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by Kuchiki Byakuya (kuchiki_heir)
at September 13th, 2006 (01:48 pm)

Who: Byakuya and Mio.
What: While on the trail of a Hollow, the shinigami encounters a girl with a very unusual camera.
When: Daytime.
Where: On the streets somewhere.
Warnings: None.


Mio wandered down the street as she did almost every day, the Camera Obscura clutched tightly to her chest as usual. It was better than being in that house, and although the people she was staying with were nice, they always asked her questions and never let up. Not to mention the fact that she was almost always sleeping these days.
The Kuchiki heir was pushing his limits, travelling by rooftop, springing over the gaps between buildings to land running once again. Only those with heightened spiritual awareness could see him in this state, black kimono and hakama, looking for all the world like a somber Japanese samurai, even to the katana he wore at his side. The white scarf he wore fluttered behind him, its length trailing at his back, and then becoming still as he stood, perched on the edge, looking down at the street below.
The camera did strengthen her spiritual sense quite a bit, and so she sensed something above her. Looking up, all Mio could really see was some kind of shadow. The girl stopped, squinting, wondering if she was going insane or if the ghosts were following her into real life.
The nobleman looked down at the girl in turn, watching her. Did she see him? It seemed that many in this city were of some special spiritual ability or descent. The sun came out from behind clouds, pushed away the shadows around him until there was only him, making the white in his garb stark and brilliant.

 And Mio took a step back, raising the camera on instinct, but... The capture circle wasn't glowing at all. Not even the soft blue that meant he wasn't going to harm her. The young girl lowered the camera cautiously, eyes narrowed. So... He was human?
He wasn't. In this form, he was pure spirit. Unlike when he was in a gigai, or false body, and could be seen by everyone -- in that state it was likely for others to mistake him as human. After all, that was the point of such a creation. Byakuya raised his eyes as the howl of a Hollow sounded nearby -- it was the one he was tracking.
Mio heard the sound of... Something echoing nearby, and she shivered. It sounded so much like some of the spirits she'd encountered. Glancing up at the man again, she hesitated and readied her camera, biting her lip. Maybe... Maybe for some reason the camera wasn't reacting to him? But she could sense something odd about him...

 The creature appeared at the head of the street where Mio was standing, having spotted the girl and thinking her a tasty treat. The shinigami drew his sword and lept down from the fifth-story height, landing neatly on the pavement. He wasted no time and went for the Hollow.
She jumped, whirling immediately and, without thinking, snapped a picture of whatever creature this man was fighting. She wasn't quite sure it would work, but it was her only real defense.
Two quick slashes, and the white mask of the Hollow shattered. The Kuchiki jumped back as the thing disintegrated into the air, no longer bothering the world with such a corrupt spirit.
Mio took a small step back, not caring that she'd look insane if she seemed like she was talking to herself. "W-what... What are you?"
"You can see me." It wasn't a question.
Her eyes narrowed and she gave a curt nod, holding up the camera as if it would explain everything.
He didn't recognize the instrument. Was it some sort of weapon? "What is that?"
"The Camera Obscura," she said simply. If he was a ghost, he should have known what it was, right?
"..." He stared at her. The name meant nothing to him.
She blinked. "...Maybe you aren't a ghost after all."
"I am not."
Mio bit her lip, shaking her head. "What are you, then?" He certainly didn't feel human.
"It makes little difference." He said, and sheathed the zanpakuto.
She shook her head again, taking a step forward. "Yes, it does! Because if you were a ghost, it would mean that the Manor was following me, and..."
"The Manor?" Byakuya looked down at her.
"Um... The... The Manor of Sleep." She shook her head, holding up the camera again. "I protect myself with this. It's to exorcise spirits."
"You... exorcise spirits... with that?" He approached her. "I have never heard of the Manor of Sleep."
Mio took a step back. "It's... I've been going there in my nightmares. My sister is there." She had no clue why she was being so talkative.
"Nightmares." He frowned. It was one of his three most common expressions. "What did you see, just now?"

 "I saw... I saw you kill something... Was it a demon or a spirit or something?" She clutched the camera just a bit tighter to her chest.
"It was a corrupted spirit." He made no attempt to reach for her.
She nodded weakly, thinking automatically of Sae and the Kusabi. "You mean... Corrupted by Malice?"
"That is part of it, yes."
Another small nod and she hesitated, looking up at him. "It looked like you were... Hunting it."
"I was tracking it." He replied, glancing up, as if he heard something. "They are dangerous."
"Why were you tracking it?" It seemed a bit dumb to Mio to go hunting down spirits like that.
Byakuya raised a brow. "I will not repeat myself."
She shook her head. "No, I mean... Why would you go running after it if it was dangerous?"
"... it is my duty." He replied shortly.
"Oh." She replied simply. She wouldn't question that.
Byakuya nodded and remained quiet for a moment while he listened. But there was nothing amiss, at least not in the immediate vicinity. "How... does that device work?"

 Mio frowned. "I'm not too sure. But..." Here moved to stand beside him so that he could see the camera's finder better. "When you look into the finder, a little circle appears. If it glows blue it means the ghost won't hurt you. And if it glows red it means that they will. That little light at the top flashes when you can get a fatal frame, which is the most powerful shot. You usually have to wait until all the kanji around the capture circle are charged."

 "I see." The object was alien to him. "Do you cleanse the spirit or remove it from existence?"
"Sometimes you can cleanse it. If they're powerful they come back, though, and you have to defeat them more than once."
"And is it always a cleansing, or do you destroy them, in the end?"
"It's a cleansing," she replied. "Well... Unless they're too corrupted."
"And then?" The Kuchiki prompted, looking toward the girl.
"And then..." Mio frowned. "I don't know what happens."

 "What is your name?" He would have to report this to Soul Society. They had to be aware of another potential threat to the balance.

 Oh, great. All Mio wanted to do was find her sister. "Mio Amakura. Yours?"
"How long have you been using this device?" He ignored her question.
She blinked at his rudeness but shook her head. "A couple of months... Why?"
Not enough to cause any serious damage then. "See that you refrain."
Mio gave him a look. "I have to find my sister. I have to save her."
"..." And that had -what- to do with him? "And?"
"Which means that I'm not going to stop using this camera and give up on her just because you tell me to."
"She is in this city?"
"She's..." Mio faltered, biting her lip. "She's trapped in the manor," she said simply.
"... and that manor is... where?"
"It's..." She shook her head, shuddering as she felt the tattoo forming on her shoulder. It had apparently gotten so bad that even thinking about Mayu made the tattoo appear. Mio raised her hand to her shoulder automatically, biting her lip to keep from crying out. "It's none of your business."

 "It is my business." Byakuya narrowed his eyes. "This city is my responsibility."

 "It isn't in the city!" She snapped quickly, taking a step back. The bruise was spreading down her arm now, and she couldn't let him see it.

 "Then why are you here?" He asked, just as fast, insistent.

 Mio shook her head. The snake-like bruise was winding it's way up her neck and across her back now, and there was no way she could stop it. "Because..." It was getting hard to talk, and she doubted he would believe her if she said her uncle had sent her to Desai.

 "If the manor is not here, your sister isn't here... why are you here?"

 She whimpered, letting the camera clatter to the ground as she stumbled backward, trying to get away. "I was... I was sent here," she managed.

 "Why?" He bent down and picked up the camera.

 "Don't!" She said, moving forward not so gracefully and grabbing the camera, attempting to wrestle it away. Unfortunately it was getting hard to even keep her eyes open, and now the tattoo was spreading to her jawline.

 "What...?" Byakuya stared at her and the appearing tattoo. He didn't relinquish his hold on the object, though he wasn't going to hurt her to get it.

Mio yanked on the camera weakly, looking up at him pleadingly. "Please... I need it. Please."

 He let go. It meant little to him anyway. "... what is happening to you?"

She shook her head, falling to the ground, but hey, at least she had the camera. "I don't know..." She admitted, whimpering a bit.

 Byakuya went to one knee beside her. "Are you hurt?"

 "I don't know..." She repeated, shaking her head to try to stay awake. She couldn't go to sleep now! "You have to wake me up," she said suddenly. "Don't let me be trapped. Please."

 "... trapped? What do you mean?" He grabbed her by the shoulders.

 Mio yelped. That only made the tattoo worse. "In the manor... You'll... I might not wake up. I can't.... I have to help Mayu..." She was rambling now, not making any sense. The poor girl couldn't even keep her eyes open any longer, and if it hadn't of been for Byakuya, she probably would have fallen over.

 "..." He was out of his element. He had no idea what to do, so he shook her lightly. "... wake up!"

 She was awake, just not fully. The girl blinked up at him in a daze, the camera slipping out of her hands again as she leaned against him drowsily. Sleep... That was all she needed. She'd feel better when she woke up.

 Well, this was just a merry turn of events. Where was a cold spring when you needed one? Byakuya picked her up, camera and all, and carried her a short distance. "Stay awake! Are you listening to me?"

 Mio could hear him, but she couldn't quite process what he was saying. She was in front of the old manor, again, trying her best to ignore the cold and taking a deep breath before entering. Byakuya had better hurry, because pretty soon he wouldn't be able to wake her up.

 A fountain. Perfect. "Get a hold of yourself!" He said, in his deep, commanding tone, before sitting down on the edge of the stone structure, leaning down to cup a handful of cold water that he poured over her head.

 Get a hold of herself? Mio was focusing on the fact that she could hear Sae laughing again, and it sent a shiver down her spine. The only thing real to her at this point was the manor, but she did stir a bit.

 "Hey!" He shook her as hard as he dared. "Open your eyes!"

 Mio's eyelid's fluttered, and she let out a whimper, shaking her head and wondering why she was all wet. Oh. Was that... A fountain? Huh. Weird. How had she gotten all the way over here?

 "Are you awake?" Byakuya asked. He was holding her with one arm across his lap, looking down at her in something like angry worry.

 Mio wasn't quite 'there' enough to process angry worry, but she managed to nod weakly, feeling the tattoo begin to recede.

 "Are you all right?" He brushed the wet hair out of her face.

 She nodded again, sitting up and rubbing her still sore shoulder. "I think so... Thank you."

 "What was that?" The Kuchiki allowed her to move at her own pace, his brows furrowed as he regarded her.

 She bit her lip, hand going automatically to the camera next to her. "It... My uncle thinks it's a curse. He won't tell me what happens but... I think if you get trapped in that manor you disappear."

 "I see." Byakuya said quietly. "And your sister... is there?"

 "Yes. My sister was..." Mio was debating with herself, trying to figure out whether to tell him or not. "I was possessed," she said in a small voice, as if that explained everything.

 "By a spirit?"

 Mio nodded wordlessly, looking down and wringing her hands.

 "And are you still possessed? Is that... what that marking was?"

 She shook her head. "No... It was... In the manor, I saw Mayu and... And the spirit made me kill her, and... I followed her. This tattooed woman touched me and..."

 "All right." Obviously, this girl had been through a great deal. Not only that, but it seemed she was -still- subject to some kind of possession through her sleep.

 The girl nodded, focusing on her shoes now instead of actually looking at him. To tell the truth, she was surprised he wasn't disgusted with her. "I'm sorry," she muttered.

 "Don't apologize." Byakuya stood. "You have done nothing to merit it."

 Mio sighed, standing and tucking her hair behind her ear. "But you had to deal with that. And I made you worry."

 "It was nothing." He said. "Will you be all right on your own, now?"

 "I'll be fine," she replied, picking up the camera again and giving him a small smile.

 He nodded. He had work to do. Without any further comment, the Kuchiki heir turned on his heel and began to walk away.

 Mio hesitated for a moment, trying to figure out if there was something she should say to him before giving up and heading in the opposite direction, back home.