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Chapter 7: Old Friends100 YEARS AGO Ichiro’s eyes slowly and weakly opened, and he could barely keep them open as is. He remembered what happened then as the pain of his arm being burned entered his mind and he grunted; barely able to open his mouth as well. However, on his right hand he felt two other hands on top of his, and slowly turned his head; his parents were sitting down in chairs next to the bed, with both of them holding his hand. They were both passed out as well, hunched towards the bed with their heads resting on the bed, and positioned as if they were looking at each other. He did his best to gently squeeze both of their hands, but it was mostly his mother’s as her hand was right on top of his, with his dad’s on top of Hikari’s. That was enough for Hikari to instinctively squeeze Ichiro’s hand as her maternal instinct kicked in, then let out a low, soft moan as she opened her eyes. While the first thing Hikari saw was her husband passed out, she turned her head and looked up to see her son’s eyes barely open, and looked at him. “I-Ichiro?” She asked gently. “Hey mom,” Ichiro answered, his voice was hoarse and weak, but he showed a small smile; if not for the pain he would have shown as big of a smile as he possibly could. Hikari smiled right back at her son, and then moved to wake up Akio, her other hand going across his shoulders before she said softly, “Akio…Akio wake up…he’s awake.” He let out a louder groan than his mother as he opened his eyes and brought his head up, and smiled as well seeing his son awake. Once Akio was fully conscious and up, Hikari turned back to their son, “How are you feeling Ichiro?” “Awful,” he replied, trying to lighten up the situation a little. He turned to look at his burned hand, and almost immediately he had to look away because of how grotesque it was. “The pain…was so awful,” Ichiro said as he stopped and started to get teary eyed. “It was all I could think about…and at one point…I thought to myself that I’d rather just die.” He looked at his parents, “I’m sorry…for making you both worry. No one else…was hurt thankfully? I just…I couldn’t control it, it was so much at once. I tried…I honestly tried to control it.” Hikari started to break down herself, as a tear slowly rolled down from each eye, “It’s a parent’s job to worry Ichiro; you don’t need to apologize at all.” “Don’t blame yourself kid; you had no idea how bad it would become and you did your best,” Akio added to comfort his son. “We’re just happy to see you’re alive and awake.” Hearing his father say that made him realize just how lucky he was to have them for his parents, and then fully broke down; sobbing as tears started to flow freely from his eyes. Hikari immediately moved to hug and comfort her son as best she could, and Akio moved to the other side of the bed so he could do the same. The family embraced each other; the parents holding onto their son for dear life and reassuring him everything was alright. Eventually, they pulled away and Ichiro asked, “How long have I been out?” “Five days,” Hikari answered. “Your father and I have not left your room this whole time.” Ichiro’s mother smiled, “Now that you’re awake though; can you try moving your arm and using your hand?” Very slowly, Ichiro was able to at least raise his arm, but was never able to move his fingers or use his hand at all. It was terribly painful for Ichiro, as he winced in pain several times before he had to stop himself each time. Hikari sighed, “I figured as much, but it didn't hurt to try. Your hand hasn’t healed at all during these five days…despite constant sessions of healing kido being used.” The Squad Four captain walked over to a counter and grabbed a black glove. “I’ve been working with Captain Wakahisa here and there to figure something out to help and this is what we decided on.” “A glove?” Ichiro asked, incredibly confused how a glove would help him. “That has a kido spell imbued in it that will get rid of the pain while you wear it so you can use your hand,” Hikari explained. She walked up to Ichiro, “Put your arm up.” Ichiro did as his mother asked, and she slowly and carefully started to put the glove on Ichiro. Of course, he winced and groaned in pain the whole time…and then the pain was suddenly gone. He looked at his hand in astonishment…as he then closed and opened his hand with little effort, doing it a few times before he looked at Hikari. She merely just smiled at her son, “Take your time to get used to it…I still want you here for at least a few more days to see how things go.” There was suddenly a knock on the door and Akio told them to come in; the three looked to see Ryoichi come in, wearing his academy uniform. “Hey again captains, I-” he stopped when he noticed Ichiro was awake, and his best friend showed a smile, “You’re awake!” Ryoichi smiled, “You gave all of us a hell of a scare…glad to see you up.” “Thanks Ryoichi,” Ichiro said as he smiled at his friend. “Oh! Someone else has been visiting you as well,” Ryoichi said, as another person walked into the room. Ryuu Raiden walked in with a stern, yet worried face, “Ichiro, my name-” “Ryuu Raiden…I remember,” Ichiro finished for him. “You weren’t hurt at all I hope?” He shook his head, “I was not…but I wanted to offer my condolences for what happened to you. I also wanted to apologize if I am somehow responsible for what happened to you.” Ichiro made a dismissive wave, “Nah it had nothing to do with you, don’t worry about it. I would like to spar with you again though once I’m able to.” Ryuu showed a small smile, “I would be honored.” Before anyone else could say anything, the group heard two girls talking to each other as they entered the room. One of them Ichiro recognized, another friend he made in the Academy, Kohaku Kimura. She stood the shortest in the room, but that didn’t stop her from being fairly attractive, with short and curly, bright orange hair, and green eyes. The other woman Ichiro didn’t know at all; she wore the Academy’s uniform as well and stood just a few inches taller than Kohaku. Ichiro at first had trouble taking his eyes off of her; she had long, crimson that was in a ponytail, like Hikari’s, but had blue eyes that almost seemed to shine. The girls saluted the captains, and the couple just chuckled as Akio told them, “How many times we gotta tell you; no formalities in here: We’re not working here.” “YOU aren’t working,” Hikari corrected her husband, “I’ve still been working, looking over our son.” “And I’ve been helping,” Akio said to try and lighten the mood, as his wife just rolled her eyes. Everyone shared a laugh, and that was when Kohaku noticed Ichiro was awake, “Ichiro!” She said in excitement and almost ran to his bed and gave him a hug. It took Ichiro by surprise, but he managed to give her a hug in return, “Hey Kohaku, thanks for visiting.” “Of course I would silly, you’re my friend and I was worried,” she replied as she started to get a little teary eyed. Ichiro sighed through his nostrils as he smiled, “Sorry…but you don’t have to worry anymore.” Kohaku pulled back from the hug and Ichiro asked, “So who is she? A new friend of yours?” Kohaku nodded but the other girl introduced herself, “My name is Akanehime; one of Kohaku’s friends…and also Ryuu’s sister. I’m in your class as well but we haven’t really interacted all that much.” Ichiro smiled, “Well…nice to meet you Akanehime, any friend of Kohaku is a friend of mine.” Akio and Hikari showed a smile, as they let their son enjoy some time with his friends after such a terrible event; as they still stood on opposite sides of Ichiro's bed. After a while Akio looked to Hikari, giving her a nod, and she returned the nod back to him; with serious looks on both of their faces. "Alright everyone but unfortunately Akio and I need to talk to Ichiro about some more things in private," Hikari told all the students. "You're all more than welcome to still wait out in the hall if you want but it might be a while." Everyone said goodbye to Ichiro and left the room, with Akio at least thanking them for coming to visit. Once he had the door closed Hikari sat down in the chair she had fallen asleep on and before she could start Ichiro asked, "What else is there?" The redhead captain let out a sigh, as she thought about the words first, and then finally spoke. "Ichiro…were you pulled into your Inner World at all after you passed out?" Her son nodded, "Yeah…which is why I was kinda surprised you said I was out for five days."PRESENT DAY “And mom is okay with this?” Ichiro asked his dad. Akio chuckled, “She would have killed me if I didn’t at least tell her. Your mother already left for the Human World to check on Kohaku herself; just one more thing before you go. If you do run into Ryuu; even though we don’t know how strong he is yet…you are not allowed to use your Bankai. I know you try to avoid using it anyway but nonetheless, we don't want it to affect the Human World at all.” Ichiro gave a nod of understanding to his father, “I know dad…don’t worry about it.” Akio gave his son a small nod back and he basically forced Ichiro out of his office, and Ichiro went to their Squad’s Senkaimon. It was already open and waiting for him, and he didn’t delay without a second thought. He ran through the Dangai Precipice as fast as he could towards the Human World. Of course, he was going through a lot of different emotions right now; anger and guilt being the central focus of them. If Ryuu really attacked Kohaku just to get to him, he felt absolutely horrible about this…but also terribly enraged that he would get her involved. When he broke through the Dangai Precipice, he was greeted by the usual sights of the Human World; tall buildings, bustling traffic, as well as the usual sounds of several different things. Normally, Ichiro would take a moment to take it all in; it had been a few decades since he last came here and things always constantly changed here. Not this time though, this time he immediately headed towards the small Squad Four facility that Kohaku was being looked over at. These facilities were disguised as small clinics that most people didn’t bother to visit, but still also treated humans as well; especially humans with high enough Reiatsu to be able to see spirits. Ichiro walked in through the front door, and immediately a woman sitting at the front desk greeted him. “Hello Ichiro; your mother arrived and told us to expect you…Kohaku is in Room Five.” “Thanks,” Ichiro told the receptionist and headed towards the room. He only had to peer into the room and see just a glimpse of the state Kohaku was in to make him immediately look away in shock. Hikari was in the room as well, and turned to see Ichiro look away as soon as he saw Kohaku; noticing tears start to form in his eyes as well. She walked over to her son and put her hand on his shoulder as she approached him from behind, “She’ll live Ichiro…she’s asleep right now and is still recovering from surgery.” “It’s my fault though,” Ichiro said as Hikari brought him into Kohaku’s room, and had him sit in a chair. He couldn’t bring himself to look at Kohaku…but mostly because it made him feel more and more terrible about it. “I…Ichi…Ichi..ro?” He heard a faint, weak voice say and knew it was Kohaku’s. At first Ichiro still didn’t want to look at her, but eventually moved his head slowly to look at her. She was an absolute mess; bruises and swelling on most of her face, and one of her eyes was swollen shut. Along with all that, she was also hooked up to several different machines. Ichiro had to psych himself up a bit just to at least stand up and walk over to her, “Kohaku…I…I-” “Don’t,” she said, which stopped Ichiro dead in his tracks. “Don’t blame…yourself for this.” She did her best to show a smile, “I know you already blame yourself so much…for Akanehime’s death. You don’t need to add me to that burden; I’ll survive.” Ichiro wanted to say something to her, but couldn’t think of anything at all, plus was stopped as he suddenly felt Kohaku’s hand grab his. He looked to see Kohaku starting to cry, “Ichiro…you know…I still have feelings for you…right?” Ichiro let out a sigh; he knew this topic was probably unavoidable. “I know…but you know why I broke up with you Kohaku. While I’ll admit it hurt me back then to do it…I’ve also moved on.” “I understand,” she said with a surprising calm, “I just…I just needed to let it out for me.” He nodded, “Well, you get your rest Kohaku.” Ichiro moved to at least give her a hug, and then walked out of the room. He sat down on a bench in the hallway and HIkari followed him out of the room. She put her hand on his shoulder, “Hey, are you gonna be okay? She’s right though…don’t blame yourself about this at all.” “I’ll be fine…I just need to find Ryuu and confront him about this,” Ichiro answered as he seemed to be just staring off, but Hikari knew her son was concentrating, possibly thinking. Hikari showed a small frown as she crossed her arms, “You do know it might possibly be a trap right? Actually…it’s most certainly a trap; it has to be.” Ichiro didn’t answer at first, as he seemed to be very lost in his thoughts. He then answered with, “Oh most definitely…but him and I were bound to eventually run into each other again. So the way I see it he and I are just accelerating that process.” Before either of them could say anything else their phones went off. Ichiro pulled his out first but already knew what it was, “Hollows…that didn’t take long.” He stood up from the bench, “I’ll go take care of them.” “No, let Squad Six handle it,” Hikari told Ichiro as she gently grabbed his arm. “If you fight them and Ryuu decides to show up afterwards, that will just make things more difficult. Especially since we don’t know how strong Ryuu is now.” Ichiro was left a little speechless at first, but knew his mother was rightfully worried about him. He turned to face Hikari, “Mom…you should know something; when Niara, Ryoichi, and I were patrolling we came across a group of hollows…a fairly big group that somehow, suddenly showed up in the Seireitei. Yesterday, when the three of us were hanging out on top of the Squad One barracks, was when we fought those hollows I’m sure you heard about in the captain’s meeting this morning.” Ichiro stopped to take a little bit of a breath; but it wasn’t for long, “Me running into three groups of hollows in less than twenty-four hours…not exactly a coincidence mom.” A sigh escaped Hikari as she listened to her son and thought about this. She already knew what Ichiro was getting at, and then just said, “Come back as soon as you’re done.” Ichiro took almost no time to arrive where the hollows were supposed to be. At first he waited a bit, as he thought they were hiding like usual; waiting for the opportunity to strike. However, he ended up waiting a bit longer than usual; he was sure this was the area the hollows were picked up on the phone. He stopped on a rooftop and went to pull out his phone to double check, but as soon as he did he felt an immense Reiatsu. It made Ichiro stop, as someone suddenly appeared in front of him, standing on the roof as well. It was a man with a terribly intimidating presence; as he stood much taller than Ichiro and his entire body bulged with muscles. He wore bandages around his stomach and on his arms, as she didn’t wear a kisode at all, but still had an unaltered hakama with socks and sandals. Ichiro finally recognized who it was though once he looked into his eyes; which were a yellow catseye that had an undeniable anger behind them. “Ryuu,” Ichiro said to the man who used to be his friend. “You’ve changed quite a bit,” he said in a nonchalant manner. “Ichiro,” Ryuu retorted back, his voice lower than the last time they spoke. “And it seems you have not changed at all.” After Ryuu said that, there was a silence between them as they just stood there and didn’t even move a muscle. Ryuu was the first one to finally make a move, as he reached for his Zanpakuto and disappeared from sight with a Flash Step. Ichiro was right behind him as he brought out his Zanpakuto and did a Flash Step of his own, as they essentially charged head first at each other. Ryuu tried slashing downwards at Ichiro to try and cleave him in two, with only one hand holding it, but Ichiro was able to bring his Zanpakuto up in time to block it. It had a lot of force behind it though, which made Ichiro recoil a little from the blow and he winced slightly from it, as Ryuu pulled back his Zanpakuto just to release another powerful, downward swing. Ichiro kept his Zanpakuto where it was to deflect the second attack, but braced himself for it this time. He was able to absorb the blow much better this time, but was still affected by it, as the force behind it made Ichiro sink down into the rooftop a little. Ryuu must have put a little more strength behind that second attack, Ichiro though, but couldn’t dwell on it as Ryuu once more pulled back his Zanpakuto for another attack, but this time held it with both hands. Ichiro gripped his Zanpakuto with both hands when he saw that, and instead of being defensive he released a quick slash upwards to have their weapons clash. The collision of their Zanpakutos released a burst of Reiatsu that wrecked the rooftop, as all sorts of debris erupted into the air. The former friends gave each other a death stare during this deadlock; though Ryuu’s had plenty of hatred and malice behind them, while Ichiro’s seemed to be at least a little more calm and controlled. They said nothing to each other, as they both knew they didn’t need to and the time for words has been long gone for several years. Ichiro was the one who made the next move, as he disengaged from the deadlock by taking a few steps back and transitioned into a single handed, horizontal slash at Ryuu’s side. It was a wild swing, as Ryuu was able to block it with ease, though the amount of strength behind it surprised Ryuu, which he surmised would have used some Reiatsu for such a simple, powerful attack. The attack made Ryuu slide across the rooftop and their roles reversed for the moment with Ichiro behind on the offensive as he followed Ryuu while he slid and continued with another horizontal slash. This time though, Ichiro held his Zanpakuto towards his body; and attacked with more precision, as he tried to target Ryuu’s neck. Ryuu had to use a Flash Step to avoid the attack, but Ichiro didn’t panic as he felt Ryuu’s Reiatsu behind him and used a Flash Step as well to get some distance. Ichiro never saw it but Ryuu immediately brought down his Zanpakuto towards Ichiro for a diagonal slash, and when Ichiro got out of harm’s way the momentum of the attack made Ryuu just swing at empty air without hitting anything. Ichiro took advantage of this, as Ryuu was somewhat flat-footed and charged at him immediately without a Flash Step as he held his Zanpakuto high and positioned for a stab. Unfortunately, he didn’t get there fast enough and Ryuu brought his Zanpakuto up to deflect the attack by quickly adjusting his footing and his Zanpakuto to push Ichiro’s weapon out of the way and let his momentum carry him. As this happened Ryuu had his left hand reach at Ichiro and grabbed his shihakusho, as the large brute then tossed him off the roof. Ichiro didn’t have time to react, as he tried to reorient himself while in the air; which he did at the last moment as Ryuu suddenly appeared above him with his Zanpakuto ready. Ryuu slashed down at Ichiro, but missed as his enemy suddenly used a Flash Step, and didn’t know where he ended up. He landed on a different rooftop, and Ichiro let out a sigh as he turned around to look back towards Ryuu. Ryuu was definitely a lot stronger than the last time they saw each other there was no mistaking it; but then again he was probably constantly getting ready for this. Getting his breath back a little, Ichiro then held his Zanpakuto with both hands and positioned in front of him, “OVER HERE RYUU; COME AND GET IT!” Ryuu heard Ichiro shout at him, knowing full well Ichiro was intentionally antagonizing him. He didn’t care though, as he rushed at Ichiro head on with Zanpakuto in both hands; rushing at Ichiro faster than ever before. Ichiro stood ready for Ryuu, as he waited for him to get closer, and when Ryuu was close enough, he swung his Zanpakuto as well. The force behind both of their attacks created an enormous shockwave of Reiatsu bigger than ever before, to the point where a portion of the edge of the roof was destroyed. Ryuu pulled back his Zanpakuto and then attacked again while he landed on the roof, slashing at the left side of Ichiro’s neck. Ichiro saw the attack coming and instead of blocking it, dodged the attack by swiftly ducking under the blade, which he followed up with stepping to his left. Ichiro retaliated by repositioning his Zanpakuto and went for a lethal stab to Ryuu’s neck. Ryuu saw it coming and moved out of the way to avoid a fatal blow. However, he was not unscathed, as Ichiro’s Zanpakuto managed to catch Ryuu’s shoulder, which made a small cut and made Ryuu slightly wince in pain. This merely infuriated Ryuu, as he released a flurry of wild, strong attacks at Ichiro. Ichiro was able to block all the crazed attacks from Ryuu, but he was backpedaling as he didn’t have an opportunity to be able to counter at all. He knew he would just have to wait things out and be patient though; his attacks were wild but had incredible strength behind them, fighting without seemingly any strategy or precision. Ichiro winced slightly every time he blocked a swing from Ryuu, even as he switched to using two hands with his Zanpakuto. He was eventually pushed back to the other edge of the rooftop, and slightly lost his footing as he almost went over the edge. Ryuu saw Ichiro’s near mishap and saw an opportunity to finally strike, as he raised his Zanpakuto above his head and swung down at Ichiro’s head. Ichiro saw it coming and panicked at first, but was still thinking of a way out. He went with the first idea that popped into his head, as he pushed off the roof and went into the air. As Ryuu’s Zanpakuto was coming down he quickly stopped himself and charged forward at Ryuu with his Zanpakuto positioned to stab at Ryuu’s chest. Unfortunately, Ryuu was able to adjust in time, shifting to his right, as Ichiro missed him by a wide margin. Ryuu formed a fist with his left hand and punched Ichiro directly in the stomach; the air being pushed out of his lungs, and eyes widened from the sudden, powerful blow. Despite it being a simple punch, Ryuu put enough Reiatsu behind it to send Ichiro flying through the air. He was able to reorient himself at the last minute; as he was about to slam into the side of a building. Ichiro managed to catch himself and essentially land on his feet against the building. Ryuu didn’t watch his handiwork at all and had been right behind Ichiro, though was caught off guard as Ichiro caught himself. Ichiro immediately launched off the building and charged right back at Ryuu. Their Zanpakutos collided and a shockwave of Reiatsu lashed out from them as a result, but they both pulled back from another deadlock as they released a flurry of attacks at each other. Both of them stood their ground and refused to budge, as they essentially stood in place while going back and forth with attacking, blocking, as their Zanpakutos seemed to be just a whirlwind of movement. It continued for just a couple of minutes, until finally they both reached a bit of a stalemate, and they entered another deadlock. It didn’t last long though, as the battle started to finally take its toll on both of them, as they didn’t put as much power into the clash as before. This time Ryuu was the one to actually disengage, as he did a Flash Step to give himself some distance, which made Ichiro worry a little. He didn’t charge at him though and kept his distance; as he waited for Ryuu’s next move, both of them letting out deep breaths as they had become winded from their fight so far. Ryuu brought his Zanpakuto forward, like he was pointing it at Ichiro, “Ichiro, let us not delay any longer…we both know we can use Shikai: Strike, Koutetsu Kaminari.” With those words Ryuu’s Zanpakuto glowed as lightning formed around the blade and it transformed to Shikai. His weapon was now a straight, double-edged greatsword, with the hilt now being a yellow spike; with other noticeable features being the blade spread out horizontally in the middle, and was wider from the middle to the point. Lastly, there seemed to be an insert of some kind that went down the center of the blade, which stuck out as it was yellow in color. At first, Ichiro let out a sigh, as he brought his hand to the back of his neck; though it was followed by a small chuckle. “Yeah, I guess you’re right Ryuu; besides…you’ve never been one to beat around the bush.” He brought his Zanpakuto up and positioned it so that the blade was directed out to his side as heat and Reiatsu started to emanate from Ichiro, and he said gently, “Annihilate, Mikon Mouretsu.”...
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