Chapter 1: Anarchy for the Anarchy God
“This game is completely rigged,” Uryu snaps, and Ichigo watches his avatar freeze up, before blinking out of existence, his friend having logged out. Ichigo snorts- drama queen.
“Look, you’re the one that made me get an account,” Ichigo shoots back, hoping Uryu didn’t also end their call when he ragequit. He hears an affronted scoff answer him, so good, Uryu’s still there, at least. “It’s not my fault the RNG made me better than you.”
“Your stats are completely broken, Ichigo. No starting player can have that kind of base attack and reiatsu level.” Ichigo only barely holds back from pointing out that well, apparently they can, since he very much does, judging by the crater in the digital forest spread out around him. “You managed to glitch the most complicated game in the world in your first five minutes. Congratulations, your ability to wreck the system knows no bounds.”
“ You’re just jealous,” Ichigo shoots back. “Since your spirit elves-”
“It’s called the Quincy guild and you kno-”
“-aren’t as strong as me. Swords look cooler than bows, too.”
“...” Uryu doesn’t say anything, and Ichigo wonders if he actually just hung up on him this time- but then there’s the telltale sound of someone logging in next to Ichigo- and the moment Uryu’s avatar loads in, there’s a glowing arrow hurtling right at Ichigo.
“Shit-” Ichigo jerks to the side, barely dodging out of the way before a storm of arrows rain down on him.
“I’LL SHOW YOU WHO’S WEAK-”
“So you finally caved, huh?” Tatsuki’s giving Uryu an incredulous look, even as she’s talking to Ichigo. Ugh, everyone’s being so dramatic about this- it’s just a game, so what if he’s some three years late to the party. “Ishida didn’t blackmail you or anything, did he?”
Uryu lets out a wordless sound of offense, and Ichigo rolls his eyes.
“No, he was just insufferable about it. ...more than he usually is.”
Uryu looks like he’s about to burst a blood vessel when Orihime steps in to defuse the situation.
“Well, whatever the reason, I’m glad you decided to give it a try!” She smiles sweetly at Ichigo, and all the tension in the group fades away. “I’m sure you’ll have a lot of fun with us, and there’s a lot of cool people you can meet online, and I’m not really a fan of fighting but it can still be exciting…” The group breaks out into chatter about Soul Society Online, the latest news and quests, and how more and more real world businesses are starting to set up shop in it as the popularity grows.
Ichigo half listens- he agreed to give it a try, after all, and with as offended as Ishida got at his apparently game breaking luck, it would be a shame to not play at least a little bit, if only to annoy his friend. It’s only the lunch period ending that stops the chatter, and even then Ichigo is made to promise he’ll show everyone his avatar that evening.
Which Ichigo almost immediately regrets.
“‘Z4ngetsu’? Really? Your username sounds like a 12 year old came up with it,” Tatsuki- who, with the username ‘flyingfistsoffury’ has absolutely no room to judge- comments, circling around Ichigo’s avatar. “And you went with Shinigami for your guild? Man Ichigo, I didn’t expect you to be so basic.”
“I think it suits him,” Orihime speaks up, and while Ichigo appreciates the effort, it kinda just feels like she’s saying he has the creative mind of an edgy middle schooler. “It sounds like a cool shonen protagonist’s name! Don’t you think so, Chad?”
Chad gives a thumbs up, which, ok, if Chad approves then it can’t be that bad. Tatsuki’s just pulling his leg.
Once Uryu finishes his homework and logs on, and they all form a party to show Ichigo the basics of the game, he has to admit- it’s pretty fun. Maybe he shouldn’t have put off trying out Soul Society Online for so long.
Ichigo regrets trying out Soul Society Online.
Three days of figuring out how to get around and fight, and Ichigo’s already made an enemy of the guild he’s supposed to be part of. Apparently him trying to defend some girl he’d ran into who had broken some arbitrary rule was grounds for banishment or something. Despite it being the first time he’d even met anyone else from his guild- Uryu being part of the Quincies, Chad a Fullbringer, and Orihime and Tatsuki being members of the Awakened- and he’s gotta say…
Shinigami are dicks.
At least Ichigo made a friend. Maybe. He thinks. He stares long and hard at the username S0d3n0sh1r4yuk1:3, and wonders if it was worth it.
Apparently, guilds can and will put out bounties on you if you mess up their bases. Even if you’re technically still a member of said guild.
At least Rukia (thank god Ichigo got her name, that username of hers gives him a headache just thinking about), still talks to him.
(And showed him how to emote, which has the wonderful side effect of driving Uryu insane. So even with the mark on his back, Ichigo’s decided he’s friends with Rukia for life.)
Where’s he going to get repairs done and buy new gear from now on, though? Ichigo’s still technically a Shinigami, and the only other sword guild are the Arrancar who have some sort of blood feud going on with the Shinigami, so he’s kinda stuck.
It’s several days of dodging Shinigami who apparently take this whole bounty thing incredibly seriously that Ichigo comes across the shop. It’s just called Shoten- pretty vague, and not somewhere he’d normally pay attention to, but Rukia’s not-boyfriend and older brother are tracking him down again and Ichigo’s options are limited in hiding spots. And shops are no combat zones, with most disabling any tracking items, so that’s the only reason he ducks in.
The second he’s through the door, a deep, feminine voice, with the distortion of a voice changer just barely noticeable, calls out to him.
“Welcome to my humble little shop- anything I can do for you today?”
The shopkeeper avatar is a tall woman, dressed head to toe in layers of red kimono, and her profile, when Ichigo checks it, notes that this is the owner of the shop, user…
The hell kind of shop is this.
Ichigo almost decides nope, it’s worth it to head back out and deal with his pursuers with brute force instead, but before he’s even halfway turned-
“There’s three more Shinigami than just the two that were tailing you,” the woman comments, calling up some weird emote involving snapping open a fan and hiding her face. It’s almost… uncomfortably close to flirting.
But five Shinigami… Ichigo weighs his options.
The shopkeeper hasn’t done anything too weird yet- Ichigo’s met a lot stranger people in Soul Society Online- and if she wants to keep her shop, Ichigo doubts she will do anything, so…
He turns back to face the interior of the shop.
The woman smiles, looking way too pleased as Ichigo approaches the counter- might as well see what’s for sale.
Why the fuck did Ichigo spend so much money there. He doesn’t need any more health restoring items, his regeneration is as unnaturally high as his attack stat.
A witch, that’s what that woman must be.
Ichigo finds himself back at the Shoten again the next week.
Crimson (because Ichigo isn’t calling her by that ridiculous username, even in his head) almost seems like she’s expecting him, which is kind of creepy, but she just plays the attentive and weirdly flirty shopkeeper again and doesn’t try anything funny, so it’s fine.
Somehow, visiting the Shoten becomes a regular thing. Sometimes Rukia or one of his friends from school joins him- the item selection is surprisingly good for such an underground place- and sometimes he just goes alone.
The fourth time he visits, Crimson starts chatting with him, and it’s… not as weird as he expected.
“You’ve got a bit of a reputation, you know~” She hums, doing that fan emote she seems to like so much. “You’re not exactly subtle in how you deal with the guilds.”
Ichigo blinks, because- that came out of nowhere. But, well… she’s only been polite to him, and he might have an abrasive personality but Ichigo isn’t a jerk.
“Yeah well, guilds are stupid. And someone’s gotta beat sense into them.”
Crimson’s laugh is weirdly mechanical sounding, the voice modifier making it sound strange and artificial, but Ichigo can’t help but grin- usually his friends’ response to his general tendency towards anarchy is annoyance and frustration- “The game was made to be played with guilds, Ichigo-” - so this kind of encouragement is a bit refreshing.
“If it keeps you my generous patron, then please, tear the system to the ground,” Crimson encourages, tapping her now-closed fan against her palm. “I’ll happily be the weapons supplier.”
Ichigo thinks maybe, Rukia might not be his only new friend on here.
Chapter 2: The Petty Shall Inherit The Earth
me: wow i should really work on my fics and 1000 other things i have to do
me: (watches youtube for 4 hrs)
me: (plays pokemon for 6 hrs)
me: whaaaaat why didn't i get anything done today
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“So, Mr. Moon-slayer,” Crimson drawls, idly playing with her fan as she lounges against her shop’s tabletop. If it was real life, the position would have been incredibly uncomfortable, and even knowing what he’s seeing is only virtual, Ichigo’s back still aches a little just looking at her. “I’ve been hearing rumors that a certain one-man crusade against the Shinigami guild has become a bit of a... larger operation.”
Ichigo shoots the shopkeeper a wary look, to which she only titters and smiles, eyes shaded beneath the brim of her hat.
“Yeah, well,” Ichigo pauses, exiting out of his crafting menu- why does it have to be so damn complicated, the rules are so arbitrary, he can’t seem to make sense of them- “Once they met Rukia, everyone agreed that the Shinigami were acting like dicks and need to be taken down a peg.”
Though Uryu really didn’t need much reason to want to take on the whole of the Shinigami guild- Ichigo just thinks he found more safety in knowing he wouldn’t be the only one storming the keep.
“You know,” Crimson continues, and there’s her fan emote again, snapping the thing open and hiding her mouth with it. “I might know someone who could help you get further into their guild headquarters.”
Ichigo doesn’t doubt it; in the weeks since he met Crimson, she’s proven to have some ridiculously rare items- both for the game and to order in real life- and equally rare information. What does give him pause, however, is-
“What’s your price?”
Crimson smiles and waves her hand absently, like that can erase the suspicious scowl and narrowed eyes from Ichigo’s face.
“No charge, no charge!” At Ichigo’s continued suspicious glare, Crimson rolls her eyes. “Really. Think of it as… a thank you, for your continued patronage.” Ichigo doesn’t let up on his glare. “...and because that someone might also have a bit of a grudge against the Shinigami guild. Friends help out friends carrying out vendettas.”
It still doesn’t feel like the full truth, but… with his slowly growing party, Ichigo thinks they could really use someone as a kind of guide, and if Crimson is being serious…
“...when can they meet up with us?”
“You’ve been spending a lot more time online.” Karin squints at Ichigo from across the table, suspicion oozing from her so thick that Ichigo can practically see it. “You’re not up to anything weird , are you?”
Ichigo, for his part, is offended his little sister would suspect of him being up to something like she’s insinuating. Ugh. Kids.
“All I’m up to is enjoying a game with my friends.”
Karin’s stare remains unimpressed.
“Well, I’m glad you’ve found a hobby,” Yuzu chirps, ferrying the evening’s dinner- looks to be fried rice with some kind of salad as a side- from the stove over to the table. “It’s good to study hard, but you need to make sure to take time for yourself too.”
Karin doesn’t seem to have any argument with that, at least, and when Goat-face finally barges his way into the dining room, clinic closed up for the day, talk quickly moves away from Ichigo’s newfound interest in the digital world. There’s food to fight over, after all, and that’s much more important.
“How do you know this isn’t a trap, Ichigo?” Uryu’s complaining, again, but he isn’t stopping so Ichigo doesn’t think he’s too serious about his worries. If he really thought this was a bad idea, he’d be threatening to shoot Ichigo- or just straight up mutinying- not whining while following along to the Shoten.
“Look, it just… isn’t, ok?” Ichigo groans, because this has to be the fourth time they’ve gone over this. The rest of their party- Orihime, Chad, and Tatsuki- have long since gotten bored of the argument and thankfully just ignore it. “Crimson’s kinda weird, but she hasn’t lied to me, and doesn’t have anything to gain by messing with me since I’m a customer.”
Uryu huffs, but thankfully the Shoten is just around the corner.
Crimson is outside the shop, for once, leaning against the outer wall and casually chatting with… a cat? Ichigo didn’t think she had any summons or pets, but then, Ichigo’s only really seen her while she’s on the clock.
When they get closer, Ichigo can hear the cat talking.
Can see a username.
Ichigo’s new at this game but he’s pretty sure all players are either basically humans or humanoid monsters in form. There’s definitely no option of just… straight up animal.
What the hell.
‘Yoruichi,’ according to the username, turns... his? attention away from Crimson and towards Ichigo’s approaching group. Everyone else seems about as confused as Ichigo himself is- maybe it’s some weird glitch?
“These are the ones?” Yoruichi’s voice is deep and masculine, but with the same slightly tinny sound as Crimson’s. What’s with these people and hiding their voices, seriously. “They look a bit… underleveled.”
“Yeah, well-” Ichigo snaps, not entirely knowing where he was intending to go with this. “You- you’re a cat.”
Yoruichi chuckles at that, and Crimson just does her little fan emote, and Ichigo can tell this cat is going to be just as irritating as the shopkeeper’s come to be.
The physics engine in Soul Society Online is very realistic.
Ichigo knows it’s a simulation, can feel his physical body still physically safe and not, in fact, hurtling through the sky and about to impact with a magical energy shield, but the graphics and the arc that he and his posse find themselves traveling along is damn impressive.
He absolutely doesn’t react in any embarrassing way though.
And even if, he hypothetically did, nobody would have noticed because everyone else was definitely freaking out more than him (mostly at how much of a bad idea this is, though Tatsuki seemed to be having a meltdown about the height).
Kisuke sniggers at Yoruichi’s stream.
Oh to be young.
This will be fun.
Kisuke looks forward to how his ex-guild will take a ‘Z4ngetsu’ that’s not entirely aimless and clueless on the game mechanics.
It might just be a game, but Kisuke has never claimed to be anything less than petty.
i know where i wanna take this fic and i know the scenes i wanna write
the problem is
my pacing always feels so slow and i take 10000 years to write anything orz
i'll get there eventually
“You know, Ichigo-” Orihime sounds a bit nervous as she settles next to Ichigo during lunch, pulling what seems to be a peanut butter and jelly onigiri out of her bento. Ichigo knows she has weird tastes, and he’s not one to judge, but… why. “It’s nice to see you so passionate about something, but it might not be a good idea to be pouring so much time and passion into a misunderstanding in a video game?”
Ichigo doesn’t scoff or roll his eyes because Orihime is good and pure and only wants the best for him, but he can’t help but deepen his always-present frown.
“It’s about principles. The Shinigami suck, all the guilds suck, and just because it’s online doesn’t mean I can’t beat some sense into them.”
“How chivalrous,” Uryu’s deadpan is enough to get an eyeroll, but really, what else is new. “Should I be looking out for you defending the virtue of women you find on forums next week? Or-”
Uryu’s voice cuts off with an alarmed yelp when Ichigo hurls his chopsticks at him. Not enough to hurt, but perfectly aimed to stick a few grains of rice to his glasses, which is a far bigger victory, and completely worth Ichigo having to save the rest of his lunch for another time.
“Shut up, like you’re one to talk. Didn’t you start a little commission shop on there or something? You were just talking about how it’s the ‘future of business,’ using Soul Society Online.”
“It’s bespoke clothing you brute, and if you listened to me for more than two minutes at a time- ”
Tatsuki cheerfully barreling through the door to the roof and Chad trailing along behind her manage to derail things before Uryu’s rant really takes off, and Ichigo appreciates their impeccable timing.
Orihime lets the subject drop, but Ichigo doesn’t miss the lingering concern in her eyes- even if he pretends not to notice.
He’s fine, really. It’s just…
He hasn’t had much of a life outside his small circle of friends, and it’s dumb, but Soul Society Online gives him a blank slate. No classmates whispering about his hair or his scowl, wondering what gang he’s got to be part of or how many people he’s had to have fought and won.
So even if it’s silly, and he’s putting a bit too much effort and zeal into a game, he doesn’t care. He’s going to enjoy his stupid virtual world and he’s going to beat anyone who tries to make it as sucky as the real world can be.
Reality still comes first, though, and maybe Orihime did have a point that he’s spending a bit too much time running around a fantasy world. It can’t hurt, at least, to take a day off from Soul Society Online.
It’s halfway through his walk home that Ichigo decides it’s a good day to visit his mom.
Karakura’s graveyard isn’t hard to find, with how much he’s been to it. Ichigo’s pretty sure he could make his way to it from anywhere in the city while blindfolded, so even though he’s never taken this route before, he knows exactly what direction to head. The old man will just have to deal with Ichigo being home a bit later than usual, and Karin and Yuzu will understand.
The alleyways around here are almost eerily empty, and if Ichigo were superstitious, he might think it’s the sort of area for ghosts to pop up.
Huh. He really has been playing Soul Society Online too much.
He’s sure he hasn’t been this way before- why would he ever need to wander through a bunch of closed stores, after all?- but Ichigo’s getting a weird sense of deja vu. It bugs him, but he doesn’t feel like he’s in any danger, not like in some of the shadier alleys downtown or in the bigger nearby cities. He’s pretty good at picking up on shady people and dangerous areas, not that he lets it stop him, but this is just kinda weird.
He turns a corner, and the first thing he sees is the word “Shoten.”
The “Urahara” Tacked on above it takes him a second to process.
Fuck, he’s been spending too much time online, if he’s confusing Soul Society Online with real life, to the point of feeling like he should know this area. Ichigo makes a mental note to thank Orihime.
Before he can continue on, though, he hesitates.
It’s a mix of the weird, familiar feeling, and curiosity- why’s there a shop here, well off the main streets, with no other shops open?
Sorry, mom, I’ll just be a few more minutes.
The Urahara Shoten is a traditional-looking building, and weirdly nondescript. He can’t help but compare it to the Shoten that Crimson runs, but- this isn’t Soul Society Online. Just a weird coincidence.
It’s more brown and gray than red, at least, unlike the online store. It also definitely has a more worn down look, which helps... but sliding open the door and stepping in, the weird sense of deja vu is back, even though the inside looks almost nothing like the weapon-filled interior of Crimson’s Shoten.
“Welcome, welcome~” Ichigo barely manages to not deck the man who just- materialized next to him. He’s probably the owner, and Ichigo isn’t really planning to buy anything, but that doesn’t mean he wants to assault the guy. Really though, is the guy a ninja? Ichigo didn’t even see him when he opened the door, how did he manage to get so close without Ichigo noticing any kind of movement? “It’s always good to see a new face! Anything you’re looking for this fine evening?”
He’s a good match for his shop, Ichigo thinks- he looks just as old fashioned, and his green blends in well with the dull, earthy colors everywhere. What’s with the hat, though?
Apparently, Ichigo takes too long recovering from his surprise and trying to figure the guy out, because-
“Oh, or is it someone you’re looking for instead?” The shopkeeper leans back, a weird smile on his face, and Ichigo instinctively shoots him a glare. “I’m afraid I still have a few hours until closing, so I’m off the table-”
The weird shopkeeper snickers at Ichigo’s response, but speaks up before he can turn on his heel and leave this mistake of a store.
“Kidding, kidding- your face was just so angry, I thought I should try to lighten things up.” There’s still a hint of laughter in his voice, and Ichigo’s still a bit pissed, but something keeps him from going. “Please, don’t let this old man bother you. You’re free to browse my humble wares, if you like.”
Ichigo narrows his eyes, bites the bullet, and points a finger at the man. “No funny business. I’m just looking.”
“Right, of course,” the man says, and Ichigo almost misses his next words because of the fan he pulls from some hidden pocket to snap open and use to hide his smile. “Urahara Kisuke. Let me know if you need any help.”
It’s just another weird coincidence, and Ichigo thinks he should feel weirded out at how much the action resembles Crimson’s favorite emote, but… maybe it’s just a shopkeeper thing? Almost nothing else about this Urahara is like the woman, after all.
It’s nice getting to talk to his mom again- about Soul Society Online, about beating Uryuu’s score on the latest English quiz, about Crimson and about the Urahara shoten.
When he finally heads back home, shooting Yuzu a text apologizing for being late and asking if she needs him to pick up anything for dinner, he leaves behind an onigiri he honestly didn’t mean to buy but ended up forking over money for anyway.
Kisuke lets his fan fall shut with a click that fills up the empty store.
Quite the coincidence. Not that he thinks his customer fully noticed.
For being so observant and quick thinking whenever Kisuke sees him in game, ‘Zangetsu’ isn’t very good at connecting the dots, it seems.
SEE I HAVEN'T DROPPED OLD STUFF
i'm just slow. and always working on too many things. someone stop me from starting new projects orz
needed a break from writing overly serious plotty stuff- so while this one does have a fair bit of story to it, it's a lot lighter, and less stressful to write. i just enjoy shoving a million coincidences and little bits of kisuke being :3c into this