Chapter Five: The Quincy
Orihime Inoue carried Tatsuki back to her apartment. She paused only for Rukia to finish wiping the memories of everyone present. Although the gas station attendant had disappeared before anyone could find him. Setting Tatsuki down on her bed, Rukia set to work at once.
"Is Tatsuki going to be alright?" asked Orihime.
Rukia set her hands to Tatsuki's stomach and closed her eyes. As she did, a faint glow appeared beneath her hands. "I don't know.
"She's suffering from spiritual exhaustion at the moment. This girl pushed herself to the absolute limit to fight that hollow.
"Orihime, I need you to give me your hand."
"You mean this is some kind of healing technique based on the power of friendship?" asked Orihime brightly.
"What?" said Rukia. "No. She needs to be given some spirit energy to replace what she lost. Because I'm not a Soul Reaper, I don't have any to spare. But with your help, I can send some into her and heal her."
"Oh right, here," said Orihime, offering a hand. Rukia took her hand, and as she did, Orihime felt the energy going through her. She felt a sudden surge and liked the feel of Rukia's hand in her own. "Is this um..."
Rukia broke the touch. "Okay, that should take care of it."
"Oh good," said Orihime. "Um, that gas station... is everyone going to be okay."
"Oh, don't worry about it, Orihime," said Rukia. "I used a memory replacement jutsu on all of them; they won't remember any of it."
And then there was a bleeping. Rukia drew out a phone and looked at it. Orihime looked to her body lying dormant on the bed sadly, then back to Rukia. It didn't look like she was going to get to make dinner today.
"What is it?" asked Orihime.
"We've got orders," said Rukia. "Half a dozen hollows appearing in the sky and..." She halted. "What?"
"What happened?" asked Orihime. "Has some kind of omega super hollow come out of nowhere, and now we have to fight him with the power of love?!"
"Rukia?" asked Orihime, surprised maybe her spirit had been sent to some different dimension. Maybe she'd have to go there and follow a yellow brick road and defeat a wicked witch!
"...They just disappeared off my alert. It says here somebody wiped them out," said Rukia.
Orihime blinked. "You think maybe some gremlins caused a malfunction?"
"Maybe," said Rukia. "I think I'd better get this thing taken in for examination."
"Ugh..." said Tatsuki, groaning.
"Tatsuki, you're awake?" said Orihime, leaning over her.
"Orihime... what happened?" asked Tatsuki.
"You drove off a hollow that had killed several soul reapers before you," said Rukia. "I have no idea how you managed it, but... you could have easily killed some people. A lot of people."
Tatsuki sat up. "Am I going to prison?"
"Oh, don't worry, I wiped everyone's memories, so no one should even notice," said Rukia. "They'll just chalk it up as an unexplained event."
"Let's see what it says on the news," said Orihime before switching on her TV.
"Breaking news," said a news anchor. "Invisible monsters among us. This footage, taken by an onlooker, shows a schoolgirl named Tatsuki Arisawa. She appeared to be using a gas station and a lighter as an improvised flamethrower." Video footage then appeared of Tatsuki pouring flames onto the silhouette of Shrieker.
"Stranger still, the flames seem to be surrounding a creature that cannot be perceived by the eye. A closer examination of the area revealed numerous footprints like that of a giant frog. Many people have reported being told of the creature by friends and family. Yet when we interviewed them as to the events. The result was increasingly outlandish stories.
"This combined with further examination of earlier events. It leaves the happenings in Karakura Town mysterious. What is the answer to this mystery? We will inform you as soon as we find out."
Orihime turned off the TV. Looking at Rukia, saw the dark-haired girl stare.
"This is... not good," said Rukia.
"Well, um, maybe the Soul Reapers will get a medal now that news has gotten out," said Orihime. Only maybe the medal would have a bug on it, and an evil villain turned it into a bomb. So Orihime would have to throw it away before it-
"How could news have gotten out like this?" said Rukia. "It shouldn't be possible!"
"Are you telling me you've never dealt with a story going viral?" asked Tatsuki.
"No! How could modern technology do this!" said Rukia. "This is terrible! Humans aren't meant to know about hollows!"
"Why is it wrong for them to know about Hollows?" asked Tatsuki.
"Well..." Rukia paused. "Um...
"Humans can't be trusted with the responsibility,"
"Whatever," said Tatsuki. "Where's the bird anyway?"
"His name was Yuichi Shibata," said Orihime. "Shrieker told him that if he could run from him for three days, he'd bring his mother back to life. I guess the poor kid believed him."
"Where is he now?" asked Tatsuki.
"Gone to a better place," said Orihime. "I sent him to the Soul Society, where everything is happy and perfect! Right, Rukia?"
"Um... yes, yes it is," said Rukia, nodding nervously. Was she being blackmailed?
"So, Tatsuki, we have a problem," said Rukia, looking to her.
"What is it?" asked Tatsuki.
"When you were facing that hollow, your innate spiritual power manifested," said Rukia. "You became faster, stronger, with more endurance. Sometimes that happens to a person when they are in really stressful situations."
"Great," said Tatsuki. "It should come in handy when Shrieker comes back."
"Don't be a fool!" said Rukia. "You were lucky to survive against him as long as you did! When he returns, he may be stronger! You need to leave it to Orihime and me!"
"Great, whatever you say," said Tatsuki. "But don't expect me to just lie down and die if he slips past you."
"Oh, um, Tatsuki, can I ask you something?" asked Orihime after a moment.
"What is it?" asked Tatsuki.
"Where's Ichigo?" asked Orihime. "I was hunting a lot of hollows, but he wasn't at home."
Tatsuki remained silent for a moment, then spoke. "I'll tell you right now.
"Kisuke Urahara is training him to be a Soul Reaper."
"WHAT!" said Rukia.
"Oh yeah, see Ichigo, and I noticed a lot of weird things going on," said Tatsuki, smiling. "Huge damage was done to the streets repaired in seconds. So I went to investigate it, and we learned Kisuke was part of it. Then he spun some whole story to Ichigo about how he needed to get power to defend them, did a bit of manipulating.
"Then I asked to be taught, and he sort of dismissed me as useless and kicked me out.
"Then I ran into Shrieker."
"This is..." said Rukia paused. "This is a serious crime! I've got to report this to my superiors!"
"Can you call them on the Soul Phone?" asked Orihime.
Rukia paused. "I uh... this thing is one-way. I get reports on the locations of hollows, that's it."
"So can you get back?" asked Tatsuki.
"No, I can't," said Rukia. "I... alright, sooner or later, I'll get my powers back. When that happens, I can alert people as to what is going on."
"Should we go confront him then?" asked Orihime. "We could have a really cool climax! And he'd tie Ichigo to train tracks and-"
"No, nothing like that," said Rukia. "Kisuke Urahara has powers and is an experienced former soul reaper. If I had my powers, I could check it out, but there isn't anything we can do. I actually need some of his equipment."
Suddenly there was a ringing on her phone. Rukia raised it. "...We've got another hollow alert. Come on!"
Orihime nodded and drew out her swords. "Tatsuki, wait here. I'll be back."
"Wait, why are you in two places, at-" began Tatsuki.
But Orihime and Rukia raced out the window. Together they rushed through the streets. Eventually, they came to a serpent hollow surging toward a passerby.
"There it is. Go after it, Orihime!" said Rukia.
"Right!" said Orihime. "In the name of the Soul Society, I will purify you!"
Surging into the air, Orihime spun her blades around and hurled one. The hollow ducked under it, but Orihime drew it back and cleaved it in half. Catching the blade as it returned, she landed. She was thinking she probably looked really cool.
And then another hollow, like a bear, surged at her with maw opened. Orihime leaped over it and cleaved it in half with one strike. However, soon others were coming at them. Orihime found herself having to retreat beneath their numbers. Hurling one of her blades, she saw them cleaved through five. At the same time, she moved aside and slashed another in half.
Orihime caught her blades, only to find more of the creatures coming out. She and Rukia stood back to back as the creatures came in around them. All of them surged at Orihime and Rukia at once, and Orihime knew she had to do something fast.
She needed to protect them. If she didn't, Rukia and so many other people would die.
As they hit, however, the hollows screamed and surged back as they faded away. Orihime saw an orange shield surrounding them, beginning with her blades.
"Orihime, what was that?" asked Rukia.
"I don't know," said Orihime. "I just... I needed to protect you, and... it happened." The shield faded.
"It must be the unique powers to your Zanpakto," mused Rukia. "But that shouldn't really be possible unless... nevermind.
"What is going on here? There shouldn't be this many hollows coming out in one night. Something like this has never happened before. And the spiritual pressure in this place is way stronger than it was before.
"What is it?" asked Orihime.
"Orihime, I think that video is behind all this," said Rukia.
"What? But why?" asked Orihime.
"Human beings naturally suppress the spiritual pressure they do have," said Rukia. "It's a survival reflex which lets them naturally avoid notice. They aren't aware of hollows, and often hollows aren't aware of them. If you don't believe that monsters exist, you're less likely to attract their attention.
"That's why the Soul Society maintains such secrecy.
"But the more they think about them, the more likely they are to be noticed."
"So what do you think is happening?" asked Orihime.
"I think..." said Rukia, trailing off. "I think Karakura Town has undergone an awakening. People have become aware of the spiritual world, and now they are looking for it. And since they're looking for it, their spiritual pressure is just slightly stronger.
"And with everyone in the town being just a little bit brighter, hollows are drawn here like moths to a flame."
"Oh, wow. So I guess we're going to be working a lot harder for a bit, huh?" said Orihime, who had long since learned to be cheerful.
"Orihime, this is serious! You've got to take them out faster!" said Rukia. "The more hollows are drawn to a given place, the more likely we'll get stronger ones."
"Okay, I'll-" began Orihime. Then a hollow appeared in the air, only to be blasted down. "Huh, someone just took out that hollow, huh?" Another appeared and died. More and more began to fade in, only to be blasted down. "And another.
"It's like a fireworks display, huh?"
"Those attacks, they're like that of a Quincy," mused Rukia.
Orihime looked up. "What's a Quincy?"
"An extinct race of spiritually sensitive humans," said Rukia. "They were hunting huge numbers of hollows. But unlike Soul Reapers, their attacks don't purify them. They destroy them.
"The Soul Society tried to get them to stop, but they refused to listen.
"Eventually, war broke out, and they were decimated in the fighting. After that, the hollows hunted them down."
"That's a fine way of spinning genocide, Soul Reaper," said a voice.
Orihime Inoue looked up and saw a thin boy with blue hair to the shoulder. He wore a neat school uniform, and his eyes were covered with a pair of shiny glasses. A cross was at his wrist as he walked.
"Oh, Uryu, how are you doing?" asked Orihime. He was in the sewing club, wasn't he?
"I'm not here to make pleasantries, Orihime," said Uryu, adjusting his glasses. "I am a Quincy, and you, Orihime Inoue, are my enemy."
"Why?" asked Orihime.
"What?" said Uryu, obviously taken aback.
"Why am I your enemy? What did I ever do to you?" asked Orihime. Although this did seem like something out of an anime, maybe he was following the tropes?
"You failed to stop the hollow that wrecked the gas station where I work as a part-time job," said Uryu flatly. "Or did work. I'm going to have to find a new source of income to maintain my apartment."
"Oh," said Orihime. "Um... well, I was hunting hollows on the far side of town when that happened, and um..."
"And I am also the one who posted that video which went viral," said Uryu.
"Why?!" said Rukia.
"Obviously to spite the Soul Society," said Uryu. "And to show humans just what you are failing to protect them from. Once the world is fully aware of hollows, they'll be able to counter them."
"Wow," said Orihime. "So you're planning to like free everybody's mind, so people get superpowers and stuff! That's really cool!"
"Stop that," said Uryu.
"Stop what?" asked Orihime, not sure.
"Stop acting like we're friends," said Uryu.
"Well, why can't we be friends? We can totally team up and hunt hollows together!" said Orihime.
"Don't do it, Orihime," said Rukia.
"Why not?" asked Orihime.
"He's a Quincy," said Rukia. "When he kills hollows, they don't reincarnate! He destroys them!"
"Do I?" asked Uryu. "Or do my arrows merely send the souls of those I slay onto the true afterlife?"
"That's a Quincy superstition," scoffed Rukia. "The Soul Society is the only afterlife, other than Houco Mundo and Hell."
"And you know this how?" asked Uryu.
"It was taught to me in the Soul Reaper... academy," Rukia finished, faltering.
"Yes, why would the Soul Reapers lie to justify their massacre of my people?" asked Uryu.
"We didn't massacre you!" said Rukia. "We gave you every chance to stop killing hollows, and you ignored us! When we finally had to defeat you, we allowed you to live so long as you stopped hunting hollows."
"And you broke your agreement," said Uryu flatly.
"No, we didn't!" said Rukia.
"I am the Last Quincy," said Uryu. "All of the others are dead. Killed by the hollows you claimed you would protect us from."
Rukia shifted. "...Soul Reapers aren't perfect but-"
"The Soul Reapers were never there!" said Uryu. "My teacher, my Grandfather, was attacked by hundreds of hollows! He fought against them for hours! But not one Soul Reaper ever arrived to help them.
"And it wasn't just my Grandfather who died.
"Dozens of people in that park were slaughtered so that you could keep your hands clean of the murder."
Orihime paused and thought there really ought to have been a fight here. Usually, in anime you needed to have a whole beam-o-war before anyone listened to reason. But Uryu didn't seem intent on making a move. So it looked like they were cutting out the whole middle act.
"But I didn't even have anything to do with that, and I'm just hunting hollows to try and protect people. I'm not going to go after you at all, so could we just not fight."
"Orihime, he's not legally supposed to be using his powers?" said Rukia.
"Yeah, but what about all the hollows that have been showing up, Rukia?" asked Orihime. "What's wrong if he takes care of the ones that we can't cover.
"With more hollows coming out lately, we're going to need help anyway."
Uryu paused and adjusted his glasses again. "...Do whatever you want.
"Just stay out of my way."
And he walked away.
"What a nice guy," said Orihime thoughtfully. "Kind of anticlimactic, though."
All of a sudden, Rukia's soul phone beeped. "Orihime, we've got some more hollows coming to Karakura Town."
Orihime nodded. "Right, time to defeat the evil villains!"
Hi, I'd like to thank everyone for their feedback on the story so far. I've got a new chapter up for you guys now.