Disclaimer: wtf was that in the last Bleach chapter with Hime all over Riruka? Ah damn, I don't own Bleach. Kubo Tite does.



Marie Darkholme

Chapter Sixteen: Released

Ichigo stopped in his tracks when a sudden burst of light blinded him completely. Standing in a defensive position he covered his eyes behind the black tissue of his shihakusho, but soon realized the light wasn't caused by an attack. Instead he felt a myriad of soul particles as they moved just passed him. When the brightness disappeared he turned his head to look behind where he had felt the reishi gather. Although there was not a visible element, he could still feel an intense energy that spread in a circle behind and around him. As he tried to reach farther, he realized the reishi had actually created a sort of barrier around a vast area of Karakura.

What the hell is that thing for? he inquired as he started moving in the direction of the four arrancar he could now feel very clearly. His thoughts returned from the barrier to the Espada. He knew those three spirit energies all too well. But one of them had his anger boiling inside. The one that had spiked moments before that of the panther. His fist tightened as he recollected Tatsuki's image just a few days before, her body battered and bloody laying on Grimmjow's arms in such a way that anyone would think she was dead.

Fighting those thoughts away, the substitute shinigami became aware to a fast approaching presence behind him and was slightly amazed by who it belonged to. He had expected all of the shinigami to come to fight the Espada. But he had no time to stand around waiting for his fellow shinigami and so he continued, flash stepping closer to the battle field.

"Kishire, Pantera." More than hearing the command, Ichigo was able to feel it seconds before he got visual contact with his enemies. The four arrancar were hovering above the city but like he had thought, Grimmjow wasn't joining in with the rest of the Espada. Instead, his resurrection form was standing in front of a grinning Nnoitra ready for battle. Shit! This really is happening. He thought as he stood in mid air watching the black haired Espada as the reiatsu around him became thicker and heavier, a yellow glow surrounding him.

"That's the way I like it, Grimmjow Jeagerjaques." The Espada cackled. "Let's play this fucking game. Inore, Santa Teresa."

For seconds, Nnoitra was enveloped by the yellow glow of his gathering reiatsu. The sheer amount of spirit pressure around him was enough to have Ichigo widen his eyes. Tatsuki fought this...this monster? Makes you wonder what sort of unseen power does she have, huh, King? The hollow's comment was for once not a snicker or a laugh, but a serious insight. Yes, Tatsuki had almost died fighting Nnoitra. Still, she had managed to wound him enough so that Grimmjow defeated him. No wonder Renji had so much trouble with him. And the reiatsu I feel now has nothing to do with that first time. Apparently Nnoitra had just been playing around with Rukia and Renji. After all he had been given orders not to kill anyone. But by the look of things he wasn't about to just play with the Sexta Espada.

Ichigo's eyes deviated from the tense fight about to unfold just in time for him to reach Zangetsu and block a killer upper blow. As soon as the attack came, his opponent was gone and he could only feel his presence behind him enough to use shunpo to get away from the attack. The two opponents exchanged glances.

"Zommari Leroux, Séptima Espada." the arrancar informed exposing his long zanpakutou in front of him. "And you, shinigami, are Kurosaki Ichigo."

The orange haired teenager remained unfazed. It didn't come as a surprise that the Espada would know his name. They should fear it too. The hollow smirked.

"We are here to retrieve Arisawa Tatsuki and Grimmjow Jeagerjaques. We have no quarrel with you. Step aside, shinigami."

Ichigo's expression hardened. "You're not taking anyone with you, Espada. And since you attacked me, it's fair to say I have a quarrel with you." and assessing there was no further talk needed, the orange haired shinigami impetuously charged forward.

Zommari's movement was almost as gracious as it was quick when he blocked Zangestu only to then disappear in a Sonido. An attack from behind didn't go by unnoticed and Ichigo quickly blocked it pushing back the adversary that once again vanished. The shinigami flash stepped to intercept the Espada with a downward cut of his sword, directed at his left shoulder that was skilfully dodged. He had to give it to the Espada: he was fast. According to Ishida's information he had yet to perform his technique Gemelos Sonido, but his current level was already something note worthy. Nevertheless, Ichigo had fought faster and he wasn't even in his bankai form.

A miscalculation had Zommari unable to block an attack that cut through his abdomen. The wound was deep but for the most part unimportant.

"You're skilful, shinigami." The Espada said as he stopped on top of a nearby roof. "And fast. But tell me, do you really believe you will be able to defeat me?" and as he said this, Zommari disappeared.

A new attack came from towards Ichigo's left. But as soon as the substitute shinigami had detected this, he felt another presence from his right. A shunpo took him just a few metres away from the place where the arrancar had just sliced the air with his sword. Before he could move, Zommari was behind him and Ichigo was forced to use Zangetsu to block the attack. As their swords clashed against each other, the orange haired teenager quickly realized Ishida had been right about the Espada's ability. The technique Gemelos Sonido really was impressive.

The pace of the fight was quickly speeding up, but so far, he had been able to avoid the Espada's invests and was quickly matching and adapting to his opponent's speed. There was almost a pattern to his attacks and catching on that, Ichigo raised his zanpakutou to deliver another blow just as the Espada tried to sneak up behind him.

Zommari held his bleeding arm with an expression that showed surprise as he retreated to a nearby roof. His white Tai-Chi like uniform was now torn and his own blood tainted it. Ichigo could feel the barely suppressed anger in the arrancar's reiatsu as he pulled out his zanpakutou in front of him, standing with his feet wide apart and his knees bent while his palms united just in front of his head. Although the pose itself was weird, there was no doubt in the vizard's mind about what was about to happen. He had just managed to piss off the arrancar enough to have him resort his resurrection.

Ichigo watched in a mix of surprise and disgust as the dark-skinned Espada's head twisted his head in a humanly impossible angle when suddenly his pupil dilated almost covering his entire yellow iris.

"Shizumare, Brujería!" the Espada cried. Immediately his sword started bending over itself before releasing white thick goo that engulfed the arrancar. As the white mass twitched and changed, the reiatsu around made it impossible for any attacks to be effective. When the transformation was over, the thick goo started dripping down the arrancar to reveal his resurrection. The overall appearance had drastically changed but the vizard couldn't feel that much change in the spiritual power of his adversary that now consisted of a large pink pumpkin like base with what appeared to be eyes mirroring him in each segment. Over this, the arrancar's torso had been covered in white along with his head, leaving only his face showing. The same eye-like things covered his white upper body.

Ichigo stood in defensive position not knowing what to expect. When a slight change occurred in the spiritual pressure coming from the arrancar, the vizard quickly moved away to his right, seeing one of the eyes in the pumpkin structure turn to him. Unexpectedly, nothing happened. He narrowed his eyes. What the hell? It really felt like he was about to release a cero or something. He thought to himself.

"You are probably wondering why I haven't attacked you, since you felt the change in my reiatsu." Zommari said as he conceitedly glanced over the shinigami's new position. Ichigo quickly took notice that the eye which had previously looked at him was now glowing purple. "I call this ability Amor. It allows me to steal the sovereignty of whatever my eyes fixate upon."

Just as the arrancar spoke, Ichigo felt his left leg slowly trying to move forward.

"In this case, your left leg."

A sun-shaped mark had appeared over his shihakusho just over his left knee. He tried to concentrate into stopping his leg from moving to no use. Whatever that technique was about, the fact remained he had just lost control of his left leg. Tch! Pathetic! He could hear his hollow scolding him, but he could also feel the anger in it. After all, he considered that to be his body as well and there was no way he was going to like someone just taking over parts of him like that.

"Everything holds sovereignty over something else." The Espada started as the substitute shinigami struggled against his moving leg. "Subordinates are at the command of their supervisors, commoners are at the command of their king, the clouds are at the command of the wind, and the light of the moon is at the command of the sun. And with Amor, your leg is now at my command."

Shifting his weight to his right leg and trying not to get off balance, Ichigo flash-stepped as soon as he felt another subtle change in the enemy's spiritual energy. And sure enough, another one of the arrancar's hideous eyes had turned purple. Fortunately the sun shaped symbol had failed to hit him. However if he was to defeat Zommari he needed to get closer to him. But how could he, with that many eyes constantly on the watch? It would take only one miscalculation for the battle to be lost. He had to be faster.

The orange haired vizard reiatsu spiked, the white tissue of his zanpakutou's handle strapping his forearm.


Before the reiatsu wave had settled he had already disappeared from sight, circling the arrancar in a dizzying speed. But it wasn't long before he felt himself forced to slow down. Using shunpo with just one leg while the other one did everything in its power to get you thrown off balance was more difficult than he had expected. Knowing he could not endure that speed in his current predicament, Ichigo brought down his zanpakutou in a descendent blow meant to slash his opponent's thorax and abdomen.

When a bloody cough forced his way out of his throat, it took him a few seconds to realise what had happened. Imbibed in his lower abdomen was the black blade of Zangetsu, his right hand, still clutching the handle, tattooed with a small sun. Damn it! Ichigo thought. With a cry of pain he pushed the sword from his body with his left hand, losing a great amount of blood in the process. Unsteady, he took a step backwards but before he could even counteract the movement of his stray leg, his rogue hand clutched Zangetsu's blade and he lost his footing making a dive from the edge of the roof where he had stopped. In the attempt to avoid any more damage, he pried his blade from his hand, making a deep cut in it in the process. He managed to regain enough control just before he hit the ground to land on his feet.

This was not fun. He thought as he gazed upon the piercing wound in his abdomen. He had seen worst, of course, but never by his own blade and somehow, that seemed to worsen his state. Not only that he was now completely unable of moving his left leg and his right arm. He must have gotten to me right in the moment I was about to hit him. But if it works like that, I don't know how I'll be able to get close to him. Hell, even being in his vision perimeter is dangerous.

Ichigo flash-stepped away just at the right time to avoid a cero, quickly followed by yet another one. Shit! Was the only thought that crossed his mind just as he pulled down his mask and blocked the cero with Zangetsu. The Espada had just blocked his leg at the precise moment he was about to dodge the attack, enabling him to escape. The force of the attack threw him into a clothes store. The alarm went off immediately with a shrieking annoying sound. The orange haired shinigami cursed his luck as he disentangled himself from a long trench coat and a few sweaters just in time to feel the reiatsu concentrating on Zommari's stretched out hand.

"Goodbye shinigami."

"Hadou 39: Enkousen." The pale orange shield took in the strength of the cero that had been meant to finish off the substitute shinigami, giving him enough time to flash-step out of the way.

"Having troubles, Ichigo-kun?"


She was nervous in a way she wasn't supposed to be. After all, she was finally going to see her best friend after days of uncertainty impatiently waiting for something to happen. The phone call, however, had been unexpected. After having been told that Tatsuki still hadn't recovered enough from her coma to receive visits, she had been waiting for Kurosaki Isshin to call her like he had said he would. It had never crossed her mind that it would be her best friend to make the call. That had her surprised and slightly worried. And there was also Tatsuki's voice on the phone. The martial artist had tried hard to sound calm and collected but the effect had turned out the exact opposite.

Inoue Orihime tried to push away the intrusive thoughts in her mind as she strolled in a fast pace towards the Kurosaki Clinic. I don't even know why I'm worried. She told herself. I'm sure that everything's alright. Tatsuki-chan was probably nervous because of what happened to her. She might be embarrassed about what happened and afraid I'll say something to her or push her away. But I will never do that. Not again.

The orange haired girl was a few blocks away from her destination when she felt it. The reiatsu that suddenly filled the air was unmistakable. She had been surrounded by that heavy feeling for too long to be able to forget it. The Espada were back and they weren't very far from her current location. In fact, she noticed with growing anxiety, they were very close to Kurosaki's house. A sense of urgency took over and she fastened her pace and started running towards the origin of the strong spiritual power.

When a powerful blinding light blinded her the reaction was almost on an unconscious level. The Shun Shun Rikka Santen Kesshun formed in front of her just as the light was about to make contact. To her surprise the spirit particles that composed what she had thought to be an attack just crossed her shield and harmlessly continued away from her, placing themselves just a few metres behind her back.

Taking a few steps back, Orihime stretched her hand to the invisible force she felt just inches from her fingers. A barrier. She could recognize the pattern in the alignment of the spirit particles, just like she had done some time ago when she managed to slip her presence through the vizard Hashigen Ushouda's barrier. However, the one raised in front of her was different. It felt oddly similar to her own Three Sacred Links' Shield, as if it was rejecting something on the outside with no effects whatsoever to the people inside it. What exactly it was supposed to reject she wasn't sure.

Another spike in reiatsu had her forced out of her introspection. She immediately recognized Grimmjow's spiritual energy, closely followed by that of the Espada that Kuchiki and Abarai had fought and had almost killed her two spiritually aware temporary classmates. She found it odd that both of them were apparently releasing their zanpakutou at the same time when she could not feel any shinigami where they were. But that thought was quickly overthrown with concern when she noticed there was in fact a shinigami quickly approaching them alone and that death god was Kurosaki Ichigo.

Forgetting about the barrier, Orihime started running with renewed strength towards her previous destination. She wondered briefly where Rukia was and why she couldn't feel anyone else approaching. They are probably hiding their reiatsu. She thought trying to chase away the strange sensation in the pit of her stomach but her mind quickly returned to the substitute shinigami. He had reached the Espada and by the way his spiritual energy was fluttering around, she could tell he was fighting. But he hadn't called forward his Bankai yet.

She was just turning the corner to the street where the Clinic was located when something had her stop in her tracks once more. Kurosaki's house was just a few meters ahead and she could already see the parking spaces in front of it. It was not what she saw but what she felt that had her halt her run. With no warning whatsoever, as if a portal had just opened, she felt a strong reiatsu not unlike those of the Espada, but at the same time, different.

And that reiatsu was coming from inside Kurosaki's house.


The two girls eyed each other, an uncomfortable silence falling between them, now that they had carried Ichigo's body over to his room and dumped it over his bed. It wouldn't have hurt him if he had changed to his soul form back in his room, but Rukia distrusted he had been all too eager to get out of her sight after what she had seen. A blush crept to her cheeks as she recalled the heated moment she had witnessed moments before.

It had been apparent for some time that her orange haired companion had somewhat different feelings for the girl standing next to her. She had thought at first, like she guessed most of his friends had, that he was just feeling overly guilty about whatever he had said to her last time they met and how that seemed to have led her to the edge. Getting to know a bit more about this girl, the shinigami just couldn't bring herself to believe Tatsuki could be pushed to that sort of edge. As things went on, she started to think that maybe Ichigo's feelings for that girl were something a little different. Something he probably wasn't aware himself, being as thick as he was towards Orihime's feelings for him.

"Can you sense anything?" Tatsuki asked as she stared out the window, her thoughts clearly on the same person, although for different reasons.

The edginess in her voice didn't go by unnoticed and Rukia knew exactly how she felt.

"It's starting." She said in a simply matter of fact tone. She could feel Ichigo's reiatsu fluttering along with that of an Espada. The strange thing was he was actually the only shinigami there and she could feel the familiar arrancar reiatsu of the third Espada standing by while the other two fought the orange haired shinigami and the arrancar renegade. She thought he had died but apparently she wasn't the only one making a miraculous escape. She vowed to herself that would be the last miraculous escape he would be able to pull off.

Reaching into her pocket, the short shinigami retrieved the small candy container and prepared herself to plop a gikongan into her mouth, when a strong grip on her hand stopped her before she could do it. It shouldn't have come as a surprise the next words that came out of Tatsuki's mouth.

"Help me out too." Her voice was not demanding, but neither was it a plea. It was more like a tactical logical conclusion. "I can help you."

Rukia sighed and Tatsuki immediately realized there was no way in hell the shinigami was going to let her out of the house. She had no idea what was going on outside and that was actually more unnerving than being stranded in her body. There was only one thing she was sure: Ichigo and Grimmjow were fighting, and judging by the look on Ichigo's face just before he left, Nnoitra was out there along with some other Espada. The hell with the shinigami! I want to painfully and slowly kill that spoonheaded bastard! The hollow yelled.

"You can't." The shinigami said as she removed her wrist from Tatsuki's grip. The girl was about to protest when she noticed Rukia rubbing her wrist and the red bruise already forming on the shinigami's pale skin. She hadn't realized she had been holding her that strongly. "I know you want to help, but you can't leave the house, remember?" Rukia's voice made her move her eyes from the red mark back to her face. "If you so much as take a step outside this house and the barrier surrounding it, the other shinigami in Karakura will know you're here. After all, your control over your reiatsu is still lacking." She added with a snicker. "If you leave, not even Ichigo will be able to keep them from taking you to Soul Society. Believe me. It's for the best that you stay hidden."

"I refuse to stay hidden while my friends are in danger." The martial artist stated firmly.

Rukia snickered again. Ichigo surely knew how to choose his friends. She couldn't recall ever meeting such a selfless group with such little regard to their own safety, which said a lot about this bunch of humans, since she had met her share of craziness in her hundred years as a soul. Even the Quincy boy had that side to him, no matter how hard he tried to hide it between laughable excuses and his ever present pride.

"Well, they are not in danger." The black haired shinigami assured as she slipped the gikongan into her mouth without giving time for the girl to stop her once more. Her soul plopped from the gigai. "Chappy, don't let her leave this house." she instructed heading to Ichigo's window.

The artificial soul quickly proceeded to grab Tatsuki's arms from behind. "Yes, Rukia-san pyon. I will no-"

"-do shit!"

With a foot already over the edge of the window, Rukia turned to barely catch a glimpse of her gigai flying over the human's head and sprawling against the wall on the other side of the room, sending a bunch of Ichigo's stuff to the floor. Maybe she had underestimated the strength the hybrid would have, even constricted by her human body. She watched the hematoma forming on her wrist. It had managed to affect her soul, even if only at the sliest level. Even with its inhuman strength and speed, Chappy could not guarantee that the girl would stay put.

"Bakudo 4: Hainawa!"

A yellow energy rope formed in Rukia's fingertips and proceeded to tightly envelop its target's arms and body, immobilizing her. A cry of frustration left the human girl as she lost her balance and felt down to the ground with a thud. She glared at the shinigami jumping out of the window and quickly disappearing from sight. Although Rukia didn't look back to see it, she knew there were a pair of deathly eyes piercing her back and that alone was enough to send a cold shiver down her spine. Arisawa Tatsuki had proved more than once that she can be a fearsome human when enraged.

"Rukia! Get back here!" Tatsuki yelled at the retrieving shinigami, knowing perfectly well she was not coming back. She tried to sit down which caused her to move her arms only to have the energy rope close its grip on her. "Damn it!" she cursed resting on her back. She needed to get out of those ropes and then find a way to transform into her soul form.

The short shinigami thought she could fool her, but Tatsuki wasn't that stupid. If there was no danger, Rukia would have stayed back like Ichigo told her to, or she would have followed him immediately when he left. There was no logical reason as to why she had waited until that moment to go after him. Unless, of course, there was something wrong. Not being able to feel anything outside the stupid barrier...the stupid barrier that kept my ass safe for the last week...she interjected bitterly, was overly annoying.

"Don't move around, pyon." The artificial soul grabbed her by the shoulders and helped her up. "Rukia-san's kido is very strong. The more you struggle, the more it will bind you."

What the fuck does that shinigami bitch thinks she's doing? the hollow cried enraged. Oh, shut up! Can't you see we have more urgent matters on our hands? Like getting rid of this damned bakudo!

Tatsuki struggled once again against the yellow energy rope only managing to once more prove how useless it was. Apparently the artificial soul was right, the more she moved, the tighter the rope binding her would get. Humph, as if these simple kidou could be enough to restrain me.Ignoring the hollow's snicker, she tried to remember if there was any way of breaking a binding spell just as the one that was currently holding her, but the more she thought about it, the more she realized that in her human body it would prove difficult to use any of her techniques. And with Rukia gone and no access to any soul releasing device, she was stuck even if she managed to unbind herself.

"Do not worry pyon. Rukia-san will be back soon and undo the kidou, pyon." Chappy patiently sat down on the floor as if trying to assure her there was no reason for her apprehension. Its eyes slowly scanned the room from one end to the other as if searching for something, in such a way, that even in her current predicament, Tatsuki couldn't help noticing it.

"Are you looking for something?" she asked not really concerning herself with the answer.

"Kon-san is not here?" the artificial soul asked as it scanned the room once more.

It was then that something clicked. Before Rukia substitute had time to even think about what was happening, the black haired hybrid was out the door and with blind anxiety pumping her body she was into the twins' room without thinking about the reactions her situation might have caused. Fortunately the Kurosaki sisters were still down in the kitchen. A quick look around revealed the object she was looking for lying down in the midst of several stuffed toys with different sizes and shapes over a small chest.

Struggling against the rope a bit she finally managed to get her hand over the orange stuffed lion that immediately awoke from his sleep.

"What the-?" a strong pressure over his fluffy abdomen made him spit a round light green pill that the black haired girl quickly grabbed with her other hand.

How the hell had she forgotten about Kon? They had been talking about him in the morning. Apparently Yuzu had been using the stuffed lion as a guinea pig for her sewing experiments the night before, which was probably the reason he hadn't been at the breakfast table.

Tatsuki flipped the pill into the air just as the substitute soul in Rukia's gigai burst through the door. She smirked as she turned around, the stuffed lion limping from her hand, to watch its panicked expression when she swallowed. The effect was immediate and she felt herself being projected forward as if someone had just kicked her butt. The sensation was all in all as if a weight had been lifted. For her amazement, the rope previously binding her human body had now transferred to her soul form.

"Annoying little spell!" she cried as she once again struggled against the bakudo. Let's break this damned thing and get out. The hollow interjected.

"What the hell?" Kon looked from his hands down to the visible parts of his bodies. "I'm a freaking girl!" his astonished features mirrored the stranger in front of him and it took him more than a few seconds to realize that stranger in Espada garments was actually the owner of the body he was currently occupying. The same demon girl that had been staying at Ichigo's for a while.

"Shut up, Kon." Tatsuki shouted at the mod soul as she tried to concentrate her reiatsu. The trick to breaking an already cast spell was to override it with your own reiatsu but it had been a while since the last time she had actually done it. "And you better behave in my body, or I promise you a living hell of pain when I get back."

The mod soul gulped and stepped back pulling Rukia's substitute soul with him as he felt the reiatsu building into the young arrancar. So, she had been the strange source of power he had been feeling for the past week or so. Although they had crossed paths more than once, he had failed to notice her pent up energy inside her human body. He remembered her from his first incident in Ichigo's school. She had wanted to literally kill him after he gave her an innocent kiss on the cheek. As he watched her now he could tell she had come a long way from throwing tables.

The surge of reiatsu that left her body felt like taking a long nice stretch after being locked up in a tiny box for a long week. It felt damn good. She felt as the bakudo around her upper body undid and her soul particles touched the barrier around the house. Her pesquisa couldn't get through it and as she forced her way, she felt the structure of the barrier giving in until finally it just shattered and her reiatsu floated around freely.

Even under the current circumstances the black haired hybrid couldn't help a genuine smile from creeping to her lips. She was free again.

Hello everyone! How was Christmas? I was a bit busy doing University stuff...and yesterday couldn't log in, don't know why ^_^ But here it is! I hope the fight between Ichigo and Zomari was good enough. Knowing who defeated him troubles me when writing somethin different but oh well, I'll try ignoring what happened.

Thank you to all reviewers:

ClairBear89: hope you've liked this chapter ^_^

BrazeRancor: candy?

: sorry for the delay. Hope you and your friends like it ^_^

BTW, I have to prepare an abstract for the end of January along with several other essays so it would be complicated to write but I'll try to put on at least a chapter ^_^