Chapter 2: Welcome to Paradise

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Dear Hideki Fujiwara of “Shiromi Village”,

Thank you for your correspondence. We understand that you are requesting a dispatch of Shinigami, including shapers and healers, to your location in District 46, West Rukongai, for the purpose of “building settlements” and “resolving pressing concerns in the community”.

However, at this time, the Thirteen Divisions have insufficient manpower to accommodate your request. We would also like to clarify, once again, that our responsibility is to ensure safety and security in Soul Society. Should there be any Hollow incursions or serious breaches in law, you may approach any Ninth Division Shinigami in your area. Minor issues are outside of our jurisdiction, and should be settled locally.

Please do not contact us again.

Signed,

Kazuki Saito (Officer, 10th Seat)
Vice-Commander
Headquarters Battalion
Third Regiment
First Division

Composed by:

Chiba Yasunobu (Officer, 19th Seat)
Seventh Company
Headquarters Battalion
Third Regiment
First Division


Hideki folded the letter and returned it to its envelope. The response was not unexpected, but disappointing regardless.

Hideki had lived here eighty years. He had walked to this very spot, planted a stick in the ground, and declared to any squatters who would listen that this was now Shiromi village. He taught them how to shape, cleared the debris from the streets, and together they raised the first actual buildings in Shiromi. The first twenty years had exceeded all expectations, the village settling quickly and efficiently.

But as Shiromi grew, so did its reputation, and soon people from all over had come, begging for clothes, for shelter. Very soon, there were too many for Hideki to provide for. There were precious few good shapers, both skilled and strong enough to raise a house at a regular pace. Retired Shinigami were ideal, but they were hard to find these days, and even rarer this far from the capital, Seireitei. It was impossible to keep up with demand. Souls fought for priority, stole goods, and sometimes even killed each other. Shiromi village became an administrative and logistical nightmare, as entropy did its best to return Shiromi to the dust whence it came.

But still Hideki forged ahead. Other than Seireitei, Soul Society was essentially one huge slum. One might think that people might stop fighting each other in a land where breathing was all you needed to satiate your hunger, and where material objects could be shaped at will if you were smart enough. But alas, land was scarce, and more importantly, so was status. People lied, cheated, stole and killed, either for their own gain, or to prevent others from doing the same to them. This was not a place one would envision spending the rest of eternity.

Shiromi village had begun to change this, before the thousands of prospective immigrants had come, fighting desperately for resources and shelter and in the process ruining them for everyone else. Hideki had hoped that with the help of some Shinigami, he would be able to increase short-term supply sufficiently to clear the slums and restart development. But now those hopes had been dashed. Hideki would probably pen another letter in a few months, but in the meantime he would need to find another solution.

His thoughts were interrupted by a shout from outside.

“Hideki!” a panicked voice called. “Help!”

The door slid open and Hideki turned to see two men carrying a boy into his study. The boy’s spiritual pressure was weak and wavering. Bits of his soul were flaking off and dissolving in the air. The boy was clearly in critical condition, but Hideki wasn’t a healer, what were those two thinking?

“Drop him!” Hideki commanded, and the two men stopped, startled. Hideki pointed to one of the men. “Rand, go get Midori. Mat, stay here and start shaping a pill.” The one called Rand took off quickly, and the other sat down, a small sphere forming slowly in his palm. Hideki knelt over the boy, his hands glowing red as he tried to recall what little he knew of the healing arts. The boy’s condition stabilised somewhat, the rate of deterioration slowing but not stopping.

“What happened?” Hideki asked Mat. “A fight?” The damage was too severe to be simple exhaustion.

“I don’t know. He was already like that when we found him lying on the street. I think he’s a newborn. We wrapped him up and brought him here, fast as we could.”

“Next time, bring him straight to a healer, and don’t bother with the clothes. He won’t need them if he’s dead.”

“Right. Sorry.”

A minute later, the healer arrived and Hideki stepped back, deferring to her expertise. She laid her hands on the boy, and a thick flow of energy seeped into him, stitching his tattered soul back together. The flow weakened, and the healer paused to take a pill before resuming with renewed strength.

As she worked, the boy’s condition improved significantly. His spiritual pressure was still weak, but it was at least steady. He was no longer evaporating and seemed more substantial than before. The healer ended the spell, nodded to Hideki and left quickly to her next errand. Healers were in short supply in Shiromi village. Everything was, really.

The two men helped Hideki carry the still-unconscious boy onto a thin mattress before leaving. How long would it take before he awoke? Probably several hours or so, Hideki thought. The healer had only fixed the worst damage, the boy would have to do the rest himself.

Just then, the boy stirred.

“Karin,” the boy murmured…


An ocean of sand. A dark, moonless sky. A smell of death.

A Hollow, its shape midway between a wolf and a gorilla, but with slippery scales in place of hair or fur. There was a dark hole in its chest. Strange markings twisted across its body, and its left foreleg was wrapped around with a length of white fabric, like a bandage. It thrashed in agony as its limbs grew, skin tearing and healing alternately. Its white mask was fluid and not fully formed, presently splitting open as it let out a piercing scream.

The sound was hollow and layered, like several voices in tandem. Despite that, Ichigo instantly recognised the voice.

It was Karin’s.

It was Karin.

Ichigo could still feel her presence, but it was weak. Diminished. Suppressed. The Hollow infection had burrowed deep into her soul and stolen the reins.

Help. A rustling in the wind. Somebody. Anybody.

I’m coming for you, Karin, Ichigo tried to say. Hold on. I’ll get you, no matter what. But he had no body, no voice.

The pain rose to a crescendo and the Hollow reared up, roaring. A final ripple spread across its flesh and its mask solidified. There was agony, and bloodlust. A craving to devour human souls. Go, the mask whispered. Hunt, and perhaps the pain will subside for a while.

The Hollow raised its claws and slashed the empty air.

A ripping sound. Sunlight burst forth. The smell of life.

The smell of prey.

The Hollow leapt through the doorway to the human world.


Calm. Quiet.

Ichigo slowly opened his eyes. He was in an unfamiliar room, and an elderly man sat nearby, watching him. Ichigo sat up and winced at the effort.

“Breathe,” the man said.

Ichigo drew in a breath, and was surprised to find it invigorating, replenishing his energy. “Thanks.”

“My name is Hideki Fujiwara. What is yours?”

“Ichigo.”

“Ichigo, meaning strawberry?”

“No, ichi meaning first, go meaning guardian.”

“I see. A good name. You’re fortunate that it’s Japanese; it’s the predominant culture here. The founders were Japanese, you see. My name was originally Hadrian before I changed it to fit in better.” The old man gestured at the room around them. “Do you know where you are?”

“Uh…” Ichigo tried to recall what the girl in black had said. “I’m not sure. A girl tapped me on the head with her sword and then…”

Hideki nodded. “You are now in Soul Society. More specifically, you are in Shiromi village, in Tenryu Ward of Uenohara District of West Rukongai in Soul Society. What the Shinigami girl did to you is called Soul Burial; she sent your soul from the human dimension to this one.” His expression grew concerned. “For some reason, your soul was badly weakened upon your arrival. If two of my boys hadn’t brought you to me in time, you could have died. Might I ask what happened?”

“A Hollow attacked me and my sister. The Shinigami girl drove it off, but it grabbed my sister and left. I tried to pull her away from it, but…” The words stopped short as he remembered. The final, terrified look Karin had given him as the portal closed. What else should he have done?

The old man bowed his head. “I see. I am sorry for your loss. Many of us here in Soul Society have lost family and friends to the Hollows. Though not usually right before our eyes.” He looked straight at Ichigo. “That said, it was unwise to fight the Hollow. If you ever encounter one again, don’t fight. Run.”

What? “You’re saying I should have let her go just like that? Without even trying?”

“Yes. All Hollows are significantly stronger than the average soul, and you are a newborn.” Hideki leaned forward. “Do you know what you looked like when you came in? You burned through all your energy struggling with the Hollow, and then some. Your soul was in tatters. You were falling apart.” He shook his head. “I can’t even imagine how you could stand the pain.”

Had it hurt that badly? Ichigo tried to recall. “I didn’t feel much,” he said honestly. “I wasn’t really paying attention to myself.” A thought occurred to Ichigo. “Do you know any Shinigami? I was wondering…”

“I know a few. I have written letters to some seated officers as well.” Hideki sighed. “But they do not like me. They would not help me, and I doubt they will agree to help a no-name soul like you. And they will certainly not agree to search out and cleanse your sister for you, if that’s what you want.”

“Perhaps I could go ask them myself. Maybe they will listen to me then. Where can I find the Shinigami?”

“There are some Shinigami from the Ninth Division here, but their duties are within Soul Society. If you want a Shinigami that will go to the human world for you, you will need to head to Seireitei, the capital of Soul Society. But they will not help you. They care little for the souls out here.” The last few words were bitter.

“But they normally kill Hollows.”

“They do. But they will not enter Hueco Mundo to search out your sister. They will cleanse your sister only if she ventures into the human world and is spotted by a Shinigami.”

“How long will that take?”

“It’s difficult to say. You need to understand that Hollows number into the millions. The billions. There are only so many Shinigami. There are only so many Hollows they can slay.”

There was a pause as Ichigo absorbed this information. “So you’re saying that she may not ever be cleansed.”

“Yes.”

The matter-of-fact tone in which he said it was disconcerting. It seemed that Ichigo was expected to sit idly in Soul Society, and leave to random chance when Karin would be saved. No, if Karin would be saved.

Unacceptable.

The old man seemed to notice the look in Ichigo’s eyes. “There’s nothing you can do, Ichigo,” he said. “Just hope for the best, and be thankful that you are here.”

No. There were still options. “I can become a Shinigami. I will go find Karin myself.”

Hideki frowned. “You overestimate yourself, and underestimate the Hollows.”

“I don’t-”

“Listen. The Hollows are powerful and numerous, and the Shinigami have tried to eradicate them for a thousand years. A newborn weakling like yourself will not stand a chance.”

“I can train. I can become stronger than any of them.”

Hideki shook his head. “You are wrong. Come,” he said, standing up. The old man walked towards a ladder in the corner of the room, and Ichigo followed him up through the ceiling, through the roof, onto a small observation platform.

The platform was the tallest structure in the vicinity, and from it, Ichigo saw the village for the first time. There were houses made of sturdy white panels, lined in neat rows stretching out for kilometres. Further out, the houses were less well-built, slowly transitioning into an unruly slum.

“This is my village,” Hideki said. “My friends and I built Shiromi out of the slum it was before.” He raised a palm and a small piece of matter began forming in his palm. “I have shaped for a hundred years, and on a good day I might be able to build one tenth of a house.” He closed his fist. “But in a single day, the Shinigami made all this.” He gestured around him.

Ichigo was confused. “What, the village?”

Hideki shook his head. “No,” he said, “they made this world. This entire dimension.”

“So you see,” the old man said, “The Shinigami could do that, but they could not eradicate the Hollows. What are you, next to them?”

He waved toward the ladder. “Let’s go down now. Forget about the Shinigami. I can help you settle here. Shiromi village is a welcoming place.” The old man smiled. “And you have your whole life ahead of you.”

They descended in silence.


That night, Ichigo dreamed of Karin.

Not Karin, the sister he knew. Karin, the Hollow.

He watched as she stalked the human world, searching for prey. He watched as she devoured a soul, as it screamed and cried. He watched as she charged a Shinigami, only to be repelled. He watched as she ripped open a portal to Hueco Mundo to escape and recover from her wounds.

Through it all, the pain. The hunger.

He awoke, heart racing. It’s just a dream, Ichigo told himself. It’s not real.

He lay back down, on his mattress in the safety of Hideki’s house. It was a long time before he slept.

And when he did, the nightmare began anew.


A/N:

This chapter was really difficult to write. I wrote and discarded three whole versions, around six thousand words. Turns out it’s difficult to introduce an entire setting and a new character at the same time, who would have guessed. Anyway, although it took a little longer than expected, I’m happy with the final outcome.

If you enjoyed this, or even if you didn’t, please leave a review! I always like to hear what people think.


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Chapter 1: Death and Strawberry

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It began as a feeling.

Something strange. Something wrong. Something approaching. Fast.

Ichigo turned to his sister, Karin. “Do you feel that?”

“No, what-”

And the wall exploded, and they were dead.


They say that time slows down when you’re about to die. That your life flashes before your eyes. But whoever said that clearly hadn’t died themselves, because Ichigo barely had time to register surprise before the concrete hit him, and everything went dark.

He couldn’t see. He couldn’t hear.

But with a jolt, Ichigo realised that he could feel. Not the boring kind of feeling, using skin and nerves and such. It was a sixth sense, so weak, so faint that the other five had always whited it out, like a firefly by the midday sun.

But now the sun was gone, and Ichigo could see the stars.

He recognised the shapes around him. The wreckage of the room. His and Karin’s bodies, silent, devoid of life. Karin’s soul lay nearby, coming to her senses. But the clearest presences by far were the two in the centre of the room.

One, a monster. Three metres tall, with four muscular legs, a white mask and a dark hole in its chest. Its aura was powerful and intimidating, and it smelled of pain and hunger. The other, a girl. Dressed in black robes, she wielded an elegant sword. She radiated determination, mixed with tension.

The monster snapped at the girl in black, its sharp teeth flashing. She dodged and retaliated with a stab, scoring a shallow cut in the scales on its neck. The monster howled, dark fluid leaking from several wounds. It took several steps back as if preparing to flee, and Ichigo let out a breath he hadn’t known he was holding. But his relief was short-lived as the monster broke into a charge, attempting to leverage pure strength to overcome the girl’s superior skill. The girl in black rolled to the side, but not quickly enough, as the monster flicked its head and sent her flying through another wall, from which she did not emerge.

The monster turned toward Ichigo and Karin.

Shit, Ichigo thought. Escape was not an option. There were only walls behind Ichigo. The door and the destroyed walls were all on the other side of the room, near the monster. Not that getting out would do much good; it was unlikely that they would outrun a quadruped twice their size. He needed to think of another-

The monster leaped at them. Ichigo jumped desperately to the side, landing roughly in the wreckage of a table. A scream. Karin hadn’t been fast enough, and was pinned under the monster. Shit, shit, shit. Ichigo swept up a table leg and ran toward it, hitting it over and over with all his might until his hands hurt but it was still

Sokatsui!” The black-robed girl’s voice cried out, and blue flame burst forth from behind the wall she’d been thrown through. The monster howled in pain as the flames scoured its flesh. It dropped Karin and charged toward the girl, a second bolt of blue fire scattering harmlessly off its mask.

Ichigo quickly took advantage of the monster’s distraction and dragged Karin to relative safety behind a fallen cupboard. The escape routes were still blocked, but hopefully the monster wouldn’t be able to find them here.

Karin’s face was pale. “It bit me!” she whispered. Her right arm was a bloody mess. How did that work, anyway? Weren’t they disembodied souls now? Karin’s wound looked rather similar to that of a physical body. Upon closer examination, Ichigo thought he saw something dark in the wound, but it wasn’t there when he looked again.

Karin’s hand was trembling in his as she looked up at him. “I don’t feel very well…” Suddenly, she retched as white fluid burst out of her eyes and mouth, and her limbs began to convulse, even as Ichigo stared in mute horror. Her skin bubbled, changing colour, her limbs twisted and grew.

And she began to scream.

“Karin!” Ichigo shouted. If she could hear him over her screams, she did not show it. What was going on? What was happening to her? What should he do? Question after question after question. No answer.

The monster howled in pain as it sustained another injury from the girl’s blade. It paused for a moment then dashed towards Ichigo’s hiding place, smashing the cupboard to matchsticks and snatching Karin mid-metamorphosis up in its jaws. It had given up on killing the girl in black, and was settling for escaping with its prey.

It raked its claws in the empty air. There was a ripping sound, and a hole appeared in the air. The other side was dark, foreboding, smelling of death. The monster leaped through the portal-

“No!” Ichigo shouted, grabbing Karin’s uninjured forearm and pulling with all his strength. The monster growled, and the two struggled in the doorway. The monster’s teeth closed around Karin’s torso as it tightened its grip.

There was a crunch, and now tears as well as blood ran down Karin’s face.

It was a difficult choice, but Ichigo held on.

The monster was far stronger than Ichigo, and it took only a moment to pull Ichigo to the edge of the hole. The edge sliced deep into his flesh and his arm was burning like it would be torn in two, but by some miracle he was still holding on to Karin.

“Let go!” screamed the girl in black. “It’ll pull you in!”

Karin’s eyes were filled with terror.

There was a dreadful wrenching feeling.

Ichigo staggered backward, and the hole closed.


Silence.

Ichigo’s hand had never felt so empty.

Failure. Loss. Brokenness.

“She is gone.”

“What?”

The girl in black sheathed her sword. “She has been taken to Hueco Mundo. The Hollow dimension.”

Another dimension? “Why did the monster take her there?”

The girl closed her eyes. “It is called a Hollow. It is an evil creature which devours other souls, infecting them and turning them into new Hollows.”

Ichigo had a vision of Karin’s face, white substance erupting from her eyes and mouth. “So that was what was happening to her? She was becoming a Hollow?”

“Yes. Had the Hollow left her behind, I could have cleansed her. But it did not, and I cannot. I am sorry.”

“It’s not too late,” Ichigo said, standing. “We can go there and bring her back.”

The girl stared at him, incredulous. “You know nothing, boy. There are thousands of Hollows there. Thousands of thousands.” As she spoke, Ichigo noticed that she was favouring her right leg. Her face was scraped and bruised, and part of her robes clung to her body, drenched with blood. The fight had taken a toll on her.

“Is there anyone else who can help?”

The girl shook her head. “There is no way to fight that many. We have tried for a thousand years.”

Ichigo was silent for a moment. His mind raced down many different paths, searching…

“There must be something I can do.”

She shook her head. “All you can do is wait, and hope that a Shinigami defeats and cleanses her. You are not alone. Many of us have lost friends and family. Be thankful that you were not taken as well.”

“No-” Ichigo began, but the girl raised her sword and pressed the hilt to Ichigo’s forehead. Ichigo felt warmth as a glow enveloped him. He felt suddenly exhausted.

“I will send you to Soul Society now. Do not fear. Unlike this world, it is a peaceful place.”

The world began to spin. He staggered.

“If you want to help others like you, others who have lost their loved ones, in Soul Society you can train to become a Shinigami like me.”

Acceleration. Falling.

“Good luck.”

There was a burst of white light.


A/N:

Thanks for reading! I have many plans for this series, and expect to be updating about once a week or so.

My motivation behind this fic is to create a more consistent and narratively satisfying story. In the canon manga, many plot elements at crucial moments were introduced exactly when needed without foreshadowing, like Ichigo’s out-of-nowhere power up against Ulquiorra, Nanao’s unbelievably specific zanpakuto power, Still Silver being introduced two chapters before being used in the final battle… The list goes on.

Here, I attempt to craft a consistent world where the reader can (eventually) understand exactly how the setting universe works, and can try to solve the problems faced by the characters alongside them.

Hope you enjoy it!

If you notice any spelling/grammatical mistakes, or have any comments or suggestions for improvement, please don’t hesitate to leave a review!


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Prologue: Ascension

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Main Hall of the Thirteen Clans; Kyoto, Japan; 993 AD

Footsteps.

Oetsu Nimaiya let his mind relax. The Kidou spell in his hand wavered, threads slipping from the weave and dissipating. As the last traces vanished, he opened his eyes.

Shigekuni Yamamoto stood before him. He was only a hundred years old, and already a clan head, but that was the way things were when Hollows devoured clan leaders left and right.

“It is time,” said Yamamoto.

Nimaiya shook his head. “I still think someone else should cast it. Not me.”

“Only you are capable of creating a sufficiently large dimension.”

Nimaiya looked levelly at Yamamoto. “If I do this, the Thirteen Clans will not allow me to fight again,” he stated.

Yamamoto inclined his head. “Yes.”

“I will be safeguarded, or locked away, or sealed, for my own protection.”

“Yes. We cannot risk the dimension collapsing if you are killed.”

“I am the best fighter of all the clan heads.” Nimaiya’s tone was flat. “I am the best warrior in all Thirteen Clans. I am the worst possible person to be taken off the front lines.”

“There are more important things than fighting, Nimaiya. The Hollows are numerous because they infect the souls of the newly dead. But the Hollows cannot access the new dimension created by this spell. If we can send souls to the new dimension before Hollows infect them, then we destroy the Hollows at their source!” Yamamoto gestured sharply. “You will do far more good than through simple combat.”

“I can make the dimension and still fight.”

“No! You are too important, Nimaiya. We depend on you for the zanpakuto, and soon for the new dimension, too. The rest of us are pawns and lances, silvers and golds, but you are the king, Nimaiya. You cannot be risked for any reason, or else the game is lost.”

“There’s no risk, Yamamoto. I can take care of anything that stands in my way.”

“Really? Like that time you took care of things so well that Ichibei died to save you?

Anger flared hot and hard in Nimaiya’s chest.

That was not my fault! There were fifteen Hollows-”

“And there may be fifteen again! Or twenty, or fifty! And you will lose, and you will be devoured, and the Hollows will win. We will be killed, the world will be a Hollow wasteland, and Ichibei will have died for nothing.”

Silence.

“I swore I would avenge him,” said Nimaiya softly. “How, if I cannot fight?”

“Creating the new dimension will more than repay-”

Swear to me that you will destroy the Hollows in my place. Every last one.”

Yamamoto hesitated. “I swear.”

Nimaiya looked into Yamamoto’s eyes. There was a pause.

“Then I will do it.” Nimaiya’s words were heavy in his mouth.

“I am sorry to impose this burden on you. But you are the only one with sufficient skill.”

“Leave, before I change my mind.”

“Remember not to siphon from the guards,” Yamamoto warned. “In case the Hollows attack.”

Nimaiya nodded, and Yamamoto left the hall.

Nimaiya sat, and closed his eyes.

He raised a palm, and a million threads of pure energy wove themselves into a complex tapestry. This would be the most demanding spell he had ever performed. Inter-dimensional travel was straightforward; it was discovering where dimensions were located that was difficult. But creating a dimension from scratch was a completely different matter. Not only did it require a ridiculous number of threads, but any slight dimensional misalignment was liable to send everything slipping through the path of least resistance into a nearby dimension. Yamamoto had been right; Nimaiya didn’t doubt that the number of people in the Thirteen Clans capable of such precision could be counted on one hand.

Nimaiya felt his energy reserves quickly running dry. Here was the second reason he was suited to the task, although he had tried his best to deny it to Yamamoto. At that moment, every member of the Thirteen Clans was in the grounds, meditating as Yamamoto had instructed them to. Nimaiya reached out with his mind, touching the swords held by each of the ten thousand souls. Their zanpakuto. His zanpakuto. Fragments of his soul. They were him. He was them. In his mind, he saw the golden ribbons stretching out from each of them, converging on him.

Gently, he pulled.

The energy of ten thousand souls began to flow slowly into him. Nimaiya immediately spun it into thread, weaving complex patterns into the spell. With this, he could make a weave thousands of times bigger than when doing so alone. Of course, Nimaiya could have fed the siphoned energy into another person who would in turn cast the spell, as he’d tried suggesting to Yamamoto. But that would entail a significant energy loss, and that was before accounting for how inefficient their casting was, compared to him.

Nimaiya felt the presence of a number of souls whom he disliked, and was tempted to wrench away their zanpakuto completely. But he’d never hear the end of it from Yamamoto, and he’d be forced to give them another one anyway. They’d need the sword for their work. When the dimension was complete, access would be restricted only to those marked with the energy of its creator. This was the main innovation, the cornerstone of the new dimension. Hollows would be prevented from moving freely between it and other dimensions, unlike how they were travelling from their thrice-damned Hueco Mundo.

Due to that, if Nimaiya had been any other soul, he would have been required to personally mark every soul that wanted to take refuge in the new dimension. But it so happened that Nimaiya was the one person able to give parts of his soul to others, in the form of a sword. Everyone possessing a zanpakuto was thus capable of marking another soul using that piece of him. It was a piece of excellent luck for the Thirteen Clans. Not so lucky for me, Nimaiya grumbled internally.

Nimaiya felt the pool of energy running low. If he drew very much more, he would risk evaporating the zanpakuto. The weave was now several times the size of Honshu; still not as big as he would have liked, but probably larger than what anyone else might have achieved. Even if they had the same energy reserve to draw from. Amateurs. If only there had been someone else.

Nimaiya looped the weave into an enormous sphere, and examined it for any final flaws. Finding none, he slowly released his grip. He let go of the final threads, and felt the weave cool. Pure energy solidified, and it was done.

Nimaiya exhaled and opened his eyes.

The world came back into focus. No. The human world, it should be called.

After all, there was a new one now.


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