As usual, I acknowledge that copyright is to Tite Kubo and the rest of the folks at Shonen, ViZ and whoever else is involved with any of the official material.
Took a while to get this done, since I have other stuff needs to be done in real life (and a severe case of writer's block when it came to the middle of the chapter).
Ikkaku and Yumichika returned to complete chaos in the 11th Division barracks, after the many amateur Shinigami under their control had decided it was a good idea to lure the Hollows that had attacked back to their barracks for an ambush attack, which didn't work out at all as planned due to none of the Shinigami having any sense of co-operation (then again, neither did the Hollows, but at least they were slightly more intelligent). As a result, quite a few quarters had been trashed, and the few unseated members of the division who weren't hospitalised were rebuilding them with the help of a few members of the 10th Division who had nothing better to do. Only Kenpachi, Yachiru and Aramaki were waiting to greet the 3rd and 5th Seat when they arrived.
"Yay, Baldy's back! And the other one, what did I call you again..." Yachiru sometimes managed to forget the nicknames she gave to other Shinigami, which defeated the purpose of giving them names in the first place, but she soon came up with new ones, even making them up on the spot occasionally.
"It's Yumichika, and as far as I can recall your name for me was based around the first syllable."
"Funny how she always remembers mine," Ikkaku groaned, rolling his eyes.
"So how was it in the human world? Was it fun?" Yachiru was now jumping up and down on Kenpachi's back, eager to hear stories of a place she'd never had the chance to visit.
"Well, it was until we fought the Arrancar..."
"Were they strong?"
"Not really, they woulda been dead if we'd had the power limit released."
"Heh," Kenpachi made a sound that was half-way between clearing his throat and laughing, "I coulda taken 'em all on single-handedly, literally! No power limit's gonna stop me, hell, even with my eyepatch most fights are over way too quickly!"
"I would assume the damage to our barracks came from the hollow attacks we heard about." Yumichika noted the damage that had been done while he and Ikkaku were off fighting Edrad.
"Yeah, cos these dumbasses don't know how to fight properly!" Kenpachi gestured towards the few Shinigami who were actually still standing, smacking Aramaki in the face as he did so.
"I think you just put another Shinigami out of commission, Captain," Yumichika said nervously as Aramaki hit the ground several feet away.
"He'll be fine. I think."
Meanwhile, in Las Noches, Aizen had summoned Ulquiorra to a private meeting in his quarters about his recent visit to the Human World, specifically who he had encountered there.
"If you don't mind, I'd like you to return to the human world along with a few others in order to lure the Ryoka girl out, so that she can be brought to Las Noches, on the condition that nobody is allowed to let her come to harm. Her power is much too valuable for that," Aizen explained.
"Very well, sir, I shall assemble the squad as soon as possible," Ulquiorra replied.
"Good. Before you start choosing, I'd like you to take Wonderweiss out into the Human World with you, simply for experience. He must learn who our enemies are if he is to be of any use in battle."
"You know best, my lord. I shall take him with me and guide him in the ways of the Arrancar." After Aizen left, Ulquiorra began to make a mental list of the other Espada, weighing up the pros and cons of taking each of them to the Human World. Stark, Barragan and Tia Harribel were all higher-ranked than him, so they were out of the question, although Stark would be too lazy to leave Las Noches anyway and Barragan was about as stubborn as it was possible to get. Ulquiorra didn't fancy taking Nnoitra with him either, he'd instinctively attack the girl out of pure sexist hatred, and the orders specifically said not to let her come to harm. Grimmjow was a possibility, but his cocky attitude and lack of restraint counted against him, and the two new Espada, Luppi and Arturo, were intriguing, so they were considered too. Yammy had been to the Human World before, but he was dumb as a sack of hammers and would probably end up killing their intended target accidentally, and Szayel spent all of his time in his lab working on whatever bizarre experiments he had running, so it was down to 3 in no time at all.
Ulquiorra still didn't quite understand why Wonderweiss was so precious to Aizen. According to Tosen he was a "being of purity", which could either mean he was the most refined of the Arrancar, having been born from the original Hogyoku, or that because his mind was completely blank there was not a single corrupt thought in his head, so he would be much easier to control and craft into the perfect Arrancar. But the kid was a complete failure as far as the Espada could see, after all, he was incapable of even speaking, never mind thinking tactically in battle. Ulquiorra hoped that Wonderweiss had some sort of trick up his sleeve, and went off to round up the three Espada he had chosen to form his official team to travel to Karakura Town.
D-Roy had now been wandering the desert for a day, and his sanity had begun to slip. He was still reeling from the shock of being disowned by everyone he'd ever trusted, especially Grimmjow. In the end it was all down to power, if he'd just been stronger he would fit right in with the rest, but since he'd been attacked early on, before the group had begun their quest for evolution, he was weaker as an Arrancar, and resented this fact every waking moment. The only time he'd ever had any sort of success in battle was against random invading Hollows, the kind that were seen as little more than insects to the rest of the inhabitants of Las Noches.
While D-Roy was deep in troubled thoughts, the sand beneath him began to rumble. In the distance, several large shapes (and one very small one) were heading right towards him. His first instinct was to run, but he thought better of it. If he could just stand his ground against these Hollows his self-esteem would rise a little and he'd be able to resist the urge to drive his zanpakuto through his face for a little longer. As the figures drew closer, D-Roy prepared. He tried to attack, but a huge, snake-like Hollow swiped at him and knocked him back a few feet. The small figure from before stood over him, drooling.
"You deserved that, you big meanie!" a voice yelled from where he'd been stood moments before.
"Who the hell are you, and why's the kid drooling all over me?" D-Roy asked, enraged by how easily he'd been stopped. The other Hollows approached, making sure the child was kept safe.
"Don'tcha know? We're the..."
"We're Thieves Nel-Don-Pe!" The small Arrancar interrupted as the larger hollow tried to explain.
"Hey, that's not what we agreed on!"
"But I'm the great Nel Tu!"
"Alright Nel, you win..."
"I'm here on the ground after attacking you and you're arguing amongst yourselves over names?" D-Roy was baffled by the small argument taking place. The group itself was almost as mismatched as his own, with the little girl, a slender Arrancar and a huge, fat guy who D-Roy couldn't decide whether he was Arrancar or Adjuchas and was covered in spots. Also, there was the matter of the giant worm hanging around behind them.
"Why, I almost forgot, we have visitors!"
"Oh, just get on with it. I know the kid's name, now who the fuck are you two?"
"It's bad to use that kinda language around children don't cha know?" the large Hollow/Arrancar/whatever said in a rather derisive and patronising manner. The skinny Arrancar pushed past and offered a hand to D-Roy, even though he'd just tried to kill them all. The former Fraccion took it, and was back on his feet again at last. The blow from that worm had been worse than initially thought, and just went to show how weak D-Roy was if he couldn't even stand up to a brainless organism.
"Pesche Guatiche at your service, and this here's Dondochakka Birstane. Don't mind him, he can get a little... emotional." D-Roy noticed that there'd been tears streaming down Dondochakka's face the whole time, and his voice had sounded slightly strained, so it made sense that he was slightly over-dramatic when it came to emotions.
"Hey, don't forget our pet, Bawabawa!" Dondochakka said, wiping a few tears off his mask.
"Yeah, that too. So, you wanna join us in our game of eternal pursuit, stranger?"
"Well it ain't like I got anywhere else to go..." And so, D-Roy joined Pesche, Dondochokka and Bawabawa in their quest to chase Nel across the deserts of Hueco Mundo, although he had to use Sonido to catch up after falling behind several times. Still, he was finally a Fraccion again, although this was not to be revealed until much later...
Back inside Las Noches, Yammy had a sneaking suspicion that Ulquiorra was deliberately avoiding him. He'd gone straight past his quarters without at least acknowledging his existence, and Espada would usually only leave their quarters if they had some sort of assignment or there was a meeting called. Yammy hadn't been informed of any meetings, so he assumed that Ulquiorra was up to something, and for once was correct. Trying to be as quiet as possible, using short bursts of Sonido, Yammy followed behind as Ulquiorra made his way through the labyrinthine halls of Las Noches until he came to a door marked with the number 7. Ulquiorra knocked once before giving up on etiquette and entering Arturo's chamber. Yammy was still a good distance away, not wanting to give away his presence too soon.
"Arturo, our Lord Aizen has requested that we make a tactical assault on the Human World in order to bring back a certain human with powers similar to that of a Shinigami," Ulquiorra explained to the newest of the Espada.
"The human world is of no interest to me. The fleas that inhabit that place would only serve to foul my blade!" Arturo protested, strongly objecting to what he saw as a step down and a huge insult, after all, he was the first of the Arrancar and his only concern was the destruction of Soul Society.
"Our aim is not to destroy, only to distract. It is a delicate balance..."
"I FUCKING KNEW IT!" Yammy bellowed triumphantly, "Going to the human world without me, eh?" The two other Espada turned around, surprised to see this lumbering oaf in their midst.
"Yammy, not to be insulting, but I just don't think you would be capable of what this job requires."
"You bastard! I'll kill you, and the usurper too!" Yammy's rage was reaching boiling point, and Ulquiorra had to hope he wouldn't see the sense to use his Resurreccion.
"Do you even know what a usurper is, Yammy?" Ulquiorra asked honestly, not expecting Yammy to know the meaning of any non-expletive words with more than about five letters.
"Uh... he's trying to kill Aizen, right? Right?"
"Not as far as I am aware, Yammy..."
"That is it! I tire of your anger, ape! Prepare to join the many others who have been slain by my blade!" Arturo unexpectedly unsheathed Fenice, taking Yammy by surprise. A punch from Yammy's recently repaired arm had enough force to send Arturo through the wall, but not enough to keep going until he exited Las Noches itself. Arturo responded by charging forward with his vastly superior Sonido skills, honed over a thousand years of practice deep in the Menos Forest. During those dark times, Arturo had slain his fair share of Hollows, and now Yammy was next to be added to the tally. One slash to the neck and his head rolled along the ground, the wound cauterised by the sheer reiryoku emanating from Fenice.
"That was impressive, I must say. Consider yourself part of the assignment," Ulquiorra said, still taken aback by the events that had just unfolded before him.
"These skills do not come from base emotions such as anger, it is a matter of mastery. If that ape had realised this, he would still be alive and my power would not have grown further, however slight the difference may be." Arturo didn't really gain much from the experience, but it would have to be reported to Aizen in order to appoint a new Espada in Yammy's place. Leaving the body to crumble into dust, Arturo quickly carved off Yammy's tattoo and set off to report the incident, while Ulquiorra set off to inform Luppi of his part in an authorised mission to the Human World.
Meanwhile, in Soul Society, Hanataro had finally located the Shiba household after a few tip-offs from various Rukongai residents. With the arms reaching outwards from the ground holding up a banner, it looked more than a little bit intimidating for a Shinigami who hadn't seen much art in his lifetime. Cautiously, he approached the door, but before he could reach it he was tackled to the ground by a familiar figure.
"Oh, wait, it's you! That kid who healed up the Ryoka!" Ganju gasped. The poor sap sure didn't look like he'd last five minutes outside the Seireitei, so how had he managed to track the Shiba household down?
"Y-yeah, that's right... ow..." Hanataro struggled to get back up once Ganju had let go, the force of the tackle had been enough to disorientate him quite a bit. The next thing Hanataro knew, a well-proportioned, one-armed woman had appeared and started beating the crap out of Ganju, apparently for no reason. She was shouting something, but Hanataro's hearing was muffled so it all sounded like a wall of static, but from what he could gather he knew Ganju feared her for whatever reason.
"...Fine, sis, I'll leave him to you. They are my boars, after all," Ganju groaned as he walked off towards the house, presumably his destination was a barn somewhere behind (or maybe inside) the house, but of course Hanataro hadn't been here before and had only just got his hearing back properly so could only establish that the situation involved pigs. Now, the woman was coming straight towards him. He put his hands up reflexively, assuming that the next thing that he'd experience was a punch to the face that would knock him out cleanly, but luckily this was not the case.
"Kukaku Shiba at your service, how can I help ya?" She offered Hanataro her left hand (as, of course, she lacked the right), which he took, and found his hand almost crushed by her formidable strength, even 11th Division members would be wary of a handshake so firm.
"Sorry to bother you, ma'am, but would you happen to know where Rukia is?" Hanataro enquired. He looked away as he said this, embarrassed, mainly because he was pretty much at cleavage height and he was torn between either that or the arm, neither of which he thought would go down particularly well with Kukaku.
"Last I heard she was headed out to the Human World. Might wanna head over to 13th Division and ask Ukitake about it, or with a bit of luck she might be there anyways," Kukaku replied. Hanataro relaxed a little, it became obvious that she wasn't as fierce as she had first appeared, although her reiatsu still rivalled that of a Lieutenant.
"Well, thanks... Has Ganju always been like that?" Hanataro asked, not wanting to leave just yet.
"Pretty much. Doesn't help he was raised in the Rukongai for most of his life without his brother, so he ended up picking up most o' their ways instead o' the more noble ways of life. He coulda made a decent Shinigami if he'd just had a brain and a lasting role model. But sadly Hollows exist in this world, and they fucked up our lives, once Kaien was gone, that was it, we lost our status as a Noble House since there was nobody else in charge, and we've been out here for quite a while. Sometimes I miss the old times, but you gotta keep rooted in the present if you're gonna survive, especially out here. Hell, just last week we had an infestation o' freakin' Hollows, crawled in through a crack in-between dimensions that appeared overnight."
"This might seem an odd question, but did you ever happen to know Seinosuke Yamada?" Hanataro had become even more curious, especially since both his and Kukaku's family had experienced the devastating loss of a brother, and in the case of the male siblings had either witnessed the event itself or the aftermath.
"Yeah, I knew the guy. He was trouble. Soon as he walked into a bar everyone else'd be outta there like a shot, cos when he started drinkin'..."
"I don't remember him ever being like that," Hanataro interrupted, "He was devoted to his Captain and his job, and he'd do anything to keep his fellow Division members out of harm's way."
"You sure we're talkin' about the same guy? All I remember is the drunken idiot side of him, hell, I never even found out what Division he was from." As Kukaku recounted tales of the meetings between her and Seinosuke, Hanataro began to question whether he really had known his brother as well as he'd thought. For a long time they'd been split up by the Shinigami Academy and their vastly differing ranks, and it didn't help that Hanataro's zanpakuto was late to materialise. Seinosuke had been gifted with great power from the start and shot up to the rank of Lieutenant in no time at all, and all signs pointed towards him being an honest, hard-working Shinigami, but most of the other members of the Division disliked him, universally calling his adequacy to fulfil his role into question.
"You got much experience out in the field?" Kukaku asked Hanataro, with no indication of why the topic of conversation had shifted from siblings to combat.
"Not really..." Hanataro shifted uneasily, hoping that the situation wouldn't become too violent and explosive.
"Didn't think so. Ya got potential, kid, it's in your reiatsu, but you gotta learn how to use it properly. You're probably more suited to Kido if anything. No two ways about it, you gotta practice in your own time, once you're done healing for the day, work on some Bakudo or something..."
"! THE BOARS ESCAPED AGAIN!" Ganju called, as a stampede of portly porcines charged towards Hanataro and Kukaku, with Ganju hanging onto the back of the leader of the pack. Luckily, he'd had the foresight to throw a firework ahead of him, which exploded violently, sending the squealing animals back towards the barn again. Kukaku gave chase, shouting verbal abuse at Ganju (as was usual in such a situation),leaving Hanataro no choice but to head back to the Seireitei, specifically the 13th Division barracks, to find Rukia and inform her of his promotion.
Deep within Las Noches, Grimmjow and his fraccion had grown bored. Without their resident punchbag, they had nothing much else to do until Aizen dispatched them on another mission, and that wasn't likely to happen for a long while, especially not with Tosen lurking around.
"So, how long do you give him?" Edrad asked, breaking the silence at last.
"Who, D-Roy? Hell, I'd be surprised if he was still alive, bro!" Ilfort guffawed, severely underestimated his old comrade.
"Well, it has been a day since he was banished," Shawlong observed, "Ilfort may well be correct. D-Roy's power was about level with Nakeem's Gillian stage, and the Hollows inhabiting the vast deserts are often more powerful than that level."
"Heh, fucker deserves everything he gets, he was dragging us down. Every mission we took him on ended up as an escort mission," Grimmjow said. As the discussion of D-Roy's likelihood of survival in the open continued, Ulquiorra entered their quarters, disrupting the flow and killing the atmosphere with his cold demeanour and unreadable expression. Arturo and Luppi stood by just outside the doorway, awaiting confirmation that Grimmjow would be travelling with them to the Human World for their next assignment. While reporting the death of Yammy to Aizen, Arturo had reconsidered his stance on the mission to the Human World, choosing to go along after all, if only to see what kind of Shinigami would be stationed there. Luppi had not taken much convincing, he was willing to do anything that would bring him closer to the top of the ranks, after all, that was what Gin would want.
"Damn, did ya have to burst in like that?" Grimmjow asked rudely, resisting the urge to impale Ulquiorra on the end of his zanpakuto, "This better be important."
"It is," Ulquiorra replied, his reiatsu seemingly creating a void of nothingness, a white realm empty of sounds and emotions, "You and several other Espada have been selected to distract the Shinigami operating in the Human World while I locate our lord Aizen's intended target, a Human girl with unique powers that could help him gain his ultimate goal. Under no circumstances must this female come to any harm."
"Alright, I'll come. Gives me an opportunity to get back at those fuckers after they stood up to us the first time round. And maybe that kid'll show up again. I've gotta see that guy bring out his inner Hollow, just so it'll be all the sweeter when I kill him despite all his power. He doesn't know it, but there is nothing he can do to stop the Sexta Espada!"
"Very well. Meet me outside my quarters in twelve hours, that should be sufficient time to prepare for the journey ahead." Ulquiorra had decided to hold back from telling the group that he'd be bringing Wonderweiss along, as this would probably be quite an off-putting prospect, but those were the orders that had been given by Aizen himself, and his word was final. In twelve hours time, the Espada would be undertaking quite possibly their most dangerous (legal) mission yet, risking their own lives in order to being one girl back to Hueco Mundo...