Yo everybody! I know I know, this update took a lot longer than it should have but that's life for ya.
Anyway I have to say I was very, very pleased by the responses I received from you my fans. It's you people and the latest chapters of the Bleach manga that keep me writing. So enjoy!
As his last opponent fell, Tōshirō Hitsugaya lowered Hyōrinmaru and took a careful glanced around the room. None of them were giving any sign that they were going to be getting up. They had been a little challenging but solely due to the restrictions placed upon him.
The room itself was a simple square all white room. At first glance one would think that it was just an empty unused room within the Research Institute but the truth was that it was one of their testing chambers for dangerous materials. The walls, floor, ceiling and door were all made of Sekkisseki stone and could be completely sealed off in less than a second if the need arises. Though strangely there were four glowing orbs resting in the corners were the walls and ceiling met. While Hitsugaya wasn't sure what they did, he suspected they were part of an additional security measure in the event of highly dangerous becoming unstable and posing a grave risk to anyone in the immediate area and possibly beyond.
'And doesn't that just perfectly sum us up,' he bitterly thought.
"Did your intelligence drop as a result of your hollowfication? We aren't here to watch out beat up those training dummies!" Captain Kurotsuchi snapped, standing in front of the closed door. "We're here to test the capabilities of your new powers!"
Hitsugaya felt an annoyed growl start to rise up his throat but quickly suppressed it. He wasn't sure what was worse in the aftermath of their hollowfication, that they had all been stripped of their ranks or that they were largely little more than lab rats for the Squad Twelve Captain for the time being. And now that Kurotsuchi had all the data he could obtain from poking and prodding them with his instruments he was focused on trying to get them from manifesting the aspects of their new power despite how it sickened Hitsugaya. He had watched Kurotsuchi's previous session with her former lieutenant. That mask…that hollow mask on her face and her sudden increase in power unsettled him as did the idea of him wearing such a mask himself.
"If Nemu could access her powers in a few tries than surely a former captain like you could with ease," Kurotsuhi continued glancing around at his inactive training dummies.
Tōshirō couldn't help but scowl at man's words. It was like rubbing salt into a wound. He had worked long and hard to become the Captain of Squad Ten and to have it stripped from him was like having a part of him ripped out, leaving a wound that wouldn't heal.
Kurotsuchi merely stroked the extension on his chin, seemingly pondering something. "Though I suppose you need a far stronger opponent than she did to force to bring out full potential," he said, drawing his zanpakutō. "Rip Ashisogi Jizō!"
Gritting his teeth, Hitsugaya could only raise his own sword. He cursed himself for never bothering to look up the zanpakutōs of the other Captains. Of the remaining Captains-barring Zaraki he knew the shikais of three as well as a fourth by secondhand accounts and Kurotsuchi was not of them. Though given the small amount of purple mist being expelled by the infant's face at the three bladed sword's hilt it was likely a poison-type which meant he had to keep his distance.
"Remember ex-Captain no releasing your zanpakutō or using Kidō," the Squad Twelve Captain reminded. "Oh and I will be trying to kill you so keep that in mind."
"I know," Tōshirō replied as he raised his zanpakutō up, gripping it with both hands.
In an instant Kurotsuchi was behind him but the Captain's Shunpo wasn't as fast his own speed and before the tri-bladed sword could touch him Hitsugaya had spun around to block his attack. Yet despite his counter Kurotsuchi was still grinning like a hungry predator cornering their prey. Another wave of purple mist began to spew out from the Squad Twelve Captain's sword. Fearing the potential poison Hitsugaya breathlessly jumped backwards.
"Red Fire Cannon," Kurotsuchi said as he was still in midair.
Before he could do anything the crimson Kidō blast slammed into him, slamming Hitsugaya against the wall behind him. Tōshirō slumped to the ground only to have Kurotsuchi on him, his sword coming down at his head. But with a last second Shunpo Hitsugaya managed to dodge it. Kurotsuchi however had seemed to already anticipate this, his left hand moving towards his path. "Hadō Sixty-Three, Thunder Roar Sear!" Kurotsuchi shouted, a wave of yellow energy erupting from his outstretched hand.
Somehow Tōshirō managed to stop himself in time, narrowly evading the spell. But that was just what the Captain wanted and the second he stopped Kurotsuchi was behind him, his blade stabbing into his left shoulder. "Gotcha," he cackled as Hitsugaya gritted his teeth in pain.
The white haired former Captain couldn't help but curse his foolishness. The Kidō had merely been a ploy to distract him enough to exposing himself. Worse he had neglected one key detail of man he was facing. While Kurotsuchi may consider himself a scientist first and foremost he was still a Captain and one of the Thirteen Court Guard Squads' most brilliant minds. His intelligence was Kurotsuchi's most dangerous weapon and something that easily compensated for his deficiencies.
Hitsugaya spun around, Hyōrinmaru slicing through the air towards Kurotsuchi only for the Captain to effortless deflect it with his own sword before slamming his knee into his stomach. Surprisingly the blow was strong enough to send Tōshirō to ground. "I am afraid this little fight is over," Mayuri gloated, waving his zanpakutō. "When Ashisogi Jizō cuts into someone it severs the brain signals that control the neutral impulses connected to the movement of their limbs while leaving all other functions of their nerve system intact."
Hitsugaya's widened in shock at his words, immediately trying to move his body but his limbs would not budge in the slightest. He could feel his arms and legs just fine yet he could not move them at all. Suddenly the centeral blade of Ashisogi Jizō stabbed into his left forearm before rising up and piercing further up his arm.
"How pathetic former Captain Hitsugaya," Kurotsuchi spat as he continued to stab his sword into his body. "I had hoped that a Captain-level being such as yourself would have been able to easily use your new found hollow powers. Sadly this seems to be yet another example of just useless you really are."
Tōshirō bit down on his lower lip to the point of drawing blood in effort to stop the screams of pain and fury clawing up his throat. He would not give the Squad Twelve Captain the satisfaction. If nothing else Hitsugaya had his pride. "You couldn't stop those troublemakers from hollowfying over a hundred humans," Kurotsuchi continued. "Nor could you even stop your infected Lieutenant from infecting you. It really was no surprise that Aizen was able to manipulate and easily defeat such a pathetic, incompetent little boy. Of course you're marginally better than that little sycophant of a Lieutenant that followed him along."
"Shut up!" Hitsugaya shouted unable to contain his growing anger.
Too late did he realize that he was playing into Kurotsuchi's hand by yelling back at him for Kurotsuchi's predatory grin returned once more. "Oh? Is that sad excuse for an officer important to you?"
Despite as much as he wanted to scream at the captain, to pick Hyōrinmaru and strike him down Hitsugaya contained himself. That was what Kurotsuchi wanted. Despite his momentarily outburst he would not give the Captain the satisfaction of giving into his taunts any further.
However this only seemed to egg Mayuri on. "Well it was fortunate for her that she managed to avoid exposure to the hollowfication agents for I doubt such a pathetic runt would have been able to survive the process." Kurotsuhi paused for a moment, studying his face. Hitsugaya could feel his fury rising even further, struggling to keep a straight face. "Oh you disagree? Everyone knows Aizen chose her to be his Lieutenant solely because she was nothing more than loyal little puppy to him. Why else would he choose such a weakling over more than a few better qualified officers? In fact I'm surprised that the Fifth Squad hasn't collapsed completely since his betrayal. Of course had she been exposed to the agent she would have undoubtedly made an excellent specimen for dissection."
He couldn't take it anymore. Momo was like a sister to him. All the insults being thrown at her had pushed him at the edge but it was this talk of her body being cut open by the Squad Twelve Captain that threw him over the edge. "SHUT UP!" Tōshirō screamed at Kurotsuchi.
It was at that moment that it happened. His spiritual energy suddenly rose within his body as something began to rapidly spread down across his face. As this was happening Kurotsuchi jumped back. Somehow this influx of power managed to cancel out the poison of Ashisogi Jizō. Reinvigorated Hitsugaya was up on his feet in less than a second, his sword back in his hand. A look of surprise spread across Kurotsuchi's face and he froze for a split-second. That was all the time Hitsugaya needed. In a blaze of speed he rushed forward, raising Hyōrinmaru up. Kurotsuchi tried to bring up his own sword but his movements that once seemed fast were now laughably slow. Blood flew as steel met flesh and the Captain was sent falling backwards.
As Kurotsuchi hit the floor all Hitsugaya could do was just stand there. The power flowing through his body was…was incredible. The gash across Mayuri's chest reached from his left shoulder to the right side of his waist, blood pouring out. It was a bad wound but there was no doubt in Hitsugaya's mind that had he hit someone of lower rank and power that they would have been sliced in two. And that was what truly scared him. His intention had been just to inflict a minor wound on Kurotsuchi not slash him open. It scared him a little to imagine how powerful that blow would have been had he been trying to kill the Captain.
Hitsugaya's eyes widened at the sound but before he could do anything his mask shattered and as the fragments fell to floor his power plummeted with them. It felt like virtually all his power, not just what he gained in those brief seconds had been lost. And as that power left the poison of Ashisogi Jizō returned. Hitsugaya slumped down to his knees, Hyōrinmaru clattering on the floor.
"Heh heh heh… Good…good…" Kurotsuchi wheezed as he pulled a small needle from his coat. He stabbed the needle into his neck and in seconds the wound began to seal itself up. With his injury healed and grinning like a maniac, Kurotsuchi rose up to his feet. "Now let's make sure that wasn't a reflex action."
Captain Zaraki scowled as he stood over their battered forms. "You two are absolutely pathetic," he said, glaring at him with his one eye. "What the hell happened to the two strongest men in my Squad?"
"You know what happened to us Captain," Ikkaku replied, struggling to climb to his feet.
The fact they had all been taken out of their squads had not sat well with the two officers of Squad Eleven. Serving and ultimately dying under Captain Zaraki had been their sole ambition for decades only to have it stolen from them. Neither of them desired to be Kurotsuchi's playthings and had outright refused to take part in anything beyond physical examinations and whipping those humans into shape much to the fury of the Squad Twelve Captain. The Clown-faced Captain had repeatedly threatened them with all kinds of things from locking them up in some pit to conducting vivisections upon them. It didn't matter to either of them what happened to them, they weren't gonna be some Squad Twelve experiment.
It was then out of the blue that Captain Zaraki and the Lieutenant had shown up in small compound that was their prison. For a brief moment they had their hopes up that somehow their Captain had convinced Yamamoto to allow them back into the Eleventh. But before they could say anything their Captain drew his sword and attacked. Naturally they fought back but this was the Captain they were facing. Even fighting together they couldn't beat him.
"Hollowfication? Getting pulled from Squad Eleven? That's all meaningless crap!" Captain Zaraki shot back. "And if you're the fighters you've always claimed to than you'd know that!"
"But Captain," Yumichika started, clutching a shallow gash on his chest. "We-"
"Come on!" the Captain shouted, voice laced with irritation. "Enough talk! Show me everything you've got! Release your Bankai! Hollowfy yourselves like Kurotsuchi has been talking about! Prove to me that you're worthy of being called a warrior! Prove to me why you were worth my time!"
Ikkaku was utterly stunned at the Captain's words. Other than Yumichika, Renji and that Asano kid there was no one alive that should have known that. And it wasn't like those that did know would speak of it to anyone. "But how did you know that Captain?" he asked, more beads of sweat trailing down the sides of his head.
He couldn't shake the sheer dread he felt within himself despite the fact that it was now pointless. They wouldn't promote him to Captain now and he was already out of Squad Eleven. So what was causing all this fear?
The Captain merely grinned, his eye solely upon him. "Of course I did. I could always tell anytime we sparred that you were holding back your full power. But I'm not letting you hold back any further." Then Captain Zaraki turned to Yumichika, pointing his the tip of his sword at him. "And I've suspected that you've been hiding some part of your zanpakutō. What, don't know don't care. Now you two better throw everything you have into this or you're both gonna die!"
Ikkaku turned his head, glancing over at his long time friend. Their eyes met and Yumichika silently nodded his head. Both of them wanted the same thing. Together they raised their zanpakutōs and raced towards their former Captain, roaring as they ran. With a scowl the Captain swung his large sword in a wide arc, slashing both of their bodies. The two of them collapsed into a heap on the floor but both of them were still alive.
"Pathetic," Captain Zaraki grumbled as he turned away while sheathing his sword.
In pain but still conscious, Ikkaku reached out and grabbed his leg. "Please Captain if I cannot fight and die a part of your Squad than I'd rather die by your hands," he pleaded.
"I thought I told you before I'm no executioner," his former Captain replied not even bothering to look back at him.
The Captain with ease pulled his leg from Ikkaku and started heading for the doorway but stopped as reached it. "And my Squad isn't something defined by pointless things like ranks or rules. It's only our love of fighting defines us. You two should know that better than anyone." Captain Zaraki turned to him, his one eye focused entirely upon him. "You want to fight and die as a part of my Squad then keep on fighting, keep on loving the taste of battle and only let yourself die standing with your sword in your hand and a grin on your face."
With that he stepped through the doorway, Yachiru following close behind. "Bye Baldy! Bye Feathers!" the short Lieutenant called out as she left the two of them to bleed and reflect on what their Captain said.
Gasping for breath Hitsugaya fell to a knee, the last few fragments of his masks hitting the floor. Standing over him was Rangiku with her zanpakutō in hand and a hollow mask on her face. The leering mask was one of the more human looking ones. Its mouth was filled long, razor sharp teeth and a second set of eyeholes over the ones containing her eyes while three spikes rose up from its forehead. The central one was short and curved back into the locks of Rangiku's hair while the other two shot out away from her head before stopping and bending straight down.
"Twenty-seven seconds… how disappointing," Kurotsuchi commented as he circled around the two of them like a hungry shark. "A week of this and you have yet to break the thirty second mark while all the others are sitting at a minute and above. I must admit I'm beginning to wonder if even the humans will be able to hollowfy themselves even longer than you can."
Hitsugaya suppressed the urge to lash out at the Captain of Squad Twelve. Over the past week his feelings towards Kurotsuchi had changed from indifference to outright loathing. He was always shouting, taunting and ranting at them as he worked them like dogs. If this was how Kurotsuchi treated his Squad as a whole it amazed him that they hadn't all transferred out.
"Nemu!" Kurotsuchi screamed and within seconds the dark haired woman was at his side. "Spar with him!" he ordered, pushing her in front of Hitsugaya. "If he can't hollowfy for longer than thirty seconds, break a bone in his body!"
"Yes sir," Nemu replied with a curt nod of her head before turning her attention entirely on Toshiro. "Please try your best sir."
Her hands reached up to her face, summoning her seven-eyed mask as both Kurotsuchi and Rangiku withdrew to the observation room. Hitsugaya pulled himself up to his feet and managed to summon his own back. It was tougher to recreate it so soon after it had broken but not as bad as it had been when they were first beginning. A few days and he would not have been able to for at least an hour.
Once his mask was up and his power rose, Nemu attacked. Her fist soared towards Tōshirō's head but he blocked it with the side of his blade. That was the one thing he hated about sparring with Nemu Kurotsuchi, she never used her zanpakutō. It was always Hakuda, leaving him to feel worried and guilty about harming her with his sword despite Kurotsuchi's claims that she could take nearly any damage that he could inflict with his sealed zanpakutō.
Nemu on the other hand did not have any such reservations. Her knee flew upwards but he managed to block it with his left arm before it hit his chest. However this gave her an opening to strike with her other fist. Hitsugaya flashstepped before she could connect, moving behind her before lashing out with the dull edge of his zanpakutō. But with her hollow mask on she was fast, very fast. Nemu sidestepped his vertical swing and drove her elbow in his stomach. Tōshirō staggered back as Nemu pressed the attack, her fists flying at him but once again he proved just how fast he was. He twisted and moved his body around each and every one of her strikes before jumping back and leaping upon her.
Hitsugaya froze instantly, cracks spreading across his mask seconds before it shattered. Practically powerless he once slumped down to his knees. Nemu herself stopped as well, silently watching him.
"I thought I made myself clear Nemu," Kurotsuchi called out. "If he cannot keep himself hollowfied for longer than thirty second, break something."
Nemu nodded her head as she cocked a fist back…
"It seems that despite being a prodigy among soul reapers Hitsugaya is rather lacking when it comes to hollowfication," Captain Kurotsuchi commented as Nemu hit the now helpless soul reaper.
"So it would seem sir," Kenji replied as he scribbled down notes on a pad.
Despite the fact that they had all been stripped of their ranks and removed from their respective Squads, both he and Nemu Kurotsuchi were still actively serving Squad Twelve, the Institute and Captain Kurotsuchi which was absolutely fine by him. Kenji had never had any interest in any of the other Squads. Let those who crave meaningless glory and battle do the fighting, he much preferred to stay in the labs and work on far more intellectual gratifying pursuits.
While he may be one of the subjects being observed and studied by the Captain it was still very fascinating. Kenji had to admit he had forgotten how good it was to be doing lab work. Not that his job as Head of the Testing and Implementation Department hadn't had its own joys, overseeing the testing of countless items. Though much of his time had been spent dealing with the mind-numbing bureaucracy of making sure the other Squads received the new technologies they had developed and thoroughly tested. Hours of dull paperwork just to make sure that single item was properly distributed amongst a single Squad. It was a truly inefficient method of distribution and one that despite his protests the Thirteen Court Guard Squads had no desire to change or improve.
But that was an entirely different matter.
Hitsugaya was continuing to struggle against the still hollowfied Nemu, desperately trying but failing to hollowfy again. Unlike the rest of them Nemu seemed to be almost unnaturally talented in the art of hollowfication. She had been the first to successful hollowfy and could spend more time in that state than several of them combined. The ex-Captain on the other hand seemed to the most abysmal of them all in regards to hollowfication even after the former Squad Eleven officers willingly began to participate.
"It seems that Hitsugaya may not be able to rehollowfy himself again so soon sir," Kenji said, tucking his pencil behind an ear. "If Nemu continues I fear he may become seriously injured, delaying further testing with him."
"If he is then I merely bring in two of the others to test while I repair his body," Captain Kurotsuchi offhandedly replied. "Perhaps those former humans. I think that they have had enough soul reaper training."
Kenji nodded as Hitsugaya was slammed violently into a wall. "Shall I fetch them sir?"
"Yes," his Captain replied, stroking his chin extension. "I believe Nemu is just about done."
"That wasn't so bad," Arisawa said, her mask fracturing and crumbling from her face. "Is that…it? I was…expecting something…tougher."
"Wha…what are you…talking about?" Asano panted, blood dripping from a minor wound on his forehead.
"Yeah," a worn out Kojima added, leaning against a wall for support. "You're at your limit just like us."
"If I were to place them within the Thirteen Court Guard Squads I would place them at the level of Seventh or Sixth Seats, maybe low Fifth Seats," Captain Kurotsuchi said as they watched the trio on the monitors of the observation room.
Hitsugaya said nothing as he turned from the screen, crossing his arms. The morning had been rather hectic as the Captain-General had wanted to see the extent of their progress. He wished that it would have also included an update on Kurotsuchi's progress in curing them but the demands of the upcoming Winter War had forced the Squad Twelve Captain to cease his work over two weeks ago. They had been first up, showing the extent of their hollow abilities against modified training dummies from the Research Institute. Now that they were done it was time for the former humans to show off all they had managed to achieve in that month of training.
Captain-General Yamamoto merely nodded his head in response. Both Captain Ukitake and Captain Kyōraku were at his side. They were the only others that chosen to accompany Yamamoto for this little demonstration though apparently Zaraki had said he was going to come as well but after waiting half an hour for him they all decided to carry on without him.
"Quite a remarkable feat in just a month of steady training," Ukitake commented. "I doubt many normal students could have achieved such a feat."
"Perhaps if they have been merely normal soul reapers but they do not have limitations that normal soul reapers possess," Kurotsuchi replied, his mad grin plastered on his face. "I purposely instructed that they be pushed harder in their training each day. It didn't take long for their bodies to adapt and improve in the face of these obstacles at a far faster rate than what most can achieve. Of course the curriculum of the Shinō Academy is rather slow and ponderous, spending more time teaching such frivolous and useless subjects than what is truly needed. Had they been subjected to that process of training they would have processed at a much slower rate. Now if the Shinō curriculum was sped up, made much harsher and more focused on the important areas I suspect-"
"We get the idea Captain Kurotsuchi," Hitsugaya said, his patience for the Squad Twelve Captain spent long ago. "That is irrelevant to the matter at hand."
Mayuri merely waved his hand dismissively at him. "Yes yes but I shall also point out that it is the same with you and the others. As it stands now there is there is no telling just how strong any of them could become in time."
"It's still remarkable that they were able survive the hollowfication process when all the other humans died," Ukitake added.
Kurotsuchi let a small chuckle at other Captain's words. Tōshirō had already heard the humans' stories and already knew the answer to that question. "I thought so initially too but I have learned that they all have significant factor in common, Ichigo Kurosaki," Mayuri answered.
Ukitake's eyes widened as a frown crossed his lips. "Ichigo?"
"Yes, all of them have admitted to being close friends with Ichigo Kurosaki and most of the other Ryoka that accompanied him. Obviously exposure to that walking wellspring of spiritual power during the few months before Rukia Kuchiki's arrest had affected them, aiding in both their survival and spiritual growth," Kurotuschi explained. "While I have no data on them before their hollowfication I suspect that they were fully able to see spirits, hollows and soul reapers as plain as day."
"Hm… Once Aizen has been dealt with we shall have to speak with Ichigo Kurosaki about placing a limiter seal upon him to prevent more humans from being adversely affected by his presence," the Captain-General said. "Too many humans with great spiritual power within the same region has always brought about-"
"Sirs I'm sorry for the interruption but we've just detected arrancar arriving in Karakura Town," a voice reported over the Research Institute's intercom. "Four arrancar, all Espada class!"
"Aizen must be testing the strength of our warriors against his Espada," Yamamoto commented. "They won't be the strongest of the Espada. Nevertheless we must respond to this attack. Send word to Captain-"
"Pardon me sir but I would like my former team and I to respond to this attack," Hitsugaya said, interrupting his superior. "The protection of Karakura Town from Aizen's arrancar was our responsibility and with your permission I'm sure that we'd all like to resume our previous duty."
Part of that was true, at least for him anyway. Hitsugaya wanted to return to some semblance of normalcy from before the incident as well as escape from Kurotsuchi's labs for at least a little while.
For a moment Captain-General Yamamoto stared at him, undoubtedly weighting the matter internally. Honestly Tōshirō was unsure what his answer would be but after the after the moment passed, his commanding officer nodded his head. "Very well. Tōshirō Hitsugaya, take your team and resume your watch over Karakura Town until further notice."
Not as great as the last chapter but then that chapter had been something I had been cooking up for months so I had lot more going for that one. Anyway, one more chapter then the really fun stuff begins so stay tuned.