"The hunters are still going strong." Rukia said, carefully pouring hot green tea into one of the surviving porciline cups for Madoka.
"Yes," Madoka answered, adjusting her position on the blanket she sat on. Rukia was kind enough to forage throughout the ruined house and bring some small comforts back to the hidden shrine room: tea, a box of gingersnaps and some small, fruity candies. "though there have been struggles along the way." Madoka let out a 'humph!' before she continued explaining. "Yohko really should be the 119th."
"Why is that?" Rukia opened the ginger snaps and dunked one into her tea, listening.
"A Devil Hunter must be pure of mind, body and spirit if she is to accept the mantle. My moralless daughter went and got her dumb self pregnant with Yohko before she could finish her training. Luckily, the rules can be a little lax. We Mano girls made them, and we can blur them." the elder woman smirked smugly, before taking up her teacup in her good hand.
"For example, this generation had four hunters in training, Yohko, her cousin, and the two Azusas."
At the mention of Azusa, Madoka once again became somber.
"Mz. Mano, Yohko and Ichigo will find her." Rukia assured her, while reaching out to place her hand on the woman's. Madoka scoffed, ever the strong one, refusing to lose her resolve.
"Just hand me a damn cookie."
Rukia did so.
"And you?" Madoka asked the dark haired girl from around the cookie. "what are you doing here?"
"We were tracking a hollow," Rukia explained. "they're exhibiting new behavior, they don't usually go after the living."
That comment received another grunt from the old woman. Madoka then softened, swallowing more of the hot tea and letting it warm her still stiff but healed body.
"By the way," Madoka began, her eyes large and gazing downward and to the side. "thank you."
"For what?" asked the perplexed Death God.
"For healing me. Yohko's not ready to be on her own yet, especially after the blow tonight brought her. I can't leave her yet. She'll need me more than ever now. So for that I say thank you, Rukia, Death God. I'm indebted to you."
"Indebted? Oh, no. I was just doing-"
"You were not doing your job." Madoka interrupted her. "Death Gods don't get involved in the lives of humans, at least, they're not supposed to." She regarded Rukia, quirking a brow upwards knowingly. "This isn't the first time something like this has happened to you, is it?"
Rukia adverted her own dark eyes and sighed. "No. Not exactly."
"Never mind," said Madoka, mercifully. "It's none of my business, and right now, I'm still too tired to care. Is it safe for me to take a nap?"
"It should be fine." Rukia said. "I don't think there is a threat of concussion, and I'll sit and take watch, in case some hollows try to attack again. Also, someone should be awake when Ichigo and your granddaughter return."
Madoka nodded, setting aside her now empty teacup, and smoothing out her blanket, before laying down on her back and closing her eyes.
"AZUSA!" Yohko screamed at the monstrosity that was once her partner. "FIGHT IT! REMEMBER WHO YOU AR-!" She jumped aside, swinging her blade down as a monster--something the boy with her called a hollow--swiped at her. Deftly, she cleaved a finger from the attacking creature.
Yohko landed within reach of another hollow, and once again she jumped up, landing on the hollow's broad shoulder and carving at it's throat. A spray of acrid blood showered her legs as the hollow toppled over.
Ichigo stepped towards "Azusa", knowing that the only way to free her was to release her to the Soul Society.
A shadow fell over him as a hollow stepped into his path. The boy readied his sword and was about to launch into combat when he saw Yohko run past him and jump at the beast, planting her sword deep into it's chest with a cry filled with anger and loss.
"Yohko!" Ichigo called as his grey eyes widened in shock. "Yohko, stop! Not like this! Yohko!"
Though the hunter was oblivious, a forest of snarled doors of death sprouted up behind her, taking in the fallen hollows into their maw and swallowing them into their own personal Hells. Without a Death God to free them, the hollows effectually died.
"HAAA!" another cry from the mourning hunter as she slashed away at another hollow. Her path was clear, she was aiming for "Azusa". Ichigo took off running after his renegade partner, but Yohko was driven.
I won't let you live like this, Azusa. I'll free you. It will be alright in a minute..
Finally Yohko had cleaved her way through the cloud of hollows and reached what was once Azusa. Yohko trusted her sword forward, only to have it deflected by her opponent's claws.
Ichigo could only stare, feeling numb at the play before him. So much slaughter, so much destruction. And it was all senseless, a wildly emotional girl brutalizing everything before her and inadvertently unbalancing the worlds. The young man knew the delicate balances were fragile and important, and he knew part of his job was to maintain them, and yet while Ichigo could agree that Yohko and her wrathful grief were the cause, he could not blame her emotions. Ichigo had experienced loss of loved ones before, and he knew how hard a blow it could be.
"Wait..." his mind clicking back to him, Ichigo whirrled, a sharp ring filling the air as is blade touched that of another person's. Chi's dark, fanged grin greeted him, curls of brown falling in her eyes and shadowing them ominously from the boy.
"So," she said. "are you good enough for Yohko? As her best friend, it's my job to judge your worthiness. So let's find out!"
Ichigo pushed his weapon against the girl's, taking a determaned step forward.
"No best friend would do what you've done!"
"You talk like I had a choice." Chi replied. Her tone, however, never hinted at regret or shame or sorrow. The demons, or hollows or whoever, had her completely, and their whim, right down to enunciation, was hers to please.
Ichigo stole a glance behind him, concerned for Yohko, who's back hit the earth hard, causing her body to slide against the dusty ground.
He found himself calling out to her.
Yohko raised her head to look at Ichigo, then back to what was once Azusa.
I can't do it. I can't hurt sweet, young Azusa.
Chi broke away, and Ichigo found himself falling forward. His head whipped around to face forward, and he put a hand out to brace himself, flipping head over heals until he was once again on his feet. Pivoting, he faced Chi once again.
"Hang on a second," Ichigo said, taking a step back. "what am I to you? Why are we fighting?"
The young Death God's eyes narrowed and he lowered his chin. This caused shadows to be cast around his eyes, making him seem more sinister to the possessed Chi. Her gaze followed Ichigo's line of sight to the struggling Devil Hunter many yards away. She felt the demon within her shutter in intrigue as a treacherous smile curved on Ichigo's lips.
"I've got a better idea."