Bleach: The Afterlife Saga
*Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach or any of its characters. All the characters mentioned in this story, with the exception of OCs, are the property of Kubo Tite.
I must admit was astonished by the feedback I received for the previous chapter. The final battle of the story certainly attracted a lot of comments. Most of the comments were positive but I guess there were a few people who did not like how the last chapter ended. I accept all of the critical feedback I received, since my story is by no mean perfect. However, I do appreciate all of the people who made an effort to follow this story until now and send in comments. Without your support I may not have had the motivation to get to this point, the second last chapter of this story. This chapter, and the chapter after this will conclude this story in a way that I hope will satisfy all readers, fans and non-fans of Bleach alike.
Chapter 69: The Spirit Throne
As the bright light of the Tengetsu slowly faded away, the dark eerie clouds that had blanketed the sky of the King's Realm parted, revealing a clear blue sky. A bright light analogous to the sun started shining overhead. A beam of that light shone down through the destroyed roof of the King's Realm and onto the floor of the King's Chamber. Hovering in the middle of that beam was Ichigo. He was still pointing upwards at the sky with the spiritual sword he was holding in his right hand.
"It's done," said Ichigo with a sigh of relief. He finally lowered his right arm and de-summoned the spiritual sword. Then he slowly lowered himself to the floor of the King's Chamber. As he dropped down his body underwent a transformation back into his normal form. The long ankle length white hair he had before reverted back to his normal shoulder-length orange hair. The bluish-white cloth armour that had covered his upper body disintegrated, and the golden-flame like markings on his arms, shoulders and face disappeared. Finally his two Bankai Zanpakuto re-materialized in his hands, as the fusion Ichigo had achieved with them ended. He was now topless, wearing nothing except for a tattered black hakama.
"Is…it over?" asked a voice from behind. Ichigo turned around and saw Ishida limping towards him. The Quincy was covered with bruises but was otherwise fine. Ichigo gave him a hand, allowing his friend to lean on him.
"I don't feel a single trace of Azrael's reiatsu. My Tengetsu must have really disintegrated his entire body," said Ichigo.
"Then we've done it. We've finally defeated Azrael." Ishida smiled happily.
Ichigo and Ishida's joy was short lived however, when large gusts of wind started blowing around them from all directions.
"What…what is this wind?" asked Ishida. He and Ichigo frantically looked around as the wind gusts started converging at a single point slightly above the roof of the Royal Palace. After a few seconds numerous dust particles could be seen swirling around an intense formation of wind gusts. As a worried Ichigo and Ishida observed the bizarre sight carefully, their eyes widened in horror when they saw the particles expand and merge together until they started taking on a humanoid shape.
"It…it can't be!" exclaimed a stunned Ichigo. He couldn't believe his eyes as the black humanoid shape gradually morphed into a familiar figure-a man with long brown hair and wearing a tattered white kimono. Neither Ichigo nor Ishida could believe their eyes. Their archenemy Azrael had somehow survived Ichigo's final attack.
"I don't believe it. How could any being have survived such a giant energy blast?" asked Ishida. "It's like your attack didn't affect him at all. Is he truly immortal?" Ichigo observed Azrael's body for a moment, and realized something.
"I think my Tengetsu did have an effect on him," said Ichigo. "He's somehow been restored to his original appearance. He's no longer transcendent anymore."
Mere moments after his body finished regenerating, Azrael plummeted towards the ground and fell flat onto his stomach. The fallen prince had his face pressed against the floor, as if he was being weighed down by an invisible force.
"You're right Kurosaki, he can't even withstand our reiatsu anymore. He's definitely weakened now," said Ishida. The two men watched in amusement as Azrael tried desperately to stand up. Bands of sweat were clearly visible on his face.
"My destiny…you cannot me my destiny…Kurosaki Ichigo!" yelled Azrael in an insane voice. Despite being completely outmatched in power, the prince staggered towards Ichigo and Ishida, as if he was still determined to kill them.
"He still hasn't given up?" asked an incredulous Ishida.
"I will never be…defeated!" A completely deranged Azrael tried to make a final mad charge at Ichigo. Before he could even take a single step, he was stopped in his tracks by a massive spiritual disturbance in the air around him. For a second, Ichigo and Ishida wondered what was going on. The two of them then gasped in astonishment when they saw a huge set of gates appear behind Azrael. Over a hundred metres high, the ominous red gates were held together by a set of golden chains and adorned by the frightening visages of two giant skeletons with bandaged heads.
"What…what is that thing?" asked a shocked Ishida.
"That's…the Gates of Hell," said Ichigo. His mind flashed back to the supernatural even that occurred after he defeated the hollow Shrieker.
"The Gates of Hell?"
"I don't know much about them I'm afraid." Ichigo and Ishida watched as the gates started to open, revealing a swirling red portal from beyond. At this moment a terrified Azrael started shouting and screaming as he realized what was going on.
"No! I don't want to go back there! I don't want to go back! Someone save me!" He fell onto his hands and knees and tried to crawl towards Ichigo and Ishida. Before he could manage a single step he was restrained by numerous black chains that emerged from the gates and wrapped themselves tightly around his body. However much he struggled, Azrael could not free himself and was gradually pulled towards the gates.
Just then, a towering giant emerged from the gates wielding a massive blade in his right hand. He had the face of an old man with a long white beard and moustache, and a pair of red demonic eyes. He was dressed in a lavish golden kimono and a pair of sandals, and had a large black crown on his head.
"Whoa, who is this guy? Is he a messenger from hell?" asked Ishida. Ichigo looked at the man closely, and tried to remember something he had heard from Azrael himself in the cave beneath Mount Fuji.
"I think he's…Enma, the King of Hell," said Ichigo.
"The King of Hell? What is he doing here?" Ishida's question was answered when the giant man bellowed in a loud voice.
"TSUKUYOMI! I HAVE COME FOR YOU!" shouted King Enma.
"No…don't take me back there please…I don't want to go back to Jigoku again!" screamed Azrael in a desperate, almost crying tone of voice.
"SILENCE! YOU SHALL PAY FOR THE SINS YOU HAVE COMMITTED! FOR THE CRIMES OF DESTROYING MY PALACE, STEALING MY PERSONAL GUARDS, AND ESCAPING MY REALM, YOU SHALL EXPERIENCE AN ETERNITY OF TORMENT!"
Ichigo and Ishida gasped as they saw the King of Hell thrust out his sword and impale Azrael upon it. The giant king then retreated back through the portal, dragging a kicking and screaming Azrael with him. Soon afterwards the Gates of Hell slammed shut, before disappearing. For a while afterwards, neither Ichigo nor Ishida could say a word or move at all. Both were too stunned at what they had witnessed.
"Tell me it's finally over Kurosaki," said Ishida.
"Yeah, I think it's definitely over this time. That bastard has finally gotten the punishment he deserves," smiled Ichigo.
The final conclusive defeat of Azrael was felt by every being throughout Soul Society and the world of the living. In the ruins of Seireitei, the surviving members of the Gotei 13, having witnessed the remarkable column of light that had shot out from deep below the ground, started celebrating, as all of them knew in their hearts that it was over.
"It's finally over isn't it?" asked Rukia as she stood beside Urahara. "My brother Tsukuyomi is dead." Urahara nodded.
"My mission is finally complete," said the 12th division captain. Rukia was about to ask what Urahara was talking about, when all of a sudden she saw his body glow brightly. The bright golden light disappeared a few moments later, leaving Rukia wondering what had happened. She watched as Urahara took a few steps forward and looked up to the sky.
"Goodbye Susano-o Shinno. May you forever rest in peace."
At the same moment, in the bedroom of a townhouse apartment that had miraculously survived the eruption of Mount Fuji, Sado 'Chad' Yasutora opened his eyes. He had been in a deep coma and was on the verge of death barely half a day ago, but his body had somehow willed itself to recover so that he would regain consciousness at this moment. Chad didn't know what was going on, but in his heart he knew that Ichigo had done something extraordinary.
"Ichigo…" said Chad, as he stared out the window.
Back in the ruins of the Royal Palace, Ichigo and Ishida took stock of the situation they were in. Having seen Azrael being dragged kicking and screaming into the depths of Hell, they were certain that they had seen the last of the maniacal Prince. Neither of them however felt a sense of triumph in their heart. Their victory, if it could be called that, was a pyrrhic one. The Royal Palace was now all but destroyed, and they had come too late to save the Spirit King. Despite all of their efforts, they couldn't prevent Azrael from partially succeeding in his goals.
"What should we do now Kurosaki?" asked Ishida. "We've defeated Azrael, but it doesn't really feel like we've won."
"I know what you mean Ishida," said Ichigo. "I don't know how we're going to rebuild everything he destroyed." The orange haired Shinigami got up from the piece of rubble he had been sitting on. "But…I suppose we've got to start from somewhere." Ichigo walked towards the Spirit Throne, the arcane contraption that he and Ishida had fought their hardest to protect. The golden chair was in the same state it was in when Ichigo first saw it, with a golden mask-like helmet lying on top of the seat.
"What are you doing Kurosaki?" asked Ishida. The Quincy got up and followed after his friend. As the two of them neared the Spirit Throne, a ghostly apparition suddenly materialized in front of them. The spirit's appearance caused Ichigo to fall over onto his rear end.
"Urahara-san?" asked a surprised Ichigo. In terms of hair, facial appearance and body structure, the spirit was exactly identical to the 12th Division Captain. However, on closer inspection, Ichigo realized there were other aspects about the spirit, namely the lavish golden robes he was wearing, the golden circlet around his head, and the general presence he gave off, that made him different from Urahara.
"We meet at last Kurosaki Ichigo," said the spirit. His voice was deep and had an aspect of age and wisdom that belied his appearance.
"Who are you? You look a lot like Urahara-san," said Ichigo. The spirit chuckled.
"It pleases me for you to compare me to him. The two of us are alike in a lot of ways."
"What do you mean?" The spirit gazed at Ichigo with a pair of deep blue eyes.
"Urahara Kisuke was the agent I chose to carry out my plans in Soul Society and the World of the Living."
"He was your agent?" Ichigo was initially confused by the spirit's words, but then his mind recalled something that had been said by Urahara himself during the confrontation with Azrael underneath Mount Fuji: "Ever since I was a child I kept on hearing this strange voice in my head and every so often my mind would be filled with knowledge about the universe that no mortal would have possessed."
"Now I know who you are. You're Susano-o, the brother of Tsukuyomi/Azrael aren't you?" asked Ichigo. The spirit nodded with a smile.
"But I thought Azrael had killed you," said Ishida. "Aren't you already dead?"
"I am dead," said Susano-o. "My soul no longer exists. What you are seeing now is but a mere memory of me. Until now it had been lying dormant inside of Urahara Kisuke's mind. Both he and I sensed the final defeat of my brother Tsukuyomi. I judged the time was right for me to make my last appearance in front of you, Kurosaki Ichigo and Ishida Uryu. I owe both of you an apology; for I am largely responsible for the lives the two of you have lived."
"You don't need to be sorry Susano-o-san. If you were the one who was guiding me all this time, then I have to thank you for everything you have done," said Ichigo.
"I feel the same way as Kurosaki. I'm not angry at having my fate being decided by a god like being such as you," said Ishida. The apparition of Susano-o laughed heartily.
"The two of you are truly unique. I was right for choosing you as my champions. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for defeating my brother Tsukuyomi. You accomplished something that was beyond even my powers to achieve." Susano-o's face turned somber and the jovial tone he had was gone. "I do not have long left in this world, so listen closely." Ichigo and Ishida nodded, showing that they were paying attention.
"When I am gone, someone must take my place as the new Spirit King." Susano-o pointed to the helmet lying on the Spirit Throne's chair. "The helmet you see here is the Royal Crown. It is the conduit of the Spirit King's powers. Whoever puts it on will have their souls bound to the mechanisms of the Spirit Throne."
"So one of us must put this helmet upon our heads and sit upon that throne?" asked Ishida.
"Yes. The Spirit King is the lynchpin between Soul Society, the world of the living, and Hueco Mundo. Without him, the balance of souls between each of the worlds will break down, and the worlds will collide with each other, causing the end of the universe."
"I see. Unless ether Ishida or I become the new Spirit King, then Azrael/Tsukuyomi will have won anyway." Susano-o nodded.
"I am sorry for thrusting this heavy burden upon your shoulders, but fate has fallen upon the two of you to save all of creation." Susano-o sighed as his body started to fade. "I know you will make the right choice, as you always have."
"Yeah, you can count on us Susano-o-san," said Ichigo with a smile. The former Spirit King smiled as his body faded away into nothingness. When he was gone, Ichigo stared at the crown lying upon the Spirit Throne.
"Are you going to wear it Kurosaki?" asked Ishida. Ichigo nodded.
"Someone has to become the new Spirit King, and there's no one more suited for it than I am. After all, I am the last surviving member of the Royal bloodline. Somehow I feel like this is the task I was born for," said Ichigo.
"Are you really sure about that Kurosaki? What about your family and your nakama? If you become the Spirit King you will never see them again. I think you should take your time to decide."
"We don't have time Ishida! You heard what Susano-o-san said, the longer the Spirit Throne is vacant, the sooner Soul Society and the real world will be destroyed!"
"Alright, if you are committed to it, I will go back and convey your last words to Kuchiki and everyone else."
"Thanks Ishida." Ishida watched as Ichigo picked up the mighty helmet and prepared to put it upon his head. Just as he was about to put it on, Ichigo was suddenly stopped by a voice from behind.
"Stop Kurosaki Ichigo!" Ichigo dropped the helmet and he and Ishida turned around. They gasped in shock at the figure walking towards them. It was Aizen. He was moving laboriously and panting heavily, but he was clearly alive.
"Aizen…but how?" asked Ichigo. "I thought you were dead."
"Aizen Sousuke is dead. I have revived his body using the last remnants of my power." The voice coming out of Aizen's mouth sounded alien and otherworldly.
"If you're not Aizen then who are you?"
"I am the Hougyoku." Ichigo and Ishida were stunned by those words. "After my master Aizen's soul was taken from his body, I used all of my powers to keep the body alive and functioning enough so that I could bring it here." The body of Aizen, who was now controlled by the Hougyoku, started coughing blood from his mouth. Ichigo and Ishida rushed to his side to stop him falling over.
"Please, take me to the Spirit Throne and put the crown upon my head," said the Hougyoku. "I shall become the new Spirit King."
Ichigo was hesitant to listen to the Hougyoku's words. In his heart, he still believed he was the only choice to succeed Susano-o.
"Please, let me bear the burden of being the new Spirit King, Kurosaki Ichigo. I was created for the sole purpose of becoming the conduit for the first Spirit King's Izanagi's powers. I have no other purpose in existing. You on the other hand have so much to live for. There is no need for you to sacrifice your life for the sake of the world."
"Then tell me Hougyoku. If I was not destined to be Spirit King, then what is my destiny?" asked Ichigo.
"Your destiny is to protect Soul Society and the world of the living. That is your duty, and the duty of the successors who will come after you." The Hougyoku's words jolted Ichigo's heart and caused him to remember the moment when he committed himself to becoming a Shinigami, and how he had told Rukia that "he was not a good enough person to sacrifice his life for total strangers".
"Man, I can't believe how much I've changed. From only thinking of protecting my family and nakama, to be willing to sacrifice my life to protect every soul in existence, I've really come a long way. But I guess now is a good time for me to stop thinking of the wellbeing of others and start thinking for myself." Ichigo smiled at the Hougyoku. "Alright then, if you're willing to take the burden of being the Spirit King from me, then I'm fine with it."
"Thank you, Kurosaki Ichigo." The Hougyoku-possessed Aizen smiled as Ichigo and Ishida helped him to sit upon the Spirit Throne. They then slowly placed the almighty Royal Crown upon his head. When the crown fully covered Aizen's head, a miraculous event occurred. First Aizen's head, then his whole body, then the entire Spirit Throne started glowing brightly. The radiant light that shone outwards was so bright that it momentarily blinded both Ichigo and Ishida.
"Argh my eyes!" exclaimed Ishida. A second later the light disappeared, and the two men's eyesight gradually returned. When they opened their eyes again Ichigo and Ishida were astounded by what they saw. The King's Chamber, along with the rest of the Royal Palace, had been restored to their original untouched state; all traces of the apocalyptic battle that had been waged in the King's Realm a short while ago was gone.
"Everything has been...restored?" asked Ichigo. He looked at the Spirit Throne again, and saw that the being once known as Aizen had now completely fused with the Spirit Throne, becoming an immobile statue. Numerous cords and wires were attached to his body that connected to the Spirit Throne and the wider network running through the Royal Palace. The new Spirit King spoke to Ichigo and Ishida, with a voice that transcended human understanding.
"The circle is now complete. The Spirit Throne, the Royal Palace and the King's Realm have returned to their former glory," said the Hougyoku. "The restoration of the balance between Soul Society, the world of the living, and Hueco Mundo can finally begin. It will be a task that will take many generations to finish, and it is a task that I, despite possessing all of Izanagi's former powers, cannot hope to accomplish by myself. Will you, Kurosaki Ichigo and Ishida Uryu, be willing to help me in this great effort?"
"Of course we will," said Ichigo, giving a thumbs up gesture. "As long as I am alive, I will do my best to help rebuild Soul Society and protect it."
"The same goes for me. I shall strive to protect the world of the living as much as I can," said Ishida.
"I am glad to hear it. Now then, it is time for us to part ways forever. Once the two of you leave the King's Realm, you must never return. Nor shall anyone else ever set foot in this realm again, for I shall seal the entrance to this dimension for all eternity." Both Ichigo and Ishida took this news in their stride; the two of them knew that this was the moment of goodbye.
"Do you have any last words you want us to say to the people the world above?" asked Ichigo. "Our friends and family deserve to know at least something about what transpired here." "I have only one message I would like you to convey to the people of Soul Society: tell them that the Spirit King is still alive, and that the King's Realm is forever off limits to mortal beings."
"I understand. You can leave everything to me." Ichigo bowed his head in respect for the new Spirit King. The king appeared to smile in understanding as he caused a portal to open in the middle of the Chamber. Ichigo and Ishida gave their last farewells before the two of them walked through the portal. They exited the portal to find themselves in the middle of a still devastated Heart of Seireitei. A few seconds later the vast ball of spirit energy that had formed the entrance to the King's Realm slowly disappeared, forever sealing that dimension off.
"Well, looks like everything is finally over. Shall we head home Ishida?" asked Ichigo.
"What do you think Kurosaki? I'm dying to get back," said Ishida with a smile.
It took almost an hour for Ichigo and Ishida to ascend the vast distance between the Heart of Seireitei and the surface of Soul Society. As the two of them finally flew out of the massive shaft and arrived in the centre of Seireitei, they were surprised to see a crowd of people waiting for them. Almost sixty people, most of them Shinigami, but with significant numbers of civilians as well, were standing around the hole in the centre of the city. All of them were up in arms and ecstatic at seeing Ichigo and Ishida's faces.
"Wow, look at all of these people," said Ishida. "I've never seen so many happy faces in my life. It's as if we've become heroes."
"I think what you just said is the understatement of the century Ishida," said Ichigo with a smile. The orange-haired slowly descended towards the ground. As soon as he landed, he was instantly tackled and hugged by a warm and familiar face.
"Ichigo!" cried an emotional and tearful Rukia. "I'm so glad you are alive!" She was not the only one to express her happiness. No sooner had Ichigo gotten over the surprise at being suddenly greeted then he was tackled by two other girls, both of whom he was delighted to see.
"Onii-chan!" cried Karin and Yuzu in happiness. "We've missed you so much!"
"I've missed you too. I've missed all of you," said Ichigo with a smile. As he lay on the ground with the three women he loved the most, he was just to be back.
Ichigo was not the only one to receive a warm greeting. As soon as Ishida had touched down his glasses and face were instantly pressed against the big and bouncy breasts of Orihime, who had ran to hug him as soon as she saw him,
"Ishida-kun!" cried Orihime, hugging her man tightly with her arms.
"You're alive Inoue," said Ishida with a smile. Gradually, all of Ichigo friends and family gathered around him and Ishida. They included his former rivals Renji, Kenpachi and Byakuya, his former mentors Urahara, Yoruichi and Shinji, his cousins-in-law Kukaku and Ganju, the other captains led by Captain Commander Yamamoto, and numerous other lieutenants and high ranking officers of the Gotei 13. All of them were glad to see Ichigo had returned from his journey into the Heart of Seireitei alive.
After Rukia and his sisters had finished greeting him, Ichigo was confronted by a tired and weary Yamamoto.
"Lieutenant Kurosaki, all of us aware that you and the Quincy travelled into the King's Realm to confront the renegade Prince Tsukuyomi. Many you tell us what transpired down in that place?" asked Yamamoto. Though the Captain Commander's voice was calm and gentle, Ichigo knew it was an order and not a request. Still, he hesitated for a moment, as he remembered the words the Hougyoku had spoken to him after it had become the Spirit King. Ichigo took a deep breath before responding.
"Azrael/Tsukuyomi is dead. Ishida and I comprehensively defeated him," said Ichigo. He didn't mention the fact that Azrael had been dragged into the depths of Hell. "The Spirit King is still alive, and the Royal Palace is still standing. Before we left, the king told us that he was going to forever seal the King's Realm off from Soul Society forever."
Yamamoto and the other captains took a while to comprehend Ichigo's report. They were relieved that Azrael had finally been defeated, but news that the King's Realm was permanently sealed off was disturbing to a few of the captains. Yamamoto silenced all of their concerns.
"I see. If the King's Realm is no longer accessible, then there is no need for the Gotei 13 to maintain a link to the Heart of Seireitei and the Ouken any longer," said the Captain Commander. "With Prince Tsukuyomi defeated at last, this bloody civil war is finally over."
"So that means we've won right?" asked Sui Feng. The 2nd Division Captain's optimistic view instantly soured when she saw the faces of her comrades. None of them thought they had achieved a victory at all, considering the enormous price everyone had to pay in terms of lives lost and the devastating impact the war had upon Soul Society.
"What are we going to do now? We've lost so much!" cried Hitsugaya. The emotional Captain of the 10th Division fell onto his knees and slammed his fists upon rubble in despair. "Matsumoto, Hinamori, Kira, so many of our nakama are dead! They can never be brought back!"
"Rebuilding Seireitei is going to be a pain in the ass too," said Shunsui. "Even if we had the resources we had before, we are never going to restore the Senzaikyu tower or the Sokyoku Hill."
"Forget about rebuilding Seireitei, just getting a functional government up and running to oversee Soul Society is going to be impossible now that the Central 46 and most of the noble families are dead," said Byakuya.
The other captains and lieutenants shared the views of Hitsugaya, Shunsui and Byakuya; they all thought it was impossible to replace what the war had destroyed.
"It isn't just Soul Society that has been ruined by the war," said Ishida. "The human world is hurting too. Karakura Town and all of its inhabitants are gone. There is no way we can bring them back." Having lived in both worlds for a considerable amount of time, Ichigo was painfully aware of the carnage that Azrael and his henchmen had wrought in his trail of vengeance. He clenched his fists in frustration; despite all of the strength he had gained, he was powerless to do anything to restore what had been lost.
"Hey, why do all of you look so glum and unhappy?" asked Rukia. The lively 13th division lieutenant and reincarnated royal princess was the only person who wasn't in a state of despair. "There is a way for us to return everything to the state it was before, and revive all of the people who have died."
"Huh?" The others all gazed at Rukia with perplexed faces.
"What do you mean Kuchiki? Are you saying you have the power to restore everything that was destroyed?" asked Ukitake. Rukia nodded firmly.
"I am Princess Tsukino after all. I know I have within me the power and ability to reverse all of the damage caused by my late brother." Rukia closed her eyes for a moment, before glancing at Orihime. "But I don't think I can achieve such a task by myself."
"Damn straight you can't!" exclaimed Renji. He grabbed Rukia by the shoulders. "Are you sure what you said was true Rukia? Can you really revive everyone who was killed?"
"She isn't joking Renji," said Ichigo. The orange haired Shinigami walked over to Rukia and grabbed hold of her right hand. "I believe you can do it Rukia. I'll do everything I can to assist you."
"Thank you Ichigo," smiled Rukia. The raven haired woman turned to Orihime.
"I'll need your help too Inoue. I have the ability to retrieve the souls of people whose bodies no longer exist, but I don't have the ability to recreate objects from thin air like you do."
"Huh, you want my help Kuchiki-san? I'll gladly do it!" exclaimed Orihime.
"You'll be needing my help too Tsukino Oujo-sama," said Urahara. The 12th Division captain pulled out his Zanpakuto and pointed it at the sky. "Ever since the war began, I've been preparing a contingency plan in case the worse came to pass." By shooting a bolt of spirit energy into the air, Urahara caused the sky above Seireitei to distort and crack until finally a huge dimensional portal suddenly appeared high above the city. The other Shinigami gasped in surprise when they saw the portal.
"Hey Kisuke isn't that Karakura Town on the other side?" asked Yoruichi. She pointed at the image of a ruined city that was clearly visible from the portal. Urahara nodded.
"I used Keikaigi in combination with my Tenkai Kecchu to create a gateway between Soul Society and the Real World. Knowing the extent of Tsukino Oujo-sama's powers, I believe this will allow her to restore Karakura Town together with Seireitei."
"Thank you Urahara Taicho. I think we are ready for the process to begin," said Rukia.
"Hold on a minute," interrupted Yamamoto. "Do you understand the magnitude of the task you are attempting to accomplish? Even if you are Tsukino Oujo reborn, a mass resurrection of such scale and magnitude will surely cause you to lose all of your powers. Are you sure you are ready to face the consequences?" Rukia looked into the Captain Commander's eyes and understood the concern the old man had with her welfare.
"I am well prepared for whatever happens Sotaicho. Losing my powers or even my memories as Princess Tsukino would be a small price to pay for restoring everything we've lost," said Rukia. Yamamoto took a while to consider Rukia's words before finally giving a nod and a sigh of consent.
"Could everyone move back a bit? Inoue and I need some room to begin the ritual," said Rukia. The others all complied and stepped back several paces to give the two girls a circular space about ten feet across. Only Ichigo and Ishida stood close by.
"What do you want me to do Kuchiki-san?" asked Orihime.
"Hold your hands in front of your body and begin casting your Soten Kesshun spell," said Rukia. "I will channel my powers into you and amplify them."
"Um, okay." A nervous Orihime held her hands forward and cast Soten Kesshun, creating an orange spiritual barrier shaped like a dome around herself and Rukia. When the barrier was complete, Rukia then placed her hands near Orihime's hands and began chanting an ancient spell. As she chanted, an enormous amount of reiatsu began flowing from Rukia into Orihime.
"Wow, I can feel an incredible amount of energy running through my body. I've never experienced such a sensation in my whole life!" exclaimed Orihime.
"Take a look at what is happening around us," said Rukia with a smile. Orihime, Ichigo and Ishida all gasped when they saw the orange dome she had created rapidly expand outwards. Within seconds the dome covered nearly half of Seireitei. As it continued to expand, the dome's effects upon the area inside its influence became immediately apparent. The mountain of rubble that had lain about everywhere soon disappeared, and houses, walls and pillars and even trees and soil started reappearing. When the orange dome finally encompassed all of Seireitei, the Shinigami and other survivors all gawked in awe and wonder as the massive hole in the centre of the middle started disappearing as billions of tons of vaporized rock re-appeared. Within minutes the entire hole was filled.
The miracle did not end there. Soon the two iconic structures of Seireitei, the Senzaikyu Tower and the Sokyoku Hill began re-emerging, and were bit by bit were fully restored to their full glory. No one standing around Rukia and Orihime could believe what they were seeing.
"This is incredible," said Ichigo. When he looked at Rukia however he noticed she was sweating profusely all over. The strain on her face was evident.
"Kuchiki-san, I think you're overdoing it," said Inoue.
"No I'm not. We still haven't extended your Soten Kesshun through the portal to Karakura Town yet," insisted Rukia.
"You don't have to push yourself Kuchiki-san! I can tell that you're at your limit." No matter how brave a face she put, Rukia knew Orihime was telling the truth. It was taking all of spiritual energy just to maintain the current size of the dome and restore all of the damaged structures. Damn it, I haven't even revived a single person yet, thought Rukia. Is this the limit to my power?
Just as she was about to exhaust her reserves, Rukia suddenly felt an influx of spirit energy gushing through her body. The influx was so huge that her entire body shuddered. She was about to wonder where the energy was coming from when she realized that there were two hands upon her shoulders.
"I thought you might need some help," said Ichigo with a warm smile on his face.
"Ichigo…" Rukia didn't know what to say.
"I told you that I'd do all I could to help you Rukia. Take as much energy from me as you need." Rukia nodded and used the spirit energy she received from Ichigo to create gigantic column of light that shot upwards and went straight through the portal.
At this moment, in an apartment house in the middle of Karakura Town, Arisawa Tatsuki was suddenly woken up by a pair of hands.
"Wake up Tatsuki!" shouted Chad. Tatsuki opened her eyes and was surprised to see her beloved fiancé standing beside her,
"Chad! Since when did you…?" asked Tatsuki in surprise. Chad covered her mouth and urged her to come downstairs.
"There's something you've got to see." Chad led Tatsuki downstairs and onto the streets. What the two of them saw was a phenomenon that was beyond their understanding. Somehow a giant dome made out of spiritual energy had appeared which completely covered the whole of Karakura Town. Though the dome was invisible to those who lacked spirit energy, what was happening inside the dome was clearly seen by everyone who was still alive. Before their eyes, thousands upon thousands of houses, large buildings, roads and even skyscrapers and bridges that had been destroyed by volcanic ash were rebuilt from scratch.
"What….what is happening? What is causing all of this?" asked a confused and amazed Tatsuki. Chad however had no doubt who was responsible for this miracle.
"It must be Ichigo, Rukia and Inoue," said Chad with a big grin on his face. "I can feel their spiritual pressure."
Back in Soul Society, Rukia, Orihime and Ichigo together had succeeded in restoring all of Seireitei to its pre-war glory. They how faced the harder task of resurrecting everyone who had died. It was taking all of their effort just to repair the mangled bodies of the people who were killed in Azrael's destruction of Seireitei, let alone attempting to returning the spirits of the soul who had already passed on.
"This isn't working Rukia," said Ichigo. "None of the people were killed by Azrael and his forces are reviving."
"What's going on? I thought my powers would be sufficient to return everyone's souls to their bodies," said Rukia.
"I'm sorry Kuchiki-san, it's my fault," apologized Orihime. "I simply can't handle the amount of power you're giving me."
"Then perhaps I should help you," said Ishida with a grin. The Quincy put his hands on the shoulders of his beloved. He then channeled the five million souls inside the Niebelung he was wearing into Orihime. Orihime gasped as an incredible amount of reiatsu flooded her body.
"Thank you Ishida-kun! I think I can do it now!" exclaimed Orihime.
"We can do this together!" shouted Ichigo. With all of their hearts sharing the same belief, the four nakama pooled together their powers and succeeded in resurrecting the bodies and spirits of everyone who had died in Seireitei and Karakura Town. Soon they could hear gasps and shrieks of astonishment as thousands of Shinigami, Onmitsukidou militia and nobles and civilians alike came back from the dead.
"Matsumoto! Hinamori!" cried an emotional Hitsugaya. The little captain rushed to embrace his lieutenant and third seat, who were still bewildered at what happened to them. It wasn't just Hitsugaya who was celebrating. Rukia's captain Ukitake greeted his third seats Kiyone and Sentaro as they woke up. Shunsui and Lisa hugged and kissed their beloved Nanao as she awoke. Other notable people who had died such as Kira, Hisagi and Isane were surrounded by their comrades.
A few minutes later, the great spiritual dome over Seireitei gradually disappeared, along with the portal and the column of light connecting Soul Society with Karakura Town. The people who had been responsible for the miracle, Ichigo, Rukia, Orihime and Ishida, collapsed onto their backs in exhaustion.
"We did it," said a Rukia beaming with happiness.
"I always believed we could," grinned Ichigo. The four heroes were greeted by their friends and relatives, and helped to their feet by Renji, Byakuya, Urahara and Yoruichi.
"I don't feel the reiatsu of Kirio-san and the other Royal Guards," said Urahara.
"You are right Urahara. Grandfather has not returned from the dead," said Byakuya. Ichigo and Rukia bowed their heads slightly.
"I'm sorry Nii-sama. I did my best, but the souls of the Royal Guards were beyond my power to resurrect," said Rukia.
"You have nothing to be ashamed about Tsukino Oujo," said a voice from behind. Rukia and the others turned around to see a completely revitalized Yamamoto with a fully regenerated left arm clearly visible. "You and Kurosaki Ichigo, along with your human nakama have already given us more than we could ever hope for. With your efforts, Soul Society has not only been saved, but it has been restored to its former glory." The Captain turned around and addressed all of the Shinigami, militia and civilians gathered before him.
"We shall mourn the passing of the Royal Guards, for their deaths represent the end of an era. However, on the same token, this day shall be celebrated in the annals of Soul Society history as the day when the Great Civil War ended." Ichigo looked up the sky and smiled. It is finally over, dad, he thought.
This chapter wraps up all of the loose ends of the Civil War Arc, and the Royal Guard Saga as a whole. The next chapter will see the final conclusion of the story. Undoubtedly there will be some people who dislike how this arc has ended, especially the events that transpire in this chapter. But considering the tone of Bleach, and Shonen manga as a whole, I think it was appropriate that the arc ended on a happy rather than depressing note. There are enough lasting changes to the main and minor characters together with Soul Society as a whole to ensure that not everything has been restored to the previous status quo.
*Azrael's end: I know a lot of people are going to be perplexed that Azrael somehow survived Ichigo's Tengetsu attack. In my opinion having Azrael come back after the last blow was necessary in order to give him the end that he deserves. Instead of simply being vaporized, I thought it was better that he was actually punished for his crimes. His final end also allowed me to bring back the gates of Hell and King Enma for one last time and resolve all of the unaddressed plotlines relating to them.
*Aizen as Spirit King: Now here is another event that I know many people will be surprised and astonished about. I saw a few readers were commenting about what would happen to the King's Realm after Azrael was defeated, with some predicting that Urahara would take the throne. I bet none of you saw Aizen's coronation as Spirit King coming. Before everyone rages, I will say that having Aizen take the Spirit Throne not out of greed or power, but in order to save the world, was a fitting end for his evolution as a character. To be more specific, the one who becomes Spirit King isn't Aizen per se, but rather the Hougyoku itself who took over his dead body. The crowning of the Spirit King was sort of intended to be a homage of the birth of the new Lich King at the end of WoW: Wrath of the Lich King.
*The restoration of Seireitei and Karakura Town: I think this is the event that readers will find the most controversial. The mass revival of of all the dead characters is I guess very similar to the Dragon Balls as well as the end of the Pain Invasion Arc in Naruto. However, I think this moment has enough distinctive traits of the Bleach manga to make it different from the other two events. After the displays of power from Ichigo and Ishida, I wanted to give Rukia and Orihime their last moment in the limelight, and to make use of what are arguably their strongest powers: the ability to restore living and non-living objects to their original state. Also, I wanted to depict a poignant scene where Ichigo and Ishida give all of their power to help their loved ones. I will end by saying that not everyone who was killed during the war was resurrected. The nine Royal Guards, due to the manner of their deaths, have not been brought back. Obviously Isshin and Ryuken remain dead, and the same goes for Susano-o. For the characters who were brought back, and even for the characters who weren't killed, the next chapter will show the lasting effects the war has had upon all of them.