Sorry for the severe lack of updates for almost a year! I hadn't really been getting into Naruto and Bleach for some time now, especially after the manga for these two series started delving into a direction that I don't quite like, and from being one of the top of my favourite list, both Bleach and Naruto have gone right down to the bottom.

Anyway, here is the anticipated update. And to answer some questions, no, this story won't be ending after the zanpakuto arc. I'll still continue it.

Warnings: AU Universe. Some character bashing. OC characters.

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto and Bleach or any of the characters, but the OC characters belongs to me


Chapter Seventeen: Raging Flame

"They've found the Sotaichou?" Hinata echoed, careful to keep her voice down because of her sleeping boyfriend who is currently in one of the rooms of the Fourth Division headquarters.

It had been nearly a week or so since the Tenth Division's captain's battle with his zanpakuto, and he is still out cold in the infirmary for overuse of his reiatsu. As for said zanpakuto, no one could make Hyourinmaru leave his wielder's side for more than ten minutes, which makes it difficult for the Fourth Division's medics to change the drip in Hitsugaya's arm, and to change his bandages.

Neji who had just entered the infirmary with Shikamaru nodded grimly. The Hyuuga knew that that is where he will find his cousin, since she hadn't left Hitsugaya's side for anything apart from patrol missions and meals. The zanpakutos of the two shinigamis involved were also seen talking seriously about something. But what exactly, no one who knows was telling.

"It's that Yoruichi woman who had brought the information." Shikamaru drawled. "I was there with Kyoraku-taichou when she told him, Ukitake-taichou, Zaraki-taichou and Kusajishi-fukutaichou about it. Mind you, it's not really confirmed news however. She just thinks that it might be where the Sotaichou is being confined, as she had sensed presences of his reiatsu there."

"And just where is this place?" Hinata asked with a twitch of her eye.

"In a cavern not far from Soul Society." Neji answered. "The captains have already gone on ahead. Some of the other lieutenants are also heading towards there, along with Kurosaki. We're just about to make our way there too. Itachi-san and Temari would both be staying here though. Someone needs to hold down the fort for the lieutenants."

Hinata frowned. "Well then, I'm—"

"—staying here." A voice interrupted, and all three shinigamis turned around only to see Shiki entering the room with Hyourinmaru close behind her, acting rather like her shadow. The two zanpakutos have vacated the room when Hinata had first entered, retreating to the rooftop to talk about who-knows-what.

"Shiki." The three shinigamis in the room echoed.

Shiki sighed. "Sorry, but I need Hinata to stay here for awhile."

Shikamaru frowned. "Why?"

Shiki and Hyourinmaru exchanged looks before turning back to the three shinigamis in the room. "Because Hyourinmaru and I have been talking with some of the others who had their senses back." Shiki started. "We think that we might have a solution to deal with the Muramasa affair without killing him." The three shinigamis in the room exchanged looks. "And furthermore, you need a plan to deal with Ryuujin Jakka too, don't you?" Shiki asked wryly. "Trust me, no zanpakuto here wants to fight against the most powerful fire zanpakuto in existence. And if the Sotaichou ever finds himself separated from his zanpakuto, then things will get ugly…fast."

"I doubt that Sasuke would agree with that statement of yours." Neji said with a grin.

Almost as if he was in the room with them, all five present could almost hear his voice, sounding almost as if he was pouting, "Not true! I'm the most powerful fire zanpakuto in existence!"

Hyourinmaru coughed politely. "Anyway, the only zanpakutos currently able to deal with Ryuujin Jakka should he ever go on a rampage are just me and Tsukiyomi here. And that is only if we both work together," he explained.

Shiki sighed. "Anyway, we just need Hinata to stay here for some time. Don't worry, we'll be going over there too ourselves once Toushirou wakes up." She glanced at the currently unconscious Tenth Division captain.

Hinata glanced at her best friend. She knew the redhead well enough by now to know that she's got something up her sleeve. And if she wants Hinata to stay here, that must either mean that she needs to show Hinata something that Neji and Shikamaru can't see, or she wants to tell Hinata something that isn't meant for outsiders' ears.

The blue haired girl turned towards the two other shinigamis in the room. "Sorry, but I'll be right over. Why don't you both take a few of the others with you, and go on ahead first?" she suggested. "We'll be right over as soon as we're done here."

Shikamaru nodded. "All right. Then we'll go on ahead," he said. "Come on, Neji."

Neji nodded, before the two boys then left the room. Hinata waited until the sounds of their footsteps have faded away before turning to Shiki and Hyourinmaru with an expecting look. "Okay, what is it?" she asked. "I know you both well enough by now that if you asked that of me, that must mean that you either had an idea about this whole situation, or you want to show me something that isn't meant for outsiders' eyes." She looked at Shiki as she added the last part.

Shiki huffed. "Well, both reasons actually," she said, much to Hinata's surprise. The redhead exchanged looks with Hyourinmaru who nodded. "We know that the shinigamis planned to…eliminate Muramasa, right?" Hinata nodded slowly. "Can…the shinigamis let us handle him?" Hinata looked surprised, and Shiki had a sour look on her face. "Not that I feel very happy with him for brainwashing all of us the way he did and forcing us to fight against our partners. It's just…" She sighed, turning back to Hinata. "He's a zanpakuto. Let the zanpakutos take care of our own."

"His wielder is this Kouga person, right?" Hinata mused, and Shiki nodded. She frowned. "Hey Shiki. What happens to a zanpakuto who had lost their master?"

Hyourinmaru and Shiki exchanged pained looks. "They lose their minds," said the redhead wearily. "And go on a rampage. That's the fate that awaits all those zanpakutos who have lost their masters when they've killed them. No zanpakuto can live long without a master."

"Is…this the fate that will fall upon Muramasa too?" Hinata looked sad.

"Not exactly," said Hyourinmaru. "We've been talking. We think that we might have a chance to save him, even if he lose his master."

"How?"

"In Soul Society of old, the zanpakutos in those days takes on physical form, and are much more powerful than we are now," said Shiki, and Hinata nodded. She already knew that from the text that she'd read in the Restricted Section. "But after that…tragedy, the remaining zanpakutos sealed majority of their powers off just so that they can remain in their sealed states – in sword form."

Hinata frowned. She did find it strange for some time that the zanpakutos that have taken physical form are much more powerful than they are usually. Especially back when Hinata herself has to fight Shiki. She knew about the abilities and powers of Tsukiyomi. But when Shiki was fighting her, Hinata felt that she seems to be much more powerful than usual.

"In their physical forms, the zanpakutos are more powerful?" Hinata guessed, and Shiki nodded.

"Because in our sealed states, it isn't just us who are using our powers. We are loaning our powers to our partners – our wielders." Hyourinmaru explained. "We can handle the full burnt of our powers. But our wielders can't. And in our physical states, we can unleash our full power."

"Zanpakutos are not much different from shinigamis. The only difference is that our abilities differs from each other." Shiki explained. "No two zanpakutos are the same. And in the old days, zanpakutos are born and grew up like any normal shinigami or human. And when their powers are matured enough, they chose their wielders – a partner that can handle their power. But after the tragedy, the few zanpakutos that are left chose to seal themselves away."

"And it became the system that we now know today." Hinata muttered, glancing at the sword by her side. Shiki nodded.

"Frankly speaking, I won't say that Muramasa has no fault in this entire affair," said Shiki with a sigh. "But the trouble only begun because certain shinigamis are too pig-headed and bigoted to think outside the box." Hinata winced at that barb. "And if there is anyone to blame for this, it's his master. The zanpakuto has no control over what their wielder uses their power for. If we want to…help Muramasa, there is one way."

XXXXXX

The familiar white ceiling of the Fourth Division headquarters was the first thing that came to sight the moment Hitsugaya Toushirou had opened his eyes, and he groaned.

How many times does this makes now? He had been such a frequent visitor to the Fourth Division that several of his comrades had joked that he seems to like it there so much that he might as well reserve a bed there for his own usage. Was it his fault that he tends to encounter enemies that seems to want his blood all the time?

"You're awake, Shirou?" A gentle voice asked from his bedside, and Toushirou turned only to see a certain blue haired shinigami sitting beside him.

"Hinata…" Toushirou rasped, as he tried to sit up. "How long have I been out?"

"About a week." Hinata replied. "Are you well enough to enter battle now?" She enquired, and Toushirou nodded. "Then let's go. Apparently, we've found the Sotaichou's general location. Let's put this to an end." Her eyes gleamed as Toushirou got out of bed slowly, reaching for his clothes. "After all, no one makes a fool out of my zanpakuto and me and gets away with it!"

XXXXXX

"Uh oh…" Nara Shikamaru muttered as the giant balls of fire closed in on a panicked Kurosaki Ichigo who is just one moment away from exiting the cavern and going after Muramasa.

Things had taken a severe turn for the worst.

The captains from the Eleventh, Eighth and Thirteenth Divisions, along with Shikamaru, Neji, Ichigo and that Yoruichi woman have headed to the cavern where Yoruichi had pinpointed the Sotaichou's general location. And Shikamaru still has no idea just how things have escalated to this point where they are now facing a rampaging Ryuujin Jakka who seems rather determined to cook them all alive.

"Water! Water! We need some water here! Or even ice!" Neji started looking in several directions at once as if a miracle would somehow hand itself to him. He then groaned. "Where in the world is Hitsugaya-taichou when you need him?"

Almost as if in response to Neji's panicked question, a voice rang out just then above Ichigo's panicked yells.

"Soten ni zase, Hyourinmaru!"

Another voice spoke at the same time as the first.

"Kagayaku, Tsukiyomi!"

A barrier made out of golden light surrounded the bewildered shinigamis just then, giving them some protection against the rampaging flames, as a similar barrier surrounded a currently airborne Kurosaki Ichigo. The temperature of the surroundings dropped several degrees as a humongous ice dragon swooped downwards with a loud cry, piercing through the ball of fire with its own body, vanquishing the flames.

The barriers surrounding the shinigamis and Ichigo vanished just then, and Hitsugaya Toushirou as well as Hyuuga Hinata and their individual zanpakutos dropped down into the cavern, looking none the worse for wear.

"Toushirou! Hinata-san!" Ichigo gasped as they fell downwards towards the cavern.

"Sorry we're late." Toushirou stated.

"Hitsugaya-taichou! Have you recovered from your injuries?" Ukitake questioned.

"Yeah." Toushirou nodded. "But never mind me." He glanced warily at the huge ball of flames surrounding them. There is only one zanpakuto that he knew of that could do this – when even the ice abilities of his Hyourinmaru could not overpower easily. "Is this flame…?"

"Yeah." Kyoraku sighed. "It's Yama-jii's Ryuujin Jakka."

Hinata sighed. "We are in deep trouble," she muttered.

"You've said it." Neji sighed.

"I never thought that this would happen to the Sotaichou's zanpakuto!" Hitsugaya growled, clicking his tongue in frustration. The Sotaichou's zanpakuto is the most powerful fire based zanpakuto in existence, and it isn't good news for them if Ryuujin Jakka is under Muramasa's control as well.

"Where's Muramasa?" Shiki enquired, seeing no sign of that panda-eyes zanpakuto anywhere.

"Muramasa…" Ichigo trailed off slowly, a look of unease on his face. "He's heading for Karakura Town!" He met with Shiki's eyes, the latter who had a look of slight shock on her face. And apparently, this is news to both Toushirou and Hinata as well, as the two shinigamis looked as if they have just swallowed a lemon. "He plans on reviving his shinigami master there."

"His master?" Toushirou sounds very confused. After all, he had still been unconscious in the Fourth Division when Hinata and Shiki have both told Ukitake and Kyoraku what they've found out in the Restricted Section. Though for obvious reasons, they have withheld the information of the exact location where they've found said information.

"Hinata, it is as you've said." Ukitake said with a sigh. "Muramasa's true motive is indeed to unseal his master."

"And I guess you could say that we're in deep trouble." Kyoraku commented, adjusting his bamboo hat.

"And with the flames of Ryuujin Jakka surrounding us, there isn't much we can do to escape from here either." Neji pointed out.

"This is an emergency." Yamamoto spoke up, a grim look on his face. "First, we must focus on helping Kurosaki Ichigo escape from here."

"Huh?" There were question marks almost floating above Ichigo's head at this point of time.

"Ichigo, if you feel responsible for this, go and stop Muramasa yourself." Hinata told him. "Though I'll ask that you leave Muramasa's fate to the zanpakutos themselves." She added, glancing at Shiki and Hyourinmaru. "He is still a zanpakuto, one of them. Let the zanpakutos decide his fate."

Hyourinmaru and Shiki both nodded at that.

"All right." Ichigo nodded, a look of renewed determination upon his face.

"All right." Toushirou looked at Hinata who nodded, and both shinigamis then readied their swords. The rest of the shinigamis backed away to give the two some room. "Bankai!" A surge of reiatsu surrounded Toushirou before he is covered in ice, with a pair of ice wings sprouting from his back. "Daiguren Hyourinmaru!"

"Bankai!" Hyourinmaru commanded as a sudden surge of reiatsu and ice surrounded him, and when it had died down, he had then taken on the form of a humongous ice dragon with red eyes.

Hinata looked at Shiki who nodded. "Kagayaku." Shiki commanded, with an influx of reiatsu surrounding the entire cavern. "Six Pillars of Heaven!"

Six large white pillars of light then dropped down from the skies, giving them some shelter against the raging flames even as Hyourinmaru took towards the top where the flames are at its strongest. Automatically, even as Hyourinmaru looked about to exit from the cavern, tendrils of flames reached out to grab him. With a loud roar, those flames were soon frozen by ice. Hyourinmaru then followed up with a particularly powerful attack by freezing the flames.

"Go!" Hinata told Ichigo who nodded and took off towards the top of the cavern, escaping through the ice pathway that Toushirou and Hyourinmaru have both made for him, the barrier that Shiki had formed buying him more extra time. The orange haired teen made it through the flames just before the ice melted and the barrier was broken.

"We're counting on you, Ichigo-kun." Ukitake muttered.

"He'll be all right, Ukitake-taichou." Neji told the white haired captain. "But let's deal with things on our side first."

"He's right." Kyoraku nodded.

"It's about high time I punished my katana." Yamamoto commented as he held his stick to eye level, with the stick dispersing away to reveal his zanpakuto.

"It's up to you now, Ichigo." Hinata murmured.

"Yare yare. Guess I better help out as well." Shiki sighed as she moved her left hand slowly. "Please close your eyes. Don't open them until I tell you to do so." She asked politely, glancing at the other shinigamis who immediately obeyed without asking why. "Kagayaku." The command fell easily from Shiki's lips. "Kurayami no naka no kugeki."

Like stars falling from the skies, little twinkling objects started falling downwards towards the cavern, though in more tremendous numbers as compared to the time when Shiki had used this technique on Soukyouku Hill.

The redhead is aiming to blind Ryuujin Jakka here.

"Shika, a little help here would be much appreciated!" Shiki called to Shikamaru who decided to brave it by cracking an eye opened, and he was surprised to see that the flames weren't nearly as strong as before.

Just what the hell did Shiki do to the fire zanpakuto?

"I got you." Shikamaru yawned, drawing his blade out. "Scatter the Illusions of Life, Tenkou!"

There was a loud boom.


Seireitei was in chaos when they got back, all looking quite frazzled and untidy.

A panicking Fourth Division member had then told them that a group of Menos have appeared in Karakura Town, and it had gotten so bad that a rip had appeared in space, thus creating a portal of some sort between the world of the living and Hueco Mundo.

Currently, the shinigamis on standby are now preparing to move out and to head towards Karakura Town to take care of the threat.

When Shiki had heard that, the first thing that she had done is to head straight towards the Twelfth Division laboratories where Kurotsuchi had been working on the 'brainwashing' done to the zanpakutos that they have managed to capture.

Luckily, no shinigami was in there, let alone a certain Twelfth Division captain, but majority of the zanpakutos that were in there were just lounging around, and they looked up as Shiki entered. Sode no Shirayuki stared at her in surprise.

"Tsukiyomi-san? What is—?"

"Have you gathered back your senses?" Shiki asked, cutting Sode no Shirayuki off. Seeing the confused looks on the faces of her fellow zanpakutos, she sighed. "If you've gathered your senses back, join up with your partners now. There's a situation in the world of the living by the name of Muramasa, and we're going to go assist…"