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Beta read by the wonderful lincoln time, Antony444, and MasterQwertster. Make sure to check out the stories the last two have done!
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Seas of Souls
Chapter 1: Amidst Endless, Boring Dunes
The Dimension that rests between that of the Human World, and the afterlife of Soul Society; and home of the Hollows. There the corrupted spirits dwell, using their supernatural powers to hunt and devour the souls of living and deceased Humans . . . and each other.
Under the endless moon that is the only source of light to this world, the Hollows know only endless battles for survival. Even if they leave to the other two worlds, they are attacked by the Soul Reapers of Soul Society. This is the life they know, and nothing—
"AARGH! IT'S SO BORING!"
With a sigh, the orange feline lightly patted the complainer on his head. "Yes, yes, we know, Luffy. We're going through it with you."
"It's just sand, sand, sand, sand, sand—"
This time Nami hit him to make him shut up.
"Ow! Nami!" he pouted.
"We get it!" she snapped. "This whole world is nothing but endless, white sand dunes, over a forest that is nothing but the same trees again and again. Isn't that why you decided we should go to Las Noches, Senchou?"
With a groan, Luffy sat up from lying on the dune, nodding.
To any Human, they would be strange and surreal. Nami looked like an oversized, orange housecat, except covered in white armour, including a mask, with a few tuffs of fur sticking out. There was also a hole that went right through where her heart was supposed to be, and all the way out her back . . .
As for her companion, he resembled a monkey, except he still visibly appeared closer to a regular Human; like a hybrid between them. He also wore armour and a mask coloured white, but his hole wasn't over his heart. Instead it was in the exact center of a strange X on his chest, which was reminiscent of a scar.
Any Hollow and most Soul Reapers who stopped to really look at Luffy would realize the horrifying truth: Vasto Lorde.
The highest class of Hollows, each one possessing powers surpassing all but the barest handful of Soul Reapers.
The mightiest apex predator, drenched in the blood of thousands upon thousands of souls.
After that altercation however, it was unlikely that any observer would realize it, because Nami, an Adjuchas, and thus lower class, had just. Hit. Him.
Without being promptly torn apart and eaten.
Or eaten alive if Luffy was impatient.
It was just not done.
Fear should define their relationship. Her cowering before his very presence.
Ignoring this fundamental law of the universe, he instead walked over to join the eight other Hollows he was travelling with. They were all relaxing right now, with a few still licking up blood from their latest meal of a particularly large and stupid Adjuchas.
"Are we sure it's real though?" a chameleon Adjuchas chimed in.
"Huh? Whaddya mean, Usopp?" asked a quizzical Luffy.
"Las Noches. We've only heard a little bit about it from other Hollows we've fought, that it's a massive palace somewhere in the desert, where things are at least different. Except how do we know it's real, or that it'll even be interesting?"
Visibly scowling even beneath his mask, Luffy clenched his fists and glared at Usopp. "That doesn't matter! It doesn't matter if it's real or not or if it'll be better than all this sand! We're free and exploring, and having at least some fun while were doing it!"
None of the others dared question what they would do if Las Noches did not live up to expectations. Dimly they knew they wanted something other than this, yet those memories, like too many others, were shrouded in mist.
Only a few details remained:
They had died.
Worse, they had failed.
Memories of what exactly they had failed at were lost now, except they all still remembered they had failed to achieve their dreams.
That word meant something important to them.
Treasure, was another such word.
Senchou, a term of respect they all used for Luffy.
Their first clear memory though, was when all ten of them had first woken up to see each other. Each of them resembled some sort of beast, covered in white armour, with a large hole in their chests. Fatal for any other species except for their own: Hollows.
The souls of those who died consumed by regret, rage, despair, or other negative feelings that lingered within them beyond death, until they were consumed by them. Consumed, and then left with an insatiable hunger for those same feelings they could no longer truly feel or appreciate, yet craved all the same. In every sense of the word, their hearts were lost to them.
As they stared at one another, instinctively they knew what they must do: Protect.
Each and every one of them felt those individuals were more precious than their own lives.
It would be a long time before they realized how impossible this was.
Following their descent into supernatural monsters, their hearts replaced by pitiless holes right through them, a Hollow was driven by an eternal and insatiable hunger to devour other souls, living or dead, to fill the void. And other Hollows were rich in spiritual energy.
So ten Hollows together in one place should only mean one bloodbath, as the strong feasted upon the weak.
Moreover, each and every one of them was a Menos-class Hollow, born when the strongest of regular Hollows cannibalized each other until one massive mass of souls and identities remained: a Gillian Menos Grande.
While doing that, the souls blend together and individuality is lost. While a Gillian becomes massive and brimming with vast spiritual power, they are also mindless. However, on the rare occasion when one of the cannibalized Hollow's abilities and ego far exceed those of the others, a Gillian that has not yet lost its individuality will appear. That being devours other Gillians in order to continue its evolution.
Until they become an Adjuchas class.
Born with an insatiable appetite for their own kind, to both live, and to retain who they are.
For ten Adjuchas to just suddenly meet without any prior memory was inexplicable, even if the inevitable outcome was obvious.
Instead . . .
—Seas of Souls—
The first one to react was one of the smallest of the Hollows, appearing like a monkey, more animal-like than later in his evolution. He stood up, and then turned his back on the others –because he instinctively trusted them with it— to look around.
Endless, white dunes in every direction, under a night sky.
"This is boring," he declared.
A tension the other nine did not even initially recognize lifted, and they all sighed with relief.
"Guess we'll have to do something about it then, Senchou," declared a tiger Adjuchas. The mask over his face covered one eye, and his hair was green.
The monkey looked back at him. "Zoro," he stated, almost as if to remind himself.
"Luffy," the tiger returned.
"Why, why did you call me that? 'Senchou'?"
The tiger hesitated, than shrugged. "It just seemed right."
"I'm Nami," an orange-haired cat offered.
"Sanji," a ram said. He gave the cat a strange look, feeling as if his response to her should be more . . . enthusiastic. Except he seemed to be lacking something to produce those feelings.
"Usopp the brave!" proudly declared a chameleon.
"Chopper," chirped a little brown one, furrier than the rest.
"Robin," a multi-armed falcon, the only other female, softly offered.
"FRANKY!" boomed a large, burly figure, with a single horn jutting out of their mask.
"Brook, yo ho ho ho!" laughed a tall, spindly, boney creature.
"Jinbe," rumbled the last, vast, with large tusks.
"We," the monkey, Luffy, struggled to say, "are nakama. We belong with each other."
"Yes," the all said as one, revelling in the strange sensation it birthed.
Their leader, their Senchou, took another look around. "What is this place?"
"I do not know," the falcon said apologetically.
"Me neither," the cat added. Both felt as if such information was their responsibility.
"Well then," Luffy declared, as he picked a random direction. "We'll just have to explore it and find out!"
And with that they set off.
—Seas of Souls—
The sense of adventure fell flat once they realized every single night (there was no day) was the same.
They also quickly learned how alone they were. As far as they travelled, they never met anyone else they could be with.
The first time they met other Hollows, they ate them.
Those Hollows had been three other Adjuchas, who had the misfortune to meet each other at the same time, and started fighting each other when the ten newcomers stumbled upon them.
The pack of Hollows saw red and descended upon their prey, tearing them apart in a mindless savagery that only ended when Sanji and Zoro caught themselves fighting over the same leg.
A flash of disgust rippled through them, before they reluctantly resumed their meal.
Survival was paramount.
Survive to protect the others.
No matter the odds, no matter the cost.
They knew with a deep foreboding that it would not be the last time they would be forced to do this.
—Seas of Souls—
"—Not my babies!"
"—illed that Shinigami—"
Quivering with effort, Chopper fought to force down the souls of the Hollow he had just eaten. The literally hundreds and hundreds that had been contained within the six-legged, horned, corpse beside him. The thoughts and memories of those who had made it up, and those it had consumed at a later date. And just like him, it would have had to battle with its 'food' to maintain any semblance of self.
A light, feathery hand brushes against his back, reminding Chopper his is not alone, and with one final sigh he wins. He is himself.
"Are you alright?" Robin softly asks.
"Yeah," Chopper quickly reassures her. "I just feel a little off today."
"Let us know if there's anything else wrong," she tells him, with a gentle sternness.
"I will," he promises. Honestly, he should have told them before. Although usually it is not a challenge by this point. He has done this time and time again before, and by now it often only took a moment to subdue the souls he ingested.
No matter how much he hated it.
It was just the ten of them, because every other Hollow would prey upon them if they were not killed and eaten first.
Because they would have to eat the others regardless, to satiate their own longing.
With a tinge of feelings he could no longer name, much less truly feel, Chopper looked up to see the others finishing up their own meal.
Is this all there'll ever be?
—Seas of Souls—
It was almost by accident they learnt about Las Noches.
Robin, Nami, and Sanji had been sneaking upon on a small band of Hollows, who were doing what appeared to be a regular meeting. None of the ones at the meeting were strong enough to eat the others, so there was an informal truce as they exchanged news, and looked for any weakness in the others.
"—alace of Las Noches!" a crab-like one said. "It's utterly massive, dominating the skyline for leagues and leagues! One day I will reach it and serve the God-King who resides there!"
"Hah!" scoffed another. "I've heard of that place, only the strong live within those regal halls! You'll never make the cut!"
With that insult the détente ended, and a free-for-all broke out.
Nami got the others, and then the ten of them attacked the whole mess.
"Tell me more of Las Noches," Robin whispered to the two survivors, the ones who had talked about the place.
"It—It's the castle of the God-King!" rasped the crab.
"No," whimpered the other one, a snake. He knew it was over, and just wanted it to end quickly. Painlessly. "It used to be an open court for God-King Baraggan, with no walls or roof. Except now someone else's taken over there. Making it their own, and built it into the massive palace that everyone now knows. The most powerful are flocking there."
Seeing there was nothing else, Robin killed them painlessly, crushing their heads and masks with a combination squeezing with her talons and arms.
"What do you think, Senchou?" she asked, turning to their leader.
"Hmm," mused Luffy. "Well, a castle sounds pretty cool, and it's got to be something new and different, so let's go there! It's an adventure!"
A buzz went through them all, as if some weight was lifted, and they ate as fast as they could before heading off. They did not know where Las Noches was, but at least now they had some sort of purpose.
—Seas of Souls—
They never imagined it would be one of their own who would nearly kill them all . . .
It had started out like any other day:
"GRRRRAAAARGH!" snarled the oversized bear Adjuchas, swinging his massive clawed, right arm down at them.
Impassive, Jinbe took the blow straight on, being knocked back several meters before stopping himself and unharmed. His tiny hands firmly latched onto their enemy's limb, holding him off balance.
"This guy's stronger than usual!" Usopp screeched, yet still firing hyper-precise Ceros at the bear's left knee, with Chopper following suit. Brook vanished for a moment, reappearing right where they had been shooting, his sharp claws leaving thin cuts against the beast's hide, yet still managing to do further damage.
A Hollow's armour, Hierro, worked best if they were focused after all, and this one was too arrogant in its power to use the discipline it had once had.
Nami added her contribution by firing out electricity to shock their prey, being the final blow bring the Hollow down to his claws and knees; totally vulnerable.
Franky and Robin stayed back, their senses straining for any other arrivals, watching everyone's backs. If worse came to worse, they would also serve as relief.
Luffy, Zoro, and Sanji finished it, each striking the bear's white mask, shattering it and the skull underneath.
"Too easy," groused Zoro.
"The other's needed extra training," snapped Sanji. "We fight together, and that's how we stay alive."
"Still, we're definitely becoming stronger," mused Jinbe. "That was one of the strongest we've come across."
Silently, Luffy took a large bite out of the Hollow, deciding that all this talk was unnecessary. Besides, he was hungry. Always.
So hungry he missed himself passing his internal tipping point.
As the spiritual energy entered him, a dam burst as his own power skyrocketed, crushing everyone around him down to the sand, gasping for breath.
Even through his mask, Luffy's eyes widened like dinner plates in terror of what he was doing to his nakama, and ran as fast as he could away from them before his very spiritual pressure killed them.
He had become a Vasto Lorde.
So powerful that his very presence was lethal to others.
For what seemed like an eternity, he was forced to live just a ways from the rest, as he furiously struggled to learn how to control his power. He called up discipline he did not even knew he had, and managed to learn how to focus and contain it. Hide it.
And when he returned, the others mobbed him.
Nami, Chopper, and Usopp tackle-hugged him, and refused to let go. Franky, Sanji, Robin, and Brook each touched an arm and leg, and would not go, reassuring themselves with his presence. Jinbe merely sat down beside them, and Zoro curled up to do the same, yet their eyes never left their Senchou. Drinking in his face and voice.
Knowing it might happen again, Luffy started teaching the others how to also hide and manage their power. Ensuring they did not act as a beacon for all the predators around them. While some of them were better at it than others, this only made them all the more dangerous.
Three more times it happened, if not as extensively.
One by one, Zoro, Sanji, and Jinbe became Vasto Lordes as well.
—Seas of Souls—
The final breaking point was another meal.
Albeit, not in a way they would have ever anticipated.
Sanji was chowing down on a Hollow, while idly repressing all the inherent souls.
Then one in particular stuck in his 'throat.'
The despair of a child who had died and later become a Hollow.
His so-called drunkard 'father' had locked him a basement and left him there until he starved to death.
Pain wracked Sanji as he grabbed at his head.
"Father, please let me out!
"It's dark and creepy!"
These are my memories! he knew.
Locked in a cell with an iron . . . mask.
With growing horror he latched onto that memory of his, even as it tried to fade away once more –the sheer agony of it etched so deep into his soul that even in death it remained a part of him –and realized how he could not feel his fingers on his face.
Because he was wearing a mask.
"AIIIEAARRGGGGH!" screamed Sanji with all his hate, and ripped off his mask.
The massive burst of spiritual pressure knocked over everyone around him, yet in the next moment it disappeared; almost as if it were swallowed up.
Rushing over, the pack saw that in place of Sanji was a human.
No, he still felt like a Hollow, including a hole through his chest.
Except there was no mask. His face was bare. The only reminder of it was two small horns atop of his head.
Gasping for breath, Sanji felt it all coming back to him. Not the memories, only a few more scraps of it, yet now there were a few happier ones to drown out the cell in the dark.
He could feel!
Moreover, he could control the savage ones! He knew it!
With eyes of wonder he looked at the others, and in them they could see the truth of what had happened to him. Words were not even necessary.
As one they reached for their own masks.
Arms and fingers quivered with effort, instincts struggling against doing what felt like self-amputation. Nami and Usopp in particular hesitated for a moment, before committing themselves.
For above all, a Hollow's mask is formed from the hearts they had lost as Humans. It protects the naked instinct which is left in a being after the loss of its heart.
To do this was to gamble everything.
Except it could help them become whole once again.
And they were in this together, no matter what.
No matter the cost.
Nine masks broke beneath relentless fingers . . .
As one they fall to their knees as their flesh peels away under rippling, bursting newfound power . . . revealing the humans they once were underneath.
Instinctively they all know they are different somehow from other Hollows who went through this. They do not care.
While Luffy could not recall the particulars of his life before, his sense of identity had returned. "I'm the guy who'll be the most free in the whole world," he grinned.
"I'm to become the greatest swordsman," Zoro grimly declared, reaching for the three sheathed katana on the sand before him.
"I'm a cook, without a kitchen," grumbled Sanji, looking at the empty wastes identical to what they had seen every waking moment.
"And how am I to navigate this?" groused Nami. "And there's not a drop of gold or money anywhere!"
"Well, I guess I'm a warrior here at least," preened Usopp.
"What history is here?" Robin darkly asked. "Where are the books?"
"I don't see no tools, or any water," Franky growled.
Jinbe huffed, and crossed his arms. The desert of Hueco Mundo feeling weirdly alien to him now.
While Brook was humming a tune, it was clear he too was decidedly irritated.
Chopper was running in a circle while yelling how he could not heal anyone without the proper medicine or instruments.
Flexing his fingers, Zoro realized his little nakama's concern might be a genuine problem. He could feel that his High-Speed Regeneration had taken a significant hit, and bet it was the same for the others.
Once more they looked around to take in the endless, boring dunes.
". . . This Las Noches had better be worth it," Usopp declared.
"I've told you, it doesn't matter. It's the journey that's important," rebuked Luffy.
Then they both felt a tingle, wondering if they had had this conversation while alive as well.
Luffy went on. "We'll make the best of it that we can. And now that we're like this, we can have more fun while doing it!"
A shift in the sand from a breeze snaps them back to attention, scanning for potential threats, before focusing on what lay before them. For Zoro was not the only one to receive a new weapon.
One by the one the others picked up the blades in front of them. Intuitively they know what they are, how to wield them safely, and most of all, recognized the power stored within them. Their power.
Luffy's was the weirdest.
A straw hat, though they had never seen one before in Hueco Mundo. Yet still they knew what it was.
"We . . ." Luffy softly said, "We're the . . . Straw Hat . . . Pirates." His face hardened with confidence. "Yes, yes we are."
"Right," everyone all chorused instinctively. While their memories remained hazy, this rang through them all as Truth.
Their confidence rising to even greater heights, they stood in a circle so they could bask in each other's presences, and the determination in everyone's eyes.
"Next stop, Las Noches," grinned Luffy.
It was at that point the entirety of Sanji's repressed hormones and perversion broke through all his self-realization to hit him over the head with the fact he was staring right at two gorgeous, naked women!
"AAAAAIIIE~!" he squealed in glee as his nose burst into blood.
"Ah! Sanji! Don't die!"
—Seas of Souls—
Hi, a new crossover idea from me that I want to try, as the Straw Hats become Hollows. That said, they are not going to be falling neatly in line for anyone, including Aizen. What does Luffy care about some Soul King? Or being King of the Hollows? Nothing in there about him being the most free.
The Straw Hats' Adjuchas forms were inspired by their animal forms on the cover of chapter 651 of the manga.
Credit for inspiring me to write this story goes to another crossover, "The Vasto of White," by Parcasious. It was his work that prompted me to do this, especially after reading their most recent chapters.
I will delve more into their new appearances and abilities next chapter, but frankly it is more productive to go to DeviantArt and check out MasterQwertster's pictures. We worked out their appearances together before he even decided to draw them, and that is how they look in my mind too.
Next Chapter: "New Friends"
Please Review, and I will get back to you!