Power unimaginable coalesced all around Baraggan in an unending tide of spiritual energy that stunned all. Even Coyote was taken aback let alone Kisuke and the others who were making their way to the Soul King's Palace from the outside. The sheer magnitude of the energy's presence was impossible to not notice. This went doubly for Yhwach who was frowning heavily from afar.
"Stop him!" The panic in Ichibei's shout spoke volumes; the fact that he'd work together with Quincy in a desperate moment, even more so.
However, desperation did not give way to opportunity.
Just because one wishes and yearns for their desired outcome, doesn't mean that the world would bend and shift to accommodate.
The sanctimonious aura exuding from the sword in Baraggan's hands was absolute. It was unreasonable, unbearably so with its output. Even Shirou alone couldn't amass so much spiritual pressure with just a single weapon, but in Baraggan's hands, any sort of Noble Phantasm was beyond simply destructive.
It was maddening.
Ichibei, as the man said to have named all things was left baffled, panicked even, for a single reason. The sword before him…he did not know its name.
It was only now that the situation was so dire and pressing that further realization dawned upon Ichibei. One glance with his spiritual senses all but verified that many of the Zanpakuto Spirits fighting in this world were also unknown to him. This should have been impossible, as he was the one to name each of them.
These Zanpakuto spirits, and the very sword in Baraggan's hands, as far as Ichibei was concerned, shouldn't have existed. It was impossible, and yet the power and presence emanating from around him was a jarring reality.
A keening clang of metal reverberated throughout, the light surrounding the sword in Baraggan's grasp blinding even him with its radiance alone.
Who would dare meet its attack?
Ichibei, the Royal Guard, and the Quincy took one good look at the energy before them, and felt their souls shiver.
Was it even possible?
There was no such thing as a 'charge time' for Baraggan. How long had his time acceleration already been in contact with this particular sword for?
How many years had passed for that sword? How many eons surrounding in accelerated time?
The seed of a crystalized legend had long since become the foundation of a mighty oak.
The sword in Baraggan's hands was like none other.
Without care, and in a despairingly nonchalant manor, the sword was swung without any pre-emptive fanfare. All the energy stored within it was released at once, defying the very logic of the dimension in its capacity to topple anything in its way.
A white line in the shape of a half-crescent descended.
There were no special properties around it, nor unseen effects. Instead, it was simply the rapid accumulation of spiritual energy so compactly condescend that it distorted the air in its path.
It was pure spiritual energy at its finest, spanning towards the horizon in its descent.
The only force that dared to meet it beyond the barrage of spiritual arrows, swords, and constructs, was a tide of blank ink.
Ichibei swung his long calligraphy brush in rapid motion, each stroke creating ink markings that sought to paint over the white crescent to no avail.
It was a clash between white and black, but the darkness of the ink could do little to fade the radiance of the white.
Fueled by Baraggan's decay, the power swelling from the Noble Phantasm was never ending, its strength born from legend fostered through time immemorial.
The level of destructive power was unreal despite even Ichibei's efforts to reduce the strike's lethality. His was a power that could cull true names and wipe the very definition of things from existence. If one took away the 'Wa' characters from 'Water,' all that would be left was 'ter,' something with hardly any meaning nor significance. This would reflect on the object named as well. In this case, Ichibei practically reduced 'Attack' into nothing more than 'k,'…and yet, the division of a practically infinite source was still infinity.
The crescent strike continued on unabated.
"Move! Don't try to block it with your body!" Ichibei called in warning when he saw Senjumaru dare attempt to block the strike through weaving several layers of cloth in front of her.
Startled at the sudden cry, Senjumaru paused mid-action and stepped aside.
Nonetheless, several lines of fabric had already been erected.
This barrier created from high-density defensive properties of Senjumaru's cloth could likely even stop Yhwach's attacks for a brief moment to buy time for more countermeasures. In some part of Ichibei, the expectation that it could hold out after he'd practically erased over ninety percent of the strike's power was still there.
Alas, the strike tore through everything like paper to reach its goal.
Barriers, kido, spiritual constructs, nothing was stopping as it neared and struck in half the crystal housing the Soul King and continued thereafter. It hit the floor, the walls, and even the foundation of the palace, yet cut through everything before dissipating.
The entire palace was rent asunder, bisected from the middle down and falling apart. Pieces of rubble fell, the plaza hoisting the central palace, snapping in half with pieces of debris and shattered chain links raining down.
The fighting outside ground to a halt, numerous Zanpakuto spirits, Shinigami, and Yhwach's shadowed figures watching in muted disbelief.
"Hmph. The task is done," Barragan declared imperiously from up high. The sword in his hand no longer shone with the same luster, but had instead dimmed considerably. The longer he held it though, the more discernable it was that it was already beginning the process of recharging.
Ichibei paled as many others did at the outcome of this all. "Do you not realize what you've done?!" He finally snapped; any semblance of composure replaced by inexhaustible frustration. "You've doomed this world, wrought apart the balance, and condemned us all!"
"And that's where you're wrong," Baraggan leered from up high. Smoke and clouds of dust obscured visibility around the entire area, but it couldn't mask the red spiritual energy stirring within Baraggan's hollow eye sockets. "Your king dies, the Quincy emperor will follow this path soon, and all that remain will be the hollows!"
"You're insane," Ichibei forced out through gritted teeth. "Once this world's balance collapses, there's no guarantee in our survival including yourself!"
"Wrong again," Baraggan pointed out. "Crumbling world? Balance? What does that all mean in the face of our Lord of Hollows?"
"The Vasto of White," Hikifune mumbled the title out from near Ichibei, but it was as lightning struck his mind.
"Hueco Mundo…" Ichibei's eyes once more took in the world around him.
Baraggan's only reply was laughter, long and drawn out.
Indeed. So, what if the world collapses? With the Vasto of White around and no Yhwach or Soul King on his level to oppose him, what was to stop the Vasto of White from creating another Hueco Mundo for the hollows?
The Vasto of White would be the sole power, and rule upon a new balance, a new world order, where Baraggan imagined hollows would reign supreme among the lesser beings.
"Evil creature," Ichibei gnashed his teeth.
"Evil? Truly you Shinigami know how to compliment," Baraggan chortled. "But I suppose it's only natural to acknowledge your betters. This King had once been humbled too, but now I see beyond it all! It was fate! Destiny! You see this sword?" Baraggan flaunted the blade in his palms. "It's not the only one of its kind! Any sword in this world may be the same, but I alone am the only one who can power them to such an extent! Do you see?! Do you understand?!"
Harribel and the other hollows nearby couldn't help but realize the point Baraggan was making and grew intrigued. The way Baraggan was speaking, it was as if Shirou had some use for him from the very beginning.
"In the past, the Vasto of White remained alone and unnoticed upon a single hill, while all along I had ruled in the very world he created and deemed myself a King, a God!" Baraggan explained, relishing in a foreign feeling of accomplishment. What was there to care for? The task was done by his hands. Truly he possessed the most merit. "I was the King in the open, while he was the power supporting us from the back all along with no ambition! Then what does it mean for my power that so compliments the Vasto of White's? What can it not mean other than the role granted upon me? Surely, I am the King's right hand! Enforcer! Law maker! Judge of the new world order!"
Ichibei's countenance darkened with each and every word he heard.
Meanwhile, Harribel who arguably knew Baraggan's policies the longest before meeting Shirou, grudgingly chose not to disapprove Baraggan's assumptions. As an enemy, he was terrifying, but she could ask for no better ally that could aid Shirou when necessary.
"This can't be…" Hikifune mumbled from the side and Senjumaru and the rest of the Royal Guard tried to peer through the smoke of where the Soul King's crystal was cut apart. They were desperate, hoping that even if the vessel was damaged, that it could retain the power necessary to change the tides of this war.
Ichibei wasn't quite as optimistic as his colleagues, having attempted to stop the crescent attack, but he too looked in the direction of the Soul King's crystal.
The Quincy held their breaths, Harribel, Coyote, and the Hollows who could now see within the bisected palace did the same.
As the dust cleared, and the smoke wafting from falling debris blew away, light glinted in Ichibei's eyes while confusion marred everyone else's.
The question voiced everyone's thoughts.
There forcibly clasping the two halves of the Soul King's crystal together was a large hand pale anchored by tethered bands of spiritual energy leading to one unexpected place.
Kisuke and the Captains and Vizard he was leading to the now destroyed Soul King's palace faltered momentarily when everyone had turned to look towards them. Well, not them in particular, but one person in their group who coughed out blood and slumped, falling right out of the air only to be caught by Unohana.
Shunsui's eyes widening in concerned alarm, staring at the base of a shadowed forearm sprouting from his best friend's chest. "Ukitake! What did you do?!"
The only reply Jushiro could muster was a shake of his head, as if it had to be done.
"Mimihagi," Ichibei whispered with renewed vigour, yet it was clear enough for Shunsui to hear.
Already, Shunsui's patience for the Zero Squad had grown thin, and now that it seemed that another one of their schemes now involved his best friend, his features grew apocalyptic. His hands near instantly drew his swords and moved to cut the limb sprouting over Jushiro's chest, but was stopped by several swirls of cloth binding him.
"This is the only way," Senjumaru's taciturn voice pierced deeply into Shunsui's psyche, his eyes growing frigid.
"He's dying!" Shunsui struggled against the restraints, eyeing those around him to help, but they hesitated, and lost the deciding the factor.
The arm fully left Jushiro, moving to his chest to his mouth where it left only a shrivelled husk, gasping for breath and failing to even take in air.
"Captain, Unohana," Shunsui swallowed audibly, hoping against all hope.
Unohana shook her head with Jushiro still cradled within the glow of her hands.
"He has no lungs, and the spiritual energy in his body has been pilfered by the arm," she explained solemnly. She could not heal this level of injury with her current means, and neither could the human girl with remarkable healing prowess. Orihime's healing may be able to reverse the time on a person to a point where they were in optimum condition, but Ukitake's case was different. He'd never been in an optimum state, so there was nothing to revert to. "He's dying."
Shunsui slumped in desperation as the cloth binding him loosened and set him free.
"For what it's worth, his sacrifice will be remembered-"
"Enough," Shunsui's tone was cold, cutting Senjumaru's condolence off. "If you'd just done your jobs properly…"
Senjumaru sighed, but held nothing against the outburst before retracting her spiritual senses controlling her cloth.
Shunsui looked to Jushiro whom he'd been friends with since their academy days, and balled his hands into fists. None of this felt worth it. "Yama-ji, these people can't be who we work for," he spoke with grievance, and at this, Yamamoto had no reply.
The old man just kept staring at one of his student's final moments, and silently shut his eyes.
There was nothing that could be done.
"…Spirits bless us each to our guided utopias."
"Lady spirit," Shunsui's expression flickered towards the lady spirit carrying a sword and sheath who approached Unohana.
There was a type of aura around the spirit that was nourishing in its tranquility.
Many had been unsure if letting the lady spirit accompany them was a good call on Kisuke's part, but now Shunsui firmly felt that it was justified.
"Beyond the outer layers exists a land of plenty, of flowing grass, and soft winds, where the warrior lays to rest," the spirit whispered.
The lady spirit glanced at Jushiro's dying breaths, and under everyone's eyes, placed the sheath she was carrying over top of him.
"A garden in bloom watched over by a being of flowers where no sinners may leave."
The sheath flickered before sinking into Jushiro's chest. A golden light bloomed, pulsating over Jushiro's skin and improving the pallor of his complexion. His gasping breaths eased; the pain over his features smoothing over.
"An ever-distant utopia," the lady spirit invoked.
Unohana who was still holding Jushiro widened her eyes after diagnostic. "His lungs," she trailed off. "They're regrowing?" She mumbled. Not only that, the rapid regeneration of his body was practically reflected under Unohana's scrutiny.
"He'll be fine," she concluded for all to hear.
All of a sudden, the way everyone regarded the lady spirit shifted noticeably, none more so than Shunsui and a silent Yamamoto.
"I'll owe you one, pretty lady," Shunsui inclined his head, the brim of his straw hat pushing down over his features, trying to hide the tears of relief.
The lady spirit snorted with a kind mirth, noting Shunsui's actions for what they were, but not calling him out. She returned to the topic of conversation instead.
"You best not be too serious," she jested while growing more solemn. "I do take oaths and promises as sacred, and I may indeed hold you to your words," she warned.
"Come what may then," Shunsui couldn't hide the relief in his tone. He didn't want to lose anymore people he cherished, and then an angel came and saved his best friend's life. "For a Zanpakuto spirit, you're obviously not the vile sort. If I may even be presumptuous, I'd even consider you the honourable type which speaks volumes for your wielder."
"Ah, you get it then. My wielder is a man who just doesn't want to see anyone cry," she nodded at Shunsui and smiled serenely at him, this time far more genuine. "Then I'll hold you to your words."
Shunsui tipped his hat again.
'A man who doesn't want to see anyone cry, huh?'
He could respect that. Perhaps only that kind of man could produce such a Zanpakuto as the lady spirit.
All Zanpakuto were created from half of the wielder's soul. In a way, a Zanpakuto offers a window into who the wielder was. Take Shunsui's own swords. Their childish nature found in children's games belied a hidden lethality in the morose setting of his Bankai.
Soft at heart, yet fiercely violent when provoked.
In this case, the lady spirit that had shown up to the aid of their injured comrades out of a sense of righteousness was trustworthy in Shunsui's books. The measure of a good man, is he who knows the right thing and accomplishes it, but a better measure, is the number of people kept alive or saved along the way.
The lady spirit's noble light and earnest compassion weren't fake.
Anyone could see it.
This was a soul brighter than most and unfettered by doubts.
"Your wielder must be something special," Shunsui couldn't help but compliment.
"On that we can agree," the lady spirit nodded her head, and said no more before moving away from Ukitake. Her sheath was no longer with her, but she still had her sword in hand.
What an admirable spirit.
Shunsui's eyes and those of Kisuke and the rest, subtly surveyed their fellow Shinigami evacuated from the Soul Society.
They were searching, seeking to make a new acquaintance; not only due to the lady spirit's character, but due to the significance of her potent healing properties. It was practically regrowing Jushiro's lungs. Could it regrow lost limbs and other such wounds too? Moreover, the wielder of such a Zanpakuto was surely a kind person.
'Which Shinigami is it?' Shunsui mused to himself.
One of the Shinigami evacuated from the Soul Society had to be this lady spirit's wielder.
The fact that Shunsui couldn't recognize the lady spirit by the sword and sheath likely meant that she could belong to a relatively new Shinigami without access to their Shikai or Bankai. An academy student then?
"Ahem," Kisuke broke the moment, reminding them of the direness of the situation despite feeling the most intrigued, but he shook his head wryly. "Right then, let's continue," he said before leading the way with only a single thought in his mind.
If the sheath's healing properties were that potent, then what was the use of the sword?
Baraggan narrowed his eyes upon the hand negating the damage of his efforts, and grimaced. It almost made no sense to him- no it was in fact rather infuriating. His victory felt as if it were snatched from right before him, and worse, he glanced at the Noble Phantasm Shirou had given him. Its glow was no longer the same as before, which meant to say, its power output was now much lower.
He sneered, but watched as Ichibei, the Quincy, and the members of the Royal Guard scrambled to form some sort of defensive line around the crystal enshrouding the Soul King's body.
Were they truly that naïve?
Without warning, purple miasma travelled down Baraggan's right arm and pooled into the sword in his hand. Instantly, the degree of brightness heightened several folds as his power acted upon it.
"Respira," he whispered while raising the sword up high.
The attack would no longer be as powerful, but each swing would still garner a substantial force. More so if he charged it in the way he was doing now. He'd only need a few minutes at most to swing down once again, and even the strike was weaker than before, so too were the defences.
"Your feeble resistance matters little," Braggan mused aloud. Judging from the distance, and his own capabilities, Baraggan gauged that there was no one that would be able to interrupt him until he was proven wrong.
A spiritual bullet clashed against the metal of the sword with such force that it snapped out of Baraggan's grip. Narrowing his eyes, Baraggan used Sonido to catch the sword, but several more bullets appeared within his periphery and struck at his outstretched arm.
The impact of the bullets with his Hierro created muted bangs that annoyed Baraggan more than anything else. Worse, the Noble Phantasm Shirou had given him had plummeted to the ground far below and disappeared behind a curtain of Yhawach's specters.
Glancing at his arms, holes were formed through the bones, the jeweled bangles over his wrists appearing mottled and empty.
It pierced his Hierro… He couldn't block it.
"Insolent vermin," Baraggan's features darkened further and further when he turned his sights on a Quincy wielding what looked to be a bulky sniper rifle.
Immediately, several more rounds were fired, forcing Baraggan to maneuver around them until Coyote intervened, firing back at the man's location only to frown.
"It went through," Coyote muttered before manoeuvring to dodge retaliatory fire. Subsequently, she made eye contact with Baraggan.
"I'll handle him," she said flatly before using Sonido to instantly appear near the shooter and engaging.
Thereafter, a column of water burst up beside Baraggan to reveal Harribel with shark-fin sword now turned into a spear. "The Shinigami have arrived," she informed simply, gesturing with a tilt of chin.
Barragan glanced down to see Kisuke and the other Shinigami engage the Quincy. Each Captain seemed to zoom in on specific Sternritter accompanied by what looked like their respective Zanpakuto Spirits. Then again, with Baraggan cleaving the Soul King's Palace asunder, the battlefield had stretched beyond the inner platform and encompassed the whole area.
The Zanpakuto spirits, Hollows, and Yhwach's specters were now getting mixed into the fray.
"I won't be needing your aid," was all Baraggan said to Harribel after she'd spoken.
"Never intended on giving it," Harribel replied tonelessly.
"As quick to deride me as usual. Your courage is what entertained me while I sent others to hunt you down," Baraggan reminisced, uncaring for the scornful glower Harribel sent his way.
"I'll be the one to see this through," Harribel clicked her tongue, and rushed down with a tsunami of water behind her.
Baraggan snorted, but he too began moving straight towards Ichibei and the Royal Guard who were practically at their wits end.
Sure, the Soul King's body was stabilized by the emergence of an arm to grasp it together, but there was one aspect Ichibei and the rest could never account for.
What could the five of them alone do against an army of Quincy and Hollows?
Even if they were strong individually, they still had to somehow break through the Quincy trying to protect the Soul King's body, while repelling the advances of Baraggan and the rest.
No matter how they thought about it, the task before them was too monumental to achieve even for them.
This was why there was only a single method left in Ichibei's mind.
"Cover me," he signalled to Hikifune and the rest before making a beeline straight towards the Soul King's body.
All manor of attacks and barriers were erected in order to stop his advance, but his large calligraphy brush painted over them all with ink. The dark liquid splattered and smeared, wiping away all meaning and reducing them to nothing.
With a gentle weaving stroke, the path ahead was clear, the strength of attacks mitigated to nothing.
Many Quincy instantly stood in his way, one of which grinned at the prospect of a miracle that had no chance of happening as Ichibei merely bypassed them all. Swiping his brush beneath the platform just barely suspended by interlinked chains, Ichibei wiped away the tangibility aspect of the floor, momentarily staggering those before him such that he zipped past them as they created spiritual disks to stand over.
Following Ichibei were several bands of cloth, and the rest of the Royal Guard filling in the gaps to buy even just a few minutes of time.
All at once, Ichibei reached the Soul King's body radiating with a power beyond any ordinary soul.
"It's over," Ichibei declared solemnly.
He'd never wanted to use this approach as it guaranteed the loss of the Soul King's vessel, but at this point with the body already bisected, it was a moot consideration. They were just going to have to need a replacement afterwards, yet it wasn't as if it was impossible. The availability of a new vessel already existed, and all that was required now was the strength to subdue it.
Rather than allow Yhwach to fully assimilate the power to dictate the world's balance, Ichibei would rather use it for a more productive means. First to subdue the uprising of the Quincy, and second to stamp out the lofty ambitions of the Hollows, then recreate the natural world order.
All that he needed to do was bypass the crystal-like defence around the Soul King's body, and using the natural affinity he had as a being with the Soul King's flesh, he'd assimilate the power. From there, he could momentarily step into an existence on the same level as Yhwach and the Vasto of White.
No one would be able to contend with him with the other two heavy-hitters preoccupied. Better yet, with the other two competitors at each other's throats, he may be able to exploit their weaknesses in their exhaustion.
Yes. This was doable.
No. It was better to say it was the only chance Ichibei thought the Royal Guard had.
Words couldn't describe how hopeless he'd felt when he saw the Soul King's body cut apart earlier. Yet through the very hand of fate, a second chance was given through the Soul King's own arm known as Mimihagi.
The plan was simple, easy even after disregarding the safety of the Soul King's vessel, and yet at the critical moment when Ichibei thrust his hands forward into the lattice crystal binding, he found that he'd missed the intended target by mere millimetres. It was to the point where he'd only managed to touch the Soul King's clothes rather than stab his arms into the man.
The Soul King remained untouched within the crystal, leaving only holes where Ichibei had pierced his arms through.
The entire battlefield seemed to shatter into fragments of glass at this moment, all colour draining from the scenery like some sick joke.
"Sorry," the devil's voice whispered.
A man stepped out into reality beside the Soul King's crystal as if he'd always been there, sword plunged through Ichibei's heart and wrenching the man away. Beside the man, a regal woman stepped out, tranquil eyes staring at the faces of all.
Kisuke and the Vizard narrowed their gazes.
"I was honestly content to sit back and study this further-"
The man shook his head in dismay while gingerly pulling out his sword without giving any time for retaliation. The woman beside him then used a burst of spiritual energy to fling Ichibei away.
"But someone dared try to touch something that's mine."
With bloodshot eyes, Ichibei glanced up at the man before him, recognition born from description registering in his mind.
"Usurper, traitor!" Ichibei forced out through clenched teeth. Remarkably, he was still alive despite his heart being skewered.
"Now then, just now, you were trying to siphon the lingering power of the Soul King, were you not?" Aizen grinned contemptuously. "Though I do suppose I should thank you for not only demonstrating the means to do so, but breaking through this troublesome defensive crystal. I admit, I was lacking the durability of a natural Oken, but the bodies of the Royal Guards are blessed with the ability to do so."
Noting how short on time he was, Aizen still took things at leisure; knowing that Kyouka Suigetsu's hypnosis was still in effect for the large majority of all those fighting.
Ichibei however was no push over. This urged Aizen to continue with unconcealed excitement.
This was it, the first and final step to reaching his long-desired goal.
It was the worst possible development for Ichibei.
Ichibei knew what was coming and tried desperately to accelerate forward, but the main problem wasn't his injuries, but that he was too far away to even try to intervene in time.
Without fanfare, Aizen resolutely turned all of his attention onto the Soul King's body.
"It's time you welcome your new King," he murmured to Ichibei in passing.
Aizen then directly plunged his arm into the Soul King using the holes Ichibei himself had jabbed through.
The Hogyoku within Aizen's Shihakusho shone brightly, but more than anything, his eyes gradually turning blue and his spiritual energy skyrocketing signalled his ascension to the next level.
Finally, after all these years of careful planning and considerations-
"I am…the world."
Thanks for reading, and sorry for delays. I got a headache this week, and work documents weren't helping.
Next update: Fate Sword Order
P a treon. com (slash) Parcasious
The Lonely Peak
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