Disclaimer: Naruto, as always, is the property of Masashi Kishimoto. Likewise, Bleach is the property of Tite Kubo. Stealing is wrong, and copyright infringement is uncool. Hence the reason why I make these disclaimers.
Chapter Eighteen: Unsealed
Naruto raised up both hands in front of his face as he was hit dead-on with one of Aizen's explosive energy orbs. The blond, despite his attempt to hold ground, was rocked back before he crashed into the framework of a skyscraper. He grimaced as he slid down the steel beam, raising his head up in time to see Aizen appear in front of him.
"Now do you see, Naruto? I am far more powerful than you, invincible, and above all else, the holder of the Hougyoku."Aizen gloated."While I must commend you for lasting this long, I can tell that you're reaching the last bit of your strength."
"Man, do you ever shut up?" Naruto griped as stood up, leaping away as Aizen's blade cut the steel beam, as well as the rest of the tower, in two.
The Arrancar forced himself to continue evading as Aizen's numerous skull-like faces on his wings blasted small orbs of blue energy in his direction. He could feel the force from their impact even as he continued flying through the air, and judging from the intense light that seemed to flood the area, getting too close to anymore of those explosive blasts wouldn't bode well for him.
The Kyuubi growled within Naruto's mind. "We can't keep evading him, Naruto."
"Thanks, I wasn't aware of that." Naruto thought aloud, trying to ignore the scolding tone in his bijuu's voice.
"I hate to say it, but eight tails could prove to be insufficient if we want to defeat him for good."
"Then what do you propose?" Naruto inquired as he dipped low, a blast careening over him. "In case you haven't noticed, I haven't been given much of an opportunity to create a plan."
Kyuubi was silent for several long moments before speaking again. "...there is one final option. You won't like it though."
Naruto didn't even need an explanation. "That option's not a guarantee for victory. No way."
"I figured as much, but I don't think you have many other choices. Remove the-"
"I just called forth my eighth tail! I'm not going to go and throw down my last resort like that! If I-"
Naruto was cut off as he was hit with one of Aizen's blasts and getting caught in a gigantic explosion rivaling the size of the Tormenta. Luckily for him, the explosion didn't go for as long. Opening his eyes, he groaned in pain as he struggled to get to his feet. The blast had knocked him to the massive craters from one of the previous explosions that had missed the elusive Media-Espada.
Looking up above, he could see Aizen watching him. While he couldn't really tell the man's facial expression's anymore, he was willing to bet that Aizen would be smirking if he still had his normal face.
"Give up, Uzumaki. There's no hope for this battle to end in your favor."
Naruto coughed, not shocked to see specks of blood on his hand. He glared at the man floating above. "What...did you tell me to do...?"
"This battle is worthless for the both of us. You cannot beat me, and I am merely wasting time now. Give up." Aizen repeated, waving his hand in a casual manner.
"Give up...?" Naruto gave a low chuckle before nine orbs of red formed at the tips of his tails while his right hand began to glow with a swirling mass of spiritual energy. "You'll never make me..." His tails stiffened, pointing up towards their target while his hand drew back. "...give up!"
The nine Ceros shot up at Aizen before combining into a single beam. Naruto then chucked the swirling ball of energy from his hands. The mass of energy from his palms connected with Aizen around the same time as the stream of red light, and the sky was tinted a blood red for several long moments as a cloud of raw power expanded while creating a deafening roar.
The Arrancar was breathing heavily now, having expended a massive amount of his energy on both maintaining his current form while using such costly attacks on his opponent. Despite his massive reserves of power, Naruto was not an endless well of energy. Even he had limits, and he knew this.
As the crimson hue faded from the sky, Naruto watched, hoping against all hope that he had done something to the twisted creature that Aizen had become.
"Are you quite finished?"
Naruto's eyes widened as he saw Aizen's body mending whatever wounds it had sustained from the explosion. No matter what he did, Aizen just bounced back, like nothing happened. Naruto took a step back, his instincts telling him this was a hopeless battle.
"You can still..."
"No!" Naruto growled in protest. "Neither of us know what will happen if I remove it."
The fox growled in frustration. "You're truly a fool, Naruto. If it weren't for the circumstances at hand, I'd probably just let you die right now and wait for my resurrection in a few centuries after I perish with you."
"Look, not only is it a danger because we don't know anything about it, but there's a chance that it could be too powerful. We might kill those outside of the barrier!"
"Perhaps, but if we don't do something about this, we'll die anyway, and that will be the end of us, Karakura, and the spiritual world!"
Naruto clenched his fists, unsure of what to do. Tormenta wasn't enough, and that had been one of his few trump cards he had saved. His standard techniques were doing zilch for him, and if he did manage to cause any harm to Aizen, it'd just be fixed up by the damn Hougyoku.
Aizen seemed to sense Naruto's uneasiness. "So, you finally understand? Took you long enough, but I suppose it's something that's hard to come to grips with." Aizen held his blade before him. "Death is something all mortals fear. Though Shinigami claim to be gods, they too are capable of death. Hollows are no different. Mortal death is merely the end of one mode of existence, resulting in another. It's an endless cycle...one that I wish to change."
"You're insane. Doing that would be like recreating the world as we know it! You have no right to do that!"
Aizen laughed in response. "It looks like you can show fear after all, Naruto. Don't worry, though. As soon as I dispose of you, I'll kill those that have left the barrier. I'll make quick work of them."
A lead weight settled in Naruto's stomach. Nel...Grimmjow...Apache, Harribel, Mila-Rose, Sun-Sun...Ichigo, Orihime...Shikamaru and Sakura...everyone he had come to know throughout all of his existence...
...perhaps it was the fact that Aizen had said it with such ease, or maybe it was the building pressure and desperation Naruto was facing, but something in him snapped at that moment.
Naruto's eyes shone with murder while he let out an inhuman roar. "You son of a bitch!"
Naruto began blasting volley upon volley of blasts at Aizen. He knew it was useless, and that he was being stupid. He didn't care though, he wanted to end this madman, and he wanted to do it now!
Through the haze of flashing explosions, Naruto could see the form of Aizen slowly floating through the destruction. Naruto's attacks became more desperate, blasting at a rate he hadn't though possible. Had he taken more time to notice, he would have probably been pleased to see how well he was holding onto his eight-tailed form.
Aizen was now hovering no more than several feet ahead of Naruto. "So...this is truly the extent of your powers, Naruto?"
"Go to hell, bastard!"
Naruto opened his mouth wide and prepared to fire a Cero, but his attack never came. Instead, Naruto felt a powerful hand grab a hold of his face before slamming him to the ground.
"Your attacks...they're less focused. More predictable, and far less controlled." Aizen commented with a hint of amusement in his voice. "I told you already, Naruto. You were foolish to think you could challenge me on equal terms. This shall be your grave."
Naruto was pulled up by Aizen and lifted into the air once more, the warped being's grip threatening to crush Naruto's throat. The Arrancar lashed out with one of his tails, only for one of Aizen's skull appendages to catch it in its teeth. Naruto tried again, only for the other five skulls to follow suit.
"A-Aizen..." Naruto ground out, lunging forward with one of his wrist blades, which was blocked by Kyoka Suigetsu before a second swipe of the blade cut his arm, delivering a deep gash that penetrated the bony armor of the blond.
The skulls let go of Naruto's tails, and began to encompass him while a blue ring formed around the blond. Naruto could feel Aizen's reiatsu beginning to increase. He planned on finishing the Media-Espada right here it seemed.
"Yes..."Aizen began. "This attack has enough power to end you.You're aware of that."
Naruto's eyes widened. No. He couldn't die here. Not now. Too many were relying on him to stop this bastard! If he failed...if he gave into defeat...
The blue ring expanded before splitting into three white rings, each larger than the one before it. The largest one rose up first, with the second floating below it, and the third encircling Naruto himself. The rings began to hum while glowing with the same blue light.
Naruto couldn't help but laugh.
"Has it affected you that much? In your last moments of life, you're laughing?" Aizen inquired while tightening his hold around the Arrancar's neck.
"I suppose this is it, huh?" Naruto wheezed. "No other way out, huh?"
"You're surrendering to your fate? I must admit, I wasn't expecting this." The blue light from the rings began to intensify. "I suppose this shall make my task easier, then. Farewell, Naruto Uzumaki. You shall serve as an example for those who wish to oppose me in the future."
Naruto just grinned before he was swallowed up in the blue light.
"Oh well...I did what I could...I suppose this was going to happen either way."
Sakura and Shikamaru watched what they could barely make out as the floating barrier containing the pseudo-Karakura town. Neither could actually feel anything resonating from the location, but they knew from the various explosions made that there was indeed a battle still going on.
After several minutes had passed, the explosions stopped. Shikamaru's brow furrowed. "Is it over...?"
Sakura gave a weary sigh. "I hope so. I'm practically drained of energy from all the healing I've had to do, and-"
Their conversation was cut off by a flash of blue light. The light filled the entirety of the barrier holding Karakura's replica within it.
"Wh-what is that? Hey, Sakura, what's going on?"
Sakura looked to see Ichigo walking towards them. "I don't know. The fighting seemed to stop for a while, but..." She looked up once more to the barrier. "I'm not so sure anymore. I hope that Naruto's alright."
The barrier, already damaged by Naruto's own powers earlier, began to splinter even more. The walls of the barrier began to give in before they shattered.
"What? Isn't that the barrier Urahara made?" Ichigo asked. "What's going on? Did..." His eyes widened as he watched the gigantic explosion expand. "Was that from...Naruto?"
They trio, along with the few conscious survivors, watched in silence as the clouds of fire began to fade away. Waiting, hoping that they'd get some kind of sign on whether or not the fight was over.
"Wait...is that...?" Shikamaru began, pointing to figure that was dropping through the clouds, smoke trailing behind. They hit the ground with a distant thud, the smoke still rising into the air to signal, indicating the spot where they had crashed. They felt Naruto's reiatsu suddenly, but only for the briefest of moments before it plummeted to nonexistent.
Apache was the first to voice their fears, having been able to distinguish their features. "N-Naruto..." She began to move. "Naruto!"
A figure suddenly moved in front of her, their back turned to her. "Apache-chan...don't go running ahead like that."
Apache's blinked, then took in the decidedly female figure's features. White boots, an odd coat with a holster strapped around her waist, and a familiar mask fragment resembling a helmet. "Lilinette, move, I have to go help Naruto!"
Lilinette looked over her shoulder. "Apache-chan, please. You don't stand a chance. Not even Stark and I did when we worked together."
Apache growled in anger before walking ahead so that she could face Lilinette directly. "You mean we should just give up?" The Fraccion grabbed a hold of the youthful Arrancar's jacket. "No way in hell will I do that!"
Lilinette's eyes narrowed before she too grabbed a hold of Apache's collar. "Will you listen to me? Trying to stop Aizen would be suicide right now!"
"Then what do you propose we do, huh?"
"I..." Lilinette's head hung in despair. "I don't know. We're just not strong enough to stop him."
The girls looked to Ichigo, who was gripping Tensa Zangetsu tightly. "Kurosaki-san..."
Ichigo looked to Lilinette. "Who cares if he's stronger than us? We have to do whatever we can, right? If Aizen wins this battle, its over anyway. We may as well put up a final fight."
"I believe Kurosaki-san brings up a valid point."
Now everyone was facing towards none other than Captain Unohana. She placed one hand over the blade at her waist, a look of reluctance on her face.
"U-Unohana-taichou..." Sakura began. "What...do you mean you're going to fight?"
Unohana nodded once. "As the highest ranking officer and sole captain capable of fighting, I have no choice. Matsumoto, Isane, Sakura, I'm placing you three in charge in my absence. If...if things become dire, you are to open a Senkaimon and get as many as you can back to Soul Society. Understood?"
"Isane," Unohana's voice was quiet, yet firm. "That's an order."
Isane paused before bowing her head. "Yes...taichou."
Unohana looked to the few still standing: Ichigo, Grimmjow, Apache, Lilinette, Mila-Rose, Sun-Sun, Shikamaru, Rukia, Uryuu, and Chad. Most of them had stayed back, knowing they couldn't put up much of a fight against the enemy anymore, but it was their only chance. The rest of the captains, Vizards, and the other Shinigami were either too weakened to fight, unconscious, or simply not capable of intense combat, as was the case with Orihime.
Grimmjow took a look at the small group and voiced his thoughts. "Shit. You mean this is it for our forces?"
The group turned back to see Neliel rising up, sword in her hand. Off to the side was Orihime, smiling a little as she watched the former Tercera walk towards them. She stumbled a bit, but managed to right herself.
"Neliel-san..." Sun-Sun began. "You should be-"
Nel waved a hand. "I'm fine...just...need a moment." She gave a slow nod to Orihime. "Thank you, Orihime. How's Harribel holding up?"
Orihime looked behind her to the recovering Tercera. Harribel looked to the others from behind the yellow bubble and smiled slightly. "I'll be with you all as soon as I can."
"There will be no need to worry about that. You'll perish together right now."
Everyone froze in place as they heard the twisted voice of Sousuke Aizen. Unohana looked up suddenly, sword drawn. "Aizen..."
Sure enough, the monstrosity was floating above them, wings flexed out and skull appendages wriggling around, almost as if they were eager to attack. None of them could feel his reiatsu, which was both unnerving and a slight relief. The otherwise crushing weight of Aizen's reiatsu wasn't affecting them as long as he maintained this form.
Ichigo placed a hand over his face, calling forth his Vizard powers. His mask formed differently than it had before, however. It was now like that of his berserk state when he had fought Ulquiorra with the long, pointed horns now present.
"Oh? Another upgrade, Ichigo?"
"Sure, I guess everyone else is changing around here. May as well go with the trend, right?" The Substitute Soul Reaper replied as he brandished Tensa Zangetsu.
The others drew out their weapons while Chad's arms transformed and Uryuu formed his bow. Orihime had instinctively called forth Tsubaki, prepared to provide support for the others.
Unohana's muscles tensed slightly. "You won't win, Aizen. Even if you manage to defeat us, someone else will rise up and take you down. Someone stronger will throw you down from your throne."
"I'm aware of that. That's why I intend to erase Soul Society. It will wipe out a vast amount of my troubles, Unohana."
"You've truly become a monster, Aizen." Unohana said, a rare hint of disgust in her voice. "Prepare yourself. I will hold nothing back." The Fourth Division captain let her reiatsu explode, catching the others by surprise. A chilling edge could be seen in the kindhearted woman's usually calm and warm expression.
"The lambs are attacking the wolf, is that it?" Aizen let out a chuckle. "Very well, amuse me."
"Damn it, wake up already."
"Looks like we've got no choice, huh Kyuubi?"
A low growl echoed all around Naruto. "I already told you this would happen."
Naruto opened his eyes, and sat up in front of the cave that he held the Kyuubi's spirit within. The paper seals hanging over the cave's overhang fluttered every time the giant fox exhaled a blast of warm air. The forest around Naruto's mindscape looked unchanged, but...
"So, how long do you think we'll have after we go through with this?"
"Eight minutes, and that's a very generous estimate on my part."
Naruto laughed weakly. "Damn, burning as bright as possible for a few minutes, huh?" The blond chuckled. "Alright...let's do this."
Kyuubi's eyes glowed while the symbols inscribed on the seals began to turn red. Naruto lifted himself off the ground and hovered in front of the main seal that held back the demon fox's power from reaching full capacity.
"I trust I don't need to explain that you can't afford to waste time once you remove the seal, right?"
"Yep. I'm aware." Naruto sighed, his hand grabbing a hold of the slip of paper. For a few moments, he held his breath. Closing his eyes, he thought about all the different reasons he was going to do this.
To protect Karakura. To protect Nel, Grimmjow, Harribel, and all the other Arrancar that made up his family. To avenge Stark, Barragan, and all the Arrancar who had fought and died in some way or another because of Aizen. To protect Soul Society, and the Shinigami who he had come to know.
To protect the future of the mortal and spiritual world.
Naruto's eyes snapped open, now flooded with crimson. He tugged on the seal, and removed it from it's spot on the cave.
Then, all hell broke loose.
Aizen was about to make his move, intent on crushing Unohana before she could even attempt to strike, but he felt a tingling sensation in the back of his mind. He turned back towards the spot where Naruto had fallen not too long ago. His reiatsu had bottomed out, he was sure of it.
If that was the case, why was there a sudden pillar of dark red light rising out of a massive pile of rubble?
"...Rey de Zorros!"
There was no explosion, no blast of heat, or any other sign that Naruto had called forth his Resurrección. The pillar of light remained shooting up to the sky above, and several long moments passed. No one, not even Aizen, moved from their spot, all transfixed on the red column of it felt like the world was cut off from sound for a few long moments. The column of light vanished as a silent rumble was felt to those who were on the ground.
Aizen didn't have to wait long for the source of power to reveal itself. A single figure could be seen rising from the column of red light, glowing with a coating of reiatsu that seemed to be made of flames. The Arrancar looked worse for wear, his white vest now tattered and being held together by a few threads. His hair was singed in several spots, and he was sporting a few deep cuts and burn marks across his body. All in all, the blond looked to be on the last legs of his strength.
Still, Aizen had an unshakable feeling telling him that he was in danger. He didn't know why, but...
A single tail formed around Naruto while the flame like aura took the form of what appeared to be an animal of sorts.
"The Kyuubi...?" Aizen watched as Naruto's reiatsu began to rise at a steady rate.
"Segunda cola..." Naruto's tail of reiatsu split once, and his spiritual pressure seemed to double at that point.
"Tercer cola...cuarta cola..." A third and fourth tail appeared, and Naruto's plated armor began to form while bony spines sprouted out of his now solidified tails of flesh and bone. He grit his teeth as the wrist blades burst forth from his arms, and spikes sprouted from his knee caps. "Quinta...cola..."
The blond coughed as blood came out of his mouth, dribbling down his chin as he kept his eyes locked with Aizen.
"Sexta...cola..." Naruto's armor gained several more spines while his skull helmet became more solid, the lower jaw forming to his own skin. Naruto began to breath heavily as he willed his body to keep going.
Aizen had enough, though. "Why won't you just stay down?" One of the skull appendages spit out a blue orb, which made its way towards Naruto. The blond's eyes widened before he raised both palms, and the orb suddenly slowed down. He focused his power into the sphere before throwing it upwards suddenly. Several seconds passed before it exploded, rocking the town below while hundreds of windows cracked and car alarms went off.
"Séptima cola..." Naruto hissed as his eyes began glowing brightly, his canines elongating. "Octava cola..." Musculature began to form, integrating itself with the bony plating of Naruto's hierro. By now, Naruto was coughing heavily, blood spattering his chest.
Eight tails waved behind the blond now. His body looked like it was ready to fall apart, despite the fact he was using his Resurrección. He seemed to be having trouble breathing from the way his chest rose and fell rapidly, and his eyes, despite the crimson glow, were a little glazed over.
Naruto raised a limp hand, and a flicker of orange flame appeared in front of his open palm. He looked to it and smiled as the flames took the shape of a rectangle. Within the flames' center was the glowing words for 'seal'. Naruto gripped the seal made of flames, and pulled it down from whatever it was stuck to.
Several seconds past. The flames disappeared suddenly, and Naruto's head drooped while his body went slack once more. For a moment, it seemed as though he was unconscious, or worse. Aizen began to move towards the floating body at a cautious pace when he suddenly stopped.
Aizen was blown back by a sudden blaze of reiatsu that had dwarfed anything he had felt from the blond previously. Naruto's armor disintegrated within the flames while his skin began glowing a golden hue. Strange markings made of light began to circle around him as his body began to move again.
"H-he removed the seal..." Sakura whispered in awe. "Naruto...did he...?"
His now golden aura morphed before it expanded, and took a new form. Nine tails, accompanied with a large, animal-like body that dwarfed the Arrancar's own frame, were now visible. Two red eyes formed on what appeared the head, and looked to Aizen. A flaming maw opened up before eliciting a roar that shook all those within the town of Karakura to the very core.
Aizen glared at the blond before him, then looked to his arm fused to his blade. It was...shaking? No...why? Fear? Aizen, the holder of the Hougyoku? Afraid? Why? He had no equal, no one could stand against him!
"Aizen." Naruto began, his vest beginning to disintegrate as it flew off his shoulder before hitting the golden flames of his reiatsu. "You're finished."
It all happened too quickly. The blond disappeared, his aura vanishing with a flicker before reappearing near the group opposing Aizen. The twisted man felt pain ripple through his body before his back and sides were ripped to shreds by invisible blades. No, not invisible blades. Naruto had simply moved so fast that even Aizen hadn't noticed him attack.
"G-gaah!" Aizen howled in pain, but his body was already attempting to heal the wounds. He was caught off guard though as four tails of the golden chakra wrapped around his body, holding him in place. Naruto didn't make any move to attack after that.
The blond looked over his shoulder to see Nel approaching him. "Nel...please stay back."
Nel frowned, but complied. "Where..where did you get this power?"
Naruto gave her a ghost of a smile. "I've always had this power, Nel. I just forgot about it, and never wanted to use it..."
No one spoke for several moments, Aizen's body apparently having trouble healing properly thanks to the heavy reiatsu that was still clinging to his body.
"Why now, though? What's held you back before?" The former Tercera asked.
The Media-Espada just chuckled quietly, looking forward once more. He exhaled deeply before looking to Aizen. "Nel...I'm sorry we didn't get to spend more time together after all these years of being apart."
"Huh?" Nel blinked, caught off guard by the sudden change in subject. She smiled, despite the foreboding feeling she was getting. "Th-that's fine, Naruto. After this is over, we can-"
"I love you, Nel."
Again, the green haired woman was taken for surprise by Naruto's words. It wasn't what he said that was scaring her...it was how he said it.
It sounded like the voice of a person on their deathbed.
"I love you too, Naruto." She held her sword at ready. "Let's finish Aizen and then-"
A flash of light blinded Nel, along with the remaining defenders of Karakura. She blinked several times to see a giant bubble of the same golden aura surrounding Naruto and Aizen. The former captain looked around before speaking. "What is this, Uzumaki?"
Naruto smirked with confidence, though his eyes seemed to be reflecting nothing but pain in them. "This? Heh, this is my grand finale, my final stand." Naruto's entire body began to shine again, a melodic hum emitting from his growing aura. "The coup de grâce."
Aizen's eyes widened at that. "No...you...you wouldn't! You'd destroy Karakura...!"
"Not with this little bubble around us." Naruto indicated. "My aura acts as a separate entity now, only working in sync with me when I need it to. The Kyuubi's in control of it otherwise. Luckily for me, the fox decided to go along with our plan to defeat you. I just wish using this form didn't have such a nasty side effect."
The others listened intently, being close enough to hear Naruto's voice as he spoke to Aizen.
"Side effect?" Orihime repeated. "What...what does he mean?"
"Maybe...maybe it hurts him as well." Chad suggested. "Perhaps it's so powerful that the attack causes damage-"
"No, it's worse than that."
The group looked to Harribel, who was on her feet once more. The tiniest hint of moisture was in the corner of her eyes as she looked towards Naruto.
"Harribel-sama?" Sun-Sun began. "What...what's happening, then?"
Nel beat the blond Arrancar to the answer, though. "Naruto's going to die." The group turned to the former Espada. Her head was hanging low now, her shoulders shaking. She let out a shaky breath before continuing. "Naruto...is that what you're planning?"
The blond looked back again, frowning as well. Nel looked up to him, and for several long moments they said nothing before the blond smiled. "I'm sorry."
Nel slowly began to cry. "W-why? You...you don't have to-"
Naruto just smiled. "Nel-chan, I...I can't contain all this power inside of me...I had to use it, though." He clenched his fists as he continued. "As much as it annoys me to admit it, Aizen could have done me in had I not used the ninth tail."
The Arrancar, Humans, and Shinigami all just watched as Naruto slowly lifted the bubble up into the air. The golden light began to pulse from Naruto's stomach, where the seal could be clearly seen.
"Naruto, please stop!" Nel called out. "You don't have to do this!"
"Goodbye, Nel-chan." Naruto spoke, looking down to the woman he had never been able to get over even after years of separation. He scanned over the faces of everyone present, trying to memorize every feature of his friends.
"Grimmjow...thanks for...for always being a reliable friend, and for sticking by my side until the end." He grinned. "Try to loosen up a little bit, alright? Las Noches is going to need you to help take care of it when I'm gone."
Grimmjow just frowned, though he looked more reluctant than angry. "...yeah...you got it."
The blond turned his attention to Harribel. "Harribel-chan...I..." He looked off to the side, a small frown forming. "I'm sorry I never...never gave you a chance..." He scratched his head while grinning sheepishly. "I wish I had paid more attention to you. Maybe I would have noticed the signs, heheh..."
The Tercera could only smile, nodding weakly.
"Apache...I'm so proud of you. It was an honor to be your tutor all these years. That goes for you two as well." He looked over to Mila-Rose and Sun-Sun. "All three of you have such potential. Follow your dreams, and don't ever sell yourselves short. Alright?"
Apache, who was currently shedding tears, gave a stiff nod. "R-right, Naruto-sensei."
Mila and Sun-Sun gave nods as well, afraid to speak unless their voices crack from crying.
Sakura and Shikamaru each shared looks with the blond. He gave a fox-like smile. "Heheh, I still can't believe the luck I have, getting so see you two again. I'm happy that you've both managed to become Shinigami. I'm...glad that people like you are in charge of protecting the mortal realm. I can do this without regrets knowing that you two are around."
Sakura wiped her eyes, trying to stay strong. "Baka..." She laughed weakly.
Shikamaru was also fighting back tears. "We'll both continue to do our best, Naruto."
"I know." The Arrancar replied. He glanced over to Ichigo, that grin still on his face. "Kurosaki...don't slack off on your training, alright? You're something else, kid. I mean it. I honestly can't put a peg on where you stand. That says a lot. You can become one of the strongest Shinigami Seireitei has someday. Don't forget that."
"Yeah..." Ichigo, having removed his mask, was smiling. "Thanks...for protecting Karakura."
"You got it. Just don't forget; you're in charge of this place now." Naruto answered.
Silence once again hung in the air, aside from the occasional grunting from Aizen as he struggled to free himself from Naruto's grip. "You can't kill me, Uzumaki. I'm immortal...the Hougyoku won't allow me to-"
Aizen's words were cut off as he felt his mask begin to chip. His wings began to go limp, and he felt his strength leave him suddenly. Looking down to his arms, he noticed his hierro-like skin beginning to crack. A panicked look crossed over his face as he watched shards of his shell fall from his body, only to disintegrate within Naruto's bubble.
"Huh...I was right."
Aizen, who's body was beginning to regress to it's former state, glared at the Arrancar. "Right about what?"
Naruto pointed to Aizen's chest. "That."
Aizen followed Naruto's gaze, and his breath caught in his throat. The Hougyoku...it was...
"Where is it?" Aizen's voice began to lose it's animalistic edge. "The Hougyoku, where is it?"
Resting in the palm of Naruto's right hand was none other than the Hougyoku. It glowed with that same unnatural hue, though a bit more subdued than before when it was embedded in the chest of Aizen. "H-how did you get that? When?"
"You said it yourself. It grants the wishes of those with a strong enough will. My wish was to simply take it from you, and destroy it in the process."
"It...it would never allow that to happen! It's own will would stop-"
The Media-Espada wrapped his fingers around the small object while shaking his head. "Yes, but it realized how futile it would be to resist. With my current power, and the strength of my will to defeat you and it as well, the Hougyoku realized it stood no chance. I would find a way to win, no matter what."
Aizen's face contorted into a vicious grimace while he glared daggers at the Arrancar. "Damn you, Uzumaki! Damn you! I can't possibly lose to you! You're nothing but a damned Hollow! I gave you power! I command the Hougyoku!"
"Not anymore." Naruto ground out. He held onto the glowing orb, which began to fracture before it broke apart into hundreds of tiny fragments. Said fragments began to fade away into particles of spiritual energy before getting swallowed within the raging fires of Naruto's reiatsu.
The former captain felt his chest tighten as he watched the last fragments of the Hougyoku vanish. "N-no...no! You fool! Do you realize what you have done?"
"Yeah, that was intentional." Naruto replied.
"You've destroyed the one thing that can help take down the Soul King! That was my one chance to remove that damned thing from Soul Society!" Aizen roared. Gone was the third eye, the wings, the claws, and the skeletal face. Naruto now simply held a man who's powers were somewhere between Hollow and Shinigami. Not quite Vizard, and not quite Arrancar.
In an ironic twist of fate, Aizen had fallen from power just as quickly as he had risen.
"It's sad, almost. You were a powerful man, Aizen. A bit ruthless, and at times terrifying, but still...I held some respect for you. When you told me of your plan to use human hostages like Orihime...when you told me of your plan to eliminate Soul Society...I knew I couldn't follow you."
"You'd rather sit in this stagnant world, is that it?" Aizen growled. "I would expect someone of your power to want to improve it! Change it, for whatever you see fit! How can you stand to live in the position you have right now? Subjugated by the will of an entity that hovers over the world of souls without ever involving itself!" Aizen's voice rose with every word he spoke. "You're a coward, Uzumaki! A lowly dog who bows his head with his tail between his legs!" He managed to wrench a hand free, only for a fifth tail to wrap around it. "I won't be held down by the whims of that thing, the Soul King!"
Naruto simply shook his head. "If I decided to destroy the Soul King, then I'd end up destroying the natural order of the spiritual realm, Aizen. That would affect Shinigami and Hollow alike. The world would be thrown off balance, and become engulfed in chaos."
"Not if I had the control!"
"Aizen, I'd rather die than let you have control, which is precisely the reason why we're in this predicament."
Naruto's seal began to fade as his body slowly broke apart, spiritual particle by spiritual particle. He gave one final look to the group behind him. His crimson eyes locked with Nel's hazel brown. He raised up a hand, as though reaching out to her. Nel did likewise, body racking with sobs.
"Naruto-kun...I..." She watched as several tiny beads of light circled around her before melting into her own body. She didn't know if she was supposed to feel anything different, but part of her knew it was Naruto's way of trying to leave a portion of himself with her, if only for the sentimental value of it.
The blond simply nodded. "I love you too, Nel-chan."
There was a bright flash. Nel's eyes couldn't see, but she continued to look on. She felt the incredible force of Naruto's reiatsu crash down upon her, though it wasn't an oppressive feeling. In fact, the feeling was growing weaker. Naruto was fading from her senses.
The Arrancar...no...the man...who had managed to make her feel loved in a way she had never felt before was leaving her, again. The man who's selfless actions at this very moment were saving the world from destruction.
The man who she would never see again.
She made to move forward, only to feel two powerful arms grab a hold of her torso. She fought, despite her still weakened state. "Let me go! No!" She elbowed her captor, trying to free herself desperately. "Naruto! Let me go, Naruto's going to-!"
"Nel, stop already!" It was Grimmjow. She stopped as she felt the Sexta's grip tighten. "I want to stop him just as much as you do, but..." He cursed under his breath, his voice beginning to shake. "This...this is the only chance we have of stopping Aizen for good."
"It's not...fair..." Nel choked out, sobs racking her body as she gave up her struggle, too exhausted to continue.
"I know." Grimmjow agreed, his hands trembling as he watched the scene unfolding before him. The blinding light had begun to fill the entire bubble of reiatsu Naruto had made, and was now floating upward while expanding.
Within the glowing reiatsu-bubble, Aizen could feel himself being shredded apart by the otherworldly power of the Kyuubi and Naruto's combined spiritual energy. The traitorous captain let out a scream as pain seared through every fiber of his body.
Eventually his screams were drowned out as the roaring flames consumed him. As quickly as it came, the pain suddenly vanished. "So...this is how I am to die?" Aizen thought. "A death dealt by the hands of an Arrancar that houses a ancient container of spiritual energy?"
He felt his skin being peeled away, then muscle, and finally bone.
"To think, I had prepared to take on the mightiest of captains...only to be killed by a subordinate I thought I had complete control over..." Aizen's very essence was engulfed within the golden flames, disintegrating into ashes, dust, and then nothingness.
Naruto grit his teeth, his body no longer able to control his power. He had stuck around longer than he should have, and he knew it. Now he was paying the price for drawing upon the full power of all nine tails of his Resurrección.
"I guess this is it..." Naruto thought with a strained smile. He felt the flames began to engulf him as well. He looked to see his arms disappearing. It was surreal, watching his body fade away while he was still alive.
Despite the pain, and despite the fact he was dying, he was happy. Reluctant, yes, but happy nonetheless. Soul Society would be safe from Aizen. Karakura, as well as the rest of the human world, wouldn't be ruled by Aizen. Most importantly, though, Las Noches, and all of his family and friends, would survive, and live to see another day.
"This...this is good. A fitting death for the hero at the end of a battle, heheh..."
Naruto closed his eyes as he continued laughing. He let his thoughts wander to everyone he was leaving behind. He wondered how Las Noches would fair. Harribel and Nel would be able to take care of things, and he could trust Grimmjow to protect everyone. Ulquiorra wasn't that bad of a guy either, so Naruto trusted him. He just hoped everyone wouldn't be sad for too long with him gone.
As for Karakura and Soul Society...well, Ichigo was a tough kid. He had a ways to go before he discovered his true potential, but he he was still strong. Sakura and Shikamaru were Shinigami too, so he was content with them helping run things on the other side.
"Ashes to ashes...haha..." Naruto managed to rasp out as he felt his body's chest burn away. "Goodbye...everyone."
With that, the Media-Espada, the Jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi no Youko, the being who saved the mortal and spiritual realms, vanished in a blaze of glory.
Harribel wasn't sure how much time had passed before she got back onto her feet and took in the surroundings. There was still a soft wind blowing from the explosion Naruto had made in his final act to stop Aizen. She couldn't help but let out a soft chuckle.
It was so much like him. Flashy, powerful, and left an you with an impression long after it was over. In the end, Naruto had gone out with a bang. As sad as it was for him to be gone, she supposed he would have liked no better ending. Protecting them had been something he had always lived for, and in the end, he had done just that.
The Espada looked over her shoulder to see Unohana standing before her. She gave a respectful nod to the captain, which was returned in kind. "Unohana-san...I thank you for healing us, even though we are not among your own forces."
"That was what I wished to talk to you about, actually." Unohana began. "I was hoping we could form an alliance of sorts. Despite our different origins...Soul Society and Las Noches could come together and form a union that would benefit both sides as well as the human world."
The blond Espada raised an eyebrow. "I...that could be arranged, yes...I think that would be wonderful."
Unohana smiled. "I'm sorry for the loss of your friend. Uzumaki was a true hero, and has shown all of us that kindness and sacrifice are not something that is limited to only certain groups of beings. On behalf of Seireitei, I thank you and your allies for the help you've given us."
"Think nothing of it. Aizen had to be stopped, and despite our origins as Hollows, we're not all hellbent on controlling the spiritual realms and devouring souls."
Unohana gave a final nod before walking towards the wounded. Harribel let out a soft sigh before looking up once more to the sky.
Grimmjow sat on a upturned block of cement, idly rolling a rock with his foot. He was pissed. Pissed off at Naruto for doing something so...so...
"Stupid bastard..." Grimmjow grumbled. Deep down though, he knew that he couldn't be angry with Naruto. He just wished that his long time friend, sparring partner, and brother in all but blood were still alive. Now that he was gone, he wasn't sure what who he had to relate to anymore. Naruto had been the one chain holding him to Las Noches, and with that chain severed...
The Sexta Espada looked up to see the teary-eyed yet smiling face of Orihime. "Hn? What?"
Orihime wordlessly bent down to be eye-level with him before gently wrapping her arms around him. "It's alright to feel upset, you know. You don't have to hide it. You have friends here."
Grimmjow initially wanted to push her away. Sure, she was cute, and strong in her own way, but he didn't need sympathy!
For some reason or another though, he felt his arms tentatively embrace her while he pulled her ever so closer to him. He let out a shaky breath, but refused to shed tears. Naruto wouldn't have wanted that. "Thanks...Orihime."
Orihime only held him tighter while continuing to breath softly.
Perhaps Grimmjow could find a new reason to to exist after all.
Apache was a bit surprised to find herself being held in the arms of Mila-Rose of all people. Sure, they were friends and comrades, but they had never been what one would call close to the point of being comfortable in such a position. Right now though, the young Arrancar needed this.
"He...really is gone, isn't he?"
Mila herself was an emotional wreck. Naruto's death had been as painful as it had been sudden to all of the Espada. Hell, even Ulquiorra looked more depressed than he usually was.
"I..." Mila sighed before loosening her grip a bit. "Yeah...I guess he is..."
Apache looked down before clenching her fist. She glanced at the chakram on her wrists, then unclenched her fists. She slowly unlatched herself from Mila-Rose before standing up.
"I'm the pupil of Naruto Uzumaki..." She stated quietly, though it was clear there was pride in her voice. "Even if he's gone, I won't stop carrying on what he taught me. I'll just have to become stronger to make up for the gap he left." She looked down to her friend and smiled a little. "Don't you think so, Mila? Sun-Sun, you, and I...we all were taught under him and Harribel, two of the strongest Arrancar in Las Noches. I think it's time we start showing that."
Mila couldn't help but smile as well while wiping her eyes. "Yeah, you're right. Naruto wouldn't have wanted us to be moping around like this forever." She got to her feet and smirked. "Though, I'm still pretty certain that you'll need to work on your Resurrección's appearance if you want to look powerful..."
Apache's eyebrow twitched. "H-hey, shut up! My Resurrección is just fine how it is!"
Nel had watched with bleary, tear-flooded eyes as the distant ball of flames and reiatsu exploded, clearing away the clouds within the area and washing the city in a wave of heat for several moments. Nearby car alarms had gone off while power line transformers exploded within a five mile radius.
The next several minutes didn't really register to the former Tercera. She gave a nod when Grimmjow had ushered her to the ground below. She made no audible comments when Orihime had spoken to her, just nodded and accepted the girl's hugs and kind words of comfort, whatever they may have been.
From what she understood, Unohana was to take the rest of the Soul Reaper forces back to Seireitei so that they could rest while the SRDI made the proper repairs on Karakura. Harribel, speaking on behalf of Las Noches' forces, replied by stating that she would do the same. The two women also hammered out a date to meet and discuss about making peace between the Arrancar and Soul Society.
Nel simply stood, looking up to the cloudless spot where Naruto had last been. She never felt his reiatsu vanish, but she felt an emptiness in her heart.
She chuckled. Arrancar supposedly don't have hearts. That's what the hole represented. Still, Naruto had disproved that logic time and time again. With him gone now, though...
The green haired beauty turned to find Sun-Sun standing awkwardly, eyes red and puffy. "Sun-Sun...right?"
"Yes...I...well, I found this over in that pile of rubble. It looks like it was Naruto's. I thought that...well, I believed that you'd want it."
Nel's eyes widened as Sun-Sun drew from her sleeves the shattered remnants of Rey de Zorros. The handle was still intact, but the steel had been broken a few inches from the blade's tsuba. The older Arrancar wordlessly took the broken sword, giving the Fraccion a grateful nod while fresh tears poured down her cheeks. Sun-Sun merely smiled while walking back to her comrades.
The former Tercera spent several long moments by herself after that, watching the sky above. She would move on. Naruto would have wanted that, and she knew it. She just hoped Pesche and Dondochakka would be able to cope with this as well. It would take some time, and the wounds would probably never fully heal. Naruto had opened her eyes up to a world of joy and showed her that no matter what, one could love and give love in return.
Naruto had become an example of what a true Arrancar could be. Selfless, brave, generous, and above all else, kind.
"Las Noches..." Nel whispered while dropping her gaze to Naruto's sword. "...I'll protect them, Naruto-kun."
Holding the broken zanpakutou close to her chest, Nel glanced up to the sky once more. "Naruto-kun...I'll make you proud. I'll make Las Noches into the kind of place you always wanted it to be. I promise."
End of Chapter Eighteen: So ends the story...just kidding. There's an EPILOGUE left, and I highly recommend reading it once it's posted. Things have been busy as of late, but I HAVE been working a bit on it already. I'm currently making it into two parts. Why two parts? Eh, you'll have to wait and see.
Oh, on a sidenote...I don't plan on going into the arcs after the defeat of Aizen in canon. So yeah, to those of you curious with me continuing this into future arcs, there's your answer. Sorry if I've disappointed any of you, but that's just my decision.
Other than that, I thank every single one of you who have stuck with this story so far. Again, the epilogue will be the true ending, so I strongly urge you keep your eyes open for it. Thanks again to all of you, and to Paradox Jast, the best beta-reader I could have asked for in regards to this piece!