Chapter 1:

A special kind of broken

Duality: Not Just a Game for Two!

My name is Sakurai Ichigo. Or, at least, that is what they tell me. I’m returning to school today for the first time since the accident. I don’t remember exactly what happened. In fact, I don’t remember anything, really. They say I was in the woods at night, behind the school. They found me back by Akarui Pond, unconscious. Apparently I had been injured by a meteorite impact. I guess whatever else I am, I am also unlucky. The halls of the school are empty and my footsteps echo into the silence. I’m not sure if I’m late, but the plain white walls and black floors are as strange to me as my own name. At least I retained all my memories about colors, history, math. Pretty much anything that had nothing to do with me stuck. Maybe it would have been easier if I had forgotten all that. Then I wouldn’t have to pretend to be someone I’m not around people I don’t know.Bookmark here

Ichigo stopped at the door to the classroom and took one long, deep breath to prepare himself. He reached out and slid the door open slowly. Bookmark here

“Surprise!” A wave of voices exploded out all at once. It overwhelmed him, causing Ichigo to tilt back reflexively on both heels. He could only imagine the look on his face. “Welcome back!” One voice said, “It’s about time!” Chimed in another boy. “We missed you, Ichigo!” proclaimed a girl in the back, jumping with a sign that Ichigo could only assume was backwards, as nothing was written on it. Bookmark here

Two boys did not seem excited to see him. In fact, one of them seemed angry. Ichigo thought to himself, “Did I do something to make him angry at me?” Noticing another boy cowering in the back, Ichigo thought again, “Or… Afraid?” Before Ichigo could make any kind of response, his eye caught something to the side of the room. Lying limply on the floor, against the wall, was a girl. One leg pointed straight out, the other bent strangely to the side, and her arms laid to either side. Her head was lying on one shoulder with her mouth slightly agape, tongue hanging out. “Is she dead?!” Ichigo yelled in shock, pointing to the side of the room. All the boys and girls gathered together under the sign that said, “Welcome back!” turned their heads casually to the side with expressions more of curiosity then surprise. Bookmark here

“Oh!” Proclaimed the girl with the backwards sign. “That’s Momoe.” She said with a smile looking back towards Ichigo. The others nodded in agreement. One boy just rolled his eyes and walked away, sitting down at his desk. The boy that appeared frightened sulked over to Momoe and started poking her on the cheek saying, “Momo… Momo…” with a shaky voice. Bookmark here

“Uhhh…” Momoe groaned opening her eyes slightly, and turning her head towards the boy. Then she looked over at Ichigo. She gave a very weak smile and said, “Welcome ba…” her voice was faint and trailed off before she finished. Her head promptly fell back to its former place. This time the soft sounds of snoring could be heard. Ichigo bent over slightly and let out a sigh. Bookmark here

“Alright everyone!” One boy spoke up behind them. “Lets get all this cleaned up before class begins.” With a few groans, everyone started cleaning up. Except for one boy that had already sat down, and the girl sleeping in the corner. Having already been given a seating chart by the teacher, Ichigo sat down at what he knew to be his desk. Second from the back, next to the window. He pulled out a notebook and set his bag down. Ichigo thought to himself, “This is going to be exhausting.” Bookmark here

“Hey, Ichigo.” The bubbly girl from before stepped up to his desk, still holding the blank sign. She was holding it out towards him, pointing at it and smiling. Bookmark here

“I… ummm…” Was this a joke? Was there some kind of hidden meaning to this, hinting at a shared past between him and this girl?Bookmark here

She noticed his confusion and looked down. “Bzzzt! Silly me!” She made a strange buzzing noise and clunked herself lightly on the side of her head with her fist, tongue hanging out a bit. She then flipped the sign over to reveal the word “Welcome” drawn in many different colors. Bookmark here

“Oh.” Ichigo said, unsure of how to respond. “Thank you. It’s um… good to meet you.” Bookmark here

The girl turned her head to the side confused for just a moment before her eyes brightened in recognition. “Right! You bumped your head. Still don’t remember anything, huh?” She asked, not waiting for a reply. “Not to worry! I am Yoshida Tomoko, and you can call me Tomo. Or Tomoko. Or Yoshi, I really don’t care! Call me whatever you like.” Tomoko’s expression was as bubbly as ever. “But you used to call me Tomo.” She said more quietly with a wink. Ichigo blushed and stammered just a bit before Tomoko turned and pointed at another girl. Where as Tomoko has short brown hair tied down with a ribbon that crest the top of her head in a yellow stripe, the girl she pointed at had long black hair smooth and silky hanging straight down to her waist. This girl was also far more fair skinned then Tomoko. “And her name is,” Tomoko was cut short by the door at the front of the class flying open as a tall and beautiful woman came striding in. Bookmark here

Long hair in a ponytail, angular glasses, and a dress cutting off at the knees. Her high heels clicked as she walked towards the podium, but her voice was a strange combination of calm, and commanding. “Please take your seats everyone.” Her gaze turned to Tomoko, “Don’t be getting ahead of me now, young lady.” If there was any trace of anger in her intention, it was hidden behind a slight coy smile. “As you all know, our own Sakurai Ichigo has returned to us from the hospital, without his memories intact. So while you are all reunited with a friend, he is bombarded with new faces. This being the case, I have an idea of how we can help acquaint ourselves. Similar to how a new student introduces themselves when joining a class, I am going to ask you to introduce yourselves to Mr. Sakurai.”Bookmark here

First at the front of the class was the girl with long pretty black hair that Tomoko was trying to introduce before. Her voice was strong, but calm and somehow sweet. “My name is Satomi Tanaka. I enjoy to spend my time doing calligraphy, and practicing kendo in my families dojo.” She then bowed, and took her leave. Bookmark here

Next up was a boy who was far more muscular than Ichigo. Not that Ichigo was scrawny by any means, but this boy was unquestionably fit. “My name is Kaito Nakamura. My hobbies include physical fitness, as well as archery, and survival training. I have a fear of water, and therefore cannot swim.” Certainly honest, if nothing else, Ichigo thought to himself. Bookmark here

Before Nakamura had even sat down, a beautiful girl walked to the front of the class. She had long black hair similar to Tanaka’s, except wavy. She was also the only girl in class who was wearing makeup. At least, Ichigo didn’t think the girl he miss took for dead was. Her pallid complexion and dark circles under her eyes seemed natural. With a grand gesture to the center of her chest, the girl stood tall and said, “The beauty before you is Ishida Akeno. I enjoy spending my time with all my adoring fans, and going on dates with the lucky ones.” She shot a glance over to Ichigo with a wink, which caused Ichigo to blush. He wasn’t sure if this was a reference to how they may have known each other. “I like to keep myself aware of all the best styles of clothing, while maintaining my body as a proper lady.” She ran her hand down her side. “I am truly the pinnacle of any man's desire. But please, restrain your affections until after school.” Ishida sauntered back to her seat. Bookmark here

Next was a tall boy with medium length blond hair, and round, simple looking glasses. He stood straight and had no expression. “Shimizu Fuji. Height, 180 centimeters. Weight, 62 kilograms. The majority of my time is spent studying. I do not waste my time with frivolous endeavors that lack educational value.” A bit like a recording, but maybe he’s just shy? Ichigo asked himself.Bookmark here

The girl they called Momoe went up next moving very slowly. She was the girl Ichigo had seen collapsed on the floor when he came in. Her hair was pulled back partly in a ponytail. Unlike the other girls who had black hair, hers was stringy, and seemed unkempt. “Ugh…” She groaned as she reached the front of the class. Her back and knees were both slightly bent. She stood there for a moment blinking. “I’m Tanaka Momoe, and I…” She put her hand to her mouth to cover a powerful yawn. “I like to sleep. If I’m not sleeping, then the sun is probably not up.” She took a single step forward, as if to return to her seat and then stopped to add, “Or I’ve been threatened to stay awake.” The teacher’s eye twitched a little in frustration, though her smile never faded. Bookmark here

“Saito Ryuma. Remember that name, this time. If anyone wants to mess with me, it will be their last mistake.” If Ichigo had done something to anger Saito, he had no way of knowing it. Best, he decided, to take heed to Saito’s advice. He was about the same height as Ichigo, at 170 centimeters, but with short yellow spiky hair, in contrast to Ichigo’s brown. Saito’s eyes were also blue, though no less dangerous for their color. Bookmark here

Next up was a shorter boy, almost shaking. “Fu-Fu-Fujiwara Gen-Genjiro.” He finally managed to get out. “I don’t really do much. I prefer to stay at home, or inside, where it’s safe.” The world had many dangers, to be sure, but this level of caution couldn’t be healthy. Bookmark here

Before Tomoko could get up, eager as she was, the teacher cut her off, “You’ve already introduced yourself, Yoshida.” She said with a smile. Then she looked back at me in a sort of stern curiosity. “Has anyone seen Murata?” At first, Ichigo wasn’t sure what was happening, until he noticed the seat behind him was empty. In fact, he had just noticed a few seats were empty. Bookmark here

Momoe had her head rolled back with her mouth open. She snapped her head back with a sound. “Oh!” She thought for a moment and then replied, “Jin wasn’t feeling well. He’s in the nurse’s office.” Bookmark here

The teacher rolled her eyes and shrugged. She wrote her name on the board. “Akiyama Aiko” Turning around with the piece of chalk still in her hands. “Now, given Ichigo’s current situation, I think today would be perfect for a little top down review. First we will start with a bit of an introduction. This is the Zaidan Academy. A school dedicated to the education, and training of uniquely gifted students. Each of you has a unique ability, not shared by the others.” She stops and smiles at Ichigo, “With one exception.” She then turns and begins to write on the chalkboard, beginning her review. Bookmark here

This seemed strange to Ichigo, despite having any memories to compare reality with. Being told he had a special power was pretty surprising. Everything today felt a little overwhelming. Maybe that would explain the sensation that was overcoming him. He didn’t feel light headed, but his vision was blurring. Before he knew it, everything was silent and black. Bookmark here

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My name, is Sakurai Ichigo. Today was my first day back since the accident. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but I remember a meteorite falling from the sky. I woke up in the hospital a few days later. I guess I am just unlucky. When I returned to school, no one welcomed me back. Most didn’t even notice me at all. Of course, it wasn’t very different from when I first arrived her. I transferred schools about a week before the accident. That puts my time here at just over two weeks, so I couldn’t expect to form any friendships this quickly. Even so, when I introduced myself, no one reacted at all. Maybe that is the custom here. Everyone wears the same clean cut uniforms. I hear them talking to each other every now and then, but usually not in front of me. Maybe they heard about the accident and think I am cursed. They might be right. I miss all my old friends. We spent a lot of time together, as our school was pretty small. Back then I lived in a rural mountain town. Not like here, where you can’t see much but city. There are parks around, but I still haven’t gotten used to all the cars, or the people. Bookmark here

The last bell rings and all the students grab their things and leave, including the teacher. Ichigo sits for a while staring blankly at his desk. An hour, maybe more passes before he decides to head home. The halls are already empty. If anyone was hanging around for club activity, they were already there. The cold empty halls were strange to him. His footsteps echoed off the white floors, and the black walls felt like they would close in on him if he stood still for too long. Ichigo could not help but feel a strange familiarity with it. Everything that was new to him did not feel new. Ichigo thought to himself, “This is an ordinary life for most people. Maybe not the isolation, but living in the city, and going to school. It is all so, ordinary.” Ichigo was walking down the entrance way of the school, when suddenly the face of a girl appeared in front of him. “Yah!” Ichigo flailed his arms, throwing himself backwards. He landed hard on the ground and scooted back on his hands reflexively. Bookmark here

“Oh ho!” The girl exclaimed leaning downwards, “So you’re not dead!” She was rocking on her heels with legs strait, holding her bag at her waist behind her. Her hair was a deep scarlet. It hung gracefully down to her lower back, restrained only by a thick green headband. Her smile was bright, as were her green eyes. Bookmark here

Ichigo froze. He knew her. He didn’t but he felt like he did. The sensation was strange, and in his shock he could not hold his thoughts. “Beautiful.” He said softly, cheeks growing red. Bookmark here

The girl stepped back on one leg, with the other forward. She pointed down at him commandingly with one hand, and the other held her bag at her waist. “Don’t you go trying to flatter me.” Her voice was strong but sweet. Although her smile was gone when she said this, it quickly returned with a wink. “You might regret it tomorrow. You’re new here aren’t you? I’m in the class next to yours.” She said, returning to her original pose, rocking on her heels. Bookmark here

Ichigo took a deep breath to collect himself. He started to get up, leaning forward on his hands and knees. He picked his bag up, “Yeah, my name’s Sakurai Ichigo. What’s…” As he stood up, he raised his head to look at her again. This time, her nose was pressing against his, and her hand was on his shoulder. She was leaning in on her toes. Her mouth opened, and she spoke. Ichigo began to tremble, unable to move for a moment. As she pulled away, he grabbed his head with both hands and began to curl up in pain. He grunted, clenching his teeth his teeth hard. “What?” Ichigo thought to himself. “What did she say? I don’t want to remember!” He fell to his knees and pulled his head towards the ground. “I don’t want to hear those words! Not again!” This time he spoke aloud in a shaky voice. “Those eyes… they were so… those eyes!” Two students were walking by as Ichigo began to recover from whatever mental state the encounter had put him in. His hands hung limply next to him, and his expression returned to that of an empty shell, as it was before. Bookmark here

“He’s doing it again!” One of the students walking buy, a girl, said in a sharp whisper. She sounded concerned, but more afraid for everyone else but Ichigo. “Just ignore him.” The boy with her said. They continued to walk away. “Freak.” Was the last thing Ichigo heard from them. Bookmark here

“They are right.” Ichigo thought to himself. “I don’t know why, but I have the feeling they are right.”Bookmark here

Ichigo collected his things and walked home in silence.Bookmark here

“I’m home.” He said as he walked through the door. Bookmark here

“Well it’s about time!” Shouted Hikari, Ichigo’s eight year old sister. With that, she came sliding on her socks out of the living room into the entrance hall. “We’ve been waiting for you!” The look on her face was grumpy and she pointed at Ichigo accusingly. Without changing her position or facial expression, she snapped down on a rye bread stick and munched on it angrily. He knew they weren’t that great. They were the ones their parents kept around for snacking. Ichigo finished taking off his shoes and dropped his bag in the hall. He felt empty, and couldn’t bring himself to respond. Hikari looked a little surprised suddenly then looked at the bread stick. She looked back at him clenching her fist to her side. “I wouldn’t have to if you’d come home on time!” She then stormed off into the living room. Ichigo stood at the entrance to his home, confused. He hadn’t said anything. He looked up the stairs to his right, into the darkness leading up to the bedrooms. Then down the hall into the bath. Maybe he would just skip dinner and go to bed. Ichigo knew they wouldn’t eat without him. Bookmark here

Walking into the living room, Ichigo saw his father standing in front of a window facing out the front of the house. Taking a deep breath, leaning partly out the window, “Ahhh! Isn’t the mountain air refreshing? I’ll never get tired of this.” He stood up with his hands on his hips gazing out the window with a smile on his face. Bookmark here

“Dad sure says some weird stuff.” Ichigo thought to himself. “I know the city is a higher elevation than some areas, but I’d hardly call it the mountains.” He finished the thought. Ichigo stepped next to his dad and looked out the window. He could see someone walking down the street, and a few cars driving by each way. Bookmark here

His dad looked down at him, “I don’t know either, son. Maybe Reo thought he was missing something.” his dad turned and started walking towards the dining room. “The heart wants what it wants.” Bookmark here

Ichigo watched him for a moment with concern. “Have I been speaking without realizing it?” He hoped this was in his head, but right now with how his family was acting, he couldn’t be certain. Bookmark here

After dinner, Ichigo went upstairs to go to bed. Leaning out the window to look at the stars, he saw a girl in the house across from his. She was standing in her pajamas and waved to Ichigo with a bright smile, before closing her curtains. At least some people were nice in this city. He was so very tired. He wasn’t sure what his dream was about, all he remembered was the sound of someone crying. Bookmark here

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Ichigo lived in a dorm room nearby the school building. They were divided by boys and girls housing. If the school was strange his room was too. Filled with things that were his, and yet nothing was familiar to him. He felt as if he had just slept in someone else's bed. He was still tired, despite all the rest he had gotten. He continued on to school. No one was around again. Ichigo resolved to discover when the appropriate time to start class was, so he would not be late again. Walking down the desolate hallways of the school, listening to the echo of his footsteps. This sound was getting old fast. With its rhythmic, ceaseless nature. He felt like he couldn't escape it. Just before he reached the classroom, he heard two voices arguing. The sound made his head hurt, and they were much louder then they should be from the distance. It sounded like they were right beside him, but still somehow had an echo, or a faintness to them. “Well if he’d open his eyes maybe he could see how dumb he was!” This first voice was Saito, and he sounded plenty angry. Bookmark here

“How could you say that? He isn’t like this because he wants to be! You should be more compassionate. Imagine how she feels about this?” This second girl was, Tomoko? She sounded like she was crying. Hard to imagine from how cheerful she was yesterday. The haze began to lift from his head, so Ichigo entered the room. The only two inside were Saito and Tomoko.  Saito was sitting on a desk looking out the window, and Tomoko was folding a piece of paper at her desk. She turned when Ichigo entered. “Ichigo!” She said happily. “We were waiting for you!” She jumped up and ran over to him with her arms out. Ichigo reflexively took a step back so Tomoko frowned a bit and let her arms down. Bookmark here

Saito started walking towards him with an angered look in his eyes. “What'd I tell you about messing with me?” Ichigo stepped aside and Saito kept walking. “You’re wasting my time!” Bookmark here

Ichigo looked at Tomoko confused. “Ms. Akiyama asked us to go and find you. It’s Wednesday so we are doing practical lessons. Everyone’s already outside. Come on!” she said taking off down the hall.Bookmark here

“That would explain why the school was empty this morning.” Ichigo thought to himself. When he stepped out of the classroom. He was about to turn to follow Tomoko when he saw a flash of someone walking around the corner in the other direction. “Red hair?” Ichigo said aloud. It was the only feature he could make out. Looking down that way he could see nothing else. Unless you count the bulletin board with a ripped piece of paper on it that just said ‘Gateway’. He could only imagine what that was in regards to, but it didn't matter now. Ichigo turned and continued to follow Tomoko. Bookmark here

Once he arrived in the middle of the track field next to the school, with everyone else, he lined up as the teacher instructed. It seemed only our class was out here. Perhaps the other classes were doing lessons somewhere else. “Today we are focusing on a simple task that can have many solutions.” She stepped up to something that had a cloth over it. It was taller than any of us. “There is something that will get in your way in life, no matter how powerful or careful you are. How you get through it is entirely up to you.” She pulled the sheet to reveal a wooden door in a frame being propped up by sturdy stone pillars. “The door!” She said triumphantly gesturing to it. “The most basic of obstacles put in front of you to do one simple thing: Keep everyone on one side, from getting to the other. You will be using your powers today in any way you see fit to get through this door.” Bookmark here

Everyone made excited and interested noises. All but Momoe, who was barely on her feet. One after the next they walked up to complete the task. First it was Satomi, who took a running start and to Ichigo’s surprise, blew through the door without even slowing down. She slid to a stop some 10 yards past the door, holding her hands on her hips in triumph. Next up was Kaito. He walked calmly up to the door and placed his hand against the center of it. Closing his eyes, he concentrated. Then the hinges began to rattle and blow free from the door, and then the lock, and the handle. After a moment of silence, the door slowly fell backwards with a slight push, and Kaito walked through. Momoe stepped up next. Ichigo could only imagine what her power was, if she slept all the time. She looked the door up and down a few times and then lifted her hand up, and knocked. Ichigo’s mouth dropped open when Satomi opened it from the other side and Momoe just walked in. “Out of my way!” Shouted Saito, charging the door at full speed. His fist began to glow and burst into flames. Swinging full force, a cone of fire erupted outward, blowing the door off its hinges and into cindering pieces. As the next door was being set up Ms. Akiyama gestured to Ichigo. “You are up next, Ichigo. Just open the door.” She stepped aside. Bookmark here

Ichigo stepped up to the door, uncertain as to what he should do. “I don’t really know how to use my powers again.” he said to the teacher.Bookmark here

“Remember yesterday when I had you try creating a pencil?” Ichigo did. He had placed his hand on the desk and lifted upward, concentrating as she had instructed on imagining there being a pencil rising up from the table. As his hand rose, a pencil formed out of the table with a white light at the point of creation, but half way up it turned to dust. She called his power, “God’s Will.” Apparently a woman with the ability to see the potential in others identifies us. She tells us what our powers are, and what they could be. However, she only sees potential. It relies on us to master our abilities to reach that potential. She said I didn’t have a potential. There was no limit to what my power could do and it terrified the Academy. Though she also said it was the hardest power to master, and with all likelihood I would not get much use out of it. “Just concentrate on your power. Focus on opening the doorway, and do what feels natural.”Bookmark here

Ichigo wasn’t certain what natural was anymore, but this all did feel strange and new to him. “Is the door even locked?” He asked. Bookmark here

“No one has checked yet. That’s a clever thought. Why don’t you try to open it. Just focus on your power and visualize the gateway opening.”Bookmark here

Ichigo reached towards the door knob slowly. He could hear everyone cheering him on, “You can do it, open the door! Come on Ichigo! Turning the handle is the most likely solution.” His heart was beating heavily, and he could feel a rumble from under his feet. He felt like he could hear the footsteps in the halls again. But they were getting faster and faster like someone was running towards him. Ichigo couldn’t understand the anxiety he was feeling. Despite this feeling so wrong, he felt like he absolutely had to open the door. “Red hair.” His hand stopped. “Gateway?” He remembered the word written on the bulletin board. He turned to ask his teacher, “Why did you call it a…” Bookmark here

Just then Saito grabbed him by the collar and began to lift him in the air. “What’s wrong with you? Why are you wasting my time, you punk?! All you have to do is open the door!” Bookmark here

*Bing! Bong!* “Will Saito Ryuma come to the principal's office. Saito Ryuma, to the principal's office.” The announcement came through the schools PA system. Bookmark here

Saito dropped Ichigo to the ground. “You’re pathetic.” He then walked off. Ichigo stared up at the blue sky, and like once before, everything started to fade. Bookmark here

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“Open the Gateway!” A deep and malevolent voice boomed out. “Never! I will never help you destroy the world!” Ichigo woke up in shock at the sound coming from downstairs. He ran down the stairs still in his boxers and night shirt, to find his little sister jumping up and down excitedly in front of the TV which was turned up very loud. “You will do as I command!” the malevolent voice continued. Bookmark here

“That’s enough of that.” Their mother walked in holding a dish towel in one hand and grabbed the remote control. She turned her head to see Ichigo lying on the ground at the entrance to the living room. “Well, at least it had the added bonus of waking your brother up.” She said with a smile, turning to the TV again. The malevolent voice continued, “Open the Gateway, Ich…” It cut out as their mother set the remote down. “Why don’t you come have breakfast before school?” She asked sweetly.
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Ichigo waved goodbye later in the morning to his family as he walked off to school. He hadn’t even rounded one corner when he stumbled into the beautiful redhead from before. She was standing underneath a light pole in the alley, playing with her hair. Ichigo walked up to her, “Hello.” Was all he had managed to say. Bookmark here

“Hi.” She said blushing, keeping her head towards the ground. Bookmark here

Ichigo leaned over and bent his head to try and look at her face. “Are you ok?” He asked.Bookmark here

She nodded swiftly with a discomforted look on her face. “Um…” She started to speak but hesitated. Ichigo gave her some time. “I’m sorry that I scared you yesterday.”Bookmark here

“Huh?” He couldn’t remember being scared exactly, but their encounter was a bit fuzzy. But he could never forget her face. Her personality did seem a bit different now that he thought about it. “Oh, no it’s fine. Are you going to school?” He asked. She just nodded. “Would you like to walk with me?” The girl responded by stepping forward and the two walked to school together. “I don’t think I caught your name. Mine’s Sakurai Ichigo.” Bookmark here

“I can’t tell you my name.” She said, still playing with her hair, looking meekly towards the ground. “I’m sorry.”Bookmark here

Ichigo looked a little puzzled. “Can’t tell me? Why not?”Bookmark here

After a moment of discomfort she screwed up her face and said, “I just can’t. But, I guess…” She hesitated and took a deep breath. “You can call me Sei.”Bookmark here

“Ok, Sei.” Ichigo said, and then he thought to himself, “This is one strange girl. But I feel better somehow when I talk to her.” Bookmark here

“Hey Ichigo? I had something I wanted to ask you.” Sei asked timidly.Bookmark here

“Oh? What’s up?” They had just passed the corner store down the street from the school. It wasn’t far now, but Ichigo realized people were staring at him. The store clerk had even dropped his crate of oranges and was instead staring at him walking down the road. Had he done something wrong?Bookmark here

“Have you ever felt that, something was wrong?” Sei asked, only pausing momentarily. “Maybe many things, but no matter how wrong it felt, something was telling you not to question it?”Bookmark here

Ichigo thought for a moment about his one sided conversations with his family. “Maybe. Why do you ask?”Bookmark here

Something is here, Ichigo. Something that shouldn’t be. And I think… I think it wants…” They had just arrived in front of the school. Ichigo had stopped walking and turned to look at her strangely. Then her eyes got wide and she bowed and apologized. “I’m so sorry, this is my fault but you need to fight it!” Her voice seemed like it was echoing, but was very close. Bookmark here

Ichigo felt something on his shoulder before he could respond. He was turned around and barely saw a large boy in front of him before his fist hit Ichigo’s face. Ichigo fell to the ground hard. “That’s what you get for talking to yourself, freak!” The boy, and a few other students farther back started laughing at him. Everything felt like it was spinning. Ichigo lied back and looked to where Sei was, but she was gone. Everything started to fade. Bookmark here

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Ichigo fell back in his chair to land with his back flat on the ground. He didn’t remember coming to school this morning. “Sei.” He said looking back at the wall of the classroom. He realized how strange that name sounded. “Do I know someone named Sei?” He thought to himself. Bookmark here

Just then, the door burst open inward, instead of sliding open. It lay flat on the ground as a girl took one step into the classroom. Ichigo managed to pull himself up to his desk. All the other students were in shock, some standing at the sudden explosion. She wasn’t exceptionally tall, but certainly more so than normal with the thick soled combat boots she was wearing. She had some kind of military commanders hat on, and an eye patch with a black shoulder cape. Her long scarlet red hair blew back in the breeze creating by the door falling to the ground. Bookmark here

“My name is Seizon!” She said with a loud boisterous voice, pointing her thumb at her chest. “And this is my school now!” She pointed down towards the floor. Bookmark here

“Whaaaat?!” a collective uproar of surprise from the whole class.Bookmark here

She took a powerful step into the classroom. “And if any of you have a problem with that,” she raised her hand and pointed towards the group, “you can meet me outside!” Fujiwara, who happened to be in front of where she was pointing being at the center front row, shuttered, turned blue and collapsed. “That is,” she continued, “If you think you’ve got what it takes.” Her head lowered and her eyes were barely visible under the brim of the hat.Bookmark here

“Fujiwara!” Nakamura shouted from behind him. Bookmark here

Then a tall boy walked up to him I had not seen before. He had short black hair that was longer on one side in the front, covering up one eye. “This poor soul has passed from this world.” He said, grabbing him by the back of the collar and dragging him towards the second door. “I will dispose of him appropriately.” Bookmark here

“Wait, is he dead?” Ichigo asked. “Maybe you should just take him to the nurses office?” He then proposed.Bookmark here

“No, no.” The boy insisted, “He must be buried before his corpse begins to rot. Poor soul.” He continued to drag him out the door.Bookmark here

Momoe stood up and slowly followed after, waving her hand weakly. “I’ll make sure they get to the nurse.” Bookmark here

Somehow this did not fill Ichigo with confidence. “Could she even stop him from burying Fujiwara?” Ichigo asked the room. Bookmark here

“If anyone has a chance it’s her.” it was Tomoko that answered. After realizing Ichigo’s confusion she clarified. “Oh, right, that was Murata Jin’ichi, he’s Momoe’s brother.” Bookmark here

Ichigo compared the last names of Tanaka and Murata in his head. Before he could voice his confusion, Shimizu clarified. “Momoe and Jin’ichi became siblings through the act of parental matrimony.”Bookmark here

“So they are related by marriage?” Ichigo said allowed. “Wow, Shimizu has an interesting vocabulary.” He thought to himself. Everyone responded by shaking their heads in agreement. Bookmark here

“Hey!” Seizon shouted, “What, did you just forget I was here?” Bookmark here

Ichigo looked back at her and remembered the red hair he had seen yesterday. “Hey, I’ve seen…” Bookmark here

Seizon smiled, “Finally! A proper greeting. She walked swiftly towards Ichigo. He became suddenly nervous. She extended her hand towards him for a handshake while the other was firmly on her waist. “It’s a pleasure to meet you!” Bookmark here

Ichigo hesitated, trying to smile but twitching nervously. He raised his hand which she quickly grasped and began to shake a few times. This girl was much stronger than Ichigo had expected. When she let go he rubbed his hand. “My name’s Sakura Ichigo.” He said though she had already started back up to the front of the class. Bookmark here

The teacher walked over and wrote her name on the board. If there was any doubt before, there wasn’t any more. “This is Seizon. She will be joining us as of today.” She gestured, smiling towards Seizon. The kanji she wrote on the board was the same as ‘Survival’.Bookmark here

“This girls name was literally Survival!” Ichigo thought to himself, as he’s sure everyone else did. But no one said it. Bookmark here

“And it’s just the one name? Why did we accept such a delinquent?!” Satomi shouted as everyone expressed their surprise. Bookmark here

Ishida ran her fingers down her neck. Her face turned red and she swooned, leaning on her desk. “I normally don’t entertain the interests of women…” She started biting onto her index finger. “But for you I’d make an exception.”Bookmark here

“Seizon, you may take a seat next to Ichigo, in the back.” She said pointing back towards me. Bookmark here

Ichigo looked around and realized he was in the back row. He remembered sitting one seat up yesterday. “Wait, why am I in the back?” he asked aloud. Bookmark here

“You were always in the back, silly.” Tomoko answered with a giggle.Bookmark here

“Yeah, that’s not strange at all, is it?” Seizon said as she stepped past Ichigo, sitting down. Bookmark here

During the lunch period, Seizon sat down with me. “Since you were the first one to greet me, I’m gonna give you the honor of eating with me!” She said, sitting backwards in the seat in front of my desk. Bookmark here

“Oh, um, yeah that would be my pleasure.” She might be crazy and dangerous, but even so, she was beautiful. Bookmark here

“Damn right it will!” she said again with gusto. She picked up a metal container and slammed it down on the desk. It looked like an ammo container of some kind.Bookmark here

He was almost afraid to ask, but he had too. “What is that?”Bookmark here

“This?” Seizon pointed at the can. “Only a meal for a real woman. I doubt that you could handle it.” She popped the top and the smell alone make Ichigo’s eyes water. Bookmark here

Ichigo coughed a little, “Woah! That’s so strong!” Inside was some kind of curry. It was practically glowing red. There must have been something in it that made it more shallow, as he doubted it would be full of curry.Bookmark here

Unsurprisingly, Seizon pulled out the top tray of curry, and underneath was a metal canteen, bag of peppers and chopsticks. She closed the ammo container and set it down. She held the chopsticks in front of her to offer a prayer. “May the weak fall at my feet!” She then began to eat brutishly and with great haste. Occasionally taking a swig from the canteen. Bookmark here

“You can’t be real.” Ichigo couldn’t keep from saying it. He was in awe at this girl. Bookmark here

She stopped eating, having already finished a good portion of the curry, and settled on munching on peppers while she spoke. “What, and you feel like they are?” She gestured towards the others in class.Bookmark here

Ichigo looked over and they were all eating, some together others alone. Fujiwara, Momoe, and Murata had come back, but now that he looked Saito wasn’t here. They all seemed pretty normal, far more so than Seizon. “What do you mean?”Bookmark here

Seizon looked at him skeptically, then gave out a sigh. “Here.” She said, turning to Tomoko, “Hey, ditzy!” Bookmark here

Tomoko turned and smiled, “Hey Seizon, what’s up?” She asked as cheerful as ever.Bookmark here

“You’re an idiot and I hate you.” She said casually.Bookmark here

“Oh,” Tomoko responded cheerfully, “Thank you. I like your hair!” she replied with a smile.Bookmark here

“Bite me!” Seizon turned back to Ichigo whose mouth was hanging open. “See?” She asked, grabbing another pepper. Bookmark here

Ichigo recovered from the shock, “You can’t just say things like that to people!” He said in a harsh, but hushed tone. Bookmark here

“You’re right. I shouldn’t be able to.” She gestured back towards Tomoko, “So why’s she always so stupidly happy? Like, all the time? You think that’s normal?” Seizon began to pack up what was left of her lunch while she spoke. “And that cowardly guy that died when I came in. Sure it was surprising, but who’s afraid of literally everything? He’s been shaking since he came back, and I bet you he always does.” Bookmark here

Ichigo thought back and remembered the strangeness of his classmates. He assumed it had something to do with the loss of his memories, but maybe it was something more. “What are you trying to say?”Bookmark here

Seizon gave out a deep sigh. “Come with me.” She led him to the roof and pointed outward, “Look around you. See anything wrong with this?” Bookmark here

Ichigo took a look around the school, and the surrounding area. He looked at the woods, and the mountain all the way to the peak. “We are on a mountain, there’s nothing strange about that.”Bookmark here

Seizon pulled him in closer. “Ichigo, where are the roads?” Ichigo looked out again, then walked to the other side of the school and looked out that way. “Where are the other buildings? Where’s the town that this school has to get its supplies from. Ichigo, where are all the other people in this school?”Bookmark here

Ichigo’s heart began to beat hard in his chest and he started to feel dizzy. “Are you trying to say that none of this is real? Then… what…” He started to sway on his feet. Bookmark here

Seizon grabbed him and kissed him without warning. Ichigo blushed deeply and his mind began to clear. “I can’t have you bleeding out on me now, Sakurai Ichigo!” She shouted after Ichigo had broken away from her. Bookmark here

“Why did you do that? What do you mean ‘bleeding out’?” He was beginning to freak out a little, but that kiss felt sweet and familiar. Something about it steadied his mind. Bookmark here

“That’s basically what’s happening to you. Maybe not in the physical sense. Something has ripped your mind into two pieces, Ichigo. Every time I try to help you it gets more violent. This is no time to be weak and afraid, as your life hangs in the balance!” Bookmark here

“I don’t understand. Why is this happening? What is real if this isn’t?” Ichigo asked, desperately.Bookmark here

Seizon struggled for a moment, wanting to answer that, then finally forced out, “I don’t know. What I do know is you have to reach out to your other self, and join with him. You are trapped, and you are dying, and I cannot allow this to continue!”Bookmark here

“Who are you?” Ichigo demanded.Bookmark here

Seizon ignored the question, the sky was getting darker. “We don’t have much time. I can send you to the other side if you want. But you may not be able to get back. I’m not sure he will let me near you again after this.” Seizon’s expression was strong and fierce. Bookmark here

“I don’t know what you mean!” Ichigo began to breath short and fast breaths. He grabbed at his chest in distress. Bookmark here

“You know me! Who am I, Ichigo?!” She shouted while walking towards him. “Remember me!” She grabbed him and embraced him and whispered into his ear. Bookmark here

“Ichigo dropped to the ground. “No… No please! I don’t want to remember! Her eyes… I’m sorry…” Ichigo cried aloud. He curled into a ball, and everything fell to black.Bookmark here

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Bookmark here

Sophia Animus
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