Ichigo looked to the setting sun and heaved a deep sigh; turning to his squad he gave a nod and turned to open the gateway into Hueco Mundo. The black hole large enough to allow the larger 7th Division to pass through in formation. Ichigo's 14th entered first creating a perimeter to cover the movements of the 7th. There designated arrival point was the closest to Las Noches of any of the battle force, less than a standard mile from the structure. All around them they could feel the battle raging as the other divisions had already been engaged, hopefully pulling the majority of the enemy forces away from their current position. Their first task was to make contact with Harribel, the last defected Espada that had remained behind. Grimmjow looked around and nodded to his right, away from Aizen's fortress, indicating that Harribel was in that direction. Ichigo summoned Grimmjow to him while watching Komamura waiting for him to send one of his squad members over as well. The canine sent his lieutenant over as Ichigo gave them their orders.
"Grimmjow, you and Iba go to Harribel and get any new information you can from her. It is her decision to return with you or to continue to remain to feed us information. Be fast, but be careful, return to this position as quickly as possible. I feel a large number of arrancar on their way here, go before they arrive." With a nod the two disappeared to carry out their mission.
"Kurosaki, I feel no approaching reiatsu are you sure that the enemy is coming?" Komamura asked.
"Hai, they are coming. At least 200, mostly low class arrancars but a few privaron as well. I'd have to say about a dozen of them…no more than that. No Espada this wave, I think Aizen is holding them back until he assesses our defenses." Komamura still felt nothing approaching but as he watched the other Vizards and Espada he noticed they were all tense and looking in the same direction as Ichigo.
"How do you suggest we handle this?"
Ichigo looked up at his fellow captain before calling over his shoulder, "Ulquiorra, Shinji, and Uryuu come here please."When the three men joined their captain Ichigo continued, "200 arrancar, at least. A dozen privaron, at most. Suggestions?"
"These are low level Privaron, just more of Aizen's trash." Ulquiorra intoned. Uryuu looked at the pale man and agreed with his assessment.
"They will not be much of a problem, our squad could wipe them out in minutes," Shinji said with a contemplative look on his face. "However, I recommend that we have mid level shinigami handle them."
"Why do you suggest that we use my squad when you said you can take them out in minutes?" Komamura growled.
"Well, this wave is a joke as far as their power level goes, therefore it can be understood that this is a test of our strength. Aizen has no knowledge of any of our abilities outside of his former Espada and what Ichigo has allowed him to see. By using mid-level shinigami we will defeat them with little trouble and still retain the element of surprise concerning the actual level of our strength. Let him underestimate us, it will be to our advantage."
"Your argument has merit. I see the benefit to hiding our strength this early in the battle. I will send out three squads to dispatch the enemy." Komamura turned and called three of his squad leaders forward to have them ready to engage the enemy. Ichigo dismissed his men with orders to hold back the 14th until he ordered otherwise.
Grimmjow and Iba arrived at Harribel's location in a matter of minutes, the two easily traversing the barren landscape. Harribel looked at Iba with slight concern before addressing her fellow Espada. "Grimmjow, I see that you were accepted into the Seireitei."
"Hai, into Kurosaki's squad. You know that is the only way we would agree to work with them."
Harribel nodded once and proceeded with her report. "I don't have much time; I'm supposed to be scouting the battles to assess strengths and weaknesses. Aizen is unaware of your whereabouts and is unconcerned for the most part; he feels he can take you all out easily. He plans on saying he has Kurosaki's family as a way to try to manipulate the boy into joining him, he doesn't realize that Urahara has been allowed back into the seireitei and thinks that the boys family and the shop keeper have gone into hiding. He's holding Aaroniero, Yammy, and I back from the fight for now but he will probably send us out to fight soon enough. Even though he is confident that he will win he has added kido traps to the throne room and the main corridors leading into Las Noches. If you use the side passages you will avoid them, the ones in the throne room though will be an issue, I do not know how many or what they are or how to disarm them. I need to return to my duties now, so that he does not suspect me."
"Listen Hal, when you are sent into battle you need to either face our squad or the captain of squad 10. He is a small child looking man with white hair."
"Hitsugaya, I know of him, I am sure that I can arrange to face off against the correct opponent." With that the blond woman was gone and Grimmjow and Iba were on their way back to their captains to report.
"Shiro, go to Toshiro and pass on the information that Harribel gave us."
"Be back soon King, don't fight without me!"
"Oh Shiro make sure to mask your reiatsu." The pale man nodded before fading away. Grimmjow watched as Ichigo turned back to the large captain at his side, "Your men are doing very well, Komamura, they have almost wiped out the arrancar." A snort was the only response he received. "Grimmjow, I want you to get with Shinji and Ulquiorra and get a plan together to enter Las Noches." Grimmjow nodded and stalked off, Ichigo couldn't help but admire the feline grace that the man exuded. With a small smirk he turned his attention back to the end of the small skirmish with a small smile. "They are returning, I will have Orihime see to any injuries." Turning he made his way to the bubbly woman.
Aizen listened to the reports from his three Espada concerning the strength of the forces that had invaded his domain. A large number of his arrancar had been taken out, cutting their number in half. "Harribel, I want you to deliver a message to young Kurosaki. Tell him I have his family and that if he agrees to join me I will allow them to live. But in order to show his loyalty first he had to take out the captains of the Gotei 13." The smug look on his face disgusted the woman but she schooled her expression as she bowed and left to deliver the message. Her Fraccion only a few steps behind much to her annoyance. Their loyalty was to Aizen first and her second.
As she arrived at Ichigo's position she signaled her Fraccion to stay back a short distance. Ichigo watched her approach him the look in her eye signaling not to show the true nature of their relationship. "What do you want Espada? You are stupid for coming here."
"Before you do something you will regret I suggest you listen to the message I bring from Aizen-sama." As she spoke she communicated with her eyes that her Fraccion were a threat. Ichigo got the message and sent Shiro back out to relay the message to Grimmjow, the defected Espada had hid their reiatsu and were staying out of site. Grimmjow got the message and sent Ulquiorra and Stark to take them out quietly.
"Your message is?" Ichigo said as he gave a barely perceptible nod.
"Aizen-sama wishes you to join him. He has acquired your family and will allow them to live if you agree to his terms. Join him and to show you are loyal destroy all of the remaining captains." Harribel played her part until she felt the destruction of her Fraccion. Allowing her shoulders to sag slightly she looked at the young man in front of her and shook her head slightly. "He thinks he can control you with lies and deception. Go against his wishes and this war will start in earnest. What message do I return with? And what shape do I return in?"
"You know the response, tell him I said to go fuck himself. As for your condition, I'll have Lisa rough your appearance a little but that's it, your Fraccion sacrificed themselves so that you could return to Aizen with my reply." Harribel nodded as the dark haired Vizored approached her.
"Harribel I will not cause any permanent damage, just enough to look like you had to fight to get away." Harribel nodded and braced herself for the blows.
"Aizen-sama, the boy refused your offer. They tried to take me out but my Fraccion covered my retreat, they did not make it."
"This is most disappointing, what did the boy say exactly?"
"He was rather vulgar."
"Ah, I see. Go and gather the rest of my forces, it is time to finish this fight and take my place as a god."
"Aizen has mobilized the rest of his troops; he is with them on the battle field." Ichigo said as looked toward the fortress, "The remaining Espada are with them. Harribel is heading for the 10th, Toshiro knows what he has to do, and she'll be taken out of the fight quickly. If this gets dragged out she will still be able to play her part if she chooses."
Komamura nodded in acknowledgment before speaking, "What direction are they going?"
"They are heading for the main force, as we expected. We have our mission to complete, let us get ready to enter Las Noches and secure the Hogyoku." The two captains turned and approached their troops to finalize their entry plan.
"So the best way to enter safely is to move through the east entrance, the west was Szayel's domain and who knows what that freak left behind," Grimmjow said as they looked down at map Ulquiorra had provided. "Be on your guard we don't know what kind of traps Aizen has laid."
With a nod and a sigh the captains gathered their men and began the entry. Ichigo couldn't help but feel that something was going to happen, the subtle tension leaking out in his reiatsu causing his men to be increasingly wary. They made their way into the building with little resistance, the building being mostly abandoned. Standing outside the throne room Ichigo's sense of dread increased, something was about to go horribly wrong.
As they entered the throne room, Ichigo slowly made his way to the hidden vault in the floor. All around him he heard the others slowly trying to disarm any of the traps they encountered.
"King! There is a powerful enchantment put around the vault, you are going to need Hachi or Tessai to help with this."
"Tessai, Hachi! I need you over here to try to disarm the trap on the vault!" The two men made their way over and began to work on breaking Aizen's Kido. Ichigo stood guard over them still feeling like something was so very wrong. Suddenly there was screeching sound that reminded him of steel being bent and torn, a giant hole was being ripped open in the middle of the room. What appeared to be hundreds of incomplete arrancars poured into the room. Ichigo could feel that Tessai and Hachi had almost broken the kido but still needed more time so he called out to Shinji and Komamura, "I have to keep them safe! Shinji you've got control for now! Keep away from the traps and take them out!"
"You got it captain!" the blond said with a wide smile. "Hey Komamura let your people know to stay clear of us, to try to keep everyone safe and end it quick we're gonna go all hollow."
The large captain nodded and passed the information on to his men, many of them looking at the Vizards with curiosity and apprehension. Shinji signaled and the reiatsu in the room exploded the Vizoreds masks in place they began to attack in full force. Ichigo only had a moment more to wait when Tessai called him over telling him he could open the vault now. Ichigo followed the directions given him by Orihime and Ulquiorra and soon he had the Hogyoku in hand. Using shunpo he arrived next to Urahara and handed the sphere over, "Here it's your responsibility to take core of this now. I have to go help, there is something else coming."
Ichigo could feel the malevolent reiatsu moving under the ground making its way to them, he wanted to try to clear out the existing threat before it arrived. Moments later Ichigo stood facing a hollow unlike anything he had ever seen before. Grimmjow moved up alongside Ichigo and said lowly, "That was supposed to be destroyed, it's an abomination. Aizen had Szayel experimenting with creating powerful adjucha and this was the result. It was uncontrollable and even the Hogyoku couldn't turn it into an arrancar. Don't let it touch you or your sword; it will drain your energy. It also is resistant to weak kido and cero."
"King, you know what we have to do. Take off the regulator and blast the hell out of it!"
"We got this Grimmjow, just help keep everyone back." As Ichigo turned to prepare to attach the creature that resembled a large spider that had its flesh burned off, it suddenly lunged and struck Grimmjow in the chest injecting him with an acid like substance. The force sent Grimmjow flying as he landed he sprung one of Aizen's traps and vanished. Enraged Ichigo acted before he could register a single thought, the force of the cero he fired shattered the regulator he wore and destroyed the hollow and most of the building before anyone could blink. Shinji grabbed onto Ichigo's arm pulling him out of the room as it began to collapse. Snarling Ichigo was fighting the hold on him as Shiro began to emerge to help regain control.
"Blondie, I got him. We need to go help the rest of the force; they are being battered pretty well. Aizen had more of these incomplete arrancar and they have joined the fight outside." Shinji nodded and began to direct the 14th on where to go. Komamura had Iba get the 7th ready to move as well before he approached Shiro.
"You aren't Ichigo, are you?"
"I am and I am not," Shiro said, "We do not have time to waste, and the others are in need."
"I am aware, I have but one question," the softness of his voice making Shiro look at him and pause, "Are you good or are you evil?"
"I am neither, to be one or the other I would have to exist outside of King. I am as much a part of Ichigo as Zangetsu is. Understand?" Komamura nodded and they moved away from each other and the ruins of Las Noches to join in the battle raging outside.
Shiro tore through the enemy, leaving nothing but the carnage as a sign that he had even been there. He could still feel Ichigo raging inside and knew that his king would break free soon.
"King, calm yourself. We are approaching Aizen's position. If you regain your senses I'll switch with you."
"Fine you ass, let me out." Ichigo grumbles as he forced himself to calm down. He still didn't understand why he reacted so violently to Grimmjow's injury and disappearance. He pushed the troubling thoughts into the back of his mind as his consciousness emerged to retake control of his body. "Shiro, who's already engaging Aizen?"
"Ahh…feels like the drunk and his partner, the sick one."
"Shit lets go, we gotta help them."
As Ichigo fought his way toward where Ukitake and Kyoraku were fighting he cast around with his senses to locate his squad. Orihime was assisting the 4th with the more serious injuries, much to Ichigo's relief. Ulquiorra had joined a contingent of 8th and 13th division members protecting the 4th, Starrk joined Isshin and Yoruichi moving quickly around the battlefield taking out the enemy with deadly speed and accuracy, Tessai and Hachi had rejoined their former squad adding their immense power to the Kido Corps, Nnoitra found a spot amongst the 11th which was no surprise, Uryuu had joined Shuhei and the 9th along with Chad and Kensei, and Kisuke and the remaining Visoreds were fighting together on their own. In the back of his mind he felt a whisper of reiatsu that belonged to Grimmjow, letting him know that the blue haired pain was still alive.
Ichigo crested a large dune and Aizen came into view, the two captains were having a hard time dealing with Aizen's illusions. Before Ichigo could take another step to aid his struggling allies another large deformed adjucha's intercepted him. Bringing his sword to bare against this new foe, Ichigo felt the sudden faltering of Ukitake's reiatsu. Moving to see around the grotesque mass just in time to see Ukitake's body fall. Kyoraku's anguished cry cut straight through Ichigo's soul calling forth an echoing pain. Without the regulator there was nothing to help contain the sudden spike in his power that the pain called to the surface. The hollows in a 100 yard radius disintegrated as the wild wave of spiritual pressure rolled over them. Ichigo's vision went black for a moment, the specter of dreamed agony floating in his mind and the whisper in the furthest reaches of his consciousness, a voice both familiar and foreign, "save him or you will die". As Ichigo's vision cleared he saw the wave of his power hit Aizen full on and knock him from the air.
Aizen's eye's grew large, showing his shock at being so easily knocked down and having his illusions crumble like falling leaves. 'How? This cannot be!' he thought to himself as he cought himself just before he hit the ground. He quickly decided that he needed to fall back and regroup, his forces were holding up but were getting spread too thin. Giving the signal his army pulled back into Las Noches, deep into the west wing where Szayel had his labs, knowing that the scientist had enough traps set up to deter the shinigami from pursuing right away. He had seriously underestimated his enemy. He needed a new plan and more strength. Masking his reiatsu he left the relative safety of the west labs and moved toward his throne room intent on retrieving the Hogyoku, he would have to use it to make more arrancar, he was out of options.
Ichigo stood on a hill top looking out at the battlefield sprawled below him, leaning heavily on his sword. The smell of the blood that soaked the once drab sandy landscape was cloying and thick, the silence was eerie when only an hour ago the sounds of battle raged. Behind the orange haired man was a make-shift aid station where the survivors of the battle were being seen to, Ichigo felt the presence come up alongside him, choosing not to acknowledge the quiet man.
'I've been here before,' Ichigo thought to himself. 'How did it go so bad so fast?'
"You know he's still alive. I feel his reiatsu but it's weak, if we don't find him soon he'll die."
Ichigo gave a small grunt as a sign he heard but made no other move. Emerald eye's looked off in the distance before he raised a hand and pointed, "Ichigo, captain, he is there. At least a day's journey using sonido. Will you go?"
'I have dreamt this before,' Ichigo's mind raced as he realized his dream was playing out right in front of him.
"No he will not," came a graveled voice from behind, "This war is not over, I will not allow my strongest Taichou to run off after an injured man." Ichigo turned his head slightly to look at the Soutaichou from the corner of his eye, the old man gasping at the look in the normally liquid honey eyes. The raw power that blazed in his eyes threatened to burn the old man, the intensity making him wonder how the boy was not consumed by his own power. "Aizen retreated but this is not yet over. Our scouts have…."
"I care not for your orders, or your opinion," Ichigo said his voice was cold, almost like his spirit was dying. "If I choose to go after him you cannot stop me. If I choose to pull my squad and send them you cannot stop me. My squad only answers to me, and I told you once before I will not follow a blind fool."
"Taichou, his pressure is fading."
'No, I have to change this! I need to save him, it's important for some reason.'
Suddenly Ichigo felt a clarity that he had never known before, with a nod to Ulquiorra he vanished. Ichigo reappeared next to Orihime, "Hime we need to go NOW." He said as he grabbed her around the waist and vanished again. A second later a gateway flashed open and vanished as Ichigo raced to change the outcome of his dream.