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[personal profile] queenofchalices
Title: Moon Over the Tower: Chapter Fifteen
Series: Bleach
Rating: R
Warnings: het (IchiHime), blood, scariness, religious topics, sexual situations. Should be read with the lights off.
Spoilers: This is AU. We don't need spoilers where we're going.
Disclaimer: These characters belong to a lot of Japanese people, namely people like Tite Kubo and Shonen Jump. You'll notice how none of those are me. The LiveJournal format that you'll probably be reading this in (if you're one of my friends) is rough draft and is subject to revision. Consider this a 'sneak peek'. If something sits the wrong way with you, let me know. This will probably (never) be updated weekly, until I eventually drop it like every other project ever. Not responsible for epileptic seizures or allergic reactions. May contain eye-and-brain-bleeding levels of radioactive ANGST and/or peanut products. Please sit a reasonable distance from your computer screen.


Soft snow crunched beneath Ichigo's feet as he landed on the hillside before the darkened cave. Uryuu landed softly beside him, his long coat ruffling around his legs. He had been carrying Tatsuki on his back the entire time; it had slowed Uryuu down some, but it wasn't as if the kidnapper's scent had been hard to find.

It was a bit shocking, really. This vampire had thus far been very careful to hide his scent and cover his tracks. But when Ichigo and the others had come across the overturned and splintered carriage, the intruder had done everything short of opening a vein over the wreckage. He hadn't bothered covering his own scent, nor had he bothered hiding Orihime's. Even if he had covered his own trail, Ichigo would've still been able to scent her anywhere.

His hand tightly held the black grip of the ancient sword he'd taken from his family's armory. It was shining black steel, glinting dully in the moon's pale light; it had been impregnated with small amounts of silver during the smithing process - just enough to make it deadly to their own kind, but not enough to weaken the blade. Ichigo was tired of piddling around with this fellow; he meant business.

"He's in there," he said quietly, eyes fixed on the darkened entrance of the cave. Uryuu and Tatsuki turned to see where he'd indicated, Tatsuki squinting to see in the dull light.

"We should draw him out and away from Miss Inoue," Uryuu observed, watching as Ichigo struggled to keep from running forward. His valet knew very well how impulsive the Count could be, especially when something as important as Orihime was on the line for him. But Ichigo also acknowledged that the stakes were now too high for him to behave rashly; he needed to keep his wits about him and move strategically, even as much as hated it.

"When he comes out," Tatsuki said through gritted teeth, "I'll pull Orihime out." She touched a solid coil inside her coat that she'd brought just for Orihime; Ichigo knew she was determined to save her first and best friend.

"Looks like we don't have to wait that long after all," Ichigo growled. There was movement near the entrance to the cave, a rustling of reflective cloth that picked up the pale light and cast it right back at them. In fact, the white creature that emerged from the cave almost blended into the snowdrifts on the hillside. As he came into the moonlight and unfolded to his full height, Ichigo caught his scent carried on the wind; his eyes went wide as he realized that he recognized this vampire. But where from?

"'Bout time ya got here, Kurosaki," the white-haired man said with a mocking smile, "I was about t' think ya didn't care what I did with that human girl." At the mention of Orihime, Ichigo's eyes flashed with fury.

"Where is she?!" Ichigo practically roared. He had no patience for games like these. But the other man's smile didn't waver. It made Ichigo want to hit him even more.

"Isn't it obvious?" the kidnapper asked cheerily, "Although maybe ya should be askin' what I've done with 'er instead?" Ichigo's eyes widened before he took a step forward.

"What did you do to her?!" he demanded, "Tell me!" The other man's grin only grew wider.

"Who knows?" he said with a shrug, "Maybe she's already dead. Maybe she's dying right now. Maybe I turned her inta a ghoul!" At this, Ichigo lost what little self-control he had remaining. He nearly lunged for the white-haired man until a firm hand on his arm halted his forward momentum. He turned to see Uryuu glaring stonily at him.

"He's baiting you, Ichigo," he said firmly, shaking his head, "If anything happened to her, we'd be able to smell it." Ichigo realized suddenly that Uryuu was right; if she'd been hurt, he'd be able to smell the blood. His gaze snapped back to the man who was now laughing at his anger.

"You should listen t'him, Kurosaki!" he said, the knife Ichigo had failed to notice until just then glistening brightly in the moonlight, "But I guess ya can't help it. After all, you only care now that I got someone close t' ya, right?" This gave Ichigo pause, although it didn't lessen his anger. Who exactly was this man, to make personal comments like that?

"Just what is that supposed to mean?" he growled. He could feel Tatsuki tense behind him; she was just as ready to move as he was. But he knew that wasn't the plan. She was only to move once Ichigo and Uryuu engaged the enemy.

"D'you have any idea how long I've been in that li'l village, pickin' those cattle off?" the white-haired man asked gleefully, "Longer than you been in that fancy ol' castle up the hill, that's fer sure!" Ichigo's eyes widened again before narrowing to dangerous slits.

"How many of our peasants have you gotten?" he snarled. Ichigo had to admit that when they first came back to his ancestral home months ago, he had no idea another vampire had already moved into their territory. He really did only just notice when Chad brought it to his attention, after bringing Orihime's sister her money.

"Oh, couple dozen," the other vampire said with a nonchalent shrug, "At least! Who knows?" Ichigo hissed low under his breath; those peasants belonged to his family for generations. For this vampire to knowingly walk in and start killing them was practically an open act of war.

Even stranger, this vampire seemed to be acting alone. Perhaps he was just a poor, misbegotten soul whose sire had abandoned him, but Ichigo suspected that wasn't the case. It was very rare for vampires to be completely solitary, and Ichigo knew there were no other unfamiliar vampires in the area. What was his story?

"Why are you doing this?" Ichigo finally asked, "Who are you?" The white-haired vampire just gave him a crooked grin. His teeth flashed maliciously across the snow field at them.

"Maybe if yer family was int'rested in protectin' that village like it was s'pposed ta, ya'd already know!" The other vampire no longer sounded mocking or jovial - he simply sounded angry and bitter. Before Ichigo could ask what he meant, his foe launched himself at him, lips pulled back in a snarl.

As the white-haired man closed the distance and Ichigo parried his dagger, he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. Tatsuki had taken off, sprinting across the snow towards where they'd scented Orihime. His opponent either didn't notice or didn't care, instead focusing the brunt of his anger on Ichigo and his blade. That was fine with Ichigo; as long as Orihime was safely rescued, that was all that mattered to him.


Orihime's head throbbed. She gingerly felt where she'd banged it against the cave wall, appreciating the little knot that had formed there. Thankfully, there seemed to be no blood. She knew she'd be in trouble if there was, with the angry vampires now dueling outside.

Still, without her captor watching over her, she now had a chance to escape. She wasn't exactly sure where she'd go or how far she'd get on foot, but she had to try. If she could reach either her sister or the castle from wherever she was now, she knew she'd be safe. And as much as she wished she could help Ichigo right now, she knew there was nothing she could do against the white-haired man on her own. She'd do much better to try and get to safety instead of interfering with them.

Slowly, she began to make her way toward the opening of the cave on hands and knees. As the dirt and rocks dug into her skin, her hand landed on something soft. Feeling around on it, she realized it was a large, stuffed piece of cloth.

"A pillow?" Orihime asked quietly, picking it up and trying to focus on it. In the dim light of the cave, she could vaguely make out a human form. The longer she looked at it, it finally registered to her that she was looking at a little girl's ragdoll. Why would a grown male vampire have something like that?

Orihime put the doll into the apron of her dress and kept moving toward the entrance of the cave. Finally, just as she was about to emerge into the moonlight, a figure stepped in front of her. She gasped and tried to scoot back as far as she could, but she was too slow. A warm hand grasped her wrist and pulled her forward.

"Tatsuki?" she asked as the black-haired girl pulled her out of the cave and to her feet. She gave Orihime a crooked grin and brushed some of the dust off her friend's peasant dress.

"Here," Tatsuki said breathlessly, reaching into her coat and pulling out a strand of garlic, "Put this around your neck. I'm getting you out of here." Orihime ducked as Tatsuki looped the garlic over the back of her neck, then followed her black-haired friend as she began to lead her across the snow.


As Ichigo parried another blow, the white-haired man before him grinned. He was being pressed back by him, despite all of his years of training and experience with using a sword. Then again, besides their last bout, he hadn't actually done anything but spar in years. His opponent, on the other hand, seemed to have trained just for this night.

Uryuu was standing to the side to await orders in case Ichigo fell or needed him to call for backup. This fight was strictly Ichigo's, and he had been instructed not to interfere. Just in case, though, the valet was armed with a collapsable crossbow. As Ichigo struggled with his smaller, faster opponent, his valet stood at the ready.

Finally, Ichigo delivered a kick to the other vampire's gut, sending him stumbling back through the snow. He righted himself in a shower of white powder, causing Ichigo to step back to avoid it hitting his eyes.

"You ain't the only one that's had trainin', ya know," he drawled, mocking Ichigo again, "I might not sound like it, but I've had it pretty good the past few years!" Ichigo's eyes widened. Suddenly, he recalled where he'd met this man before.

It was two or three years ago in Vienna. His father had drug him to the formal function for some inane reason that Ichigo had already forgotten. The creme of the nobility had all been there, vampire and human alike, and Ichigo could not have been less interested. But he certainly noticed one of Duke Aizen's attendants glaring daggers at him. He had thought to say something to the white-haired boy before Aizen pulled him aside, but when he had the chance, he had already vanished.

"You're Aizen's man!" Ichigo exclaimed, causing the other man's face to split into another deranged grin.

"You remembered!" he mocked, "I'm touched!" Before the conversation could continue, though, Ichigo caught sight of movement out of the corner of his eye. Several paces behind his opponent, he could make out Tatsuki leading Orihime away from the cave. Unfortunately, the other man noticed as well, following Ichigo's line of sight to the girls. Before he could even move, the white-haired vampire had taken advantage of the situation.

He was on them in a flash, kicking a flurry of snow up in his wake. Before any of them knew what was happening, he had slammed Tatsuki into a nearby rock and grabbed Orihime by the neck.

"Well, well," he cooed, bringing his dagger up to the disoriented girl's throat, "Yer doin' a pretty bad job at this hostage thing, you know that?" Ichigo watched helplessly as Orihime struggled, the knife biting into her flesh. As the blade dug into her skin, he caught scent of her blood from across the way, causing his gut to wrench. He could feel the heat rising to his face and knew his eyes were clouding over with black ichor. If this kept up, he could lose all control.

Across the snow, however, his opponent had a different problem. He crinkled his nose as he pressed Orihime against him, noting a foul smell he hadn't noticed before.

"Is that garlic?" he asked in disgust, loosening his hold on the squirming girl, "Did that other girl give you that? We'll have ta get rid of it..." Orihime gasped as he moved the dagger from her throat and toward the string of garlic; she could tell he intended to drag the strand away without touching it. Then she'd be completely defenseless.

Desperately, she reached up and grabbed one of the bulbs from the string, squeezing it as hard as she could. When she was sure she'd broken at least a clove and the juice was free from it, she reached over her shoulder with it. She didn't know where she was aiming with it, but she hoped it would at least contact Gin in some way.

As it turned out, Orihime's aim was even better than she'd hoped for. She socked him right in the eye, causing him to immediately drop his dagger and his hold on her, and stumble back. He clawed at the offended eye, yowling in pain.

"You little tramp!" he shrieked, attempting to open his quickly swelling eye as he bared his teeth, "I'll kill you!" Before he could lunge at her, though, Orihime was pulled out of the way.

She turned to see Tatsuki holding her shoulders and pulling her back far enough to get out of Gin's path. And in another second, she saw why.

Ichigo had flown across the snow, sword bared and terrifying black and gold eyes flashing. She recognized those eyes from the night he'd bitten her; whatever had caused him to become like that again, she knew the fight was about to be over. And so did Gin.

Gin raised his head to see the angry nobleman flying at him. He had just enough time to realize what was happening and smile.

"Go ahead, then," he said with a smirk, "Do it."

And in one clean stroke, his head was gone.

Orihime and Tatsuki looked on, frozen, as the decapitated body collapsed to the ground. The crisp, white snow bloomed red under the moonlight as the vampire's body drained of its blood. Uryuu simply observed from the side, waiting to see how he'd be needed.

Finally, after a few moments of heavy breathing, Ichigo turned to face the girls. The black was slowly beginning to drain from his eyes, returning them to their normal woody brown color. As he regarded them, he began to smile shakily.

"Orihime?" he croaked, "Are you well?" Forgetting all else, Orihime wavered for just a second before breaking free of Tatsuki's grip and running to him. Even though he was too tired to move from his spot, he held his arms open for her and folded her into his embrace as soon as she reached him.

"I was afraid you--" she stammered, tears falling in rivulets down her cheeks, "B-But you're fine now! I'm so glad!" Orihime had buried her face in Ichigo's shirt, completely oblivious to his obvious, growing discomfort.

"Ori-Orihime," he wheezed, pulling at the back of her dress, "Garlic!" At this, Orihime backed away, eyes wide, and hurriedly divested herself of the herb.

"I-I'm sorry!" she cried, her eyes pleading, "I forgot I had it on! I--!" Before she could continue, Ichigo wrapped his arms around her again and buried his nose in her hair.

"Hush," he said quietly, "Now that that's gone, I'm never letting you out of my sight again." Orihime blinked and strained to look up at him.

"But Count, I-I thought--" she stammered, heart hammering in her chest. In response, Ichigo only held her tighter.

"No buts," he said firmly against her crown, "You aren't allowed to say no this time." After another few moments, he felt her pulse begin to slow.

"Alright," she said quietly, "I'll go back with you. I just... I want to talk to the priest, i-if that's alright with you." Ichigo placed a cool kiss against her head.

"We were already discussing it when Chad came in," he said quietly. Tatsuki and Uryuu had begun to move, Uryuu transforming into a bat and taking wing back to the castle. Ichigo figured he was going to fetch the spare carriage; they would also need to dispose of this body properly.

"I-Is Mr. Sado alright?" Orihime asked, voice full of concern. Ichigo pulled back and smiled at her warmly.

"He'll be fine," Ichigo said firmly, pulling her under the crook of his arm, "He made it home safely." He could feel Orihime sigh with relief beside him; leave it to her to worry about someone else when she'd almost been killed herself.

"Home," Orihime said thoughtfully, and Ichigo realized what she was getting at. She now thought of the castle as her home as much as her and Rangiku's little house down in the village. "When we get home, I have to tell you about him," she said sadly, "His name was Gin Ichimaru, a-and he was from this village."

The shock of this revelation traveled up Ichigo's spine, offsetting the little thrill he got from Orihime referring to his house as her home. If he was from their village, he didn't attack it at random. And if he came from their village, that meant someone had to have created him. And Ichigo already had a good idea of whom.

"You can tell me everything when we get back," he said, determination glinting in his eyes, "I'm just glad you're safe."
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Crystal Dawn

February 2012


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