Hey all. Looks like I'm back on track. Here we go. As always, review replies are first.

BoundlessBlood - Yep, definitely coincidence. But let's face it, Ichigo's character makes it easy for others to push him in certain directions.

KratosTheGodofWar - No, I'm not doing a sequel about Ginjo or Yhwach. Not for a long while - I have other priorities, and I'm just trying to finish this story so I can get to work properly on my novels.

IncandescentOne - This story will end with the Hell arc. Don't worry about this entering the other arcs. Good lord, I'd be at this for so many years...

jjmartinez1217 - Ichigo let Hell past partly out of shock, partly because if he had, that would have left Masaki open.

The Sinful - Yes, Ichigo's power is still sealed.

donovan - I did flip my shit about Ichigo's latest power development. But I got over it, and I have plans for it.

Lazurman - Heh heh heh. That was precisely the reaction I was aiming for. Hope I live up to your expectations.

Vocabulary Review!

Ryubi no Jomon (Gate of Dragon Tail) - One of Hachigen's special barriers. See the description in-story.

Koko no Jomon (Gate of Tiger Fang) - One of Hachigen's special barriers. See the description in-story.

Kigai no Jomon (Gate of Turtle Shell) - One of Hachigen's special barriers. See the description in-story.

Hoyoku no Jomon (Gate of Phoenix Wings) - One of Hachigen's special barriers. See the description in-story.

Shiju no Saimon (Gate of the Four Beasts) - One of Hachigen's special barriers, made by putting together the four Jomon.

Tenkai Kecchu (World-Shifting Binding-Posts) - This technique allows Urahara to swap 3-dimensional space between Soul Society and the living world, as defined by four posts. This was used to allow fighting in Karakura, while not endangering the humans living there, during the fight against Aizen.

Zanka no Tachi, West: Zanjitsu Gokui (Longsword of the Remnant Flame, West: Remnant Sun Prison Garb) - This technique is automatically activated in Bankai. Heat up to 15 million degrees engulfs the air surrounding Yamamoto. This heat utterly destroys all that enters it... and Yamamoto is no exception. If he remains in Bankai too long, he too will be destroyed. The heat is invisible unless Yamamoto wills it to be visible. While it takes the appearance of flames, it is in fact an aura of reiatsu being constantly maintained.

Note: The Bleach wikia states that this technique reaches 15 million degrees, but when I checked a few English translations of the original manga, it stated 1.5 million. Then I also did some research about the heat of the sun itself, and the core of the sun reaches 15 million degrees Celsius. I think the 1.5 million might have been a typo, or mistranslation, or something. So I'm going with 15 million.

Zanka no Tachi, South: Kaka Jūmanokushi Daisōjin (Longsword of the Remnant Flame, South: Great Burial Ranks of Ten Trillion Fire Dead) - Quite possibly the most intimidating technique in Yamamoto's arsenal. By stabbing the tip of Zanka no Tachi into the ground, Yamamoto utters a chant and summons the ash of every person he's ever slain and resurrects them as ash skeletons to fight on his behalf.

Anyway, let's get on with the chapter, eh?

Chapter 74: Apocalyptic War

"Oh shit."

No one knew which of the three said it – the sentiment was shared between Ichigo, Zen'i and his mother. As it was, they had to move quickly.

Ichigo's brain flashed through a few possible courses of action before settling on one. He turned on his heel and lashed out with Tensa Zangetsu. Masaki blinked as remnants of chains fell to the ground, clinking. "Zen'i. Get her home, then get your ass over and help me fight him."

"No!" Masaki rejected, putting every bit of motherly authority she had in her voice.

Both Ichigo and Zen'i flinched, stumbling from where they'd both begun to move. "Why the fuck not?!" Ichigo demanded.

"If you fight Hell in the living world, you're going to kill a lot of innocent people who are just in the way!" Masaki pointed out, her voice hard. "You need a way to force Hell back into this dimension."

"And exactly how am I supposed to do that without fighting him?" Ichigo asked sarcastically.

"The same way he forced you out without fighting you," Masaki answered, looking at her son intensely. "Open a portal under him and shove him through when he's not expecting it. And the only way that's going to happen is if Zen'i stays here."

"At least let me take you home first!" Ichigo pleaded.

"No," Masaki replied, her voice firm. "Now that I'm free of Hell's chains, I can feel them… my powers."

Ichigo blinked behind the mask. "Your powers?"

"Your father never told you?" Masaki cracked a cocky smirk that made Ichigo realize exactly whom he'd inherited that trait from. She raised her arm, and reishi quickly gathered, forming a bow. "Ichigo, I'm a Quincy."

The Vizard's eyes went wide. She was a Quincy? Her powers were coming… back… Of course! When she'd become a Togabito, she'd gained access to reiryoku again. But the Quincy abilities must have been suppressed by Hell to keep her prisoner. Now that the chains were gone, Hell no longer had the power to hold her power at bay.

But if his mom was a Quincy… then… did that make Ichigo a Quincy? Oh god, did he have another spirit lurking inside him to be the manifestation of his Quincy powers? But wait, if he was a Quincy, why hadn't he ever been exposed to them while growing up? Did his father being a Shinigami have something to do with it? "I have so many questions…"

"And I'll answer all of them as best I can when this is all over. But right now, while Zen'i is working on that portal, he needs me to be there to protect him. Trust me, Ichigo," Masaki told him with a reassuring smile. "I don't know what part of him you are, but you do. And if you're willing to accept him, then I will too. I don't care what you look like, what you are." She reached up and touched Ichigo's Resurrección mask tenderly. "I know who you are, beneath that mask. You're still my Ichigo, my precious son."

"I just want you to be safe," Ichigo murmured.

"I know. You never could hide your heart from me. You've wanted all your life to protect me, to protect your sisters. But I'm your mother. It's my job to protect you. Please, just trust me."

Ichigo didn't know what to say. Finally, he nodded. "Alright, Mom. Stay safe." He shot Zen'i a look, and the Togabito nodded resolutely. With that, he vanished in a burst of Sonido, launching himself into the living world.

Inoue knew instantly when things started to go wrong. "No…!" She grit her teeth.

"What's wrong, Inoue?" Hachigen asked urgently. "Is the burden too much?"

"That's not it! The Gates…! There's a hole in the Gates of Hell! Despite everything, the Gates have materialized!"

Hachigen paled. "Shihoin-san, what happened?!"

"The blast that made the hole came from within Hell," Yoruichi reported quickly. "Kisuke says the signature belongs to Ichigo."

"The Gates have always been the weakest point between the living world and Hell by necessity," Urahara explained. "By punching a hole through them, Ichigo has linked Hell and the living world until the Gates can repair themselves."

"That idiot!" Yoruichi swore.

"Kurosaki-kun wouldn't have done that for no reason!" Inoue reminded them. "It was probably his last resort, and since the Shinigami blew up the Gates before, thought it wouldn't be too bad."

"It doesn't matter why he did it. The fact is that he did, and now we have to deal with the fallout. Inoue, can you handle the additional influx of Hell reishi?"

"I'm trying, but it's like trying to keep the ground clean when someone's bleeding to death on it," Inoue muttered with a strained tone.

"Hold on, Inoue. Tessai!"

"Hai, Urahara-dono!"

"Kisuke, what are you doing?!" Yoruichi demanded.

"Tessai's going to set up a couple of barriers around the Gates, to restrict the reishi flow."

Heartened by the news, Inoue redoubled her efforts, doing her best to keep the living world's reishi from taking on Hell's properties.

"Here you are," a new voice commented in satisfaction from a few feet behind her.

Inoue stiffened as fear shot through her body. "Hachi-kun…"

"Disengage the technique, Inoue," Hachi's voice was calm, but urgent. "Disengage, and run."

"But what about…?"

"You can't protect yourself while you're using that technique, Inoue. And if you die here, then you won't be able to protect the living world. Go."

Inoue swallowed, but released the Sōten Kisshun. And then she focused her intent towards her Santen Kesshun, and sped off towards the relative safety of the Urahara shop.

Hell lazily watched her go. "So, her name is Inoue… and she is the one who was capable of halting the assimilation? What an interesting power. I wonder… does she have control over the living world's reishi? Perhaps an offshoot of a Quincy…?" He paused for a moment in thought, then shook his head. "No matter. Her soul will belong to me soon enough."

Hachigen had heard enough. He swept his hand in front of his face, conjuring his Hollow mask. Not wasting any time, he clapped his hands, creating over a dozen pillars to form a gigantic shield to the left of Hell. "Ryūbi no Jōmon!"

"Oh?" Hell observed the shield in interest. "I've never heard of this barrier. It looks quite strong." He then noticed Hachi going through some additional motions. "There's more? By all means. Let's see your best. I wonder how it compares to the Gates."

Unnerved by Hell's nonchalant acceptance of his barriers, Hachi nevertheless summoned a great deal of his reiryoku to create a large black circular barrier, placed directly in front of Hell. "Kokō no Jōmon!"

Hell approached the barrier in curiosity. "Interesting indeed. A one-way barrier? To allow attacks in while trapping the opponent and his attacks inside. Very nice. Yes, it could prove useful for fighting the Reiō. Please, do show me more."

Seamlessly switching to another set of hand seals, Hachi promptly created several dozen small hexagonal barriers and put them together in a honeycomb structure. This one went behind Hell. "Kigai no Jōmon!"

"Hmm…" Hell inspected the latest barrier closely. "I see. This is an attempt to create a powerful barrier that won't shatter all at once if part of it is compromised. And… oh! The barriers resonate with each other. Individually weak, but together quite strong. Very promising. It wouldn't surprise me if this barrier approached the strength of the Gates themselves."

Hachi smiled tightly at the compliment even as he conjured an obelisk and wings of fire, from which many planks combined to form long red wings. The wings promptly folded on each other, forming a circle with a large hole in the middle. Hachi placed it above Hell. "Hōyoku no Jōmon!"

Hell looked at it with an expression of confusion and minor disappointment. "While visually impressive, I don't see how useful this barrier is. It doesn't seem to hinder me in any way."

"The premier property of a phoenix is immortality – it will never die. In the same way, the property of the Hōyoku no Jōmon is that it reinforces other barriers and will restore them if damaged," Hachi stated calmly. He made a simple hand seal in front of his face with his left hand, and swung his right hand down. "Shijū no Saimon!"

The four barriers that Hachi had created sparked with power, and a tinted prison-like cube barrier formed around Hell, with the four preexisting barriers enforcing its power. "You believe this will keep me here?" Hell asked casually, approaching the wall to his right, the wall without one of the Jōmon. He leaned in and inspected it with a critical eye.

"Not permanently," Hachi admitted. "Perhaps not even for very long. But long enough to perhaps move Karakura out of the way of your battle." He tapped his ear. "Urahara-san. Hell is in the living world. Please activate the Tenkai Kecchu."

"Understood. Activation will require a few minutes – please keep Hell occupied until then."

"You know, I find myself quite impressed," Hell admitted easily, placing his hand on the barrier and quickly withdrawing it when it sparked at him. "Oh, very well done. A barrier capable of defending itself. In my time, barriers such as these could only be created by the Reiō. I never had the talent for them. Soul Society has come far from its humble beginnings."

Hachi watched him carefully, uncertain. Hell was too calm, too at ease with his situation. A fully mastered Shijū no Saimon had never been conquered, to his knowledge. He'd even had it tested by the other taicho-level Vizard, had them attempt to destroy it with their Bankai. If Hell could break out of this barrier, then he simply had very few options.

"Let's suppose for a minute that you actually have successfully captured me," Hell suggested. "The purpose of your… what was it again? Kokō no Jōmon? Its purpose for this prison is to allow you to attack me without fear of retribution. So why aren't you attacking? Surely you know at least one good spell."

Hachi did in fact know many powerful Hadō. But he had always known his powers weren't suited to combat. Unlike Tessai-taicho, he'd never really mastered any of the branches of Hadō. He could cast them, sure, but he still required the full incantation, and their strength still needed work. There was a reason he had only been the lieutenant of the Kidō Corps, and after his escape to the living world Hachi had instead chosen to master his own brand of unique Kidō.

"I know several, Hell. But none suitable for you."


"I know the results of Kurosaki Ichigo's conflict with you, and he is far faster, far stronger than I. Opening the Kokō no Jōmon to allow my attack inside would give you a split-second opportunity to escape. Therefore, any attack I use should be capable of halting you or pushing you back, perhaps a spell with a suitably explosive impact. I even have such a spell in mind. But it is a spell I have not mastered yet. I could not guarantee that it would be strong enough to keep you in. So I will instead focus on keeping you trapped there for as long as I can, until a suitable method to deal with you is created."

Hell's expression didn't falter in the slightest. In fact, he seemed pleased. "Perceptive as well, and you know the limits of your own techniques. Yes, you will make a fine lieutenant when this world is absorbed."

Hachi's eyes narrowed slightly behind his mask. "This world will not be absorbed, Hell."

"I'm afraid that you are quite wrong." Hell slammed a fist into the wall of the Shijū no Saimon that he'd been examining, and it cracked audibly before beginning to repair itself. "You see, I am in my dimension, and I am here." He struck it again, and the barrier cracked even more. "Even if that were not enough, the Gates of Hell are open. The door has been opened. Our worlds are linked." Hell took a step back and then shot forward with both his fists striking the barrier at the same time.

At once, the Shijū no Saimon shattered. Hachi's mask crumbled in the wake of his shock, and he watched in thinly disguised horror as Hell turned to face him with a knowing smile. "Can't you feel it? Can't you feel the resonance?" Hell asked triumphantly. He raised an arm to the sky, and above him, a portal spiraled open, wider and wider, until it was approximately thirty meters wide. From within, Hachi could see hundreds, perhaps thousands of Togabito, waiting for the order.

An order that Hell was only too happy to give. "Attack! Kill the defenders of this world!"

At once, the Togabito began to swarm out of the portal. Hachi began quickly chanting the incantation for one of the most powerful Hadō he knew, but he was startled when a black and white blur rushed past him with a battle cry. "Getsuga Tenshō!"

The crescent attack ripped into and through dozens of Togabito, sending their bodies falling to the ground below, only to be reclaimed by miniature portals. The remaining Togabito froze, unsure how to take this new threat.

"Ah, Kurosaki Ichigo. I was wondering when you'd join us," Hell greeted amenably.

Ichigo, still in his Bankai and Resurrección, growled at Hell audibly. "You're going back to your damned dimension, Hell."

"Of course I am. After all, when I'm through, this will be my dimension!" Hell proclaimed. "Do you really think you can stop me, and all the Togabito here, at the same time?"

Ichigo's eyes glowed with resolve. "You're not the only one who can summon subordinates, Hell. Let me show you the difference between quantity and quality." He raised his face to the sky and let loose a piercing Hollow scream. Within moments, four Garganta opened, and out came Ichigo's Arrancar allies: Ulquiorra, Nelliel, Harribel, Starrk and Lilynette.

Ulquiorra kneeled in midair before Ichigo. "How may we serve, Kurosaki-sama?"

Ichigo didn't even look at him, his gaze completely focused on Hell. "Ulquiorra. Take out the trash. Protect Karakura."

"Yes, my liege."

Hell's confident expression faltered somewhat. "You? You are the king of Hueco Mundo?"

Ichigo didn't answer. Instead, he addressed the Vizard standing behind him. "Hachi, can you get that portal closed?"

"If I'm given time," Hachi answered, casting his eyes nervously on the situation. He'd never felt quite so outclassed before.

"Good. Nelliel. Protect Hachi here while he works."

"Right," the former Espada Tres acknowledged, moving herself between Hell and the Vizard.

Hell just stared incredulously as Kurosaki Ichigo continued to give orders. This, this boy… was not a pure Hollow. He wasn't even an Arrancar, but a Vizard. And yet he was the king of Hueco Mundo? How had that happened? More importantly, how many more Arrancar could he summon? And how strong were the ones he'd called for? So Hell simply waited patiently, listening in case Kurosaki gave out any important information.



Ichigo's eyes still didn't leave Hell, but his voice softened just a little. "Go. Find your friends and get them out. Just be careful of the effect of Hell's reiatsu. If you find yourself becoming overly aggressive, get out as quickly as you can. If any Shinigami give you trouble, tell them I sent you. After you find them, go to the Gates of Hell – my mother's there. Protect her with your life."

Harribel's eyes widened, and then she nodded sharply. "Yes, my liege!" She vanished in a burst of Sonido and zoomed into the portal, killing several Togabito on her way through.

Ichigo tapped his ear where the interdimensional communicator was. "Urahara, can you can hear me?"

"Loud and clear."

"What's the status? Keep it brief."

"Inoue was interrupted by Hell, and has retreated to my shop. I'm recalling Kuchiki to act as her support. Tessai is en route to the Gates to do what he can. The portals from Hell, excluding the one you're at, have ceased, and everyone is busy finishing off their current opponents. Resonance with Hell has begun. Dimensional instability has made transference to Soul Society virtually impossible at this time."

"Got it. When Tessai's done over there, send him our way to help Hachi."


"Any special instructions for us?" Starrk asked mildly.

"Be ready to aid me when I give the signal."

"What's the signal?"

"You'll know it when you see it."

Starrk sighed but nodded. "I should've known better than to ask."

No one moved for a moment. The orders had been given, and each side was waiting for the other to act first. Then Ulquiorra broke the silence by unleashing his full power and jumping straight into Resurrección: Segunda Etapa, generating a Lanza del Relámpago.

"Chains up!" one of the Togabito, presumably a commander, shouted. The countless soldiers manifested the chains that bound them to Hell and held it before them defensively, forming an enormous barrier that should have been considered impenetrable.

Ulquiorra took a moment to aim, and then flung the javelin above the front line's heads and chains.

"Hmph. He missed," Hell commented derisively.

Just then, a massive teal explosion surged from within Hell, reaching and engulfing the vast majority of the Togabito. When the dust settled, a good half of Hell's forces were obliterated, dead or dying. Broken chains littered the landscape for a few precious moments before disintegrating into nothing.

Ichigo's eyes never left Hell, but a fierce smirk grew beneath his mask. "Would you care to revise your opinion?"

Chad staggered back from another of punishing blow from Kieru. The Togabito was frighteningly fast, and had strength in spades despite only appearing somewhat healthier than his first starved appearance. It didn't help that his chains had been loosened so Kieru could actually make proper fists and use the chains as knuckle dusters.

Kieru pressed his assault, but Chad brought his Brazo Derecha del Gigante up to deflect the attack and twisted away. Not for the first time, Chad mentally thanked Yoruichi for helping teach him better footwork and his high-speed technique. Even so, as much as he hated to admit it, he was losing this battle. He hadn't even managed to land a single punch on Kieru.

"You're quite strong, for a human," Kieru admitted. "Not many could stand up to me during Hell's first invasion. Then again, I am still recovering from Hell's punishment…" He shrugged and moved out of a fighting stance. "It's too bad that you've already lost."

"What?!" Chad spared a split second to glance at the school he'd been defending – it was still untouched from their battle. "What are you talking about?!"

Kieru sighed. "Hell has entered the living world, and the Gates are open. I can feel them, just as I can feel that the living world's reishi is no longer being changed back to normal. Surely you can feel it now?"

To Chad's horror, he could. The air was noticeably thicker, was tangibly more… filled with malice. "No…" he whispered. "This can't be…"

"I'm sorry, Sado-kun. But there's no point in fighting anymore. In a few minutes, the first humans will be affected by Hell's reiatsu. Will they go insane and fight their fellow man? Or will they simply drop dead? I don't know. But it's over. If you want to maintain a human existence… then you should run, run and find a place to hide."

Chad grit his teeth. No. He wouldn't run. Not when so many were unknowingly counting on him, on his friends. With a thought and brief exertion of focus, he materialized the reiraku. It took mere moments for him to identify ribbons he was looking for. He grasped them all, and focused on the information they contained.

Inoue was alive, but her reiatsu echoed with fear and guilt. She was at Urahara's shop, probably trying to find a way to help since the plan had fallen to pieces.

Ishida was alive. Wounded lightly, but coldly determined. He was not far away, still in the middle of battle with Hana.

Ichigo was in the living world, high in the air. That made Chad feel immeasurably relieved, until he realized that Hell was in the living world too. Ichigo was almost certainly facing him. Chad quickly felt his way through the rest of the reiraku in the area with a sinking heart. Ichigo was with a few Hollows, including one who Chad thought might be Ulquiorra, but there were so many strong Togabito there. Ichigo was strong, but... if Chad was having this much trouble with just one, how would Ichigo against this many?

… No. Ichigo was stronger than he was. Maybe this many Togabito were truly nothing to him now. Maybe it'd be better if Chad just stayed out the way. Maybe… maybe Chad would only be a burden. He certainly felt like one, not being able to defeat even this one Togabito. Maybe the only thing he was good for was stalling for time.

… What was he thinking? Why was he acting as if it were a possibility to let Ichigo fight alone if he could help it? Ichigo needed him. It didn't matter if Ichigo had grown ten times, a hundred times, even a thousand times stronger than him. They'd sworn to fight for each other, to protect one another. If Chad gave up on being able to fight at Ichigo's side as he'd vowed, on using his incredible strength to protect others as his grandfather had taught him, then he would never be able to meet Ichigo's eyes again.

No! He would finish his fight with Kieru swiftly, and help Ichigo. He would not break his oaths! His pride demanded it!

As if by instinct, Chad reached for the coin he regarded as more important than his own life. He knew what he had to do. He knew his duty. His fingers touched the coin, and light flashed.

Kieru covered his eyes, momentarily blinded. When he could see again, he looked curiously at the human he'd been fighting. Before, the teenager had only manifested armor on his arms. Now, it seemed, he'd finished the job – his whole body, save his head, was covered in armor. The armor from Chad's waist up was the very dark red of carmine, with a large white stylized rose emblazoned in the center of his chest. Chad's legs were black, with the strips of the same dark red running down the sides.

Kieru watched curiously as his opponent moved experimentally, taking a few careful steps and twisting his upper body – the armor did not seem to inhibit his movement in the slightest. "Congratulations on your new power," Kieru commented. "Have you got a name for it yet, or is it simply an extension of what you had before?"

"Yes, I have a name for it." Chad met his opponent's eyes again. "El Deber del Corazón. I'm sorry, but my friend needs me. I can't afford to waste any more time on you." He took a step, and green light flickered for the briefest instant before he launched forward with far more speed than he'd had a few minutes prior.

Kieru's eyes widened and brought his chain-clad arms up to block a punch from Chad's left arm, but much to his shock he was sent flying anyway. Chad chased after him silently, catching him with his left arm and cocking a punch with his glowing right arm. "El Directo!" he cried out as he landed a strike to Kieru's gut from underneath.

The energy blasted through Kieru completely, obliterating his insides and sending a column of spiritual energy blasting into the sky. The moment it faded, Chad dropped Kieru to the ground. He reached down and took a handful of Kieru's chains with both hands. With a grunt of effort, he broke them, and was gratified to see the remainder of Kieru's chains began to vanish.

"You… you can break… the chains?" Kieru gasped, coughing out blood.

Chad ignored him and began charging power to his Brazo Izquierda del Diablo, preparing his strongest attack. "Sorry. I can't risk you recovering. May you find peace in your next life. I pray Hell doesn't reclaim your soul again."

"I understand." Kieru hacked out more blood. "Make it quick?"

Chad nodded and pulled back his fist. "La Muerte."

Kieru's body was instantly crushed. Chad didn't waste any time waiting to see if Hell's portal reclaimed his soul or not – he was needed elsewhere. He could sense that Ishida was finishing with his opponent as well. It was time to go to Ichigo.

Hell leapt back away from Yamamoto as the latter swung Zanka no Tachi yet again, unleashing an impossibly hot wave of concentrated fire and heat that would have utterly destroyed him if he'd caught even a sliver of it. "What happened to you to drag you to this level of power?" Hell questioned in utter disbelief.

And then Yamamoto vanished. "More than you will ever know," his voice uttered darkly from directly behind Hell.

Flickering away in a high-speed technique, Hell gathered his power to his Zanpakutō. "Asahi no Kagami!" he commanded, and light flashed off the blade. Yet Yamamoto's attention didn't sway in the slightest, and Hell could feel that the illusion had failed to take hold – it had broken in the same instant that it had landed on his opponent. A flicker of frustration flashed across his face. "It seems Asahi no Kagami won't affect you."

"All techniques have a counter, and I know the ability of Asahi no Kagami," Yamamoto stated calmly. "It searches for conflicts within the spirit. Conflicts between the heart and the mind, no matter how old, no matter how well lived with. In effect, it makes the opponent his own worst enemy, for everyone lies to themselves. Everyone knows what it means to delude themselves in order to go on with life, to justify the reprehensible.

"But the counter to your ability is laughably simple, Hell. To understand all you have done, to accept who you are. To have your heart and mind in accord." Yamamoto let loose a vicious smile. "Do you know how I spent my time preparing for you? I came here knowing the likelihood of my demise, so I spent my time settling my affairs. I spent it reflecting on myself, understanding my own decisions and the ones of those around me. I spent it resolving conflicts both present and future. I spent it forgiving myself. I have no regrets; I have done all I can. And with that knowledge behind me, you have no power over me!"

Hell remained silent for another moment, then opened his mouth to speak. "You are becoming very annoying, Yamamoto-sōtaicho. Very well. If I cannot have you destroy yourself, then I shall have to do the job myself."

Hell disappeared in a burst of high-speed moment, and reappeared inside Yamamoto's guard, Asahi no Kagami already in motion.

Hell completed the slash without any resistance, but winced when he heard Asahi no Kagami shriek in pain. Instinct alone saved him from a retaliatory strike from Zanka no Tachi as he flashed away once again, bringing his blade to bear. Or rather, what was left of his blade.

Asahi no Kagami was now nothing more than a short stub of metal on a hilt. "What?" Hell whispered. "How?"

Yamamoto could not help but bubble of pleased satisfaction that settled in his chest. "Can't you tell, oh Hell? I thought this was your world. Tell me, what does your world tell you about me?"

Hell narrowed his eyes. "… I see. Your Bankai is not merely your sword… it is your whole self. Your body is wreathed in truly impressive heat. I wonder how it is not visible to the naked eye?"

"Well then… since you asked, I guess I will make it visible to your eyes as well." Yamamoto took a single breath and, after a prolonged moment, exhaled. The invisible heat that surrounded Yamamoto's form was suddenly visible, shifting and writhing like fire, yet never growing too far from his body. "Zanka no Tachi, West: Zanjitsu Gokui. Its heat reaches 15 million degrees. You might say that when I'm using my Bankai, it's as if my body and blade are clad in the flames of the sun."

Hell paused to let that sink in. "… You are a terrifying old man," he admitted. "Such heat could not possibly appear in the form of flames – that fire is your reiatsu. It was invisible because you willed it to be. And now I see it because you have allowed me to. And yet you are not weakening in the slightest. With power such as that, you might as well be a god yourself. I find myself wanting to either laugh at the foolishness of any mortal willing to go against you, or fearful of the kind of powers that made that possible."

Hell chuckled and shook his head. "I cannot attack your body, nor can I attack your heart and mind. However… I wonder… how long can you maintain your Bankai under a constant assault?" He extended his free hand, fingers splayed wide with the palm facing the desert sands. "Souls! You whose forms have decayed, you who were blinded by the light of your own sins, I offer you a chance for redemption! If you would see the light of day once again, arise and take arms!"

Yamamoto watched silently as the desert itself lurched, sands flying in every direction, obscuring his vision for several moments. When the air cleared, Yamamoto was facing an army of hundreds, of thousands of men of every race and creed. Some wielded gigantic weapons, some went barehanded, and still others were visibly preparing magics of some sort. Standing above them was Hell himself. "Tell me, Yamamoto, sōtaicho of the Gotei 13, can you destroy an army of Togabito and still defeat me?"

And then Yamamoto could hold it no longer – he let out a derisive snort. "You call that an army? Let me show you how it's done." He planted the tip of Zanka no Tachi into the desert sands. "Corpses. Ashes of the dead, scattered by my flames. Lend me your aid. For a spell I shall grant you the pleasure of battle."

The ground rumbled as a great rift opened in the desert, ash erupting out of it as though it were a small volcano. The ash swept across the land and took shape, forming countless skeletal warriors for as far as the eye could see. Yamamoto met Hell's eyes, taking pride and satisfaction at the dumbfounded expression on Hell face. "Zanka no Tachi, South: Kaka Jūmanokushi Daisōjin."

"…" It took Hell a moment, but he managed to regain his voice. "Your Bankai gives you an impressive offense, a virtually perfect defense that destroys all that dares draw near, and the ability to summon your dead enemies as skeletons of ash to fight for you…" He shook his head with a chuckle. "It's ludicrous to think of you as a mere Shinigami. Your reiatsu lies on the border of transcendence. And here I thought I wouldn't have a real challenge until I reached the Reiō."

"Enough talk!" Yamamoto commanded sharply and pointed Zanka no Tachi at the army before him. The countless skeletons rushed towards the force of Togabito, and the battle was begun. "No Togabito will distract me! No attack will faze me! No defense will stop me! I came here to end the threat you pose to all the worlds, and you will not escape me!"

There we go, that's a wrap for the chapter.

Chad finally has his new powerup. I had to play with what his coin power would manifest as, try to work out what sort of power the coin would give him. I ended up doing a lot of studying of the other Fullbringers. I thought for a while the coin would become a weapon, but I realized that it didn't fit the coin's theme. The coin is a symbol of Chad's oaths, and his oaths had nothing to do with attacking - just protecting, with his own two arms. For those who don't know Spanish, "El Deber del Corazon" means "The Duty of the Heart". The coin allows Chad to make manifest his heart's desire to protect, to keep to his oaths, to follow his set of ethics.

Yamamoto seems to be faring well against Hell. We'll see how long that lasts.

Masaki is recovering her Quincy powers pretty quickly, now that she's not a Togabito. And now Ichigo knows. That's gonna be interesting.

I didn't want to sideline Inoue just yet, but her powers are too valuable to risk her in a face-to-face with Hell. Hachi just wrote the scene himself, including casting his Shiju no Saimon.

Next up, the spoiler rant.













... bit freaked out that they brought back Charlotte Chuhlhourne. I never wanted to see that guy again. And here he is. It was nice to see Dordoni, though - he was the Privaron Espada I actually liked at least a little. I wonder if Ichigo will meet him at some point.

Bit resigned about Mayuri just completely writing off all the zombified Shinigami - annoying, but I'm resigned.

Looking forward to seeing how the Zero Division handles Yhwach - looks like they're off to a good start with Tenjiro.

That's all for now! Until next time,