So, for a while now I've been trying to collect some demographics on my readerbase. I had two alternating polls up, asking two different things. Age and gender.
Well, most of my readers fall in the college-age range, though there are plenty of high school kids and slightly older than college age people here too.
Unsurprisingly, my readerbase is a sausage fest of dudes! Well, if you're a girl, then congratulations! You're special, because only 10% of my readers are female. If you're a dude, well, you're not special!
Chapter 59: Tiburón, Lobo, Pantera, Murciélago
A tidal wave of water cascaded onto the battlefield as Harribel activated her second release. Kushina was impressed; she didn't think the girl had it in her to produce such a high-level reiatsu. What was her rank again amongst the Espada? Fifth? Naruto had found himself some very powerful allies.
Harribel was in the center of it all, engulfed in a ball of water at the center of her release. Another wave broke off and nearly drowned Kushina, but it missed her by just a few feet.
After that, Harribel emerged from the center of the water. She was somewhat different than her previous incarnation.
She was dressed skimpily before, but her second release toned down even more on the amount of "clothing" that she wore. Her bony shark "skirt" had been toned down to nothing more than a line of bone covering her womanhood, and her breasts were almost completely out in full display, her nipples being covered by nothing more than two bony dots.
Her massive shark sword was gone at this point, but her arm and leg guards remained in place, though they were slightly larger and seemed a bit more protective. In both of her hands, she clutched a miniature version of her blade, her hands grasping firmly around the handle, and the face of the blade pointing at Kushina.
"Aguja..." she whispered, squeezing down the twin handles on her shark blades. Highly pressurized water came shooting from the edge of the shark blades, jettisoning like a needle at deadly speeds at Kushina.
It was almost like a laser, and as Kushina got out of the way, it cut a fine hole into the stone ground in that it hit, with an intense amount of accuracy and precision.
She fired twin streams of Aguja, creating twin cutters that surged towards Kushina at opposite angles, attempting to close her in and slice her to bits. The Captain saw this, and used Shunpo to hang around in mid-air for a moment while the streams passed.
Meanwhile, Harribel had flashed out of existence using Sonido. She was a great deal faster in her Segunda Etapa.
"She's harder to keep up with. Where is she..." Kushina asked herself, eyes scanning the battlefield for any signs of the Quinta. There was then a flash from behind her, and Harribel had formed a highly pressurized blade of water from the tip of her blade.
The Quinta cut into Kushina's shoulder, but Kushina raised the default form of her Zanpakutou up in time to be able to block the full attack. Nevertheless, she was getting roughed up in the fight now, and the momentum was beginning to shift in Harribel's favor. She hoped she wouldn't have to use her Bankai to finish the fight, especially in such an unstable environment.
"Ryuuketsu Odori!" Kushina roared, twirling the whip above her head. Harribel raised another eyebrow as Kushina began dancing about in an erratic pattern, swinging her whip around.
Yet, on the inside, this display was one of precision and no wasted movements. Kushina fluttered through the air, her whip at her side, wasting no time in attempting to strike Harribel multiple times with her whip.
Harribel was a bit too fast at this point to fall for such a simple trick, and every strike Kushina attempted to perform was countered by a blast of water from the tip of Harribel's blade.
"La Gota..." Harribel muttered, firing another one in Kushina's direction. The woman boiled away the water using manipulation of the blood puddle. That was a pretty basic attack for such an advanced Arrancar.
Harribel just seemed to view that attack as a distraction, however, as she once again tried to go for the close-quarters combat against Kushina, appearing in front of her and trying to draw her away from the puddle of blood. She seemed to know that it was her lifeforce during her released state.
And with the way things were going, it looked like Harribel was putting enough distance between her and the puddle of blood. Her strikes were quick and strong, and she put her body in between her and Kushina's Shikai, so if the woman wanted to get there, she would have to pass through Harribel first.
Harribel continued to swing her shark sword, with Kushina dodging every step of the way. She was getting forced back, but luckily there was a point where Harribel fired twin jets of water that Kushina was able to front vault directly over. She shot out with a kick to Harribel's back, which was near useless against the Quinta's Hierro, but the point was clear. She could get right back over to the puddle without Harribel obstructing her.
"I get it now. My Shikai is very limited when it comes to fighting you. You will inevitably attempt to draw me away from this the radius where I can control my Shikai. It is the main weakness of my Zanpakutou. And your attacks are far too strong and quick for me to fight while stationary. This is why..." she trailed off.
"What will you do now then?" Harribel asked.
"I will take this battle to the next level..." Kushina said ominously. She walked directly into the middle of the puddle, to the point where blood was soaking the bottom of her shoes. Her body and the blood glowed a deep red.
Several droplets of blood rose up from within the depths of the puddle, passing and framing Kushina's face as they rose into the sky. Soon, it became a torrent, and the blood droplets defied gravity. It was like a torrent of rain pouring into the sky from the ground, with Kushina standing in the exact center of the storm.
She thrust her arms out, drenching herself even further in the blood. The blood was bending itself around her, cloaking her in a wet, bloody shawl, it almost looked like.
"Akashi no Hanawa..."
The puddle was now covering Kushina's entire body, save for her face. It was a robe in a way with the flowing blood and hood, and she looked like a divine goddess of death ready to reap the souls of the damned. Fitting for the former Jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi.
Harribel, normally the picture of stoicism, even felt a bead of sweat run down her cheek. She shakily rose her sword over the intimidating demon goddess in front of her, and she mustered up the strength to attack.
"I will give you five seconds to repent..." Kushina said eerily, her blood cloak flowing. Harribel fired a jet of pressurized water at Kushina, but the blood cloak was even hotter than before. It was scalding, and the water boiled away before it could even touch Kushina.
Kushina looked solemn, before she reached out a long, blood-cloaked arm towards Harribel. The female Arrancar winced as the appendage slowly came towards her, but she easily used Sonido to get away.
"Pantano!" she yelled, for once in her life losing her cool. She crossed her twin blades, producing a massive stream of water from their tips that shot forward like a tidal wave.
Kushina regarded the crashing wave rapidly coming down upon her coolly, even as its crest threatened to overtake her. Using Shunpo, she simply leapt into the air, coming down on the top of the crest and boiling a portion of it away. She was standing upon the water.
Harribel fired another war drop, though Kushina simply reached out her hand and boiled the water without a second thought. Harribel just hung out in the air for a few seconds longer, before Kushina spoke.
Kushina had used her Bankai's special ability, and it was somewhat similar to Harribel's Pantano. The cloak rose off of Kushina's body, jettisoning out like a tidal wave of boiling blood. Kushina stood at the crest, once again looking like a goddess prepared to perform judgement on the heathen Hollows.
Harribel grunted as the tidal wave of blood engulfed her, crashing down onto the stone bridge below, bringing the Quinta Espada along with the tidal wave. Kushina did not even blink.
Once again cloaked, Kushina practically floated back down onto the stone bridge as the boiling wave of blood dissipated, and Harribel was left in a broken state in the aftermath.
It was a grisly affair.
The blood had practically boiled her alive, even getting past the Arrancar's strong Hierro defenses. She was literally steaming as her flesh was cooked underneath the intense heat, and there were several cracks in whatever plating she had left in wake of her second release.
Yet, the look on her face was not one of complete agony. She was brushing off the pain as if it were nothing, trying to approach her inevitable death with some kind of dignity.
Kushina regarded her coolly, showing no signs of either pity or triumph on her face. She wasn't one to bask in Harribel's defeat, especially not when the situation was so dire.
"Y-You win... After all these years, it looks like my time serving Naruto has come to an end. Hurry... you have beaten me, and have earned the right to see Naruto. Now please... leave me..." Harribel stated.
Kushina's Bankai cloak faded, and she once again did not say another word. She didn't even bother with finishing off Harribel as well, but with those wounds, the Quinta would be dead soon enough.
All that was left now was for her husband to finish. Maybe she would need to assist him...
Minato had been having a little bit of a tougher time fighting Starrk than his wife had fighting Harribel. The two combatants were fairly even with Starrk in his release and Minato using his Shikai, but the Arrancar had just opened up the window a little bit more.
It had all started when Starrk's reiatsu began to spike, and the ends of his guns began to glow with his usual light-blue reiatsu. He mentioned that it was time to use the "wolves", but Minato didn't know what that meant.
Until the emissions of reiatsu from out the back of his guns began to take on shapes and sizes. They were a metallic, silvery-blue when it came to color, but what was more interesting is what they resembled.
"Wolves?" Minato told himself, watching the lupine balls of energy before him. He could tell already that they were not real wolves, instead simply being constructs made of reiryoku. But he still didn't even know what they did.
"That's right. But you don't need to know about them behind the fact that they're my faithful companions. Everything else will become clear to you in due time..." Starrk said, pointing a pistol at him.
The wolves then attacked.
They rushed Minato in a fairly predictable manner, but Starrk didn't send all of them to attack at once. Nevertheless, Minato took his stance to meet them mid-way, swinging his Shikai to offset them.
A few of them tried to bite his ankles, but he avoided them by slicing clean through one that was heading directly at him from the front. The other two crashed into each other head-on as Minato stepped forward, but they were acting strange now.
They were starting to deform out of their lupine shape and reform back into the blue reiryoku that they were before. But, the strange sound that came with it was very familiar to Minato.
He had fallen right into their trap. When he had cut the wolf, it emitted a blast not unlike a Cero which nearly caught up Minato in its range. When he stepped back, the two that had run into each other also exploded into their former Cero form, which created twice the blast and singed Minato's back when he was caught off guard.
And the next pack of them was already heading after him, even before he recovered fully.
The group of ten or so wolves were running at him in mid-air, each of them branching out when they got too close to him. Minato considered slicing them once again, but with the way they exploded upon contact, he figured that wasn't the smartest thing for him to do.
Perhaps he should go straight to the source?
Starrk seemed to be contemplating something as he sent his wolves out to attack, because he didn't seem to be paying any attention to the way Minato was battling.
That allowed Minato himself to get the drop on Starrk, but the Tercera Espada wouldn't go down that easily.
"Whoa there..." Starrk said, jumping backwards to avoid the strike from Minato. Minato had assumed that in order to control the wolves, Starrk had to be relatively focused and motionless, but clearly that wasn't the case.
Creating the wolves had a bit of a drawback though, in the form that Starrk couldn't exactly use his pistols for regular Ceros at this point, at least until he dispelled the wolves completely.
"As I thought..." Minato said to himself, attacking Starrk once more.
"As you thought... what?" Starrk asked, none too amused as he avoided another strike from Minato's Shikai. Minato seemed to be fully focused on him right now, for better or for worse, but he couldn't rely on Starrk being this defensive for very long.
"I thought it was strange that you were just standing there while you created these wolves. When they attacked me, you did not attempt to shoot me with your pistol or try any other technique that you might have up your sleeve. Which can only mean one thing..."
Starrk didn't say anything.
"When you create these wolves, anything else you try to do with those pistols is disabled, and you are left near helpless."
If Starrk was worried that Minato supposedly figured out his big weakness when using the wolves, he didn't show it. He was adept enough to avoid anything that Minato was able to throw at him for the time being, but he also proved he could more than fight back when he directed one of the wolves to get directly in between himself and the Fifth Division's Captain.
"What's your point?" he said. In fact, one of the things that Minato noticed while fighting with the wolves was that Lilynette was no longer speaking. Was she necessary to use the pistols?
"I hope you don't plan to keep this up for very long. We're doing nothing but wasting each others' time if you're trying to attack me with such a simple strategy..." Starrk said. Minato didn't say anything, but he held his free hand out as if he were making an incantation.
"Bakudo #63: Sajou Sabaku!"
Starrk instantly knew what Minato was trying to do. With the wolves constantly getting in the way and Minato trying to get him with his Shikai, Starrk's moving about was making that difficulty. Hence, the use of Bakudo would rectify that problem.
Too bad it was fairly easy to see through.
What Minato tried was a fairly stable Bakudo spell to try and bind him in place within a medium such as a wall. That meant that a spell like Sajou Sabaku would allow for a long, yellow coil of reiryoku to bind Starrk in place.
If the Tercera would remain stationary, this is.
"Bakudo #63: Sajou Sabaku!"
Now, it wasn't making much sense to Starrk.
"Bakudo #63: Sajou Sabaku!"
Minato was going to wear himself down at this point.
"Bakudo #63: Sajou Sabaku!"
When the fourth coil of Bakudo magic was a little bit different than the rest of them, Starrk finally figured out what Minato's plan was. The coil from the Bakudo and the energy trail that Minato's sword made when he swung it were the exact same shade of yellow.
When Minato had been chanting Kidou, he had swung his sword faster than Starrk could pick up, and there were now a little more than a dozen coils of "kidou" heading straight toward him.
And he couldn't afford to get hit by any one of them. At best, he would be bound by the coil of yellow "rope", and at worst he would take damage from one of Minato's sword strikes.
He used his wolves to keep Minato's attacks at bay, but he was making more, and the wolves could only work for so long when he had such a limited number of them. Eventually, he would have to pull out and make some more.
He stepped onto the ground, and made his first error when a yellow coil that had been in Starrk's blind spot wrapped around his ankle, before going up his body and binding him.
"Starrk! What did you do?" Lilynette said, finally back in the pistol after having her soul split for the wolves. Starrk grit his teeth, before slapping the pistol against his head.
"Just shut up and start firing! The wolves didn't work, and it looks like we may need to go into our second stage!" Starrk called.
"What?! Do we have to?!" Lilynette whined, as Minato touched down right beside them, his sword still out as if he were poised to give the finishing blow to the Arrancar.
"What were you just discussing?" he asked. "I hope it doesn't involve trying to escape. I'm sorry, but I'm afraid I've already used up enough time as it is. I need to see my son..." he said.
"Don't worry..." Starrk said. "This won't take much more time. I can assure of you of that..."
"I'm not going to let you take any chances on this. The time for conversation is over. You have been caught. Surrender quietly and lead me to Naruto and you will be let off easy..." Minato said, giving an ultimatum.
"Man, that would be just so great right now. If I surrender to you, I could be back at home right now taking a nap. I'm serious; this fighting stuff doesn't jive with me. Anything that gets me out of more fighting would be a plus in my book. But..." he trailed off, after that long-dreaded "but".
"I don't think I can do that right now. The boss is in the middle of the "crowning achievement of his life", even if it doesn't really do it for me. I can't just sit by and let you walk all over me right now..."
"I won't let you!" Minato roared, preparing to take a swing at Starrk. He was much too late.
"Resurrección: Segunda Etapa: Los Lobos!" Starrk cried, cracking his right pistol against his head. There was an explosion of light-blue reiatsu as the pistol began to lose its shape.
With the reiatsu increasing, the kidou that Minato had Starrk underneath could no longer withhold a fully released Tercera Espada, and the binds gave way. The reiatsu was strong enough to give Minato the chills, and it wasn't done growing just yet.
Minato wasn't surprised that Starrk had a second release under his sleeve, but he was kicking himself for hesitating far too much when it came to having Starrk captive.
That feeling increased doubly when he felt Starrk's reiatsu split into something completely different. He knew that the Arrancar mentioned that in order to release, his other half joined with him for them to become one. Did his second release split them apart again?
"What's the meaning of this? If your second release just gets rid of your pistols with no other apparent changes, then I don't see how you're supposed to have gotten stronger from it," he mentioned to Starrk, who was just standing there, gunless.
"I will show you what happens when the wolf becomes the rider..." That was the only thing that Starrk said to his opponent.
When Minato took his eyes off Starrk, there was a flash of movement. Just like how Lilynette had disappeared into a burst of reiatsu when she and Starrk released their Zanpakutou, she reappeared in one when they activated their second release.
"Huh?" Minato asked himself. Lilynette was now a little bit... different. Yet, Minato wasn't even able to register anything like that, because before he knew it, he had gotten kicked in the face by what seemed to be a strong set of hooves.
The former Hokage flew backwards, his durability working wonders for him, but he was still unable to avoid minor injuries to the face. Whatever had hit him was fast. Fast enough to get the jump on the reflexes of a powerful Captain, as well as deliver a strong blow to the face.
"Starrk! You know I don't like it when we do this!" That was Lilynette's voice.
The gunless Starrk didn't seem surprised.
"Just deal with it for a while. We need to go into this state if we want to win..."
Starrk was looking at Lilynette, but Minato saw where the clear changes went to with regards to the pair's second release.
Lilynette was not a pair of pistols anymore. If anything, this looked like something that could be considered a normal Resurrección for her.
In fact, Lilynette looked like the very definition of a centaur, but those weren't the only changes.
For starters, she was large. Very large, like the size of an incredibly large horse from back in the human world. Her horse-like half was pure white in color, from the clear Hollow armor. A light green tail, the same color as her hair, had grown out of her rear end.
Her human half was striking as well. Gone was the little girl who had clearly been the load of the pair of Espada, and in its place was a girl who seemed to be in late teens, with all the development that that entailed as well.
Her womanly face not withstanding, the mask fragment she wore when unreleased was completely gone now, and her strange colored hair had grown much longer, framing down her sides. The only clothing she wore was a black band that covered her torso, and the elbow bands that were on her arms.
It was clear the purpose she formed, when Starrk climbed upon her back as if she were a mount.
"Okay, let's do this... Starrk," she told her other half, Starrk's "clothes" giving him the very impression of a cowboy on a horse, yet he was the wolf who had become the rider.
The pistols that she had once been were in holsters along her side, and Starrk drew one of them, keeping a grip on Lilynette's hair as a sort of reign. If she was uncomfortable, she didn't show it.
"An interesting combination..." Minato said. He was already getting up to fight, his Shikai waving around. Starrk didn't say anything, keeping a grip on Lilynette as he starting rapid firing Ceros.
Seven of them impacted the ground before Minato, but a quick Shunpo had saved him from being blasted by them. Starrk saw where he was going to go before Minato even knew it, and Lilynette was fast. Fastly approaching where Minato had telegraphed his movements.
Lilynette tried to snap out with a vicious kick with her hooves, but Minato swung, and Starrk corralled her at the last second before the hooves were loped off, and fired three quick bursts of Cero.
They were blocked by Minato, and Lilynette reared back. The Ceros were somehow stronger in this form than they were before, and Lilynette was as mobile as could be.
Minato sensed an apparent weakness in the tandem attack of the two: Lilynette's legs. With stunning speed, he surprised Lilynette, attempting to hack off her front legs.
But Starrk was clearly the brains of the operation, and was determined to keep him at bay.
"Kami no Kyuutai!" Minato responded, summoning the ball of light from her sword once again. Minato was unprepared for the onslaught of Ceros that came out of Starrk's gun, but he split the Deity's Orb into multiple fragments, and used those to intercept many of the Ceros.
Minato once again found himself on the defensive as it became clear that his Deity's Orbs were nowhere near enough to stop the multitude of Ceros that were heading his way, and the Captain found himself forced to use his highest level Shunpo to begin avoiding them all.
"Isn't this unfair?" Minato called back to the mounted Starrk.
"No, it's not. If you get to use those orbs of yours, then I get to use this technique..." he fired back. The attack was overkill though, as it seemed that he was firing hundreds of Cero from just one pistol.
It took his strongest Shunpo, but Minato managed to make it out of that storm of Cero without even being singed by one of the deadly beams, though it was a true testament to how advanced his flash steps actually were.
Minato looked beyond the battlefield. The bridge they were standing on was large enough and wide enough to accommodate the level of battle he was currently fighting, and then some. Over on the other side, he had seen his wife activate her Bankai. Considering she didn't really like to do that, that female Arrancar must've been a frightening opponent.
And considering the circumstances, he might have to copy his wife.
"Don't you have something else up your sleeve?" Lilynette said. The Arrancar girl turned centaur was getting bored and tired doing her job. She wanted something else.
"Your Bankai, maybe?" she finished, and it was clear that she was goading Minato on. And he had to be the stupidest person ever, he thought to himself, because he was going to take the bait.
"Don't worry. I won't hold back any more!" Minato said.
There was an explosion of reiatsu strong enough to nearly knock Starrk off of his mount, and Lilynette reared up in surprise at the sight of the lightning-based reiatsu that nearly bowled her over when a wave of it came jolting her way.
"Kinten no Raijin..."
A pillar of thunder and lightning crashed onto the bridge, directly on top of Minato himself. He threw his Shikai up into the stream of electricity as it engulfed him, and Starrk realized that the stream of lightning wasn't harming the Fifth Division's Captain in the slightest.
In fact, Minato was riding the stream of lightning as if he were a storm deity ascending into the heavens.
"Starrk! Do something!"
Starrk didn't need to be told twice, which was surprising considering his usual motivation. With his strong pistol, he fired several shots into the stream of lightning, trying to clip Minato before he could ascend fully.
"No, you idiot! Don't just fire a few Ceros into that thing! Use one of the other techniques, and use them quickly! We're going!" Lilynette demanded, for once holding all the cards. She began galloping directly into the center, toward the stream of lightning.
It was too late, however.
The stream of lightning began to deform and disperse, and there was an explosion of reiatsu as the lightning began to take shape into something completely new.
Minato's Bankai had taken the form of a cloud of pure lightning about twenty feet in diameter that hung throughout mid-air. Minato himself was walking along it as if it were solid, neither phasing through it or being electrocuted.
Starrk didn't want to wait and find out what the effects of that thing would be on him.
"Don't just stand there like an idiot, Starrk! Use it!" Lilynette said, snapping Starrk out of his stupor while galloping around any excess lightning that may harm the two Arrancar.
"Yeah, I got it..." Starrk said, hoisting his pistol.
"Cero Cañón!" he roared, as a blip of blue light materialized at the edge of Starrk's gun. The ball of light began to expand further and further, until Starrk fired an enormous Cero from his gun that sounded exactly like a cannon being fired.
The gigantic ball of energy hurled itself towards Minato's Bankai cloud, and the Captain watched on impassively at the Tercera's feeble attempts to stop his Bankai.
"I'll give you five seconds... before passing down judgement upon you as a Shinigami..." he whispered, so low that Starrk couldn't hear him anyway. He picked up his Shikai, which was now nothing more than a hilt and a guard. But, from atop of his perch, he swung it, and any and all targets down below would get fried.
Starrk knew what was going to happen when the gigantic Cero failed to stop the cloud of lightning, even if it did create a sizable hole in it. Minato was clearly unharmed, however.
"Lilynette, I just wanted to say that I'm sorry I dragged you into this..." he said. His steed turned her neck to look at him with confusion, but he could see a bit of resignation in the normally cheerful girl's visage.
"Starrk, what are you talking about?"
"I'm just glad you could see me through all to the end. I wouldn't do this over, never again. I'm happy... that I'm not alone. I was never alone, even when I thought I was..."
Lilynette had stopped moving, and Starrk holstered his gun.
"But, we need to know when to fold 'em..."
He looked overhead, to the giant cloud that was being charged with electricity. Namikaze Minato was looking over them as if he were an angry god ready to give judgement. In a way, it was remarkably similar to Kushina's Bankai.
Within his protective cloud, Minato did something with his sword hilt, and managed to summon forth an intense bolt of lightning, which he managed to directly at the two Arrancar and single Espada.
Starrk and Lilynette felt a bright light enter their vision, followed by a burning sensation.
They did not attempt to fight it.
Shikamaru pointed out the obvious as Jiraiya attempted to hold off the Séptima Espada, with Neji backing up the former Sannin of Konoha. Shikamaru hadn't taken action yet, but at this rate, he may have to stop with the strategies and enter the fray.
"What is this stuff anyway?" the Arrancar said, pausing in his approaching to look at the substance that had gotten on his arm. His opponents were far more concerned with him, though.
He had released his Zanpakutou, and the once panther-like Hollow went back to being panther-like. Like always, his hair had grown out significantly, with his face taking on feline characteristics. He was coated in protective white armor that was slender and form-fitting, and all together gave him the appearance of a jungle cat.
"Oh, well. It can't be that important, considering you guys are about to lose!" Grimmjow guffawed, speeding around with his Sonido. The three Shinigami were on edge, this Arrancar never stopped using his superior speed to get the edge on them, and even now he was flashing around them while firing his elbow darts at them.
"Get behind me!" Jiraiya shouted, as Neji and Shikamaru did what they were told. Grimmjow fired several elbow darts at them, which Jiraiya used his sword to redirect them with some effort.
He had left an opening though, and Grimmjow used the opporunity to speed right into the middle of things, and he cracked out with a paw which connected with Jiraiya's jaw.
"Don't try to protect these weaklings!"
Those words got him a trident to the neck, but Grimmjow was far too reckless to let Neji's Shikai slow him down, and he lashed out with more paws as he took out both Neji and Shikamaru along with them.
Over on the other side, Tsunade and company were not having better luck with Nnoitra.
When the Sexta had released his Zanpakutou, he had grown another pair of arms along with two horns that looked like crescent moons. And from those arms were four sinister looking scythes that made him the pinnacle of close-quarters combat along with strong Hierro.
Yet, the Arrancar was getting very frustrated when it came to the wonders of Tsunade's Shikai. He had just inflicted a powerful wound onto Kiba once again, but thanks to the plant on his back, he was perfectly fine in no time at all.
Kiba's Shikai was a twin-bladed katana that resembled two dog's tails, but it was nothing more than a standard physical-type Zanpakutou without any special abilities. Nnoitra had had no trouble keeping Kiba at bay.
Yet when he administered more wounds to Rin and kept suffering from the sound effects of her Zanpakutou, Nnoitra had had enough. With all four of scythes swinging, he attacked Tsunade, who had been inactive the entire fight while keeping her team alive.
Minato did not feel like celebrating his victory over the apparent Tercera Espada.
He looked over at his wife, who was approaching him quickly. She had apparently finished up her battle with the Quinta Espada, in a manner similar to himself. Once they had activated their Bankai, it was over far too easily.
The battle waged on below, and Minato had to wonder when it would ever end. There were so many Hollows down there, but a member of the Royal Guard could keep them at bay for a very long time. They were just the distraction though; Naruto was probably already within the Greater Palace.
"Honey, what do we do now? Everyone else is still down there..." Kushina told him, pointed a well-manicured finger down below towards the massive horde of Hollows. A couple Espada were down there too, which meant that they were likely involved in a fight down there.
"I think you know what we need to do now... Believe in our friends, they'll be fine, but we need to go after Naruto right away. If my hunch is correct, he'll have already breached the palace by now with the time that we've already lost..."
"Didn't Ichigo-san head that way?" Kushina asked.
"You're right... If the time passed is any indication, he should've also breached the Greater Palace and confronted Naruto. However, I'm skeptical in his abilities in being able to put a stop to Naruto. I don't know how long he can hold him..."
The Greater Soul King Palace loomed ahead of them. Within there, they would find Naruto. for better or for worse. And both parents understood what they had to do now.
"Let's go, Minato..." Kushina said, already taking the lead as she bolted toward the palace. Minato hesitated for just a few seconds longer, before he took off after his wife, heading directly for the Greater Palace.
"Kurosaki Ichigo, even after years of evading us and generally being quiet in some depth of Hueco Mundo, you continue to baffle me. What would you have to gain by stopping Naruto? You have not seen anything other than the human world for over a decade..." Ulquiorra said, as Ichigo activated his Bankai right in front of him.
He had seen that familiar black cloak multiple times before, but this time Ulquiorra could tell that Ichigo's Bankai was several times more impressive than it was before.
"Let's just say... it's a personal issue," Ichigo said. "But for all that's been done to me over the years, you're not the one who has been hurting my friends. If you'd just step aside, we could end this without fighting..."
"And yet you use your Bankai the moment you see me. Your logic does not hold up, Kurosaki Ichigo. I know you would wish to fight me, but clearly you regard Naruto as the greater threat, and wish to get to him as soon as possible," Ulquiorra said.
"Nothing escapes you, Ulquiorra..."
"Quite correct. That would of course include you..."
Ulquiorra's hand casually flew to the hilt of his sword, and he drew it carefully. Usually he always started fights using his fists, similar to many of his own kind, but he had the sudden feeling that this fight was going to require much more.
"Drawing your sword already? What a special honor!" Ichigo said sarcastically. "But, I can't say it isn't smart. You'd be right not to underestimate me now. I've spent over a decade in Hueco Mundo as a Shinigami..."
"A moot point. Your kind may think that's impressive, but any Hollow with adequate survival skills could last that long with the dangers of Hueco Mundo. But enough talk..."
Ichigo took that as a cue to attack, and he did.
Ichigo started off the fight with his classic move, and frankly, Ulquiorra was disappointed. The Segunda thought that Ichigo would do more than just stagnate in his abilities during his stay in Hueco Mundo, but apparently he was wrong.
Then, the entire thing randomly got stronger.
When Ulquiorra tried to guard against the Getsuga Tenshou, Ichigo managed to change the attack in mid-swing. Notably, Ulquiorra began to feel Ichigo's spiritual pressure getting heavier as he applied force, and the area of the attack was much greater than it used to be.
Ulquiorra grunted as he was engulfed in the black Getsuga, and Ichigo stopped pressing the attack, waiting to see if Ulquiorra would use the darkness to strike unexpectedly.
Ichigo's eyes scanned the battlefield as his honed instincts picked up on movement from directly over to his right, and the clear sound of a Sonido rang out across the battlefield.
Ichigo knew that attack; it was a favorite amongst Arrancar. With Ulquiorra's enhanced Hierro, he would attempt to carve a whole straight into his opponent's chest, right over where his own Hollow hole was.
Ichigo wasn't about to let that happen, and he thrust his sword up quickly and blocked Ulquiorra's strike without even so much as flinching. He leapt over a kick from Ulquiorra's follow up, before speeding behind him.
"Getsuga Tenshou..." he whispered. This time, the effect was far more concentrated, and there was no wasted movement or reiryoku on Ichigo's part. It was smaller, but far more accurate, and it was prepared to carve its own hole in Ulquiorra.
Ulquiorra was the Segunda Espada for a reason, however. Using his sword, he practically caught the small Getsuga on the tip of his blade, and then with a flick of the wrist, he simply propelled it back at Ichigo.
Ichigo's reflexes were far too honed to fall for that, but Ulquiorra was prepared, and was already on the move once again. His analytical eyes were scanning the area, seeing how Ichigo sped across the battlefield.
When he saw the pattern, he took off using his own Sonido.
"His Bankai is faster. More importantly, his reiatsu isn't fluctuating as much anymore. There are no longer any times where it plummets or raises, and is at a fairly stable platform instead..." Ulquiorra thought. Still, it wasn't enough to stop him.
Once he was in the right position, Ulquiorra's hand reached out and charged up a green Cero, to which he released at a surprised looked Ichigo who was clearly wondering how Ulquiorra was keeping up with him.
"Hnn..." Ichigo grunted, as he pulled back as fast as he could. Ulquiorra released his fully charged Cero, and the acidic green ray flew across towards Ichigo, who knew that he was cornered.
Yet, Ichigo didn't submit, or show any signs of fear from the deadly ray heading straight for him. Instead, he reached up to his face without any hesitation, and pulled a white mask over it.
"So there it is..." Ulquiorra commented. "I've heard of stories about it, of how you're apparently able to imitate us, but this is a good chance for me to personally see it in action..."
The masked Ichigo didn't say anything, and Ulquiorra felt himself getting stared down by a familiar gaze that he was used to a long time ago. Some Hollows in Hueco Mundo preferred not to talk.
"You still perplex me, Kurosaki Ichigo. Analysis of your reiatsu would indicate that you are nowhere near the trash that you were ten years ago, but your abilities seem remarkably... stagnant. Has your time in Hueco Mundo really been so poor to you?" Ulquiorra asked.
"Why don't you see for yourself if I've stagnated?" Ichigo asked, his garbled voice sounding remarkably Hollow-like. He then struck, and Ulquiorra was taken aback by how quickly he got behind him and swung, creating a torrent of black and red reiatsu that Ulquiorra just managed to get his sword up to block.
But he didn't escape without a crack appearing on his sealed Zanpakutou.
Before anything else could happen to his Zanpakutou, he sheathed it. He wasn't even going to bother trying to block a full-powered Getsuga Tenshou with a cracked Zanpakutou, lest he risk losing it.
He used Sonido, but it was too little, too late. Fortunately for Ulquiorra, he managed to get out of the blast in time to the point where it only partially engulfed him, and his Hierro held up underneath the pressure to an extent.
His chest was starting to bleed now though, and his Arrancar robe had been ripped open slightly. And now that he had been injured, Ichigo was in no way relenting.
Ulquiorra considered drawing his sword again, but instead opted to try and block Ichigo's sword strikes with his bare hands. The instant the blade touched his skin and made minor cuts, Ulquiorra knew that the strategy was not going to work.
He pointed two fingers at Ichigo, and charged up two simultaneous Ceros which he promptly fired at Ichigo. The first one Ichigo avoided by moving to the left, and the right one he damn near sliced in half.
"It's not gonna work, Ulquiorra. Don't you think it's about time you stopped messing around? We're not going to get anywhere with you doing these reckless attacks," Ichigo said.
"Your logic doesn't hold up again, Kurosaki Ichigo. The proper way to fight in battle is to continue to press the attack if you have the advantage, but you are doing nothing more than waiting for me to increase my power..."
Ichigo lowered his sword.
"Hueco Mundo did a lot of things to me, Ulquiorra, but one of the things that it didn't do is change who I truly am. I don't like the idea of doing things unfairly, even now..."
Ulquiorra placed a hand on his sword hip, drawing it. He eyed the crack on the edge of his sword solemnly, and he knew that he was outclassed by the Shinigami in his sealed state.
"Kurosaki Ichigo, you puzzle me completely. You always continue to confuse me with your regard over such meaningless things. Even now, I am unable to grasp the concept of what a heart is. However..."
"...if you won't take advantage of your battles, then I will oblige."
Ichigo didn't change his expression underneath the mask, not even when Ulquiorra raised his Zanpakutou, and his reiatsu began to increase at a high level.
"Things are going to get destructive. Normally, Espada at my rank would not be allowed to release, but given the circumstances and the fact we are in enemy territory, I can make an exception."
"It looks like everyone's going wild down there now. Even Ulquiorra released his Zanpakutou..." Sakura chuckled, savoring the increase in reiatsu all across the dimension.
"That's to be expected. I'm worried about the Royal Guard members lurking around, and you told me that the members of this "Konoha Association" are strong. Anyway, that's not the point right now. Where's this guy hiding?" Naruto shot back.
"The Spirit King, you mean? Well, his retainers have probably told him about the impending invasion, and have urged him to take shelter in a safe place. There's a secret passage behind the throne room that leads to a special chamber, and according to your special book, it's where you need to go..." Sakura said.
There was a pause for a moment, but Sakura wasn't done talking yet.
"I'm surprised. When all the Royal Guard members take their oath and are admitted into the division, they generally know all of the secrets that the Royal Palace has to offer, and anything that the Soul King controls. Yet this... this has been kept a secret from everyone..." she trailed off. "If you pull this off..."
"I know. It's exactly the reason why the Soul King is my final, missing target. Let's go, bitch..." Naruto said. Sakura chuckled.
"Whatever you say, hun. But before we go, just remember that the Soul King is no ordinary soul. He never takes action, but as a being he is something that not even we understand. Keep that in mind..."
Naruto stared Sakura down, his red eyes boring into her green ones.
"I know everything there is to know about the Soul King. It is detailed in El Libro de Ciclos to the full extent, when the legendary Hollow Reporo nearly changed the world. In that sense, I am already greater than that thing..." Naruto said.
Even Sakura found herself sweating slightly.
Thanks to the efforts of the other Espada, Naruto and Sakura had managed to reach the Greater Soul King Palace while not being slowed down by fights at all.
The Greater Soul King Palace was much larger than it looked while it hung in the sky. A seven-storied tower, the Soul King's quarters resided at the very top, while nearly every other room was a gargantuan hallway that was polished white to perfection. Sleek stone pillars decorated these hallways, and at the end of every one was a staircase that led to the next floor.
Sakura kept up with Naruto as he rushed through the floors of the palace, darting up stairs with reckless abandon while knocking pictures and decorations off the walls as went.
It was upon the fifth floor that they met one of the Soul King's retainers.
He was a tall, skinny man, that did not look like he was good at fighting. A white hooded robe covered his entire body, reminding Naruto of an Arrancar without a mask or estigma.
"I-Intruder! T-The intruders have breached the Greater Palace!" the retainer shrieked. As soon as Sakura came into view, the man became even more panicked, though there was a hint of confusion within his voice.
"S-Sakura-sama, w-what are you doing accompanying this intruder?"
Sakura was silent for a moment, before her face slowly split into an increasingly menacing smile, which the retainer took at face value given the look of terror on his face.
"N-No, y-you couldn't of! Y-You took the oath!"
"The oath doesn't mean much to me, kid. You see, the both of us here have really short tempers, and when we're mad, we tend to do some things that others would find... unpleasant. Surely you don't want to see what I mean by that, right?" she said sultrily. She didn't even bat an eyelash when the retainer exploded into a fountain of gore, courtesy of Naruto.
"He's close. I can feel it, if his retainers are here..." Naruto said, wiping the blood off his arm. Sakura panned her eyes upward as they reached the sixth floor, toward the large gilded door at the end of the hallway, which was slightly open already.
"The Soul King's throne..." Sakura said, as the two of them peered inside at will. No retainers were around, so it was likely that the king was being sheltered somewhere nearby.
Sakura pointed upwards, to let Naruto bask in the strangeness. The throne room was just another portion of the hallway, which a small black pocket void in the center with a ray of white light about the size of a human body in the middle of the void.
"The secret passage is right here. The Soul King likes his illusions..." Sakura said, as she stepped into the black void without a second thought. Once she entered, it was like any other portion of the palace, being made of white stone. Clearly, it was an illusion meant to make the Soul King seem more god-like to those who looked at him. She tapped around for a moment as Naruto stepped up beside her, and moved an ordinary tile forward to reveal a secret staircase that led down.
"I've read about this in the book. Apparently, there's a very special device that the Soul King controls hidden within the Greater Palace. It's the reason he's so vital to Soul Society..." Naruto said, as he entered the torch-lit staircase.
"Wow..." Naruto said in awe when the dark hallway gave way to light, and a much more open room.
He was beginning to wonder how exactly the palace was able to hide something like this for so long from even the Royal Guard. In fact, the entire room was like an observatory, sticking out with clear windows on all sides. In the very center of the room, there was a mechanical spire shaped device which connected to the glass ceiling of the room.
"It's here. This is what I'm looking for!" Naruto said, gesturing to the machine in the center of the room.
"The intruders! Your majesty, get behind us!"
The voice that rang out drew Naruto's attention over to the very back of the room, where two retainers were apparently guarding someone. Naruto squinted his eyes, before a manic grin split his face in two.
He was reminded so much of Aizen, and those strange eyes definitely weren't normal.
But there was no doubt that Naruto was standing right in front of the genuine Soul King.
Again, thanks to Junky for the translations. I now have enough to complete the story, I think.
Translations and Other Features
Ryuuketsu Odori: Bloody Dance
La Gota: The Drop
Akashi no Hanawa: Wreath of the Red Death
Way of Binding #63: Locking Bondage Stripes
Resurrección: Segunda Etapa: Los Lobos: Resurrection: Second Stage: The Wolves
Cero Metralleta: Sub-Machine Gun Cero
Kinten no Raijin: Thunder God of the Golden Heaven
Cero Cañón: Cannon Zero
1st: Naruto Uzumaki
2nd: Ulquiorra Cifer
3rd: Coyote Starrk (deceased)
4th: Baraggan Louisenbairn (deceased)
5th: Tia Harribel (deceased)
6th: Nnoitra Gilga
7th: Grimmjow Jeagerjaquez
8th: Zommari Rureaux (deceased)
9th: Szayel Aporro Granz (deceased)
10th: Yammy Llargo (deceased)
Namikaze Minato: 5th Division Captain
Uzumaki Kushina: 3rd Division Captain
Jiraiya: 9th Division Captain
Hatake Kakashi: 5th Division Vice-Captain (deceased)
Rin: 3rd Division Vice-Captain (Captain level)
Tsunade: 4th Division Vice-Captain (Captain level)
Hyuuga Hinata: 13th Division Vice-Captain (deceased)
Nara Shikamaru: 8th Division 3rd Seat (above Vice-Captain level)
Inuzuka Kiba: 7th Division 4th Seat (Vice-Captain level)
Hyuuga Neji: 6th Division 3rd Seat (above Vice-Captain level)
Yamanaka Ino: 10th Division 3rd Seat (Vice-Captain level)