light lies only darkness filled with shuffling, skittering and occasional malicious giggling.
“Where is she?” the man demands, his voice is quite youthful: he haven't even hit his thirties. “Enough! It's time to stop this insane game!” Light plays on his short dark hair, the metallic rim of his glasses and his simple gi when he raises his lantern higher.
Two huge Hollows jump at him from the darkness, but the man's right arm flies up, the incense stick clutched in it trailing almost invisible smoke. A complex symbol is drawn in the air in a blink of an eye, and both Hollows disintegrate in a storm of light motes, purified instantly.
“So, that is really all you got, hunter,” another man's voice reaches from the darkness, cold and bored. “I must admit, I am sorely disappointed.”
“I'm not a hunter, I'm a healer!” the first man replies hotly. “Now where is she?!”
A sound of human steps reaches from the darkness, and the second man emerges on the edge of the circle of light. He is lanky, his short light hair is unkempt - we cannot tell its color for sure in the dim reddish light of the lantern. He wears thick, square-rimmed glasses, but there are no lenses in them to catch the light. His facial expression reflects contempt and boredom when he looks at the first man, as if there was an entomologist expecting to find a new species but it turned out that the bug before him is a common dung beetle. “Not that it matters to you,” he says coldly.
The first man explodes with cold fury. He is on his opponent instantly, his right arm blurs, the index finger outstretched. The supposed blond receives a flurry of pokes into all his vital spots, stumbling back a bit. Suddenly the first man stops his attack, stumbling back in shock: his hand tore through his opponent's simple white jacket with three black strips running down its front and curving onto the right side. Tore through it... and found no purchase beyond.
“What are you?” The first man whispers in muted horror. “These strikes should have paralyzed you on the spot...!”
The second one just gives him a cruel smile, then rips his ruined shirt off. There is a round hole through his chest, the type every Hollow has. “An arrancar,” he says matter-of-factly.
The first man's right hand flies up again, drawing the same complex symbol with the smoke from the incense stick.
The human-like Hollow just gives a derisive snort. “Oh, please. I've analyzed your technique while you were playing with my cannon fodder. This bleak stuff of yours would never affect me, I didn't ever have to resort to any defensive measures.” He makes a pause, adjusting his lens-less glasses. “So it's really all you got, one holy symbol and your Shiatsu. How... disappointing.”
“Abomination!” the first man whispers, slowly backing away on his shaky feet.
“So be it,” the arrancar says in a bored tone, turning away. “Iceringer, you may play with this material. I've done with it.”
There's a sound of breaking glass, the lantern is snuffled out. The darkness is filled with sounds of struggle which all too soon dies down.
~~ End of Chapter 7 ~~
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Thanks for C&C to:
— people who contributed using the Orphus system (8 bugs so far).
Last correction: January 10, 2009
Note 7-1: I am greatly dissatisfied with both the English and Russian translations of the Ranma ½ manga (not with its precision, which is very good, but with its blandness and inability to convey the original's “fires of youth”, so to speak). So forgive me if I use my own translations for the technique names. In my opinion, Hiryu Shoten Ha (飛竜昇天破) is best translated as “Rising Dragon Rampage”, not as “Dragon's Heavenly Blast” or “Flying Dragon Hurricane” — the last is, apparently, from the Russian edition. I must admit, my language sorely lacks a usable word for conveying the mighty “Ha”. English at least has such (still bleak) equivalents as “blast”, “rampage” and “devastation” (not that Russian is weak in this regard, mind you: just them all buggers are adjectives!)
Yeah, it's a new section where I describe the origins of the current chapter's Hollow. First, for the previous chapters. Did I forget to mention that each Hollow has a round hole through their body, usually in the center of their chest? I try to write this fic in such a way that knowing Bleach would be unnecessary.
Chapter 1: your generic, run-of-the-mill Hollow. No specific prototype in canon. The events retell the Bleach manga, though (v1,ch1)
Chapter 2: the situation is partially calqued from the Bleach manga (v1,ch2) but the Hollow is generic.
Chapter 4: the Holow is purely canonic, quite a badass one (code name Shrieker, reward 5000). Taking it out took the first five chapters of the second Bleach volume, which this chapter loosely follows. Ryouga is more a badass though, so everything ended much quicker. The Hollow's little companions (or, more precisely, its external semi-conscious parts) spit multitudes of explosive leeches, which the Hollow sets off with the sound from its tuning fork-like tongue.
Chapter 5: the Hollow here is purely my invention as is the plot. Kai is the female counterpart of Kon of the Bleach manga, and the scene where Urahara tries to retrieve her mirrors a couple pages of the Bleach manga (v2,ch9)
Chapter 7 (this chapter): The caterpillar Hollow is canonic (v2,ch9), in the Canon it got killed off-handedly for butting into the heated argument between the main characters.
The one in the lens-less glasses... I must admit, he only makes a guest appearance here. He's thirty-something levels in badass tougher than our heroes. Despite the fact that he has much less power now that in his prime (Bleach manga, chapter 288), Saffron would stand no chance against him. This guy's a mad scientist, able to analyze his opponent's powers and negate them. Ranma is like a child compared to him in this regard. Death (even the final one) is so much more preferable than ending as his guinea pig...
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Это не сложно ^_^)
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