He was going to die and he couldn't even see it coming.
Hisagi was on the ground, completely surrounded by the frightful darkness of Tousen Kaname's bankai. He couldn't see or hear the blood as it rushed out of his body, but he could still feel the vital fluid as it pooled around him and grew cold. Kazeshini had reverted back into a regular katana, the shinigami who wielded it too weak to maintain its released from.
He'd barely pulled out a win against Findor Carias, and now, now he wasn't even on his last legs. He was lower than that, unable to so much as twitch a finger.
All this for some vizard girl he didn't even know.
Hisagi vaguely recalled that Zaraki Kenpachi was able to overcome Tousen's Enma Kourogi, but the brutal captain of the eleventh squad had never come out with the exact tactic he'd used. Up until the point that the massive dome had ruptured, Hisagi believed Tousen's bankai to be inescapable. And his failed attempts to escape did a great deal to strengthen his faith in that insurmountable belief.
Now... he could only wait for Tousen to finish him.
There was a dull vibration, he could feel it in the soles of his feet. Something slammed into his right arm, and he felt himself falling...falling...
With a gasp, sound, sight, smell, and taste returned to him. His first sight was that of a great, imposing shadow, taller than greater than, even that of Zaraki Kenpachi, who of course immediately came to mind.
"Rest easy, Hisagi." With one hand, he blocked Mashiro and Hisagi completely, making it all to clear that he would be the one to do battle with the ex-captain. "I will continue the battle in your stead."
With a low growl, the seventh squad captain fixed his burning glare on his former comrade and friend. "Kaname! I will bring you back, bound if I must."
The traitor showed no such hesitation.
"Very well then-
A chain wrapped around his blade suddenly. Hisagi, summoning the last of his strength, yanked on the chain of Kazeshini, dragging Suzumushi from Tosen's startled grip.
With one final tug, he tossed the blade backwards, allowing it to arc end over end, before ending up in the hands of Mashiro Kuna.
Blindly, Tousen groped for his blade, but too late, it was lost to him.
"I truly am sorry, Kaname." The Sajin rumbled, pointing Tenken directly at his former comrade, the latter suddenly stricken by the loss of his sword. "But since you are so set on this bloodsoaked path, I will return your senses to you, through the path of pain." A red glow engulfed his form, his mouth parting to utter but one word as the immense shadow fell upon unseeing eyes.
"Bankai!" He roared, as the massive samurai loomed into view, the behemoth drawing it sword with a mighty rumble in obvious mimicry of its master.
"Kokojou Tengen Myou!"
The attack screamed forward, immediately disintegrating the nearby building as it tore through the air and slammed into the ground. Ichigo breathed harder as he felt his energy slip into the first stages of fatigue.
He growled in irritation at the thought, his voice bubbling slightly with his hollowed form. Kensei seemed to share the same thought, for he was the one to voice his ire:
"What the fuck is going on here?"
"Dont'cha know?" With a small chuckle, Gin pullled on the cloth that wrapped about his arm. It fell away from his sleeve, revealing Shinso's shikai version, in addition to its bankai.
Ichigo swore and lunged for him, but he could already tell there wasn't going to be enough time.
"Shoot to kill, Shinsou."
The wakizashi stretched dramatically, the blade that was but two feet long a moment ago lengthening itself to stab at them from across the street. The spear-like zanpakuto shot forth at lightning-quick speed, the two vizards barely managing to dodge the attack. Ichigo leapt to the right and rolled behind the cover of some debris, whilst Kensei dove behind a dumpster, just as the long blade retracted back towards its spiraled hilt.
Ichimaru Gin's smile only broadened as two of Soul Society's great heroes hid like a pair of frightened children.
"S'matter boys?" He taunted over the insatiable din of his zanpaktou. "Ya scared?"
Kensei leaned into view and fired a retalitory cero, a cerowhich Ichimaru effortlessly swatted aside with the back of his hand, and into the skies above.
Gin was happy; everything had come together perfectly. He knew that the vizard team in the real world would make its way back to the battlefield once communications with Soul Society had been lost.
So Gin was extremely happy he and Aizen had taken the time to play with the Soul Society before they did arrive.
And once again, Hinamori Momo had only added to the chaos. The moment Fuura put of the flames of Yamamoto's prison, Hinamori had reacted exactly as Gin had predicted she would— she balled her fists into her black clothing and let the tears well in her eyes as she softly whimpered her former captain's name upon sight of him. It was sad really, very, verysad. She'd taken out at least three lieutenant's before Toshirou was finally forced to knock her out.
But if she hadn't possessed such an adoration for Aizen, well, then Ichimaru's little plan would have gone terribly awry.
And even then, with her worship of the former captain she'd still managed to surprise him— Ichimaru had been truly shocked when she'd lowered her sword against the boy-captain, thus allowing herself to be subdued. He was completely and absolutely prepared to watch Hitsguaya rip her apart while he sat back and enjoyed the show. But then again, he was certainly good at making lemonade out of a lemon.
After all, Ichimaru Gin did hate unhappy endings.
So when Hinamori Momo lowered her sword against Hitsugaya Toshirou, Gin had decided to finish the job he'd started on that warm summer night.
That is, until the vizard's chose that moment to arrive, thus spoiling his little game.
"Oh my," he called out into the empty air. "If I remember, the former captain of the ninth division was usually far braver than this. I wonder what he could be…" Kensei appeared behind him in a flash of sonido, causing Gin to whirl around and block. His smile widened as he looked down into the man's rage filled eyes.
"…Plannin' to do?"
Gin thrust his blade forward, causing Kensei to leap backwards into the sky. The silver haired vizard captain lifted his zanpakuto high into the air, tightly gripping the short handle with a fist.
Kensei swung his blade down towards Ichimaru on the ground, the zanpakuto releasing a massive, energy blast, easily double the size of the first. Ichimaru simply smiled as the flames roared towards him. He stepped back and lifted his left elbow so that it was level with his face. The blast was only a few feet away, threatening to swallow the white-clad shinigami when he lurched forward and thrust the short blade forward.
Shinsou shot forth into the mouth of the mas, the powerful extension splitting the giant swathe in half as it flew upwards toward the wielder. Kensei barely blocked the strike, the tip of Ichimaru's blade digging into his own as he held his zanpakuto horizontally despite the immense pressure it placed on his arms.
Then Ichigo erupted out of the shunpo, slamming Zangetsu into the wazikashi with enough force to visibly startle him, and spare Kensei in the process.
The vizard flicked his wrist, causing the chain that was attached to the base of his sword to swing upwards and wrap around and hook in his index finger. Now he cracked the blade like a whip, using the spin to make its trajectory unperd. Gin chuckled slightly as he saw the tactic, admittedly he was rather put off by it. He quickly retracted the deadly spear, the ice splintering and falling off as the blade began to inexplicably shrink.
With the wakizashi returned to its normal length, Ichigo shot forth in a blast of shunpo, greatly lessening the distance between the two swordsmen. When he reappeared, he was less than fifteen feet from Ichimaru, his hand already swinging forward as the blade released another wave of dark light. Gin hardly moved as the Kuroi Getsuga materialized. It smashed into the spot where the former captain stood, the entirety of its fire spreading out over the street and devouring everything in sight.
But the strawberry had only a moment to catch his breath before Gin materialized out of a shunpo above him. The tenth vizard snapped his head up in shock as the ever-smiling face looked down on him, the wakizashi in his hands once more pointed at him.
Gin's rarely seen ruby-colored eyes opened and glared at the boy as Shinsou launched forward and into his left shoulder.
Ichigo was sent plummeting towards the ground as Shinsou pinned his flesh to the earth. Ichimaru was almost twenty feet above him, but still his zanpakuto kept an insurmountable amount of force on him. He groaned in pain as he once more threw his sword forward, releasing another Getsuga. The blast travelled ferociously up Gin's sword, the former captain slightly taken aback at the amount of power that held his blade in place. He tried to remove his zanpakuto from the rising flow, but Shinsou was held fast.
Within seconds, the Kuroi Getsuga rammed into Ichimaru, throwing the traitorous shinigami into the air, the flames spreading over his lean body. After the wave had exploded upon him, it had released his sword and allowed him to draw it back from the flesh of the vizard below him. Ichimaru, slashed Shinsou forward, removing the ice and water that had accumulated on his clothing. He lowered himself to the ground, panting slightly as he faced the vizards'.
"Goodness," he said in his ever-condescending tone, unconsciously aware of the fatigue he himself was beginning to feel. "An' here I thought we were just plain' around."
"Shut yer ass up." Kensei had long since lost his mask, and Ichigo looked as if he was on the breaking point as well.
"Oi, Kensei." He could barely make out the other's voice. "I'm....getting tired."
"Damnit." He spit again. "Shut yer piehole Ichigo." He doubled over suddenly, hacking up blood from a punctured kidney. "Ugh...I've got about one more burst left in me."
Ichigo chuckled, but it was weak.
"Whaddya say then? One more time?"
"I said, Shut yer ass up." Kensei wheezed, taking a staggering step forward, only to vanish moments later.
As expected, Gin retreated from the vizard, but when he reappeared, airborne, Ichigo was coming in from below.
Too close to dodge.
The deafening hiss of the serpents was silenced as Tensa Zangetsu found its mark, lopping off their heads before deftly retreating to its master.
And so they fought.
Wherever Gin reappeared, one of the duo was there to strike at him. Ichigo slashed as Kensei stabbed, but neither of the two could actually landa blow upon his body. After several strikes, the pair was able to sync up once more, but to no avail. Again Gin was able to either spin his way out of a double sword slash from his two opponents, or just disappear into another void as their swords clashed against each other's. Kensei suddenly fell out of the sky as Gin appeared behind him, a stream of blood falling from his back and off Shinso as he dropped.
Ichigo was quick to take advantage of this sudden opening, his black bankai swinging forward as it once more released the red-tinged crescent blast. Kensei had only just fallen out of the way when the attack reached its target. Gin brought up his pike to block, but the Getsuga Tenshou proved far too powerful; his opponent had been too close when the attack was released and the momentum was pushing against him greatly. He swung his weapon, both of them, blade with gusto, splitting the opaque blast in two. The force of the shinigami's attack still took its toll on him, however— Gin was physically unharmed, but the force of the blow had sent him backwards through the hole in the wall and out into the night sky.
The sound of a sonido above him caused his head to snap up. Kensei Mugurama had appeared a few feet above Gin , flying backwards to keep pace with him as an already formed cero swirled from Tachikaze's base and into his free hand.
"Die, you sonnova bitch!"
For the first time in the fight, Gin's face lost its pleasant smile.
The former captain grinned sadistically before thrusting his hand forward, the crimson blast raining down on Gin with a sonorously low roar. The former captain threw up his hands to block, but the attack was too well executed, too well timed. He was sent plummeting as the red beam propelled him to the ground.
The explosion from the cero sent debris flying in a massive column of smoke and earth as the walls surrounding the courtyard fell under the force of the blast. Kensei and Ichigo lowered themselves to the ground as the dust began to settle, both breathing heavily from the continuous assault they'd just participated in. Not only had Ichimaru kept on par with both of them at once, but he'd actually held the upper hand on numerous occasions. It felt good that they'd actually hit him this time.
"Think that got him?" Ichigo's voice returned as the mask remnants dissolved from his eyes.
Soft laughter was their answer.
"Oho! That actually stung a little!"
Ichigo muttered something else then, and Kensei started in surprise.
"Wha? Are you nuts?"
"Just do it!" Ichigo pleaded pointing at his abdomen. "It's the only way!"
"Hell no!" Kensei barked, Tachikaze returning to its sealed state, unable to maintain the transformation any longer. "I can't stab you!"
"Can't or won't?!" Ichigo snarled, his tone darkening as with his visage. With one hand, he grabbed him by the collar. "Are you scared?! Huh?!"
Kensei fumed for a moment, then looked away.
All at once, the pieces came together.
"Is it...because of Mashiro?" It came out slowly, softly, surprised.
"SHUT UP!" Kensei hollered, losing himself the moment the name of his lieutenant spilled of the boy's lips. This little punk! He thought he just strut around with her and-and-and-
Before he could even control himself, Tachikaze found himself lodged up to his hilt, deep within the flesh and bone, of one stunned Kurosaki Ichigo.
Ichigo started in surprise, blood flecking his lips as the breath left him. He didn't think Kensei would actually do it, yet he had. But a small, weak smile pulled those lips into a weak smile, the reaitsu already beginning to build.
His consciousness retreated, ready to wage for control of the new power that had begun to stir. He could sense his other self beginning to move, trying to assert his dominance, but this was something that could not be allowed.
He barely even noticed when the blade flew through the smoke, skewering Kensei through the chest, then embedding itself in the wall. With a wet squelch, he slid down the wall, his eyes dull and lifeless as the wazikashi slid from his chest and his body crumpled to the ground. Ichigo lurched back in surprise, unable to believe it, that the man had seemingly died before his very eyes.
"Well," Gin calmly walked from the smoke and he did not look happy, 'That did hurt."
His normally perfect visage was in ruins, the calm countenance he generally kept had vanished without a trace. His uniform, while usually crisp with perfection, was tattered and disheveled. His hair was loose and dripping with perspiration as it hung in his face, more of the brown strands joining the one that was always dangling in front of his eyes. His left arm was burnt and bloodied up to the forearm, the hand belonging to the limb curled into a twitching fist.
Ichigo did all he could not to smile
"One down, one to go." Ichigo stared at him coldly, his fury increasing with every second, one hand grasping at the bleeding hole in his right pectoral. "Bastard." A grin, followed by a laugh, worked its way up his throat, his eyes returning to their distinctive golden black. "You're so gonna regret that-Nrgh!"
He winced as Shinso came from behind and struck him down. But something was wrong, Gin realized, as the vizard gripped the blade where it had pierced his heart, cementing it in his grip.
He couldn't pull it back.
Ichigo began to tremble, and soon that tremble became a violet spasm. All at once, his body exploded, and in that explosion, Gin managed to rip Shinso free.
It, the creature, emerged from the smoke. It chuckled, flexing one hand into a fist. Reaching to its chest, it felt at the hole, its hollow hole, and grinned. He gave a low growl as he seemed to notice something was amiss here.
He had the mask, resembling more of a human skull, complete with a jaw joint and rounded forehead. From the back of the mask, four spike-shaped marks stretched, two of them stopping by the forehead, and the other two stretching past the eyes and teeth, going past his chin and joining with the marks on his chest. There were also small marks resembling a heart, but with the top and bottom open, extending from the inner corners of his eyes.
The mask's most prominent features were two long forward-pointing horns with black strips extending from their center towards the tips.
Ichigo extended a hand, and Zangetsu flew to him. With an audible pop, it landed back in his palm, creating a concussion force that shattered the nearby warehouse into a thousands fragments. Jamming the sparking pole into the ground, what was left of the debris dissolved.
"I'll kill you." He hissed,before disappearing in a burst of Sonido.
Gin brought up his short blade to block the powerful strike, blue sparks flashing as the pair of blades me with one another. Ichigo continued his onslaught, driving Ichimaru back with every strike. Gin frowned slightly; cracks were beginning to form on Shinso's blade.
"Hadou 54: Soukatsui."
A pair of red flames exploded into The hollow's gut, throwing him backwards into one of the buildings that surrounded them. Gin stood still for a moment, his hand still outstretched from the kidou spell. He wasn't happy. The time he'd spent in Hueco Mundo had been used for planning and formulating strategies. He'd hardly trained at all.
Ichigo, on the other hand, had improved drastically over the past few months. Where Gin would have been able to completely destroy him the first time they'd fought, he was currently having troubles. His shunpo had improved dramatically, as well as his control over his zanpakuto, not to mention that mask....
What the hell had happened?
Did his skill increase exponentially after every Arrancar he'd fought? Gin's mind ran through a checklist of data he'd skimmed over in Las Noches— Kurosaki had lost to Grimmjow twice, defeated a privaron espada, lostto Ulquiorra, been revived, and then summarily defeated Grimmjow Jaggerjack, and that was about all he knew. Now, most recently, he was able to fight with his mask on, exerting little effort.
Gin's brow furrowed slightly as he tried to see the reason for Kurosaki's sudden burst in strength.
The white-haired traitor smiled widely as he shrugged it off, throwing his right arm out as Shinsou flew forward. Ichigo, launching himself out of the rubble, stepped to the right and slashed his blade down as Gin's flew by him. He ran forward, his own blade pinning Gin's down as he ran down the lengthened wakizashi. Once more Gin's ruby eyes shot open as Ichigo Kurosaki leapt forward and slashed out at him, this time opening a large gash across his defenseless chest.
Gin staggered backwards, disbelief crossing his features as he looked down at the blood draining from his torso.
How in the hell did he get me? Gin looked up, his smile melting slightly as he looked at the vizard, who began to chuckle behind his mask.
"Whatsamatter?" Ichigo leered his tone strained, forced. "I thought you were gonna finish me?" It was difficult to move, to speak, to control the raw instinct of this form, let alone focus it on one person.
There was so much raw unrefined power, flowing through his veins like blood. He had to take it, direct it, control it, or he'd be more of a danger to his friends than a help. But it was difficult, so very difficult to both suppress his hollow and his deepest darkest desires at the same time, to focus on only one...
What? Gin realized something was amiss suddenly, as Ichigo stopped.
Two columns of earth erupted from the ground, then began surrounding the two of them. Three, four, of them now, and still Ichigo continued to laugh.
Kensei was still very much alive, now staggering his feet. The blow had been near fatal, and he probably had a collapsed lung, but still, the captain was somehow on his feet and coming straight at him. Gin froze at the sight of the massive weapon the ex-taichou wielded, all thought of defense leaving him.
A massive broadsword had become his weapon of choice, its slick, polished edge a sharp contrast to the blunt, diminutive combat knife of before.
From its hilt, green wisps of light shone, and they were the cause of the sudden and unnatural phenomenon, as where each strand of light touched, so too did another pillar rise
The eyes of his opponent were hardened upon him, the ex-captain pointing his blade forward at Gin, the tip reflecting bronze as the sun shone down upon it through the towers of stone.
"Bankai." He declared, brandishing his cherished sword with a flick of his wrist, bellying the weight of such a massive weapon. "Tenrai, Tachikaze."
Ichimaru's frown deepened as Kensei spoke the name of the attack, the heat of his breath swirling around his face in wispy strands.
Gin threw up his arms as the circle of earthen clay closed upon him, locking him inside of an enormous ball of ice. He was stuck inside the cage, unable to move so much as an inch not even a centimeter; Through the thin slit of his confines, he could see his opponent relax through the barricade. He grew angry as he realized that they had assumed victory, but still Ichigo came, raising Zangetsu high to finish what Kensei had started.
I'm not losing to him, he screamed inside of his own head as Ichigo advanced with that tireless stride. Not now. Not after all I've sacrificed. Not after leaving Soul Society....
But the hollow was not concerned with this. The enemy was before him, helpless, unable to move or resist. He had threatened Mashiro, she was in danger, Kensei was half dead, and he was pissed.
The blade descended and blood sprayed like a crimson fountain...
Next time:Fraccion vs. Vizards