Deadly Tag I

"RETREAT!"

Kurosaki's command echoed aross the battlefield, heard and understood by all but one.

"Kurohitsugi!"

Grimmjow held his ground, refusing to move a muscle, even as his form was basked in the pallid glow of the high level kido spell. As the blades pierced his flesh, he staggered a step forward, and seized the hilt of his weapon. Finally, just as it was about to consume him, he started his counter. He drew in a breath now, let the oxygen expand and rush up to his lungs, buoyed by the intense spiritual energy...

'Not like this...FUCK NO!'

"You think this is enough to kill me...shinigami!"

He made a horrific noise just then His mouth still open wide, the back of his throat cinched tightly closed. A breath, forcing its way out, with a long and shuddering hiss. It was a eerie mix of nails raking across a chalk board, and the death rattle of a dying animal. Whatever this power was, it was powerful, shattering the coffin like glass.

"Grind." Grimmjow's voice, ragged and roughened, snaked through the smoke. There was a loud crunch, as a twister of light engulfed the tattered remains of his body for a moment, and was gone the next. His wounds left with the reiryoku, and he exhaled angrily as he shrugged them off.

"Pantera."

Silvery elbow blades had now taken residence upon his elbows, the full length of his arms, yet ended just before the shoulders, gleamed in the bright light of azure reaitsu. Bluish green eyes narrowed against black sclera, revealing the jagged markings that ran from the corners of his eyes, down to the square of his jaw, the mouth now parting to expose sharp fangs, perhaps slightly longer than before. His clawed feet dug into the ground, claws clenching and unclenching as he felt the gravel between his fingertips, tasted the scent of blood, his own and the shinigami's.

His reaitsu was everywhere, blanketing the air, the sky, and the snow. It was everywhere and everything, as the pillar of black and blue reiatsu roared into the sky, piercing the thick veil of clouds. He scowled at the look of open surprise that adorned the pallid face of his opponent.

"Y'know, shinigami, I'm pretty pissed right now. I went and made a bet with Ulquiorra that I wouldn't even have to release my resurreccion in this fight, let alone to defeat you. And now look what you went and made me do. Because of you, I've gotta put up with his shit for the next century!"

Tail thrashing behind him, Grimmjow drew back slightly, as if he were a spring, and coiling his body, to prepare himself for a mighty leap. Frowning, Ukitake prepared to peform the black coffin once more, to which the arrancar smirked. He hardly even noticed the javelins that scraped off his skin.

A wall of sound slammed into the coffin, rebounding the black from whence it came. Eye going wide, Ukitake narrowly escaped incineration at the hands of the wide blast, rolling away just in time. Yet he did not escape without loss, suffering some burns on his right arm, and losing his sleeve.

Another scream came his way, and that was just a precursor to the flame that ripped into his back. Scowling, he swung Sogyo no Kotowari around, but a blur of black had already caught it. It performed the same action with its right arm, when Jushirou brought around his remaining hand. Not willing to give the shinigami another chance to use his vast repirtoire of kido spells, Grimmjow spoke:

"You think you got power, shinigami? I'll show you, my power...

The noise coiled into the air, coiling around his shuddering frame like snake. Ths hiss still lingered in the air like the echoes of a long awaited shout, still reverberating in his ears. His claws, dragged through the air, leaving trails of unmistakeably sparkling blue in their wake. The air darkened once again, creating mist as the ice beneath his feet melted beneath the intense heat of the espada's favorite technique.

"Desgarrón."

With nary a sound, the azure claws descended.

At once, Grimmjow received the blowback from his own attack, for Sogyo no Kotowari absorbed and reflected the first of his Desgarrón into his chest, cutting deep and fracturing bone. But as the first was absorbed, the second powered its way through the shinigami's guard, and struck home, opening a small hole in the ice beneath their feet. Cackling madly, Grimmjow continued to hack and slash at Ukitake, uncaring, for every blow that was reflected into him, two more their way through the ironclad defense of his enemy.

Grimmjow laughed softly, sealing Pantera away as Ukitake was lost from sigh in the avalanche.

"Now that's power, shinigami."

zzzz

"Urahara Kisuke." Ulquiorra spoke solemnly, spreading black wings wide as the rain of green spiritual pressure from his resurreccion subsided. "I would rather not kill you just yet, as you have proven yourself to be a worthy opponent. That being said, I will have to offer you my condolences."

"Oho," Urahara smiled genially from beneath his ruined hat. "And what makes you say that?"

"Because I have been ordered to completley and utterly destroy you."

Urahara slid to the right just as the espada's katana would have decapitated him. He countered with his katana, the long blade shooting forward as he jabbed at his attacker. Ulquiorra slid backwards and suddenly found himself on the defensive. A javelin in each hand, he was swinging left and right, blocking with both hands as Urahara lunged forward aggressively. He was soon forced up against the wall of the iceberg his eyes widening in surprise as Kisuke reached up high with both arms and brought Benihime swinging down against his pinned body.

Before he could land the final blow, Ulquiorra's body released an opaque wall of reiatsu that blunted Benihime's edge and threw Urahara back along his skies darkened and Kisuke couldn't tell if this surge of power had cast the entire world into darkness or if it had momentarily blinded him. He was afraid it was the latter.

As his vision slowly returned, he was faced with a monster he could barely identify as Ulquiorra Schiffer.

"Resurrección," Ulquiorra said calmly, "Segunda Etapa."

Urahara leapt upwards with swish, narrowly avoiding what would have been Ulquiorra's finishing blow. He struggled to catch his breath, to remain calm. His chest heaved as he watched the espada rise slowly and confidently into the air. He drew breath into his lungs and straightened his back as much as he could. His cheery facade wavered for a moment before returning, his lips curving into a smile as he thrust his blade forward.

"Sing, Benihime!"

The black demon was no longer there. A long black appendage curled around Kisuke's neck and he slammed into the ground, the force of which created a small explosion as his body crashed through the charred remains of a derelict ship, trapped in the ice.

A vicious arc of crimson energy lashed out from within the fires, cutting Ulquiorra off. The espada quickly summoned a lance of lightning from his palm, the slender lance easily deflecting the attack as it shielded the espada behind it. He lifted it again, looked over his shoulder and into the flames behind him.

"Is that all you have, shinigami?"

With a gust of cold wind, the dark clouds that had been threatening them all morning suddenly broke and a torrent of frozen rain began to fall. The flames surrounding the fighters extinguished slowly as the smoke began to dissipate, revealing the faint red glow from Urahara Kisuke's Chikasumi no Tate.

"Hardly, espada-san." Reaching one hand to his scalp, the humble owner of Urahara Shouten, tossed the remains of his hat aside, looking quite melancholy as an artic gale swept his most cherished belonging away. "Though, if you hadn't held back just now, you might've have killed me."Any particular reason why you did that just now?"

"We are withdrawing." The espada stated simply, sealing Murcielago back into its katana and sheathing it with a flourish. "I would have expected you to have anticipated such an event. It has been a pleasure fighting you, shinigami."

And with a crack of Sonido, Ulquiorra was gone.

zzz

The greatest thing one can do for another, is to simply be there. To love and to care, to hurt and to share. To love and despair.

Starrk groaned, rolling onto his back, then rising to his feet with a superhuman effort. Every inch of his body was human charcoal now, yet somehow, somehow, he was still standing. Every breath was a steel knife in his windpipe, yet somehow, he still inhaled, still drew breath.

Even as his body seeped red from mortal wounds, even as his resurreccion peeled away from his body, Coyote Starrk refused to fall. His own end was coming again, and fate probably wouldn't be as lenient with him, this time around. Still, the lonely primera shuffled forward toward his enemy.

Yamamoto stared back at him impassively, Ryujjin Jakka slowly sliding back into its sheathe. His mindset was understandable, if a tad mocking in its mercifulness. In the mind of Yamamoto Shigekuni Genryusai, Starrk was beaten. There was little more the espada could hope to do but grip his katana and wait for death to take him. What point was there in finishing off a dead man? This was war, and war demanded only death, not mercy.

"Enough. You are beaten, arrancar."

"If you break my arms," Starrk mumbled something incoherently. "I'll protect them by kicking."

"Make no mistake." Yamamoto warned, as several dozen garaganta darkened the sky. "If you continue with this foolishness, I will not hesitate to strike you down. Tell me where Kurosaki Ichigo has gone, tell me why he has called this retreat, and you may yet live to see another day."

Starrk smiled brokenly as his body continued to drag itself forward.

"If you...take off...my legs..."

With a sudden click, Ryujjin Jakka came free of its scabbard. Less than an instant later, its edge halted Starrk's advance, with its lethal tip pressing against the espada's blade, which had weakly come up to defend against it. Starrk's frame trembled from the toll the effort took on his body.

"You are trying my patience."

"I...will...protect them."

"Enough of your blasphemy. You are a hollow. You have nothing but your own life to protect."

Starrk shuddered, but when he spoke, his voice was as strong as the steel which he gripped so firmly in hand. He refused to bend under the immense pressure that was being thrust upon him, he refused to yield, as the flames licked across the blade and into his screaming flesh. He could feel something rushing toward him, but he paid it no heed. He was too far gone, to focused on the enemy before him, to notice anything.

"I have friends, to protect."

With an uncharecteristic growl, Coyote Starrk threw himself forward and into battle once again. His swings were wild and sloppy, and though none of them came even close to striking the mark, the head captain was forced back through the sheer number of blows. All the while, as he desperately blocked, parried, and struck back against counter's of his own, Starrk continued to speak, through sheer force of will.

"If you break my arms, I'll protect them by kicking...if you take off my legs, I'll protect them by biting...if you break my neck, I'll protect them by staring...if you kill me, I'll protect them by cursing." As he finished, the broken espada stabbed Yamamoto straight, dead center, in the chest.

Always be there for someone you love.

As the leader of the entire Gotei Thirteen slumped forward, Starrk wordlessly summoned a cero from his chest, preparing to obliterate his enemy before any attempt at retaliation could be made. His mind reeled, his vision swam to and fro, but still, Starrk poured the azure light forth into Yamamoto's body, and halted only when the last vestige of his reaitsu finally abandoned him, and he was left starring at a charred husk.

Never let them out of your arms and most of all, give them everything they could ever need.

"You can try anything...but you won't touch my friends."

And the corpse spoke.

"Be silent, impudent pup."

Just as quickly as his counter had begun, it was over. His zanpaktou snapped in half, leaving Starrk gripping a broken hilt and perhaps an inch or so of steel, its tip sailed end over end until it embedded itself in a nearby boulder. He stared at it wordlessly, dumbstruck, as blood flecked his lips.

Suddenly,Yamamoto was not there, and Starrk realized all too late that he had just stabbed an empty haori.

'So then, this...is it.'

"STARRK!"

Someone screamed, and with the last of his strength, Starrk glanced over his shoulder, and into the tear filled eyes of Lillenette Gingerback. Her right arm dangled uselessly at her side, and a good portion of her mask had been hacked away, exposing matted, bloody green hair, a frozen scalp, and a perfectly normal human eye. Her good hand gripped her zanpakutou as she appeared less than a foot away, her sonido faltering as the last of her reaitsu abandoned her and she collapsed to her knees. She wouldn't reach him in time. So close, and yet, so very far away.

You never know when it may be the last time.

"Lillenette, I—" Starrk began when Yamamoto's zanpakuto plunged deep into his chest, pinning him against the tall rock. Blood began to spill out of his parted lips as his grey eyes bulged in wordless anger. Yamamoto was already standing in front of him, his hand gripping the hilt of Ryujjin Jakka and forcing it deeper through hierro and flesh.

"I commend your efforts to disuade me, arrancar, and now, I send you to your end."

Yamamoto stared down at Starrk for a moment longer before he smashed his open fist into the Arrancar's face, immediately pulling his blade out as Starrk's torso slumped forward out of the boulder and collapsed into the snow the floor, soaking it red with his own lifeblood.

Lillenette gaped, a frozen tear escaping one eye.

'No, oh god, no, no no no no no...

So distraught was she, that she missed the black shadow settling over her.

"Run."

"?"

"Getsuga." A swirl of shadow popped into existence a mere centimeter from Yamamoto's face, blade raised high. The golden, crystalized eyes of a hollowfied Kurosaki Ichigo blazed into the narrowed stone grey of Yamamoto for but a moment, and then, the black vortex descended. "Tenshou."

"Danku."

Yamamoto intoned swiftly, the transparent barrier snapping into place, warding away Kurosaki's ultimate technique at the last moment, tossing it harmlessly into a nearby mountain. But Lillenette had used that moment to stagger to her feet, and now, a massive lime green cero roared toward the Sou-taichou. Genryusai batted it away with an empty palm, turning his blade response to a dull thud of Sonido from behind.

Ulquiorra tsked, eyes narrowing as Murcielago's edge received a small crack at its hilt. Then he was gone, spiraling upward and away from a massive torrent of boiling water, an event that should have been an outright impossibility under these frigid temperatures. The moment it touched the wall of fire, it dissipated into a wall of steam, producing a thick mist that provided cover for the next assailant. Steel flashed against bone, and was gone as Halibel slid to a halt some distance away, bearing a large gash in her stomach for her efforts. Unfazed, she leapt backward...

Seizing Starrk's mangled body and carrying it with her toward the garaganta overhead. At this, Lillenette gave a small cry and leapt after the Tercera espada, desperate to stay with Starrk, abandoning Ulquiorra as he shot past, shoving her after his comrade in an all too clear gesture.

"Flee."

He whispered, and was gone, crashing against Yamamoto with Ichigo once again, desperate bid to secure more time as the bulk of their forces withdrew to the garaganta. It was a sad sight to watch, as wounded, half dead, Espada and Diablos struggled to buy the safety of their comrades with their own lives. Even as the three spun and slashed at one another, Ulquiorra staggered back, for someone had used him as a springboard.

Ichigo must have noticed it as well, for he suddenly shunpoed to the right, and levered the horns of his mask toward Yamamoto. A bloody white blur was on the shinigami's right a second later, grinning wildly as it launched a doom blast all its own from the captain's unguarded flank.

"Cero Oscuras!"

Lillenette whipped her gaze downward, just in time to watch as a pillar of blue and black fire consumed Yamamoto from the right. An angry snarl confirmed the identity of its owner, as did his wild blue hair. Grimmjow Jaggerjack controlled the blast with his right hand, whilst he cradled the limp form of Neliel Tu Oderschvank under his left arm. The two cero swallowed the ground beneath Yamamoto in a fiery mushroom cloud.

Or at least, that was what he had done before Yamamoto appeared directly in front of him. Ulquiorra frowned, vanishing in a burst of static, only to toppled backward, missing his right leg at the knee and left arm at the elbow, the blood from the fresh wounds already beginning to freeze as the temperature dipped steadily lower. The wounds were already regeneratin, but it wouldn't be fast enough.

"Shit." Ichigo swore, wincing suddenly and collapsing to one knee while one hand went to his chest. "The poison...

"Enough of this tom foolery." Genryusai's voice and blade came down like an iron gavel as Ryujjin Jakka opened a deep furrow in Grimmjow's already scarred chest and came away soaked in blood. "I did not come here to play hide and seek with children. This ends now."

Hissing in surprise, the former sexta launched himself upward, all but tossing Nel's limp form into Lillenette as he shot past. The primera swore and snapped off a potshot at the head captain as he went by, but Yamamoto simply proved to agile a target, and was gone before she could get a fix on his position. Grimmjow, realizing he wasn't going to make it to the garaganta in time, came about suddenly, ready to defend himself.

"Bankai." A familair, oily voice, declared.

Lillenette blinked, eyes wide with disbelief as the blade shrank and returned from whence it had come. Entirely unscathed despite having fought three seperate battles with three different captains', Ichimaru Gin grinned as Yamamoto darted away from the ever deadly Kamishini no Yari.

A hail of Getsuga and cero warned Yamamot away again, and then Kurosaki Ichigo and Ulquiorra Schiffer had rejoined the fray. Lillenette was still trying to overcome her shock, as was Grimmjow, who just stared stupidly at Gin's back, whilst the ex-soul reaper hummed tunelessly to himself.

"I-Ichimaru?"

"Mah," Gin smiled gleefully, as Shinsou retracted to its original size. "I can't let Kurosaki-san have all the fun, now can I?." Whistling softly he sheathed his sword, placed both hands together, swiftly drew them apart moments later, revealing a thick rectangle of glowing light stemming between them. At once, what remained of Ichigo's army began to glow a faint green color as the forbidden spell enveloped them.

Ichigo smiled and nodded slowly.

"Kūkanten'i(Spatial displacement)"

And with a loud pop, every single shinigami and arrancar who served under Kurosaki Ichigo, vanished.

zzz

"No way in hell." Tastuki glared up at him. Despite the oppressive weight of his reaitsu, her smoldering turquiose eyes retained their indomitable fire. "I'm not letting you anywhere near Ichigo, you got that, dumbass!" The hulking shinigami chuckled darkly, twisted himself to glare right back at the defiant human and her two bodyguards.

If looks could kill...

"What, you got a problem with me fightin' Ichigo?" Zaraki Kenpachi snapped at her then, jerking his thumb to the lifeless corpse that lay a ways behind them. "If that's the case, then get yer zanpakuto out and we can go at it right here, right now. I could use the warm-up anyway."

"Sh-Sh-Shut u-up." Tatsuki muttered through chattering teeth, struggling to maintain her footing. Kenpachi chuckled, the weight of his reiatsu cutting into Tatsuki like a knife to her throat. Still, she managed to draw Kyouka Suigetsu and stay upright, so that had to count for something.

"Hmph."

"I'm...still not moving." Tatsuki whispered after awhile. Zaraki arched an eyebrow, but shrugged and drew nonetheless. Immediately his blade was there, tipping her chin upward as she trembled slightly, shifted, throwing herself back in outright disblief. Zaraki scoffed at her cowardice.

"Eh?" He blinked in surprise, dissapointed as he walked after her, shaking his head when they vanished in a burst. "You gonna run, girl? Ah, damnit. They're gone again. Shit, I really hate playing tag with weaklings..."