Weeeeeeell. I've certainly let this one sit awhile, havent I? Consider this as an appetizer while I get the old juices flowing again, you'll be seeing the next chapter very, very soon. XD

Dawn of Darkness

Deep in the bowels of Hueco Muendo, she hid and prayed for her life.

The child ducked beneath her hands, silently praying to whatever deity that was out there. She waited, and waited, for the pain to come, but there was nothing, nary a sound, but for the blood pounding inside her ears. She dared to open one eye. And still, the end did not come.

Confused, the child sat up, a single hand rubbing the ghoulish helmet that covered most of her forehead. She had tumbled into a small crater, and apparently, the monster had elected not to follow her. It had been chasing all this time, the thump thump of its leathery wings always present.

No longer.

Quivering, the child drew her faded green cloak tight about her tiny body, and willed herself to peek over the lip of her hidey-hole. All that greeted her was the empty, open air, obscurred by a massive dark shape. Her stalker loomed overhead, drooling restlessly as it surveyed the flat plain.

She shivered, and willed herself not to move. At length, it gave one last keening hiss, and swung away toward the south, until it was lost from sight. Its cries grew fainter, fainter...And then they too, were lost to the winds. She sat up again and released a long since pent up sigh.

Maybe her prayers had been answered.

"Giiiiiiiii!"

A loud crash to her right cracked the child out of her thoughts. A plume of sand was rising out of the earth next to her, a man's bloodied body lying in the center of the crater that had caused the small eruption. The man stood up swiftly, ignoring the blood that was trickling down from the corner of his mouth and the obvious sight of a broken arm. He didn't seem to care that his snow white robes were likewise soaked in blood.

Or the fact that the massive creature had inexplicably doubled back and collided with him, instead of her. He barked something that surprised the beast, for it bolted back into the air seconds later, with a defiantly boisterous caw.

"Ah, fuck." He groaned, glancing at the shattered limb that had once been whole. "This is what I get for playing the hero?" With an exasperated sigh, the stranger reached for the massive shape that had been strapped to his back this entire time. The girl skittered back at the sight of it.

"Guess I have to kill you now, ugly."

Nearly double the length of its wielder, this sword, was not a sword. More of a massive knife than anything else, the well worn steel glinted dully in the faint illumination provided by Hueco Muendo's moon. The hand that held it was equally scared, blackened and charred by wounds both old and fresh, lifeblood soaking the once pristine grey cloth that was wrapped about the cleaver's handle, a dull, tasteless crimson.

It stank of decay.

She gazed upon the massive blade he wielded, and felt her eyes grow wide in awe. As her gaze traveled upward, she noticed that he too, wore an elaborate, albeit broken, mask, though his ended in a pair of fiendesh looking horns, horns that now sparked, and burned unmistakeably red.

"Cero."

The man snarled aloud, the dull thump of the doom blast drowning out his words. The hollow didn't have time to react – the attack came from too short a distance. The red beam slammed against its chest and sent it screaming backwards into the air, much to the child's disblief, the cero kept going, rocketing the one-time adjuchas towards the moon of Hueco Muendo. Her vision was dizzying slightly as she stopped, blinked and the heat of the cero dissipated from the air, but she was able to see the dark sky flash gold from the explosion above her as she struggled to get up.

Arrancar.

The word popped into her shattered mind as she watched the miniature mushroom cloud billowing out on the horizon. And still, the stranger stood there, unflinching, uncaring, as the wind viciously beat at his form, and splayed the smooth locks of his strawberry blond hair all about his face.

Was this one a numeros? Or maybe even a-

"Oi." He called, to no one in particular. "Don't tell me that's it? A big fella like you oughta-"

An indignant shriek, followed by the massive shadow that now eclipsed the moon itself, confirmed that the predator, although badly burned by the man's cero, was still very much alive. The girl squeaked once and hid herself behind the man, ignoring the irritated grunt her efforts earned her.

It, the adjuchas that had so doggedly pursued her, was a massive creature, twice as large than the Gillian that roamed the forest below, but nowhere near as stupid. Cold, violet blue eyes blazed out from behind its seamless mask of chiseled porcelain, breaking only at the lips, revealing viciously sharp teeth the size of toothpicks when given comparison to its towering wingspan, whch greated massive gales force winds that threatened to throw the sands themselves into the air and leave Hueco Muendo even more bare and arid then it had been before.

It looked angry.

Very angry.

"Mister," the girl began, her senses suddenly returning to her. "Are you—"

"I'm fine, idjit." he cut her off with a swipe of, his blade even though his eyes were focused on the creature in the air above them. A small smirk played on his lips as he dropped back into a defensive position. The arrogant smile on his weather worn face frightened the child a little bit. It was a tad unnerving how much the smirk reminded her of the monster that had been all too ready to devour her moments before. She gulped slowly.

And released her deathgrip on the arrancar's ankle.

"I'm fucking great," the man said as he launched himself back into the fight, the unexpectedly sudden ascent kicking up a large cloud of dust in his wake of his attack. Another cero, this one even larger than its predecessor, could already be seen dancing between his horns, even as the distance between them reduced the arrancar to little more than a speck. Joined now by two ceperate cero, each cupped in a seperate hand, the man burst forward, little more than a crimson streak of light as he bulleted toward the towering adjuchas, who, oddly enough, remained baffled.

"Giiiiii?"

The adjuchas, taken aback by the audacity of such a move, beat its wings fretfully as its pea-sized brain struggled to come to terms with a food source that was actually running toward it, instead of away. By the time it realized that such prey would likely make a bad meal, it was too late.

The arrancar landed upon the bridge of the adjuchas's beak and screamed. Three cero, coallescing into one titanic beam of pure destruction, slammed into the adjuchas with such force and velocity, that its ascent became a descent, drilling the now disintegreating corpse into the dunes with enough force to cause every tree and pillar within a mile to crumble. Still, desperate to find some hope of escape, the hollow opened what remained of its mouth, revealing ugly purple light shining from the back of its gullet... only to find that its lungs had already been burned away.

With a wheezing gasp, the hollow burned away into nothingness, and was gone.

"Oi."

She shrieked and scrambled backward, only to find that the arrancar had already materialized behind her. Golden black eyes burned into that of frightened hazel as he glared down at her with barely contained malice, and she, gazed up at him, with a curious mix of wonderment and fear.

...name?" She blinked, realized he'd been speaking to her.

"Eh?" She blinked. "Whuzzat?"

"Oh for the love of," The arrancar growled, a very human sound, considering what she'd just witnessed, and scooped her up by the hem of her cloak, leaving her to dangle before those smoldering golden coals that were his eyes. "Your name, idjit! I asked you for your name!"

"N-N-N...

"For crying out loud!"

The girl wailed and hid her head when the arrancar roared in disbelief. After a series of lengthy curses and incessant shouting, the arrancar managed to compose himself to calmly, albeit with teeth clenched, ask the name of the arrancar girl. After a series of stutters, she managed:

"N-Nel."

"Ichigo." The arrancar replied gruffly, slinging the massive tang over his shoulder without a second thought, where it was immediately bound in place by a series of intricately woven vines. "You owe me big time, idjit." He pointedly jerked a thumb towards the scorched sand where the remains of the massive adjuchas continued to dissolve."If I hadn't been passing through you woulda been lunch for birdbrain over there-

"Itsygo?" She tried, and fumbled over his name immediately. "Den aw you one a da Espa-

The arrancar responded to that, by abruptly dropping Nel on her butt.

"It's Ichigo. I-chi-go." He repeated warningly, glaring at her. "And even though I don't feel like answering your question, no, idjit, I'm not a numeros, and I sure as hell ain't one of those fucking wussy espada that sit around in Las Noches and do absolutely shit all day. Satisfied?"

Nel managed a simple nod.

"Good." Ichigo snapped. "Later, idjit."

With a dull static punch he dissapeared.

"Itsygo!"

"..."

"Wait!" Nel tripped over her own two feet as she scampered after him. She needn't have bothered, for Ichigo reappeared seconds later, scowling as Nel crashed into his knee, bounced off, and immediately began to sniffle as she fitfully rubbed at the crack in her mask to ease the pain.

"Owie...

"What is it now?" Ichigo sighed. "I've already saved your life, what more could you possibly want from me!"

Nel folded her arms stubbornly.

"I wanna go wit you!"

In that instant, Ichigo lost all sense of composure.

"Oh, hell no!"

A/N: Does she go with him or not? PM me for votes peoplz! Feel free to ask any questions! Note and explanation time, this is BEFORE Aizen has even started recruting arrancar and what-not. Yes, Ichigo is dead, he has died before he ever met Rukia because he died along with his mother when Grand Fisher attached. YES, events of Soul Society will be included. YES, we will see Nel in her real form, the reason why she is a kid will be explained. YES, this will be a very interesting story, as you'll all get to see the members espada before they were...well, the espada!