El Sombrero de Paja
In the confines of the castle, Las Noches, Sousuke Aizen sits atop his throne to meet with one of his Espadas. His current Quinto (fifth) just came back from an assignment to find more Vasto Lordes or powerful Hollows to recruit but all he did was blatantly fought and crush all of them. The Quinto Espada walked into the chamber in front of Aizen and his two right hand men, Tosen and Gin. The Espada on trial was a young man that appeared to look seventeen or eighteen and had a scar under his left eye. The remains of his Hollow mask were two tiny horns and the middle segment of a jawbone under his chin and his hollow hole on his chest. The most distinctive feature of this man was a straw hat he was wearing and his not-so-standard Arrancar uniform of white shorts, which covered all the way down below his knees, a simple white vest, and beach sandals. Finally, a tattoo of the number five can be seen on the bicep of his left arm.
"Welcome back, Monkey D. Luffy," Aizen said in a calming, lilting voice, "I suppose the trip was entertaining for you?"
The Quinto Espada, Monkey D. Luffy, just smiled and looked up. "It killed some time I guess," said Luffy.
Tosen was obviously furious when he told-off Luffy. "Concerning your mission, Luffy, you were completely out of line," Tosen yelled. "Your actions were clearly unnecessary and brought too much attention."
"Oh what's the big deal," Luffy calmly said, "There wasn't anyone strong enough so I just kicked their asses."
"You need to be aware that brute force isn't always necessary. The Soul Society has certain parts of Hueco Mundo under its surveillance. Flashy action such as destroying an entire colony of Menos garners unwanted attention and could compromise our operation," Tosen tried to explain.
"If that's all then I'm out of here," Luffy said. Turning around Luffy waved at Tosen, "I'm getting hungry, so see ya."
"Wait! We're not done here."
"You keep saying that you don't want to garner any attention," mentioned Luffy, "But you've already been outed in the Soul Society and they know what you're doing, so who cares?"
"That is not the point, the point is—" Tosen was cut off as Luffy started to walk away, "HEY! I'm not finished here!"
Aizen decided to interrupt Tosen's rant in his usual tone, "Luffy, do remember the gathering of the Espadas later on."
Luffy merely responded with a wave as he left the room, leaving the three shinigamis by themselves. Gin wished to break the momentary silence, "A very odd arrancar among our ranks isn't he? He actually brings a little light on this morbid place."
Tosen turned towards Aizen with nothing but frustration on his face over the lack of discipline, "Lord Aizen, if I may ask, why you must insist on having such an unruly, undisciplined rogue element among the highest seats of your subordinates? Luffy is clearly too unreliable to be given the rank of Espada."
"True," Aizen said, "Luffy is a bit hard to predict, but his skills are undeniable. Maybe you haven't noticed because you were concentrating on Luffy, but I was directing my spiritual pressure at him with a malicious killing intent."
Tosen was struck silent at this news while Aizen continued, "Luffy took the full force of my aura and shrugged it off as if it were nothing more than a nuisance while still holding up his guard. Monkey D. Luffy is a powerful asset to our cause, uncontrollable though he may be, and he garners such loyalty from his Fraccion that some of them even refuse to obey me sometimes. Of all the Espada, he is possibly the most essential."
Luffy just entered his chamber to meet with the rest of his Fraccion, or as he calls them, his "crew". There was his most powerful Fraccion, Roronoa Zoro, who wore standard arrancar uniform pants but had a t-shirt instead of a coat and a sash around his waist. The remains of his hollow mask is a plate that goes over his brow and over the head. On his sash were three swords of different patterns. Sitting across from him were Sanji and Ussop. Sanji was a blonde man with a mask fragment that looked like a swirl coming from his eye brow; a tanto can be seen in his unusual arrancar attire of a pure white, full piece suit. Ussop had the largest mask fragment out his crew, which composed of a helmet with a beetle-like horn coming out the left side of his helmet and having an eye piece on the same side as the horn and he had an unusually long nose that wasn't a mask fragment. The zanpakuto he carried was a standard sword with a western guard that had two pronged curves on either side.
Further back was Nami, a woman arrancar with bright orange hair and a skimpy uniform of a mini-skirt and white jacket and a tiny mask fragment that goes around the edge of her eye. She was tending to a giant goat Hollow, feeding it and brushing its coat, while another female member tended to an even bigger lion Hollow. Robin had no visible mask fragment and dressed in a more modest style than her female comrade with western pants and a form fitting coat. Brook, a full on skeleton arrancar with a white formal suit complete with top hat and sporting an afro, and Franky, a huge man with big forearms and wispy hair, were playing with cards while Chopper, a miniature deer-looking arrancar, mixed some chemicals.
"Hey guys!" Luffy yelled, "I'm back!"
"Hey Luffy, did you get chewed out by Tosen again?" Zoro said while chuckling.
"Yeah, some crap about gardening too much attention or something."
Sanji corrected Luffy's obvious mistake with "I think you mean garnering."
"How many of you are picturing that little vein on Tosen's head?" Ussop laughed. "I can just see him turning completely red! HAHAHAHAAHAH!"
"Oh come on, lay off," Franky interjected, "Tosen's just on his menstrual cycles," to this the entire crew burst out in laughter.
Throughout the rest of the break Luffy and his crew made fun of Tosen. Afterwards they wondered what it would be like to fight the Soul Society and that Ichigo Kurosaki that Aizen started talking about since he came back to Las Noches with that Hogyoku. Then came the time for the gathering of the Espadas as Luffy left to attend it.
The rest of the crew wanted to see Luffy off until the chamber where only the Espada, Aizen, and Tosen and Gin were allowed. Before the doorway were other arrancars such as Aaroniero Arruruerie, and the current fourth, Ulquiorra. "I see you have finally returned, Luffy," Ulquiorra said.
"Ul-chan, long time, no see," Luffy cheerfully greeted. "You still have that same long look on your face."
"And from what I hear, you've been causing trouble again," Ulquiorra informed with his usual, calm tone. "Do keep in mind that you work for Lord Aizen and you must follow his orders."
"We did follow his orders, those colonies just didn't want to listen. You can't blame me if they want to start a fight."
This time it was Sanji who spoke, "Most hollows don't take the prospect of following orders from a shinigami to… uh… favorable."
"Be that as it may, you should have carried out your actions with utmost discrepancy and with Lord Aizen's best interests," Ulquiorra lectured. Aaroniero remained silent the entire time.
"What does it matter anyway? Aizen doesn't give a two-shilling shit about any of that!" said a shrill voice from behind Luffy.
Luffy turned around to see a very tall, slim man with an overblown, spoon-like hood. "Pfft-Nnoitra?" Luffy laughed, "What the hell is with that getup?"
"I'm guessing he lost a bet," chuckled Nami.
"Is that anyway to speak to your superiors? You goddamn trash!" Nnoitra said.
"My apologies, Octava Espada, sir," Nami responded with sarcasm.
"That's Sexta Espada now, bitch!" Nnoitra yelled, proceeding to show them the tattoo on his tongue. "I've been moving on up while you were away."
"Really?" asked Zoro, "Does that come with a new, fancy company vehicle and everything?"
"You insolent-" Nnoitra started to lunge at Zoro with his hands as Zoro dodged. The fight was finally stopped when Luffy grabbed Nnoitra's wrist.
"Where do you get off trying to hurt my crew?" Luffy said with a threatening tone. Luffy tossed aside Nnoitra's hand when a tan woman walked by. She was wear a revealing uniform that showed her midriff and bottom portion of her breasts and had bright, blonde hair.
"Enough," the woman said, "Is that any way for Espadas to act?"
Luffy just looked at her with a confused look, "Maybe not, but who are you?"
"WOW!" Sanji yelled, "I like your sense of style ma'am! Please tell me you're actually sent from heaven specifically for me!"
"I guess you haven't heard," the woman said, "I'm the new Tres Espada, Tia Harribel."
"Tres Espada?" Luffy repeated, "Where's Nel-chan?"
"She met with an unfortunate incident," Nnoitra hissed, "I beat her and expelled her from Las Noches. You won't be seeing her or her pathetic fraccion trash."
Luffy grabbed on to Nnoitra's collar, "You've got some nerve! Nel-chan was a good friend and a comrade. How could you just attack her in cold blood!?"
"You despicable enemy of women," Sanji said with fire in his eyes, "I'll personally make you pay for what you did to Nelliel-sama."
Luffy and his fraccion were prepared to fight as Nnoitra took out his scythe of a zanpakuto. Ulquiorra, Aaroniero, and Harribel were sucked into their Mexican stand-off when Aizen and his subordinates came into the hallway. Aaroniero was the one to break the silence, "I think this has gone on long enough," Aaroniero said in a high-pitched voice, "What's done is done Quinta Espada, if you wish to lay blame, blame Neliel for not being strong enough," Aaroniero said in a deeper voice.
"Thank you, Aaroniero," Aizen said, he then motioned to the chamber where the Espada are to meet. "If we could please begin the meeting, we have much to discuss in light of what's happening to the Soul Society."
Nnoitra put away his zanpakuto while Luffy's fraccion did the same. The rest of the Espada showed up shortly afterwords. Luffy had been gone a long time since the Espada ranks have been changed. Luffy and his fraccion have always been on good terms with the friendly Nelliel Tu Oderschwanck and her fraccion. While not exactly on the most endearing terms, Ulquiorra saw Luffy as someone to cooperate with while Luffy treated as a comrade. Starrk was an easygoing guy who Luffy got along with and Barragon always belittled him. Then there was Nnoitra who always seemed to grind Luffy's gears and Grimmjow whom he always got into fights with. The rest were never really interested in Luffy and didn't interact with him.
Nnoitra turned to Luffy's fraccion, "You know the rules: No non-Espada trash allowed," which he then followed with a taunting cackle.
"I'm going to have to say he's right," said Gin Ichimaru, "This is a meeting for the Espada."
"You guys wait here, I'll be back," Luffy waved to them as he entered the chamber.
The chamber doors closed with all the Espada, Gin, Tosen, and Aizen, leaving the fraccion outside the chamber. A few of Luffy's crew decide to go back while the rest stayed until Sanji noticed three gorgeous woman arrancars standing nearby. Sanji instantly ran toward them in his usual manner.
"HELLOOOOO LADIES!!" Sanji screamed, "I suppose you heard of me, the great Sanji, and couldn't resist the urge to see me. Now, now, I'm sure we can work out a schedule for all of you. It's a burden to be this handsome, but I must oblige all the maidens so as not to break their hearts."
"Who the hell is this whack-job," said one of the female arrancars. The girl had short hair, a fragment with a horn was on top of her head and had two different colored eyes with a red outline on the left eye.
"Obviously, he's the only man who would be willing to date you Apache," said the dark skinned, muscular one.
"Shut up, Mila Rose!" said Apache.
"Apache, Mila Rose, such beautiful names for feisty beauties," Sanji, still entranced, said. "And who might you be, my lovely."
"My name is Sun-Sun," answered the "lovely", who had long, straight, hair and long sleeves that reached her knees. "And I would appreciate it if you would reframe from hitting on me, it's so unprofessional."
"I'm sorry, but it's too hard to resist the primordial instinct of-gah!" Sanji was interrupted by Zoro who promptly smacked him in the face before he could embarrass himself even more.
"Excuse my friend," said Zoro, "He's an idiot."
"HEY YOU JACKASS! WHA'DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING?!" Sanji yelled
"Obviously being more of a man than you," said Mila Rose with a small smirk.
"You have got to be-" Sanji began, "I can be a jackass like him!"
Sanji proceeded to mess up his hair and do a poor imitation of Zoro. "Look at me, I'm a green-hair idiot with no sense of grace or etiquette whatsoever. I don't feel secure enough with just one zanpakutou so I split my form into three swords and that's supposed to make me look badass." Zoro proceeded to beat Sanji up who retaliated while the three females looked on with disdain.
In the chamber…
All the Espadas were in their seats while Aizen sat down at the end with the other two shinigamis at each side. Luffy was looking a little confused at some of the people at the table as the Espada line-up has definitely changed. The tea was passed around as Aizen began the briefing for the evening.
"Now that everyone is here and has their refreshments let us begin the meeting," Aizen said in his soothing tone. "First, let say welcome back to Luffy. No doubt you have noticed the change in the line-up, so let me introduce you. You have already met Tia Harribel, the new Tercera Espada, and you know that Nnoitra and Grimmjow have been promoted to the sixth and seventh respectively."
"Yeah, alright," responded Luffy in a bored tone.
Aizen continued his introduction, "Next is the new Octava Espada, Szayel Aporro Grantz, you know him as the head of research, and the reinstated Aaronierro as the Novena Espada."
"I was wondering why those guys were following us," Luffy responded.
The new line-up was sitting accordingly, with Ulquiorra sitting next to Aizen to his left, with Starrk next to Ulquiorra, then Luffy with Harribel next to him, at the other end were Aaronierro and Yammy Riyalgo, currently the tenth Espada, afterwards was Barragon Luisenbarn, Szayel, Grimmjow and finally Nnoitra.
"Now on to business," said Aizen, "Gin, start us off."
"Right," Gin responded and a surveillance hologram appeared in the middle of the table depicting the Seireitei. "As some of you may know, the Soul Society is still in the process of rebuilding after our defection. To compound on that the Soul Society was under attack by the Bount, making it even more difficult to recuperate their losses."
"With this, there will be an even longer delay in any form of interference the 13 Court Guard Squads can possibly pose," said Tosen.
"How long until we can go on the offensive," Grimmjow asked.
"Hogyoku is currently in a dormant state," Gin replied, "It'll take awhile until we can fully utilize the Hogyoku."
"Not necessarily Gin," Aizen interrupted, "I have been able to bypass that small inconvenience and can use it to create more arrancars, though with limitations."
"So what exactly are we waiting for?" Luffy asked.
"I'm interested in Ichigo Kurosaki's growth," Aizen said with a grin. "Our offensive will come soon. In fact, everything is falling into place very nicely. Just indulge my curiosities a little longer and you'll get some action."
Luffy was trembling with excitement over the thought of fighting some strong opponents. He has been hearing talk about the Soul Society and its 13 Court Guard Squads and has been dying of anticipation to fight them.
The meeting ended fairly quickly as it was only a routine update and a debriefing for Luffy and the new Espadas. The chamber doors opened and all the Espadas stepped out to retire for the night. Or just to rest as there is no actual "night" in Hueco Mundo. Luffy wanted to talk to Aizen for a bit, so after he broke up the fight between Sanji and Zoro he proceeded to walk towards Aizen. "You seem prepared with spare Espadas should anything happen to the line-up."
"Preparation is essential to strategy," Aizen said. "I recall you having a good relationship with Neliel. But what's done is done, I have plans to make and it isn't my fault what happens internally with the Espadas."
Luffy said nothing more and returned to his corridor with Sanji and Zoro. The entire gang was there and Luffy decided to grab their attention. Everyone, including the giant goat and lion, were listening.
"Guys," Luffy began, "Aizen says that it's almost time for the big fight with the Soul Society."
To this, Zoro began to grin as he, along with Sanji and Franky were anticipating the day they would fight the Soul Society. Nami on the other hand was dreading the day that it would come. Nami nervous asked "When does he plan to start everything?"
Ussop threw out his chest and said vehemently "W-Well, you can always count on me Luffy," Ussop said, "I'm just itching to fight those guys."
"Is that why your legs are trembling?" Sanji asked. True to those words, Ussop's legs were shaking badly, but to the contrary, Ussop was feeling fear.
"Well however long Aizen intends to wait until we go on the attack, we won't wait that long," Luffy said. He turned around to show the we're-going-on-an-adventure-look. "We're going to fight them anyway."
Everyone knew that when their captain had that look on his face they couldn't change his mind. So they just had to grin and bear it, they were going to the Soul Society no matter what.
"Get Merry and Sunny ready," Luffy ordered. "We're headin' out."
To be continued…