I apologize for the delay, I've had a lot happen to me, alot on my plate, etc. etc. (Same excuse you hear from most author's on here, I reckon). Through my daily struggles, (And the passing of my grandmother who was dear to me, after a long battle with spinal cancer) I have attempted to grow both as a writer and as a person, and since then, I've tried to make some changes in my life and improve upon myself. I uploaded the previous chapter after a long an arduous struggle swinging between lack of internet access and lack of time. I have requested a good friend of mine to draw concept work for many of the characters and upcoming items that you will read about in hope of enhancing your viewing pleasure. She doubts her own skill alot, and while I may be no artist myself, I can see she has something resembling talent. When she has done so, I shall post a link at the bottom to respective sketches.

My joy at returning cannot be measured in my weak attempts through words; I have not forgotten your warm and encouraging comments, and I fear that I may be to late to enjoy them again. I hope I am not. As a apology gift, I present you this big fat chapter and...well, you shall see.

Enjoy.

oOo

Nightmarish.

That was the only way to describe them, as they slowly circled around, closer and closer like sharks around a stranded raft. The air was filled with their twisted, threatening growls, low and high pitched tones mixed as one voice; Ishida felt his back brush up against the wall, his hands still trembled slightly as he recovered from his previous shock. He could still feel its heavy weight pressing down on his body, and when it leaned its muzzle down, there escaped from its mouth a breath that so foul it was almost beyond description. It was not the heavy, humid stench of a large living mammal; rather it was like a ice-chilled gust that smelled like old abandoned attics and decaying forgotten places. For one terrible second he felt for sure he was a dead man. Then a surge of energy blazed by him, knocking the creature off of him with a screech.

They reminded him of dogs, or better yet, wolves, but much much larger. And faster. And tougher. His first impression was that they were some sort of strange hollow that he had never seen before, and maybe to an extent, they were. But at the same time, he could detect nothing even slightly inclined to suggest these were former-human souls, nor did they bear the trade mark holes through their chests. They seemed to have no energy source, no reiatsu that he could detect; more like they were vacuous black-holes, always hungry, but always empty.

The bone-like "masks" seemed fused with their heads, and they had too many eyes all pale yellow with no iris and glowing like shards of a diseased sun, tinged around the edges with sickly green or blood-shot red. The largest eye was placed "anatomically correct" position, but on either side of it two smaller ones revolved; three upon one side of its boney helm and three on the other. Their powerful quivering jaws held sharp black fangs adorned with clear glistening strands of saliva and a deep blue-white tongue which swept over them hungrily in a somewhat ominous manner; From the rim of the skull-like face, two rather long and sharply pointed ears like a doberman's but much larger and longer lay back against the massive head in a state of aggression.

Their front torso was like a hyena's, with a broad thick chest, powerful neck, and muscular shoulders hinting at its strength, yet their legs were long and thin, warning that it was a swift runner and an attempt to escape would be foolish. Strange spines sprouted from between its shoulder blades, and a spine-like plating grew down from them out to the thick whip like tail trailing from it's hindquarters. It was safe to say that whatever this fiendish looking thing was, it was tailor-made for killing. A beast from an unspeakable, hellish nightmare yet in it's on terrifying way, a sort of grim beauty, a simple creature perfectly designed for what it did without frills or tassles.

But it wasn't just their appearance that made the fear swell in his chest like this. He flashed back to Hueco Mundo, when Ichigo had gone up to fight Ulquiorra. It had felt like an ocean above his head, the vast depth and power of it staggering. But this, this was like the sound of static visualized, as if the contrast had been turned way up on the images flashing before his eyes, the shadows so much deeper and their masked faces so much paler. So bizzare and yet so unnervingly dreadful.

Beside him, Chad's "Giant's Arm" was still smoking off with the expelled spirit energy; the beast that had pinned Ishida was still up, but smoldering on one side and limping as it eyed them warily from behind it's fellows. A testimony to their endurance, since not even Espada could stand up to one of Chad's blast. And their were about six of the damn things. Needless to say, the situation, did not look good.

Ishida drew his bow and to his surprise, the creatures shied away from this new source of light, retreating at least a precious step back. They continued to snarl and trotted silently outside the invisible border separating them from their targets. Chad moved back to back with Ishida and prepared to arm another blast.

One particularly large one, with scars peeping through the purplish tinged black fur on its body boldly stepped forward, growling a warning. Tt's bold example set it's comrades in a frenzy and they to drew closer.

"Do you have any idea what these creatures might be Ishida?" Chad asked quietly as his eyes smoldered beneath his bangs. He eyed the nearest one with a grim look.

"Not the faintest. Though I think we can say for sure that they aren't friendly." Ishida added dryily. They were much closer now, and at any second, they would switch from caution to attack as they drew closer, closer...

Then suddenly, they stopped.

It was if a dog-whistle had been blown. Unanimously, their ears perked up and the beastly heads turned in the direction of where he and Chad had been walking towards. The growling stopped as they stood at complete attention, listening and attentive. The strange, sickly yellow glow of their eyes burned with sudden anticipation. Far in the distance, he suddenly became aware of the sounds of combat, and the smoke rising into the sky...

Without a signal or sound the pack rushed away like shadows, completely forgetting the Quincy and his quiet companion.

Ishida let out the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding, but even as releif came, his blood froze. That smoke, that sound was all coming from-

"Urahara's shop." Chad finished his thought.

With that the two raced after the devilish dogs.

oOo

Rukia dragged Orihime with her as she navigated through the twisted wreckage; debris was still flying as the battle between Urahara and the demonic looking-gillian escalated nearby; Ururu had seized Orihime's other arm, and helped pull her along; the poor girl seemed to be in shock. Her eyes were wide and bewildered as if she was waking from some strange dream.

Rukia however, was in a surge of adrenaline and fear; her thoughts a blur as she fought her way away from the combat. Their progress was slowed both by the seemingly-hypnotized Inoue, and the wreckage and fire blocking their way; to her dismay she found they way to safety blocked with fallen timber. They'd have to get to the front-door. The smoke alone was becoming overwhelming and she screamed above the noise for the other two to get down towards the floor; somewhere calmly in her mind a voice was talking just loud enough for her to hear, She had to get them outside-In Ichigo's school, during the fire drills, she rembered them teaching her that the smoke rises, leaving air below it-She had to get them to safety-

They crawled on hands and knees and somehow, she felt the outline of the door; she took a deep breath and leapt to her feet, her eyes watering and tried the knob before throwing her small frame against it; on the third try, it suddenly burst open and the three tumbled out into the ruined front yard.

Outside, the giant hollow screamed in frustration and rage as it tried to crush the tiny man that evaded its moves; their was a flash of red here, a flurry of movement there, and a torrent of red-black blood mingles with its primal shrieks of pain; but their was no end to the creature as it quickly regenerated lost limbs, sealed over its open wounds. Crimson red blasts of energy screamed through the air, slicing into the Hollow's flesh. Another hulked form joined in the combat; Tessai smashed a fist into the masked face with such force the air itself shook.

A particular powerful blow from Urahara caused the Gillian (For that was what it indeed was,) to stumble back; Rukia threw herself into Inoue and Ururu as a giant foot crashed into the pavement where they had just been watching the battle, instantly turning the air opaque with dust and chunks of cement. They scrabbled blindly in the cloud of debris, trying to get farther away from the battlezone.

During this whole time, Rukia's senses seemed to be tuned to the max of her surroundings; thus she noticed from the corner of her the flash of a darker form among the grey screen around her. She tried to turn and take a second look, but just like a fish in the river, it quickly fled from her motion and the shadow dissappeared into the fog around her.

Their was no time to wonder; her ears could tell her they were still much too close. By now Inoue had recovered from her shock and was whimpering and coughing. Slowly, the dust was beginning to clear and the trio began to stumble/run away farther to safety. Finally they made it a full block away, taking shelter in an alley between the two buildings as they all sought to catch their breath. Rukia bent over her knees to catch her breath, on hand holding her up against a wall and rested a moment. Even here, the dust and sounds were sifting past them.

She heard a growl. She looked up.

They came from nowhere, six monsters straight out of the fiery pits of Hell, instantly surrounding them on all sides, Their grey outlines mere silhouettes against the hazy air, and too many ominous glowing spots for each one. Their bodies closed in through the curtain like a shark fin slicing through the water; though Rukia and her comrades were coated in dust, their sleek black sides remained untouched. It was now that Rukia could get a closer look.

Almost the size of a horse, they towered over the three girls, their black teeth like ebony spikes as they lowered their massive heads and drew closer. It was almost too much for her. Was this some sort of nightmare she was having? She was almost tempted to pinch herself when she realized that the distance between her and that bone-crushing jaws was rapidly dissappearing. She reached for her sword only to find her hand grasping air. A cold sweat broke out on her neck. She had left the blade behind in the confusion.

So...that left kidou. In her condition, she had no idea if she could pull of any sort of spell to take down these monsters. Her mind and heart were racing.

But something was wrong. The beasts were still snarling, but it was quieter and seemed almost...troubled. As if confused, they walked 'round and round, not drawing closer, but not backing off either, eyeing them with what she took to be puzzled glances. But already it was passing as a large one stopped and surveyed them silently, watching. It's ears flickered back and forth towards them, and the battle farther away.

Rukia's mind raced furiously, but she had thought of a plan. A near impossible one, but she could think of nothing else.

"Inoue." her voice was hardly a breath. "On the count of three, I want you to set up your Santen Kesshun and run to that fire escape with Ururu. I'm going to draw them off." She prayed that the things wouldn't be able to climb up after them.

"N-no Kuchiki-san! I can't-" her eyes grew large when one of the beasts made a large snap at her; they were growing restless and more confident.

"Please Orihime! I can use shunpo and I'm a faster runner then you are; I'll be okay. I can handle it." She tried to force confidence into her voice, even though the vision of herself falling before these nightmares made her voice tremble.

"...K-kuchiki" Her eyes were large with fear as she tried to press closer to the dark-haired girl.

"1....2..."

Without warning, the big scarred one lunged for her, it's massive jaws wide...

oOo

"Four hundred and...*grunt* fifty eight..." Kaneru growled as she wiped her blade clean of the hollow's blood. Its still form was already beginning to fade away. "I must be getting out of shape..." The blond groaned, rubbing her thighs. She swept the thin layer of sweat on her forehead away with a black sleeve. The beeps from the scanner had finally begun to die down; the city was silent now, unaware of the catastrophe that had nearly occured.

It had been a long and weary night. She had nearly run into Mr. Emo Carrot-Top twice so far as he scurried frantically about dispatching of what hollows he could find though he was obviously having trouble. In the back of her mind she mentally blessed her little weirdo pals back at base who had designed the small black device she now held in hand. She grimaced for a moment. Just where were the others though? Surely something weird was going on. Why hadn't anyone come to investigate or at least send her an explanation? A chilled, early morning breeze ruffled her hair. At least all the excitement had finally died dow-

BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!

"What now?!" She growled, but she stopped. Static crackled from its speakers as the screen warped and crackled with specks of grey and white. Numbers and letters without meaning flickered through the haze.

And then it went dead.

Confused and annoyed, she shook the thing and tried pressing a few buttons. Nothing. After a moment of fiddling around with it, she finally gave up and tossed it into an inner pocket of gi with no small amount of frustration. Goddamn useless technology.

"Who are you?!" a familiar male voice called out.

Shit.

oOo

"-3! Go!" Rukia yelled; she slid beneath the outstreched paws as the thing leaped at her; with a yelp it collided face first with the brick wall, but recovered in an instant and began the chase. Rukia dodged as one made a lunge for her and glanced back where Orihime was still standing paralyzed with fear. "Inoue! RUN!" she screamed as she ducked beneath the swipe of a large paw. The orange haired girl snapped from her shock and threw up her Santen Kesshun just in the nick of time; and then Rukia had no tme to look back at them; she was running at a blind panic out of the alley, farther away from the sounds of battle nearby.

It was true, she had Shunpo which allowed her to stay ahead of the beasts. But only just by the barest margin; even when she tried to zigzag they seemed to be able to track her every move. And they were fast. Oh God, they were fast.

She leaped to a rooftop, hoping the height of the building would slow them down; instead, like a well rehearsed team of acrobats, one braced himself atop a dumpster in a alley. His fellows leapt from the ground to his back to the roof, using him like a step ladder. Left behind, he continued the chase from below, following her shadow. Their were five of them with her now-

-which meant one had stayed behind with Inoue-

Without warning she made a sharp turn to the right, rebounding off a nearby chimney; they turned with her motion with ease, as if they could predict her every move. She feverently prayed that Inoue and Ururu would be okay-

Suddenly she became aware they were no longer behind her but on either side, effortlessly keeping pace with her at her top speed. The corners of their terrible jaws was turned up in a feral grin of what she presumed was amusement. Were they just toying with her? Could they have caught her anytime they wished? Her blood drained from her face when she considered that she had left poor Orihime to face one of these demons alone-

"Ye lord! Mask of flesh and bone, flutter of wings, ye who bears the name of Man! Truth and temperance, upon this sinless wall of dreams unleash but slightly the wrath of your claws! Sokatsui!" A brilliant pale blue flash leapt from her fingers and struck the beast to her right in the side. With a yelp it stumbled but soon recovered, its chest smoking but unmarred; it eyed her maliciously with its lidless yellow eyes. The one to her right made a lunge for her and caught the edge of her sleeve and with a triumphant snarl, jerked its head in the opposite direction; she stumbled but thankfully the entire sleeve tore free and she quickly flipped back to her feet and raced off again.

Focus. She had to focus. She wasn't far from the river; here the houses gave way to huge warehouses, some used but many abandoned and slowly succumbing to the wear and tear of time and weather. Strong sickening smells of spilled chemicals and rotting material rose to greet her, even from this distance-

Wait.

They were like dogs, dogs track things by smelling-

A plan began to formulate in Rukia's mind.

oOo

Inoue felt her arms shudder at the impact as the dog-thing smashed against her Santen Kesshun for a third time; above her Ururu screeched for her to climb up as she pelted it with whatever she could get her hands on. Orihime tried to grab a rung behind her without taking her eyes of the hideous thing to mantain the shield protecting her. Small fractures appeared across it vibrant orange surface, gradually growing as the blows it gave a terrific leap smashing into the barrier in an effort to force her from the ladder, knocking her away. She tripped and fell to her knees as it scratched at the barrier, it's black teeth flashing as the air grew thick; her mind was in a whirlwind of memory and thought and confusion and-

Without warning, the shield broke.

Time seemed to slow down as the dog blinked in surprise then made a victorious leap for her, it jaws lined with onyx teeth open, no sound except her heart throbbing in her chest with grave finality.

Inoue blinked.

The dog's muzzle was mere inches from her face as it paused. She saw its glowing eyes grow wide.

Then it crumpled soundlessly to the ground. It's jaws snapped close for the final time and landed in her lap.

The glow of its lidless yellow eyes grew pale then faded; deep, dark red blood oozed from two gaping wounds that had apparently punctured through the front of its massive chest to its back, and from the bottom of its jaw all the way to the top of its skull in a neat medium-sized hole she could see all the way through, a dark hole tinged with grotesque red and other pieces of flesh she dared not imagine what they be.

Her fingers went up to her mouth as she sat in wide eyed horror.

It became apparent to her ears that the air was filled with muted whispering; the shadow beneath the thing's corpse grew darker and liquid- like ink, pooling before her and slowly wafting over the corpse of the deceased canid, drawing it down hungrily into itself, down into what should have been a solid floor; she rembered a t.v show where they had shown an octopus slowly wrapping its tentacles and pulling in its prey. Except instead of strange suckered covered arms, they were like strands of gooey tar of every size wrapping tightly over it, a predatorial blob. Almost tenderly, the tendrils of solid black took the gory head from her lap, dragging it down after its body into its yawning depth.

The shadow drew in on itself after the vanished form like a backwards ripple, compressing in on itself till it dissappeared into nothingness. The alley was empty, strangely silent save for Ururu crying hoarsely for her above.

Orihime gasped and realized she was crying; her legs and arms trembled with unspeakable terror at what she had just witnessed but also with releif. Releif that she was still alive, that those dagger like fangs had not ripped the flesh from her screaming bones- "Inoue!"

Like a lost, bewildered little child, she blinked up into the face of the familiar voice through eyes that were blurred with unexpected stray tears. Ishida's blue eyes burned with concern and confusion as they caught sight of the blood on her skirt and her seemignly unharmed, trembling body. His body was heaving from the exertion of running and she could smell sweat permeating from him. The world slowly went mute as his hands rested on her shoulders and he watched as his lips began to make movement of speech. Something finally broke within her and her hands reached and gripped folds of his shirt, pulled his chest to her face and began to weep into the comforting cloth.

oOo

Rukia struggled to calm her beating heart as she lay motionless in some unidentifiable filth. Already, her nose was growing used to the horrid stench of whatever she was hiding between as she peeked out from her hiding place.

She had managed to pull ahead just slightly of her pursuers and slid under the huge iron door of a crumbling warehouse; inside was barely anything except rows of long empty steel shelves, scattered pieces of litter, and few large, long expired barrels of what might have been fish or something stacked forgotten in a corner. One thankfully was empty, turned on it side; she dived straight into it willing herself not to vomit from the sench and nervouse exhaustion now choking her limbs. She dared not imagine what their contents might have been for the sake of her churning stomach-

She froze as she heard the screech of metal being torn free and clattering to the floor, followed by the soft pad of many paws on the cold cement.

Her heart leapt to her mouth as she tried to hold her breath.

They snarled angrily, knocking shelves over with a resounding crash in their frustration. Their claws clicked coldly as they padded further away and she relaxed just a hair. The sound stopped and all she could hear was the too-loud sound of her own muffled breathing and throbbing heart. Suddenly without warning, the encompasing barrel was sent flying, she felt her forehead crash into the rim followed by a trickle of hot warm liquid trail past her eyebrow. The world was spinning in a nauseous blur as she felt something knock it flying again; it smashed against a wall, crushing it. She lay dazed and battered amongst its scattered remnants her face against the cold cement floor. She pushed her torso off the floor, her view to be confronted with the columns of sturdy legs and grinning skull-faces with lightly glowing pale yellow eyes...

She was done.

Her strength was gone as even now she desperately summoned the energy to repel them somehow, to somehow keep alive. So helpless and weak, like a rabbit in the clutches of a falcon's talons, a exhausted deer surounded by wolves. She had no strength, no energy, her legs trembled white amongst the tatters of her robe-

Who are you trying to kid? You're already dead. Unless-

That same pressure, contorting in her chest, wrapping its icy fingers around her heart. Something only one word could describe...

Power.

oOo