A/N: If you're looking for a good anime I highly recommend the Legend of Korra. It has its faults, like a storyline that could have gone on for 3-4 seasons easy, and instead is rushed into 1; and a female main character that is just like every female main character in fantasy. Not that I am averse to the concept, quite the opposite. But I was able to check every single box required, except having a love interest who is a king; heir apparent; or the equivalent thereof. That said, everything else is brilliant. Concepts, cultures, maturity, locations, animation, depth, characterization, tension, real situational humour... I could go on for a while.
The Heir Apparent
Chapter 45: Decider 4, Where Nightmares Come True
Kyoraku Shunsui was the head of the expedition. And as the only other captain present, Kurosaki Ichigo was naturally the second in command. But both were stuck in duels, as were Rukia and Ikkaku. So the remaining lieutenants (who were now acting captains) had been left to supervise the battle.
And in their wisdom, they had turned to her.
Why did it have to be her?
Kira came running up, his blade drawn but unreleased. He had the unfortunate distinction of having the most useless ability amongst the division leaders for facing the Rache, and so was delegated the task of messenger as well as emergency medic. 'Ise-fukutaicho, we have a problem on the south wall.'
'What?' Nanao said sharply.
'More Innen Kreis members.'
Those were the Rache with powers equivalent to a lieutenants. They had learned, to their cost, that those enemies could inflict terrible damage if left unchecked. 'Get Yumichika and his goons onto it. How many?'
'At least six, with support.'
She swore softly under her breath. This was almost more than they could handle. 'We'll need Ganju and his ninjas too, and see if you can pull Hisagi and some of his ninth officers there. Iba, Matsumoto and Yachiru should make up the balance.' Yachiru was a worry, but they couldn't afford to waste resources at such a time. And she was useless as a commander.
'I'll go find them,' he promised.
'And tell Nemu that she's in charge of the north, you go supervise the east assaults.' She was the only other lieutenant left, besides Isane who was in charge of removing and treating the wounded; as well as decapitating the fallen to prevent soul erosion.
Kira flash stepped away.
Ever since they'd got here, all their soul-phones had been dead, their communication kido wasn't working either. Making word of mouth and signaling kido, which the enemy frequently disrupted, the only way to communicate. Coordinating the battle was a nightmare.
Just then, one of the second division's ninjas flash stepped to her side. 'Acting captain Ise, we're trapped.'
'What are you talking about?'
'The enemy has raised some type of field all around us, imprisoning us. It's impossible to break through, and it's drawing in fast. We estimate that within half an hour we'll all be forced inside the walls of the compound.'
Looking up, Nanao could see that the field was above them too. The sky was far whiter than it should be, and that light was getting brighter. 'This is coming from the fortress, isn't it?'
It was exactly as Shunsui had feared, the enemy had long prepared for this. This was potentially a disaster, but maybe there was a kill switch inside the castle. And even if there wasn't, the only thing they could do was take their enemies with them to the grave. Nanao had no doubt that this huge effect would culminate in the mass death* of all of them. There was no escape now, only one way: forward.
'Pull all your men out of the woods and join the assault,' she commanded. 'And have everyone else working in support to join in. But don't tell anyone what's going on.'
She was thankful that she was an analytical type of person, for in cases of extreme shock like this her mind became completely rational and clear. Others, realizing what was happening, would probably be reduced to gibbering terror. And even though she was trying to hide it they'd find out soon enough.
One thing was certain: this could spell the end for Gotei thirteen.
Franz Bismark considered himself a brave man. By all accounts, he was; he had fought more shinigami captains in death bouts than any human before or since.
But this… it terrified him.
An outsider would have thought that a realm where one could not possibly die gave no reason to fear. But it was probably the scariest part of it. The only escape was to win or lose, and if the games were any indication, the loser would die in a horrific way. Kyoraku had told the truth, they couldn't hurt each other unless the games allowed it. The games themselves though were hurting them both, all the time. And they somehow magnified the pain around fifteen to twenty times what it should be, a nudge felt like being smashed with a metal bar, a cut like a limb severed.
To say nothing of the horror and vileness that was the quintessence of each of the games.
The first game, the one with the monkey-headed demon that Kyoraku had called Shujouoni, had had the two of them facing off against endless numbers of stave-armed monkey-men; while armed similarly. Striking a monkey once hadn't been enough, they'd literally had to beat it until the blood ran out of its ears or its ribs were crushed; otherwise they just kept coming. The object had been to outlast his opponent, which he had done by mere seconds; he was being beaten on the floor when Kyoraku had been dealt a "fatal" blow. And this was something he'd specialized in, due to his weapon's final form.
The other man had evened the score in the second game, called Goukaoni. The burning demon had thrown tiny darts into their skin while they tried to evade. Those darts had smoldered at first, and then caught on fire. Again, the object had been to outlast their opponent. With the pain so intense, Bismark couldn't take it. Despite knowing that he had to win, he'd forfeited five minutes in. But he'd known years that had gone faster. It had been just before the flame had spread to his head, and he'd become a complete human torch.
As with before, as soon as the game ended they were transported back; whole and unmarked. But now came the worst part: choosing the next game.
'Scores stand at one all. Gamer, do you wish for my test?' said Onikami.
'No, still not,' said Kyoraku. He was wide eyed and working to control his breathing.
He'd been asked that same question at the conclusion of each game.
'Other, choose the third game.'
Bismark took a shaky breath, and turned to his enemy, who was now absurdly his companion through this torturous hell. To stall, he said, 'Why does he keep asking you that?'
'I have… one advantage in this place,' said Kyoraku, shifting from foot to foot uncomfortably, 'You think I know the games from before, but I don't. In fact-'
'Get to the point!'
'Okee, don't rush me,' said his hated enemy, visibly steadying, 'I can choose to take the final game at any time, before we've finished the other twelve.'
'And then it ends?'
'Then why… You gutless cur!' Bismark snarled, and let off a bitter string of curses. 'You're just waiting until you're two ahead, then even if you lose the last, you'll still be the overall winner.'
Kyoraku smiled sadly, 'Do you know how many Quincys worked this out before you? You don't, of course. They're all dead, such a terrible waste.'
'I will beat you at your own game, murderer. I-'
'OTHER, CHOOSE,' Onikami boomed, interrupting him.
'I- I... That one,' he said, pointing a nearly trembling finger at another demon. This one had a falcon's head, wore a strangely shaped red and white hat, and silks that constantly seemed to be moving.
'Fuushinoni,' said Kyoraku.
The falcon's beak opened, and it said in a screechy; exotic voice, 'So, you choose my game. Now you will face the test of the winds.'
As they had before, the rest of the demons faded from view, leaving only the two of them and their host. Then the new setting materialized, and Bismark found himself on a platform floating in the middle of a dark cavern. It had tunnels leading out at various junctions, and all the walls were covered with assorted sharp implements.
The falcon headed demon spoke again, 'You are to outlast your enemy.'
Wasn't that always the case?
Then he was gone, as was the platform. Both men cried out as they started to fall, faster and faster. But not straight down, there were incredible forces being exerted on them by the wind flow in the cavern. First they were pulled left then blown right, and then Kyoraku kicked off him and was swallowed by the gloom an instant later. Bismark was now on his own. The ground was approaching like a huge black monstrosity. A gleaming cleaver-like blade stuck in the ground caught what little light there was. It was pointing directly at his chest and growing ever larger.
He screamed with helpless horror.
Then he was pulled past it, into a tunnel leading (somehow) up. Instantly it became pitch black, he skidded against the side and immediately his arm was shredded by unseen blades. Roaring with pain he kicked off it, taking more cuts in his foot for his trouble, only to lacerate his back when he hit the other side.
After what seemed like eternity, he was through the dark tunnel. He didn't know how many twists and turns he'd taken, but he had learned how to control himself somewhat in the centre of the flow. At the cost of bleeding slices all over his body, and with it pain that was driving him past thought. All he knew was one overriding need, to live, no matter what. He shot through the side back into the cavern, and found shooting back at him an equally torn up Kyoraku.
Both had time only to register surprise before they collided with bone-crushing force, and dropped like stones.
The shock was enough to bring a semblance of rational thought back to his head, and he lashed out at Kyoraku. He was gratified to see the other man react with pain, but then he noticed how fast the ground was coming up; and with it; the same cleaver. He'd get through it, like last time, but then so would his enemy. He put both feet on his enemy's chest, and at the precise moment when the pull caught them, kicked out with all his strength; despite the other man's attempts to hold onto him. It worked! Kyoraku was forced out of the pressured area, and sent spinning into the blade; which ripped a deep bloody rent into the side of his body.
But Bismark hadn't considered what would happen, forcing himself up.
The pressurized current caught him again, but not fully. He hit the top of the tunnel, and screamed. Two long bladed spines had pierced his lower lungs. But it didn't stop there, the pull on his lower body continued, dragging his body, the spines slicing ever upwards. Desperately he tried to grip onto them, but the pull was too strong, the pain too great. After an agonizing minute of futile struggling, they finally ripped through his heart.
Once again, the world around them faded. Bismark found himself on hands and knees, back in the centre of the the thirteen demons. His body would not stop shaking with the memory of the agony.
'Gamer is the victor,' said the falcon demon, raising his scimitar above his head and freezing, just like the fire demon. The monkey demon meanwhile was kneeling with his blade sunk into the ground. That must be the way they showed who had won their game.
'Scores stand at two/one to Gamer. Do you wish for my test?' said Onikami.
'No,' said Kyoraku, his voice wavering. He too was as white as a sheet.
'Other, choose the fourth game.'
By now Rukia had no doubts. Khaan might be a brute, but he was far stronger than her. His power especially gave him a huge advantage over hers. The heat of his fires alone was sucking in air at such a rate she had to brace herself not to be pulled towards him. And he was right, her Bankai was immature.
She wasn't without her own tricks though.
'Fourth dance, Byatake,' she shouted, and since that would not be enough she added, 'Bakudo no. 81, Danku.'
Khaan's flying axehead, which had rebounded at least ten times through his bonfires, shattered her icy shield; and struck firmly into the sturdy kido wall she'd erected behind it. The wall bucked and strained, threatening to collapse.
'Sounds of emptiness, fires of rock,' Rukia said, quickly strengthening her spell with its incantation. 'Raze the land, sever the unworthy upon an altar of green sandstone. Raised upon trials and torments, to be strengthened and purified.' The barrier stood, just, and Rukia leapt on top of it. This was her chance to attack, while her opponent was still reforming his weapon. 'Second dance, Hakuren.'
A wave of frozen air shot at Khaan. Unfortunately, it melted long before it could reach him, and only succeeded in putting out some of the fires. That was it, she had to strip him of those before she could attack him. Rukia immediately started using her first and second dance for that purpose. One of the advantages of her Bankai was that, besides doing away with the need to make the appropriate movements, she could use her first dance anywhere within the radius of her power. Of course, the center of the bonfires was beyond her reach. But the outer ones weren't.
Khaan sneered as he caught his butterfly blades. 'Pathetic, and futile.' He raised his scythe and sent fiery shafts into the air. As soon as they had landed and ignited there were as many bonfires as there had been before.
Rukia gritted her teeth. So that wasn't an option. That meant the only way to attack him was with Kido. 'Hado no.73, Soren Sokasui,' she cried, shooting a double bolt of blue fire from her outstretched fingers.
Khaan gave a sweep of his scythe, and sent both back at her. Rukia had to leap high to avoid them; they demolished the section of the gatehouse where she'd been moments before.
'So, the boy never told you. Fire is my ally,' Khaan said. 'Though with the state I left him in, I doubt he will be telling anything to anyone ever again.'
Suddenly Rukia was acutely aware that the fire Hado were the ones that she'd studied the most extensively. None of her others was at a level she could use to fight this man. So, her best abilities were of negligible effect. Her alternative attacks would be turned against her. And with the strength of his fires, it near impossible to get close to him, besides quite obviously being suicide. Great, she was going to die. Think, she told herself furiously, how do I beat a man who has every advantage against me? Try as she might, nothing came to her. There had to be something, something she'd learned in her time in Rukongai, in the academy, in her various trainings after; something to help her overcome this situation.
As she thought, she put up barriers against the incoming axe head. Two layers of Kido plus an icy shield. This time the axe shimmied over her shield before going through the red fire and striking her Kido; Rukia dived to the side as a cascade of burning fluid showered where she had been. This was it; she would die like some frightened deer trying to dodge the hunters bullet.
No, not like this. Think! What had Kaien, Ichigo, Shirayuki and Kenpachi taught her? Including the last seemed a bit laughable, but he had been one of her trainers. Come to think of it, hadn't she asked him something along those lines during a break between one of their sessions?
'If yer outmatched, easy,' the big man had said, 'Jest find where yer enemy's greatest strength is, and beat 'im at that.'
What an idiot! Khaan's strength was based on his many bonfires which, while she could put them out, he could reignite so much faster. The heat they were generating was a living thing, and it was sucking air at such a rate it was like a mini vortex. She blinked, that was it! But how to do it in a way that didn't make her plan obvious?
'Die already!' Khaan cried as he sent his axehead at her yet again.
This needed precise timing, and a bit of luck. Her eyes flicked to the three coloured fires circling her. Alright, it would be going through the blue fire, perfect. She threw up an icy shield, and then started an incantation.
'Gers of catfish skin, teeth of stone, nails of obsidian. Strike to create soundless lightning, slip unnoticed into the water. Bakudo no.66, Ententate.'
Just as the axehead struck her outer shield, she was surrounded by a bubble of protection. There was a massive explosion, far more powerful than she had imagined it would be; it shattered both shields and sent her flying. She caught herself in mid-air some fifty meters away, solidifying spiritual particles to stand, panting. Every part of her ached, her front was burned and smoldering, but she was through.
Now came the other dangerous part. She leapt high, and as she did so she slid her grip from the handle of Shirayuki to its ribbon. Immediately she felt the cold bite her, she was leaving the zone of no effect. She didn't have long; with such close exposure she'd be dead in less than a minute. The sky looked strange, wrong, but this wasn't the time to be worrying about trivialities. Quickly she began to spin her blade on the ribbon, directing cold as a concentrated force on Khaan and his fires. She had to use as much power as possible, as quickly as possible.
'Ha, that will never work,' he cried, his voice distorted by the striking elements, 'I told you already, your cold will never overcome my heat.'
'When did I say I was doing that?' said Rukia through chattering teeth.
As one, the bonfires went out.
'How did you…' Khaan began; then started gasping for air.
Rukia dropped like a stone at him, her sword now firmly in hand. It wouldn't be long until her enemy figured it out. By rapidly cooling down the air coming to feed the fires, she had created a thin but strong shell of ice all around him. It was the shape of an upside-down cone with a wide brim, almost invisible, and completely airtight. And without air, fire dies immediately. This was her one chance to get close to him. She slashed with her blade, shattering a section of the ice as she shot at Khaan. Only then did understanding flash on the fool's face.
He caught her initial stab with his scythe, and threw his axeblade at her from pointblank range. It was easy enough for her to dodge simply by watching his arm movement. He used that moment to back away quickly, no doubt planning to escape.
Going somewhere, she would have said; had there been air to breathe. Whipping her ribbon, she caught it around his leg and pulled him back with a wrench. This was it, her last chance to kill him.
Khaan came back at her swinging his scythe, she ducked low and slashed, only to be blocked with a section of chain. Khaan then swung his axehead at her like a mace; she evaded to prevent her blade from being caught in the chain. Khaan's weapons, though deadly from range and powerful up close, were unwieldy. And her crippling cold was finally affecting him, to devastating effect. She had him.
He swung down viciously with his scythe, a silent roar on his already blue lips. Rukia, instead of dodging again, caught it on her blade. It was a powerful strike, but she had trained against Zaraki Kenpachi. She held the lock, and he raised his axehead, the scythe making it impossible for her to withdraw without surrendering her weapon. But Rukia did not retreat. As he swung she stepped in, placing the hilt of her sword on Khaan's sternum.
'Third dance, Shirafune.'
An ice katana blade formed instantly, lancing through the man's sternum. His expression of shock was captured perfectly seconds later; when he was completely frozen. Cracks had formed in the ice-shell above while they'd been fighting, and now it shattered into grains as fine as sand, which sparked in the sunlight above the gatehouse towers. The air rushed in, instantly cleansing the smoky void.
And Kuchiki Rukia laughed at the pure exhilarating rush of being alive.**
Sword met spear, again and again. The sound of striking steel filled the air. Black moonfangs met slicing air currents, neither managing to tip the balance. Brown eyes bored into black as the two combatants fought, grim concentration etched on their faces.
Both knew that their abilities were incredibly well matched.
But Takumo had the advantage, the longer weapon.
Ichigo though wasn't ruling out his chances, and his opponent was certainly taking him seriously enough. Both now were moving instinctively to block each other's attacks, having fought long enough to read their enemy perfectly. It was an ability Ichigo was used to having an edge with, he had never before fought someone as good at it as him.
'This is for CHAD!' he cried suddenly, knocking the spear away and charging.
He nearly lost his head when Takumo pulled his spear back, the double edged blades making it a perfect sickle. Only a quick duck saved him, though not the hair on the top of his head. Then he nearly died again when the other man stabbed immediately. Instead he caught the one side blade of the spear on his sword, and got his side gashed open by a point-black slicing air attack. Cutting his losses he jumped back, and put a hand to his wound. It came back covered in red.
'Attacking in anger,' said Takumo, 'Do it again, for me.'
Ichigo took a deep breath. He had to calm down, deal with this rationally. It was like Shunsui had said, he was strongest when he channeled his emotions into his fighting; his thinking. That spear of Takumo's was truly a fearsome design, perfectly adapted for fighting against a swordsman. It gave huge advantages and presented no weakness. Fantastic.
He couldn't wait much longer; he had to find the right moment to use his trump card. If his opponent saw it even once, it would be useless. The attack that Zangetsu and his hollow had taught him. Unfortunately he was still new at it, and needed about a second to release. His opponent hadn't moved his weapon from pointing at him for that long at any time during the fight.
'Give it up already,' Takumo snapped, 'I can see it from your eyes, you're waiting for me to move my spear. What do you have; an extra fast getsuga; eh? No way I'll fall for that.'
That wasn't quite it, but it was close enough to render his attack meaningless. He gritted his teeth. His enemy was trying to make him lose heart, doing that would cost him his life. He had to win this.
Just then there was a loud CRASH and both fighters, while still keeping an eye on each other, turned to see what it was. The gate had come down, finally, but not as though it had been lowered correctly; rather like someone had cut the chains holding it; sending it slamming into the ground. Both men knew what that meant.
'Rukia,' said Ichigo under his breath.
'Damn it Khaan,' Takumo swore, as a score of shinigami surged through the open archway with gleeful cries.
Just then Ichigo noticed that there was something strange happening to the sky; some effect was making it lighter than it should be. What was causing that? His thoughts were interrupted when a short dark-haired shinigami flash stepped onto a small mound nearby. 'Oy Ichigo, what's taking you?'
'Rukia, you won!'
'Idiot, don't get distracted. Why haven't you beaten this pushover yet?'
'In case you haven't noticed, he's exactly my strength.'
'Please, you're way faster.'
'Not right now I'm not. He's got this weird air ability that makes it hard to move.'
Rukia put her hands on her hips, 'Hypothetical question: what do you do if you're in a fight, and your hands are tied up?'
'…You untie them?'
'Enough talk,' Takumo spat, charging at him again.
As he defended, Rukia's meaning came to him. To find out for certain he'd have to show the enemy his attack, thus forfeiting any chance of using it to kill him directly. But if this worked-
'Inazuma Shigetsu,' he shouted, pointing his body and blade away from his enemy.
In a rush of instant blinding speed, he powered through Takumo's air currents with such force that they parted. Of course, everything had its breaking point; where it no longer offered real resistance. This was like breaking through the sound barrier (something he did with relative ease), waver on the borderline and it interfered with you, but push through it and you were home free. Takumo's ability relied on it having a huge 'borderline' region, but even that had its limits.
As he slowed down, he could feel the air currents taking hold again. Okay, his first hypothesis wasn't quite right; he definitely hadn't gone as far as he should. Nevertheless he was moving fast now, so before they could grip onto him properly he shot off at maximum speed; on his own power. He was getting his full velocity, almost, but doing it was taxing him maybe five times as much as normal; and he had already expended a huge amount of energy. He had to finish this fast.
Takumo saw him coming, and drew his air currents in closer, making it still harder for him to move. But still, Ichigo was faster, much faster. Now the reach advantage meant almost nothing. He slashed and cut, opening slices all over his opponent, goading him to overextend. When that didn't happen he simply stepped up his assault, and offered a clean strike. Unsurprisingly Takumo; by now lacerated all over; took it, stabbing hard at his open neck.
Ichigo appeared behind him, and caught the swinging-back pole with one hand. 'This was how you got Chad, right?' he said, and slid his sword into his spine. Half his blade protruded out the other man's sternum.
'Arrggghhh! Damn you, murderous shinigami!'
'I thought it was human prodigy,' said Ichigo, twisting the blade so that the edge was pointing upwards. This brought a fresh scream from Takumo, who fell to his knees and dropped his weapon. Ichigo threw it behind him, grabbed him by the neck and spoke directly into his ear. 'I should send you to hell for this, you shit-eating bastard. But I don't have one of those black skulls on me. Be glad that death is all I'm giving you today. GETSUGA TENSHOU!'
*Mass second death? And aren't they all already in graves?
**Despite being dead
A few translations.
Shujouoni: Staff (as in a walking stick/weapon) demon
Goukaoni: Hell fire demon
Fuushinoni: Wind god demon
Bakudo no. 66, Ententate: Spherical shield
Name: Sode no Shirayuki
(You know the shikai and the rest, so let's skip a bit)
Bankai: Heiya no Shirayuki – Field's white snow. No change to Rukia's appearance or sword, besides her ribbon growing to double length. Rukia emits huge amounts of cold, the amount decided by her power level, though she can expend extra energy on it for a short boost. Close up, it is enough to kill by exposure. She has a small space of no effect, the area being a ball with the radius of her blade's length. This is tied to the proximity to her blade.
Special effect: Stronger and quicker dances. Rukia has increased power to all her abilities, and can forgo the movement to release them. The difference is most pronounced in her first dance, she no longer needs to be next to the area she releases.
A/N: Whew, nearly there. Sorry for the late update, I struggled a bit on one of the sections, and also I'm ear-deep in my studies. Yeah, I'm studying again, while working. Gotta better yourself and all, since everyone these days is looking for that piece of paper that means bugger all. Anyways, hope you enjoyed and see you next time.
Thanks again go to InfiniteDragon, my tireless Beta.
If you liked it, review it! If you didn't, let me know what should be improved.