Well, I don't have much to say for this chapter. I enjoyed writing it. Some parts more than others. Several loose ends were tied up. And seemingly insignificant events from Kill la Kill and Bleach were brought back into focus. So, I hope you enjoy reading it!


...


Chapter 61 – Come and Get Your Love

"What the hell are we doing here!?"

Hiyori Sarugaki was annoyed. No, strike that. She was pissed off! Her nose was stuffed with snot, her cheeks stung from the cold and she couldn't feel half her body. It was bad enough they were in New York City, unable to speak a word of English. But standing outside in the middle of a blizzard, literally freezing their asses off while watching a stupid building? She was going to kill that bastard! As the corners of her mouth twitched, a single fang poking against her chin, she turned around with a huff, stomping away from the edge of the roof with more force than perhaps necessary.

Only to immediately slip on a patch of ice.

"We're supposed to observe the Revocs Distribution Facility. And report to Nudist Beach the strength of the Life Fiber uniforms produced. "

Lisa Yadomaru sipped the expensive brand of coffee. She savored the liquid's bitterness, tasting every exotic flavor while patiently waiting for the string of obscene curses leaving her fellow Visored's mouth to finish. It was fortunate their current vantage point was several stories above the street. And the snowstorm covering the east coast muffled everything. Not to mention the Kido barrier covering the roof. Having to relocate because of Hiyori's short temper – and the ability of Ragyo Kiryuin's employees to track suspicious movements without knowing how to sense spiritual pressure – would have been problematic.

"Don't repeat that crap!"

Snow cascaded down the blonde's face as she waved an arm at the New York Distribution Facility. It was impossible for anyone – even morons like Ichigo and that short-tempered girl always at his side – to not sense the strange spiritual energy coming from the building, "I don't get it! Something that suspicious shouldn't exist! The shinigami should have investigated this place years ago! And where are the damn Hollows!? With this much spiritual energy, the bastards should be swarming the place!"

The former lieutenant narrowed her eyes. She had noticed the distinct lack of Hollows since arriving, "I suppose you –"

"It's bad enough I'm freezing my ass off!"

Hiyori pulled out her phone – a caricature of Kisuke's face sketched on the back – and threw it against the roof, "But why the hell did we agree to help the bastard? We don't owe that badly crap!"

"Don't you remember?"

Lisa turned the page in her manga, "We decided not to help Kisuke. The decision was unanimous."

It was difficult forgetting the afternoon almost a week ago when Kisuke arrived at their new residence, a fruit basket in one hand and plane tickets in the other. After their former safe-house was destroyed during Satsuki Kiryuin's invasion – conveniently when they were out of town – Ryuken Ishida had offered them a new place to live. One of the many apartments abandoned after the Karakura Town Raid Trip. Fully furnished with all the amenities and free of charge. While Love had expressed his gratitude, she made sure the Quincy knew they owed him nothing.

They had no reason to help Nudist Beach fight Ragyo Kiryuin or deal with the psychotic Grand Couturier.

Which made Kisuke's appearance – after faking his death and duplicating the keys to their new apartment – that much more frustrating.

"Unfortunately, Olivier Armstrong made a very persuasive argument."

Lisa had trouble hiding her grin when Hiyori's frustration immediately vanished. The reaction was, as always, hilarious. There were only a handful of people capable of convincing her fellow Visored to do anything. At least, not without risking their health. Or getting barraged by insults. But the leader of Nudist Beach accomplished the impossible, which was no small feat. Olivier Armstrong – an otherwise normal human without a sense of humor – scared Hiyori into obedience.

The short-tempered Visored's eyes twitched nervously at the woman's name, "That bitch had no –"

"Although, Kisuke had a point. There's been a lot of suspicious spiritual activity across the World of the Living over the last few weeks," Lisa placed the empty mug on the small table before reaching into the bag near her feet. Pulling out the well-worn next issue of the manga, she flipped open the back cover, purposely ignoring Hiyori, "The Quincy have been rather busy. But I'm more concerned about Alucard. The vampire devoured millions of souls before vanishing, which we only know about because of the Hellsing Organization's partnership with Nudist Beach."

"Hey! I wasn't done talking –"

"And there's Ragyo Kiryuin," Lisa flipped to the next page, "The CEO of the Kiryuin Conglomerate and something worse than Aizen. It's hard to imagine she's a monster determined to sacrifice humanity to Life Fibers in some grand, over-the-top, misanthropic plan that will not only destroy the World of the Living, but tear apart the Soul Society and Hueco Mundo as well."

More than an inch of thick snow covered the roof as she shrugged, "Which is why, personally, I think helping Kisuke was the right choice."

"Shut up! That's not what I was talking about!"

It took Hiyori most of her self-control not to throw the pair of binoculars in her hand at Lisa. She didn't care about Alucard, Ragyo Kiryuin or anyone else! Jabbing a finger against her chest, she snarled, "I want to know why we're doing Nudist Beach's grunt work HERE instead of someplace warm!"

"Because you pissed off Olivier Armstrong."

Lisa closed her eyes. It appeared she wasn't going to have any semblance of peace and quiet. Not after reminding Hiyori their predicament was her fault. Kisuke's horrified expression when Hiyori called the leader of Nudist Beach a 'bitch' should have been enough for Hiyori to know something was terribly wrong. But trying to slap the woman with her sandal? She turned to the next page in her manga and sighed. After punching Hiyori through a wall, blood spewing from her fellow Visored's broken nose, the woman proceeded to scare the living crap out of everyone present without raising her voice.

The woman was almost as frightening as Captain Unohana.

"God damn it!"

Hiyori stomped away, snarling at the mental image of Olivier Armstrong's cold eyes, "But we're ordering take-out tonight! No more fancy food, got it!?"

"Whatever you say," Lisa drawled, "Just don't choose –"

The manga slipped from her fingers when the Kido barrier covering the roof shattered beneath an eruption of spiritual pressure. Disintegrating into shards of translucent energy. Reaching for her zanpakuto as echoes of the spiritual pressure reverberated across the city, shaking snow from several buildings before fading into nothing more than a whisper in her mind, Lisa glanced back and forth. Something with that much spiritual pressure, capable of emitting enough of a presence to physically affect the World of the Living, wouldn't stop at announcing their arrival.

But nothing happened.

Lisa breathed softly at the sudden stillness in the air. She couldn't sense anything wrong. No dimensional gateways between the World of the Living and Hueco Mundo. No Quincy or Life Fibers. Nothing. There was absolutely nothing accompanying that explosion of spiritual pressure. So, what was –

"Holy shit!"

Hiyori nearly tripped over her own feet when bands of multicolored light rippled through the clouds, "What the hell's going on!?"

The bookish Visored unsheathed her zanpakuto without a second thought, "Ragyo Kiryuin."

"What!?"

The blonde's neck audibly cracked as she turned around, "No way! There's no way we should sense that bitch all the way from –"

Screams. Thousands upon thousands of screams echoing across the city before suddenly ending – severed with almost surgical precision – caused both Visored to freeze. Watching with mounting horror at the millions of Life Fiber cocoons disappearing into the clouds, Hiyori didn't notice the binoculars slipping from her fingers when everything turned crimson.

"What the fuck!?"


...


Ragyo considered herself a passionate woman.

For decades, she'd striven to achieve the Original Life Fiber's mission. She spent every waking moment expanding the Kiryuin Conglomerate's influence across the planet. Assimilating competing textile companies and eliminating anyone standing in her way. Everything else – including her pursuit of Isshin – had come second to the Celestial Cocoon Seed Planet.

With immense satisfaction, accentuated by the exhilaration thrumming through her Life Fibers, she clenched her hand into a fist. It took twenty years and dealing with countless setbacks and obstacles, but she finally delivered the coup de grâce. The signal from Shinra Koketsu was encircling the planet, activating the dormant Life Fibers worn by humanity. The Celestial Cocoon Seed Planet could no longer be stopped. Not by the naked apes, her children or even Isshin.

And that meant she could focus on tying up loose ends.

"Well now…"

She purposely drawled out the words, allowing each syllable to slowly pass between her lips. After seventeen years of stubbornness – betraying the Original Life Fiber and assisting her former husband's foolish organization – Isshin was finally rendered speechless. Laughter welled in her throat at his horrified expression. His reaction to her victory was touching, pulling on her heartstrings.

But it was her daughter's expression that earned a short, mocking sigh.

"You seem troubled, Satsuki."

It was depressing seeing her daughter in such a pitiful state. But she couldn't blame Satsuki. To have wasted her life pursuing Souichiro's asinine goals only to fail at the most inopportune moment had to hurt, "Is something wrong?"

"Don't think you've won yet, Ragyo Kiryuin!"

She barely acknowledged her daughter's petulant defiance. The blood trailing from the corner of her mouth, the way she struggled to move under Absolute Domination, diminished the effectiveness of the otherwise laudable statement, "Oh? Well, in that case, I assume you have something up your sleeves? A technique you've been saving? As far as can tell, Absolute Domination is affecting Junketsu."

"But perhaps you're only pretending Junketsu is rendered powerless," Ragyo pressed a hand against her cheek, sighing at the hatred burning in her daughter's eyes, "It wouldn't be the first surprise tonight."

The mockery served its purpose as Satsuki struggled to articulate her thoughts, "Now, if you're through bluffing. I believe I've –"

A soft fluttering caught her attention when Ryuko rushed forward, swinging the Scissor Blade with all the strength her weakened body could muster. Maroon eyes flickered towards the Kamui next to Satsuki – sleeves trembling under Absolute Domination – before returning to her daughter, who was wearing nothing more than her bra and panties. Impossible! Ryuko shouldn't be able to move, let alone raise the Scissor Blade against Shinra Koketsu.

Unless…of course.

Her lips curled into a facsimile of a smile. Senketsu was paralyzed by Absolute Domination. Its Life Fibers instinctively understanding the divine nature of Shinra Koketsu. Ryuko, on the other hand, was her flesh and blood. Sa fille. The heir to the Kiryuin name she wished Satsuki had been, albeit lacking manners and respect for her elders. A habit undoubtedly due to Souichiro's atrocious parenting. It seemed Ryuko was forcing her Life Fibers to ignore Absolute Domination with the same level of delicateness and decorum she applied to everything else in life, risking damaging her body to the point of death.

Children could be so stubborn.

Ryuko snarled when her bitch of a mom caught the Scissor Blade, grabbing the weapon between two fingers. Struggling under the weight of Absolute Domination, muscles seizing as the disturbing light sapped what little strength she had left, she stumbled, mouth opened in a silent gasp as blood dripped from her fingers.

"W-What the!?"

"Absolute Domination rendered your Life Fibers powerless, remember?"

She stiffened when a hand – the one that released the Scissor Blade – touched her shoulder, "That means your regeneration no longer works. For the moment, you're nothing more than a pig in human clothing."

Ragyo allowed the statement to sink into Ryuko's subconscious as her daughter struggled dealing with the concept of pain for the first time in weeks, "But let's be honest, did you really believe you had the right – the privilege – to touch Shinra Koketsu?"

"Ryuko! You're bleeding!"

"I'm fine, Senketsu," Ryuko pulled away from Ragyo, snarling as her vision swam. She could hear Ichigo saying something – maybe her name – but her headache made it hard to hear anything. Damn it! Absolute Domination sucked! Her arms felt like lead, it was difficult to breathe and she couldn't feel her fingers, "It's going to take a lot more than some bruises to stop me!"

"You should listen to your Kamui."

Her former husband's masterpiece tried – and failed – assisting Ryuko. Collapsing onto the ground after only a few inches. Such an interesting specimen of Life Fiber clothing. To think it possessed enough strength to move under Absolute Domination, "Now, where was I?"

Ragyo caressed Isshin's shoulder before he realized she wasn't standing next to Ryuko. Her heart was fluttering at the tension pulsing through his Life Fibers, breath hitching at the fury bubbling beneath his silence. Unlike her daughters, Ichigo and the Kamui, all of whom could sense Shinra Koketsu's divine power, only Isshin could feel the vastness of its magnificent strength. His connection with the Original Life Fiber granted him the privilege of experience the purity of its Life Fibers. And as she leaned forward, pressing her hand against his bare chest, she quipped, "Ah, yes."

Kaleidoscopic threads spun from her finger, tracing patterns over Isshin's stomach as his tattered shihakusho regenerated. Weaving itself back together in a matter of seconds. She could not have the only man she loved stand before Shinra Koketsu half-naked, "J'ai gagné, Isshin."

"Ragyo…"

Isshin conserved his strength. Limiting his movement to no more than was necessary. Absolute Domination wasn't affecting his Life Fibers nearly as bad as Ichigo's or Ryuko's thanks to his connection with the Original Life Fiber. But his mouth felt like it was full of cotton. And his hair – the same shade of silver as Ragyo's – had dulled, the glowing undertone gone along with most of his spiritual energy. There was no doubt about it. At this point, he wasn't sure anyone could defeat Ragyo before the World of the Living was destroyed.

But still…

He grabbed Shinra Koketsu, holding onto its sleeve with a trembling hand, "What have you done!?"

"Vraiment?"

It took considerable self-restraint to conceal her annoyance. Isshin wasn't stupid, which begged the question why he bothered saying something so inane in the first place, "I'm not even going to dignify that with an answer."

She lamented, not for the first time, her failure to reconnect with Isshin. To reconcile their differences. He wasn't like Kisuke Urahara or the naked apes, inferior beings convinced they could interfere with the Celestial Cocoon Seed Planet. They were troublesome. Perhaps irritating at times. But despite their best efforts, they were nothing more than annoyances. Cast aside like scraps of clothing at the first opportunity. She didn't doubt the naked apes – or even Satsuki – would sacrifice themselves given the chance. Throwing away their lives in some delusional attempt to destroy Shinra Koketsu.

But Isshin wasn't that naïve.

He knew Absolute Domination's effects were permanent unless she changed her mind.

And the man wasn't nearly boorish enough to request something so ridiculous!

"In any case…"

Her tone softened as she pried Isshin's fingers from Shinra Koketsu, "There's nothing you can say – or do – that will make me change my mind. Although, to be perfectly honest, I'm disappointed by your performance tonight."

Maroon irises tinted with multicolored hues narrowed at Isshin's reaction. She couldn't help but find everything about the man fascinating. Enrapturing. Even knowing that humanity was hours from extinction – that they harbored no hope of harming a single one of Shinra Koketsu's threads – his expression was exactly what she expected. Above all else, despite his penchant for unpredictability, it was ludicrously simple pressing Isshin's buttons, "Stalling while that atrocious shinigami dared laying his filthy hands upon the Original Life Fiber was commendable. Tactical, even. And don't think I wasn't aware what Ryuko planned on doing to Shinra Koketsu."

A snarl – whether from Satsuki or Ryuko she did not care – caused her smile to broaden, "However, all this time I assumed you had one final trick up your sleeves. Perhaps another one of Kisuke Urahara's contemptible inventions. Something to be used on Shinra Koketsu or myself the moment I dropped my guard. But it seems, for once, I overestimated your intellect, Isshin. Not that I'm complaining."

Shinra Koketsu fluttered independently of the wind as she basked in Isshin's incompetency, "I did enjoy our time together."

"Wait a second!"

Ichigo struggled against the paralysis affecting Mugetsu. His arms trembled as he stumbled, one knee touching the dirt before he regained his balance, "You just said Kisuke could have made something capable of damaging Shinra Koketsu. But a minute ago you were boasting about its power. How Mugetsu and the others weren't a threat!"

He gasped for breath, panting while sweat trickled down his face. Damn it, it was difficult to move under Absolute Domination. He could barely hold Tournesol and Bakuzan. Removing Mugetsu could fix that problem – like Ryuko when she took off Senketsu – but fighting Ragyo Kiryuin in his condition was suicidal. Her spiritual pressure was monstrous, beyond even Alucard's. And he could swear she was holding something back, "Which means you're either lying about Kisuke! Or your Kamui isn't unbeatable!"

"Oh? Lying, am I?"

Ragyo met Ichigo's dour glare with genuine interest. She didn't expect Isshin's son to remember her every word. It was impressive. But Ichigo wasn't that smart. He might be naturally gifted, able to analyze Satsuki's swordsmanship after only a single, childish confrontation in the schoolyard. His synchronization with Mugetsu might have progressed further than her initial expectations. But in his haste to prove her wrong, Ichigo unintentionally admitted the limits of his comprehension.

"Normally I would find such an accusation insulting," she flirted with punishing Ichigo before deciding against such drastic action, "But it appears Isshin never taught you the difference between fear and caution."

Shinra Koketsu fluttered when the Needle Blades appeared in a flash of light, teleporting from the Sewing Club into her hands, "Kisuke Urahara is brilliant. I never imagined a human, let alone shinigami, unravelling the Life Fiber Wards surrounding the Forbidden Room. Yet that man proved me wrong. I do not fear that man, Ichigo. His actions infuriate me, yes, but never I have believed, even for a moment, he could counter Absolute Domination."

A hint of anger permeated Ragyo's voice, "But I did not get this far assuming nothing was impossible. Kisuke Urahara is a threat. Or rather, was a threat. I cannot recall anyone other than Isshin or myself capable of unravelling Life Fiber Wards. And by removing the Marionette Threads from Amu, he made himself a far more present danger than Isshin, those naked apes and even than atrocious shinigami."

Maroon eyes flickered towards her eldest daughter, "Surely you agree, Satsuki, that it's better to err on the side of caution against such an opponent?"

"Erring on the side of caution?"

Satsuki ignored the minor discomfort plaguing her body. She might be immune to Shinra Koketsu's Absolute Domination – an advantage over Ichigo, Ryuko and Isshin Kurosaki – but her humanity was a double-edged sword. Without Junketsu's power, honed over months through blood, sweat and sacrifice, the pain of her broken ribs pressing against her diaphragm was no longer numbed. But even so, she refused to grant Ragyo Kiryuin the satisfaction of anything resembling weakness!

"It's impossible to quantify the absurdities spewing from your mouth!"

She spat on the ground, clearing the coppery taste of blood from her mouth, "There's no question Absolute Domination is indeed powerful. But that you, of all people, would willingly divulge the possibility Kisuke Urahara could undo your efforts, reverse decades of work, is laughable! Do you take us for fools!?"

"Think whatever you want, Satsuki."

Ragyo examined the Needle Blades, far more interested in their response to Shinra Koketsu than her daughter's delusions, before her lips slowly stretched into a smile. Closing her eyes as Honnouji Academy shook, exhilaration coursed through her Life Fibers as she stared at the crimson quilt blanketing the heavens, "Can you feel it? The Celestial Cocoon Seed Planet is progressing on schedule. The Life Fibers woven into every piece of Revocs clothing have begun converting humanity. In a few hours, this miserable world will shatter! Spreading the next generation of Life Fibers across the universe!"

"And once that's finished…"

The Needle Blades vanished into Shinra Koketsu as Ragyo curled a finger through Isshin's shihakusho, "We'll have eternity to work through our differences."

"Given my options," with a supreme effort, Isshin slapped away Ragyo's hand, "I'd rather die with the rest of humanity."

"Must you be so stubborn?"

Ragyo hissed under her breath. There were limits to her patience. And Isshin seemed determined with his boorish refusal to accept reality to find just how far she was willing to tolerate his behavior. Why must he make their lives difficult? Unlike the naked apes, Quincy scurrying like rats in the shadows and shinigami, he would survive the Life Fiber diaspora alongside Ichigo, Ryuko and even dearest Nui and Amu. She would release them from Absolute Domination moments before the planet exploded, preventing any more childish skirmishes while allowing them to share in the glorious experience.

It was a shame Hououmaru wouldn't survive the Celestial Cocoon Seed Planet. Good help – especially a secretary with skills outside of corporate management – was hard to find these days. And, she reluctantly conceded, it was upsetting knowing Satsuki would perish alongside the rest of humanity. Her daughter somehow managed to ascend Junketsu into her fashion week apparel. Satsuki nearly tore her body apart, muscles tearing and bones shattering, but she accomplished the miraculous.

La vie est drôle.

She just needed to remember to recover Junketsu from Satsuki's corpse.

"And just what are you planning to do?"

Sarcasm clung to her question as an imposing figure marched through Honnouji Academy's entrance, shadows clinging to their tattered and torn cassock, "Iscariot, right? I'm impressed you survived."

Heinkel refused to lower herself to Ragyo Kiryuin's level. There were far more pressing matters than worrying about childish taunts from an inhuman monster. Her expression tightened when the woman turned around, lips pulling back into a snarl. The kaleidoscopic light emanating from the monstrous garment was anathema. She didn't require supernatural perception to realize Shinra Koketsu spat in the face of God, "It's going to take more than puppets to kill me, Ragyo Kiryuin."

"I wasn't referring to those second-hand scraps of clothing."

Ragyo dismissed the paladin's insult against the Grand Couturier's work with all the mockery it deserved, "It's shameful, really. I expected more from my investment. After persuading the Pope to promote Enrico Maxwell to archbishop, knowing his lack of resistance to Life Fibers would render him little more than a puppet to his subconscious desires, realizing some of you people survived is disappointing."

"Wait a second!"

Ryuko couldn't believe what she was hearing, "YOU'RE the reason he went nuts!?"

"I consider myself a professional slayer of monsters and demons."

The wind swelled through the courtyard as Heinkel removed a damaged but mostly intact bible from her cassock. Placing her hand upon the holy scripture, aware of Ryuko's unkempt appearance, ethereal blue light shone from the inked pages as she focused upon the unholy abomination in the guise of Ragyo Kiryuin, "But for what you did to Maxwell, I'll make sure your soul rots in the deepest bowels of Hell."

"Alexander Anderson mentioned a similar threat…"

The intense light radiating from the bible in Heinkel Wolfe's hand was the only reason Ragyo didn't kill the woman. How interesting. She couldn't remember Anderson using something like this. Lips curling into a smirk when the paladin swiped her other hand over the bible, sending countless pages fluttering through the courtyard, Ragyo laughed, "And since he's not here, I can only presume he perished in London."

"But you don't need to worry about mourning the dead."

Shinra Koketsu's eyes widened – the colors contracting in visible anger – as multicolored spiritual energy destroyed everything between Ragyo and Heinkel. The ground disintegrated beneath the paladin's feet, sending her flying backwards into Honnouji Academy's walls with a resounding crack. Her laughter resonating in the darkness as most of the glowing pages burst into flames, dissolving into ash raining upon the ground, Ragyo watched the paladin struggling with more than a modicum of satisfaction, "Because you'll soon be joining him."

"I think not, Ragyo Kiryuin."

A hiss of air passed through clenched teeth at the familiar voice.

"What!?"

She looked over her shoulder, pupils dilating as Tessai Tsukabishi materialized from within a swirling tornado of glowing pages. Snarling at the emerald light between the man's clasped hands, refusing to allow any acquaintance of Kisuke Urahara time to think, she lashed out, multicolored energy enveloping her fingers as the ground underneath Shinra Koketsu started glowing, "You –"

"KUKANTEN'I!"

In the blink of an eye, as Tessai forcefully separated his hands, veins bulging under the weight of the spiritual energy, Ragyo – and a sizable chunk of the courtyard – vanished in a flash of emerald light.


...


"H-How…"

Electricity crackled along the surface of her raiment as she watched the screen showing Lady Ragyo. Or rather, where Lady Ragyo had been standing moments ago. Hououmaru tasted bile in her throat. Instead of Shinra Koketsu's breathtaking radiance covering Honnouji Academy – rendering all resistance useless – there was nothing. All that remained was a smoking crater and flickers of green light, "What happened? What did he do?"

Hououmaru rewatched the video, hands trembling when Lady Ragyo vanished in a flash of emerald light. How did that shinigami escape Lady Ragyo's attention? It was apparent Tessai Tsukabishi was working with Heinkel Wolfe. But even so, she should have detected his presence despite the paladin's obvious distraction. Snarling when the video repeated, the angle showing Lady Ragyo's bafflement at Tessai's arrival, she lashed out, slamming her hands against the controls. The shinigami didn't have the privilege of raising his hand against Shinra Koketsu, let alone behold the sacred garment with unworthy eyes!

And he had the gall to assault Lady Ragyo!?

She took a deep, steadying breath when the Life Fiber generator came online, filling the control room with its comforting hum. Her hatred towards the naked apes – towards the shinigami displaying unwarranted arrogance – transformed into tranquil fury as she closed her eyes.

This changed nothing.

Despite the outward appearance of success, Tessai Tsukabishi's actions accomplished nothing. It didn't matter if he miraculously transported Lady Ragyo across the world. Leaving her stranded in the middle of the ocean or somewhere in Africa. While impossible to find out where – thanks to the quilt of Life Fibers rendering geolocation systems useless – their victory was already guaranteed. Absolute Domination was saturating the planet, awakening the dormant Life Fibers woven into every piece of clothing stitched by Revocs. Nothing could alter humanity's fate at this point.

Not even Isshin.

The pigs in human clothing were destined to serve as nourishment for Life Fibers. Not a single one would survive the Celestial Cocoon Seed Planet – including herself, once she finished carrying out Lady Ragyo's final orders.

"But don't think…"

She punched the Life Fiber booster, injecting energy into EXCELSUS before twisting the curved controls in opposite directions, "…your insolent actions bear no consequences!"

A sharp, bitter laugh punctured the darkness as the electronic whining intensified. It was poetic justice that Satsuki's final defense apparatus – her so-called secret weapon – was turned against the Original Life Fiber's enemies. Those who dared stand against Lady Ragyo. She couldn't think of a more appropriate form of retribution. Satsuki deserved nothing less than watching her allies perish, slaughtered like the naked apes they were, after discarding her mother's generosity and benevolence. But she purposely stopped herself from fully activating EXCELSUS, content on allowing the weapon to remain on standby.

She needed to be careful about unleashing EXCELSUS upon the naked apes. Isshin, Ichigo and Ryuko remained within Honnouji Academy's walls. Their Life Fibers and Kamui were still weakened by Absolute Domination.

Lady Ragyo would be incensed if she injured Isshin in her haste to eliminate Tessai Tsukabishi.

"So, this is EXCELSUS."

Yuu Akiyama failed to conceal the noticeable limp in his right leg as he stumbled into the command center. Gripping the edge of the door as blood stained his Lâche Raiment, trickling from the fresh stitches across his abdomen, he chuckled despite the awkward silence, "It's fancier than I expected."

"Why are you alive, Yuu?"

Contempt dripped from her mouth as she demanded from the teenager a rather simple answer. His survival was an insult to everything she represented. And it took considerable restraint to not finish the job started by the naked apes. When the Life Fiber Infinite Woven Barrier dissipated during Lady Ragyo's argument with Isshin, she presumed Yuu had fallen fighting Nudist Beach. Sacrificing himself to keep the Celestial Cocoon Seed Planet from failing while killing several of the naked apes and their allies in the process. A self-professed coward he may be, but Yuu Akiyama belonged to Xcution. Lady Ragyo's orders were sacrosanct. Not to be questioned to debated. To be carried out to one's full capacity, even if it meant their death.

That he was standing before her, grievously wounded but alive, was unforgivable.

"Lady Ragyo's orders were simple. Yet you're standing here. Alive. And the Life Fiber Infinite Woven Barrier isn't functioning."

"Kisuke Urahara was smarter than I thought," Yuu removed his burglar's cap and domino mask, the pieces of clothing dissolving into Life Fibers, "He anticipated my plans with almost frightening accuracy."

Hououmaru didn't give the teenager a shred of sympathy. The torturous pain and internal bleeding wracking his body was nothing compared to what he'll experience once Lady Ragyo returned, "Fortunately, Lady Ragyo managed to adorn herself with Shinra Koketsu despite your treachery. The Celestial Cocoon Seed Planet is still proceeding on schedule."

"You don't say? Well, at least there's some good news."

"Don't think I'm unaware what you're planning," Hououmaru could sense Yuu's mocking tone, the derision for authority that earned him more than one official reprimand throughout his tenure in Xcution. She wasn't foolish nor naïve. He was planning something, his mind calculating multiple avenues of approach to their conversation. But she didn't earn the privilege of assisting Lady Ragyo without learning a few things along the way, "Lying low won't save you from Lady Ragyo's wrath. Nor will destroying your raiment prevent her from tracking you down. However, if you wish to witness the culmination of humanity's destiny, deal with Tessai Tsukabishi and Heinkel Wolfe while Isshin and the others are powerless. Only then will Lady Ragyo forgive your incompetence."

"You caught me. I'll admit it."

Yuu ascended the stairs towards Hououmaru, pausing halfway as a wave of vertigo caused his vision to darken, "But before I head outside, let me just say one thing. Yoruichi Shihoin exceeded my expectations."

"Don't get me wrong, I studied her battle with the Grand Couturier extensively. Documented every technique utilized. Picked through the Grand Couturier's exaggerated report. And it still wasn't enough."

He collapsed into the co-pilot's seat with a pained grimace, "I can see how she survived fighting Ragyo Kiryuin. It took every trick in the book – and some I never realized existed – to escape with my life."

Hououmaru snarled at the mockery of an excuse, "And you dare admit your –"

An eerie silence descended upon the room, "What did you call Lady Ragyo?"

There was a flash – a shimmer of obsidian – as Hououmaru unsheathed her trench knife, drawing the weapon faster than the human nervous system could respond. Electricity crackled around the blade, arcing in lethal bursts before the question finished leaving her lips. Without warning, acting purely upon her authority as Lady Ragyo's secretary and the commander of Xcution, she spun around, intent on piercing Yuu's throat.

Only to stop mid-swing at a deafeningly soft click.

"You know…"

She felt the barrel pressing against her Écussion Raiment, the muzzle aimed between her armor's plating. Widening eyes staring incredulously at the Carnifex in Yuu's hand, wondering how he smuggled the weapon through Lady Ragyo's sensors, she snarled when he leaned forward, "I think it's time we discussed my severance package."


...


Sweat trickled down Tessai's face, pooling on the underside of his chin before dripping onto the dirt. His breath escaped in short, ragged pants, the cold, autumn causing it to condense inches from his mouth. Transporting Ragyo Kiryuin had required a substantial portion of his spiritual reserves. Far more than he anticipated. Translocating Shinji and the other Visored halfway across the Soul Society to Kisuke's lab – after using Jikanteishi to halt their Hollowfication – hadn't left him more than briefly out of breath.

But then again, Kukanten'i wasn't designed to teleport someone so monstrous.

"It seems I owe Kisuke an apology."

He wiped a forearm against his brow, removing grime and sweat. As Isshin broke from his self-imposed stupor, staring into the crater where Ragyo had been standing only a few seconds ago, the former shinigami grimaced, "For what?"

"Kisuke described Sosuke Aizen's transformations under the Hogyoku's influence. Including how the man's spiritual pressure became unreadable," Tessai dusted shredded Life Fibers from his apron, missing Isshin's bemusement, "Until tonight, I believed he was exaggerating Aizen's power. But once Ragyo Kiryuin put on that strange garment, her spiritual pressure completely vanished. I could no longer sense her presence."

"Wait!"

Ryuko jammed her arm through one of Senketsu's sleeves, "You couldn't sense anything?"

"You're putting me on backwards, Ryuko."

"Oh, sorry, Senketsu."

Ryuko fixed Senketsu before sliding the Seki Tekko onto her hand. She curled her fingers into a fist as blood dripped from the cuts covering most of her arm, the pain almost enough to make her curse. God damn it! How the hell was she going to kick her bitch of a mom's ass if Shinra Koketsu could disable Senketsu? Grumbling under her breath, she decided to express her annoyance in the only way possible – taking it out on someone else, "I don't know about you but I felt her spiritual pressure just fine! In fact, it was impossible to NOT sense Ragyo Kiryuin once she put on that ugly piece of garbage!"

"Ryuko, your hand!"

"I'm fine, Ichigo," she grumbled at Ichigo's concern, "Now, as I was saying…"

"Ryuko, your hand!"

"I said I'm –"

The fact her hand no longer hurt didn't dawn on Ryuko until she grabbed Senketsu's neckerchief. Shocked when the blood dripping down her arm stopped – and then disappearing into her skin – she noticed her injuries glowing with a familiar crimson light before sealing shut, leaving her arm as good as new, "What the hell!?"

"Absolute Domination must require our mother's presence to function."

Satsuki suppressed the pain making it difficult to breathe, managing the growing discomfort from Ragyo Kiryuin's attack by glowering, "She announced the light shining from Shinra Koketsu rendered Life Fibers powerless. It makes sense that once the light vanished, your Life Fibers began recovering, allowing your wounds to regenerate."

"Please hold still, Miss Kiryuin."

Tessai loomed over the former heiress upon noticing the full extent of the injuries she was concealing. Years of treating Kisuke and Yoruichi's minor ailments – followed by months of assisting Orihime with Ichigo's injuries – afforded him a discerning, and experienced, eye, "You have two broken ribs. A rather serious injury. But even in my current condition, healing your wounds won't be difficult. However, if it's not too much trouble, can you ask your Kamui to refrain from absorbing my spiritual energy until after I'm finished?"

"There's no reason to concern yourself with Junketsu," Satsuki noticed her Kamui staring at the green energy enveloping the shinigami's hands – childish curiosity more than animalistic hunger – and immediately dismissed what little concern tainted her thoughts, "She won't interfere with your efforts."

A sigh, faint but noticeable, escaped her unyielding control when the pulsating pain from her wounds abated, numbed beneath a sensation akin to cold water. The shinigami's technique might lack the versatility and power of Orihime Inoue's Shun Shun Rikka. A difference, in retrospect, between their individual origins. But the scrapes and bruises, the broken ribs and internal bleed sustained confronting her mother, wouldn't require more than a minute of his time. Already her broken bones were setting, muscles weaving together and bruises slowly vanishing, leaving nothing but unblemished skin.

It was unfortunate Tessai Tsukabishi couldn't do the same for Junketsu.

"I don't want to experience something so terrifying again, Ichigo!"

Mugetsu quivered at the memory of Absolute Domination paralyzing her Life Fibers. Such a sensation was the last thing she wanted to experience a second time! But her fear transformed into anger upon noticing Senketsu's amusement directed at her, "But that doesn't matter! I'll be at your side until the end! Although if we're going to fight Ragyo Kiryuin, I'll need some more of your blood."

"You don't need to ask about something like that, Mugetsu," Ichigo stumbled to his feet, frowning at his Kamui's request, "Because I have a feeling we're going to need all the power we can get."

"Raw strength won't suffice against Shinra Koketsu," Satsuki breathed deeply as Tessai's efforts succeeded in lessening the worst of her pain, "Our Kamui are powerful. But we mustn't overestimate ourselves. Ragyo Kiryuin had proven formidable beyond estimation! We'll need to fall back and adjust our strategy! Determine any potential weaknesses in Shinra Koketsu before she returns."

"Hey! Where did you send her?"

Ryuko propped the Scissor Blade across her shoulders while glancing around Honnouji Academy, "I'm guessing someplace really far away. Like that desert with the Hollows."

"I believe Kisuke Urahara called it Hueco Mundo, Ryuko."

"Thanks, Senketsu," she snapped her fingers, "Did you send her to Hueco Mundo?"

"Unfortunately, Kukanten'i is unable to transport between different spiritual realms," Tessai only paid half-attention to Ryuko's atrocious pronunciation of Hueco Mundo as he stepped away from Satsuki, allowing the teenager to bask in the sensation of perfect health before nearly tearing at her appreciation, "So I did the next best thing. I teleported Ragyo Kiryuin as far away from Honnouji Academy as physically possible."

Satsuki returned Bakuzan to its scabbard with a click of polished metal against wood, "How far?"

"Hmm…it's difficult to say," the spiritual pressure from the quilt of Life Fibers covering the planet sent a chill down Tessai's spine, "But I'd guess approximately two thousand Ri to the east."

"Huh?"

Ryuko scratched her head, "Is that miles or kilometers?"

"It's an archaic term for distance, Ryuko. Something you would have known had you paid attention to Aikuro Mikisugi's history lessons," Satsuki bore her sister's misplaced aggression towards her former laziness with dignity and grace, only affording Ryuko a single, unflinching frown before closing her eyes, "But to answer your question, two thousand Ri is roughly eight thousand kilometers. Which should put our mother somewhere off the coast of California."

"That freakin' far!?"

"Even with Shinra Koketsu, it should take some time for Ragyo Kiryuin to make her way back," Satsuki allowed herself to smile – the imperceptibly faint gesture confusing those aware of her usual disposition. She didn't doubt their mother could return to Honnouji Academy at any minute. The power coursing through Shinra Koketsu couldn't be underestimated. But the quilt of Life Fibers covering the planet would greatly complicate Ragyo Kiryuin's efforts to determine her position, "But we mustn't relax our guard! Tessai Tsukabishi's assistance has bought us precious time! We must use this time to adjust our strategy!"

"We need to save Orihime."

Ichigo couldn't forget the terror in Orihime's eyes when she was absorbed into Shinra Koketsu. The tears streaking down her face while Ragyo Kiryuin mocked his efforts were seared in his mind, "If we can pull her out of that thing, Ragyo will be weak enough for my old man and Junketsu to defeat."

"Rescuing Orihime Inoue is our ultimate objective."

Satsuki stared at the spire previously housing the Student Council chambers, the damage from Isshin Kurosaki's Getsuga Tenshou noticeable. Frowning as she spoke, hints of trepidation clinging to her words, she shouldered the burden of guilt before continuing, "However, there's something we must consider."

"Like hell there's anything to consider!"

Ryuko snarled at her sister's explanation, "We save Orihime then kick our mom's ass! It's that simple!"

"Even before Ragyo Kiryuin cast Absolute Domination, our blades failed inflicting any damage."

Satsuki felt Isshin Kurosaki's attention, the perturbed expression causing his mouth to twitch downwards more than enough to unsettle Junketsu. It seemed it was aware – whether from intuition or experience – what she was planning to announce. Yet he refused to interrupt despite his experience on the subject, which only served to steady her nerves, reducing the guilt gnawing upon her consciousness, "Our mother claimed Shinra Koketsu's control over Life Fibers was absolute. And I'm inclined to agree. The moment Absolute Domination becomes active, our Kamui are rendered powerless. Humanity was devoured by their clothing in a matter of seconds."

"What are you saying?"

Junketsu's heels clacked as she faced Ichigo, "Assuming everything could be solved by separating Orihime Inoue from Shinra Koketsu would be short-sighted. Which is why we should consider leaving her within the ultimate Kamui and focus our efforts on defeating my mother."

"You can't be serious!"

She didn't react when Ichigo grabbed Junketsu. Neither did she respond when her Kamui reacted towards the unintended harshness, conveying a sense of confusion Ichigo undoubtedly heard. And Ichigo wasn't the only one taking fault in her decision. Ryuko was also upset, perhaps not to the same extent. But Satsuki expected such an outburst. As she allowed Ichigo to vent his frustrations, she felt, rather than heard, the desperation in his voice, "We can't leave Orihime in that thing!"

"And what will you do?"

Her tone hardened, carrying the burdensome weight of her decision, "Tessai Tsukabishi might have freed our Kamui but look upwards! Humanity remains trapped! At the mercy of my mother! Given an alternative, I would rescue Orihime Inoue! If such a strategy existed, I would discard my callous decision without a second thought! But we don't have time to consider alternatives! Humanity's survival depends upon stopping my mother! So, ask yourself this, Ichigo! How many lives are you willing to sacrifice hoping Orihime Inoue's separation from Shinra Koketsu will reverse the Celestial Cocoon Seed Planet?"

"I get what you're saying."

The admission weighed heavily on Ichigo's mind. A harsh silence blanketed the courtyard as his hands trembled, tightening around Junketsu. Despite everything Satsuki said, he couldn't blame her. Not after realizing the same thing, "And you're right. Saving Orihime might not fix everything. Shinra Koketsu is unlike anything I've fought. Who know what might happen if I'm wrong. Ragyo's power is something else entirely. That maybe, instead of stopping her plans, pulling Orihime out of Shinra Koketsu will only make things worse."

Junketsu slipped from his fingers as he stared at the ground, unable to look at Satsuki, Ryuko or even his dad, "But there has to be another way! I just know it! There has to be a way to stop Ragyo Kiryuin without hurting Orihime!"

"I'm sorry, Ichigo."

Even as the apology left her mouth, Satsuki doubted its authenticity. For weeks, since her near-death experience during the Great Culture and Sports Festival, she believed she overcame her arrogance. The blind pride that enabled her to sacrifice every student under her control for the slightest advantage against Ragyo Kiryuin. But listening to her clone speak with such familiar vernacular – professing beliefs she, herself, would have repeated a month ago – threw that into doubt. Had she really changed if using Orihime Inoue was the first strategy that came to mind?

Dwelling on that disturbing admission, aware of the stifling silence blanketed Honnouji Academy, her scowl softened, "But it's likely the only way to undo my mother's work is to have someone wear Shinra Koketsu."

"You want one of us to wear that thing?"

"I don't like this plan, Ryuko," Senketsu bristled at the thought of Ryuko wearing clothing other than himself. Why was she considering something so insulting? He was her favorite outfit! But even so, he couldn't allow his jealousy towards something so gaudy stop Ryuko from saving the world, "But Satsuki's right. If it means stopping Ragyo Kiryuin, I suppose I could accept you wearing other clothes…this one time."

"Hold off on the guilt trip, Senketsu, until after we pull Ragyo out of the damn thing!"

Ryuko hissed under her breath. She didn't want to wear Shinra Koketsu! Even without knowing it was made by Nui Harime and Orihime was trapped inside, the ugly outfit rubbed her the wrong way. But what really pissed her off was knowing Satsuki was right. She couldn't think of another way to save everyone – and the planet – from Life Fibers. And the thought of leaving Orihime in that thing – trapped with only her bitch of a mom for company – caused her blood to boil.

Angrily kicking the ground as she tried thinking of a was to undo Ragyo Kiryuin's stupid plan without wearing Shinra Koketsu, Ryuko blinked when something came to mind, "Hang on a sec!"

She frowned before pointing a finger at Ichigo's dad, "Didn't you help Hat-and-Clogs make Mugetsu!?"

"You're misinformed, Ryuko. Contrary to Kisuke's humility and willingness to share credit, he was the one who stitched Mugetsu from scratch," Isshin felt the mental block – the 'gift' from the Original Life Fiber – when he tried going into more detail about Mugetsu. How she wasn't the first Kamui under his belt. That honor belonged to Junketsu, "All I did was give him some of Ichigo's Life Fibers."

"But you know how to make one, right? That means you know how to take apart Shinra Koketsu!"

Ryuko was standing face-to-face with Isshin, demonstrating the nearly two foot difference between their heights. Growling when Ichigo's dad didn't answer her question, she grabbed his shihakusho and shouted, "C'mon! Say something!"

"It's not that simple."

The multicolored undertone shining within his silver hair simultaneously dimmed and brightened as Ryuko's grip tightened. He could see the desperation in her eyes. Despite everything she was still only a teenager. Barely older than Ichigo. Not for the first time, he wished nothing more than to destroy the Original Life Fiber. Cut apart that creature until not even shreds of Life Fibers remained, "Even with Senketsu's impressive strength, which is greater than Mugetsu's, your Scissor Blade won't be able to slice through Shinra Koketsu."

"Hey!"

"Hmm…if your Kamui are ineffective, what about another avenue?"

Tessai rubbed his chin, unaware of Mugetsu's reaction towards the perceived insult, "I might be able to translocate Ragyo Kiryuin from Shinra Koketsu using Kukanten'i. It's risky and could have unintended consequences, but it should work."

"Do you think it'll be that easy?"

With a sickening crack Heinkel popped her dislocated shoulder into place. Blood stained her cassock as she marched towards Ryuko and the others, dripping in oozing rivers from the regenerating gash cutting from neck to shoulder. Her mouth twisted downward into a snarl, half-cracked glasses reflecting the crimson-tinted moonlight, she scoffed, derision dripping from every word, "I witnessed the inhuman hatred in that monster's eyes. Viewed the absolute loathing when our plan succeeded. Ragyo Kiryuin might not be physically wounded but her pride, that which she cherishes above all else, has been shattered. Her arrogance – her misplaced sense of superiority – caused her to subconsciously lower her guard. A mistake she won't repeat twice."

The bible in her hand snapped shut, "So we should work quickly. Because the first thing she'll do upon returning to this forsaken place is slaughter the man who embarrassed her."

"Damn it!"

"She's right," Senketsu gave the Kamui equivalent of a concerned frown at the paladin's blunt explanation, "Ragyo Kiryuin isn't the sort of person to allow even the slightest insult go unpunished."

"I know that, Senketsu," Ryuko waved her arm, almost smacking Ichigo in the face with the Scissor Blade, "I'm just really pissed off! How the hell are we going to kick my mom's ass if she's always one step ahead of us!?"

"Then we must proceed without delay!"

Satsuki found no fault in Heinkel Wolfe's criticism. Nor the paladin's blunt method of addressing the issues as stake. She knew better than anyone – aside from Isshin Kurosaki and the Grand Couturier – how her mother responded to perceived insults. How she reacted towards the slightest embarrassment. Years of acting loyal, watching her mother destroy her enemies legally or otherwise, gave weight to the paladin's observation.

Junketsu's heel clacked against the ground as she faced Heinkel Wolfe, momentarily matching Ichigo's eyes along the way. She knew his feelings towards her decision hadn't changed over the last minute. His silence spoke volumes, far more than words could convey. But their insurmountable differences could wait until Ragyo Kiryuin lay defeated, stripped of Shinra Koketsu, "What is the range of your teleportation?"

"Several kilometers."

The cigarette between Heinkel's teeth burned with a deep reddish-orange glow, "I take it you have a plan?"

"When I fought my mother alongside Sosuke Aizen, I noticed her attention wavering. I did not consider the information pertinent at the time. But in retrospect, her behavior suggested she was sensing Orihime Inoue's spiritual pressure," Satsuki glowered as her tone sharpened. With the fate of the world resting upon their shoulders, the pressure to achieve victory was tremendous. But it was a burden she bore without complaint, "Yet even with Shinra Koketsu boosting her power, she was caught off guard by Tessai Tsukabishi! Only acknowledging his presence when it was too late!"

Ichigo stiffened as he realized what Satsuki was implying, "She couldn't sense his spiritual pressure…"

"Retreat into Honnou City and wait for my signal!"

If Satsuki heard Ichigo, her reaction was buried beneath the knowledge Ragyo Kiryuin could return at any second, "The moment my mother lowers her guard is when you'll strike. We shall hold her attention as long as necessary!"

Tessai glowered thoughtfully, his massive frame silhouetted against the moon, before nodding. Latching a calloused hand onto Heinkel's shoulder, whose discontent muttering exposed her disdain towards the shinigami's form of high-speed movement, he noticed Isshin's troubled expression before disappearing in a swish of speed.

"What's wrong, Ichigo?" Mugetsu followed Tessai's retreat, which was slower than her speed, before looking upwards, "Your blood pressure increased after Satsuki announced her plan."

"Something about the way Ragyo used Absolute Domination doesn't feel right."

Ryuko looped her arm through the Scissor Blade, "What? You think she was planning something else?"

"I don't know," Ichigo admitted as something flickered across his mind, "Maybe it's nothing. But if Shinra Koketsu controls Life Fibers as much as Ragyo claimed, why did she need to activate Absolute Domination?"

Satsuki noticed Ryuko's reaction in the deafening silence that followed Ichigo's question. The unadulterated surprise and frustration was readily apparent. And a single, piercing glare at Isshin Kurosaki exposed the man's knowledge on the subject. All but admitting he knew the answer. His inability to speak, the muteness that prevented him from exposing anything regarding the Original Life Fiber, said enough. For the answer to Ichigo's question was painfully obvious.

Her fingers clenched Bakuzan, knuckles bleeding white.

There was another swish when Yoruichi Shihoin appeared in a flicker of blurred speed, sweat trickling down her face and blood oozing from the corners of her mouth. Collapsing onto her knees as Inumuta and Sanageyama let go of her shoulders, amber eyes narrowed as she yanked one of the remaining anti-Life Fiber needles piercing her thigh in a spray of visceral blood, she grinned bitterly, "Damn, looks like we missed the fun."

"Yoru –"

Isshin's head snapped backwards when Yoruichi punched him squarely in the nose. Satisfied with the sound of cartilage breaking – even knowing the injury would heal in a matter of seconds – she grabbed the needle lodged above her left knee and pulled, "I take it Ragyo Kiryuin's not here?"

"My nose!"

She rolled her eyes at the childish posturing. Why the hell was Isshin's complaining about his nose? He was completely fine. In fact, her fingers stung. Yanking the last needle from her leg without so much as a grunt, Yoruichi hissed under her breath. She was annoyed the cowardly bastard ran away before she could break every bone in his body. But then again, Aizen releasing his Bankai had caught them off guard, "Anyone mind explaining what happened? Where's Orihime?"

"And why did my Goku Uniform suddenly go stiff as a board?"

Sanageyama grumbled as he flicked his Blade Regalia's popped collar. But the awkward silence hanging over the courtyard like a wet blanket caused his mouth to snap shut. God damn it, was he blind? Now that he wasn't complaining about his relatively minor problem, he could sense the anxiety rolling off Ichigo. The guy's muscles and tense breathing screamed of someone experienced major depression. Which only meant one thing, "Oh…shit."

"My apologies, Lady Satsuki."

Inumuta ignored Sanageyama's embarrassing behavior as he unzipped the case holding his laptop, "Due to the severity of the situation, I didn't have time to properly explain anything to Yoruichi Shihoin and Sanageyama."

"There's no need to apologize," Satsuki furrowed her brow. She wasn't perturbed by Sanageyama's apparent rudeness. One only had to know the self-blinded teenager – to have fought besides him – to realize his question was born from ignorance rather than genuine acrimony, "But am I to assume you discovered something crucial to defeating Ragyo Kiryuin within the Underground Server Farm?"

"As a matter of fact, I did."

His fingers blurred into motion as he typed commands fast enough to render Mugetsu dizzy. Tired eyes showing initial traces of exhaustion moved back and forth, reading the information scrolling across the screen, "When I connected with the Life Fiber generator, I took the liberty of installing a particular program into Honnouji Academy's mainframe. A little 'gift' that returned my administrator privileges to the surveillance network. So, I'm already aware of Shinra Koketsu's completion. And Orihime Inoue's current predicament."

"So, you used a virus to hack into the academy's system?"

Isshin scratched his chin. He wasn't stupid. Sure, the Soul Society was a few years behind the World of the Living when it came to recent advances in technology. But as a certified and trained doctor running a small, family-owned clinic, he'd been forced to expand his horizons. Learn new things with a lack of passion Ragyo used to playfully mock alongside Masaki.

"…something along those lines."

Inumuta wasn't too insulted by Isshin Kurosaki's mistake. As a matter of fact, he was impressed the man deduced something in the first place, "In any case, Shinra Koketsu multiplied Ragyo Kiryuin's spiritual pressure to unfathomable levels. And Absolute Domination rendered our most powerful assets – your Kamui and hardened Life Fiber weapons – useless. As you demonstrated earlier, Lady Satsuki, attempting to fight your mother while she wears Shinra Koketsu is tantamount to suicide."

"However, it might have a weakness we can exploit."

He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose as the data scrolling down the screen of his laptop changed, overlaying a hollow image of Shinra Koketsu next to Junketsu, "Despite its origins, Shinra Koketsu is a Kamui. It requires synchronization between its Life Fibers and Ragyo Kiryuin's to function properly. If we can disrupt that connection, removing her from Shinra Koketsu should theoretically be possible."

"Then our course is set!"

Satsuki marched towards Inumuta, her heels clacking with every purposeful stride. Disrupting her mother's connection with Shinra Koketsu would be difficult, if not impossible. Ragyo Kiryuin was arrogant. Confident in her superiority over humanity. Willing to slaughter thousands of innocent lives to achieve her objectives without shedding a tear or experiencing the slightest guilt. But she wasn't foolish, "While Tessai Tsukabishi waits in the shadows of Honnouji Academy, we shall begin working towards an alternate strategy!"

"Inumuta!"

She slammed Bakuzan between her feet, "While Ichigo and Ryuko assist Isshin Kurosaki in occupying my mother when she returns, you will activate EXCELSUS! Take every weapon off stand-by! Don't concern yourself with the safety protocols or damage to the academy! You will wait for my signal, at which point you will unleash everything on Ragyo Kiryuin!"

"Her power might be unfathomable! Her control over Life Fibers unbreakable," Satsuki snarled, her voice rising with every word, "But nothing is invincible!"

"Alright!"

Ryuko grinned savagely at the first piece of good news all night, "Sounds like a half-assed plan to me! So, what's the first –"

She froze when Ichigo's dad flew across the courtyard, half of his chest gone and blood spewing from his mouth. What the hell!? Pivoting around with the Scissor Blade around arcing over her shoulder, Ryuko froze, a strangled gasp escaping her throat at the multicolored light burning her eyes. Unable to speak when Ragyo Kiryuin teleported behind them, covering the distance before she realized her mom moved, she leapt backwards, determined to put as much distance between her and the bitch.

"Now…"

Ragyo paid little attention to Ryuko's behavior. Nor did she particular care that Ichigo and Satsuki reciprocated the tactical action. Lowering her arm, flickers of energy still clinging to her fingers, maroon eyes settled upon Yoruichi Shihoin, the shinigami's injuries befitting someone who fought Yuu. The shinigami was an acquaintance of Kisuke Urahara. But it was apparent her confrontation with Yuu took a drastic toll on her body. Still, she couldn't allow anyone associated with that shopkeeper to survive. Sighing gently, her expression remained unchanged when the impact of Isshin's mangled body slamming into Tokyo reached her ears.

It was unfortunate she had to chastise Isshin. Heaven knows her mécontentement had nothing to do with the man. But he needed to be punished for his transgressions against the Original Life Fiber.

She smiled. A cold and cruel expression that sent shivers racing through each Kamui as she looked around, searching for the man who dared embarrass her. Unsurprised to discover the shinigami was no longer present, a problem easily solved, she chuckled, the regal sound conveying her superiority as Shinra Koketsu's divine light illuminated the darkest shadows.

"…where were we?"


...


"How long?"

Hououmaru's jaw tightened when Yuu remained silent, "How long have you been planning to betray Lady Ragyo!?"

"Betrayal isn't the word I'd use."

Yuu could tell, quite clearly, Hououmaru was incensed with his actions. It was evident from the hitching of her breath, how the trench knife poised inches from his neck trembled. She was testing his reflexes. Determining how long it would take him to pull the trigger if she decided to throw caution to the wind. It was smart. Worthy of the commander of Xcution. But not quite good enough. Without giving any leeway, he pressed the Carnifex harder against her raiment, "That would imply loyalty. Obedience. On the contrary, I've never felt the desire to obey Ragyo Kiryuin's orders outside of my own self-interests."

"Even if that's remotely true," Hououmaru counted the milliseconds it took Yuu's finger to tighten around the trigger when she purposely twisted her trench knife, "Your Lâche Raiment should have cleansed your mind of impure thoughts."

"There's quite a few holes in that theory…"

He feigned ignorance towards the purple-tinted electricity roiling across Hououmaru's raiment. The subtle changes in her posture, how her heels clacked against the floor as the circled each other, was difficult to miss. For a moment, long enough to whistle, he watched Ryuko talk to Isshin Shiba on one of the many security feeds, the emotion in her voice and passion implying something very important, "Such as my treacherous disposition. My betrayal of Revocs. And this gun pointed at the weak point of your armor."

The corner of Hououmaru's mouth twitched, "How is your discourteous disposition intact?"

"I'm sure you've wondered why I preferred never wearing my raiment."

With an arrogant chuckle, the humidity in the room causing sweat to trickle down the back of his neck, Yuu stepped sideways, placing his back to the stairs. Despite her self-proclaimed ability to compartmentalize, Hououmaru wasn't taking his treachery too well. She was angry. Prone to lashing out given proper motivations. In other words, bound to make mistakes at the drop of a hat, "It was perplexing – I believe that was Ragyo's term – how someone with my impeccable record preferred normal clothes to one of the Grand Couturier's works of art."

"Of course, you chastised my insubordination. Writing disciplinary notices for breaking the dress code," Yuu locked his elbow, the Anti-Life Fiber weapon shifting towards Hououmaru's throat, "Threatening special training with the Grand Couturier."

"Well, that's because I discovered my raiment's dirty little secret about a month after accepting Ragyo's offer of employment."

His finger tightened around the trigger, "Or, from my perspective, after she threatened me into working for her."

Blood gushed through the air when Hououmaru swung downwards, carving deep into his shoulder. Teeth clenched as the obsidian blade acted as a conduit, drawing the electricity from her raiment into his body, Yuu avoided her following slash – aimed at cutting his jugular, by leaning backwards. Six deafening bangs echoed throughout the control center he fired the entire clip, ejecting the Anti-Life Fiber needles faster than Hououmaru's reflexives could compensate. But he underestimated the effects of several thousand volts throwing off his aim.

Allowing her to twist sideways, avoiding the needles by the skin of her teeth.

"Électrocution Marche."

Yuu grunted when Hououmaru smashed her knee into his stomach. The concussive force rippled throughout his body, almost breaking several ribs and causing blood to spew from his mouth. But he used the shockwave resulting from Hououmaru's attack to his advantage. He allowed the Carnifex to slip from his fingers, the spent weapon clattering to the floor as he leapt backwards, landing across the room in a kneeling crouch.

"You already know this, but I'm someone who prefers fighting in a cowardly, yet somewhat fair, fashion."

The door leading into the corridor slammed shut with a loud bang, cutting off his escape. For a moment Yuu stared at the two inches of reinforced steel separating him from the relative freedom of Honnouji Academy – the metal interwoven with Anti-Life Life materials. A survey of the lock next to the door implied Hououmaru overrode his authorization, meaning any attempt to bypass the security measures would activate the anti-intruder defenses. Eventually his frown, more from surprise than frustration, shifted into a grin, "Blackmail, kidnapping, extortion and sneak attacks. There's nothing I won't do to win. That's my best quality. The thing that Ragyo found useful time and time again."

"But you already knew that."

He clapped his hands, the mocking sound of slapping leather echoing obnoxiously, "Which begs the question why I'm betraying, as you said, Ragyo Kiryuin. Perhaps the most powerful woman in the world. Who could kill me in the blink of an –"

"You're as loquacious as ever, Yuu."

Electricity crackled around Hououmaru's raiment as she stepped away from EXCELSUS. The starch grenades littering the floor – released by Yuu in the split second before she almost broke his ribs – short-circuited around her feet, wisps of smoke rising from the disabled explosives, "Don't presume I'm blind towards your machinations. You could have escaped this room before the anti-intruder defenses activated. That you chose to stay, and aren't resorting to your normal contingency plans, suggests an ulterior motive."

"Let's just say…"

A deep, almost bitter sigh, carried through the room when Yuu separated his hands, razor-sharp wires dangling between his fingers, "I didn't appreciate Ragyo's colorful threats towards my brothers and sisters."

Hououmaru didn't flinch when hundreds of Life Fiber threads spun from Yuu's raiment. She stared dispassionately, palming the bloody trench knife in her fingers as the lethally-sharp wires screamed towards her position, slicing apart everything in their path. Despite his penchant for subterfuge, for concealing his plans underneath long-winded speeches, her former employee's prowess couldn't be underestimated. A lesser individual, someone lacking Lady Ragyo's confidence, would be terrified, Yuu's mastery of Ayatori making their chances of survival next to zero.

Electricity sparked between her fingers, coiling around the dark purple armor.

A traitor would flee from the repercussions of their actions.

"Électrocution Glissando!"

The crimson shimmer of Life Fibers reflected off her visor as she danced through the razor-sharp wires. With surgical precision honed over years of intense training, pushing herself to be an asset for Lady Ragyo, she severed the threads. Slicing them into harmless strands of unraveling Life Fiber while Yuu watched, faux shock plastered across his face as she prepared to end his treacherous existence.

Which was why she wasn't surprised when the youth came to his senses. Moving beyond the reach of her knife using the same maneuver that achieved phenomenal success during the Milan Fashion Week. When Lady Ragyo deemed it necessary to inspire several competing textile companies in the Western European market to acquiesce to their demands. Something Yuu required less than four hours to obtain, "Your notion of blackmail is ludicrous."

Her heel smashed into Yuu's stomach, sending the teenager crashing into the wall, "That you feign ignorance why Lady Ragyo traveled to your otherwise banal orphanage is…"

An ear-splitting explosion rippled through the wall between them before she could finish. Ten pounds of modified nudist explosives – obtained from Osaka and repurposed over the last few hours – tore through several inches of Anti-Life Fiber plating. Snarling when Yuu vanished into the smoke, fleeing outside like a coward, electricity crackled over her armor as she gave pursuit. With the trench knife held in a reverse grip – glowing from the amount of electricity coursing through the conducting metal – Hououmaru sprinted after Yuu, amber eyes noticing the flash bombs littering the floor at the last second.

"…insulting."

Her raiment compensated for the flashes of light, turning her visor opaque before the first detonation cracked through the corridor. Yuu's tactic was obvious to the casual observer. And obnoxiously apparent to someone who trained the youth. Unfortunately, allowing Yuu time to recuperate, to reach his destination where he undoubtedly prepared countless traps to limit the effectiveness of her Écusson Raiment, was out of the question.

"Your score on the Fibres de vie Resistant a l'Examen d'Entrée was the second highest that year. Only three percent less than Riruka's."

She flicked her wrist, lightning crackling down the corridor as the trench knife left her fingers, "Lady Ragyo saw potential in you, Yuu Akiyama. You should have felt honored."

"Honored?"

Yuu ducked underneath the trench knife, ignoring the dull whump when it pierced the door at the end of the corridor, "Now that, Hououmaru, is insulting. We both know there's nothing honorable about Ragyo Kiryuin."

A fist smashed into the underside of his chin. His neck snapped backwards when Hououmaru closed the distance using her raiment's superior speed, bypassing the laser tripwires, mines concealed underneath off-colored tiles and the delayed starch grenades scattered outside the control center. The thousands of volts of electricity generated by her raiment caused every muscle in his body to simultaneous contract and relax. Blood spewed from his mouth, splattering through the darkened subbasement as Hououmaru grabbed his face and pushed.

"But you repaid her generosity with betrayal!"

Hououmaru slammed Yuu through the door. She shattered the reinforced steel – meant to contain anything below a Three-Star Goku Uniform – without stopping, allowing Yuu enough time to understand her annoyance before the back of his head slammed against concrete. It was finished. Yuu was brilliant, but she'd observed his tactics for years. Watching his plans and strategies with a discerning eye. Allowing the youth to slump onto the ground, she callously noted they were standing in the emergency stairwell – one of the only ways to head to the main campus – before removing her half-buried trench knife from the wall.

"Tell me, Yuu. Did you plan for this?"

Electricity crackled around her knife when the teenager dragged himself off the ground. Without hesitation, she kicked her humbled former employee, sending him crashing across the stairwell. As Yuu grasped the railing, blood dripping from his mouth, she scoffed, "You don't need to answer the question. Because you're going to die for betraying Lady Ragyo."

"That's…funny…"

Yuu's laughter was interspaced with violent bouts of coughing as his grip around the railing – or rather the nearly invisible carbon fiber rope tied to the railing – tightened. In the brief moment of time it took Hououmaru's eyes to adjust to the darkness, her disbelief priceless, his shoulder was wrenched from its socket. Yet he held onto the rope, ignoring the excruciating pain as he ascended upwards, but not without giving his opponent one final piece of advice.

"I planned this from the start."

He ducked when Hououmaru threw her trench knife, the impromptu projectile missing his heart by an uncomfortably small distance. Releasing the rope once he reached the top of the stairwell, only a single door between him and Honnouji Academy's first-floor classrooms, Yuu cupped a hand around his mouth before cautiously leaning over the railing, "Oh, by the way, I recommend staying perfectly still, Hououmaru! The explosives planted under the floor are motion-sensitive!"

The detonator that fell from his sleeve, which fell into his hand, instantly caught Hououmaru's attention. Holding the device over his head, purposely showing the switch resting beneath his thumb, Yuu smirked, "And one more thing! These particular explosives are quite special. They're both tamper-proof and resistant to electrical currents. Attempting to disarm them with your Écusson Raiment will give you a one-way ticket to the Soul Society."

"That's impossible!"

Hououmaru noticed the off-colored tiles underneath her heels. The edges of the replaced tiles were cracked, showing Yuu's amateurish camouflage. Glancing over her shoulder towards the exit, her eyes narrowed at the laser tripwires crisscrossing the corridor. As her jaw clenched, fingers trembling at the embarrassment of falling for his trap, she seethed at what Yuu claimed, "A trap designed to counter my raiment?"

The inanity of his boast boggled her mind, "Absurd. Laughable, even by your standards. These explosives couldn't have been commissioned by Nudist Beach. For Olivier's organization had no knowledge of my raiment until the Great Culture and Sports Festival. And Lady Ragyo would NEVER authorize the requisition of such dangerous armaments. If you had even considered outsourcing such work, she would have –"

"I requisitioned them from Ragyo Kiryuin three weeks ago."

Yuu thumbed the detonator as Hououmaru's bluff devolved into a strangled gasp, "About the same time Yoruichi Shihoin hunted me halfway across the country. She was good. Almost caught me outside Tokyo. Of course, I managed to escape. Although not quite unscathed. Her lightning really did a number on my raiment."

He jabbed a thumb against his olive-green jacket, "But that was the perfect excuse to ask Ragyo Kiryuin for explosive traps suited for taking you down.

"I misjudged you, Yuu."

Hououmaru seethed at the teenager's pedantic speech. Every moment she was forced to listen to Yuu's arrogance only further enflamed her frustrations, "I believed you were working with the naked apes. Feeding them information as a deep-cover operative considering your past relationship with Alexander Anderson. Faking loyalty to Lady Ragyo. Disrupting enough of their operations to avoid suspicion. But I was mistaken. Your betrayal wasn't motivated by self-righteousness like Souichiro. Nor an antiquated sense of honor and guilt like Ginjo."

Electricity crackled between her trembling fingers as she restrained herself, knowing Yuu wasn't bluffing about the explosives, "This is nothing more than petty revenge!"

"It's also selfish and pathetic."

A faint beep surrounded the enraged woman as Yuu primed the explosives, taking them off standby. Flipping the detonator through the air, allowing the woman to watch it arc over the railing, he caught it between his fingers, "But there's nothing inherently wrong with seeking vengeance. Especially when your target never sees it coming."

"And what will your revenge accomplish!?"

Hououmaru dropped any pretense of control. Her shoulders trembled, armor crackling under the pressure of her clenching fingers. The agony from her fractured was nothing compared to Yuu's arrogance and notions of superiority. And she refused to allow a pig in human clothing, someone willing to throw away Lady Ragyo's generosity, embarrass her any longer!

"Shinra Koketsu is complete," spittle flew from her mouth as she spat the words, "Killing me won't stop the Celestial Cocoon Seed Planet. It won't save your brothers and sisters. But you already knew that, didn't you? Of course, you did. Because if you cared about those orphans as something besides an excuse to justify your actions, you would have betrayed Lady Ragyo before it was too late to change anything!"

"You're absolutely right."

Time slowed to a crawl as Yuu leaned over the railing, the barest traces of a smirk on his face, "I suppose, in the end, I'm just too much of a coward."

The shrill beeping filling the stairwell grew deafening when he depressed the trigger. Tossing the detonator into the air as the explosives packed with enough Anti-Life Fiber components to give the Grand Couturier a bloody nose detonated, Yuu witnessed Hououmaru's horrified expression before turning around. As the flames rushed up the stairs, weakening the support structures, he whistled jauntily, exiting through the door into Honnouji Academy with his former employer's screams fading into the background.


...


"This isn't working."

Mugetsu huffed at the rainbow light floating above Honnouji Academy. The confidence radiating from Ragyo Kiryuin was palpable, almost nauseating. And Shinra Koketsu's arrogance wasn't much better, "She took a Getsuga Tenshou without flinching. And I'm fairly certain she knows we're stalling for time."

"That doesn't matter."

Ichigo scowled between deep breaths as the blood trailing down his face, dripping thickly onto the ground next to his knee, reduced to a small trickle. The last few minutes hadn't gone well. Instead of using Absolute Domination from the start, Ragyo decided to toy with them, "We just need to keep her busy! It's as simple as that!"

"What if she stops holding back?"

Mugetsu ignored the fluttering nervousness in her Life Fiber. She couldn't afford getting distracted, not when the fate of the planet – and humanity – rested in their hands, "Ragyo tore through Ryuko and Senketsu like they were nothing. I didn't even see what happened! If we're not careful, she'll do the same to us!"

"If we don't keep her busy, everyone will die! Mako…Chad…Uryu. Yuzu and Karin. They'll all die when Ragyo's finished with the planet!"

With an exhausted grunt, Ichigo hardened his stance. Tournesol and Bakuzan shimmered in the moonlight as he glared at Ragyo Kiryuin. Despite Mugetsu's incredible power, he knew defeating the woman was impossible. But that didn't mean he would give up trying, "So, it might hurt Mugetsu, but we need to keep fighting. We have to hold Ragyo Kiryuin's attention until Tessai's ready!"

"Do you intend to stand down there all night, Ichigo?"

He instinctively responded to the multicolored light gathering around Ragyo's outstretched hands. The dilation of Shinra Koketsu's symmetrical eyes shouting what the woman planned to do. Without thinking, he leapt backwards, pushing Mugetsu beyond her limits. In a burst of speed that strained their Life Fibers, sending a twinge of pain through his heart, he flashed across Honnou City. Moving around ruined buildings and pockmarked streets. Leaping upwards once Honnouji Academy was firmly between him and the nightmarish light of Absolute Domination.

If they couldn't see Shinra Koketsu, then maybe the effects of Absolute Domination wouldn't reach –

"Why do you insist on retreating?"

Ichigo's heart skipped a beat when a manicured hand grasped his face, holding him tightly enough that his neck almost snapped. Holding Isshin's son in one hand – effortlessly blocking Tournesol with the other – Ragyo found herself subconsciously grinned. She could punish Ichigo in a manner reminiscent of Isshin's. Something that would teach him a valuable lesson about respecting one's elders. But she couldn't blame his rebellious behavior. Who knew what sort of slanderous lies Isshin stitched into Ichigo over the years.

"Are you afraid of Absolute Domination?"

She couldn't deny Mugetsu was powerful. The Kamui's strength was already adequately demonstrated. Proven during his confrontation with her experiment. But Shinra Koketsu stood beyond the abstract human concept known as 'strength.'

"Understandable."

The raw emotions swirling beneath Ichigo's stoic façade was amusing. Enough that she released Isshin's son without provocation. Allowing him to retreat without saying a word, sweat dripping down his face from close proximity to Shinra Koketsu, "Those who rebel against the Original Life Fiber must be punished. Your actions, misguided by Isshin's nonsense they may be, cannot be ignored. And so, you instinctively retreat at the slightest danger. Pushing your Kamui to her limit whenever I get too close. Against anyone else, such a strategy would have worked."

She closed her eyes and smiled, "But while your Kamui's speed is impressive…"

Her fingers caressed Mugetsu, tracing patterns across the terrified Kamui, "To me, you might as well not be moving at –"

"NIBAN GENKAI!"

Ryuko swung the Scissor Blade against Shinra Koketsu with all the strength she could muster. And didn't stop swinging until the burning wave of spiritual energy smashed into Honnou City, creating an explosion visible for miles. Crouched above Ragyo Kiryuin, sweat trickling down her face while Senketsu muttered about the strain on their Life Fibers, she glowered at Ragyo's spiritual pressure.

"Damn it!"

Senketsu's heels clacked as she flipped backwards, spitting out a glob of blood before landing next to Ichigo. Taking the opportunity to catch her breath, Ryuko noticed the fading burns covering Mugetsu, the Kamui infuriated about something, before quietly muttering, "Sorry about that, Ichigo."

"Next time look before you swing the Scissor Blade!"

"I already said I'm sorry!"

Ryuko snapped at Mugetsu before the Kamui finished speaking, "I would have been here sooner, but that last cheap shot almost knocked me out!"

"It's fortunate Ragyo Kiryuin was holding back," Senketsu muttered discontentedly at the conflagration. He could feel Ragyo Kiryuin's presence within the flames. It was as powerful as ever, which sent a shiver through his Life Fibers, "I'm not sure we could have handled any more of Shinra Koketsu's power. That garment is truly terrifying, Ryuko."

"She's toying with us," Ichigo couldn't shake the memory of Ragyo touching Mugetsu, "She knows we're stalling for time."

"That's just great!"

Ryuko wanted nothing more than to kick her mom's ass. Even knowing Shinra Koketsu was powerful, she wanted to rescue Orihime, tear apart the ugly outfit before beating Ragyo to a bloody pulp for all the crap she's pulled. Snorting under her breath when her bitch of a mom's spiritual pressure increased, she flipped the Scissor Blade into a reverse grip, growling as everything turned multicolored, "Damn it! I guess she's done screwing around!"

"You sound disappointed, Ryuko."

Ragyo sighed at the flames enveloping Shinra Koketsu. She couldn't deny Senketsu was powerful. Proving himself the physically strongest Kamui. Yet Ryuko seemed to lack a working imagination. Niban – and Ichiban – Genkai were some of the worst names she'd heard in years. The unique abilities of a Kamui required appropriate names, something signifying their superiority. A moniker of their divineness. Ichigo knew that lesson, although she was conflicted whether he copied Isshin. Even Satsuki, despite her many faults and failures, appropriated an appellation for Junketsu worthy of the Kamui.

But it appeared Ryuko inherited Souichiro's atrocious naming sense.

With a twitch of her finger, she dispersed the residual flames, "If I didn't know better, I'd think you were stalling."

It was slightly bothersome she was using more than a modicum of Shinra Koketsu's potential against Ichigo and Ryuko. And for a moment, the Ultimate Kamui agreed. Expressing its distaste through a manner which eluded everyone present. But she couldn't deny they've grown stronger under Isshin's tutelage. But even their newfound power meant nothing against Shinra Koketsu. It would be simple ending this charade before Ichigo or Ryuko understood what happened. Slaughtering them in a fraction of a second. Sending them careening towards the earth with their bodies torn asunder beneath her divine strength.

But waiting for Satsuki's desperation to reach fruition required finesse.

Her daughter had something in mind, a strategy involving that shinigami and the paladin from Iscariot.

And drawing them out of hiding required more…proactive measures.

"In any case, this plan of yours…"

Shinra Koketsu's eyes flared to their full width as she flew towards the teenagers, shattering the atmosphere in her wake, "…will unequivocally fail!"

"Go to hell, you bitch!"

The Scissor Blade transformed into Decapitation Mode as Ryuko dashed forward. Senketsu's heels clacked as she brushed aside her mom's spiritual pressure. It didn't manner if Shinra Koketsu was unbeatable! She fought freaking Alucard! Got the crap beaten out of her by that shinigami! And kicked Nui Harime's ass without breaking a sweat! Compared to them, a few punches were nothing!

"And take your ugly outfit with you!"

Life Fibers snapping into place and spiritual energy roaring from her back, she swung the Scissor Blade intent on slicing Ragyo in half, "NIBAN GENKAI!"

Only for two fingers to catch the Scissor Blade.

"Getsuga…"

Ragyo smirked at the declaration echoing with a familiar reverberation. Tightening her hold upon the Scissor Blade before flicking the weapon, releasing an eruption of spiritual pressure that sent her daughter tumbling away, she turned around, waiting patiently for Ichigo to close the last few, unbearably long feet.

"…TENSHOU!"

"Je ne pense pas."

An explosion of cerulean light ricocheted from her fingers when she stopped the technique. Catching Tournesol between her finger and thumb with the same amount of effort one might use against an ant, "Although I'll give you credit."

The ear-splitting screech filling her ears made it virtually impossible to ear Mugetsu's reaction. Nor could she understand the short phrase silently passing through Ichigo's lips. But she did notice the Kamui trembling around his body. Her Life Fibers instinctively quivering at the overwhelming power of Shinra Koketsu. And that was disappointing. She presumed they would have matured beyond such fragile states of mind. After all, nothing in their repertoire – no, nothing in existence – could scratch even the weakest Life Fiber on Shinra Koketsu.

"Your teamwork was impressionnant."

The Getsuga Tenshou writhed impotently as her grip upon Tournesol tightened. For an agonizingly interesting moment, as Ryuko recovered from her embarrassing tumble and rushed back into the fray, she considered merely shattering the technique. Disrupting the Getsuga Tenshou would make a poignant statement to Isshin's son. One demonstrating the gulf between Mugetsu and Shinra Koketsu. But as a couturier whose garments covered the world, treating Ichigo as another pig in human clothing would be insulting. Spitting in Isshin's face.

She grabbed Ichigo's wrist, laughter welling deep within her throat. Pulling the surprised teenager off balance, Ragyo pivoted sideways, dragging him forward.

And redirected the Getsuga Tenshou at Ryuko.

"RYUKO!"

"Now's not the time to lose focus, Ichigo."

The sound of her fist smashing against Ichigo's face, his head snapping backwards with a look of disbelief in his eyes, was cathartic. Exhilarating. Eliciting almost as much pleasure as watching Ryuko desperately attempting to counter the Getsuga Tenshou screaming towards her position. Smirking when her daughter failed as expected, her agonizing screams drowned out by the explosion, she turned back to Isshin's son.

"There's no reason to worry about Ryuko."

She trailed her fingers along Shinra Koketsu's sleeve, basking in the sensation of its Life Fibers while Ichigo appeared conflicted. Torn between watching her every move – wondering if she would attack if his guard fell – and helping her daughter. It was depressing, to a small extent. The knowledge his own technique severely injured Ryuko must be eating at Ichigo's conscious. But, like all teenagers, he automatically assumed the worst. Ryuko's presence hadn't diminished in the slightest. It remained strong. Persistent. Stubborn, much like her older sister.

Her smile broadened when Ichigo overcame his shock, turning downright sadistic at the energy thrumming through Mugetsu's Life Fibers.

"Because you'll soon be joining her."

A single finger was all she needed to stop Bakuzan, scattering the energy collected upon the appropriated weapon. Reveling in the excitement stemming from his desperation, she caught Tournesol upon the tip of her finger. Her skin slightly dented by the hardened Life Fiber weapon. With her laughter reaching a crescendo at Ichigo's despair, carrying a regality befitting someone blessed by the Original Life Fiber, she gently pushed against the sword, sending Ichigo skidding backwards, "Surely you realize by now…"

When the determined youth rushed back into the fray, she raised two fingers, deflecting every strike before closing her eyes, "That resisting Shinra Koketsu is pointless?"

"I don't care how strong Shinra Koketsu is!"

Ichigo pushed himself harder, forcing more power out of Mugetsu despite the strain on their Life Fibers, "I will stop you! I will save Orihime and everyone else!"

"And how do you intend to do that?"

The question trailed off her tongue, fading into nothing more than an errant thought when the obstinate teenager vanished in a flicker of movement. His speed might be impressive, but she could see Mugetsu's Life Fibers shifting. Watch every muscle tighten. Feel the nervousness underlying his confidence. The desperation to win relentlessly driving his actions to the point of suicide. So she laughed, allowing her amusement to make itself known, before catching his swords. The identically-colored blades sliding between her fingers alongside a flurry of sapphire sparks.

Only for a strangled snarl to tear itself from her throat when Ichigo stepped on Shinra Koketsu. Using the divine garment as a pedestal to pull himself free.

"How dare you!"

Ichigo was thrown backwards when Ragyo Kiryuin's spiritual energy flared. Erupting from Shinra Koketsu in a violent miasma that was almost solid. Damn it! What the hell was going on? Why was she suddenly so pissed off?

"Ichigo!"

Blood gushed through the darkness when a blast of kaleidoscopic spiritual energy tore through his shoulder. As the wound regenerated, Ichigo leaned sideways, strands of orange hair falling away as the spiritual energy detonated against Tokyo Bay. Releasing an explosion that stretched higher than Honnouji Academy.

"To think you'd treat this sacred garment with such audacity," Ragyo was beyond disappointed. Mere words, syllables created by a species destined for nothingness, couldn't accurately capture her frustration, "It seems Isshin never taught you proper manners."

"You keep talking about my old man. Every time I try something new, or somehow piss you off, you bring him into the conversation," Ichigo swallowed the lump in his throat, ignoring how his shoulder throbbed despite the injury having already regenerated, "And I get it. You go way back. Maybe before he got married. And maybe you felt scorned or something when he married my mom. But you want to know something, Ragyo?"

He tracked Ragyo Kiryuin's reaction, watching her eyes slowly narrow, "Until coming to Honnouji Academy, I don't remember him ever talking about you."

"Hmm…I suppose that's my fault."

The aftermath of the Getsuga Tenshou faded into the background as Ragyo's expression softened. She couldn't blame Ichigo for his father's mistakes. And while his speech was decided to get underneath her skin, she heard worse from better people, "Isshin and I didn't exactly part on amiable terms. We both made mistakes. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, nine years had passed. Of course, I tried keeping in touch. But your father can be rather stubborn. It wasn't until your mother's funeral that we finally spoke. I expressed my deepest condolences for his loss while chastising his incompetence."

"What!?"

"It was only fair he shared the blame," Ragyo's smirk turned predatory at Ichigo's horrified expression, "After all, he was the reason your mother –"

"YOU BITCH!"

The dull thump of the Scissor Blade slamming into Shinra Koketsu was matched only by her daughter's string of foul words. With amusement pulling at the corners of her mouth, she grabbed Ryuko by the throat. It was disappointing watching her daughter struggle, the wet gurgle passing through her clenched teeth indicating the last remaining evidence of Ryuko's connection to the pigs in human clothing. As her fingers tightened in response to her daughter's defiance, piercing Senketsu's armor like paper, she sighed. Annoyed by her daughter's lack of forethought, something Satsuki possessed in abundance.

Why on earth would Ryuko believe she wasn't paying attention to her spiritual pressure?

Rivulets of blood trailed down her fingers, oozing from the puncture wounds in Ryuko's neck, "You should know better than to think your Kamui could scratch Shinra Koketsu."

"Fuck off!"

Her amusement faded when Ryuko kicked Shinra Koketsu. Desperation when facing defeat was no excuse for blasphemy. It was shameful witnessing her daughter behaving like a pig in human clothing. She assumed Souichiro, despite his treachery and arrogance, instilled into Ryuko appreciation for one's clothing. That humans – and Life Fiber hybrids – are servants of the Original Life Fiber. The former destined to become nourishment and the latter working to ensure the Celestial Cocoon Seed Planet came to pass.

Judging from Senketsu's neatly-pressed Life Fibers, Ryuko understood the first lesson.

"That's no way to speak to your mother."

Blood splattered across Shinra Koketsu as her daughter lurched forward, mouth agape and eyes imperceptibly trembling. As the foreign substance vanished into the garment, absorbed by its ravenous Life Fibers, twisted her wrist, further driving her fist into Ryuko's stomach, "But I'm proud of your perseverance."

Without warning, and certainly without allowing Ryuko another opportunity to tarnish Shinra Koketsu with her filthy heels, she uncurled her fingers, resting the palm of her hand against her daughter's stomach. Ryuko's desperation was refreshing. But she couldn't allow exhilaration nor pleasure blind her from reality. Her daughter was stalling while Satsuki unleashed one final gambit. A plan destined to failed. And so, with more passion than perhaps necessary, she pushed a minuscule amount of Shinra Koketsu's power through her fingers.

"To recover your strength so quickly after Absolute Domination is nothing short of miraculous," Ragyo grinned when Ryuko crashed into Ichigo, smoke wafting from the regenerating burns adorning Senketsu, "I'm honestly impressed."

Ryuko dislodged herself from Ichigo, stumbling onto her feet as the Scissor Blade transformed into Decapitation Mode. Painful or not, she refused to give Ragyo Kiryuin the pleasure of knowing her attacks hurt like a bitch, "Heh…I guess that means your stupid outfit ain't all it's cracked up to be."

"Oh Ryuko…"

Her knees buckled underneath Shinra Koketsu's spiritual pressure, the sudden weight almost causing the Scissor Blade to slip from her fingers. Struggling alongside Ichigo against the overwhelming pressure, Ryuko snarled when her mom appeared inches away, "You've thrown everything at Shinra Koketsu. Exceeded my wildest expectations."

Cupping her daughter's chin, Ragyo smirked at Ryuko's defiance, "And what have you accomplished besides embarrassing yourself?"

"GETSUGA –"

Ichigo stumbled midstride, blood spewing from his mouth when Shinra Koketsu responded to Ragyo's subconscious commands. Before he took a single step, Tournesol enveloped with spiritual energy, one of its eyes transformed. Shifting into a spiked appendage that stabbed through his stomach. Coughing as Ragyo ignored his injury, smirking when Shinra Koketsu retracted with a sickening squelch of Life Fibers on blood, he forced himself forward. Brushing aside the uncomfortable sensation, his knuckles bleeding white beneath Mugetsu as he swung upwards.

"TENSHOU!"

"Have you forgotten, Ichigo?"

Ragyo didn't bother hiding her amusement. The excitement radiating through her Life Fibers as Ryuko's expression changed from defiance to horror to frustration, As Ichigo collapsed towards the ground like an unstrung marionette, blood gushing from the wound nearly cutting his body at the waist, she smiled, "Shinra Koketsu is the master of all Life Fibers."

"So, unless Senketsu's ascended to his fashion week apparel sometime during the last few minutes," she watched Ryuko gather every last scrap of available power. Her Kamui glowing crimson, spiritual pressure increasing to impressive levels, "I think we're just about done."

"Ryuko! Move!"

It happened too quickly. Even with Senketsu shouting in her ears, Ryuko gasped when something sliced through her body. Convulsing as her left arm fell away. Eyes trembling while her mouth opened and closed, she fell backwards, vision blurring as everything inverted.

"What…the…fuck?"

An indifferent sigh encompassed Ragyo's reaction to her daughter crashing onto the No-Star Slums. The smoke rising from the impact eliciting mild disappointment. Was this the extent of Ryuko's strength? Despite common sense and decades of research, she'd half-expected Senketsu to spontaneously ascend into his fashion week apparel. Reaching a level of strength requiring more than the barest essence of Shinra Koketsu's power.

"Oh?"

With some restraint, she turned away from Ryuko, lips curling upwards, "I was wondering when she'd arrive."

The purple light twinkling on the horizon, silhouetted against the Original Life Fiber and growing brighter by the second, earned her undivided attention. For so long, since learning of her existence, she'd hoped to meet the Life Fiber hybrid working for her former husband's organization. The woman who eluded the Grand Couturier on two occasions. Who wore the most intéressant Kamui – Danketsu. A person of some respectable stature, who'd proven herself against Xcution without fail, deserved a proper welcome.

She feigned surprise when the woman dodged Shinra Koketsu, avoiding her attacks by the slightest margins. Her opponent was talented. Or, at the very least, experienced. Something attributed to Olivier Armstrong's peculiar method of leadership. And that was why she paused in her efforts when the woman made a ninety degree turn, amethyst energy blasting from Danketsu. Purposely lowering her guard, giving the woman an opening to close the distance between them.

To swing her blade – a weapon of inferior quality to the Scissor Blades and Tournesol – at Shinra Koketsu.

"Youkou…"

A silver eyebrow quirked when the woman flickered out of existence. Oh? According to the Grand Couturier, Danketsu's speed wasn't impressive. Faster than Senketsu but inferior to Junketsu and Mugetsu's. But it appeared dearest Nui's report on the Kamui was outdated. Painfully so. And as the woman appeared behind Shinra Koketsu, energy flooding Danketsu's Life Fibers, her lips curled into a smirk. There was still plenty of time to demonstrate her superiority. Avoiding the energy straining along the Genji Blade's edge would require minimal effort.

But she saw no reason to deny the woman the fleeting sensation of victory.

It would make her despair all the more satisfying.

"…Genshou!"

A crackle of displaced air – the clap of thunder as the vacuum left by her Youkou Genshou vanished – accompanied the crimson flames engulfing Ragyo Kiryuin. But Kinue Kinagase retreated almost instantly, bearing her Kamui's frustration and animalistic annoyance. She fell backwards, falling towards Honnou City before abruptly turning, shifting from Genkai to Funsha in an explosion of amethyst. As the surface of Tokyo Bay parted in her wake, she glanced over her shoulder at the slowly dying flames surrounding the Kiryuin matriarch.

"This won't be easy, Danketsu."

Bangs of purple-tinted hair whipped around her face. So, that was Shinra Koketsu? She'd figured the so-called ultimate Kamui would be powerful. A woman of Ragyo Kiryuin's stature wouldn't settle for anything less. Yet something didn't feel right. There was a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach, a nagging sensation as she looked over her shoulder towards the matriarch. Even if Shinra Koketsu was stronger than Danketsu, she'd expected Ragyo to block the Genji Blade. It might be inferior to the Sword Scissors, but it could still cut through Life Fibers.

But Ragyo Kiryuin didn't bother moving. In fact, she purposely lowered her guard. Allowing the Genji Blade to strike Shinra Koketsu.

"Her spiritual pressure hasn't changed," the scent of salt water rapidly faded when she reached Tokyo, flying above the battle-torn landscape, passing above the shredded remnants of Ragyo's COVERS, "Destroying Shinra Koketsu might be difficult."

"Like hell I'm going to let YOU give up! Use all my power! Take whatever you need! But you WILL destroy that thing! I want to see that rainbow bitch's face when we tear Shinra Koketsu from her body!"

"A direct approach won't work," Kinue shouldered Danketsu's frustration as she tried contacting Olivier. She couldn't blame the Kamui for the visceral emotions bleeding through their connection. Twisting what should have been mild annoyance into suppressed loathing, "Ragyo overpowered Ichigo and Ryuko. She defeated Mugetsu and Senketsu. What makes you think we stand a chance against Shinra Koketsu?"

"I'm nothing like those two!"

"This isn't the time for posturing, Danketsu," Kinue grimaced at the static on the radio, "Unless we find Shinra Koketsu's weakness, Ragyo Kiryuin will tear us apart."

Danketsu scoffed at her wearer's self-deprecation. But she couldn't deny Kinue had a point. And that frustrated her more than anything else. Including the blanket of Life Fibers covering the planet, "You're right. It pisses me off, but attacking that ugly piece of scrap Life Fibers without a plan is suicidal. We'll have less of a chance cutting off Ragyo Kiryuin's head than Senketsu does of growing a fucking –"

"Your Kamui is quite fascinating."

Kinue's blood froze at the voice whispering her ear. Without thinking, she twisted in the opposite direction. Danketsu's jets blasted with renewed fervor as she tracked the Needle Blade grasped in Ragyo Kiryuin's fingers, the polished edge coming within an inch of her throat. And as the matriarch's other hand reached out – intent on clasping around her face, Danketsu shifted back into Genkai, giving her the freedom of mobility to duck beneath the outstretched limb.

"Danketsu, was it?"

The pulse of spiritual pressure emanating from the Life Fiber hybrid piqued her interest. Smiling at the flash of purple light, Ragyo observed the woman's thigh-high boots were replaced by pleated hakama and matching heels. Her fingers caressed the smooth handle of the Needle Blade as Danketsu shifted advanced configurations. A staggered, breathless laugh escaped her lips at the purple undertone in the woman's hair, the coloration indication the maturity and strength of her Life Fibers.

"Such an extravagant and elegant design."

Her eyes shimmered with subdued anticipation at the crimson energy enveloping the inferior blade in the woman's hand, "Although the name could use some work."

The abandoned city harboring the naked apes and Isshin's allies trembled when she deflected the Genji Blade. Purple light danced across the Needle Blade's edge. Sparks illuminated her visage, highlighting every curve of her smirk. And displaying Kinue Kinagase's clenched jaw. Her slightly bared lips and unflattering grimace. As their weapons clashed again and again, releasing shockwaves of pressure, shattering every window left intact by the previous battles, Ragyo chuckled, "From its flattering appearance, my former husband used Junketsu's dress patterns as the basis of Danketsu's design."

"What the fuck is she implying?"

"But enough about Souichiro."

She grabbed the Genji Blade as Kinue swung downwards, "I'm more interested in you."

Her finger and thumb clasped around the weapon's edge, pulling Kinue off balance, "How did a naked ape such as yourself ascend to the divineness of Life Fibers?"

A cursory examination only deepened her curiosity. Driving the incessant desire to understand Kinue Kinagase's existence. She was far too old to have been subjected to the Life Fiber experiments which bore fruit with Ryuko and Ichigo. Yet the woman's Life Fibers were matured. Inferior only to her own and Isshin's, a fact that elicited a twitch of annoyance. How did this woman – a naked ape professing her former husband's absurd philosophy – ascend beyond humanity? It couldn't have been Souichiro. His knowledge concerning the procedure was limited.

That only left Isshin, but she doubted his personal involvement. He possessed neither the temperament nor inclination for such things. And yet, Ragyo found herself drawn towards the tattoo between the woman's breasts. An intricate pattern of overlaying shapes that radiated a nearly imperceptible, yet familiar, energy.

"That bastard…"

The Needle Blade sliced through Kinue Kinagase before the woman blinked.

While the extensive wound regenerated, amethyst-colored Life Fibers knitting together at an appreciable speed, Ragyo experienced an emotion she considered irrelevant since adorning herself with Shinra Koketsu. Frustration. She'd known about Danketsu's origins for some time, despite Satsuki's efforts to eliminate Kinue Kinagase's arrival from Honnouji Academy's surveillance system. Even with the knowledge stolen from Revocs and Junketsu's dress patterns, Souichiro could never have created Danketsu without assistance. He lacked imagination, using her inventions to create mockeries and knockoffs. Insulting everything she'd achieved.

The Sword Scissors were based upon the Needle Blades.

Danketsu copied from Junketsu.

But as her finger traced the tattoo between the woman's breasts, Ragyo's lips curled into a cold and monstrous smirk.

She released the Needle Blade, distracting Kinue Kinagase long enough for her fingers to wrap around the woman's throat. As her nails pierced Danketsu, digging into the flesh under the Kamui, Ragyo chuckled. Now this was interesting! And unexpected. The woman and Danketsu were stitched together, their Life Fibers interlinked at the deepest levels. Even with regeneration, attempting to separate them would lead to exsanguination, putting her original plans on hold. But now it made sense! Why Danketsu resembled Junketsu beyond Souichiro copying the former's dress patterns!

"Did Isshin tell you anything?"

"I have…no idea…what you're…talking about," Kinue choked when Ragyo tightened her grip.

"Hmm, I'm not surprised."

Not for the first time, Ragyo questioned Isshin's judgment. Why he chose a naked ape – a woman possessing neither redeeming qualities nor temperament – for such an honor made no sense. She couldn't understand the reasoning behind his decision. Surely his daughters would have made better prospects. Their Life Fiber resistance was abnormally high compared to most of humanity. Yet the results spoke for themselves. Unworthy in her mind of the divine gift or not, Kinue Kinagase's existence was a resounding success. The woman was a genuine hybrid, which meant killing her was out of the question.

"But putting that aside for the moment."

Her grip tightened considerably around Kinue's throat, "Did you enjoy unraveling the Life Fiber wards throughout my home?"

She didn't miss the Kamui's reaction when Shinra Koketsu unfolded to its full, majestic volume. Its eyes burning brightly as she shattered the woman's ability to resist, expressing her irritation in the most prudent method possible – by thrusting the Needle Blade through Kinue Kinagase's stomach, "Don't think I'm unaware what you did!"

Blood coated her fingers as she stabbed the woman again…and again…and again, "You helped that contemptible shinigami!"

Ragyo skewered Kinue one final time before pulling sideways, cutting the woman nearly in half, "And you had the audacity to raise your blade against the Original Life Fiber!"

A breathless chuckle passed between her lips as she released Kinue, allowing the clothed nudist to fall towards the ground. It was disheartening she couldn't kill the woman. If anyone else had broken into her home, trespassed upon the Original Life Fiber's sanctum before striking the holy creature, she never would have bothered waiting for their arrival. They would have died the moment she noticed their presence, limbs severed and organs ruptured. Their eyes widening during those last few seconds, watching what was left of their body fall in the opposite direction.

"However, I'm not without sympathy, Miss Kinagase."

With a flick of her wrist, she removed the blood coating the Needle Blade. Another motion sent a wave of pressure slicing towards Kinue, who finished regenerating quickly enough to avoid wasting any more of her valuable time, "After all, you're nothing more than Isshin's pawn."

Spiritual pressure caressed Shinra Koketsu when the clothed nudist's inferior weapon struggled against the Needle Blade. In the span of five seconds, long enough to notice Ryuko and Ichigo's recovery, she countered more than a dozen strikes. Her arm blurred from the rapidity of the woman's assault. Each clash emitted a burst of spiritual energy that illuminated the surrounding darkness, overwhelming the deep crimson radiating from the blanket of Life Fibers covering the planet.

"The man loved keeping secrets," a restrained counterattack sent Kinue soaring towards the ground, "From me! From Ichigo! And from you naked apes! Without him, Danketsu would be nothing more than an inanimate uniform! Devoid of life and meaning!"

"What the hell is she talking about!?"

Kinue flinched at Danketsu's hatred towards Ragyo Kiryuin. The turbulent emotions were beginning to cloud her judgment. It was getting difficult separating Danketsu's thoughts from her own, "And why should I care?"

She exhaled softly, a cloud of mist leaving her parted lips as the Genji Blade flared with energy. Spinning the weapon around her fingers before grasping its hilt with both hands, crimson and purple shadows danced across her face, "Danketsu is my Kamui. She's the only piece of clothing I'll ever wear. Even if Isshin had something to do with her creation, nothing will change my mind."

"A passionate speech but hardly worth –"

Ragyo frowned when several flashes of blinding light detonated inches from her face.

Kinue moved before the flash bombs left her fingers. She flew towards Ragyo Kiryuin as the accompanying smoke grenades exploded, enveloping the woman in a cloud of acrid smoke interfering with her ability to sense spiritual pressure. One of Kisuke Urahara's inventions. Ducking beneath the matriarch's outstretched arm, twisting around the Needle Blade carving inches from Danketsu's right eye, she pushed everything into the Genji Blade, "Because WE don't care! Youkou…"

Their voices resonated together, her determination and Danketsu's excitement synchronizing into a single roar, "…GENKOU!"

Only for nothing to happen.

"Forgive me. For a moment, it slipped my mind you weren't at Honnouji Academy."

Ragyo dismissed the Needle Blade as Kinue staggered away, disbelief etched upon the clothed nudist's face, "Shinra Koketsu has mastery over everything in existence. From beginning to end, humanity has been molded by Life Fibers. Their evolution controlled by the Original Life Fiber for a single, divine purpose. By possessing the sacred power which granted your species the intellectual capacity – no, the honor – to serve in the Celestial Cocoon Seed Planet, Shinra Koketsu's superiority cannot be questioned. Absolute Domination. Ichigo assumed it was limited to stripping Life Fibers of their power."

"But it's more than that!"

Her laughter deepened, "Absolute Domination is superiority over EVERYHING! Not just Life Fibers! Nothing in existence can scratch the divine garment!"

"What!?"

"And another thing…"

Multicolored light flared around Shinra Koketsu, "You gave quite the performance, but I could have rendered your Life Fibers powerless whenever I wanted."

Kinue screamed when every nerve in her body burned with the most excruciating pain imaginable. Blood trickled from her nose as Danketsu convulsed, their Life Fibers seizing under the blinding light enveloping Shinra Koketsu. She couldn't think – couldn't breath – as something in her chest snapped. The pain immediately vanished, replaced by a feeling of complete emptiness when amethyst light exploded from Danketsu, sending the Kamui into blissful unconsciousness.

"I should kill you."

Ragyo caught the clothed nudist once Absolute Domination stripped every scrap of spiritual energy from her Life Fibers. "It's the only sensible punishment."

Hoisting the barely conscious woman by the wrist, she noted Danketsu's normal appearance. Beneath its crass and vulgar mannerisms, the Kamui was a purple and cerulean version of Junketsu down to the collar, tasseled epaulets and the three bands on her left sleeve. There was no questioning it. Her former husband couldn't create anything original, "But watching you wallow in despair. Forced to realize your foolish defiance against the Original Life Fiber amounted to nothing in the end. That's simply too tempting to pass –"

"Shut the hell up!"

Seras Victoria shouted at the top of her lungs as she shattered Ragyo Kiryuin's nose. Blood-red eyes narrowed viciously when the woman's face caved underneath her fist, cartilage and bone disintegrating into a visceral explosion of blood.

"S-Seras?"

"Don't worry about me, Kinue!"

She kicked against Shinra Koketsu wrapping her remaining arm around Kinue's waist. Worried when the woman collapsed limply without another word, disturbed by the eldest Kinagase sibling's weak pulse and blood pressure, Seras didn't give Ragyo Kiryuin another second of her time. She blasted in the opposite direction of the matriarch, shadows coiling around her body as the landscape changed to Tokyo Bay, the remnants of a massive COVERS slowly disintegrating over the bridge, before shifting once more to Honnou City. The artificial island covered with craters, pockmarked by recent battles.

Glancing over her shoulder when she landed in the most obscure location possible – all but certain Ragyo Kiryuin was behind them – Seras gently laid Kinue on the ground, careful not to further damage her Kamui, "What happened? What did Ragyo Kiryuin do to you?"

"It's Absolute Domination!"

Ryuko leaned against the nearest wall, breath ragged and sweat dripping down her face, when Senketsu returned to normal. Damn it! She couldn't believe Absolute Domination's range was so goddamn large! Stabbing the Scissor Blade between her sneakers, she looked at Kinue before snarling, "We can't scratch Shinra Koketsu but that bitch can shut down our Life Fibers!"

"There must be something we can do! Anything!"

"We're stalling for time," Ryuko winced when she tried sensing Ichigo's spiritual pressure only to find nothing, "Satsuki has a plan to pull that bitch out of Shinra Koketsu. But Ragyo Kiryuin knows that! She knows we can't do SHIT to Shinra Koketsu!"

"Running away, are we?"

Copious amounts of blood spewed onto the ground as Ragyo purposely – and with great satisfaction – thrust her arm through the vampire's heart. But she wasn't smiling. There was no enjoyment to be derived from the cathartic action against Vlad's protégé. Not only had Seras Victoria trespassed within the sacrosanct sanctum of the Original Life Fiber, she somehow harmed her. While it was nothing more than a bloody nose, realizing with some degree of embarrassment that the vampire wasn't bothered by Absolute Domination, that the annoying creature achieved what neither Kamui nor Isshin could, necessitated a reevaluation of her priorities.

"Although I suppose congratulations are in order."

She didn't bother holding back against the vampire. Not anymore. Not when Seras Victoria proved a threat. Without preamble, accompanied only by her annoyance, Shinra Koketsu's eyes flared. Spiritual pressure exploded from the ultimate Kamui, disintegrating everything in her vicinity underneath the nearly tangible presence. Uncaring that Ryuko was caught in the eruption, Ragyo squeezed the vampire's heart, eliciting an agonized gurgle, "Against all odds, you accomplished what Isshin could not. And that, I'm afraid, has made you quite the problem. For many reasons."

"But I'm not one to pontificate."

Shinra Koketsu rustled as enough spiritual energy to turn Honnou City into a smoking crater coalesced around her fingers, "So, with that being said, I bid you adieu."

"I find your usage of French rather insulting, Madame Kiryuin…"

"What!?"

A claw formed of writhing shadows, undulating and warping until it resembled something monstrous, latched onto Shinra Koketsu. With crimson eyes glowing sinisterly, Seras Victoria took advantage of Ragyo Kiryuin's surprise. Pulling herself forward, blood dripping from the ragged hole in her chest, she reached out, grabbing the matriarch's throat with her remaining hand, "How does it feel, you bitch? How does it feel knowing your stupid outfit can't beat a single vampire? I'm sure you're absolutely pissed off!"

Ragyo snarled at the vampire's underhanded insult. How dare this undead creature speak to her with such flagrant disrespect! Lashing out, she disintegrated Seras Victoria's lower half of her body into a fine, red mist. A wave of concussive force erupted from Shinra Koketsu as shimmering kaleidoscopic light, slamming into the vampire before carving a trench towards Tokyo Bay.

And yet the vampire – nothing more than ragged flesh – continued resisting.

"Enough!"

She tore off Seras Victoria's remaining arm, the limb disintegrating in her grasp, "You DARE think to –"

"Underestimating Ma chère isn't good for your health."

"What are…"

The inhuman warbling in the voice sent a disgusted shiver down her spine. And the divine light surrounding Shinra Koketsu, more than enough to wipe Seras Victoria from the face of existence, diminished when something emerged from the vampire. A formless clump of burning darkness taking shape over the young woman's shoulder. Flesh and blood growing out of the shadows.

"And dropping your guard in the middle of combat is…well…downright dangerous."

Her heart stopped at the crimson bullet twirling between the thing's fingers.

"Un cadeau," Pip Bernadotte didn't bother waiting for Ragyo Kiryuin to give a witty retort. As more of his soul emerged from Seras, forming just enough of his body to experience the chilled autumn air, he thrust the bullet into the woman's heart, "To you, from one Monsieur Kinagase."