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Chronicles of the Shadow Swords - Begin

Inspired by the Bleach manga series, but the storyline and characters are original

This story has no beginning and it has no end, merely one integral point – which for me was the moment I died – at which all things converge and loop only to spit out new chapters to the same story… and this is my chapter. Takeshita Ichigo

His life at the orphanage had mostly been a good one; Abbot Gnu treated all the boys like they were the most precious gems to ever be placed in his care. He didn’t remember much about his parents, so everyone at the home felt like family to him, even the ones he didn’t get along with. Abbot Gnu was the first person to notice that Ichigo was special; he had watched the young boy display traits he’d only ever read of in the ancient scrolls.

“I don’t remember, Father,” Ichigo replied to the Abbot’s question. “I’ve always been able to see them… I don’t know how… I thought everyone saw them until…” he trailed off.

Ichigo looked out across the expanse of land that surrounded the orphanage. Was something wrong with him? Why did he see things no one else could? There was a word for that, it was called madness. Was he mad? The Abbot didn’t seem to think he was, but something about the way the old man looked at him left no doubt that he was concerned for the boy.

“There is nothing wrong with the way you are, Ichi. You are special, but…” The abbot sighed and went quiet for several minutes, seemingly lost in his own thoughts. “You have to keep this side of you a secret. Not everyone will understand or accept… it is hard to know who you can trust, so trust only yourself. Promise me that.”

Ichigo wasn’t sure what his guardian meant, but he had always felt safe when he was with Abbot Gnu. “Not even you, Father?” The abbot merely smiled. “Trust no one… it seems sound advice, Father.”

*
“Do you think they loved us?” Mouse asked as he looked up at the sky.

They were lying on their backs looking up at the clouds, trying to put names to all the shapes. It was something they did every day after the mid-day snack.

“Would it matter if they did?” Ichigo said with a shrug of his tiny shoulders.

He’d never gotten the obsession most of the boys at the orphanage had with trying to convince themselves their parents loved them. Or that they actually wanted them and would’ve kept them if they could. What difference did it make to their lives? They were in a church funded home, raised by concerned wards who would care for them until they came of age, after which they would be given release papers, a room at a halfway house, a bank account in their name with a small amount to survive on for at least a month and a reference letter to help them find employment. The monks would’ve grown to care for them, some might even love them, but all they would be after their eighteenth birthday was a fond memory. There was only one person Ichigo knew loved him without a doubt and that was Takeshita Ichigo.

“I think they loved me.” Mouse wiped at his eyes and sniffed, the way he always did when he spoke of his parents. “I was wrapped in a clean blanket. My clothes were new. No one spends money on something they don’t love. Right?”

Ichigo looked up at the sky, trying to decide if the cloud drifting by slowly looked like an axe or a flat house with a long chimney. Tears made him uncomfortable, but he’d learnt to tolerate it, since Mouse was easily moved to tears and he was the only friend he had.

“I’m sure you were loved, Mouse.” Ichigo sat up. “Now stop snivelling like a baby. You’re a man.”

“I’m not a man, Ichi. I’m ten.” He sniffed again before sitting up and wiping his nose with the sleeve of his oversized shirt.

Ichigo pointed upward. “Is that an axe?”

Mouse looked up, his forehead creased in concentration. “It’s a boot.”

“Hmm…” Ichigo nodded.

*

Four years later, when Ichigo was twelve the Abbot passed, leaving him to the mercy of Brother Rim. Brother Rim was a good man, but he was also a zealot who believed that evil could be exorcised from the world by religion. When Ichigo’s abilities first started to manifest, he would be beaten while being made to pray for his soul’s salvation.

“Do you have anything to say, Ichigo?” Brother Rim asked as the first blow landed.

Ichigo bit down on his lower lip, fighting the urge to say what he really had on his mind. Instead, he prayed. He prayed loudly and ardently, nothing short of fervour would convince the holy man that he was truly repentant.

“Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum…” he started in Latin, as they were all taught to pray at the orphanage.

“This hurts me more than it hurts you, son. I hope you know that…” Another blow landed loudly and forcefully.

Ichigo flinched, but did not break the chain of Hail Marys he was expected to recite throughout his beating. He was used to it; he had long since learnt to separate his physical self from his spiritual self. Sure, he felt the pain, but it felt like nothing more than a two-fingered slap on the wrist, instead of the leather strap beating it actually was. It would hurt once he allowed it to, and he would allow it to eventually. Pain made him feel alive, but he was not about to show his weaknesses to anyone, least of all Brother Rim.

The beating usually lasted for as long as it took him to recite the hundred Hail Marys, he would then be required to thank the Brother for pushing him onto the path that led to his salvation before he could be dismissed.

“In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.” Brother Rim made the sign of the cross, then touched his hand to the boy’s bowed head. “Bless you, my son. You may leave.”

*

The night the Abbot died felt no different to any other night for Ichigo. The stars weren’t sparkling any brighter than they usually did. The moon still hung in the sky like a lonely sentinel watching morbidly over its charges. The winter winds rattling through the rafters still sounded like the timber’s sad lament. No more special than any other night, yet a night unlike any other he had ever lived in his short life.

“Ichi…”

The familiar voice filtered through his dreams. Ichigo wasn’t ready to wake up yet, he didn’t dream often, but when he did they were usually good dreams. The nightmarish dreams it seemed were all reserved for when he was awake.

He turned and pulled the covers over his head. “A few more minutes please, Father.”

“Ichi, you need to listen to me… there isn’t much time,” Abbot Gnu’s voice pleaded. “They will come for me soon…”

Ichigo sat up and blinked a few times, trying to focus on the man standing beside his bed. It took him a few seconds to realise that his vision wasn’t sleep-blurred, that the abbot was indeed a lot more translucent than he was used to.

“Father?” he croaked.

“Yes. Don’t worry about how, there is no need for that…” Abbot Gnu looked down on him with compassionate eyes, the words he needed to say to the boy before he is ripped from the world somehow escaping him. “There is a journal in my office. It’s hidden beneath the floorboards under my desk. When you are ready to leave this place, do not leave that behind…”

Before Ichigo could reply the room began to shake violently, splinters raining down from the ceiling rafters as something ripped through from above, yet somehow the roof itself seemed to still be intact. That made no sense, right? Yet it was all happening right before his eyes. He looked up and felt like he was staring up into a dark vortex, everything swirling around like they were being sucked up by a tornado. Something was coming down through the hole in the roof, something huge. Ichigo looked around at the other boys in the room, but none of them had been woken by the racket. How was that even possible?

“Wha- what is that? Father, you have to hide. I have to get the boys out.” Ichigo jumped from his bed in a panic.

“Stop, Ichi! He isn’t here for them. They will be safe…” Abbot Gnu’s voice seemed further away every time he spoke. “Whatever you do, Ichi… do not look at it. Don’t let it know that you see it. Promise me you will not get in the middle of this…”

Ichigo’s eyes were glued to the dark figure as it touched ground, his mind hardly registering the abbot’s words. Abbot Gnu was slowly moving to the other side of the room, putting distance between himself and Ichigo. It was the scariest thing he’d ever laid eyes on, albeit that he’d hardly spent any time away from the orphanage since he’d arrived at the age of two, so he really didn’t have much to compare it to, but on a scale from one to ten it ranked at butt-ugly. The thing tilted its revolting head and observed the abbot the way a wild animal would observe its next meal. What the hell was that thing? It wasn’t any kind of ghost he’d ever seen before and if anyone knew ghosts, it would be Ichigo, since he’d been seeing them for as long as he could remember.

“Hey you! Yes, you over there, Garbage-Dump-Face…” Ichigo shouted at the thing lunging toward the abbot while he moved across the room to a spot between the beast and Abbot Gnu. “Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?” Only once the thing stopped and turned its focus on the young boy in its path did Ichigo actually rethink his brazen words.

“What are you d…” Abbot Gnu whispered as he rushed forward to push Ichigo out of harm’s way only to have his arms move right through the boy the way it would sink through water.

“It’s way too early for Halloween…” he mumbled as he tried to sneak his way further across the room. “What the hell are you?” At that point he sounded more curious than afraid.

The monster sniffed the air, looked at Abbot Gnu, then back at Ichigo. “You smell even sweeter than the one I came here for...” it said in a low growl.

Remember when it was huge? Well, once the dark shape started moving toward Ichigo it got bumped up to gargantuan. The strangest thing about the beast’s face was not that it was white, but that it wore what appeared to be a fixed smile on its grotesquely misshapen face. Ichigo looked around for some sort of weapon, lunging toward the side of the room to grab the only thing he could – the wooden coat rack from behind the dorm door – and holding it up like a spear. If he was about to die, it would not be while cowering in a corner like a snivelling baby.

So this was how it would end for him? Somehow he’d always hoped that his end would be spectacular, but this was not exactly what he’d envisioned. The way he saw it, anything you did could get you killed, which included doing nothing. Where did souls even go? He had never paid much mind to the teachings the priests tried to drill into them, always thinking he’d figure it all out once he was ready to leave this world. It seemed he was about to make a dramatic exit, whether he was ready or not.

“Ichiiii…” Abbot Gnu shouted as the monster drew close.

“Leave, Father. Get out of here now…” Ichigo hissed. Yes, he knew that the old man was dead, but somehow he sensed there were worse things than dying.

Ichigo raised his weapon and took a step toward the roaring fiend when something flashed somewhere above him, the ghoul stopped in its tracks and let out a deep growl, blood pouring from a widening gash in its face. Its face exploded into blinding light before it crashed to the floor into a black heap, revealing a dark figure wielding a sword. Who the hell was that? And how did she get in without him noticing?

So mesmerised was he by the newcomer he hardly noticed the way the beast started disintegrating, breaking up into particles that merely floated up into the great beyond he was now convinced existed. Before he could find his voice – that seemed to have left along with all his convictions – the dark haired woman faded into nothingness, leaving Ichigo wondering if he’d imagined the entire incident.

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than storiesspace.com with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

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