~o) Hell Butterfly (o~
Dark void eye
"Okay, okay! All set?"
Standing before towering spires of rock under an artificial blue sky, three classmates steeled their nerves in preparation for the unknown future that was fast approaching.
"Looks like everyone's finally ready. Here we go."
Kneeling down on one knee, Urahara rapped the base of his cane sword against his perch and gripped its handle tightly.
"My right hand is the stone that bridges worlds."
He recited apparently senseless chains of words that called forth power – the art of demon magic drawing reiatsu up and out of his core. "My left hand is the blade that binds reality."
Sky blue flames enveloped his hand, channelling down through his zanpakuto Benihime and igniting the mammoth gallows. Tessai nodded proudly from a distance, arms crossed high on his chest; sunglasses glinting with zeal. He himself had designed and taught Kisuke this spell.
"The black-haired shepherd is hung from a chair."
Bridging worlds to form a path between dimensions; binding reality so that the travellers were not torn apart in the void. A shepherd to guide them to the correct destination. It was a masterpiece of kido. Few others could have condensed it to only four lines.
"Stratus clouds come, and I strike down the ibis!"
Though of course, some was just there because it sounded cool.
With a noise like a distorted power chord a seam appeared in empty air. A slash cut through worlds blinking open into an infinitely dark eye. The opening seemed to stare at them, and they felt it weigh down on their souls.
Soon that eye would become a mouth, and swallow them all. And they'd go willingly.
In all of their trials and bloody battles in this world and the next, she had been there. Healing, shielding; preventing and undoing the kind of harm that others could only attempt to avenge.
She had been there.
And she was going to stay there.
Yet although Ichigo was absolutely determined to rescue Inoue whether her kidnapping was voluntary or not, he had more than a few reservations about entering Hueco Mundo. Besides it being an unknown land crawling with enemy Hollows, it was also the natural habitat of his own inner demon. And waltzing into the pale bastard's home territory felt as intelligent as serving himself up on a silver platter to the nearest Aizen.
Though to be honest it didn't really matter, nor did his misgivings. Always he was aware of what Inoue had done for their sakes, to save them in the only way a weak human could. And it was the exact same thing: stand before a mysterious portal into the afterlife where god knows how many enemies were waiting, grit teeth, and walk forwards for no other reason than friendship.
"If you want to save your friend, you'd better get a move on; ne, Kurosaki-kun?" jibed Urahara, interrupting the teenager's musing and twirling his cane with the blue flame and skull of a shinigami on the tip.
"Shut up," Ichigo snapped bluntly. "I don't see you heading into the gaping maw of hell."
"Ahhh, poetic, poetic, but totally inaccurate, Kurosaki-kun. Hell-gates you should really recognise by now. This is the path to Hueco Mundo. A pseudo-Garganta. Your ticket to paradise."
Sarcasm. Always available to make a grim situation tasteless, just add geta-boshi. He replied with a filthy glare.
"Ara! Be a little more respectful, Kurosaki-kun! This is a thing of beauty; a passage through the infinite spaces hidden between dimensions that are infinitely close. Besides…it's my way or no way."
"Just tell me there isn't a freaking 'cleaner' in this one," sighed Ichigo.
Hopping down to the ground, the former Gotei Thirteen captain raised his hands and shrugged. "I doubt it. There aren't any paths inside – only a constant, turbulent flow of spirit particles." He gestured to the drifting, swirling clouds of indistinct dust motes. "So unless Aizen installed one, you should be fine. …I hope."
The three boys slumped. They had incredible bad luck with senkai gates. There was no way they would be fine.
Tia Hallibel, with her cocoa skin and lemon-yellow hair, made a dark contrast to the chalk-white walls of Las Noches's barricades. This the Vasto Lorde noticed as he crouched before her, glancing up occasionally. He had arrived seeking entry, and at his level could easily gatecrash if refused…but she seemed confident in her ability to dissuade him. She could also stand in his presence without the slightest flicker of pain, so he waited there, weighing her up. She folded her arms calmly and stared back. The guy had the mannerisms of a hyena pretending to be shy. But he was therefore nothing more than a scavenger, whereas she was a predator.
A long, shallow ravine had been scrawled through the sand of the bone-coloured desert, from its furthest visible horizon all the way to the tip of the Grande Menos's tail. The tail itself appeared to be nothing other than an elongated, bared spinal cord. Like most top level Menos his body was armoured with a pale hierro – or in other words steel skin. He was also bruised with the speckles and splotches of a wild dog's markings all over. At every other heartbeat reiatsu pounded out of him, more than he could control; and it was this power that had scarred the land everywhere he walked. Constant clouds of sand danced around, disturbed by the Vasto Lorde's presence.
"I've been hearing things…" he muttered, sidling closer to the woman. "Things about an 'Izzen' and his little ball."
"Aizen," corrected Hallibel; "and the Hougyoku." Her voice was clipped and uninterested, yet mentally she was pleased at the spread of their leader's fame. A new Espada and a new battle for supremacy in the pecking order would make life a little less monotonous. She was already looking forward to beating this newcomer into submission. He seemed intelligent if one considered his behaviour a misleading act, but his reiatsu control was abysmal. He was now standing in a small crater after the ground had been blown away.
"You got a pretty face with that mask broken off. How'd he work that, your Aizen guy?"
She snorted. The only part of her face visible between her low fringe and high collar was her eyes, and those were coldly condescending. Though even that was more attractive than a jackal-mask scarred by immeasurable time and harsh trials, like the would-be intruder bore.
"So you want to join us and become more powerful…" sighed Hallibel, reaching behind and hooking her middle finger through the ring on the crossguard of her sword. Her arm stretched out to its fullest extension as she unsheathed the short blade. It had no centre, only an outline. Spinning it with a jerk of her hand, the hilt fell into her palm. "We're outside Las Noches, so this should be fine."
The hyena-man leapt backwards, skidding into a wary pouncing position at the base of the newest crater that his booming reiatsu had punched into the shifting ground.
"My name is Tia Hallibel, the Tercera Espada. And only if you can survive this…" There came an explosion of spiritual pressure that cracked the vast walls behind her before she had even begun to release her true form. "Only then will I ask for your name."
"Ichi-nii's vanished again," wept Yuzu, garnishing that night's healthy and delicious dinner with salty tears. "Karin-chan! Why is he never home? Are we too young and annoying for him? Does he…does he…hate my cooking that much?"
Her black-haired fraternal twin sister recalled the various times she'd witnessed their brother's soul chopping huge-ass monsters into itty-bitty pieces with a humongous sword, factored in circumstantial evidence such as his being Don Kanonji's spirit guide 'Boy!', concluded with the time she'd seen him burst straight out of his body and astral project with the help of some kind of gizmo; then rolled her eyes at her sister in mild exasperation.
"Yuzu," she stated calmly; "Ichi-nii's disappearances have nothing to do with your cooking." To illustrate this point she took a huge mouthful of food and closed her eyes blissfully whilst chewing. Mmmm. Yuzu's cooking was the best.
The (much) more domesticated sister poked her rice and stir fry around with a pair of chopsticks. Slowly Karin realised that her twin was genuinely upset.
"Don't worry about it," she said in the most reassuring and least sarcastic voice she could muster (it was a Herculean effort). And then she spoke the simple truth: "Ichi-nii's a zombie."
Kurosaki Isshin wisely chose that moment to come charging into the room and totally distract the topic of conversation. "Yuzu-CHAAAAN! I have come to taste the fruits of your labour – good evening my sweet Masaki –" he blew a kiss at the poster on the wall; "is dinner ready?"
The only one of his children to take after his wife in looks turned to face him with a horrified and heartbroken visage. "O-Otou-san…Karin-chan said Ichi-nii is…is…undead!" she wailed.
Her father managed to look suitably shocked, but not for the right reasons. Karin knew about that? Did she know he knew? Did she know about him? For that matter, did Ichigo know she knew, and if he did, and she knew about him; then did Ichigo know what Karin knew about both of them and just wasn't saying anything? Or –
His brain promptly fried, and he gave up trying to figure out the implications of Karin knowing what she had implied she knew.
"Let me clasp you to my loving parental bosom, Yuzu-chan! Don't tell your poor, sweet, innocent sister such nasty things, Karin-chan, it's not like you…and then she'll cry, and then I'll cry, and then –"
Karin's patience snapped.
"If you can't even see ghosts, then you shouldn't talk about things you don't know about, Oyaji!"
They both stared at her, dumbfounded. She was being deadly serious.
"Yuzu-chan, it's exactly the same as when we were helping Don Kanonji fight the monsters! Ichi-nii does that too! And when that crazy guy goes on about knowing our brother, it's because he's met him as a ghost – and when Ichi-nii is acting really weird he's a zombie and he's not inside his body!" She laid her ace on the table, temper flaring. "Haven't you ever wondered why Karakura King is always in Ichi-nii's room?"
"I thought that was Bostov…" Yuzu cut in.
"Karakura King is Bostov…" explained Karin slowly, amazed her sister had never realised this for herself. It seemed to be the worst revelation of the night.
"Bostov is a cross-dresser?" shrieked the girl, throwing her hands into the air. Isshin was totally lost. His daughters were talking about the unknowable secrets of daughter-land, that Karin had always very firmly prevented him from intruding into. He had no idea if any of Karin's evidence related to anything real.
Wait a second.
Karin and Yuzu had been fighting monsters with Don Kanonji?
"I…don't get it…Karin-chan. Ichi-nii isn't dead."
"I've seen him leave his body. He's done it right in front of me."
Well that was clear enough. Time to intervene!
Eyes catching fire with righteous indignation, Isshin loomed behind his dark-haired tomboy child with his fists raised. "For trying to scare your sister with ridiculous stories…PUNISHMENT!" he intoned in a deep and terrifying voice. He pulled up short. "Oops, violence is how Otou-san deals with your brother. Now then, beloved daughter, this is clearly a plea for more attention from your adoring-yet-busy-saving-lives Daddy-chan!" he proclaimed, throwing his arms wide in an attack-hug and pronouncing the last word in bad English.
Karin kicked him in the head after performing a remarkable flying leap to attain the correct height. "Bring it on!" she roared, raising her own fists in a stance Tatsuki had taught her once. "I can so take you!"
"Dinner is getting cold," said Yuzu quietly.
"Despite your being my darling little daughter whom I could never harm a single hair of, I must respect your personality choices, Karin! So yes, let us fight…a battle to end all battles, a war to end all wars…a middle-aged man with a lifetime's experience of Isshin-Fu versus his small, defenceless daughter…" By the end of the sentence he was sobbing. "This is totally unfair…"
"Yup, you're gonna get owned;" agreed Karin.
"I take it neither of you want pudding," whispered Yuzu, bowing her head in regret.
Her father and twin immediately sat down and began to eat their dinner in a civilised manner. If the Kurosaki household had one golden rule, it was this: do not upset Yuzu's family meals.
After pudding had been polished off Isshin suddenly remembered an important announcement he needed to make. In the midst of all the drama and mayhem and declarations of war he had completely forgotten to mention it.
"Oh! Daddy is going shopping for medical supplies tomorrow and will be out nearly all day, so he needs you two to be good and not burn the clinic down whilst he's gone."
"As if we would!" huffed Karin, licking the last crumbs of chocolate cake off her fork.
"And remember to ask the neighbours for help if you need anything. And don't invite any boys round. And get your homework done as soon as you come in, unless you're rebelling against the oppressive national education system; and don't have any raves, and…"
"Okay, Otou-san!" chirped Yuzu brightly, if only to shut him up before he really got into his flow. "We'll take care, don't worry. And I'll leave your dinner in the fridge if you're back late."
"Such a wonderful daughter!" cried Isshin, all choked up.
Aizen Sosuke lifted his fingertips away from the oily black surface of the now famed and feared Hougyoku, which had once been Urahara's deadly secret. He aimed a smile at his new super-soldier that was designed only to show his own self-satisfaction rather than welcome a newcomer into the elite. Every time he used the orb it gave out greater power; as it matured, every new Espada raised the bar.
Though they were not all perfect. Wonderwice Margera, despite having enormous potential, seemed to have paid for it with his intelligence. Simplistic to the extreme, he had never been reliable enough to be awarded a rank. But with this addition, the hierarchy of his Espada could be rearranged and he would be able to measure how much more power had been extracted this time.
A cube of crystal panes reclosed about the Hougyoku when he withdrew his fuelling reiatsu – at least double that of any other captain – and the large glass coffin encasing his latest disciple shattered into dust.
A long, thin hand slowly reached up, and Hueco Mundo's most recently reborn arrancar started to tug the obscuring bandages from its body. They were slightly similar to lethality stone in that they insulated reiatsu, allowing all the energy of the Hougyoku to be channelled into the target Hollow and stopping any from escaping. It could not be wasted on flares and lightshows – the glass box being another technique to help achieve maximum results. A mask can only be broken once.
Now the Vasto Lorde was dragging the clinging ribbons off of his arms and head, revealing bit by bit the person underneath. Shards of white bone fell and clicked against the smooth stone floor. Standing behind Aizen, Hallibel shifted her balance from side to side, feeling the suspense as her recruit unveiled himself.
"Tell us your name," prompted Tousen, standing strictly to attention as the man who felt most keenly the ceremony of the situation. "And the title of your resurrección."
"…It's been a long time since I had a name…" said the arrancar huskily, feeling the skin and mouth and eyelids he had not borne for decades. "Been even longer since I had a face." His hair was a pale brown, the remnants of his Hollow mask rested on the top of his head. The shape resembled a jackal as before, appearing like a crown in honour of the Egyptian god Anubis.
"My name is…Perro Rabioso." He curled his clawed fingers around the hilt of short dagger, showing a control over his abilities that he had previously lacked. "And the title of my true form," he unsheathed the blade and held it poised just below his opposite shoulder; "is morder, el chacal!"
It was like being hit by ten thousand sledgehammers. An explosion of reiatsu thundered out of the arrancar's body, blazing with blinding magnesium light as white as the sands of Hueco Mundo, the hallways of Las Noches, the mask of a Hollow.
Most of the Espada fell to their knees from the unexpected pressure. Stark and Barragan seemed fairly unaffected but even they were wearing expressions of discomfort. Ulquiorra and Hallibel had the presence of mind to negate the blast with ceros of equal mass. The torrential force seemed to just reflect off Aizen. His sole reaction was one raised eyebrow, and a slight tilt of his head.
"Impressive," he murmured, the word lost in the noise of the storm.
Deep cracking sounds of the ground being ripped apart and the ceiling falling in made him sigh. "Perhaps we should have told Rabioso about the 'no resurrecciones indoors' rule…" he noted to Gin, before realising that his right hand man was gritting his teeth and swaying. Beads of sweat rolled down the albino's face as his eyes went in and out of focus. Tousen's state was even worse.
Perturbed, Aizen re-examined the quality of Perro Rabioso's reiatsu. There was no control to it, and no end in sight. An erupting volcano of white-hot lava.
Lifting his hand, the traitor shinigami captain shouted out the incantation of a high-level kido spell. For an instant, a vast noir cage hid the overloading Vasto Lorde from view.
"RETREAT!" roared Barragan, the self-styled king, into the brief silence. White shatter-lines began to scribble over the surface of the black box. The pressure was building again, to an ear-popping level.
Sonido and shunpo emptied the chamber in the blink of an eye. Seconds later, from a safe distance of a mile or two away; the group witnessed the collapse of the great dome in a column of colourless fire.
Nnoitra crouched down and stroked the ground with his fingertips. Pesquisa soon confirmed that the rare, coveted Menos was no more. He had been destroyed by his own prodigious might.
"What a weakling," snorted the Quinta Espada.
Ulquiorra dropped Inoue Orihime to the sand. She squeaked in surprise then flinched, as if expecting punishment for the uninvited sound. Yet she was ignored the moment her rescue from the collapsing castle was ascertained. "Trash," agreed Ulquiorra, turning away from the dust clouds of Las Noches with a bored expression. "Is this what you consider worthy of us, Hallibel?"
The sole female Espada pressed her palm against his face and released a point blank Bala before he was even aware that she had moved. He stumbled backwards, skin quickly regenerating although for a second his green tear marks had been replaced by the dark red of blood.
"Know your place," warned the woman.
Any retaliation was interrupted by Aizen tossing the Hougyoku carelessly into the air and catching it one-handed. All eyes followed its lazy ascension and swift descent; mesmerised.
"Hallibel was not to blame," he said quietly, staring at the sphere intently.
"You should make it to Hueco Mundo if you head towards the darkness."
"Got it," replied Ichigo, considering a moment before continuing. "Urahara-san."
The striped hat turned towards him, as did the eyes shadowed beneath its rim.
"Could you take care of my family for me? Maybe say something so they don't worry about me."
"I understand." A strong wind from the portal ruffled his green haori as two differing air pressures between the two differing dimensions collided. "And your friends?"
Ichigo dropped his head down slightly, looking grim. Although the red mark had faded from his cheek soon enough after Tatsuki's right jab, the bruise from his skull smashing through a window was still happy to remind him of its presence every time he moved his neck too far. It was only a slight, dull pain. He actually found it nostalgic that even after he'd challenged the elite of the afterlife and triumphed, Tatsuki could still pummel him the way she had since they were kids. The fragility of his human body compared to his soul was far less humorous, however. And damage to one was shared with the other…
"I'll apologise to them once I get back."
Then again, perhaps he'd never see his body again.
Urahara said nothing for a moment, listening to Tatsuki, Keigo and Mizuiro squabble quietly behind the giant boulder that was their hiding place; arguing why they shouldn't leap out and hug their friend with a loud cry of "ICHI-GOOO!" as Keigo wished to. Grievous bodily harm courtesy of Japan's second strongest female martial artist settled the matter.
"I understand," he answered the orange-topped fifteen-year-old, trying not to grin.
Ichigo clenched his fist, not knowing that Inoue had held it all too briefly; his mouth pinched into a thin, determined line, not knowing that she had hovered over it and left her tears on his cheek. He shared a nod with Ishida and Chan, and then settled his sights on the Garganta. "Let's go!"
And they leapt.
to be known henceforth as:
Or; the Arrancar Encyclopaedia.
Aizen swore, fluidly and furiously in a rare display of rage.
He had finally obtained a fifth Vasto Lorde, and the idiot was dead.
How demeaning to be killed by one's own strength. He would make damn sure that his limits never visited him again, once God was defeated.
But how was he meant to do that with the kind of progress that involved scraping bits of hollows off the walls?
Gin lurked in the corner of the room, wisely avoiding his master? Friend? Partner in crime? at a time when he was totally OOC. "Geez," he grinned. "Ain't no way in the chicken-frying south he's gonna put up with that happenin' again."
Well, at least one of them was behaving properly. Tousen swept through the bright hallways, the only one who saw them as black, and searched for unjust hollows to lecture. After all justice isn't kindness. Justice is only what the strongest chooses for it to be.
Wonderwice totally agreed, shadowing the ex-taicho like an autistic duckling of doom. He also thought that cooing was an Olympic sport and that butterflies were the best thing since sliced Bala.
Because Vasto Lordes were so achingly rare, Aizen was beyond furious.
"Szayel!" he screamed petulantly. Soon the smarmy pink carnival reject arrived and knelt before him. "Tell me why, exactly, my beautiful arrancar killing machines cannot godmode as well as a freaking 15 year old ryoka!"
"Huuuurm…." hummed the scientist. "Perhaps that Vasto Lorde had already reached his limits of expansion. I mean it's not exactly a common achievement. Perhaps we need to find recruits who, like the Kurosaki boy, have an infinite potential for reiatsu."
"Can you get me one?" squealed Aizen, throwing the Hougyoku in the air and clapping like a giddy aunt.
They vacated the area and ignored him after that, trying to scrub the afterimage of Aizen dancing from their brains.
Chapter notes: Perro Rabioso is Spanish for 'Rabid Dog'. Morder, el chacal means 'Bite, Jackal'.