Chapter 13: The Espada

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX Ichigo XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

After his conversation with Aizen, Ichigo sat atop the tower overlooking the desolate Hueco Mundo. His mind raced at the possibilities of what the future held. He couldn't help but feel anxious about some of the things Aizen mentioned.

'His bankai…it must be something inconceivable,' Ichigo thought as he briefly wondered about the power Sosuke Aizen actually had.

He shook his head in contemplation, 'His Reiatsu was unlike any I've felt before. Was that his or just the Hogyoku? He obviously wanted that orb to empower himself, but why? I have no doubt that he could prove more than a match for any of the hollows in Hueco Mundo or the other Shinigami. Could the Soul King or this Yhwach really be as powerful as Aizen claims? It makes sense why he would want my help…even the Captain Commander is a foe neither one of us could easily defeat. If that was only the old man's shikai then I will need some kind of power boost that could match his bankai.'

Distracted by his thoughts, Ichigo barely noticed Grimmjow land next to him. The blue haired arrancar sat down next to Ichigo and didn't say anything. After a brief silence, Ichigo acknowledged his presence, "Grimmjow, you need something?"

"White, I know you think you're doing what's best, but I don't like those Shinigami snooping around here. What's to stop them from spying on us or betraying us later?" Grimmjow asked with an unhappy expression.

Ichigo glanced over and shrugged, "You're right to be cautious, Grimmjow…their betrayal of the Soul Society certainly is abnormal. Though, judging by the reactions of the other captains, I doubt they're double agents. Not to mention, Aizen delivered his promise…we're all arrancars now. He and I have had a few talks, and it's become clear to me that we need his help just as much as he needs ours."

"We don't need their help! With all of us united, we're strong enough on our own! You brought our kind together so that we could stand against them! They don't belong here! Just what exactly do these Shinigami Captains even want? Why would they betray their own? Aren't Shinigami all concerned about honor and all that other bullshit?!" Grimmjow protested.

"Listen, Grimmjow…Sosuke Aizen is invaluable to our cause. He understands our enemy more than we do. He seeks the destruction of the Quincies and the death of the Soul King. His reasons for being here, while vague, are at least understandable. The other two captains, Gin Ichimaru and Kaname Tousen, are the ones I don't fully trust," Ichigo explained.

Grimmjow seemed to calm down slightly as a curious expression graced his features, "He wants to kill the Soul King? Hmm…and he wants our help to kill him? Who the hell is the Soul King anyways?"

"The Shinigami's god I think…though I don't really understand either. The point is, I understand why Aizen is here…the other two however have rather weak reasons for being here. If I was you, I would watch them more closely than Aizen," Ichigo replied coolly.

"Yeah, I see what you mean there. The silver haired Shinigami likes eavesdropping from what I've seen. I don't' like that bastard…but the blind one acts like he's better than us. He even had the nerve to talk down to me…" Grimmjow said angrily.

"That sneaky guy…Gin Ichimaru…don't let your guard down around him, ever. As for Kaname Tousen…I wouldn't expect much deception from a man like him, but I wouldn't expect loyalty either. I will speak with both of them and draw a clear line. So it would be best if you kept your anger in check and let me handle it," Ichigo said authoritatively.

"Fine, I'll shut up about it. Just so long as you're not letting them try any funny business then I'll tolerate them for now. By the way…Barragan wanted you to come see him. He asked me to pass it along in case I ran into you," Grimmjow sighed.

"I imagine everyone's still adjusting to becoming arrancars…" Ichigo noted.

"If I was you, I'd probably make my rounds and check how everyone's doing. A lot of the former adjuchas are acting stupid," Grimmjow said with an annoyed face as he wrapped his arms around a raised knee.

"I suppose I should do that…I'll go see Barragan first. By the way, how are your followers adjusting to their new bodies?" Ichigo questioned casually.

Grimmjow seemed uncertain about the topic, "I don't see why you'd care…but they're doing fine. I talked to them a bit…they seem to like being arrancars."

"We're all kin now…the more we all know and trust each other, the better. With that in mind, what are their names?" Ichigo asked.

Grimmjow shrugged, "Shaw Long, Di Roy, Yylfordt, Nakeem, and Edrad. Shaw Long is the tall one, Di Roy has the bulky mask helmet, Yylfordt is the blonde one, Nakeem has the half mask, and Edrad is the buff one."

"Will they be ready for fighting Shinigami?" the hollow king asked as he gave Grimmjow a curious stare.

The blue haired arrancar nodded, "Yeah, I'll make sure they're whipped into shape if that's what you're asking. I talked to Harribel a bit while you guys were away. She mentioned you go through a lot of trouble to train your followers. Initially I thought that was just patronizing…but it makes more sense now. You like having dependable companions."

Ichigo nodded, "I helped train her followers. Not as much as my three, but I might find time to do more with them. I could help your guys out too if you'd like."

"Nah…I'll take care of them. It's my job, not yours," Grimmjow insisted.

"Fair enough…so how are you adjusting to being an arrancar, Grimmjow?" Ichigo asked curiously.

The other arrancar stared out into the distance, "It's interesting…but yeah, I'll catch up with you later, White."

Grimmjow stood up and started walking away. He didn't make it very far before Ichigo responded to him, "See you later, Grimmjow…I'm going to go check on Barragan."

Grimmjow simply waved, "Yeah, take care, White."

"You can call me Ichigo if you want. That's my real name," the orange haired hollow stated causing Grimmjow to raise a brow.

"Ha…I know you as, White, so that's what I'm gonna call you. We're not exactly chummy or anything…besides if I start calling you that, people might think I'm in your little posse." Grimmjow laughed.

"Suit yourself…" Ichigo laughed as well. He left shortly afterward.

After he departed, Grimmjow held his head dejectedly, 'For someone who's proven himself stronger than me, he's awfully friendly. I mean, I know we're working together and all, but why does he treat me like I'm his equal most of the time? Weird…'

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX Inside Las Noches XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

After a short exploration of Las Noches, Ichigo finally locked onto Barragan's spiritual signature and found the former king in one of the several throne rooms. Barragan was sitting on it examining his axe with curiosity. It was evident to Ichigo that its new sealed shape interested him.

Upon entering the room, Barragan's followers all greeted him promptly. "High King White, is there something you needed?" Ggio asked immediately.

Ichigo walked inside, and caught Barragan's stern gaze before glancing back at Ggio, "I wanted to speak with Barragan. By the way, how are all of you adjusting?"

Ggio bowed his head respectfully, "As you wish High King White…we are doing well I suppose."

"I feel like this new body perfectly represents my beauty!" a buff, but strangely effeminate arrancar announced cheerily as he glided across the room and bowed to Ichigo.

"I feel much stronger than before!" a buff arrancar with red tribal paint covering his body announced happily.

"I never did learn your names…care to introduce yourselves?" Ichigo asked curiously.

"The name's Charlotte Cuuhlhourne!" the effeminate arrancar winked.

"Abirama Redder…royal bodyguard of King Barragan," the red marked arrancar stated.

Walking over from Barragan's throne the other four followers joined the conversation. The slim long haired blonde one spoke next, "Findorr Calius, royal bodyguard; It is a pleasure to formerly introduce myself to you."

The really big one with green face markings and a jaw mask fragment nodded, "I'm Choe Neng Poww, King Barragan's enforcer…everyone just calls me Poww."

"I'm Nirgge, royal bodyguard of the king," one of the others said. His mask fragment was shaped like a tusked helmet of some sort. The final arrival was a tall, muscular grey haired man with a jaw mask fragment. His hair was in some kind of spiky ponytail and he had a noticeable scar covering his face much to Ichigo's curiosity.

"I'm Tiburon Martillo…King Barragan's enforcer," the final arrival stated.

Ichigo examined his scar and looked at him curiously, "Got a few scars along the way I see…"

The arrancar nodded somewhat bitterly, "Yes…Tia Harribel inflicted the one on my face."

"It's your own fault for challenging a Vasto Lorde's power," Ggio shook his head amused.

The arrancar grimaced angrily, "Shut up, Ggio!"

"I hope you can put that kind of grudge behind you…" Ichigo threatened Martillo. The sheer lethality in his voice caused the grey haired arrancar to immediately bow in subservience, "O-of course, High King…I will not make an issue of it. I am no match for the likes of you or Harribel."

"Good…" Ichigo nodded before turning his eyes back on Ggio. The former saber tooth introduced himself last, "Ggio Vega…Emissary, Advisor, and Royal Guard of King Barragan."

"Well it's nice to officially meet all of you. As you may or may not know, my actual name is Ichigo Kurosaki. Though you're free to call me whatever you'd prefer." Ichigo nodded as he made his way past the group to Barragan himself. The former king was surprisingly quiet as he watched the scene with a strange curiosity.

Right as Ichigo reached him, the arrancar grunted in acknowledgement, "It is good you came immediately…I wanted to speak with you. We never really got the chance after that Shinigami appeared."

Barragan's followers all watched the two powerful hollows with an evident anticipation, but were let down as the old man waved his hand, "Go find yourselves living arrangements…White and I will speak in private."

"Yes your majesty," they all said in unison. It was surprisingly in sync which led Ichigo to assume that they were used to doing it.

After the lesser hollows all left, Ichigo stared at Barragan waiting for him to speak. The older man sighed heavily, "We have much to discuss, White…"

"Let me guess…you don't approve of the Shinigami here? Well they're not going away, anytime soon. We'll need them, like it or not," Ichigo explained.

Barragan seemed annoyed by Ichigo jumping to conclusions and grunted in disapproval, "NO, that is not what I wanted to speak to you about. I have already come to terms with our predicament. The only reason I have accepted it is because you hold the leash on those Shinigami…it better stay that way. Now back to the reason why I called you here…it concerns this palace."

"Las Noches…come to think of it, I don't know anything about this place," Ichigo noted.

The former king nodded, "Yes…but as the new ruler, you should be aware of its origins and secrets. You have proven your superior might…as hollows, that gives you the right to rule over me. As such, I will entrust you with the knowledge of Hueco Mundo's history."

"Alright…then how about you start by telling me how this place was built," Ichigo nodded.

"The former rulers of Las Noches before myself were Arrancars. They ruled here long before I took residence in Las Noches," Barragan began.

Ichigo's eyes widened with disbelief, "I thought you've always ruled here…how far back does this go?"

"Thousands of years…but as the story goes, Las Noches was built by the First King of Hueco Mundo. In those days, hollows were far more numerous than they are today. Vasto Lordes ruled every corner of this desert…and the mightiest of their kind was the King himself. He was a hollow unlike any other. None know of how it happened, but he became the very first Arrancar. It gave him even greater power than the Vasto Lordes that rivaled him…and one by one he subdued them all until he finally conquered all of Hueco Mundo. The King sought the same thing you do…to challenge the Shinigami who arrogantly slew us as they pleased," the older man continued.

Ichigo was fascinated by the story, "So the original King wanted the same thing?! What happened to him and the other hollows?!"

"Over the course of his rule, he shared the secrets of how to become an Arrancar with his underlings. One by one they transformed and grew in power until at last, all of them were like the King himself. Uniting the nine strongest hollows under his command, they created an elite faction of ten called The Espada. They were all Vasto Lordes who became arrancars. With them and the legions they commanded under his heel, the First King created this mighty palace…Luna Palacio De Las Noches Eternas. Moon Palace Of The Everlasting Nights. To the common hollows, it is simply known as Las Noches. The King built this place as a sanctuary for his army…it stands as a monument to his might and influence over Hueco Mundo," Barragan said almost admirably.

"I imagine so...this palace is enormous. His army must have been colossal. Though these Espada sound pretty formidable. Why aren't they still around?" Ichigo said interested.

"I won't pretend to know the why or the how, but the King was later slain by a powerful band of Shinigami that would eventually become their Gotei 13," Barragan said angrily.

Ichigo shared Barragan's resentment as he gritted his teeth, "How did they manage to defeat the First King if he was so powerful?"

"I don't know…but I do know that a title that was given to the King's slayer. They called this Shinigami The Kenpachi," Barragan replied.

"Kenpachi?" Ichigo's eyes widened as he remembered a brief flash of the eye patch captain he fought as a Gillian and later a Vasto Lorde. He vaguely recalled that Shinigami being referred to as Kenpachi.

"I learned from the former King that it is a title given to the greatest swordsman of the Shinigami. Though I don't know if the Shinigami that slew the First King still lives. It was thousands of years ago," Barragan elaborated further.

Ichigo frowned, "Was this warrior Yamamoto? He's the strongest and oldest Shinigami I've ever seen."

"That is the only Shinigami I know by name…and no. I know that he is not The First Kenpachi. According to the information I've gathered over the centuries, there has in fact been several Shinigami with that title," Barragan clarified.

"If there has been more than one Kenpachi then it's probably safe to assume this warrior is long dead," Ichigo concluded.

Barragan glared angrily, "You are likely correct…but it is indeed a shame. I would take great pleasure in avenging the First King."

"So what happened to the Espada after The Kenpachi killed the First King? You mentioned the former king told you all of this?" Ichigo asked.

"After his death, the survivors retreated and fought over the vacuum of power left behind. Their infighting ripped Hueco Mundo asunder and caused more destruction than our own hated enemies could ever hope to. Without a strong leader to maintain order, the Espada clashed in a civil war. The aftermath left them weakened…and eventually the Shinigami managed to purge the rest of the Espada in the years that followed. They succeeded in killing off all of them…except one. The only survivor was the Segunda Espada. Though powerful, he paled in comparison to the First King…the Cero Espada. He assumed the title of King by default according to his account," Barragan said distantly.

Ichigo cocked his head confused, "So then, you already knew what arrancars were before I brought Starrk and Lilynette with me? Interesting…so how did you and this surviving Espada meet?"

"The first time I met him, was after a victory against one of my rivals. He sensed our battle and came to watch. After I slew my rival, he tried to recruit me, but failed. I had no interest in being subservient to anyone. He respected that about me, and offered me the right to challenge him for the throne. Agreeing to his offer, I took my army to seize Las Noches for myself. I succeeded obviously…but lost my entire army in the process. That is how I came to be the King," Barragan answered.

"He killed your entire army?" Ichigo asked somewhat surprised.

Barragan nodded, "They died in the crossfire between us…those that didn't, fled. The former king is the only foe I've ever faced besides you that gave me a true challenge."

"Did you kill him after winning? When exactly did he tell you all of this stuff?" Ichigo wondered.

Barragan shook his head, "Not exactly. After our long battle, I defeated him, and he surrendered. I was going to finish him off, until he started talking about my potential as an arrancar. The former king recognized my superior power and claimed I was worthy to succeed him as King. After doing so, he thanked me for freeing him."

"Freeing him? How did you free him?" Ichigo wondered not fully understanding the idea.

"He said he would only abandon his post in Las Noches if a stronger hollow were to take his place. Apparently I was the greatest Vasto Lorde he had seen since the days of the First King. That was also when he explained the origins of Las Noches and the Espada to me. After he told me the about the schism of Hueco Mundo and the death of the First King, the former king stated that he wanted get revenge against the Shinigami. He claimed that Las Noches' protection was the only thing keeping him from doing so. Before he left he asked me to gather the strongest hollows and recreate the Espada should he fail. Afterward, he left through a Garganta and I never saw him again." Barragan said with deep reconciliation.

"What was his name…the former king I mean?" Ichigo asked curiously.

"His name was Arturo Plateado. He was rather arrogant as you could imagine…but he commanded great power. If a hollow like him was only third ranked amongst the Espada, then they must have been supremely powerful as a whole," Barragan replied.

"So Arturo went to avenge the rest of the Espada, and he left you in charge of Las Noches since you were more powerful than he was? Is that what led you to try and conquer Hueco Mundo?" Ichigo confirmed.

Barragan nodded, "Precisely…though, I failed in my attempts to do so. I tried to conquer Hueco Mundo, and force weaker hollows into my army. Adjuchas were easy to recruit, but many of the Vasto Lordes I slew were those that refused to serve me. I was angered that despite my superior might, the lesser Vasto Lordes would not yield to my authority. They would rather die pointlessly or flee to the far corners of Hueco Mundo. I eventually gave up on trying to rekindle the First King's legacy."

"So then you simply saw me as another power hungry Vasto Lorde?" Ichigo began to realize as he felt more empathy for Barragan than he ever expected to.

"Yes, when I first saw you, I knew that you would eventually become a Vasto Lorde. Your power was already great as an Adjucha. I hoped to recruit you into my army before then, so that you would not end up like the other Vasto Lordes who challenged me. I failed in that regard, and you escaped. I knew that day that you and I would eventually face each other again. Though to my surprise, you were able to unite Vasto Lordes against me…succeeding where I failed. Then you took my throne. I hated you for that…" Barragan admitted.

Ichigo stared at him shocked by the man's truthful statement. He said nothing and simply let Barragan continue.

"However, after seeing the way you gathered all of these powerful hollows under one banner, I began to understand what it truly meant to be the King of the Hollows. They all respect you…even my own followers. Even I do despite all that's happened. The moment you spared my life, I began to realize what you had that I lacked. You have charisma, empathy, and above all your reign stands for something greater than yourself. I often wonder what the First King, Zangetsu, would have been like to unite all hollows under his rule. Now I realize…he was like you. It is for that reason that I will continue to follow you," Barragan finally finished his explanation.

Ichigo was speechless from Barragan's story and simply stared dumbfounded. After a long awkward silence, Ichigo finally shook his head disbelievingly.

"D-did you just say that the first king's name was ZANGETSU?!" Ichigo gasped in pure disbelief.

Barragan nodded, "Yes…that was his name according to Arturo."

Without warning, Ichigo drew his sword and held it up for Barragan to see, "This is my Zanpakuto…and its name is Zangetsu."

The old arrancar jaw dropped at Ichigo's remark, "Absurd! How is that possible?"

"I don't know…" Ichigo said shaking his head.

Barragan's non scarred eye widened considerably. He seemed truly speechless, probably for the first time in his life. Ichigo slowly sheathed his blade and nodded his head respectfully, "Thanks for telling me all of this, Barragan…it really puts things in perspective. Now I have even more of a reason to defeat the Shinigami."

"I need time, to reflect on this…if you would excuse me," Barragan stated as he stood up and began to leave.

"I should probably get going anyways. Might I suggest you help train your followers if you get bored," Ichigo requested before heading in the opposite direction.

Barragan stopped in his tracks and contemplated deeply on the meaning of the revelation, 'What could that possibly mean? How could his Zanpakuto be named after the First King? Aren't they an extension of one's soul? Could it be possible he is the First King incarnate?! This is unprecedented.'

Before Ichigo could leave the room, Barragan called out to him, "High King White…this conversation should stay between you and me."

Ichigo turned back briefly and nodded, "It will…thanks again for telling me."

As Ichigo took his leave, the orange haired arrancar shook his head, 'Zangetsu? The first King of the Hollows was named Zangetsu…what does that make me? The blade is a part of me…but am I truly like the original King of the Hollows? I wonder what the Shinigami thought when I told them I was the King…the captain commander seemed enraged when I mentioned it. Though I obviously don't look like the First King or they would have recognized me right? Damn...if this First Kenpachi killed the original hollow king, then what kind of shape am I in to take them on again? I am clearly not powerful enough. I must become stronger!'

Several minutes passed in reflective silence as Ichigo wandered down the massive hallways of Las Noches aimlessly lost in thought. Too distracted by his concerns, Ichigo didn't realize where he was going until he knocked someone over by accident.

"Hey! Watch it you…Oh King White, sorry for yelling at you," the individual said apologetically. Ichigo took a closer look and noticed it was a pink haired man with glasses. He smiled at Ichigo as if thrilled to see him, "It's an honor to be knocked down by you…I didn't even sense you walking down the hall. Trying to ambush me huh?"

Ichigo tried to recognize the man as he cocked his head curiously, "I'm not quite sure I remember…but you were that butterfly adjucha right?"

"I'm Szayelaporro Granz, and may I say, thank you for including me in your army, King White. I promise to be extremely useful in our war against those wretched Quincies and abysmal Shinigami. If you need anything...just let me know," he bowed his head very gracefully.

"Well, aren't you eager?" Ichigo said amused.

The pink haired man grinned as he slicked his hair back, "Well, my older brother is one of Grimmjow's followers…but I on the other hand was rooting for you from the start. Your mastery of combat is quite a sight to see, though I find your intellect and charisma to be awe-inspiring. Oh look at me rambling like some kind of giddy fan."

"Thanks…I guess," Ichigo said as he rose a brow somewhat uncertainly. This man was clearly trying to get on his good side.

"So what can you do exactly? Are you good at fighting?" Ichigo asked.

Szayel laughed maniacally, "Oh but of course I am! Though my true passion is science and research…I would gladly analyze and dissect any Shinigami or Quincy specimens if we were to capture some…"

"Hmm…well since you seem to enjoy that kind of stuff, then sure. Your first assignment is to figure out what the deal with this blood on my clothes is," Ichigo pointed.

Szayel reached out and was about to touch it before Ichigo grabbed his wrist. The pink haired arrancar gave him a strange grin as he did so. The hollow king stared intently, "Be careful touching it. One of the Quincy women I encountered seemed to think it would affect me somehow if she covered me in her blood."

"Sounds…kinky," Szayel laughed, "well then, perhaps you could hand over that jacket and allow me to do some research. I believe I can set up a lab somewhere around here…"

Ichigo nodded as he removed his upper garments and carefully folded it to cover the bloodied parts. He handed it to Szayel, "Feel free to use whatever you need to figure out what we're dealing with. You have my permission to make a lab if you want. I would like an update as soon as possible."

"Of course, King White!" Szayel said excitedly as he took the folded jacked and examined it with anticipation. He glanced down at Ichigo's white hakama pants, "Is there any blood on the rest of your clothes as well? The more samples I have, the better it would-"

"I think you have more than enough," Ichigo dissuaded as he began to walk away. Szayel nodded in acceptance, "Very well…I will begin at once! Farewell, your majesty! I look forward to sharing my findings with you."

With that, the pink haired man left sprinting down the hallway like an excited child. Ichigo couldn't help but chuckle at his enthusiasm which helped to distract his mind from the shocking revelations from Barragan. He continued down the hallway making his way into a grand chamber.

Upon entering, he noticed many of the new arrancars were all gathered around discussing their opinions on recent events. The moment they spotted Ichigo, the entire room went silent.

"Ichigo, w-where's your shirt?!" Menoly exclaimed with a crimson face. Her reaction seemed to mark him with a bunch of heavy stares from the room's inhabitants. He looked at them curiously, 'Why's everyone staring at me like that?'

Loly's eyes widened, "Aren't you going to say something?"

"What's up?" Ichigo waved nonchalantly as he made his way into the room. With each step closer, he made several of the girls back away shyly.

Harribel had an intense, silent reaction as she eyed him up and down. The calm arrancar tilted her head curiously, "Do we not have to wear tops around here?"

"Well the women don't," a tall lanky arrancar with black hair snickered. Everyone seemed to ignore his comment minus Harribel who gave him a stern glare.

"Oh sorry…I gave my jacket to Szayel, the pink haired guy, so he could examine the Quincy blood on it," Ichigo explained.

"Hmm…that seems convenient. You certainly do know how to make an entrance," a foxy laugh came from behind the group. Everyone turned their attention towards it and spotted Gin Ichimaru grinning.

Ichigo cocked his head at Gin curiously, "How are you liking Hueco Mundo, Gin?"

"It's quite nice…though Las Noches could certainly use some entertainment and decorations," the foxy captain chuckled.

"Maybe it does need some renovation. This place doesn't look like it's been lived in for centuries," Ichigo said in agreement.

"Hey, Ichigo, how does my new body look? You never told us all what you thought," Mila Rose asked seductively as she stuck a pose. Her revealing attire clearly showed quite a few curves.

Ichigo looked at her surprised, "Where did you get that outfit?"

The new arrancar woman had quite a revealing top as well as a short white skirt and matching boots. Her green eyes lit up with anticipation, "Looks good doesn't it?"

Apacci scoffed at it, "What's with that get up? Why would Ichigo like that?"

Sung-sun shook her head at the woman, "It looks ungraceful and shameless…so it's definitely a match for you, Mila Rose."

"What did you just say?! You still look like a snake to me, Sung-sun!" the former lioness sassed back.

Sung-sun covered her mouth and narrowed her eyes, "Yes…but snakes are quite exotic and beautiful as well as deadly."

"Your face is deadly…deadly ugly!" Mila Rose taunted.

"What a crude comment…you truly lack etiquette and subtlety Mila Rose," Sung-sun giggled.

"Well if you want my opinion, you both turned out great," Ichigo complemented, immediately ending their argument.

Harribel's eyes widened slightly, 'He thinks they look good? He mentioned liking my appearance, but he seems to like theirs as well. hmm…'

Both women seemed shocked by his comment as if not expecting it. Sung-sun immediately covered her face and looked away. Mila Rose gawked at him with a slight gleam in her eyes, "You really think so?"

"What about us, Ichigo?!" Loly demanded as she pushed Mila Rose aside. Menoly followed her and both struck a pose back to back in front of their master. Ichigo laughed, "Impressive. You two certainly had the most unexpected transformations."

Loly's one visible eye widened as she nodded, "Damn right! Did you expect anything less?"

"Well I'm glad you all like being arrancars…but don't think that means your training has stopped. Just because you're all cute now, doesn't mean I'm going to go easy on you," Ichigo stated.

His comment caused most of the girls to visibly react in some way. Harribel on the other hand cocked her head, "Cute? What's that?"

"Well, it means something looks innocent and pleasant, mistress," Sung-sun clarified. Her cheeks were covered by a sleeve for some reason much to Ichigo's curiosity.

The former Vasto Lorde stared at Ichigo for a moment, "That description obviously doesn't match me…"

"Well maybe not…but you've always been appealing, Harribel," Ichigo said approvingly.

Her eyes shot open as she was taken aback by his comment. Harribel quickly regained her composure and stared at Ichigo silently, 'Appealing? Does he like my appearance or not?'

"He's right, mistress, you're a symbol of beauty and power in Hueco Mundo," Sung-sun added. Her comment seemed to alleviate Harribel's doubt, but now the blonde couldn't help but feel flushed by the remark.

'Beauty? Does he think that about me? No, he never specified beauty specifically. I shouldn't jump to conclusions,' she thought. The female arrancar couldn't quite explain why but the issue seemed to matter more to her than it should have.

"So who's the most beautiful arrancar, Ichigo Kurosaki?" Gin cut into the conversation with a foxy, mischievous grin.

That one comment immediately caused all of the surrounding women to stare at Ichigo intently. Several others in the room immediately made their way closer to watch the conversation. Ichigo rubbed the back of his head for a moment, "Well…"

"This ought to be good," Nnoitra cackled.

"Yeah who is the prettiest?!" Loly demanded almost threateningly.

Menoly's face was flustered as she looked away, "You girls shouldn't pressure Ichigo like that. The way we look isn't really that important…"

Apacci seemed less hostile about it than Loly, but stared with unrestrained curiosity, "What's your idea of pretty anyways, Ichigo?"

"Definitely not you…" Mila Rose shook her head, "you don't have the curves I do."

"Why does that matter?!" Apacci deadpanned with a furious look on her face, "Ichigo is MY master, not yours!"

"Technically he is everyone's master now…though I think Mila Rose is saying that you're flat, Apacci…" Sung-sun giggled.

"What?! No I'm not! She's just bulky and muscular!" Apacci pointed at Mila Rose.

The former lioness laughed at her, "Muscular?! Is that what you think these are?"

The tomboyish arrancar cracked her fists angrily, "Oh get over yourself, Mila Rose! I could still kick your ass in a fight!"

Harribel chose that perfect moment to step forward as she spoke up calmly, "What are you all fussing about anyways? What sort of contest is this?"

Many of the female adjuchas stared at Harribel's physique. It was clear that they felt intimidated as the woman crossed her arms, "Beauty isn't something we should be concerned with as hollows."

'Easy for you to say, mistress…you're the one with the perfect body,' Mila Rose thought. Many of the other women clearly had the same train of thought.

"Anyways…" Ichigo said slowly to break the awkward silence.

Before Ichigo could move past the awkward topic, an arrogant arrancar rekindled it, "What are all of you women bickering over anyways? It's pretty annoying if you ask me."

Everyone turned their attention to an effeminate arrancar with short black hair. He had a hand on his hips and a condescending look directed at the group of female arrancars.

"What did you just say?! I'll kill you bastard!" Loly growled. Before she or any of the women could pounce on the man, Ichigo spoke.

"Who are you again?" Ichigo asked. His remark slightly shattered the other hollow's pride, but it didn't take long for him to recover.

The effeminate hollow smiled proudly, "Luppi Antenor. By the way…why do they all call you Ichigo?"

"Ichigo Kurosaki is my real name. White is just what other hollows have always called me," Ichigo answered.

Luppi nodded, "I see…how interesting. Do you mind if I call you by that?"

"Go ahead, Luppi," Ichigo nodded.

The other arrancar beamed proudly, "I hope to prove my elite status to you in the days to come."

"What's with this guy kissing ass all of a sudden? You think you're better than us?" Menoly crossed her arms.

"You don't look that tough to me…you're going to regret butting in, asshole! There aint nothing elite about you!" Loly said rudely to Luppi.

The short black haired arrancar glared at them, "Appearances can be deceiving…I'm probably more than a match for all of you and clearly more attractive. Like High King White and Harribel here...I'm both beautiful and powerful."

'Well at least he has the common sense not to talk down to Harribel...' Ichigo thought slightly amused by the effeminate arrancar's antics.

Starrk who, had been lying on a couch nearby looked over lazily, "What's with all that noise over there? I'm trying to sleep here…"

"Then get a room, Starrk!" Lilynette badgered him annoyed. Though she seemed far more interested in the conversation than her male counterpart. She wasn't fully used to seeing this kind of social interaction and was watching it intently.

Harribel glanced over at Ichigo gauging his reaction, 'White seems to have a lot of patience for other hollows. I'm surprised he didn't kill Luppi outright for talking down to them…how curious. I guess he doesn't feel the need to boast or consolidate authority given all that he's achieved.'

"Get real, dude…you're nothing like Ichigo or Harribel!" Menoly retorted annoyed.

Apacci gritted her teeth, "How dare you compare yourself to Ichigo!"

"Relax, girls…I'm sure he meant it as a joke," Ichigo said hoping to ease their angered moods.

"Yeah right! He's acting like he's better than us!" Loly said angrily.

"Speaking of appearances," Gin's voice sounded again, "I couldn't help but notice the strange way many of you dress."

Menoly cocked her head at him uncertainly, "What do you mean, shinigami?"

"Yeah what's wrong about the way we dress?" Apacci half-demanded.

"Well Hueco Mundo is an interesting place…where the guys dress like girls and the girls dress like guys," Gin chuckled.

His comment caused most of the room to examine their attire doubtfully. Many didn't exactly comprehend what he was saying.

"My attire perfectly suits me," Luppi boasted.

Gin Ichimaru nodded in response, "It certainly does…you are proud and beautiful, and those female clothes are perfect for you."

"These aren't female clothes...those are though!" Luppi pointed at Mila Rose and Sung-Sun annoyed.

"I don't dress like a guy! Right everyone?" Apacci protested as she directed a mean glare at Gin.

"Well now that he mentions it…you're definitely wearing the same kind of pants that Ichigo is," Sung-sun pointed.

"So!? You say that like it's a bad thing. I'd wear Ichigo's pants!" Apacci countered.

"Would you now? How shameless, Apacci…" Sung-sun teased.

Apacci's face went scarlet as she realized how her statement might have been heard. She shyly glanced back and briefly made eye contact with Ichigo before turning away blushing madly, "Umm…I didn't mean it like that, Ichigo."

"Backing off already…she's so skittish sometimes," Loly shook her head.

Loly crossed her arms at Gin and grinned smugly, "I already know I look good…right Ichigo?"

"Right," he nodded halfway amused by the various reactions from the arrancars in the room.

Menoly examined her attire and looked between Gin and Ichigo, "What I'm wearing looks good, right? I mean I guess it's not as revealing as Mila Rose or Loly's clothes. Is that good or bad?"

"Well Ichigo has been catching a few glances at you when you weren't looking," Gin smiled wickedly. The former scorpion adjucha immediately gawked at Ichigo, "R-really?! You have?!"

"Umm…what?" Ichigo questioned. He shook his head at Gin, 'Is this guy trying to stir drama up already? We really need to get off this topic before things become more awkward…'

Sung-sun covered her mouth with a sleeve and eyed Gin doubtfully, "I didn't see anything like that…you certainly have an overactive imagination, Shinigami."

Gin shrugged, "I would imagine you didn't see it…you've been staring quite contentedly at Ichigo this whole time. There's no telling what your imagination was up to…"

The former snake uncharacteristically got angry, "I was doing no such thing, Shinigami!"

'I wonder if he's really that observant or if he's just messing with her?' Ichigo thought uncertainly.

"You never did pick who you liked the most, Ichigo," Gin redirected the conversation.

The orange haired hollow immediately sent a glare towards the foxy Shinigami, 'Damn bastard! How the hell am I going to get out of this now? Though I wonder…which one is the prettiest? I mean they all look attractive…but is that really important?'

"I'm getting tired of hearing this shit! Obviously, King White has more important things to do, rather than hear all you annoying bitches talking about who looks the best! You should be more concerned with who's the strongest!" Nnoitra hissed.

"Screw you, Nnoitra!" Mila Rose growled.

"Who are you calling a bitch?" Luppi demanded.

The lanky arrancar cracked his neck and grinned evilly, "If you say one more word to me, I'll butcher you…"

"How do you like being an arrancar, Nnoitra?" Ichigo asked. The hollow king couldn't help but feel relieved by Nnoitra's distracting presence, 'Thank heaven that guy was here. Gin had me cornered there for a moment.'

The tall arrancar shrugged, "It's fine…but I'm ready to start killing. When do we get to do that?"

"After we finish making everyone arrancars, we're going to train the army and come up with a strategy to topple our enemies. Though we're not doing anything else tonight," Ichigo explained.

"Well if this bullshit is the only thing going on right now, then I'm out of here. By the way, King White, do you care where we live in this palace?" Nnoitra asked.

"No I don't mind, Nnoitra. You can sleep in whatever room's available. Maybe later we'll renovate Las Noches and get everyone a nice den," Ichigo replied.

"Alright…come find me whenever training starts," the tall arrancar stated as he took his leave. Ichigo nodded in response. After he was gone, Ichigo saw his opportunity to leave.

"Well anyways, I should really be on my way and-" Ichigo started but immediately felt something on his back. During this time, an energetic Lilynette chose to jump onto his back. She wrapped her arms around his neck and quickly sat on his shoulders, "Ha! I ambushed you, Ichigo!"

"Good job," Ichigo chuckled.

'Guess I'm not going anywhere…' Ichigo sighed internally.

Starrk who was still lounging further away stood up and made his way over. He cocked his head at Lilynette curiously, "What are you doing to Ichigo's hair?"

The young blonde was playing with Ichigo's hair now with an amused look on her face, "Your hair is so colorful, Ichigo!"

"Gah…she's acting like a dumb kid," Loly huffed in annoyance.

"You should let me braid your hair!" Lilynette suggested excitedly as she ignored the obviously angry glares from several nearby arrancars.

Enraged by Lilynette's actions, Apacci growled, "Get off of him!" Ichigo watched surprised as Apacci charged over and kicked Lilynette off his shoulders. The hot-headed arrancar girl glared at Apacci angrily as she leaped to her feet, "Hey what's the big idea, Apacci?!"

"Don't mess with him like that!" she commanded.

"Why not? It didn't seem to be bothering him," Lilynette said confused.

Starrk simply shook his head and sighed, "Sorry if she's bothering you, Ichigo…"

"It's okay, Starrk. Lilynette is just excited right now. I understand completely," Ichigo said reassuringly.

The blonde girl beamed happily at his statement before turning to the crowd, "Ichigo lets me do it, because he likes me!"

"What's that supposed to mean?! Are you saying he doesn't like us?" Apacci growled.

Starrk face palmed at Lilynette's comment, 'She didn't mean it like that…but that's how it sounded. Oh jeez…Lilynette, you're a handful sometimes.'

"What's your problem?" Lilynette asked bluntly causing several of the other girls to glare at her as well. Seeing as this was the perfect time to intervene, Starrk pulled the blonde girl away, "C'mon, Lilynette…let's go find a place to crash. I'll catch up with you later, Ichigo."

The man gave a curt nod to Ichigo before dragging away Lilynette. After they were gone, Mila Rose started laughing at Apacci's flustered face, "Haha, what're you so worked up for?"

"Well, if you ask me…it would seem that she was seething with jealousy," Sung-sun cut in with an amused tone. She had her mouth covered by her coat sleeve and a pair of condescending eyes focused on Apacci.

The tomboyish arrancar's eyes widened horrified as she glanced back at Sung-sun flustered, "You want a piece of me too?!"

"Well I should really be on my way as well…" Ichigo said as he made his way for an exit.

"Ichigo!" Nel's voice sounded from across the room. Everyone looked up briefly as she ran over and embraced him in a tight hug. He looked at her surprised by the action, "What are you doing, Nel?"

"Hugging you of course!" She stated as she squeezed him harder.

"Hey what's the big idea?! He obviously doesn't want you grabbing him like that!" Loly piped up annoyed as she peeled Nel off of Ichigo.

"Oh, sorry," Nel said as she let go of the orange haired king. She smiled at him happily, "This is amazing…there's so many arrancars now and we are all living in Las Noches together!"

Apacci, Loly, and Menoly all had a slight dislike for Nel after her past battle with Ichigo. They all defensively tried to get between him and Nel.

Loly hissed at the turquoise haired arrancar, "Don't think we've forgotten what you did to him!"

"Yeah, how's about you back away from him. The fact that Ichigo became an arrancar has nothing to do with you," Menoly added.

Neliel backed away feeling slightly offended by their hostility. She frowned as she remembered the past excursion with Ichigo and how she almost got the adjuchas killed.

The woman nodded apologetically, "I am truly sorry for what happened then. Believe me, I would take it back if I could."

"What did happen?" Harribel interjected as she walked over.

"It doesn't matter, you girls should give Nel a chance. That whole mess is in the past," Ichigo spoke seriously for the first time since entering the room, "I've already forgiven her, and she's more than welcome to come near me if she chooses."

"B-but, Ichigo!" Apacci shook her head, "she's-"

"She's one of us now…" Ichigo concluded. Nel stared at him genuinely touched by his defense. The turquoise haired arrancar smiled weakly, "I promise to make it up to you, Ichigo…"

"Don't worry about it, Neliel…I'm glad you're with us." Ichigo said with a comforting voice.

Unable to resist the surging emotions spurred by his remark, Nel charged past Ichigo's former adjuchas and embraced him in another hug. This time she rested her head against his bare chest. Her face seemed different than it was before, and Ichigo had a hard time understanding what she was feeling.

After a moment of standing there, Ichigo hugged her back and smiled, "It's okay, Nel…you should get some rest. We all should."

She broke the hug and looked up at him with a distant face, "Goodnight Ichigo…"

Afterward, the woman departed, leaving five former adjuchas and Harribel all staring at Ichigo with various expressions.

Ichigo looked over their faces curiously, "What's wrong, girls?"

"N-nothing…" Apacci said sourly as she looked away.

Harribel's face was one of curiosity more than anything. She gave Ichigo an uncertain look, "She's the one who healed you a long time ago, right? I didn't realize you two had a bond like that."

Gin walked over towards the group again and nodded, "Well she's certainly in the lead for Ichigo's favor…"

Many of the female arrancars glared at Ichigo incredulously as if believing the statement immediately. The hollow king looked over at Gin, 'What have you done?! Damn you Gin!'

Deciding he had no choice but to flee the room, Ichigo laughed awkwardly, "Well I should really go see how Wonderweiss is doing…later girls."

Without even hesitating, he left via sonido before any of them could say anything. After he was gone, Harribel eyed Gin suspiciously, "Are you implying that he prefers her company over ours?"

"Bullshit!" Apacci growled, "we've been traveling with Ichigo for ages! I don't believe that! She's delusional if she thinks she's closer to Ichigo than we are!"

The foxy Shinigami gave a knowing grin as he exited the room, "Well I guess you'll never know for sure…but Ichigo certainly liked her enough to hug back."

As he made his way out the door, Gin smiled mischievously, 'I think I've discovered my new favorite pass time here…'

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX Las Noches, Ichigo XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

After a swift escape from the awkwardness created by Gin Ichimaru, Ichigo let out a sigh of relief. If the previous conversations were anything to base him off, Ichigo knew that Gin was a crafty person. He never even got a chance to question the Shinigami.

"White is here," a voice sounded approvingly catching Ichigo's attention. He glanced over and noticed Kaname standing there next to Wonderweiss. Ichigo was surprised to see them, but figured he must have instinctively located them during his escape.

Kaname glanced up but said nothing as Wonderweiss walked over and greeted Ichigo, "How are you, King White?"

"How are you adjusting to being an arrancar, Wonderweiss? Is Las Noches to your liking?" Ichigo asked.

The blonde nodded happily, "I'm happy to be around others…I think Hooleer likes it here too."

Ichigo was surprised by the former Vasto Lorde referring to himself in first person. "I see your speech has improved. That's good," Ichigo said approvingly.

"I have been helping him to understand speech. He has taken a strange liking to me," Kaname spoke up for the first time.

Wonderweiss smiled at his statement, "Kaname is nice. He helps me understand."

"That's good to hear…I'm glad to see some of you are getting along," Ichigo replied.

Tousen nodded his head, "Those with pure intentions are typically drawn to one another. He and I are more alike than I expected."

"You mentioned justice before…against the Soul Society. I am curious about that. I still don't understand why you would betray them?" Ichigo said as he read Kaname's reaction.

The blind Shinigami appeared somewhat surprised by his question, "I suspect that question is out of suspicion…but out of respect for you I will answer it. The Soul Society is very corrupt…I don't know if you recall much of what you saw while you were there, but a great disparity exists between the Seireitei and the outer Rukongai districts. The Shinigami of the Gotei 13 work for the 'greater good' of the Soul Society, but they are an aristocratic, elitist organization."

"How so?" Ichigo replied.

Kaname faced him, "They like to spy on and control the masses…they insist on enforcing 'balance' to the world, but I often wondered if that was simply an excuse. They are nothing more than a ruthless organization of killers who rule the Soul Society under the guise of being protectors. The Gotei 13 cares nothing for morality…they care nothing for justice or for the people that die needlessly for their cause. They allow ruthless murderers like Kenpachi Zaraki and Mayuri Kurotsuchi to be captains…and worst of all was central 46. A pathetic, cowardly group of men who thought they had the right to dictate what is acceptable in this world. They belong in hell along with all of the Shinigami…I am happy to part ways with them."

"Kenpachi Zaraki?! The man with the eye patch right?!" Ichigo demanded.

Kaname's features tensed, "Yes…he is more of a monster than any hollow I have ever seen. He cares about nothing except fighting and killing. At least you fight for a reason…Wonderweiss says you believe in protecting your kind."

"Kenpachi...I will break that title and anyone who carries it…you haven't seen a real monster yet!" Ichigo spat full of hatred.

"Why did you become a Shinigami in the first place if you hated them?" Wonderweiss cut into the conversation confused. Ichigo glanced over at Kaname curiously as he wondered that very same question.

The blind man turned towards the blonde, "I was born blind…I have never seen light. Yet despite my lack of sight, I can see more than others. I knew from a young age that the Shinigami were corrupt. Yet countless people from the district I lived in, aspired to join their ranks. They were like moths drawn to a flame…I became a Shinigami because I had to. For a friend…"

"I don't understand." Wonderweiss said somewhat distraught.

"I seek to enforce justice because the Shinigami have never known it. They care next to nothing about the suffering of the outer districts…the one I was born in was a slum where the Shinigami rarely visited. Poverty and despair run rampant while Central 46 and the noble houses lavish in their thrones atop the world. The Shinigami are men and women with too much power squabbling over control while the rest of us suffer. I'm sorry Wonderweiss, but my reasons for being here are not simple enough to fully explain." Kaname concluded.

Ichigo frowned at the explanation as he remembered the large district he destroyed in the Soul Society outside of the Seireitei with his Getsuga Jujisho, 'Those people out there...they weren't Shinigami?'

After a long, awkward silence, Ichigo finally nodded, "Good talking to you, Kaname…take care Wonderweiss."

Without another word, he left the duo as he went to find a room. After a short search, he came across one of the more prominent palace chambers with suitable enough living conditions. Ichigo didn't waste any time plopping down on the large bed as he finally dropped his guard for the first time in weeks.

His mind was racing in a hundred directions, but drowsiness soon overcame his senses as Ichigo slipped into a long-deserved slumber.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX Ichigo's Dream XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Ichigo stood alone in a massive, field across from what appeared to be the Seireitei. It was noticeably absent walls or any recognizable buildings. Fire covered the horizon in all directions surrounding him.

He was in his release form…but for some reason, Ichigo only had one sword instead of his standard two. His fired a cero at the Seireitei with tremendous force releasing a blood curdling hollow howl along with it.

Before it could devastate his target, a massive wave of fire cut it in half sending his cero erupting either side into the distance. Moments later, the fire came barreling after him engulfing Ichigo in an inferno. Despite its raw heat and power, he managed to fight through it and charged closer towards the heart of the Soul Society.

After clearing the flames, he stopped dead in his tracks as a long line of Shinigami blocked his advance. In front of and behind them was a massive battlefield full of corpses. Dead arrancars littered the ground. He was the only hollow still alive that was present on the battlefield.

"There's the leader! That's Zangetsu!" one of the Shinigami said with an excited bloodlust.

"The Cero Espada?! That's the Hollow King?!" another one said in a mixture of excitement and fear.

"Kill it…hollows always run away if you kill their leader," Another Shinigami commanded. The group walked forward, led by the man with the fiery sword.

Ichigo's vision blacked out as they approached and he soon found himself falling down in darkness. He flailed around during the descent unable to stop it, and before long crashed into the ground.

The moment he hit the ground, he jerked upright waking from his dream. (Dream Over)

Ichigo sat there frozen in thought as he tried to rationalize the dream, 'What was that?'

Before Ichigo could give it any serious thought, a concerned voice caught his attention, "Are you alright, Ichigo?"

His eyes shot open as he looked around for the voice's owner. It was then he noticed Ulquiorra sitting on the window balcony illuminated by the moonlight. The orange haired hollow stood up and stared at him curiously, "Ulquiorra? What are you doing in here? How long have I been sleeping?"

"Quite a while…several days according to the Shinigami. A lot has happened since then," Ulquiorra answered.

"Did you come to get me? What's going on?" Ichigo wondered.

Ulquiorra nodded, "Not exactly. I have been guarding you so that nobody would interrupt your sleep. I was probably going to wake you though since Aizen wants everyone to meet up. While you were asleep, Aizen already went ahead and transformed many of the other hollows. A lot of them have been lounging around the main throne room."

"Damn, I need to go check on things then." Ichigo said seriously. The haziness from his sleep was now starting to wear off.

The black haired arrancar shrugged, "I believe they're waiting on you."

"Alright…let's go," Ichigo said as he quickly put a fresh outfit on and made his way for the door.

As they exited, Ichigo looked at Ulquiorra curiously, "You stood guard while I slept? You don't have to do that, Ulquiorra…I shouldn't have slept that long."

"You must have needed it," his friend said.

"Let's hurry up," Ichigo changed the subject as he took off with a sonido.

Ulquiorra frowned slightly, 'He was flailing in his sleep…it must have been a nightmare.'

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX Throne Room, Las Noches XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

As Ichigo and Ulquiorra made their way into the throne room of Las Noches, they were promptly greeted by the room's inhabitants.

"About time you showed up…we've been lying around doing nothing forever it seems!" Grimmjow sighed in annoyance.

"Ah, Ichigo, good to see you awake…I was going to come get you, but Ulquiorra did not approve of anyone disturbing you," Aizen stated.

Several of the others offered various remarks of approval or disapproval, but Ichigo ignored them as he made his way to the front where Aizen was standing. He stared at the man briefly, "Is there a reason you have everyone gathered in here?"

"Well, I took the liberty of transforming the remaining hollows while you were asleep. Your council didn't seem to mind since we were not permitted to wake you," Aizen explained.

"This had better not be a waste of our time…" Barragan complained.

"I assure you, Barragan, that it is not. The reformation of the Espada is something even you must want…" Aizen said coyly.

Everyone's eyes widened at the statement. Though many of the lesser arrancars didn't fully understand, Ichigo and Barragan in particular were shocked by Aizen's announcement.

Ichigo cocked his head confused, "You know about the Espada?"

Aizen nodded, "Yes…and now that all of Las Noches' hollows are arrancars, we can properly rank all of you."

"How dare you assume that such a right belongs to you!" Barragan hissed.

Ichigo held up his hand to silence Barragan, "We will reform the Espada then. How does the ranking work exactly?"

Answering his question, Aizen brought forth a large device, somewhat mechanical in nature. Hooked to it through some type of link was the Hogyoku, which rested on a pedestal. The large device was difficult to fully describe and was clearly not something Ichigo understood.

"This is a device used to measure your power. By syncing it with the Hogyoku, it will automatically assign a number based on a variety of criteria. Like the arrancars of the past you will be numerically ranked from weakest to strongest. Typically this device would only read your current strength, but with the Hogyoku's addition, I can factor in your future potential and hidden powers as well," Aizen went into detail.

The orange haired hollow glanced around the room full of arrancars. They were all beaming with excitement at the idea. Some appeared nervous about having to be ranked according to power.

Harribel crossed her arms curiously, "So then we're going to be ranked? For what purpose?"

"What are the Espada exactly?" Grimmjow cut in, "nobody bothered explaining that to the rest of us."

Before Ichigo could answer, Aizen did instead, "They will be the ten strongest arrancars. As the ranking system goes for your kind…the stronger hollows will have the smallest numbers."

"Alright fine…so what are we waiting for?" Nnoitra said eagerly, "I'm looking forward to see how far I rank above the rest of you."

"Fat chance, Nnoitra…you weren't even a Vasto Lorde. You'd be lucky to break the top ten," Luppi mocked him.

The lanky arrancar sent him a death glare, "I guarantee I'm stronger than the likes of you, bitch!"

"Neither one of you will live long enough to see it if you don't shut up!" Grimmjow immediately silenced the two.

Apacci looked at Aizen nervously, "So…what about the rest of us who don't become Espada? What will we be?"

"Numeros…hollows with two digit numbers," Barragan answered before Aizen could.

The brown haired captain glanced over and nodded, "Yes…I imagine Barragan is quite familiar with these terms. For those directly below the Espada…they will be the Numeros."

"Let's get on with it…" Ichigo said before an argument could break out again.

"Very well…all of you will place your hands on this device and it will read your power. After everyone has done so, it will call out your name and a number will form over the back of your hands," Aizen instructed.

"We don't need some stupid machine to tell us who's the strongest!" Grimmjow said disapprovingly.

"Just do it…" Ichigo said calmly. One by one, every arrancar in the room reluctantly lined up to place their hands on the device. It glowed every time a new person would touch it. After everyone in the massive chamber did so, Ichigo placed his hands on last.

A bright glow flashed around him before he pulled his hand away. Aizen nodded approvingly as he went over to touch the Hogyoku. It sent a volt of power into the machine and soon fired out a stream of energy at every single hollow in the room.

After the energy subsided, Aizen smiled, "It will now begin with the highest number."

There was close to a hundred arrancars in the room and the machine announced a number in the high nineties calling the name of a hollow Ichigo didn't know. It was obviously one of the newer ones Aizen transformed while he was sleeping. Ichigo listened curiously as the machine counted down, assigning numbers to each arrancar. Every time it called a number and name, the machine shot a stream of energy onto the back of said arrancar's hands. This continued for quite a while as it counted down lower and lower.

Ichigo didn't really pay much attention to who was being ranked until the machine started announcing the thirties. "36...Di Roy Rinker. 35...Nakeem Grindina. 34...Dondochakka Birstanne. 33...Pesche Guatiche. 32...Tesla Lindocruz. 31...Nirgge Parduoc. 30...Avirama Redder. 29...Charlotte Cuuhlhourne. 28...Cyan Sung-Sun. 27...Franceska Mila Rose. 26...Findorr Calius. 25...Edrad Liones. 24...Yylfordt Granz. 23...Choe Neng Poww. 22...Tiburon Martillo. 21...Ggio Vega. 20...Rudbornn Chelute. 19...Shaw Long Koufang. 18...Gantenbainne Mosqueda. 17...Loly Aivirrne. 16...Menoly Mallia. 15...Emilou Apacci. 14...Aaroniero Arruruerie 13...Cirucci Sanderwicci. 12...Szayelaporro Granz. 11...Dordonii Alessandro Del Socaccio 10...Luppi Antenor. The Numeros have been ranked."

Everyone seemed surprised by their ranks, and some slightly angered by it. Ggio glared at Shaw Long and Ichigo's followers, "How am I weaker than all of them? And who the hell is this Rudbornn?"

"You expect me to believe I am weaker than this clown?" Cirucci said disbelievingly as she pointed at Luppi.

Dordonii shared her reaction, "I don't believe this ranking system is accurate…"

"Don't act surprised…I wasn't joking when I said I was stronger than most of you," Luppi boasted. His arrogant tone seemed to annoy quite a few of the lower ranked arrancars. Luppi sighed heavily, "But unfortunately I barely fell short of making it into the Espada."

"It seems strange…" Gantenbainne said as he tried to make sense of his rank.

Mila Rose crossed her arms, "I ranked higher than I expected…but either way, I knew I'd be above Sung-Sun."

The former snake sent a venomous glare towards her friend "Perhaps in power…but not in beauty or intellect."

"Why you!" the lioness growled.

Grimmjow looked at many of his followers disappointed, "You all ranked lower than I thought you would…"

"Big brother…I couldn't help but notice your number doubles mine," Szayel smiled at his blonde brother.

Yylfordt rolled his eyes, "Get over yourself…it's not like you made it into the Espada."

Everyone's conversations were cut short as the machine spoke again, "The Espada will now be ranked. 9...Zommari Rureaux. 8...Nnoitra Gilga."

"What?! Why am I only eighth?!" the man shouted.

"You should feel honored…considering everyone's who's left used to be a Vasto Lorde," Harribel silenced him immediately.

The machine continued, "7...Wonderweiss Margela. 6...Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez."

"You've got to be kidding me?! There's no way the rest of them are stronger than me!" he protested.

"5...Neliel tu Odelschwank," the machine continued once again.

Nel's face lit up, "Wow I didn't expect such a low number." She examined the newly formed number on her hands with awe.

"There's no way in hell you're stronger than me!" Grimmjow shook his head in disbelief.

The turquoise haired woman shook her head, "Hey don't get mad at me…I'm not the one who picked these numbers."

"4...Ulquiorra Cifer," the machine interrupted.

The green eyed arrancar had no visible reaction as he stoically stared at the machine, 'It's obvious that Ichigo will be the strongest, but I wonder where the other three will rank?'

"3...Tia Harribel."

The blonde nodded in acceptance, "That seems close enough to what I was expecting."

Grimmjow's eyes widened, 'I didn't expect two females to rank above me…Are they really stronger than I am?'

"2...Coyote Starrk and Lilynette Gingerbuck," the device announced.

"How the hell can two people have one rank?!" Nnoitra demanded angrily.

"They both used to be the same being," Ichigo answered. Many people in the room were surprised by the revelation of such a fact.

Starrk's eyes widened slightly in surprise, 'Hmm…I wasn't expecting anyone to be stronger than be besides Ichigo. If that's the case then the former king…'

"1...Barragan Louisenbairn."

"There's no way he's stronger than us, right Starrk?" Lilynette said not fully accepting the rank.

The man shrugged, "I don't know…and I don't really care either."

"0...Ichigo Kurosaki. The Espada have been ranked," the machine concluded. After it finished, Ichigo looked at the mark on his hand, 'Cero Espada…King…just like him?'

Grimmjow was feeling a bit unhappy at the results, that his two opponents for the throne were ranked way above him.

Nobody was surprised by Ichigo's rank, but Lilynette sent a sharp glare towards Aizen, "How exactly does this machine determine our power? Because Starrk and I used to kill weaker hollows just being around them. We're stronger than the old guy!"

"You may very well be in terms of raw power, but like I said…raw power does not factor all of your ranks. The Hogyoku can gauge your potential. The old system would simply rank those with the highest Reiatsu. The new one I've created is more accurate in determining battle-effectiveness," Aizen explained.

"So she's more 'battle-effective' than I am?!" Grimmjow asked looking at Nel doubtfully.

Ichigo nodded, "She's very strong Grimmjow…and she can heal too."

Upon hearing his comment about Nel, several of the room's female inhabitants sent glares her way. Apacci shook her head, 'Damn that chick! She thinks she's such hot stuff…'

"Uh…well sorry, Grimmjow," Nel apologized sheepishly.

The blue haired man simply scoffed, "Hmph…I guess number six aint all that bad."

"I'll bet Starrk and I could still kick your ass old guy!" Lilynette threatened.

Starrk sighed at her outburst, "Please don't pick fights, Lilynette…"

"I was the King of Hueco Mundo for thousands of years…don't speak as if I am beneath you, girl," Barragan retorted to Lilynette.

She gritted her teeth angrily, but Starrk simply sighed, "It's not a big deal Lilynette…it just means less responsibility. Plus what's the difference between Segunda and Primera anyways? We all still answer to Ichigo…and the old guy likes to manage stuff too. I don't mind, personally."

"You lazy ass! That's probably why we're below him, because you're so passive!" she said annoyed.

"Many of you former Vasto Lordes were very close in terms of power and potential…according to the schematics. It would seem none of you came close to Ichigo however," Aizen stated as he glanced over the machine's results.

Szayel immediately ran over and started looking over them, "Let me look at this! I'll explain how things works to these simpletons. Ahem! As you can see everyone…there is a point system here that measures-"

"I don't give a shit about your statistics…can we just get on with this now?!" Nnoitra interrupted unhappily.

Ichigo walked over and looked at the numbers Szayel mentioned. There were several overlapping charts that measured different things about them. Next to each person's name was a number except for his. Ichigo stared at it curiously, 'Ichigo Kurosaki…error. Barragan Louisenbairn…540. Coyote Starrk…537. Tia Harribel…531. Ulquiorra Cifer…529. Neliel tu Odelschwank…521. Grimmjow Jaegerjaques…515. Wonderweiss Margela…510. Nnoitra Gilga…496.'

Looking up from the data Ichigo glanced at Szayel curiously, "Why does it say error for my results?"

Aizen walked between the two of them as he looked down at it, "Likely because they were off the charts…there is a great disparity between you and the rest of the Espada. Though I'm sure that's obvious by this point."

Everyone in the room paled at that revelation. Ichigo himself seemed surprised, 'He said this device ranks our potential…how could mine be that much higher than the rest of them? Does it have something to do with my mixed blood? Or Zangetsu…but even he was killed. Is this really good enough? What do these numbers mean?'

Lilynette ran over to look at the results surprised, "The old guy beat us by 3 points? That's bogus!"

"How should we organize our army now that everyone is ranked?" Harribel asked.

"Those of you in the Espada should have personal guards…a fraccion who may act on your behalf. Wouldn't you agree Ichigo?" Aizen asked.

Ichigo nodded as he looked over the crowd of gossiping arrancars before speaking, "That's a good idea. Each of the Espada will be allowed to choose a personal group of followers from the Numeros to be in their Fraccion. I choose Apacci, Loly, and Menoly…my original three followers."

The trio ran over to him excitedly from the announcement. They didn't get a chance to say much as Barragan spoke next, "I choose my royal guards and enforcers to be my Fraccion. Ggio, Tiburon, Nirgge, Poww, Avirama, Findorr, and Charlotte."

"You want some more while you're at it? Just take the whole army," Nnoitra shook his head laughing.

Starrk simply shrugged, "Uh… I pick Lilynette if she counts. If not then I'm good."

"Sung-sun and Mila Rose…" Harribel stated simply waving her followers over.

Ulquiorra shook his head, "I don't need a Fraccion…they would get in the way of my duties."

"Watching Ichigo sleep is a duty now?" Gin spoke for the first time with a sly grin. Several people sent Ulquiorra strange looks.

The dark haired man simply stared back stoically, "I do not have to explain myself to you…"

Nel thought for a moment, "I choose Cirucci, Gantenbainne, and Dordonii to be my Fraccion."

Grimmjow sighed, "Shaw Long, Edrad, Yylfordt, Nakeem, and Di Roy…might as well keep the gang together."

Wonderweiss looked around blankly for a moment, "I pick Luppi."

The effeminate arrancar gave Wonderweiss a surprised look, "Why would you choose me? I don't even know you…"

Wonderweiss said nothing in response which led to an awkward silence. Reluctantly, Luppi walked over to his side, "I suppose I don't have a choice do I?"

Nnoitra glanced through the crowd and rolled his one eye, "Umm…I guess that guy," he pointed at Tesla, "he can be my errand boy if he wants."

Tesla eagerly made his way over and bowed to Nnoitra, "It will be an honor to serve you, Nnoitra-sama."

"Spare me the pleasantries…" he said carelessly.

Zommari seemed calm as he looked over the crowd. After a moment he turned towards Aizen and Ichigo, "I do not need personal guards or followers. I am content with where I stand."

"Alright then…those of you remaining will simply fall under the command of the army. Only Espada can give orders…so don't go trying to boss each other around. Szayelaporro Granz will be our research division leader. Before we conclude this meeting, is there anyone else who has a special ability or trait that would be suited for a unique position?" Ichigo asked.

Stepping forward from the crowd, an arrancar with a full mask resembling longhorn skull spoke up, "Your majesty, my name is Rudbornn Chelute. I am capable of creating an army of clones. Observe…"

Ichigo watched interested as the skull headed arrancar created clones of himself. Unlike the original, they lacked horns however. Ichigo laughed at the sight, "That looks pretty useful."

Aizen nodded in agreement, "The addition of expendable rank and file troops would be invaluable."

"You get a special position as well, Rudbornn," Ichigo nodded approvingly, "If that is all…then get to training immediately."

"Yes your majesty!" many of the Numeros said. The other Espada didn't say anything, but they all began to disperse.

As everyone filed out, Ichigo looked at Aizen seriously, "Hey Sosuke…will you train with me?"

The brown haired man seemed surprised by his request but nodded approvingly, "Of course, Ichigo…but what kind of training are you referring to?"

"Just follow me…" Ichigo said.

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Alright kids, there's Chapter 13. A ton of stuff happened, and a lot of non-canon lore was introduced. Barragan gave us a bit of his back-story this chapter. We learned about how he became King…and how the original Espada created Las Noches. I kind of wanted to flesh that out a bit more since it is never fully explained in canon. I mean in canon it's never really clear if the Privaron Espada existed before Aizen arrived. I assume that they did, but due to Aizen's lack of interference in this universe, there was no current espada…simply stray arrancars. I hope that clears things up. Obviously it isn't canon, but I thought it was a cooler backstory than the one we never got.

Some of you may recognize the name of the former king…Arturo. Yeah I'm just cranking out surprises left and right here. He may or may not show up in the story, so you'll just have to wait and see. The big highlight of the chapter is why Ichigo's Zanpakuto has the same name as the First Hollow King? There's a reason it isn't Spanish like the others. It sort of makes you wonder where Sosuke Aizen created the original White from too…speculate on that.

Now to address the elephant in the room…the rankings. I could already picture people complaining about where I placed everyone as I wrote this, but for the sake of clarity I'll explain the obvious ones. First of all…I didn't do this list solely based on their popularity, feats, or ressureccions. I did it based on what their Segunda Etapas will be. I know a lot of people are gonna go, "But Melkor-chan! Starrk's the Primera! He's the strongest! He's so fast and smart/etc blah blah." Yeah he's a badass…but that's all subjective in my opinion. One could argue he's immune to Respira, or faster/stronger/etc, but I always felt it was kind of stupid how he outranked Barragan for no obvious reason. Maybe in canon he is truly stronger…but he's not in this story. Don't get me wrong, I love the guy…but that's where he stands. It'll make sense whenever you see the horror I have planned for Barragan's Segunda Etapa. *Grins evilly*

The next obvious question to answer is why did I put Luppi at number 10? Well here's the thing…despite the fact that he's an annoying Bishounen asshole, he's one of those characters that never really got to show his potential since he was essentially there to be killed by Grimmjow. Like him or hate him, I feel like "fixing" a few of these arrancars that got shafted by Kubo's inconsistent power levels and plot driven logic. Luppi being Wonderweiss' Fraccion is phase one of his metamorphosis. Also, Zommari is getting modified as well…because fuck that stupid pumpkin eye bullshit release. That aint happening in my story! You can expect some other changes like that just for my peace of mind.

Now some of you may also wonder why Apacci, Loly, and Menoly ranked so high…well they ate Yammy and have his power divided between them. There's your explanation for that. Also I threw in the unnamed hammerhead arrancar because he didn't die in this universe. I made his name Tiburon Martillo because it means Shark Hammer in Spanish. Yeah I know its super original lol.

All of that technical stuff aside…we got some funny exchanges between Gin and Ichigo. There's plenty of that still to come. Gin's trolling will not end anytime soon. Last, but not least…Ichigo now hates the title Kenpachi. You know what that means…there's gonna be future showdown.

Overall, I had a good time writing this chapter. The next one is probably going to focus a bit on arrancar training and revisit Karin and Yuzu. Until next time…