Chapter Three: Tatsuki, Paranormal Investigator
Tatsuki Arisawa walked into the pet shop, feeling a bit insecure.
Her Mom had never let her have a pet, but she'd saved her allowance for this point. Walking upfront, Tatsuki approaches the desk where a bespectacled woman was reading. Noticing her, the book was put down, and she smiled.
"Welcome, how can I help you?" asked the cashier.
"Hey, um, I'm looking for a pet for a friend, if you don't mind," said Tatsuki.
"What kind of pet?" asked the cashier.
"She's uh, well, she's all on her own at home at the moment, and I'm afraid the solitude is getting to her," said Tatsuki. "At the same time, she's a bit absent-minded, and I don't think she could handle a dog or cat."
"Well, I could get you a bird," said the cashier.
Tatsuki nodded. "That sounds right."
"Follow me then," said the cashier. "We've got a variety of different birds here."
Tatsuki looked at a wide variety of them as she walked through the story. Eventually, however, she came to a white cockatiel sitting in a cage. The cage looked different from the others before, and there was something about the bird that was off. Its movements were... different.
"What about this one?" asked Tatsuki, kneeling down by it.
"The Cockatiel, uh, you don't want that one," said the store owner.
"Why not?" asked Tatsuki.
"All the people who have owned this bird have gotten killed in accidents," said the store owner. "He keeps getting returned.
"At this point, he's probably going to be put to sleep. I don't want him around this place much longer; it gives me the shivers."
"Hello, Ms. My name is Yuichi Shibata," said the bird. "I'd really rather not die."
"It can talk pretty well and has a variety of different words," said the store owner.
Tatsuki stood up, feeling a bit creeped out. Maybe she should look for something else.
"Please don't go; I don't want to die," said the bird.
On the one hand, Tatsuki knew it was just a dumb animal repeating pre-recorded lines. Even so, the voice had held such emotion that she couldn't help herself. Tatsuki ended up purchasing the thing, cage and all.
She had a bad feeling about it as she walked out through the city streets.
"Thank you for purchasing me, Ms. But you have to be really, really careful," said the bird.
Tatsuki reminded herself someone had trained it. Even so, as she walked, she got a tingling sensation on the back of her neck. Glancing around, she saw a motorcycle driving down the street suddenly swerve. It shot toward her at a breakneck pace, and Tatsuki had only a moment.
Falling back on her reflexes, Tatsuki rolled aside. The motorcycle sped past her, swerved, and went back onto the street. Tatsuki breathed, realizing how close she'd come to death. Then, above her, she heard a breaking. Looking up, she saw a power line falling and sprinted away moments before the live wire hit the street.
Tatsuki knew somehow that she either had to run or die.
And she ran.
She sprinted with all her might, rushing into a crowded mall. Ducking into several stores, she glanced behind her and saw no one. Quickly mingling with a crowd, Tatsuki made her way out of the building. As soon as she was in the crowd, she ran like hell with all her might.
Tatsuki had seen nothing. As far as she knew, it was an accident.
And yet she could not shake the idea that she'd just escaped something truly terrible.
Tatsuki tried to make light of it. It was over anyway, and she'd probably been seeing things. "Well, uh... that was sudden.
"Nothing, a lot of martial arts training, couldn't stop, though."
"Wow, Ms., you're really fast," said the bird.
"It's sort of my specialty," said Tatsuki, before remembering she was talking to a bird.
Moving on, depressed and annoyed at the sweat she'd worked up. Tatsuki finally got to Orihime's apartment. There she halted and looked at the place strangely. Something was wrong, even though it seemed completely normal.
Then it struck her.
"What the..." began Tatsuki. "There was a hole in the wall here just a day ago. There wasn't nearly enough time to get in a construction crew, either.
"Just like what happened on the street."
Tatsuki moved up the steps and knocked quickly. She waited there a moment and remembered that Orihime had been busy a lot lately. She kept leaving class suddenly for one excuse or another and coming back. And the excuses were weak. Not imaginative, just weak.
The door opened, and Rukia Kuchiki peered out, wearing a white and blue sundress.
"Hello?" asked Tatsuki, surprised.
"Yes, just who are you, exactly?" asked Rukia before Orihime pushed her aside quickly. Had Tatsuki been replaced or something? Come to think of it, Rukia had usually left with Orihime.
"Um, sorry, Tatsuki," said Orihime. "Uh, Rukia Kuchiki is going to be my roommate for a bit."
"A roommate?" asked Tatsuki. "When did you set that up?"
"Well, I mean, Rukia said she needed a place to stay, and I've been a bit lonely since Sora passed on, so uh... why not?" asked Orihime.
"Yes, I am forever ingratiated to Orihime," said Rukia in a melodramatic tone, wiping a tear from her eye. "She is truly a kind and gentle soul."
Tatsuki wasn't sure how to react to this. So she opted to cut to the chase. "...Right, well, I was kind of worried about you, Orihime, so I thought I'd drop by to see how things are going."
"Oh, what's that bird?" asked Orihime suddenly.
Tatsuki looked down. "Oh, this, well, I've been thinking of buying a pet for a while now and well..."
"Hello, Ms. Orihime. I am Youchi Shibata," said the bird.
"Wow, that bird can speak," said Orihime.
"Yup," said Tatsuki. "Someone must have trained him. I was uh, going to get him for you as a pet, but I guess since you've already got a roommate, you don't need the hassle."
"Oh, no problem," said Orihime.
"We'd better keep him, actually," said Rukia, moving forward to snatch the cage.
"Wha?" asked Orihime. "But Rukia, we're still trying to get your living arrangements set up."
"You don't want to cause Tatsuki the hassle of taking him back to his home, do you?" asked Rukia quickly, giving her a meaningful look of concern.
Orihime looked to the bird, then to Tatsuki, then to Rukia. "...No, of course not.
"Um, Tatsuki, I need to talk with Rukia about something. Could you excuse us please?"
"Wait a minute, what about your wall?" asked Tatsuki. "How did you get it repaired so fast?"
"Oh well, see um... there was this superhero repairman who came while we were sleeping and he um... uh... bye!" said Orihime, before shutting the door.
Tatsuki turned and walked down in a bit of a trance. She made her way toward Ichigo's house, hands in her pockets. Today was just too weird. "Orihime was making up stories.
"And she knew it.
"Alright, that settles it; whatever is going on, Orihime is now in on it. I'll bet that Rukia girl is part of it too. Well, time to pay Ichigo a visit."
Ichigo's house had no hole in the wall either. Tatsuki peered at it incredulously, wondering if she was going nuts. "...No damage from a truck, either.
"What is going on here?"
Resolved, Tatsuki moved and knocked hard on the door. It opened, and Karin looked out, her straight black hair near her shoulders. She eyed Tatsuki flatly. "Oh, Tatsuki? What are you doing here?"
"Sorry, Karin, can I talk to Ichigo, please?" asked Tatsuki.
Karin gave a world-weary sigh that no twelve-year-old had a right to. "Sure, I'll be right back. Ichigo, Tatsuki wants to talk to you!"
Ichigo came downstairs soon enough, rubbing his head. He looked like he'd been staying up studying all night. "Tatsuki, what is it?"
"Hey, uh, I see you got your wall fixed," said Tatsuki, not sure how to broach the subject. "How'd it happen so quickly?"
"I uh..." Ichigo paused. "That's funny; I don't remember."
"Figured," said Tatsuki. "You know, something similar happened to Orihime. And I saw a place downtown get wrecked, only to be repaired a day later."
Ichigo looked at her strangely. "What's your point?"
"Ichigo, something is going on here, and I need to know what it is," said Tatsuki.
Ichigo seemed to think things over for a moment. He looked back to where his Dad could be heard yelling over the phone. Something about recent patients. "...You know, Dad was talking to a guy in a weird hat with clogs earlier. The guy showed up after the truck crash and offered to do something about the damage."
"What was his name?" asked Tatsuki.
"I think it was uh..." Ichigo paused. "Well, I...
"It'll come to me."
"Oh come on, Ichigo," said Tatsuki, at her wit's end. "The guy paid for repairing your house, and you don't even remember his name?"
"I don't remember much of that night at all," said Ichigo, looking down. "I think... sometimes I remember screaming, but it was a roar. I broke my baseball bat on something; I know that much."
"Why don't you go ask your Dad about him?" asked Tatsuki.
"Why don't you do it?" asked Ichigo. "It's your conspiracy theory."
"It's your conspiracy theory, too, Ichigo," said Tatsuki. "And if your Dad knows about this conspiracy, he'll probably not want to answer. Just ask him casually."
"Why do you care?" asked Ichigo.
"Haven't you noticed that nothing in the past few weeks makes sense!" said Tatsuki. "Walls get kicked down and fixed without explanation. Fuel leaks explode, but nobody can explain how. Orihime gets herself a roommate, and it's not me.
"Not to mention, she seems to think her brother is gone."
"He died a while back, Tatsuki," said Ichigo.
"Yes, but she was always talking about him like he wasn't," said Tatsuki. "On their own, none of this stuff is a big deal. But all at the same time?
"There is going on here, Ichigo. I'm calling it a conspiracy for lack of a better word.
"Or don't you find it strange that Orihime randomly found a new roommate?"
"Yeah, I guess," said Ichigo. "Fine, wait here."
And he shut the door.
Tatsuki waited outside as per usual. Little by little, she paced on the front steps, before Ichigo came back at last. He looked even more sour than usual. "So, any luck?" asked Tatsuki.
Ichigo shrugged. "Turns out his name is Kisuke Urahara, and he owns a shop a ways off. He's worked with Dad before, helped him get his clinic started."
"And he's just handing out free repair work overnight?" asked Tatsuki.
Ichigo sighed and wiped the sleep from his eyes. "Probably not.
"I'm going to go check this out."
"Sounds good to me," said Tatsuki.
Ichigo and Tatsuki headed out and made their way through Karakura Town. When they came to Urahara shop, Tatsuki thought it looked a bit out of place. It wasn't ratty, per se, but it seemed to be built with a different style of architecture. Outside of it, a black-haired little girl with pigtails was sweeping.
"Um, excuse me..." said Tatsuki, not sure what to do.
"Yes?" asked the girl. "Welcome to Urahara Shop. I'm Ururu. Do you want to meet with Mr. Urahara?"
"Yeah, that's right," said Ichigo. "Is he here?"
Ururu nodded. "I'll be right back."
Turning, she slid the door aside and walked in. Shutting it behind her, there was a pause. A little while, the door opened, and Kisuke Urahara came out, hat and all. He was a tall, lanky man wearing a green overcoat. In one hand was a kain, and he adjusted his hat. "So, Ichigo Kurosaki, it's been a few days. Did Isshin send you here?"
"No," said Ichigo. "I'm here on my own."
They. They were here on their own.
"Ah, right. And who's your friend?" asked Kisuke.
"I'm Tatsuki Arisawa," said Tatsuki, not liking the way the guy eyed her. It was like he didn't think she really existed.
"Charmed, I'm sure," said Kisuke, looking to Ichigo. "Are the repairs to your wall all complete?"
"Yeah, pretty much," said Ichigo.
"Actually, about that," said Tatsuki, not liking how she'd been forgotten. "We've noticed a lot of repair work being done lately, much more than is usual. Instantaneously, in fact, with no vehicles or anything."
"What's your point?" asked Kisuke.
"Well, since you seem to have the power to work miracles of construction, I'm interested in how you do it," said Tatsuki. "And what Orihime Inoue has to do with it."
Kisuke paused and looked at Ichigo oddly. "...You know what's going on here, don't you?"
"What if I do?" asked Tatsuki, annoyed.
"...Fine, I suppose you'd have to know all this sooner or later," said Kisuke. "And if Isshin doesn't want it told, he should have done a better job hiding it. Let's all sit down, and then we can talk. Ururu, could you make us some tea."
"Yes sir, Mr. Urahara," said Ururu.
One set of teacups later, they were sitting inside around a circular table. Kisuke sipped his tea, as did Ichigo. Tatsuki did not touch it.
"Now, the first thing is first, how much do you know so far?" asked Kisuke, once again of Ichigo.
"We know that odd things have been happening around here, and it has something to do with you," said Ichigo.
"Also, Orihime has been acting oddly lately. Well, more than usual," said Orihime.
"I see," said Urahara. "Ms. Arisawa, can I be blunt?"
"Go ahead," said Tatsuki.
"Why are you here?" asked Urahara, with evident frustration.
"I did tell you, didn't I?" asked Tatsuki.
"Listen, Hat and Clogs, Tatsuki is one of my oldest friends," snapped Ichigo. "If you're going to tell me something, tell me about her present."
"Fine, fine," said Kisuke. "Drink your tea; it should be worth an hour-long lecture."
Ichigo raised it and sipped it obediently. As soon as he did, his eyes widened, and he put down the tea. He looked at his hand. "What the...
"That... that thing..."
"It tried to kill your entire family," said Kisuke, sipping his tea. "That thing your remembering is called a hollow.
"Standard practice is to wipe memories when a human encounters them.
"...You haven't touched your tea, Ms. Arisawa?"
Tatsuki glared at him. "I'm not drinking anything you give me."
"That's discourteous of you," said Kisuke.
"You haven't exactly been courteous yourself," said Tatsuki.
"Whatever you say," said Kisuke. "Ordinarily when hollows attack, a special operative called a Soul Reaper handles it. Soul Reapers are specially trained spirits who help the dead pass on."
"And you're one of them?" guessed Ichigo.
Kisuke smiled. "Well, I have the skills.
"But I haven't taken orders from the Soul Society in a very long time."
"And where were these Soul Reapers back then?" asked Ichigo.
"There's only one Soul Reaper in this town at the moment, a girl named Rukia Kuchiki," said Kisuke. "Last night, she and Orihime Inoue became occupied with another hollow attack. In the process, Orihime Inoue was forced to absorb Rukia's powers so both could survive."
"I think..." said Ichigo. "I think I saw Rukia. I thought I'd been hallucinating, though."
"That's because Soul Reapers carry devices designed to wipe memories. It's a precaution, so people remain unaware of the hollows," said Kisuke matter of factly.
"But why would there be only one Soul Reaper in this town? It's huge," said Ichigo.
"Well, that's a bit complicated," said Kisuke. "To make a long story short, there are a lot fewer soul reapers than hollows. The numbers of hollows have been on the rise for years. Karakura Town is a spiritually dense area, and well..."
"You're a tempting target, Ichigo," said Kisuke. "You've got a lot of innate spiritual pressure. So it naturally attracts the attention of hollows near you."
"What?" asked Ichigo. "You mean... you mean the hollow was after me?"
"Yep," said Kisuke. "No doubt you've been seeing ghosts and such. Your spiritual power is like a candle in a dark room, and all the insects are drawn to it. So there will probably be more attacks in the future."
"What..." Ichigo faltered. "My family could die."
"It's a risk you can take," said Kisuke.
"There's got to be something I could do about this!" said Ichigo.
What was going on here? Urahara was driving at something.
"Well, there actually is, in your case," said Kisuke.
"Then what is it?" asked Ichigo.
Kisuke sighed. "Your Father was a Shinigami, Ichigo. Though for certain reasons, he chose to live here in the world of the living. That's one of the reasons that you've got so much spiritual pressure, to begin with.
"That means you also have the potential to become a Soul Reaper."
"Now hold on a second, this is going on way too fast!" said Tatsuki. "How do we know any of this is true anyway?"
"Why not go and call Isshin and find out?" asked Urahara. "You can use my phone.
Ichigo looked to Tatsuki, then stood and made his way into the other room. Silence reigned as Tatsuki eyed Urahara. Urahara looked at Tatsuki. "You don't like me very much, do you?"
"Why would I?" asked Tatsuki. "You've been acting like I'm not even in the room, and I'm the one who came up with the idea to ask you about this."
"Oh, were you?" asked Kisuke in surprise. "Hmm, I'd figured Ichigo would have had more ambition than that."
Tatsuki and Urahara sat in silence for a time, before Ichigo returned looking grim.
"Ichigo, what did he say?" asked Tatsuki.
"It's true," said Ichigo. "All of it. My Dad was serious for one time in his life, this is..."
"Big," said Tatsuki.
Kisuke drew out a fan and put it into his face. "And we have a winner!
"You were absolutely right in your assessment that something was going on! The masquerade has ended!
"So, I guess the question is this;
"Do you want to go on being an ordinary high school student? If you do, you and your family at ever-increasing risk? Or do you want to try and become a Soul Reaper?"
"...I don't have any choice, do I?" asked Ichigo.
Tatsuki paused. "What about me?"
"Oh, you can go home," said Kisuke.
"What?!" said Tatsuki.
"What do you want from me?" asked Kisuke in irritation. "You don't have any special bloodlines or circumstances for me to use to manifest powers. I'd be operating from a completely blank slate.
"The only way I'd be able to give you powers would be to give you mine, and that would probably kill you. Even if it worked, you'd be far less effective than I would be with the same abilities."
"Yeah, I'm sure you're a real superhero," said Tatsuki.
"I'm more of the Big Good in regards to character archetypes, I'll admit," said Urahara.
"Hang on, Tatsuki is one of the best martial artists I know," said Ichigo. "She trains far more than I do-"
"But you're still better than her, aren't you?" asked Kisuke. "Even though you only dabble in a pursuit, she wants to make a career out of."
"It's a close rivalry," said Ichigo defensively.
"It won't be in a few years, even if you never get powers," said Kisuke. "Both of you are growing up and gaining control of your spiritual pressure. And you happen to have a lot more of it than Tatsuki through circumstances outside of your control."
"But... that's not fair," said Tatsuki.
She'd uncovered an entire conspiracy, and now she was just going to be told to go home?
"Did I ever claim the universe was fair?" asked Urahara. "There are three kinds of entities in this universe—wolves, who possess power and use it to devour weaker entities to gain power. There are also dogs who possess power and use it to protect weaker entities. Last of all, there are sheep who huddle together and provide the dogs with moral support.
"Ms. Arisawa, you are not qualified to be a dog."
Tatsuki snapped. If he thought she was just going to be a damsel in distress, he had another thing coming. Swinging a fist at him, there was a blur, and Tatsuki suddenly found herself in a distant street. She had no idea where she was.
Urahara put his fan in front of his face. "Thank you for providing me the opportunity to demonstrate my point, Ms. Arisawa. Please, have a nice walk home; I need to train Ichigo now."
And he was gone.
"Bastard!" shouted Tatsuki. "You won't get away with this! I'll...
"I'll do what."
This wasn't how the story was supposed to go.
The plucky, never-say-die teenager was supposed to discover the world. To gain powers and discover a great destiny. Not just be told to shut up and leave after realizing just how unstable their position was. Those... those hollows were out there.
One could be after Tatsuki now, and she wouldn't even know.
Tatsuki had noticed the signs, sought the truth, and found it. But Ichigo was going to be handed all the power just because he had the right bloodlines. Kisuke had obviously had his eye on him for a long time, given how quickly he made that pitch.
"Where even am I?" muttered Tatsuki, walking in the waning light. "This is half-way across town. How did he get me out here so quickly?"
Then she saw something.
Orihime leaped over a rooftop. Except she was clad all in black with her thighs bared and a lot of cleavages. Two circular blades shaped like her hairpins were in her hands, and Rukia was with her.
"Is that... Orihime?" asked Tatsuki.
Orihime halted and looked to Rukia. "Are you sure about these orders, Rukia?"
"Yes, we've got to keep hunting," said Rukia.
"But what about Yuichi? What if he needs help?" asked Orihime in concern.
"We can't just put your normal duties on hold to protect the bird. We've got other work," said Rukia.
Orihime nodded. "Right."
And they darted off.
Then it dawned on Tatsuki.
She'd assumed until now that she was the protagonist in some sort of supernatural manga. But from the sounds of things, she was just a plot device—a minor character who existed for no other reason than to establish the setting. Only to be killed off or sidelined.
"You smell nice..." said a voice on the wind.
Tatsuki froze as she felt a presence near her. "What..."
"You smell... delicious," said a masked monstrosity.
Killed off seemed on the menu.