Karin couldn't help but feel breathless looking at the woman. She was beautiful, from her full lips, high cheekbones to her wide, knowing eyes. This couldn't be her zanpakuto spirit could it? Could something like this really be part of her?
They sat together in silence, until the spirit looked over to Karin, her eyes were like trapped sunlight, the perfect match to her hair like women gold, "You have nothing to say to me, Karin?"
Karin thought to herself trying to pick words out of the many buzzing around her head, "I- I want to know your name, but I know I won't understand it yet but until then," she met the soul's eyes "will you give me your powers?"
"And you think you deserve that, Karin Kurosaki? People don't like you and who are you to say that I will?" Her previously warm smile turned feral, exposing tapered feline fangs.
Taken aback, Karin couldn't speak for a few seconds. They'd be warned their zanpakutos could be aggressive towards them, and it may even be necessary to fight them, but she hadn't expected such a personal attack. "I'm not asking you to like me, I'm asking you to help me. You don't need to like me just what I stand for, I need you to help me help souls, purify hollows and protect my family and friends! I know as much as anyone I struggled to find friendship in the real world but here, in soul society, I do belong. I've found people I'd give up my life for in order to protect if I needed to. You're part of me. As much as I know there are part of myself I hate and you are obviously inclined to do the same, you will still feel the love I have for the people close to me and know that there are still people out there who deserve to be protected from Hollows." Karin stopped, giving a small gasp as she realised there were tears running down her cheeks. This was only the second time she'd cried since
"My mum, she didn't deserve to be killed by a hollow. I want to make sure no child ever has to feel like that again."
The zanpukoto's fangs disappeared back into a reassuring closed lip smile. "Good, because that's the way I feel Karin. I'm with you now and one day, maybe you'll deserve to be told my name too. For now," she reached out and placed her palm on Karin's forehead, "You should go back to those people who mean so much to you. Close your eyes"
In the darkness, the warm sensation where her zanpakuto's hand had been spread down to Karin's chest. Then they it became hotter. Then burning. Opening her eyes in panic, Karin saw herself back in the cave, and a light breaking out of her chest. She wanted to scream and claw at it but found herself silenced and paralysed. Even though she knew what was happening she couldn't contain the surprise and horror as the saw a katana handle emerge from herself. Then came the guard and the blade, all the while Karin was in an agonised silence.
After what felt like an eternity, the katana clattered to the floor. Tentative, Karin reached out, for some reason expecting something further to happen. At first, it felt like an anti-climax. All that pain, all that excitement for what? A katana? They had those in the stores at the academy. However, as she started to inspect it and turn it over in her hand, she started to notice the subtle details about it. The guard was an intricately woven design in a circle, seeming to resemble the sun's rays. The scabbard was jet black, but with flecks of gold subtle scattered through it, casting off the odd shine with every angle it was turned. The way the white and gold wrapped handle fitted into Karin's hand was perfection, balanced exactly so that she could hold it comfortably with either one hand or two. It really was hers.
Karin stood, tucking the scabbard into her obi and taking a practise swing. As she raised her arms above her head for the second blow, she felt herself crushed under several huge reitsus. And the pressure of the hollows they were fighting. Instinct to defend her still motion less friends gave her flight as she tore out of the cave, finding the captains fending off a horde of hollows. They must have been outnumbered at least three to one. And more were still coming.
From where she was standing, Karin could see that Ichi-nee had already released his bankai, as had Toushiro. Soi Fon was barely visible the speed she was moving at but her shikai had been released and Kuchiki-taicho's Zenbonsakura could be seen in the distance. The other two could be felt nearby but she couldn't see them.
Despite her years at the academy, and before that her experiences in the living world, Karin felt lost. These people fighting, their power was incomprehensible to her, and she was planning to fight alongside them? Standing there she felt useless, but there was no hollow left open to her. Regardless, she drew her blade, and in an instant she was flocked by hollows. There were murmurings between them, their luck at finding such a strong yet unskilled shinigami and how delicious she was going to taste. This Karin knew how to deal with. Not waiting for the monsters to make a move, she launched herself at the one closet, shattering its mask with the first strike. A second came up behind her, to meet its end as the zanpakuto's handle slammed into its face with an earth shaking force. The next hollow was slow to approach, cautious even. It leapt then feigned, but was nonetheless caught out be Karin's reactions, and the girl whipped around only just in time to block a strike from her next opponent. She swung her arms back ready to deal a final blow when it stopped and disintegrated, revealing a grinning Ichigo. Explanations weren't needed as the Kurosaki siblings moved so the stood back to back, their strikes and moves working together to protect one another and push the hollows past all their limits. Eventually, they found they no longer needed to move at lightning speed to catch their next opponent, and their contenders were now few in numbers. When no more came for a time, they stood back to back again, swords drawn and alert until the moment they accepted the battle was over. Turning around, Ichigo hugged his sister,
"Well done Karin," He then pulled away and, grinning again, ruffled her hair like back when they were children. He told her she'd obviously picked all her battle skills up from him and they laughed together.
As all the student and captains were rounded up, it appeared no one was seriously injured. There was the odd scratch or bruise, mainly on the students who'd tried to throw themselves into the fight only to have to be saved by the captains. Most of this people were currently the recipients of disdainful glances, especially from Kuchiki, Soi Fon and Toushiro. They were also currently shitting themselves at Kyoraku-taicho's suggestion that they be healed by the other students to allow them to practise their kido.
However, there were other injured students, who had a more victorious look on their faces. Kage's height meant his could be seen better than any of the others. They stood separate from the rest in conversation with Ukitake-taicho. Karin was ushered to join them. Among the group were her three friends, one of the shinigami who'd entered the cave with them earlier and two others from the class above. These were the students who'd managed to launch successful attacks on the hollows and were subsequently now being fast tracked into the squad involved part of their education.
It was confirmed that within the next 24 hours their positions would be chosen, though as they had shown such courage and ability they may have some say for themselves. It was like a faux high for the friends, that their fears of being split up were coming true, but at least they had earned themselves respect and probably better duties once they were inaugurated into a squad. From the second they returned to the academy, they would begin the process but for now, the hollow problem apparently dealt with, they would walk back to the academy.
As they moved out Karin, Maseru, Tomoko and Kage all hugged one another, a kind of congratulation and relief that they weren't hurt. They had all been surprised to a point that Tomoko had entered the fight. As untouchable as her physical combat skills were, they expected that her new zanpakuto would restrict her movement and throw her off balance. She gave a feral smirk and turned her back to the others and showed not one, but two tanto sized zanpakuto tucked into the back of her uniform in an obvious attempt at mimicking the way Soi Fon stored an unreleased Suzumebachi, however they formed a slight cross with a handle at each side of her body. They were perfect to allow weapon less fighting without interference and that she would be able to use either one without a moments notice to her opponent should her hits alone not be enough to deliver the final blow.
Maseru's zanpakuto, like Karin's, had taken the standard katana shape, though his was coloured with earth reds and the guard oval engraved with tiger like shapes. Kage, as Tomoko had predicted, did not have regularly sized zanpakuto but rather now across his back was slung a nodachi style blade, Tomoko joking that the length of his zanpakuto was only due to it resembling him and his height. He returned that that was obviously why she hadn't manifested a sword, taking his zanpakuto off his back and standing it next to her, causing a laugh to ripple through the friends upon the proof that the girl was barely two inches taller than Kage's zanpakuto was long.
After a while of walking and just general conversations and laughs, they began to discuss where they would like to be placed for squads,
"Eleventh," decided Maseru without hesitation, "They may not have the best reputation but I'll enjoy the combat and the environment. I'm guessing you're hoping to be taken into second and the Onmitsukidou Tomoko, and you too Kage?"
They both nodded. With similar fighting styles, the friends had known early on that Tomoko looked up to Soi Fon-taicho and wanted to be part of the Onmitsukidou, where as Kage had had the idea placed in head by a teacher until it took root.
"I don't enjoy the fight nor look forward to the prospect of winning one if it means death for my opponent. At first I thought that attitude would put me in the third squad but it's not that same. I don't feel the depression their squad symbol represents at the thought of war and battles, I see them as necessary and part of our way of life. It's just a part I don't want to savour. The second squad is assassination, so allows me to simply kill in a second without having to push the opponent to his limits first. The kind of thing frowned upon by the prouder squads like the sixth and fifth, no offense to your brother Karin."
"I doubt he'd find anything offensive with that," Karin looked up at the sky and gave a small sigh,
"You three all know where you want to be, you have reasons to want it, but where do I fit in?"
Because fitting in was something Karin had managed to do so well in her past.
"Well," began Kage in his warm optimistic tone, throwing a reassuring arm over her shoulders, "I'd say just about anywhere you wanted to."
"Except twelfth. That's a no go area." On her other side, Tomoko linked their arms. Little things to physically show how they were bonded together. To the other girl's right, Maseru put his arm around her, completing the wall.
"So let's think about this," Tomoko started, normally the best at solving problems like this through obvious deduction and her ability to read personality and take care to be sensitive, "Third is a possibility but their general out look is too negative for you, and Kira-fukutaicho may not be able to offer the exact guidance you'll need. As much as your kido is up to fourth standard I doubt you'll have the patience to deal with every shinigami who comes to you with an ache or cut. Fifth is your brother's which you'd fit into best and with him as your taicho you would respect and understand his instruction, the problem being other squad members are likely to cut you out and claim favouritism. Ichigo would undoubtedly subdue it but still, it may not be the nicest thing to endure.
"Sixth is equally good for you, you're friends with the fukutaicho and have stayed with Kuchiki-taicho, yet your bonds with them aren't obvious enough to induce the same reaction as in fifth, and Kuckiki-taicho would never be suspected of favouritism from his cold persona. Seventh is based on courage however I doubt you would function as well with Komamaru-taicho. You would be friends, doubtless, but he's strong but a victim to authority, showing no will to push or break rules which we all know is a Kurosaki habbit," the girls rolled their eyes and laughed. It was a fact Karin couldn't even try to dispute.
"Eighth, you'd undoubtedly become a victim of Kyoraku-taichos flirting and he already has his fukutaicho abuse him regularly over it. Ninth is apparently hell bent on justice and right and wrong, so your grey scale take on life and wanting to see people reform could be a breath of fresh air or could be problematic and leave you changing your beliefs. Tenth may work too, but your friendship with Matsumoto and her love of avoiding work may be a bad influence. Eleventh, you're no meat head," Maseru took the hand over Tomoko's shoulder and gave her a light slap to the back of the head, leaving her with a sheepish smile, "Okay, you'd get frustrated at how the majority, not all, only have two brain cells keeping each other company. Twelfth," There was a consensual sudder between the group, "And that leaves thirteenth, where you would have Rukia's guidance, Ukitake-taicho's knowledge and their symbol, the snow drop for hope, fits in with your attitude to the future," Tomoko finally concluded with a self satisfied grin.
"Thank kami, and thought she was never going to shut up," joked Maseru, earning himself a mock glare.
"See Karin," Kage jostled, "there'd no squad you want to be in that would turn you away, only those slightly more suitable. Just need to see who want to take you now."
"And after today they'll all be wanting ya," finished Tomoko.
Karin nodded, optimistic and relieved after having it all talked through for her. Maybe she didn't have a need to worry but it was calming to have someone help to process the options for her. So sixth, tenth and thirteenth looked to be the best solutions. Renji would be fun to train with, and Byakuya would be a good leader. Thirteenth would provide her with more affection and Ukitake-taicho would be considerate and caring. That just left tenth.