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Avoidance is always the Answer

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Ichigo moved to Yokohama like any other young adult in search of work. On the surface he was no different from the usual tale of a small-town boy moving to the big city in hope of becoming rich. Getting rich was not his intention, his goal was to get lost in the hordes of quickly moving people of the city. When looking to hide, it was best to hide a needle in a needle-stack.

Much like any other new graduate, he rented a shitty little rundown apartment in a bad side of town and took every part time job that would accept him. Most young adults weren’t running from their hometowns like death was riding on their heels, but it wasn’t unheard of. People could always be running from something.

The jobs he took were nothing different from the ones he had worked in Karakura, menial labour and other such things. Thankfully there was a bit less yakuza involvement in his errand running. In Karakura, those sorts of jobs would inevitably pull you in to the underworld’s sphere. Yokohama’s underworld wasn’t that sloppy to make unknown parties run messages and drugs.

Yokohama on the whole seemed to have far less street crime than Karakura. People still preferred to not go out after dark, but the rates for petty crimes were much lower. Of course, he wasn’t an idiot. It took maybe a week to catch on to the real reason why crime was so low. The reason for that was because of the much bigger crime syndicate in Yokohama. Who would dare hustle people for wallets when they knew the Port Mafia would drop on their heads like a sack of bricks?

The Mafia wouldn’t care for the petty gains of mugging, but they would get annoyed when their citizens and underlings are getting harassed. According to that one sushi place where he helped wash dishes, a group of muggers had tried to rob a lone man not knowing he was an Executive and been utterly destroyed. After that, no one wanted to take the risk because you never knew if you were picking a fight with a Port Mafia member off duty.

Ichigo didn’t care. Once there was no Yakuza presence meddling with the regular citizens, he’d be content to live out the rest of his life eking out a living on the edges of society. Despite the long hours, punishing work and low pay, this was the freest he’d ever been in his entire life. He could go to the grocery without constantly looking over his shoulder and making back up plans and escape plans. He still did it out of paranoia, but it was nice for them to not be needed most of the time.

Thankfully, the major powers of Yokohama seemed to have no interest or knowledge about him. For now, he was flying under the radar as a plain powerless unassuming citizen. Being known and recruited might make more money but he’d be chained to the organization. To be unknown was to be safe.

It wasn’t to say he didn’t run into the ability factions. For all that Yokohama was a big city, the factions were very active. If you went anywhere near the port, it was stranger if you didn’t spot someone wearing mafia black. In Yokohama, no one wore full black if they could help it. It was an unspoken open secret in the city that black meant the Port Mafia.

However, it was unlikely that any of those people who could be easily identified as Mafia members, in full black suits and shades were the actual Ability Users of the Port Mafia. In fact, nobody in Yokohama seemed to know who exactly the upper echelons of the Port Mafia were. Ichigo was sure if he got involved in the right circles, that knowledge would be an open secret, but those weren’t circles he wanted to go near. The Yokohama civilian population seemed to have no idea and that was the extent of the information available to him.

Their organizations kept the identities of their Ability Users well protected. He supposed that made it harder for them to be targeted or for potential weaknesses in their abilities to be widely known. He didn’t want to go poking around for information too much either, that kind of thing drew attention. It didn’t matter if it was positive or negative, if they found out about him, the protection of his anonymity would be gone.

However, this was Yokohama.

Three powerful organizations roamed, trying to not step on each other’s toes. Their fights seemed to be kept out of the general public’s eyes, so there was little chance of him running across them. There were still outsiders to the strange cease fire the organizations had. There was always some gang trying to muscle in on Port Mafia turf, some ability user grown too big for their boots, some outsider trying to stir up trouble.

The Tripartite hated each other equally but they hated outsiders more.

The point was, that for all the tripartite kept the peace, it didn’t mean that the town was peaceful. Skirmishes against outsider factions were quite normal. Those kinds of clashes were thankfully loud, so if he kept his wits about him it was easy to avoid those too.

He avoided the Port Mafia suddenly going on a rage and causing general havoc. Someone must have seriously pissed them off for them to suddenly start bombing their own city. He avoided the giant mess with the whale airship which suddenly tried to crash into the city. (Which really, a whale airship?? That had to be someone’s ability, it looked way to high tech to be anything humans could currently build) He avoided disasters like one would judiciously avoid their ex.

Of course, with his luck, it was inevitable that things would go wrong sometime. There was only so much dodging one can do before inevitably getting caught in conversation by their ex in the supermarket after all. Ichigo was proud to say his avoidance had managed to last for a good while.

Well then Shibusawa rolled to town, and things got unavoidable. Not that he knew that was the name of the person responsible for the newest incident.

Ichigo hadn’t really had a chance with that one. One can dodge the Port Mafia blowing up a train by luck, if nothing else. One can avoid a giant whale ship falling out of the sky by running, if nothing else. But it was very hard to avoid a giant fog that covered the entire city within minutes.

It had been a night no different from any other. He had been walking home from a late delivery job, tired but looking forward to the chipped walls of his apartment. The night had been clear and cool, good weather for a walk.

Without any warning, a thin mist rolled across Yokohama. It wasn’t unusual to have fog in the city, Yokohama was a Port town, but it was the wrong season for that kind of weather. And also coming from the wrong direction.

With the fog came a heavy silence.

It wasn’t the muffling of noise that sometimes came on with a thick fog. It was the kind of echoing silence that spoke of the sudden absence of people. Dozens of people walking just ahead of him vanished as the fog touched them. Not just blocked from sight by the fog or muffled by it. They had outright vanished, the loud conversations they were having sharply cut off. He flinched back, tried to run back the way he came but it came on relentless and quick. He barely had time to brace for contact before it rolled over him in a rush of wind.

He felt something inside him tearrrrr.

He staggered out in the mist with what felt like a gaping hole in his chest. He could feel it anymore….where was it?....where had it gone…?

Something growled behind him, low and reverberating and very familiar. He didn’t even have to think to whirl around with a growl of his own. The noise felt strange in his chest and didn’t reverberate like it usually did. He came face to face with what could be called a monster.

Sharply angled horns jutting forward from a pale white mask with fangs, long hair and a ruff of fur, long claws and powerful lizard tail. High on the brow of the mask was an out-of-place pulsing red crystal. It wasn’t a creature that existed naturally in this world. An Apex predator that had little in mind except fighting and fighting some more. The more desperate the struggle, the more it welcomed it. The more the struggle the stronger it would get. Fighting and fighting and constantly evolving.

In that moment, his mind went white and empty. He didn’t know why this creature had suddenly appeared before him out of control. He didn’t know what this fog was doing. He didn’t know where it came from, what its purpose was or who was controlling it. What he did know, was that they had picked the wrong person to try and turn their ability against themselves.

He ducked under a swipe of claws and drove his fist into its face.

“Zangetsu!”

Zangetsu was an ability he’d inherited when his mother died. She had transferred it to him with her last breath. It was a snarling rabid demon that manifested over its user like a combination of a spirit-manifesting ability and shapeshifting. It was unruly and disliked following orders, which was why its owners had to beat it in to submission first. Thankfully after the first beat down it became protective over its users instead, it only really fought against him if Zangetsu thought he wasn’t making the best decisions for themselves.

Most ability users relied on their abilities in a fight, or even as an assistance in their fights. Few of them ever had to consider going up against their own ability. It was rare for any ability user to have abilities that were similar to another ability users. Not unheard of, but it was unusual.

But Zangetsu was different.

As its user, it was Ichigo’s responsibility to face his ability head on over and over for the sake of their combined evolution. He was intimately aware about how to combat his own ability.

The monster rocked back under the force of the blow with a cackling laugh. The crystal that had never been there before, cracked under his fist. It hurt like hell, but he wasn’t stupid enough to take a moment for the pain. He dove to the side, rolling into the street to dodge the slam of Zangetsu’s muscular tail.

When they met eyes again, the blank savagery was gone from the spirit’s eyes. The more familiar savage grin was back on his face, even as the red crystal crumbled to fine powder. Deep in his chest he felt something click and a familiar weight return to him. Rather than the disconnecting feeling of his ability moving on his own, much like seeing your arm moving without you being aware of it or commanding it to do so, the soul deep awareness was back. He could understand Zangetu again. Though he was mostly getting a smug and amused feeling from the spirit. Weird controlling device or not, Ichigo was almost certain that his monster would just continue their fight if it wasn’t for the lingering danger in the air.

And their responsibility.

The thought hit them at the same time, and they stiffened. They didn’t have time to indulge in a little brawl, they had somewhere to be. He bolted down the ghostly empty street like the hounds of hell were after him, Zangetsu remerging with him in ribbons of light. His soul beast rested comfortably back in his soul where it was meant to be, fueling him on with his own feelings of urgency. The sidewalk flew under his stride, the fifteen-minute-long walk to his apartment ending up taking him only five. He screeched around the corner to see absolute devastation.

It was ten minutes since the fog had descended over the city.

The block of his apartments had a gaping hole in the side of the building and the infrastructure on the street was strangely ripped apart and chewed on. Somewhere further down the street where quicksilver scarlet lights were flashing, someone was laughing like a maniac.

He barely managed two steps down the street when the asphalt was ripped up before his eyes, pulled into threads and dragged towards the fight.

A hulking doll loomed over the street, at least two stories tall and dressed in scarlet red cloth with an unsettling smile on her face. She was an exquisitely beautiful ball-jointed doll, the kind that collectors would pay a fortune for. She was beautiful in her porcelain perfection but also terrifying beyond words. He empty smile fixed smile only looked kind at first glance. At a second glance, it was only mocking.

How could she not mock? She was the queen of her domain. The materials of the world were hers to command, she ripped objects into her thread with no care for how they were before. Asphalt, concrete, trees, cars, anything within her grasp was fuel no matter how inflexible or how strong.

Except for the one man, cackling madly as he ducked and weaved and moved closer at a constant speed.

 One wrong step could reduce him to scarlet ribbons.  She could convert him to thread as easy as she could pull steel. Ichigo stopped out of range and politely waited.

She wasn’t like Zangetsu. This man should’ve been just as disadvantaged as any other ability user, struggling to face their own ability turned against them and the lack of their own power. Any other ability user would stumble and hesitate, missing that weight that rested in their soul. She wasn’t just any ability though, and her user wasn’t just anyone either.

Benihime wasn’t like Zangetsu.

She wasn’t an ability that was meant to fight against its own wielder, but she had never been a calm and obedient kind of ability either. Kisuke had felt her threads on his own skin before. He knew her limits to an almost mathematical degree. She was vicious and bloody but that too was a weakness in strategy. She was conniving and sly to a certain degree, but she would always move to cause the most bloodshed, that made her predictable to the one that knew her best.

Kisuke slid under a wave of razor-sharp concrete wires, an exhilarated grin on his face. He twisted, bounced up on a car roof and used it as a springboard to put his heel into the gleaming red crystal on the bloody red princess’s face.

All the wires froze in the air.

Kisuke tumbled away, rolling across the pavement with a fox grin and his hat somehow still firmly on his head. Ichigo took that as a cue to approach. The wires crumbled to dust, the doll structure quickly following. There was a beat of nothing and then Kisuke rose to his feet, a scarlet glow around him as Benihime rejoined him. He could see the moment she settled comfortably because Kisuke relaxed from his forced cheer into something a little more genuine.

“Hi honey, I’m home.” Ichigo said, dry as dust.

Kisuke didn’t even bother to wince. “Welcome home!” He said brightly. “We’re not getting our security deposit back!”

Ichigo turned to stare at the gaping hole in the building, which, when he looked at it closer was definitely centered on where their apartment used to be. He closed his eyes. He opened them again. The hole was still there.

“Please tell me the fridge is still intact.”

He was met with a very unconcerned shrug. “No idea. On the bright side, if you’re hungry we can go shoplift some food.”

“First off, that fridge better still be standing, it has that chocolate mousse I’ve been looking forward to all day. Secondly, we’re trying to not do crime here.”

“Oh, come on, who’s going to see anything in this mist?”

In the soft muffled mist, ability users were fighting. Some of them banded together. Some of them struggled alone. The sounds of their battles were muffled by the unnatural fog, not reaching far enough to summon any sort of help.

Two figures walked calmly through the mire.

Ichigo leisurely finished with his pudding cup and lobbed it to the nearby garbage can.

“let’s go find who caused this and smash his head in.”

“Well so much for our laying low.” Kisuke agreed. With a twist and pull of his ability, the deceptive cane he carried reformed into his signature blade.

Ichigo shrugged, the segments of Zangetsu materializing around him. “I’m honestly surprised we lasted this long.”