The only way Ichigo could accurately describe the sudden frenzy before him was chaotic. Bodies were flying, many vaporized under unrelenting bursts of spiritual energy, while others were cut and gouged. Rivers of blood seemed to flow and ebb, splatters creating showers that mottled the white walls in a viscous red.
Many Quincy of the Sternritter that the Shinigami and Hollows thought were dead weren't quite so. The Quincy's Holy Selection, Auswählen allowed their rebirth at the cost of numerous lesser Quincy deemed unfit to continue carrying their power.
Lille Barro was one such Sternritter and leader of Yhwach's Schutzstaffel, or Upper Echelon that was reborn. A black rifle was in his hands, and each fired shot pierced holes through the cloths Senjumaru weaved as shields to keep everyone at bay.
At this point, with the Zero Squad nearest to the Soul King's embryo, they were the target of numerous attacks including Coyote's rapid-fire ceros.
The sheer magnitude of just how much punishment Senjumaru's weaved clothes managed to redirect the attacks rather than taking them head on spoke volumes of her skill. Even then, sweat glistened over her refined brows, her complexion paler than usual.
Spiritual pressure blanketed the area, the air a suffocating hellscape.
Ichigo could feel his feet digging into the ground, as all fighting commenced in full. Everything was a blur from this point, but beyond it all, was a growing sense of not belonging. What was he doing here?
What purpose was he trying to serve?
Near him, he could see Karin's knees buckle at his side, sword propped over the ground to support her weight. His mother was no different, hands planted over her knees in strain and a frown marring her face. Explosions echoed out, rocking the very foundations they all stood on. Despite it all, it was the tiny nuances that he could see on their faces that spoke of a firm determination.
A goal if you will that he was certainly not without, but had already lost faith in executing.
Karin and his own mother and father in comparison never lost that light in their eyes. They could see something beyond their present circumstances worth striving for whereas he stumbled and fell on a road block.
Perspective is a horrid thing.
Ichigo's hands balled into fists, one arm raising if only to block an errant spiritual arrow which nicked harmlessly off of his Hierro.
With perspective came the loss of ignorance. He could see from where his friends and the Shinigami were coming from in trying to aid the Soul King, but at the same time, he also knew of Nel and the Hollows stand points.
With his goal of wishing to protect those close to him, wasn't he already doomed to fail when they were at odds?
His conviction was simply not where it should have been, but at the very least-!
Ichigo worked his way through the slog of spiritual pressure, arms raised to steady Nel as she crumpled from exertion. Coyote was powerful, and with Nel only adding to that power by containing and doubling it, it wasn't without consequence.
Nel had passed out a little after her attack was fired, head lulling to the side as she reverted to her base form. The fur and armour that had surrounded her in her released state faded away in motes of pink flame.
Ichigo had used the time before she fell face-first to intercept and catch her in his arms. The fact that he could move relatively well under the present spiritual pressure spoke of his innate talent and power.
"Nel!" He called out.
No response. Nel was out cold, eyes pursed shut, and breathing soft.
He crouched and gently placed her on the ground.
Ichigo tensed. He had to get her out of the danger zone, but before even that, he was stopped.
A pair of slender legs appeared within view from narrowed and disapproving eyes.
Ichigo's neck craned up, view angling past the white-styled theme the Hollows wore, and staring directly at impassive features. Tier Harribel stood before him, arms crossed, and braided hair billowing over her face. Where Coyote and Baraggan had already sprung into action, she'd remained behind to observe…she wasn't impressed.
"You wish to take her and run?" Harribel questioned, nearly scoffing at Ichigo's lack of an answer and indecision. "You dishonour her efforts, her sacrifice."
"Don't talk as if she's dead! She's not. She's breathing!" Ichigo growled, incensed. "And I intend to get her somewhere safe with my family!"
"And ruin all of her efforts by wasting the opportunity she created?"
"W-What? She's not safe here!" He argued.
"That's an excuse and you know it." Harribel's features grew frigid, her hand pulling Ichigo up by the collar before she grimaced and deemed it not worth the effort. "Nel views you favourably, and your strength doesn't fail to reach expectation. To her, you're 'pack.' Do you consider her the type to pass out knowing the danger around her? You can't be that naïve. You're here. 'Pack.' She trusts you. However, your sacrifice is lacking; your resolve, feeble to not only protect her, but do what's necessary. Even now your resolve wavers."
"S-Sacrifice?" It was the only word Ichigo could focus on.
"You have no place here." Harribel shook her head slowly, clicking her tongue knowing that she couldn't stay idle for much longer. If Ichigo couldn't understand, then what was there left to say? To begin with, she was never the most outspoken to begin with.
She reconsidered a moment later when Ichigo scowled at her silence in defiance.
Good. Fire was still there. Burning. Flickering.
'What will be the strength of your sacrifice?'
Harribel had doubted Nel the first time she'd introduced Ichigo to her and the rest, but the primal nature of what she could feel within his gaze spoke volumes. Then, just this once perhaps she could make an exception and indulge in her own curiosity.
From her back, she drew her sword, the shing of the edge grating against its sheath echoing.
"To live, is to sacrifice. To choose, is to sacrifice, to protect, is to sacrifice. There is no saving everything."
Golden light flickered within cerulean eyes, spiritual energy rising into a torch over Harribel's figure. A feeling swelled from within, calling out to her, resonating with her.
"Resurrección, Segundo Etapa…"
She spun her blade, the motion blurring into a whirl discharging massive gouts of water that enveloped her like a clam clamping over a pearl.
A hunter lurks in the ocean depths, biding its time in the darkness and staring up at the light beyond. Primal instinct calls, the scent locked-on.
Hunter Shark of Water.
"Tiburón Cazador de Agua."
Violently, the enveloping liquid mass dispersed in a shower of spiritual energy to reveal Harribel within. The complexion of her skin had taken on a rosier tan whilst the former blond of her hair had shifted into waist-length white. The blue tribal markings of her released form had stretched down to her exposed chest looping beneath her breasts covered only by strips of glowing spiritual energy. Patterned gold and black markings similar to gills covered her thighs, while the rest of her was practically exposed. Over her forearms were coral-like protrusions shaped like a hollow trunk.
The sword Harribel carried in her grip had become a distended trident whose pieces were formed together by virtue of a flowing yellow spiritual energy.
In a deft motion, she pointed her spear's tip at Ichigo.
"One cannot gain without losing something in turn." She said expressionlessly, her mane of long white hair billowing in wake of her spiritual energy. "To choose one option is to forgo another, but it's in this process of loss that true strength hardens into the sharpest edge. The greater the sacrifice, the greater the conviction to not waste it. If a friend vouches on your behalf, you dare not ruin their credibility. If a comrade dies to give you a chance at victory, you damn well take it. Shirou's sacrifice is why I'm here, and why I fight, and I won't hesitate to end you if your choices contradict it."
Harribel's tone was cold and sharp.
"…If the price of inaction and cowardice means sacrificing everything, what would then be the sharpness of your sword? Consider it carefully, and whom you should be pointing that sword at."
Saying her piece, she immediately bounded forward, uncaring for a response.
An unrelenting wave of water followed Harribel's departure, drowning all those caught beneath it. Almost instantly, she joined the fray, and left Ichigo's sight.
"D-Dammit," Ichigo cursed, glancing from Nel, to his family, then back when his mother started shooting at the Quincy.
'What is the sharpness of your sword?'
The words played again, and through it all, the weight of this entire scenario once more came to mind.
The Soul King's power…The Royal Guard sought to covet it while the Quincy sought to protect it. Then there were the Hollows. Their case was far simpler.
"Rot." A voice echoed throughout.
A thick purples miasma rapidly expanded, encompassing all in its way. The Quincy who touched in had their skin blacken and peel before even the bone was left rendered into dust.
'Nel was right that Baraggan's abilities are terrifying,' Ichigo swallowed. But more than that came the realization that Baraggan was only testing the waters.
"Blacken," Ichibei intoned, a massive calligraphy brush flourished in his grip and swung. "Ichimonji."
Black ink swept across Baraggan's miasma, coating it completely.
Ichimonji was the Zanpakuto of black. Anything covered by its ink loses its true name and hence its properties and powers. Anything without a name simply becomes meaningless.
"An interesting ability. It's not the first I've found someone who could counter my power, yet it matters little." Baraggan remarked candidly, spiritual energy growing stronger around him. "I've learned that between spiritual entities such as ourselves, it all comes down to a clashing of spiritual power." Before everyone's eyes, Baraggan put away his axe and drew forth a separate blade.
It seemed mundane, but was regal enough to be considered a relic of a legend. It was a cross-shaped sword, gleaming in under the spotlight. A faint layer of purple miasma constantly surrounded it. Through the haze, even Ichibei, the seer of True Names, could not deem anything quite so remarkable about the sword other than its make and craftsmanship.
"My power grants me sovereignty over time," Baraggan slowly elaborated, none daring to approach him, nor stop him in the Quincy's case as he was occupying Ichibei. This would change quickly.
"Time ages everything. Turns it all into dust blown in the wind…but this sword, it's different. It is beyond the laws of commonality and steps into the realm of myth. A sword created by the Vasto of White, passed to me in a token gesture. Now you see, this sword and I are truly quite compatible."
Crystalized Legends never die, but only grow stronger with time- and time was all Baraggan had in excess.
He'd once vowed on his pride to never use this trinket. This pity offering, but he'd managed to overcome that short coming by coming to an acknowledgment of respect.
He was not the God-King of Hollows.
What was offered to him was not a token gesture, but a gift he alone could actualize on a whim.
From the very beginning, Baraggan had always kept the sword offered to him by Shirou since his defeat. In all honestly, he could no longer determine how long it had aged by- only that it was becoming exceedingly difficult to corrode its aura with his miasma.
This was telling, and at present, he no longer saw a need to mask it.
The haze surrounding the sword vanished, and a terrifying presence spread throughout, rocking the very palace with its presence and shocking all into a momentary daze.
"How will you deal with this?" Baraggan raised the sword up, a pillar shooting through the palace ceiling itself.
If his rot couldn't reach the goal, then let this sword's light do the job.
Ichibei, the Zero Squad, and the Quincy all suddenly shared a unanimous consensus.
He was a sword if nothing else.
"Nervous?" The metallic-tint of his tone was bereft of any emotion.
"Hardly." Yhwach grimaced, subtly inching back a couple steps only to pause when a cage of swords descended around him.
"Sorry. But we're staying here."
As another shockwave of spiritual energy and turbulent winds buffeted the area, many Shinigami were forced to shield their faces with their arms. Almost certainly a unanimous and depressing murmur was spreading deeply through the ranks.
'They're too strong.'
To begin with, it was said that a Vasto Lorde alone could easily rival and surpass that of even the strongest Captains. Now with the emergence of the Arrancar, the Quincy, and even Yhwach, the Soul Society's prospective was bleak at best, and hopeless at worst.
Surveying their ranks, Kisuke shook his head, dipping down the rim of his hat over his eyes.
"A miracle is only a miracle if even the slightest probability of victory exists, and is obtained. What we need right now, is precisely that: a miracle," he murmured, carefree features hardening. "Aizen possesses the Hogyoku, the Vasto of White is an anomaly, and the Blood-Feud of a thousand years is coming to a pass. The predictability of events is reaching a fallacy, and the only known method to reprise that which is already lost is by a new variable. In which case, what if said variable didn't exist? Pieces exist as if on a shogi board, each with their distinct qualities and characteristics unable to be interchangeable until a requirement is reached- promotion. The answer is surely here…"
"Stop with your rambling Urahara. Words mean little," Soifon sneered bitterly while nursing a wound at her side. Gauze and bandages were wrapped firmly around her waist, bruises peaking out from the cloth. "We need direction. A plan. What can we do in our present states?"
Kisuke shut his mouth, frowning.
"As of the moment…nothing," Yoruichi answered instead, brows pinched. "If this place truly was Hueco Mundo, and its changes correspond to the will of the Vasto of White, then it's likely that all our movements fall within his perception. Nothing is worse in combat than running blind under the eyes of a predator. Kisuke, there is much to consider before taking impulsive action. This gamble has much to lose."
"And everything to lose if this plays out in any side's favour." Kisuke grunted. "The Quincy seek to destroy the world order, and the Vasto of White-"
"Is not how you all perceive him," a cutting tone interjected in the growing dissonance.
Haplessly, Kisuke and the other Shinigami glanced towards the Zanpakuto Spirit wreathed in regal blue armour, carrying a sheath and sword in her hands. At first, they may have considered the wayward Spirit an enemy, but all the same, they couldn't. It may have been a form of chivalry, but the spirit actively shielded them from the spiritual energies prevalent across the battlefield through a particular golden glow of her sheath.
Moreover, the feeling of warmth and light exuding from her could in no way be attributed to vile or evil. Instead, it was wholesome, bright, and charismatic. The spirit in no way thought it prudent to allow any injured to be caught up in the crossfire of a conflict beyond their capability.
The magnanimity and graciousness of her acts and demeanor wasn't lost on anyone. This made it all the more difficult to accept her stance to bicker and argue with her. It was a losing battle, her resolve unshakable.
Kisuke was smart enough not to argue the point and shift to another. It wouldn't do to return a favour with antagonism. "Vasto of White aside beautiful spirit, but can you say the same for Aizen?"
"…" It was kind of cute the way the spirit's features crinkled indecisively. "He's a complicated man."
"I'm not hearing a yes, now, am I? Rather 'complicated' is akin to distrustful. A wise decision if anything. I'm glad we all agree and are of the same accord."
"D-Did I say that? D-Did you just put words in my mouth?"
The spirit looked to Kisuke, then to everyone else who couldn't meet her eyes. It was like the spirit was dealing with sharp-tongued aristocracy all over again and she detested them to begin with. No, the more apt description was that she'd always been weaker in the way of the tongue than the sword. This was the Wizard staff's job wherever that womanizing staff spirt was…
"No wonder Kyouka hates you," the spirit muttered under her breath.
Kisuke tilted his head at the words, before realization set in, and he didn't bother to interject. It was probably true anyway. By 'Kyouka' there could only be one Zanpakuto spirit Kisuke was familiar with. But wait, if this spirit knew of Kyouka, did it not stand to reason that it would know others as well?
"Oh, do you happen to know my Benihime?" Kisuke proposed out of curiosity.
"That sadistic woman is yours?" The spirit assessed Kisuke up and down in bewilderment. "How deceiving looks can be," The spirit grimaced almost immediately, scratching the back of her head as if recollecting. "Recently she's taken a liking to bickering with the Hound of the Red Plains and the Cursed Red Spear."
"Certainly, sounds like her," Kisuke mused, fingers rubbing over his scraggily beard.
"Oh, then do you know Katen Kyōkotsu?" Shunsui interjected from the side with an air of levity, despite the situation. Everyone else within ear shot was just as curious but didn't let it show due to the silent Yamamoto, and the aggravation around Soifon.
The spirit furrowed her brows in thought. "The children's game addicts who scare the little priest twins?"
"T-They're not that bad, are they?" Shunsui winced at the description, knowing full well whom was being referred.
"They turn honourable spars into games…" The flat look over the spirit's expression said it all, but this wasn't the point.
Soifon snapped and crossed her arms in aggravation, shooting everyone a withering stare to stay silent before leering dubiously at Kisuke. "Kisuke get on to it!" She snarled. "Get to the point! We have no time to be wasting here! You had a plan, or are empty words all you've got?"
"I wouldn't say empty words, but there is something I'm thinking of, but I would require the aid of you all and the ability to keep close to me."
"And how do you expect us to do that like this?" Soifon gestured to herself, the injured Captains, and the demoralized Shinigami.
"With a little help," Kisuke drew his sword, red swaths of spiritual energy exuding over its enter length. It had been a long time since he'd taken an active approach to his methods, but there was little choice to be had in this matter.
Kisuke glanced at Kenpachi and the other injured patched up to the best of Unohana's ability before shutting his eyes and calling to his sword. Twisting his wrist, he flourished it, before letting it fall.
From the tip up, blood curdled into a pool in which the hands of a giant woman clawed out for purchase. Braided hair tied in loops over her head appeared next, skin laden with the distinct grooves and joints of a mannequin or puppet.
Modification of the Crimson Princess' Dissection at the Doors of Avalokiteśvara.
"Bankai," Kisuke whispered, Benehime's figners caressing his cheek. "Kannonbiraki Benihime Aratame."
The spirit bristled at the sight of Benihime, but said nothing despite already having an idea of Benihime's capabilities. Of course, Kisuke took notice.
"Will you be stopping us, Ojou-san?" He asked.
"No." The spirit shook her head before letting out a breath and coming to a decision. "You are allowed to do as you wish, and who am I to stop you? But…perhaps you would welcome me along?"
Kisuke and the others blinked at the sudden proposal.
"You actually wish to join?" Yoruichi hopped up onto her feet and strided over, assessing the spirit with a critical eye.
"Aren't you tied with the Vasto of White?" Kisuke hummed neither in agreement or rejection.
The inexplicit jab of suspicion was evident to anyone's ears, but the spirit remained unperturbed.
"Would you say the same for Benihime?" the spirit countered without pause, causing Kisuke to stiffen before she then turned to address everyone else as a whole. Motes of light surrounded her in a luminescent radiance, highlighting the bright wheat colour of her hair.
"Would all of you say the same for your respective Zanpakuto? Would you doubt them, and their devotion?" She queried, causing a wave of unrest and denials.
The spirit continued regardless.
"They're all here, in this place, this medium, this precipice of the soul. You need only call, and they will surely answer."
The spirits words were not without meaning. If the loyalty of the Zanpakuto spirits was under question before, the spoken words were practically a blatant answer.
"Free will," Kisuke murmured in conclusion, his brows furrowing. If this was truly the case, then the fact that they would aid the Vasto of White gave some credibility to the spirit's words regarding the Lord of Hollows. However, like it or not, the Vasto of White's existence was one that jeopardized all order of the system in place.
There was no room for hesitation.
Kisuke opened his mouth, but was then interrupted before he could even get a word out.
"Why do you fight?" Yamamoto spoke up for the first time. His injuries impaired him, but the aura of his person was left in tact. Perhaps, the most heavily impacted with transpired events was none other than him.
The spirit regarded Yamamoto with an air of melancholily.
"Laws, duty, and honour may not always uphold the correct outcome in mind, but rather a preferred one."
Yamamoto didn't react other than a twitch of his brow.
"Everyone has their reasons as you all surely do, but the answer is here beyond logic and doubt."
The spirit placed her hands over her chest.
'Follow your heart.'
"Right or wrong, no one can truly be arbitrator and judge but one's self. I'd fight with you as I am not because I agree with you, but because I wish to ease his burden in what little way I can."
"That's an open declaration of hostility if anything!" Soifon pointed out.
"Indeed," the spirit didn't deny this. "But aren't we all the same? Or do you not harbour some ulterior motive after dealing with the Quincy? It's a tad hypocritical that you'd use his forces for your gains, but then are defensive in my participation with yours?"
"Your wielder must have been a ruler of sorts," Shunsui sighed in response, smiling softly. "You're too frank and straightforward. The aura around you even reminds me of the old man."
The spirit didn't respond, but merely nodded instead.
"How strong are you?"
"We'll let you come along." Yoruichi interrupted, her sixth sense aiding in her decision and overruling Kisuke's caution and logic. "You don't seem the type to attack from the back."
The spirt appeared offended at the remark. "I am no cowardly Assassin."
"Well, there you have it," Yoruichi smacked Kisuke in the back before regarding everyone else. "C'mon, let's get down to it."
Kisuke and the rest grunted.
Eyeing the spiritual fluctuations within the Soul King's Palace, Kisuke raised an arm.
"Wait for my signal."
This battle was surely reaching its conclusion, the players each possessing their own motives, but only one side would be victorious. The cards were already set and revealed.
Mind calculating several thoughts a second, Kisuke eventually settled on dealing with what he got.
He glanced at the spirit, then at all the other Zanpakuto spirits fighting Yhwach. He then compared it all to the Seireitei's remaining forces, and inwardly grumbled.
With their odds, help was better than nothing…even if it came with strings attached.
The ends justify the means.
Suddenly, a towering light beyond that of what ordinary souls should have been capable of harnessing pierced through the Palace's walls. A glimmer flickered over Kisuke's eyes.
The time had come.
Thanks for reading. I don't want to drag it, but a part of me feels like I can end this within 2 or 3 more long chapters, but it comes at the cost of not going into detail in regards to fight sequences. I could just glaze over them with a few mentions, but it doesn't feel quite right considering how diverse a cast Bleach has. What do you all think is best? A middle ground perhaps?
Next update: Fate Parallels
P a treon. com (slash) Parcasious
The Lonely Peak
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