Kick About, Destroy, Bind
A.N.: I don't own Bleach
Chapter 1: Crimson Sunset
The sun reached its zenith as the two figures approached the small outpost town of Kagamino on the border of the Gensei Provinces. One was a girl who was only about eleven or twelve and rode a dirty-grey pony with light-red spots she named Strawberry. The other was a tall man with shoulder-length brown hair who was riding a silver and brown horse that had black markings around the eyes that he named Okami. The two stopped in front of a notice board and the man dismounted his horse. He looked at the Wanted Posters. Three in particular caught his eye.
WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE
"THE LOS LOBOS DUO"
COYOTE STARRK "LOS LOBOS" KNOWN TO BE ACCOMPANIED BY A GIRL CALLED "THE LOBATO"
REWARD: $100,000,000 IN GOLD OR CASH
CAUTION: EXTREMELY DANGEROUS, ACE GUNSLINGER, BELIEVED TO BE ABLE TO CONTROL WOLVES, SECOND MOST DANGEROUS OUTLAWS BEHIND "SHADOW LURKER"
WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE
"BLOOD STAR" AND THE "DIAMOND SISTERS"
REWARD: $90,000,000 IN GOLD OR CASH
CAUTION: EXTREMELY DANGEROUS, HIGHLY SKILLED IN EXPLOSIVES, "BLOOD STAR" KNOWN TO BE AN ACE GUNSLINGER, THIRD MOST DANGEROUS OUTLAWS, TEAMWORK IS KEY
WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE
ULQUIORRA SCHIFFER A.K.A. "NIGHT BRINGER"
REWARD: $85,000,000 IN GOLD OR CASH
CAUTION: EXTREMELY DANGEROUS, WORKS ALONE, ACE GUNSLINGER, KNOWN TO BE EXTREMELY AGILE AND QUICK, EX-TRACKER, FOURTH MOST DANGEROUS OUTLAW
"Hey Lily, take a look at this," he said to his companion. "It looks like our bounty went up by about…Lilynette?"
Lilynette Gingerback, a.k.a. "The Lobato", was trying to dismount her pony, Strawberry. Unfortunately, her right spur got caught in the stirrup of her western saddle and Lilynette was having difficulty getting it free. The man sighed and went to her.
"I'm stuck. Get me out of this, Starrk," she said.
"I'm coming," Coyote Starrk, a.k.a. "Los Lobos", said with a sigh.
He immediately knew what the problem was. She put her foot too far into the stirrup that her foot slipped the rest of the way. This was the ninth time that week she made that mistake and he wasn't in the mood to correct her. He knelt and pushed the bottom of her boot up a little bit and then slid her foot through the stirrup.
If anyone didn't know them, they would have thought them either father and daughter or brother and sister. However, they were actually "The Los Lobos Duo". Their main crime was mostly robbing banks or holding trains at gunpoint. However, they never robbed from those who were poor or who were heading out West in search of a new life. They mostly stole from those who would take advantage of the more honest folk in order to line their pockets with more cash and gold.
However, Starrk had been forced to kill a few times every once in a while. He didn't want anyone to get killed, but those people dared to threaten Lilynette or even tried to hurt her in any way. If there was one thing he hated above anything else, it was when someone tried to hurt Lilynette in any way. However, if she hurt herself, that was a completely different story. After all, she could get clumsy at times.
"Ow," Lilynette cried out.
Starrk was able to get her foot free from the stirrup, but as he did, she picked that moment to swing her left leg around. As a result, she lost her balance and fell to the ground. However, Lilynette was young and she just sprang up as though nothing happened and brushed off as much dirt as she could from her white shirt and brown vest. She patted down her blue jeans before looking at Starrk who was only shaking his head. She tucked the gold locket back under her shirt, but she stroked the heart-shaped pendant before doing so.
"Come on, Lilynette," he said.
They led their horses by the reigns until they reached a saloon. They tied their horses to the post. Starrk looked at the building across the way. It was another Hogyoku United Bank. He noticed that certain bank was starting to crop up everywhere. He pushed it out of his mind.
"Lilynette, watch the horses. I'm gonna get something to drink. I won't be long."
"Whatever you say," Lilynette said and stuck her tongue out at his back.
The bar itself was relatively quiet. There were two men sitting in a corner, but the shadows had grown to where Starrk could not make out anything other than their outlines. However, he could feel that they were watching him. The Barkeep looked up from wiping the counter and looked up. Starrk felt that something wasn't quite right. The sound of his footsteps echoed through the quiet room.
"Can I…can I help you?" the Barkeep asked. Starrk noticed that the Barkeep was a little bit nervous.
"I'd like a shot of whiskey," Starrk said, "and a bottle of Sarsaparilla."
"Alright sir," the Barkeep said.
Starrk looked into the bar's mirror and watched as a woman walked through the "batwing" doors. She was a darkly-tanned woman with shortly-cut blonde hair and a tattoo of a blue lightning bolt on each cheek. Her clothes were rather tight-fighting and showed off her well-endowed physique. She wore a bright crimson turtleneck that ended above her navel and showed off her flat stomach. She wore a pair of tight khaki pants that flared out at her knees. Her silver-ringed belt ran around her waist, just above the top of her pants. She wore a white, long-sleeved jacket that only went mid-torso and had a high collar with a crimson star on the back. Both of her white, fingerless gloves had a crimson five-pointed star. She looked around with her sea-green eyes and twirled her white hat with one finger.
"Well, I'll be," Starrk muttered.
Starrk couldn't believe that she could actually keep that outfit clean, especially on the dry, dusty roads. His own clothes were somewhat covered in dirt. His black pants were starting to show some age and become stiff with the mixture of dirt and sweat. His cream-colored shirt had the appearance of being worn for days on end. His dark blue vest was still in pretty decent shape, but it was starting to lighten a bit. His long, light-brown duster was lined with grey fur at the collar was in good shape. The only thing that he really kept clean was the pair of silver guns he hid with his duster and the dagger he kept strapped to his outer right thigh.
He looked at the howling wolf heads embroidered on the back of his black leather gloves with silver thread. He lowered his brown hat to avoid her gaze. He found it rather ironic that two of the most dangerous outlaws were in the same room. He remembered that the last time he saw her was during the failed attack on Karakura Town.
"Here you are sir," the Barkeep said and sat the glass of whiskey down on the table as well as a bottle of Chappy's Old Fashioned Sarsaparilla that had the picture of a smiling rabbit drinking a mug of foaming Sarsaparilla.
"Thanks," Starrk said.
"What can I get you, little lady?" he asked.
"I'll just have a glass of Reposado Tequila," she said.
"Yes ma'am," he said, taking in a good look at her large breasts before turning to get her drink. "Damn, they're about Rangiku's size, maybe even bigger," he whispered.
"It's been a while, Tia," Starrk said.
She didn't say anything. When the Barkeep put her glass of Tequila on the counter, she started to drink it. Starrk felt a desire to smirk a little, but forced his face to remain smooth. Starrk could tell that she was not in the mood to talk. He thought he knew why. It had taken three months for her to become one of the top four notorious outlaws. It only took Starrk a week and a half to get that same honor.
He could not believe that it had been four months since the failed attack on Karakura Town. They both knew that there were very dangerous men chasing after them. Unlike most of the inhabitants in the Gensei Provinces and those who served in the Gotei Squads, the military patrols in the Provinces, they knew who the "Shadow Lurker" was.
Garganta Pass, Four Months Before
The fourteen figures looked down at the town in the valley, the sun setting behind the town. Lilynette was the only fraccion with them since Starrk said that he would refuse to fight if she was left behind with the others. The "Shadow Lurker" agreed that she could come, so long as she didn't get in the way. If she was wounded somehow, then Starrk would have to deal with it. Starrk agreed.
The "Shadow Lurker" and his two "friends" were at the front with the ten Espada, the ten most dangerous "Arrancar" outlaws, behind. Starrk looked at Baraggan and saw that he was upset that he was not allowed to bring his "Crimson Dragons" with him and then he looked to Tia Harribel who sat on her white horse, Tiburón. Starrk saw that she was tense and he couldn't blame her.
"My dear Espada," the "Shadow Lurker" said, facing them. "It is time for you to gain your glory. Now, attack."
Most of the Espada cheered and rushed down into the Garganta Pass that led to Karakura Town. Lilynette cheered as well and would have charged with the other Espada. However, Starrk knew her too well and grabbed hold of her reigns.
"Starrk, why'd you do that?" Lilynette asked, upset. "I want to kick some Karakura ass."
"Easy Lilynette, let's not get too hasty. Besides, where did you learn that kind of language? A young lady shouldn't use such language," Starrk said.
"Why you…let go, I want to fight," Lilynette shouted.
Starrk could hear the other Espada cheering; even Baraggan was getting into it. However, the three Espada who still stood on the ridge did not cheer. Starrk and Harribel looked at Ulquiorra who only looked at them. In that moment, they realized that they all felt that something was not right. However, they saw the "Shadow Lurker" and the two others look at them, hands ready at their guns.
"So, they're going to force us to attack," Starrk whispered, regretting that he brought Lilynette with him.
Realizing that they had no choice, the four raced into the Pass and caught up with the other Espada. Together, the eleven raced into Karakura Town.
"Master Harribel!" someone shouted.
The two turned and saw a young woman walking into the bar. She had jaw-length black hair and her eyes were two different colors. Her right eye was ice blue and her left eye was amber. She had a red tattoo outlining her left eye. She wore a tight, white sleeveless v-necked jacket with black trim and unadorned gold buttons and a small crimson star on either side of her turned-up collar. She wore tight, white pants and black boots that were also clean.
Starrk noticed that the two men in the corner shifted slightly at the sound of the name Harribel. However, they still remained seated. The Barkeep acted as though he didn't notice. But Starrk saw his eyes stare hard at Harribel and his left hand slowly going under the counter. However, he only brought out two more bottles of beer and brought them to the two in the corner.
I must be getting jumpy, Starrk thought. However, something about the way the Barkeep looked at the two as he reached under the counter told him otherwise.
"We've been looking for you. You just snuck away from us and we were…" she trailed off when she noticed Starrk. "Is this guy bothering you?" she asked narrowing her eyes at him.
"No," Tia Harribel said and sipped at her Tequila.
"I don't know," the new-comer said and leaned closer to Starrk. "He looks like he's up to no good."
"That's enough, Apacci," Tia said.
"Wait a minute…" Apacci said, recognition filled her face and she grinned. "I remember you…Starrk. How's it been?" she asked and slapped Starrk on the back.
At that moment, Starrk saw the two figures in the corner get up. They were walking to the batwing doors, but stopped. Starrk and Tia both turned and reached for their pistols and heard an audible click coming from behind them.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," the Barkeep said, aiming his Colt revolver at them. "Ikaku, Yumichika, I got them covered."
"Excellent work, Maki-Maki," the one of them said as he approached the bar.
He was wearing the dark blue uniform of a Gotei. He got his own Colt revolver that was engraved with a rampaging dragon. Starrk couldn't help but notice how the sun gleamed off his bald head.
"This is most beautiful," the other said.
He was wearing the usual Gotei uniform, but he also wore a golden-colored pull-over that draped over his shoulders and covered the upper part of his chest. He also wore a golden-colored sleeve that went from his wrist to his elbow of the same material on his right arm that was attached to the pull-over by a strap of the same material. His own Colt revolver was engraved with a peacock on the grip.
"Shut up, Yumichika, just cover them," the bald man ordered, still grinning.
"Don't you realize that there's a specific art to capturing two of the most dangerous outlaws?" Yumichika asked, allowing his left hand to play with his evenly-cut black hair.
"It's not supposed to be beautiful. It's supposed to be bloody and violent," Ikaku said.
"No, it's supposed to be a glorious moment for anyone in the Gotei Squads."
"Like I said, 'bloody and violent,'" Ikaku said.
"Wouldn't it be better if you arrested them without letting your blood messing up your clothes?"
Starrk and Harribel looked at each other while Apacci looked at the two men as though they were insane. Maki-Maki, however, was starting to panic. He didn't know who he should keep his gun trained on and Ikaku and Yumichika were busy arguing again.
"Look, I'm telling you, it's pathetic. I mean, come on, we have two of the most wanted outlaws together…IN A BAR! It's pathetic," Ikaku said.
"I would have to disagree. I find the idea very beautiful. Don't you think so?"
"No, I find it rather sickening. This isn't any fun."
"Well, at any rate, we got them where we want them. We might even get a promotion, Ikaku."
"Hey, don't forget about me," Maki-Maki said, feeling rejected, as usual.
Yumichika and Ikaku returned their attention to Starrk and Harribel who were still standing there. However, Apacci had snuck out of the bar after Harribel whispered something to her. None of the three Gotei paid any attention to Apacci, thinking that she was just some random citizen walking into a bar.
"So," Ikaku said, aiming his revolver at Starrk's head. "You're the great 'Los Lobos', Coyote Starrk, right? This is my lucky day."
"Just don't go into your 'Lucky Me' dance, it's hideous," Yumichika said as Ikaku did go into his "Lucky Me" dance. "At any rate, you're the 'Blood Star', Tia Harribel. You better stay still," Yumichika said as he pointed his revolver at Harribel, "I would hate to ruin your beauty, even though you are just an 'Arrancar'."
"Hey now, just be careful. I don't want you to get any blood on my newly clean floors," Maki-Maki cried out.
"SHUT UP, MAKI-MAKI," Ikaku shouted. "YOU'RE NOT EVEN A REAL BARKEEP!"
"Oh…that's right," Maki-Maki said, realizing that he was actually a soldier of the Gotei.
"Starrk," Harribel growled.
"What is it?" Starrk asked, rather bored with the whole thing.
"I don't like how these two are talking about us. Let's teach them a lesson about messing around with an Espada."
"Just try not to be so loud. I didn't get much sleep."
"I'll try, but no promises."
Before the two men could do anything, Starrk and Harribel attacked. Starrk punched Ikaku in the stomach with his left fist while his right swung up and caused Ikaku to lose his grip on his revolver. As Ikaku's revolver flew into the air, Harribel drew one of her revolvers and shot Yumichika's gun out of his hand.
"You…you ruined my beautiful gun," Yumichika moaned and collapsed weeping as he cradled his revolver.
"What a wimp," Harribel whispered and turned to Starrk. "Was that too loud?"
"Yes," Starrk said, rubbing his head. "You didn't have to use your gun. Why did you think that I didn't? It's because…IT'S TOO LOUD!"
"GET OUT OF MY BAR!" someone cried out from behind them.
They turned and saw Maki-Maki aiming his revolver at them. He was shaking so badly that Starrk couldn't believe that he was in the Gotei Squads. On the other hand, Starrk couldn't believe that this guy once again forgot that he was even in the Gotei Squads. However, whenever he got really frightened or upset, Maki-Maki's fingers had the unfortunate habit of tightening. This was one of those times. His finger accidentally pulled the trigger and a bullet went straight for Harribel. In a quick, fluid motion, Starrk grabbed the bullet. Smoke rose from between his fingers and he walked back to Maki-Maki who was whimpering.
"I believe this is yours," he said and dropped the bullet onto the counter. "And this," he said, grabbing the bottle of Chappy's Old Fashioned Sarsaparilla from the counter, "is mine."
He turned and saw Ikaku getting up. Just as Ikaku was reaching for his spare gun, three shots rang out. They turned and saw Apacci and two other women standing in the entryway. All three had their guns drawn, but a woman with long, olive-colored hair with a silver-and-diamond hairpin shaped like a serpent on the right side also held a stick of dynamite.
Like Apacci, they all wore black boots and tight white pants. However, the woman holding the stick of dynamite had a long, white jacket with a crimson star on each collar that was open to reveal a light-blue shirt with silver buttons. The other woman, who had long, dark brown hair and dark skin, was wearing a low-cut white vest with crimson trim, a crimson star on the back, and gold buttons shaped like lion heads. She didn't wear a shirt under it and so her vest showed off much of her ample bosom.
Starrk recognized them as Harribel's other companions: Mila Rose and Sung-Sun. Sung Sun put her revolver into its white-leather holster engraved with gold scrollwork and brought out a silver-plated lighter with a small emerald in the center of an intricate network of scroll-worked serpents that were made to resemble vines. She flicked the lighter open and a small flame appeared.
"So," Apacci said. "Are these guys bothering you?" she asked, gesturing to Ikaku who stood in shock and at Yumichika who was still mourning over his revolver and then at Maki-Maki who just gaped at the bullet on the counter.
"Yes," Harribel said as she tossed a couple of coins to the bar counter where they landed or rolled until they stopped.
"I see. Do you want us to kill them?" Mila Rose asked, grinning.
"We don't have time for that," Harribel said. "However, Sung-Sun, you may leave your gift behind to serve as a…way of saying 'goodbye'."
"Thank you ma'am," Sung-Sun said with a slight bow.
"Come along girls, Starrk, you might want to get out too," Harribel said.
Starrk only shrugged and he walked out, still holding the bottle of soda. When he walked out of the saloon, Sung-Sun lit the fuse on the dynamite and tossed it through the entryway. She rushed away and there came a rather loud explosion followed by glass flying from the broken windows and the batwing doors bursting outward in a storm of debris.
"Don't worry, they'll only get a few bumps and bruises," Sung-Sun said.
"My…my BEAUTIFUL SALOON," Maki-Maki cried out.
"SHUT UP, YOU IDIOT, YOU'RE NOT EVEN A REAL BARKEEP!" Ikaku screamed.
"My beautiful clothes," Yumichika moaned.
"Why did I get stuck with these two idiots?" Ikaku asked himself.
"You know, I can't help but feel sorry for them," Starrk said.
"Wow, what happened?" Lilynette asked coming up behind him.
"Just a little trouble," Starrk said. "Here, I got you something," he said and handed the bottle of Sarsaparilla to Lilynette. With a flick of his thumb and forefinger, the cap flew off and a bit of foam spilled over the mouth's rim.
"Thanks, Starrk," she said taking the bottle. "Wow, they had my favorite!"
The telegraph office was next to the sheriff's office. Rin was sleeping at the desk next to the telegraph machine. Akon, who had just walked in to take over, was not surprised. Rin was usually found asleep or eating Chappy's Choco-Caramel Drops. However, she was good at getting any and all messages that came over the wire. He shook his head as he hung his bowler hat and his dark blue overcoat on two of the hooks against the wall.
"Rin, get up, you're shift's over," he said, gently shaking her.
"Uh…huh," Rin moaned as she got up and yawned.
"You're shift's over."
"Oh, is it?"
"Yes, did any important messages come in?"
"Just one, it got in just a couple of minutes ago. It's from Ikaku."
"Why didn't you take it to the Sheriff?"
"It's fine. It's not like you got it hours ago and forgot. So, what did the message say?"
"It said that they encountered Coyote Starrk and Tia Harribel. They were close to apprehending them, but they got away," Rin said and yawned.
"I see. I'll take this to the Sheriff. Rin, you stay here until I get back."
"Alright," Rin said and returned to her sleep.
When Akon walked out of the office, he began to run next door. He knew that Sheriff Ichigo Kurosaki would have to know about this as soon as possible. Two of the Espada were on the move. Akon was afraid that the other Espada might be moving soon.
Hueco Mundo Wastes
The six men rode through the empty desert of Hueco Mundo. The man in the lead was tall, lean, and muscular. His light blue hair shifted slightly in the breeze. He wore loose-fitting blue jeans with dark brown boots with silver engravings and a tight dark blue vest that he kept open to show off the scar that ran down his chest. His intense blue eyes were outlined with green-colored markings. Around his neck, he wore a silver medallion with a large cat prowling the desert at night with the words "Moler el Mundo para el polvo" ("Grind the World to dust") engraved along the edges.
This man was Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez, the "Panther King". His five companions were Shawlong Kufang, Edorad Liones, Yylfordt Granz, Di Roy Rinker, and Nakeem Grindina. Together they were called the "Pantera Gang" and together were considered the fifth most dangerous group of outlaws. The total bounty on their heads totaled $75,000,000. However, Grimmjow wanted that tally to become even greater. He wanted his gang to be considered even more dangerous than the "Shadow Lurker".
"Grimmjow, we're approaching the mountains surrounding Las Noches," Shawlong said.
Grimmjow looked to his second-in-command. Shawlong's long, braided, black hair whipped out behind him. His long, grey coat hardly fluttered since he always kept it buttoned-up and kept in place with the help of his gun belts.
"Good, we'll be on time for the gathering," Grimmjow said.
"Are you sure we can trust him?" Shawlong asked.
"Of course we can't, but that doesn't matter. As long as I get back at that orange-haired bastard, I don't care who I have to follow," Grimmjow said and stroked the thick scar that ran down his chest.
"Sir, what if this proves to be a bad idea?" Shawlong asked.
"I know it's a bad idea, but I love it. So tell me, who do you think is gonna be a no-show?"
"Tia Harribel has been made aware of the meeting. However, I doubt she'll come, especially after what happened to her during the first assault on Karakura Town. In all likely-hood, Starrk and Ulquiorra will refuse to come as well. However, the other Espada will come, although Yylfordt's little brother is on the fence."
"HA! Professor Psycho will show, especially if he gets more test subjects for his…'experiments'," Grimmjow said chuckling.
"I agree," Shawlong said. "If that's the case then six of the Espada will be with the 'Shadow Lurker', but three of the most powerful could be a nuisance for his plans."
"What about Baraggan?" Grimmjow asked.
"It's difficult to say which way he will go. Of course, he might go his own way."
Grimmjow nodded. This information did not surprise him. He knew that Harribel wouldn't want to rejoin the "Shadow Lurker" and Starrk had been the one who suggested that they run. Grimmjow was surprised that Ulquiorra agreed with their suggestion. He thought that Ulquiorra was "the 'Shadow Lurker's' Bitch", but he was wrong. Grimmjow considered joining them, but he had been persuaded to remain.
The "Shadow Lurker" would meet them in a few days. Grimmjow knew that they couldn't trust him. However, he had been promised a chance at taking out the Sheriff of Karakura Town, and he was more than willing to take it. After he was finished with Ichigo Kurosaki, he would turn on the "Shadow Lurker".
The Sabaku Desert
"So, why have you been following me?" Starrk asked and turned towards Harribel and the "Diamond Sisters".
"We're not following you," Apacci said. "We're going in the same direction."
"Okay…then where are you going?"
The four women stayed silent. Mila Rose sat on top of her horse, which was brown with patches of white at the flanks, Leona. Her green eyes looked at Apacci, who was on her grey horse, Cierva, as though it was her fault. Sung-Sun, who sat on her cream-colored horse, Anaconda, was rubbing the serpentine strawberry-colored mark that rand down her horse's face.
Starrk noticed that Harribel wanted to approach him, but she held back. He looked at Lilynette who took another swig from her bottle of Sarsaparilla. She looked at him and she nodded. He smiled. They both knew that Harribel and her gang wanted something from them.
Further behind, Harribel looked at Starrk. He was always sharp about those kinds of things. He knew the moment that they left that she would be following. She wondered if he knew the reason why. She decided to find out. While the "Diamond Sisters" were arguing among themselves, she rode forward.
"It's about him, isn't it?" Starrk asked, not even looking around or slowing down.
"How did you know?"
"Why else would you be following me? Does Ulquiorra know too?"
"He does. I tracked him down first and told him when I found him."
"You didn't find him. He found you," Lilynette said.
Harribel blushed. It was true. You would never find Ulquiorra unless he wanted you to find him. She had a difficult time finding him, but when she "found" him, he had been standing in the middle of the road waiting for her. The only person who ever found Ulquiorra when he didn't want to be found was Starrk.
"I need to find Ulquiorra, again. There's someone whom we need to find," Harribel said.
"Oh, that shouldn't be too hard," Starrk said. "He's right behind us."
"I'm impressed," a monotone voice said. "Of course, I should have realized that you would know where I was."
Harribel gaped at Ulquiorra. He was a short and extremely thin man. His pale face did not show any emotion and his black hair was still as messy as ever. He was dressed completely in black, with the exception of the silver brooch on the left lapel of his long, black coat that was shaped like a bat. The eyes of the brooch were a brilliant emerald green that matched Ulquiorra's own eyes.
"It's good to see you, Ulquiorra," Starrk said.
"I see. Has Tia Harribel informed you of what I have been informed?"
"I didn't get the chance, but he guessed as to whom it concerns," Harribel said.
"I see. Then I will explain further. My informant at Las Noches has informed me that the 'Shadow Lurker' has called a meeting of the Espada who are still willing to fight for him. Apparently, he is preparing to move again. However, he has not forgotten either of you and you are on his list of people who needs to be…'taken care of'," Ulquiorra said.
"So, he's preparing to move again," Starrk muttered.
"Hey, who's your informant?" Lilynette asked.
"I see that the 'Lobato' is as impulsive as other, Starrk," Ulquiorra said.
"What was that?" Lilynette demanded, growing angry.
"Enough, Lilynette, Ulquiorra did not mean to insult you," Starrk said.
"As I was saying," Ulquiorra said, paying no heed to Starrk's comment or Lilynette's question. "My informant has informed me that in only a matter of days, the 'Shadow Lurker' will come to Las Noches. It is agreed that he has a plan of invading the Gensei Provinces and he might even have the numbers to do it this time."
"That's why I wanted to talk to you, Starrk," Harribel said. "You see, the first invasion was nothing more than a test and a way for him to gain more influence among the authorities in the Gensei Provinces. This time though…"
"He'll show his true colors," Starrk whispered. "If that's the case, then he has a chance of taking over the Gensei Provinces."
The woman stayed in the shadows as she made her way to the shop. She knew that time was of the essence and he would have to get the reports as soon as possible. The incident in Kagamino only proved that time was of the essence. The streets leading to the shop were nearly empty even though the sun had a couple of hours left to set. She crept up to the shop and tapped on a side door.
A rather tall and thickly muscled man opened the door. He looked around to make sure the woman was the only one there and gestured her inside. The store helpers, a boy with red hair and a girl with dark hair led her to the secret room where the man she came to see sat, waiting for her.
"Ah, Yoruichi," the man said standing up.
He was tall and thin with messy blonde hair that poked out from under his green and white hat. He held a fan over his mouth to hide the slight frown he made.
"Kisuke," Yoruichi said, lowering her scarf to reveal dark skin with strands of her purple hair falling in front of her face. Her golden eyes seemed to shine like a cat's eyes. "I'm afraid that your suspicions were correct."
"I see," Kisuke Urahara, exile from Fort Seireitei, the main center for the Gotei, said. "Have you shown the report to either Ichigo or Isshin Kurosaki yet?"
"I haven't. They were not available when I went by, so I went straight to you."
"Do you think you have enough proof to convict them?"
"Not yet," Yoruichi said. "The items I've gathered are relatively minor. However, they are hiding something."
"I see. Tessai," he said and the tall, thickly muscled man entered.
"What do you want me to do?" Tessai asked.
"I want you to send a message to the Visored and Xcution Squads. Inform them that 'The Shadows are rising again.' They'll understand."
"Very good, sir, I shall inform Deputies Shinji Hirako and Kugo Ginjo at once."
I just hope, Urahara thought as he watched Tessai depart, that we're not too late.
Gotei Headquarters, Fort Seireitei
"Souske Aizen," the old man said from behind his desk.
"Yes sir," Aizen replied, adjusting his glasses.
"Captain Zaraki has proven that his men cannot handle the manhunt for the Espada. They had a chance at catching two of them at Kagamino and failed."
"I see. Who were the two Espada?"
"They were Coyote Starrk of the 'Los Lobos Duo' and Tia Harribel, the 'Blood Star'. Their capture would have been a great relief for the citizens of the Gensei Provinces. However, now that they are within the Gensei Provinces, we must assume that the others would be close behind as well."
"That would be troubling, General Yamamoto."
"Indeed, that's why I decided that you should head the Espada Task Force. Your goal will be to find the Espada as well as any Arrancar loyal to them and arrest them."
"Very well sir, I shall do what I can. Is there anything else you request from me?"
"That is all. You are dismissed, Captain Aizen."
"Very well, sir," Aizen said and walked out of General Yamamoto's office.
Hogyoku United Bank Headquarters, Karakura Town
The three men waited for their leader. The youngest was relatively tall with long dark hair. He was sitting in the corner reading a book and using a dagger as a book mark. His face was smooth and looked gentle, but the scar that ran across his left eye spoiled it and betrayed a hint of the cunning that lurked beneath his smooth features.
The second man, who was dressed in a cream-colored suit, had a continuous smile on his face. His face was a combination of a fox and a snake, the look of someone who thought of plots-within-plots-within-plots. His short silver hair shone with the rays of the setting sun. His long, thin fingers tapped on the wooden surface of the window sill as he watched the setting sun.
The third man had a noble look on his dark face. His dark brown hair was tied in several braids that were held back into a cluster by a silver band. He sat at the table and his hands were folded in front of him. He wore a dark grey suit that spoke of formality and a strict adherence to a personal code. He was the type of man who would refuse to compromise under every circumstance. For him, their leader truly understood that justice was ensuring that the evil paid for their sins and the righteous were rewarded.
The door opened as their leader entered the room. The two men not at the table looked up. They made their way to the table and sat in their seats. When their leader sat down, he removed his glasses and smiled at them.
"We may now proceed to the next stage," he said as he sat at the table.
"I take it that you got the promotion you wanted," the young man said.
"I did, Shukuro Tsukishima. Gin Ichimaru, how are things on your end?"
"The number of people putting their money in accounts at the Hogyoku United Bank has increased significantly. We now have locations in almost every town and city within the Gensei Provinces. The second stage will be risky. However that's where you come in, Chief Justice Tosen."
"Indeed," Tosen said. "However, I have convinced many judges in Central 46 that restrictive banking laws will be counter-productive. However, two of my…colleagues…have made it clear that they wish to protect the people of the Gensei Provinces more than the bankers. I have given their names to our agent and I have already hand-picked two judges to replace them."
"How many judges will side with us?"
"At the moment, we only need two more to achieve the votes needed to pass or reject a bill from becoming law. However, as soon as my two hand-picked judges take the oath, we will have the numbers."
"I see," their leader said, smiling. "Tomorrow, I'll head to Las Noches to give the Espada who are with us the details of the plan. Shukuro, I want you to make sure that the privatized squads do not get wind of this."
"What about my former comrades from the Xcution Squad or those from the Visored Squad?"
"They are not important. They lack the numbers and the influence that the other privatized squads have."
"I see," Shukuro said.
"However, we may have a slight problem. I was informed by General Yamamoto that Coyote Starrk and Tia Harribel escaped capture in Kagamino. There's a chance that Ulquiorra will meet up with them."
"They're Espada," Chief Justice Tosen said. "No one will believe them."
"What if they tell someone who will believe them?" Gin asked. "Someone like Ichigo Kurosaki, perhaps? Or what if they inform Kisuke Urahara?"
"They may pose a problem, but we can deal with them later. We'll let the Arrancar who have sided with us to take care of them."
With that the four rose from the table. As the other three departed, Souske Aizen, a.k.a. "The Shadow Lurker" smiled.
The Sabaku Desert
They made camp just as the sun was sinking below the horizon. Ulquiorra tied his completely black horse, Murciélago, to a nearby Velvet Mesquite tree. Starrk was gathering wood for the fire while Lilynette was taking out cans of food from their packs for dinner. Apacci, Sung-Sun, and Mila Rose were getting the bed rolls and blankets ready. Harribel sat on a rock, watching the sun sink beneath the waves of sand and the jagged cliffs.
"Admiring the view?" Starrk asked as he sat down next to her.
"I'm just thinking if we can make it in time," Harribel said.
"The better question is: can we convince any of them?"
"Do you think we can convince any of them?"
"I don't know. We can only try. But even if we have to stand alone, we must stop Aizen."
"It's just like those seven gunslingers that were hired by that village a while back," Harribel said.
"That's one way of looking at it. But let's hope that we all survive."
They watched in silence as the sun sank below the horizon. In the distance, wolves began to howl at the crimson sunset.
End of Chapter One