A/N: I'm not a 100% sure why I'm writing this. I guess I'll just have to settle on the fact that it's fun, and the characters are just so legend. This is, quite literally, what I'm working on when I lack inspiration for the novel I'm writing.
I realise that with later chapters of Bleach coming out, some points of reference might soon not be canon, especially in this chapter. That's unfortunate, but I'm not going back to change them. It is possible though that they will, believe me when I tell you that I predicted gist of the prophecy in Harry Potter 5 right after book 3. Then again Tite is a different kettle of fish to JK Rowling. To give you some idea about when I started, it was round about when the Lust/Ash chapters were being released. So you have a right to be surprised if I call some of Kubo's later plot twists.
A few points I need to state before I begin:
There will be character death, so sorry if any of your fav's goes.
There will be occasional swearing and dodgy references, although no worse than the manga.
This story focuses on the main characters in Bleach, mostly.
This story is based in Soul Society, so the human characters will have less screen time so to speak.
The storyline begins at, where I believe, the manga will end; and continues from there. (AKA Post-winter war)
This story is entirely a work of fiction and I am making not a shred of profit from it. Besides having fun writing it. Bleach belongs to Tite Kubo.
The Heir Apparent
Prologue – And so it ends, and begins
A black dome hovered above the fake Karakura town, sucking in all the light around it like a black hole, and from that dome the massive body of the fox-like captain Komamura dropped like a stone. He hit the ground limply, making it shake slightly. There were bodies sprawled everywhere, Vizord, captain, ex-captain and lieutenant alike. Lisa, Love, Rose, Tessai, Hachigen, Soifon and Omaeda. Hitsugaya Toshiro and most of the lieutenants were down too, but by the steady rise and fall of their chests and blood pumping out their wounds they were still alive. They were all being attended to by the third squad lieutenant Kira, who was working frenetically to keep them all alive.
That was the first thing that Ichigo saw when he stepped through the Garganta portal from Hueco Mundo with his companions. Rukia, Renji, Chad, Ishida and Inoue; as well as four of the captains who had come to rescue them. It was thanks to Mayuri's alchemy that they'd been able to make it through.
Then he looked to see who was still fighting. Aizen was nowhere to be seen, nor was Tosen, but Gin was duelling Ukitake. Both were using their Bankai as far as he could gather, but didn't stop to look at them properly. Kyoraku was duelling an Arrancar that looked somewhat like him, while Shinji fought against a skull-headed man. Kensei was pitted against the blonde woman with the long arm blade. There were a few others holding back on their side, including captain-commander Yamamoto.
'Where's Aizen?' said Ichigo blankly. He was still in his Bankai form.
'Who cares, lets go and get them,' said Renji savagely, but was stopped by Byakuya's hand on his shoulder.
'This is beyond you, Abarai,' he said bluntly. 'What are left are the most elite of Aizen's forces. You're not ready.'
'Don't give me that sh…' he said angrily, then remembered who he was talking to.
'He's right kid,' said Kenpachi gruffly. 'Leave this to us big men. Oh, and you're welcome to join in too, Ichigo.'
'Glad to hear it,' he said, smiling.
'But what are we going to do?' said Ishida.
'Help us pull the wounded out of the area so that we can work on them,' said Unohana.
'We're warriors, we should fight,' grated Renji.
'There's a difference between fighting and throwing away your lives in battles you cannot win,' said Byakuya.
'We understand,' Rukia said on their behalf. 'We're at your disposal, Unohana-taicho.'
'That's our cue to leave,' said Ichigo, then stopped. Something had happened. Gin had shot his blade through Ukitake. He could hear Kyoraku cry out something from the distance, though he couldn't make out what. He was no longer fighing, his Espada enemy falling to the ground with a great rent in his body. Shinji and Kensei had also finished off their Espada opponents. Then Gin ripped his sword out in such a way that he nearly tore the other man in two. Blood sprayed high into the air in a bright red haze. Rukia screamed in horror. Yamamoto launched himself at the snake-faced man.
Almost unnoticed, Aizen had reappeared, a large three-pronged key in his hand. There was a hollow mask on his face, it looked somewhat like an old Greek hoplite's helmet except instead of a plume it had a ring of tall bladed spikes around the top; almost like a crown. His irises were yellow, the whites of his eyes; black.
'AIZEN,' Ichigo roared, launching himself at the traitor with all the speed he could muster and forming his hollow mask.
He was almost on top of his mortal enemy when he saw him throw his blade into the air. 'Ban-kai. Akumu Kyoka Suigetsu.' It exploded into mist. In front of every single remaining combatant that mist formed and solidified, creating an exact copy of them.
Ichigo clashed his thin blade immediately with his copy's. He was strong, very strong. They clashed again.
'I will defeat you, fake, and then Aizen,' his copy cried, and sent a powerful Getsuga Tenshou at him.
'What the hell,' cried Ichigo as he blocked and forced it into the air, 'I'm the real one here.'
The copy appeared behind him, and sent another one of the black attacks at him. It was too fast, and struck him squarely in the back, sending him ploughing into the road below. He was back up in an instant, blood dripping down his lacerated back. He ignored it, the wound wasn't deep and he'd suffered far worse in the last few days. But this copy was a problem, it had his exact same abilities and Aizen's massive reitsu.
The other's were also fighting their doppelgangers, he couldn't tell which was which since they all fought in exactly the same way; except in the case of Yamamoto because he was fighting both his copy and Ichimaru Gin at the same time. Unohana's team were out of the way, he was pleased to see, none of them besides possibly the captain would have stood a chance against this power. The captains that were fighting though were suffering, all were battle-weary and none of them eclipsed Aizen's raw power with his hollow mask except Yamamoto.
There was a cry from behind him, he turned to see Mayuri stabbed through. He flopped limply to the ground, his illusionary copy fading. Ichigo's eyes widened, he had to finish this quickly before all the captains in Gotei thirteen were slaughtered in a similar fashion.
'Look here dammit, I'm your opponent,' cried his masked double, and sped towards him like a bullet.
He had to act immediately. Every second Aizen was alive meant more people would die. He couldn't let others suffer for his weakness and indecision. He wouldn't allow this madman to hurt any more of his friends. Placing his hand over his chest, Ichigo drew out all his hollow powers and said one word: 'Resurreccion.'
'Okay king, here we go.'
Black light flooded the area, he could feel the consciousness of his inner hollow merge with him. Beneath his hand a large hollow hole opened. His entire body structure morphed, skin hardening to white bone, fingers and toes becoming claws, tufts of hair growing on his wrists and ankles. His actual hair grew far longer, quickly resembling a mane. And the Hollow mask changed, growing two long bladed horns. The copy didn't slow its attack, but when he struck Ichigo in the chest his blade didn't even penetrate a centimetre. Ichigo grabbed his opponent's sword hilt, and slashed him open from groin to chin. The copy fell backwards and faded into mist.
Ichigo then set his sights on Aizen again, and shot towards him, killing intent in every fibre of his being. The master manipulator turned to face him, his facial expressions hidden by his bony mask and fired the most concentrated Cero blast he had ever seen.
One week later.
Shigekuni Yamamoto-Genryusai gave a hmph when he saw Urahara arrive. A hundred years exiled and recently reinstated as the twelfth division captain, and he still had the nerve to arrive late at the first captains meeting since the end of the Winter War. Some things never changed.
'So sorry I'm tardy,' said Urahara, smiling sheepishly, he certainly didn't look sorry. He was also still wearing that stupid hat he'd spent his life in on earth. Yamamoto much preferred his old look. He growled, half in annoyance and half to clear his throat before speaking.
'This meeting may now commence,' he said, tapping his staff, and looking briefly over the assembled captains.
Besides himself, there were only ten. They had lost three captains to initial betrayal; Aizen, Tosen and Gin. The war they had caused had cost them four more before they had been undone; Komamura, Mayuri, Soifon and Ukitake. While the first three were a blow, nearly every shinigami in Seireitei was mourning the loss of Ukitake Jushiro. He had been a great captain. Yamamoto felt that one particularly keenly, he had been like a son to him, one of his best students. Kyoraku was taking his death hard too, they had been like brothers.
They had been fortunate to have the remnants of the Vizords filling in their ranks. They had fought like berserkers against Aizen, charging into the most dangerous fights. They had taken even more losses than the captains of Gotei thirteen, only three still lived. For their part they had been welcomed back with open arms. Two of them, Hirako Shinji and Muguruma Kensei, had become captains again and returned to their old divisions; the fifth and the ninth respectively. The third, Sarugaki Hiyori, had become the lieutenant of the second.
'Have you compiled the list of our significant enemies, captain of the second division?' he asked.
'I have,' said Yoruichi, who had replaced her former protégé. 'All the Espada are accounted for, with the single exception of number six Grimmjow. According to Kurosaki Ichigo's report, he was badly wounded in their fight, but his body was never recovered. He also mentioned that he has a contact in Hueco Mundo who will keep an eye out for him, the former third Espada Nel tu, who could well be the most powerful Arrancar left. We still don't know what happened to Wonderwice. But more worrying is the fact that Kaname Tosen escaped the battlefield shortly after Gin's death, by using Garganta while hidden in his Bankai.'
'We'll get him,' said Kyoraku confidently, 'After all, we've already gutted the two big fish. He can't hide forever, especially if we have a spy in his favourite hangout.'
'I get called first when he's sighted,' Zaraki insisted, ''cos I know how to fight his Bankai.'
Before the other captain's could start voicing their objections, Yamamoto tapped his staff on the floor; signalling that it was time to move things along; and said, 'As you know, during the final battle before his defeat at the hands of the shinigami representative, Sosuke Aizen managed to enter the dimension containing Soul Societies royal family.'
'Yeah, and he came out a moment later,' said Zaraki, 'So?'
'Time doesn't work the same way there,' said Kyoraku, chewing on a straw he'd probably picked up outside. 'He could have been in there a year for all we know.'
'How did he even get in there?' Hitsugaya demanded, 'I thought that he needed to destroy Karakura town to do that. Well, we stopped him. So how did he get into the kings realm?'
'Because he had the original Ouken,' said Kyoraku.
'How did he get that?'
It was Yoruichi who answered him. 'The Arrancar, Wonderwice Margera. Aizen created him to be a sensor for the real Ouken, which was hidden in Soul Society. While we were all fighting him in the real world…'
'Our worst fears were realised,' said Yamamoto grimly. 'The Arrancar returned the key to his master, who used it to travel to the king's realm. The entire attack on Karakura town was a diversion. He slaughtered the Royal Guard, and killed the king of Soul Society himself!'
There was a shocked silence, the captains looking at each other. Then Zaraki said, 'So what? Now we just go on without one.'
'You don't understand,' said Kyoraku, for once looking grim. 'The death of the king puts the entire balance that we maintain in jeopardy.'
'True,' agreed Yamamoto, 'While it is possible that we might be able to get by without him, like we did without chamber 46 throughout the war, it would be perilous. And we are weak at the moment.'
'So we need a new ruler,' said Hitsugaya shortly.
'Approximately yes,' said Kyoraku. Nobody was fooled by his lazy demeanour any more after seeing him defeat the Primera Espada. Besides the commander-general he was undoubtedly the strongest captain there, even with the comparison extended to the Vizord captains.
'No, only those with royal blood are eligible for succession. Sorry Hitsu-kun, we'd all love to have you.'
Hitsugaya ignored the gentle tease. 'But wouldn't Aizen have killed the entire royal family while he was at it, I thought he wanted to be the new king.'
'But that was his whole plan, to kill the royals and gain their power, becoming the new ruler of souls. How then did Kurosaki Ichigo beat him?'
'Because he didn't destroy the royal line.'
'Shunsui is correct,' Yamamoto interjected, 'And this brings us to the purpose of this meeting. About twenty years ago, a son of the king ran away. Somehow he was able to escape the dimension, bypassed Soul Society, and made it to the real world. The Kido corps captain and lieutenant caught up with him, but he defeated them both, taking both the captain's cloak and the lieutenant's armband as trophies before leaving. Those two then swore to hunt him to the ends of the earth and both abandoned their posts. We haven't seen them since.'
'So that's why they were never around during the war,' said Abarai Renji, another new captain who now headed the seventh division. 'I've always wondered,' he added defensively when Byakuya gave him a cold glance.
'Then all we have to do is find the prodigal prince that two of the most skilled kido users couldn't for the last two decades,' said Kensei. 'Sounds easy enough.'
'You'll have the special forces on your side,' said Yoruichi. 'That will make a difference.'
'Why'd he run in the first place?' said Shinji, picking his ear.
Surprisingly, it was Byakuya who answered. 'He wasn't the heir. He probably felt that his life would be wasted doing nothing but being.'
'Captain,' said Renji softly, before remembering that he was one now too.
'And why didn't ya look for him before?' said Shinji. 'I mean, sheesh, it'll be hard to find him now.'
'We had no need of him,' said Yamamoto bluntly, 'It was decided by chamber 46 to let him live his life on earth provided we never heard of him again.'
'You couldn't be bothered,' muttered Zaraki.
'But to live on earth he would need a Gigai,' said Hitsugaya, a frown creasing his forehead.
'Yes, and one that conceals spiritual power if he was to evade the Kido corps' elite,' said Kyoraku, picking up the slack. 'And I can think of only one person who he could have got it from.'
All eyes turned to Urahara, who had been silent the entire time. He rubbed the back of his hair and said, "Well, see, it's all rather complicated…"
A/N: Aizen's Bankai Akumu Kyoka Suigetsu means Mirror-flower water-moon Nightmare.