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The Struggle Begins is the property of Darkrai. No user is allowed to edit this article without express permission from Darkrai or co-owners. Unauthorized editing will result in Bad Dreams.

Substitute In Flames arc

"So, how do you feel?" Ahatake was surprisingly concerned as he and the girls walked to school. "Her power involved cutting, do you lot have any wounds?"

"None that I can see." Harumi brushed it off. "Why are you suddenly worried about us?"

"Um...when have I not been?" Ahatake snapped, glaring at her. "If I didn't care what happened to you lot, I'd have just left you to be her dolls you know."

Gaikou nudged Harumi. "He's got a damn good point. Now, let's just pretend this never happened...or here's some food for thought. What if she did stuff while we were brainwashed?"

Ahatake suddenly stopped, his eyes glazing over. "That's...I'm just going to go to my happy place for a mi-!" CRASH! A giant red fist came from out of nowhere, slamming Ahatake into the ground, causing it to break. Kayla had smashed him into the ground, her hair extended into a fist as she was red in the face. "Ahatake, you need to cleanse your mind."

Gaikou immediately stopped paying attention; chiming in a sing-songey-tune, "Pervert~" Thinking back, she didn't even know why she lost a lot of competence to just avoid that woman.

Harumi actually chuckled for a minute. She'd gotten used to these little interactions every morning. Perhaps staying here wouldn't be so bad...humans weren't completely terrible.

"Come on you two, we're gonna be late for class." Harumi urged them. "Leave the pervert in the pavement."

"Yeah, we should." Kayla huffed, and followed Harumi's lead.

Gaikou did manage to give Ahatake one final low blow by pushing Ahatake lightly, chiming, "Your existence has no meaning to us~" before running off like a schoolgirl on bath salts.

"...dammit Mother, why did you always say be nice to girls...?" He groaned.


Ahatake groaned. "I. Hate. All. Of. You." He hissed as he took his seat in class, the teacher excusing his lateness when she saw the bruises on his arm and face. "Was there any point in making me propose to the pavement!?"

Gaikou smirked evilly. "Yes, yes there was. It amused me. I don't need another reason, do I?"

"Please remind me not to save any of you next time." Ahatake hissed back at her, his eyes burning. "I'll just leave you to your next captor, the gods know you'll be caught again sometime later."

"Kurosaki!" A piece of chalk hit him dead center in the forehead, and he turned towards the front of the class. "Pay attention!" Mizuzu-sensei snapped at him.

"Fine, fine..." Ahatake grumbled. "I'm going to get all three of you."

Gaikou giggled at this lightly. "But you wooooooooooooon't. We're all the best of friends. You know you won't lay a hand on us~!"

"Now that I think on it...." Kayla bit into her food; it was lunchtime now, and the group was eating in their classroom. "I haven't seen the man who fought Ahatake during the tournament. I wonder where he is?"

"Probably dressing up like a giant bat and haunting the night, looking for demons to slay. He seems like an odd guy, really." Gaikou offhandedly mentioned.

"Wouldn't hurt to have him as a group member actually." Ahatake shrugged. "He was powerful, and I felt he was a lot like me. Besides, I'm kind of outnumbered here, three girls to one guy, where's the fairness here?"

"I always thought human boys liked that sort of thing." Harumi pointed out. "It was in a book I read anyway."

"...the fuck?" Ahatake looked at her, mouth agape. "What the hell kind of books have you been reading?"

Harumi held up a book entitled Love Hina!.

Gaikou looked at the book with doubts. "Isn't that one of those Japanese mangos? Some get adapted to animu, I think."

"Human literature is quite interesting." Harumi said excitedly, putting away Love Hina as she took out Dragon Ball. "It would appear more humans are aware of spiritual energy than the Soul Society thought, look at what these overly muscled buffoons can do!"

Ahatake let out a long groan. "....So glad you're one of the Shinigami that presides over death, I'm going to feel so comfortable when I pass over."

Gaikou inspected Dragon Ball closer, noting, "I guess there's a power level of over 9000 or something...when you look back at it, it isn't super awesome as when you looked at the first time, but given today's manga, it's still superior. Sad, isn't it?"

"True point." Ahatake sighed. He suddenly saw something at the corner of his eyes, turning his head towards the window. Whatever it was, however, was gone. Ahatake's eyes narrowed. "What was that...?"

"Is something the matter, Ahatake?" Kayla tugged on his arm, causing him to jump with shock.

", not at all."

"I guess we should all head out." Ahatake groaned, slipping into his regular shoes as they were preparing to head outside. "I swear, today was...weird, I've been so distracted."

Gaikou agreed with this statement. "Exacta. It's like there's this nagging feeling, in the back of my head, like something very, very bad is about to happen."

Ahatake rubbed his head. "Let's just go home and get to sleep. I'm sure Mizuzu-sensei won't care about our homework."

"...I thought all Asians did." Kayla sounded genuinely surprised Ahatake would suggest such a thing.

Gaikou mused, "Meh, screw homework. I am literally too lazy to work on that crap. You think she'd let it slip if I said that we're people with superpowers and we kill demons?"

"I feel reiatsu from her too, so I doubt it." Ahatake shrugged. As they walked home, Gaikou left, heading to her own house, while Ahatake, Kayla, and Harumi headed back to his apartment. After a brief check on Kōyuri (who was doing well, she seemed back to her normal self, if a bit offputting), he made his way up to his own room. Kayla was already fast asleep in her bed, she seemed exhausted.

"That girl...makes me wonder why the dead need to sleep anyway." Then he remembered he was technically "possessing" his body anyway after that damn Harumi knocked his soul out the first time. So...was he a walking corpse? He shook his head. These thoughts so late at night...

Harumi looked up at the apartment building for the last time. Would Ahatake notice she'd left? Did she want him to notice she'd left?. To stop her? Beg her to stay? Convince her that she was needed with him and their friends? These thoughts almost pushed her back towards the building, but she took off running, running fast and far.

"I can feel them!" She thought to herself. "They're here for me, and if I stay with Ahatake and everyone, they'll only get dragged into it. Even if I want them to make me stay, to force me to stay...I can't wind up getting them hurt!" She continued to run, trying to ignore the obvious sense of her being followed. She couldn't do anything yet. Her powers weren't completely recovered.

A man with a graceful aura slowly approached her, his stoic face lightened by his rustling bangs due to the wind. A cold expression remained plastered upon his face, as he extended his hand- not an act of kindness, but more one of forcefulness. This was Ekei Kuchiki; a powerful Shinigami Lieutenant. "Come on. We do not have time to waste."

Harumi gasped, spinning on her heel and jumping back, trying to gain distance from this man. "E-Ekei!" She hadn't expected him to catch up to her so soon. " guys really don't give up, do you? And here I thought I managed to get away from everyone already."

Ekei remained completely unfazed; noting, "The law of the Gotei 13 is absolute. We would chase you to the ends of the earth if it so required. Now, return to us, Muruiyama. Time is ticking, and every precious second wasted is a waste of life." He gripped his blade's hilt, showing that he wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty in recapturing Harumi.

"Ekei, don't be quite so hasty." A man stepped forward, placing a hand on his subordinates shoulder. "Harumi-san, so good to see you again." He was wearing a very offputting smile, but his voice sounded friendly.

"C-Captain...!" Harumi seemed a bit speechless. They had sent her own Captain to find her? This wasn't good.

"Would you consider coming back without a fight?" The man asked kindly. "It would be best for you if you didn't resist, both for your own wellbeing, and to avoid having further charges placed on your sentence."

"I'm sorry Captain Kokurou, I have to refuse." Harumi growled. "You aren't taking me back!"

"I see...." Kokurou sighed. "Then we will have to bring you back by force. Ekei, you may do as you please, but leave her alive."

Ekei withdraw his blade; an ordinary katana with a silver square crossguard. "If you refuse to come in peace, you'll have to come in a number of pieces!" Terrible, terrible puns.

As he swung his blade forward, a resounding *clang* sound vibrated throughout the air; as a wily-looking silver-haired young man had blocked the strike with one of his own blades. "Whoa, hitting girls? That is so not cool. Your beef's with me now, not her!"

Dohko Ryuugami leapt back, while channeling flames into one of his blades, releasing a stream of time towards Ekei...

Ahatake sighed. Something was off. He hadn't seen Harumi since he'd gotten home. Where could she be? He groaned, getting up for a minute, and a piece of paper caught his eyes. He picked it up, and reading it, discovered it was a farewell note from Harumi.

"S...she left?" He was surprised, however, a feeling of worry overtook him. Why would she suddenly leave, and only leave a note to tell him she'd left? Weren't they friends? Comrades? She wouldn't just go...she couldn't just go...she had to be in trouble. "Alright Harumi, I'm coming for you!" He reached into his pocket, looking for the Soul Pill. "...oh for fuck's sake...of all the times to lose it!"

"Do you need help?" A young girl with glasses and short brown hair was sitting on his window sill, wearing the same kind of glove Harumi wore. "You need to get out of that body, don't you? Entenryū sent me to help, he said he didn't want to lose one of his valued customers."

"W-wait, who-?" Ahatake was about to speak, but the girl cut him off. "I know you're confused, but I can answer all of your questions later, Harumi is in trouble!"

Ekei's last strike knocked Dohko off of his feet; sending the young man tumbling to the ground. Struggling to stand up, Dohko only glared at the Shinigami, as a green glow faded from his blade, sheathing it. "Pathetic. Is that really all you can do?" His words were tinted with arrogance.

Harumi was shivering with fright. Dohko, the man who fought Ahatake to a draw...taken down in less than a few minutes. She had forgotten Ekei's real power, he so seldom used it. She looked down at the scattered flowers, which had come the power he inflicted on Dohko. She made a movement for one of them. Perhaps if she could eat one...!

Ekei snapped his fingers, causing the petals to disperse into fine particles of energy. "Don't even think it. I can and will end you...No, while I cannot end your life, I can punish you with pain beyond anything that you've ever experienced."

"That's really funny." A voice made itself audible standing on top of the nearest house. Everyone turned their attention towards the voice, seeing Ahatake standing on the roof, his giant, claymore-sized katana slung over his back. "I was planning on doing the same thing to you."

"A-Ahatake!" Harumi gasped. " followed!? I thought I said don't. I...I didn't want you wrapped up in this..."

Ahatake jumped down, landing beside his friend. "Yeah, because I've listened to you before." His eyes traveled over to Dohko. "Dohko too, huh? He must have been on his way to Isetan, if he was out this late."

"That's not it. I was going to follow this girl tonight and see where she went. Sure, mom says it's illegal. But I stalked some guy cause I thought he dug up my garden. Well, something did! ...I went off on a tangent again, didn't I?" Complain, complain, complain.

Ahatake was speechless. "...Dohko, just stay there on the ground, please. I'll call the ambulance for you after I bash this effiminate freak's face in." He lifted the claymore-sized katana, pointing it towards Ekei. "I don't take the threat to murder my friends kindly, ya know. Got any last words?"

Ekei withdrew his blade once more; and it began to glow a florescent emerald, shining brightly that normally it would cause one to avert their eyes. "Yes, yes I do. Everything that happened tonight, happened for a reason. And that reason is me. I am the reason that you will fall here. It's a sad thing; you had just squandered your last words, boy."

"As a wise man once said..." Ahatake flipped his hair, taking a stance. "Bitch please." He dashed forward, lunging for the man and making a wide swing towards his torso, using the longer reach of his large blade to his advantage.

Ekei looked at Ahatake with an unimpressed expression, sighing and easily overpowering the young man with his much smaller blade. "The length of that sword is disgusting. If you're swinging around that hunk of junk, you may as well be wielding a giant pole." Pushing Ahatake's sword off, he then made a swift lunge for Ahatake's heart.

Ahatake, as if instinctively, reacted, swinging his blade back and upwards, using it's immense size as a shield. Ekei's blade clashed into his, and, much to Ahatake's surprise, sent him flying backwards. "What power...what the hell is this guy!?" He caught himself on the air, gathering reishi under his feet, before launching himself forward. "I'm not done yet!" As he neared him, Ahatake persisted in a frontal assault, aiming the blade for Ekei's skull this time.

Ekei merely flared up his spiritual pressure, deflecting Ahatake's strike...just by standing there. "Once you have control over your spiritual energy, it can act as a natural shield. I didn't even force it to protect me just then; it was a natural instinct. You, however, seem to have a fluctuating spiritual pressure; and on top of that, it's certainly something else. I'm impressed, yet I don't really care. You're special, boy, but not special enough." Taking time out of his monologue, gripped his blade with both of his hands, channeling spiritual energy into it and swinging forward point-blank. "Hakokuken!"

"Oh shit!" Ahatake felt the impact of the blast as hit him full force, feeling like his entire body was being cut into by dozens of sharp blades. He let out a scream of pain as blood gushed from these new wounds, the red clashing with the blue of his outfit. Ahatake slammed the blade onto the ground, breathing.

"I suggest you quit now." Kokurou suggested gently. "If you do not...I will not stop my partner from killing you. There won't be any mercy left, it will be over."

"Not...a chance." Ahatake clenched his teeth. "Harumi saved my life before. She saved Kayla's life. I'm not such a jackass I can just forget that. I owe this woman, and I'm not going to let her be killed by you."

Kokurou closed his eyes, letting out a sigh. "Ekei, finish him. But leave Harumi alive, you know protocol."

Ekei nodded. "Of course." He held his blade tightly, uttering,

"Split and Deviate, Ruri'iro Kujaku." Ekei ran his hand along the length of the blade as it shone a white light and transformed, taking the form of a sickle-shaped blade, or falx, with a cutting edge being located on the inside. A hinge at top of the hilt allowed it to split into four identical and evenly spaced blades. Instantly, the blades transformed into a number of glowing peacock feather-like vines which shot towards Ahatake; subduing him instantly as the vines began to grow energy buds- sapping him of his spiritual energy.

"Ahatake!" Harumi called out as the vines succeeded in wrapping around his arms and waist, and he could feel his spirit energy draining. "What....what is this...your sword...what the hell did you do!?"

Ekei smirked. "That's Shikai. It's an evolved form of the Soul-Cutting Sword. I doubt you even know the name of your sword, do you? Well, news flash. These swords we're wielding...they're alive, and a part of us. They're not just weapons, they're our trusted partners. If you cannot even learn the name of your sword...then you don't deserve to own it."

"You...insane...bastard...!" Ahatake tried to swing his sword, but by this point, his spiritual energy was nearly gone, and, along the vines, flowers were blooming. "I'm!" His eyes began to close, all feeling in his body leaving. "Dammit..." Was his last thought as his eyes closed.

"That's enough, Ekei. He's done." Kokurou ordered his Lieutenant. "I feel no remaining reiatsu from him, and the life is draining as we speak. He's done."

Ekei deactivated the blade, and turned around; his back to Ahatake. "Pathetic. You do NOT deserve to hold the title of Soul Reaper; a Shinigami. The intoxicating aroma of my flower fields have suffocated the loud roar of your embers. The game is set."

Ahatake collapsed to his knees, before simply falling onto the ground. He couldn't move his fingers, his entire body felt limp and cold. So this was death? How ironic, to die as a Shinigami. He couldn't even repay Harumi, the girl who had saved him when he was powerless to do anything to save him. The one who have saved Kayla.

"Ahatake!" Harumi made a movement for him, but suddenly stopped. What was this feeling?


"I'm not done...." Ahatake felt a surge of heat flash through his body, and this caused Kokurou and Ekei, who turned their backs on him to move for Harumi, to turn back and look at him in surprise. He was glowing a bright, light red, his spiritual energy not only returning, but doubling. He clenched a fist as he rose to his feet, his entire body glowing with power. "This feeling..." He grinned, looking at Ekei. "Seems your Shi-whatever, it didn't do jack shit to me, did it? I don't know what this it, but I like it!" With speed surpassing his previous limits, he vanished, appearing behind Ekei silently and swinging his blade like a berserker, aiming wildly for his back, shoulder, Ahatake wasn't too particular right now.

Ekei silently grimaced. "...Hm? Vaguely interesting. Very well..." he clutched the hilt of his sword. "Attack me with this new hope."

"Like you had to ask!" Ahatake gripped his blade, his eyes flashing red as he dashed forward wildly. His newfound power seemed to be scorching the ground, despite not manifesting as flames, the energy had the heat and intensity of them. Ahatake exhaled a massive amount of flames from his mouth, igniting his blade with ease. These flames expanded, creating a massive amount of fire roaring in a giant arc around him. The ground began to crack, melt even, and Kokurou himself was left surprised. Was this a Shikai? No...this was his own power. Vanishing once again, Ahatake swung his red-hot blade towards Ekei, the flames following him as he moved, augmenting his own attacks.

Ekei smirked. "...The element of fire? Surprising." Withdrawing his blade once more, he focused his spiritual energy into the sharp end; increasing his power as he deflected Ahatake's blazing onslaught; cutting through the flames multiple times; however, several of Ahatake's attacks managed to make contact; causing superficial burns.

"I'm going to end this now!" Ahatake jumped back, gaining distance to avoid making too much contact with this man. "Mother always said I was good at barbecue!" With a mighty roar like a dragon, Ahatake expelled a large stream of flames from his mouth, intending to engulf both Ekei and Kokuou. The sheer heat of the flames removed the moisture from the air around Ahatake and the stream of fire itself, the road was overheating, cracked and red, and was beginning to melt. Trees caught flame, lightning the area up in a spectacular red glow.

Ekei sighed. "Hmph. Your vainglorious boasting is all for naught; the outcome of this futile struggle was decided from the very beginning."


Instantly, Ekei vanished from Ahatake's sight.

He could feel a cold ghostly hand reach inside of him- clutching his soul.

This demonic grip squeezed tight; as if tearing something out of him while sealing the source of his spiritual energy in one swift movement; but in reality, it was two impossibly fast attacks.

Ahatake could not register whether or not Ekei had attacked him from the front or back...

However, shortly after the grip released his soul, Ekei harmlessly glided past him.


Ahatake collapsed to the ground, blood spurting out of these wounds. As he hit the ground, his energy finally faded, whatever power had been moving him against Ekei was gone now. "Dammit...what just happened...I can't move....stop...stop the bleeding..." His thoughts were beginning to devolve into desperate nonsense by this point.

Harumi was taken aback by this sudden turn of events. She had honestly been hoping Ahatake could win, but there he was, bleeding and dying. This is what she didn't want to happen, why couldn't he have just listened?

Ekei sheathed his sword harmlessly; noting, "You had me for a second there. If you had any actual training, I guess you could have stood the slightest of chances. I won't kill you, but the display of violence I had just serves as a lesson to you filthy humans and half-breeds. Mess with the Gods of Death, and pay the price."

"Da...." Ahatake fell unconscious, unable to say another word.

"Aha-!" Before Harumi could make another movement, Kokurou appeared beside her, landing several rapid blows to the base of her neck, knocking her out cold. She fell,and he caught her with his arms, slinging her over his shoulder. "Ekei, open the Senkaimon."

Ekei extended his sword, twisting it and opening a large gate. "Ugh...what a hassle. Don't like getting my hands dirty...but that was neccessary. Why do I see this guy coming back again...ah, never mind. Let's just go."

Ahatake and Dohko both lay on the ground, bleeding out to various degrees. They were certainly going to what would have happened, had there not been the swish of a cloak, and a tanned man with long dark hair, wearing a kimono appeared before them.

"I do suppose I shouldn't have left the two of you blindly rush off." He sighed. "However, without pain, you cannot learn anything. It seems we have work to do."


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