A/N: So here I am, back again. My apologies to those who've been waiting for another chapter, and my apologies to those who just found this recently and expected a chapter sooner. Also, my apologies to those of you who were hoping I would stop writing for this story. I'm sorry to say, I've not abandoned it just yet. It was a PITA trying to figure out what direction this story was trying to go in, but I took another look at it and realized that I built it all in by accident. Enjoy.
"The hell you are!" Enzo's thin dagger crashed into Ankoku's blade and drove its wielder past the other shinigami. "You and I have a fight to settle!"
The two separated and the Hollow controlling Kanaye's body snarled. "Get the fuck out of my way you pansy-ass," he spat venomously. Enzo grinned in response, then impaled himself with his own dagger.
His body convulsed and blood poured from his lips, drenching the black sand before seeping into it. White tendrils exploded from the dagger wound and wrapped around his trunk, piling onto each other until the fallen Arrancar had taken on the form of a gigantic scorpion with a humanoid torso. The helmet encasing Enzo's head was a ghastly visage of a spider's face, complete with eight blood-red eyes.
The Hollow huffed, spitting into the sand in front of him. His weapon twirled once, sending a fine cloud of darkness into the air. "Guess I'll just have to rip your ugly head off first."
Kanaye's companions had no time to observe his exchange with Enzo, for the other Respinto leaped into action directly, forcing the Soul Reapers into combat. Icaro, the smallest of the lot, quietly faced an equally silent Chad. Marcella had cornered Uryuu, his wounds barely healed, against a black wall. The twins, Fiore and Flora, stared down an angry Renji and a shaken Rukia. Ichigo was left glaring hotly at Aimone, who was staring back, uninterested. His pet, Senna's unnatural clone, looked as though she would tear out of her skin any moment unless her master gave her the order to attack. Nicola had back Orihime up to the entrance of the castle and was eying her disinterestedly.
Zangetsu hummed with blue reiatsu, and just as Ichigo was prepared to haul the cleaver back and unleash his zanpakuto, Victor flashed in front of Aimone. Instantly the attack dissipated, the Captain's caution overriding the adrenaline-soaked portion of his mind. Attacking an opponent whose talents were as of yet unrevealed would only bring misfortune. He would have to wait and feel out the abilities of Hell's Prince, providing he lived long enough.
Satisfied that the small shinigami had staved off his attack, Victor barked over his shoulder. "Aimone, hold onto this." He tossed the small bowl, the Tobira, to his demonic general. The lesser being caught it deftly. "I'll need it to absorb this shinigami's soul once I've crushed him."
The Captain of the Third Division stiffened. Victor was strong, monstrously so, but was he really so strong that he could scoff in the face of the powerhouse of the Seireitei?
"Lord Victor, would you not prefer that I disposed of this rodent?" Aimone inquired, though he sounded indifferent to the scenario.
Victor stayed silent and drew his giant katana with a mighty hand. Ichigo's eyes creased as the strength hidden in that sheath leaked out of the blade. Victor's strength had just increased at an exponential rate, overshadowing the relative pinpricks of spiritual pressure that were Ichigo's comrades. It even threatened to stifle his own, but he pushed back with equal force. "Bankai. Tensa Zangetsu." The smooth black katana formed in his hand and his shihakusho tightened around his body. The shift was immediate, Ichigo's bankai beating away Victor's overwhelming pressure. Neither man had struck yet; their battle had been one of pure strength, a measure of whether each was worthy to battle the other. Victor seemed pleased, his toothy grin stretching the ugly scars on his face into distorted shapes. Ichigo remained stoic and felt the store of energy he had access to. It would be enough to unleash the Vasto Lorde, but the concentration needed to fully unlock that darkest of powers would be difficult to come by. It was all Ichigo could do to match his opponent's enormous output; this battle would be a challenge, indeed.
"Go ahead," Victor growled, his mighty voice shaking the ground around his hulking form. His smile grew as he stabbed the sharp end of his weapon into the black sand. "I wouldn't have called for the Seireitei's strongest warriors if I didn't expect a true warrior's battle."
Ichigo frowned. "You would allow an opponent to unleash his full power without trying to kill him first?" He spat at his feet. "I find that fucking hard to believe."
"Believe what you will," Victor shrugged. "You may remain on guard, but I assure you that I'm very excited to test the strength that I've been building for the last millenium. And I don't intend to waste it on a Captain who only uses a fraction of his power."
Chad managed to avoid another swing from Icaro's diminutive blade, a pair of spiked silver knuckles. He felt the brush of air across his cheek and he leaped to the side and rolled into position next to Uryuu. Never mind the tiny Respinto, Chad's goal had been to slide nearer to Uryuu. Despite the fact that the two were different as night and day and that Chad's zanpakuto found its origins in Hueco Mundo, the pair often trained together and had developed an excellent battlefield rapport. What was more, the larger man recognized that his friend's condition was far below what he needed to fight any sort of Arrancar. Their only hope was to run, and fast.
Uryuu glanced at Chad, his hands already glowing, awaiting the release of power that was sure to come. "Plan B?" the former Quincy questioned. The ghost of a smirk played at the corner of his lips. Chad gave a sharp nod, and the two turned back to Marcella and Icaro, both of whom were readying for another charge.
In a split second, Uryuu threw up an enormous version of his own Ginrei Kojaku, and Chad had wordlessly released his shikai. "El Directo!" he roared. The massive shield that covered his right arm unleashed a blast of condensed reiatsu that passed through Uryuu's seal, flowing apart and together again faster than the eye could blink. It exploded outward, twice its original size, and the combined attack struck the Respintos dead center.
The two Soul Reapers took full advantage of the distraction and flashed away to grab a struggling Renji and his small counterpart.
Renji flung his arm to the side, bidding Hihiyou Zabimaru to protect Rukia from one of the twin Respintos while simultaneously chomping into the other. Rukia was next to helpless at the moment, her earlier episode seeming to interfere with most of her battle skills. She was aware enough to parry and attack half-heartedly with Sode no Shirayuki, but her eyes were cloudy and a dazed look was plastered to her face.
The Captain couldn't protect her and fight at the same time, and his disadvantage was showing. Zabimaru was valiantly shielding its master, but Fiore and Flora were quite accurate with the Luce attack that seemed to be the calling card of the Respinto. Renji's flesh was seared in several areas, the places where the Luce struck with enough force to demolish a skyscraper. As it was, the Captain had expended too much energy and wouldn't be able to fight effectively even if Rukia was removed from the scenario. He could only hope that his companions were able to find a way to get away from this godforsaken place as quickly as possible.
No sooner had the thought run through his head than a streak of red and blue plowed into Flora and blasted from the air to the ground. Fiore let out a horrible screech and set off a Luce in the direction of the blur. Renji, seeing his opportunity, funneled all of his strength into Zabimaru and shouted, "Hikotsu Taiho!" The bone cannon fired a single shot that squarely struck Fiore and sent her careening into a wall of the dark palace.
The red and blue blur came to rest before him, and Chad and Renji waved. Renji took the hint, scooped up Rukia with one arm, and took off after his fellows.
"It seems that most of your party has left the stage I've set for them," Victor chuckled.
"You don't seem very upset about it," Ichigo retaliated. Just a little longer.
"I can't say that I am upset. My soldiers will hunt them down shortly."
There, all of the energy necessary to unleash the beast was prepared. As though sensing the change in Ichigo's spiritual pressure, Victor clapped once and removed his sword from the sand. It shifted like a serpent, then fell silent.
"Excellent. Now that you're ready, we can begin," the behemoth hellion crowed. Reiatsu swirled around the feet of both men, awaiting the orders of their respective masters.
"You sure that you want to fight against him?" Ichigo asked, raising his left hand to his eyes. His fingers curled into claws and black reiatsu coalesced at his fingertips. "He's not exactly the happy-go-lucky type."
"Suit yourself, then." The Captain of the Third Division brought his hand swiftly downward. "Bankai, Segunda etapa."
The Vasto Lorde, woken from his slumber for a second time, called his anger to the sky, sunken yellow eyes turning all of their ferocious delight upon Victor's form. Its coiled muscles twitched in anticipation and steam filtered through the jaws of the hellish mask. If one had not known better, Ichigo might have been mistaken for the king of hell.
"Bankai!" Victor called. A titanic wave of reiatsu washed over the battlefield, stunning the ruler's army as well as the two Vasto Lordes occupying the space near Victor. The massive man was concealed in the vortex of his own power for several long moments, before finally a being of the same general shape and size of Hell's prince stepped from the smoke. "Colossocavaliere," it rasped.
The Vasto Lorde eyed its prey warily. Never had it encountered a being with power equal to its own, and this being certainly had power of that magnitude. The giant stepped fully into view and displayed its new armor. The bone white covering was modeled after a medieval knight, with an eerily grinning mask where the helmet would be. The contours of the armor were rough, battle-scarred, but in its prime it must have been beautiful. In the giant's right hand was a dual-edged broadsword nearly the length of the giant's body.
The two powers glared at each other, daring the other to make the first move. Each was tense and coiled, but the Vasto Lorde was ever confident; it crashed forward, blade high and poised to deliver a killing blow. It would have struck through the body of the colossus, had the warrior not raised his own blade. The Vasto Lorde might as well have been moving in slow motion. It brought its blade to counter the giant, but to its surprise Zangetsu shattered with the impact of the larger weapon. The Vasto Lorde twisted and landed a fair distance behind his opponent. It looked to its ruined blade in confusion, snorting once and tossing the hilt to the side.
"DIE!," beast screamed, charging a red cero between its devilish horns. The crimson doom blast connected with Victor's chest, and the Vasto Lorde growled its approval. Suddenly, out of the wreckage shot the hulking knight and, with great pleasure on its part, it sheared through the Vasto Lorde's hierro and impaled the stomach of the beast with its enormous blade.
"You are impossibly weak," Victor's visage rasped, even as the Vasto Lorde writhed and lashed out against the skewer in its abdomen. "An animal at best. And now, it is time for the weak to die." He extended a single finger and sickly green light gather at its tip.
Ankoku lurched out of the shredded remains of Enzo's battered armor. The Hollow controlling Kanaye's body sniffed and slung the blood from the silver blade. "No fight at all." The former Cero kicked Enzo's shattered, but still breathing body. "Pussy."
The pained screams of a fellow Vasto Lorde reached his ears and Kanaye twisted in their direction. Victor had skewered Ichigo's body, the larger man's power levels skyrocketing far above the limits they'd exhibited when the Cero had fought Hell's ruler last. He twirled Ankoku and sighed loudly. "I'll miss ya, Boss."
He tossed the blade into the air and calmly said, "Bankai."
From the cloud of black ash he shot.
Something incredibly fast slammed into Victor's grinning helmet, knocking the huge knight to the side. The Vasto Lorde grasped the giant blade in its stomach and slung it away only for its rightful owner to catch its handle with one hand.
"So, La Cero, you've decided to release your full power as well. My, what a day," Victor said as he clambered to his feet.
The Vasto Lorde noticed the being to his left and, after checking to make certain the hole in its stomach was healing correctly, glanced over. The thing stood just shorter than itself and was covered in solid black armor. A red seal glowed over its left breast and crimson rings of flame adorned its wrists and ankles. It wore a black mask in the shape of a wolf's face, and jagged red stripes in the shape of claw marks ran vertically down from its top. But its most memorable feature was the red of its irises and the black of its sclera.
The things looked from the Vasto Lorde to Victor and chuckled a dark, eerie chuckle. "Goddamn it, Vic, when are you gonna lie down and admit defeat like a man."
Victor stepped forward. "I do believe you've decided not to notice that my power is ten times what it was when we last met."
The black Vasto Lorde shrugged, and the white Vasto Lorde growled. It did not like talk. Talk was for the King, not for the King atop his Horse. It clacked its jaws.
"Well said, Kingy," the blackened Hollow barked. "Who ever said that it was ME who was gonna beat YOU?"
In a single, swift motion not unlike Victor's impalement of the white Hollow, the Cero spun and grasped the white Vasto Lorde's helmet with a clawed fist. His eyes, just for a moment, turned sad and victorious all at once. "I'm leaving this one to you, King."
And the Vasto Lorde's world burst into a spectrum of unimaginable agony.
A/N: Finally, a chapter finished. If you haven't guessed yet, something big just happened there at the end. Care to speculate as to what happened? Questions, comments, and the like are all welcome as usual. If your comment consists of bashing that's less than a full sentence, I'll ask that you don't bother burning the calories it would take to type it.