Ichigo was running, he was desperately trying to find Inoue's whereabouts but he couldn't pinpoint the exact location of her reiatsu, he was still running when a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach stopped him and he felt a call from a weakening reiatsu.
"So you noticed?"
Ichigo turned to the voice.
"I thought you were just a mere brute who just swings his sword around… but apparently you possess some sense after all."
This person, he'd seen him before.
"Long time no see, shinigami."
"You remember my name? Although I don't remember telling it to you."
Ichigo's eyes bore in the impassive arrankar and stayed focused on him.
"Kushiki Rukia is dead." Said Ulquiorra carelessly
Ichigo felt a tug at his heart…
"What…did you say?"
"To be exact, she and noveno espada defeated eachother. Her entire body was slashed to pieces and skewered upon a spear. So she is no longer among the living."
Ichigo's blood was boilong, who did this guy thik he is, he hadn't even seen Rukia.
"I don't wanna hear anymore of this bullshit… Without even fighting her, how would you know Rukia's reiatsu became minuscule just now?"
"Mental synchronization. It was one of Noveno Espada's abilities – he could instantly send information about an enemy he fought – an ability which surved it's purpose."
At this moment Ichigo heard it again, this time he was sure, Rukia was calling him, he had to get her.
"Where are you going?"
"To save Rukia!"
"Even though I told you she died?"
Here it was again, her call.
"I don't believe you."
"So stubborn. Is it really alright for you to leave without killing me?"
"I have no reason to kill you."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You're my enemy, but…you yourself still have yet to hurt any of my friends…"
"Is that so? What if I were to tell you that I was the one who brought Inoue Orihime to Hueco Mundo in the first place?"
At these words Ichigo felt rage rise within him and at this moment his mind screamed for Ulquiorra's blood. So he charged.
Rukia was losing consciousness. The images before her were slowly becoming blurry. Just until now she was calling for Ichigo, and he was (as it seemed) responding to her call, but suddenly the feeling of his reiatsu heading towards her disappeared. And now she was tired. Her eyes were closing against her will and she couldn't bring herself to move. And then… there were voices… distant, quiet…and silhouettes… it seemed they were talking to each other. Then… they came closer.
"Ichi-go!" was the last desperate attempt but still, there was no answer. And then there was darkness.
Voices, there were those voices again, at first they were weak, quiet, but slowly they became louder, enough for Rukia to hear the conversation that was taking place around her.
"I can't believe they left her there, all alone. A person should always have someone to support him in a situation like this." Said a chipper girl's voice
"I believe they thought that she could take care of the beast on her own." Another, stronger, more calming voice answered.
"She did!" said the first voice again "I mean, she killed that thing with the jar on his shoulders. I just don't think it should've cost her, her life. If it weren't for you and boss, she would be dead."
"Yes, well… I guess lady luck was on her side today."
There was some noise, like water that was being played with and seconds later Rukia felt something heavy and wet on her forehead. A compress? She thought. They are taking care of me. And that's when she felt it. Reiatsu? Why didn't I feel it before? It doesn't feel human.
This strange reiatsu was surrounding her, healing her wounds. She tried to open her eyes but couldn't, she tried again but no luck, after the third try her eyelids started moving and with a great effort she finally opened her eyes. At first everything seemed blurry but gradually her sight became stronger. The first thing she saw was a person in black clothing with his back turned on her to her left side, on her right side was a young girl with a look of concentration on her face. She must be the one healing me.
"Who are you?" she managed to let out.
The young girl blinked a couple of times in confusion until she realized that Rukia had actually asked her something.
"Ooooh! Ichizure-sama, she's awake, she's awake. You have to excuse me, I'm afraid my healing power is blurring your vision. If you could be a little patient it will get better in a minute. I just have to finish." The girl said
'Thank you!" Rukia said after a moment of hesitation.
"It wasn't any trouble." Said the other person.
"Yeah, besides, boss insisted anyways, so… Alright, you can close your eyes and when you open them again your vision is going to be as clear as a crystal. Don't hesitate to sit up if you want. Your wounds should be healed enough."
Rukia closed her eyes and sat up. When she opened her eyes again, she turned right to see the girl that had healed her. Boy, was she in for the biggest surprise in her life.
"Y-y-y-y-y-you, YOU HAVE EARS!" she shouted with surprise
"Well, of course I do, if I didn't I wouldn't be able to hear you, would I?
"B-b-but they are not human ears."
"Probably because she isn't a human."
Rukia turned in the direction of the voice to face a beautiful woman with silver hair and piercing green eyes. She had a shinigami-like outfit, part of her hair was spiked up and was framed with a golden ring, and the rest of her hair was lying in her right shoulder and was neatly fastened with a golden ornament. Rukia didn't know why, but this woman seemed all too familiar to her.
"Do I know you?" she said
"I don't believe you do. I don't leave home very often."
"Oh, no, it's just… I'm a shinigami too and…"
"No one ever said I was a shinigami!"
"By the Gods, No!"
What is she then? She has an outfit almost identical to ours.
"What are you?"
"I am what you would call… a Soul Collector."
"A Soul Collector? I don't think I've heard of that…" Rukia murmured under her nose
"Well you should have." Said the non-human girl "They're something like shinigami for the demon world."
"Demon world? Oh, and what are you?"
"Well, I'm a demon of course. My name is Hadeureshii, the brightest kitsune demon of her generation."
"And the loudest." Commented thee other woman, so only Rukia could hear her.
At that, the said shinigami hid a small smile, but not before realizing that she had never asked about the Soul Collector's name.
"I'm deeply sorry for my rudeness, but I didn't ask your name." she said to the kitsune's silver haired companion.
Rukia bowed her head.
"It's a pleasure to meet you both. I'm Kchiki Rukia. Shinigami."
There was an awkward silence.
"Mou, Ichizure-sama, when is boss coming back?"
"Soon, I presume, it should be time to head out."
"Head out? So you're going somewhere?"
"Don't worry Kuchiki-san, we will escort you to the Gate out of Hueco Mundo." Said the Soul Collector
Suddenly the image of Orihime healing her appeared in her mind.
Hadeureshii raised her eyebrows and looked at Ichizure, who directed her gaze at Rukia questioningly.
"I need to go to Aizen's fortress."
"Very well then, it seems we have mutual interests."
"So, you are going to fight the arrancar?"
"God forbid, No. We are going there on our own business."
"But… Aizen is a threat. Surely you must fight his arrancar if you see them."
"I don't have to do anything that doesn't concern my own safety!" was the cold answer
"What are you talking about? Isn't it your duty? As a shinigami."
Ichizure stood up with a dangerous look in her brilliant green gaze, which, by the way, was pointed exactly at Rukia's gaping face.
" I am a Soul collector. My kind does not obey your authorities. My duties do not lie with the ones of a shinigami. Everything that you are going through is happening as a result of shinigami's incompetency. Your kind's pride and prejudice is what lead you to this moment of chaos and despair. The world does not revolve around shinigami and their dealings, and this isn't our problem to fix. And take my advice girl, forget that arrogant sense of justice that you carry on your shoulders and start thinking in perspective because sooner or later you will need to grasp the bigger picture to keep your life intact and just a sense is not going to do you any good."
Ichizure's face was the coldest of ice as every word escaped her pale lips and yet, Rukia noticed, her eyes could melt down a wall of metal.
"I'm… sorry." Said Rukia. "Please accept my deepest apologies."
"Besides…" Rukia's bowed head snapped up to find herself looking at an unexpectedly calm expression. "We have direct orders from The Lord of Spirit World to not get involved in the Aizen Sousuke case until further notice."
Before Rukia could answer a voice, that startled them, came from behind them.
"Oss, Rukia-san. You've woken up already?"
Rukia's eyes widened with astonishment, behind her she could hear Hadeureshii's excited yell 'Boss!' and Ichizure's quiet greeting. And then she slowly turned towards the familiar voice, her thoughts forming into reality as she saw the person before her.
The giant fist of the arrancar was coming right towards him. He couldn't move, he couldn't talk all he could do was stare at the fist that was going to take his life. I'm… going to die. I'm sorry Inoue-san. I wanted to be the one to save you, but… and then there was black, black outfit, that is… a shinigami outfit… and red hair. And as much as he didn't want to believe it, he- Ishida Uryuu was saved by the very shinigami that drove him to train harder and harder by almost killing him… Abarai Renji.
"Don't just stand there all dazed…" he shouted "You've still got some fight left in you, right? If I'm not mistaken, you're the master of coming up with some elaborate scheme, right? Then Hurry up and think of a plan to kick that guy's ass."
"Don't be an idiot. I already have a plan."
"Alright then, don't let me down."
"As long as you don't let me down."
The girl shrugged and sat beside Rukia, giving her an apple.
"Here! It's nutrition, it will help you get better."
This is not possible. It can't be. I'm dreaming.
"What?... How?... How did you get here?"
The girls shrugged again.
"Trough the portal."
"How were you able to…? I mean… When?"
"Doesn't really matter, does it?"
"Do you know about…?"
"Yeah, I've known about you and Ichigo for a long time. I've known almost from the beginning… this shinigami business."
The girl's face fell but she held her chin high up with pride.
"I'm sorry, it must have been hard for you to know and…"
"Not to be part of it? Don't worry about; it's not your fault… So, the others must be here then?"
Rukia was hesitating but…
"They are here. Ichigo, Chad, Ishida, Inoue and a fellow shinigami."
The girl fell silent.
"Look, uhm… about Ichigo…"
"I was really hoping he'd tell me, you know." Her voice was quiet "Because I wanted to tell him about the strange things that had been happening to me too. But he didn't. We've been friends since we were very little, and I've tried, tried so hard to be there for him when he needed someone… And even though he pushed me away, every time I tried harder… And every time he pushed me away harder. He, the irony. I think… In the end, it seems, I was the one who needed him. Pathetic, aren't I?"
She balled her hands in fists and squeezed to calm down.
"Tatsuki-san, I… Inoue… she was taken by the arrancar."
"So, that's why you are here."
"No, I'm on a business assignment."
"But…aren't you her best friend? Aren't you even worried?"
"Rukia, a whole squad of capable people are here to save her, aren't you? I believe in all of you. I'm sure you'll take care of it. Besides, it's not like it's their first time."
"Wha… oh… no, it's not."
"And how did they do the last time?"
Rukia let out a small smile.
"If it's not too much… How did you know? About Inoue."
"We are constantly being kept up to date." Answered Ichizure for her.
"Yes…" jumped up the kitsune "The superiors are watching very carefully the turn of events."
"Yosh!" everyone turned to Tatsuki to see her stretching. "Let's go. The sooner we get there, the sooner I get back home. This place is giving me the creeps."
Hadeureshii giggled and jumped with excitement, Ichizure nodded and they were off to the Espada fortress.
"Come on, Rukia-san." Said Hadeureshii and winked "We'll drop you off!"