Author of Chapters 1-14: XXXG-01D

Kisuke Urahara watched as the last link of the chain of fate crumbled and the hole opened up in Ichigo's chest. Everything seemed still for an instant. Urahara shut his eyes. He knew what was coming.

An explosion of reiatsu came from the boy as a strange white substance began pouring out of his eyes, his nose, and his mouth. Ichigo was in more pain than he had ever thought possible, Byakuya running him through was nothing compared to this. The pressure on his body was incomprehensible. It felt like his body was suddenly three sizes too small for him, and was bursting at the seams trying to contain him. He barely felt the restraints that Tessai was using to hold his arms back shatter from the force of the Reiatsu he was emitting.

Unknown to the boy, inside of him, a man with dark hair, sunglasses, and a black coat was also screaming, as he felt himself transforming as well. Zangetsu was a part of Ichigo's soul, and since Ichigo's soul was changing into a Hollow, he felt the transformation, felt his power merging with that of the Hollow.

Outside of Ichigo, the three figures on top of the Shattered Shaft were watching the scene unfolding below. "I have to help him." Said a girl with dark hair and pink marks under her eyes.

"No" Urahara's response was firm. "Watch him closely, nothing more. Normally when a whole becomes a Hollow, the spiritual body explodes, and then reforms. But in his case, the order is all mixed up. The mask is being created while the body is still a whole. There's still a strong possibility that in time he'll become a Shinigami. If he really does turn into a Hollow…" He let his voice trail off. They all knew what that meant.

Down in the pit, Tessai was doing his best to hold the transforming Ichigo, but it was no use. The Reiatsu he was emitting was enough to break anything he tried. He had just tried the devastating Kurohitsuji (Black Coffin), but the pressure inside was so strong that the blades weren't able to pierce the orange-haired teen. And now he had bigger problems. When the Black Coffin shattered, a white and red form had streaked upwards out of the pit. Tessai had only seen a glimpse of it, but that was all he needed. That was a full hollow. There was no mistaking it.

The Hollow that Ichigo had become had landed in a cloud of dust, and at first the three up top were unable to get a good look. The dust cleared and even Urahara seemed disturbed at the image presented.

The Hollow was in the shape of a humanoid lizard, white with red markings along it. A tail tipped in red thrashed about behind it. The Hollow's feet were birdlike, the arms and chest powerfully muscled. Spikes protruded from the shoulders, and a mane of spiky orange hair went down the back. The mask was surprisingly simple, just big enough to cover the face, with nine red lines on the left side. With a scream, it attacked.

Leaping toward the three with incredible speed, the Hollow made a wild downward slash with one of it's arms. Jinta and Ururu lept away, while Kisuke Urahara pulled his sword out of his cane and delivered a quick slash at the Hollow's outstretched arm, intending to sever it at the elbow. He was shocked when the sealed form of his Zanpakuto simply bounced off the skin of the Hollow. Taking advantage of his disbelief, the insane Hollow brought it's other arm up across it's body. Uruhara disappeared, then reappeared behind the Hollow, this time slashing at it's back. Again he was rebuffed by the seemingly invulnerable skin of the Hollow that Ichigo had become. The tail lashed out and Urahara was again forced to Shunpo away.

By this point Tessai had come out of the pit and joined in the battle. Quickly shooting off a Hado 4 Byakurai (White Lightning) at the Hollow, he, like Urahara, was met with little success.

By this point the Hollow was on the attack again, its speed forcing Urahara to regularly use Shunpo. He quickly discovered that not only was its speed incredible, it was as strong as a crazed Kenpachi too. Urahara was forced to use both hands as he blocked the Hollow's strike, and he was still sent skidding across the training area.

Looking around, he saw that Jinta and Ururu were nowhere to be see. Urahara breathed a quick sigh of relief. Those two had obviously seen that this Hollow was way beyond their abilities and had decided to just get out of the way. Under the green and white hat, Urahara's eyes narrowed. No longer the goofball, in his place was a focused Captain of the Gotei 13, and there was a rampaging Hollow in front of him. He brought his blade up in front of his face. "Okiro, Benihime (Wake up, Crimson Princess).

The blade glowed red as it transformed, the blade widening, the hilt gaining elaborate decorations. In an instant it was over, the shikai of the Zanpakuto emerging. Hollow Ichigo was currently engaged against Tessai, the former commander of the Kido Corps using every trick he had to stay one step ahead of the berserk Hollow.

It wasn't enough. Kido alone wasn't enough against this Hollow. Another Byakurai (White Lightning) bounced harmlessly off the Hollow's skin. A Soren Sokatsui (Twin Lotus Blue Fire, Crash Down) did little more than slow the thing down for a couple of seconds, and that was only because the momentum from the Kido drove him back, not because it actually did any damage. Granted, Tessai had performed it without the chant, severely weakening the spell, but to not be damaged at all by a Kido of that level was just unheard of.

"What have I created?" Urahara whispered to himself. This kind of fight was something that he would expect against an Adjuchas class Arrancar, not a newly created Hollow! Still, now that he was a Hollow, Ichigo would have to be put down. Moving around to the Hollow's backside with Shunpo, he gathered as much Reiryoku as he could. The blade glowed crimson and Hollow Ichigo was given no chance to dodge.

"Nake, Benihime (Sing, Crimson Princess). A wave of red energy slammed into the Hollow from behind, sending it staggering forward. Not giving it the chance to recover, Kisuke rushed forward, Benihime still aglow with crimson Reiryoku, and slammed his Zanpakuto into the Hollow's back with all the force he could muster. For the first time in the fight, the Hollow shrieked in pain.

As the Hollow spun around to meet Urahara, Tessai could clearly see the gash in the Hollow's back, right where the neck met the shoulders. Then, even as he watched, the wound closed and in less than a second it looked like there had been no wound at all. Steeling himself against the apparent indestructibility of this Hollow, he began to prepare for another Kurohitsuji (Black Coffin). This time, Urahara was occupying the thing, and he wasn't rushed. He began to chant, bringing the spell up to full power.

Urahara was having a much easier time of it now. His shikai was actually able to deal damage, and the blasts of Reiryoku he kept launching in the creature's face were certainly helping to keep it on the defensive a great deal more than it had been earlier. He hadn't yet been able to get to the Hollow's mask, but all it would take is time. Behind the Hollow, he could clearly see Tessai chanting for some Kido spell. Probably a very high level one too, if the amount of time he was taking was any indication. He refocused himself on the Hollow in front of him. He couldn't afford to get careless with this thing.

About twenty seconds later, Urahara saw Tessai begin to move, getting into position for the spell. All he had to do was keep the Hollow occupied for another couple of seconds and it would all be over. He deliberately fell back a few steps, trying to get the hollow to chase him so it wouldn't notice Tessai. It didn't quite work. It didn't notice Tessai, but it also didn't chase him. Instead, it held up it's hand, gathering the index, middle, and ring fingers into a point, or as near a one as it could make. Red energy swirled around the tips of the clawed fingers.

'Shit, Cero!' Urahara thought, eyes wide at the power building up behind the cero. Three crimson trails of Reiryoku gathered around the red orb, and although it was deadly, Urahara was a scientist and couldn't just turn off his brain. He watched, gears in his head turning, trying to process what he was seeing.

'Ah, now I understand. It's making three separate cero's, one from each finger, and concentrating them at the same spot, forcing them to blend together and create one large cero. Powerful technique to be sure. Fortunately, it's only a regular Hollow, so it can't control its reiryoku well enough to put as much power into it as an Adjuchas class Menos or an Arrancar would. Still, I'd better…'

"Nake, Benihime" This time, instead of a red blast of Reiatsu being thrown from the blade, it seemed to seep out, creating a shield in front of the blonde man. Just in time, as the cero blasted out from the Hollow's fingers in a beam of red energy. The cero struck the blood mist shield, and though the edges of it were eroded badly, the figure behind it was unharmed. Fortunately for him, that gave Tessai enough time to come up from behind the Hollow and hit it with the full power Kurohitsuji (Black Coffin).

The Hollow was definitely hurt by the Kido this time, if the shriek of pain was anything to go by. When the black energy retracted, the Hollow was sporting numerous gashes and holes, although it had protected its mask with it's hands and tail, the only reason it was still alive.

Urahara rushed forward to end the battle, but before he could, the Hollow vanished into Hueco Mundo, leaving only the stench of its Reiatsu in the air behind.

Hollows are creatures of instinct. The instinct of self-preservation was probably the most dominant one in a newly-created Hollow. When Ichigo had felt the battle turn against him, he did what his self-preservation instinct had told him to do. Run. Save himself so he could live another day.

Urahara wiped the sweat off his forehead, mildly surprised that he had been sweating to begin with. He scowled, the expression looking unnatural on his face. 'I shouldn't be having this much trouble with any normal Hollow, regardless of how strong it is compared to other normal Hollows. Even being gone from Soul Society for a hundred years, there's no excuse for being this out of shape.'

"That did not go as planned, sir." Came Tessai's voice.

"No, it didn't. And with Ichigo in Hueco Mundo, there's nothing else we can do. I wish there was some way we could stop him from evolving. He's bad enough right now, I wouldn't want to go anywhere near him if he became an Adjuchas or, God forbid, a Vasto Lorde. And if Aizen finds him and turns him into an Arrancar…" Urahara's voice trailed off. He didn't even need to go into how bad that would be. Ichigo as a Vasto Lorde Arrancar, after the kind of power he'd shown in that brief fight? He'd be all Aizen would need to conquer Soul Society.

"I guess about the only thing that we can hope for is that he runs across an Adjuchas or Vasto Lorde and gets himself devoured before he has a chance to evolve. Otherwise, it could be the end of the world as we know it."

"How will you let Isshin know what happened?" Urahara winced. Isshin had been a Captain in the Gotei 13 on the same level as himself. To say that Isshin would be pissed about what had happened to his son would be a big understatement.

"I don't know. I guess I'll have to go break the news to him tomorrow."

"Break what news, and to who?" Urahara spun around, before relaxing as he recognized the voice.

"Yoruichi" Indeed, sitting not ten feet away from him was Yoruichi Shihoun in cat form, tail swishing lazily behind her. Her golden eyes were intense as she stared at him.

"Break what news, and to who?" She repeated her question. Urahara's hand went up to the top of his bucket hat. That's when she knew something was terribly wrong.

He didn't have the habit in Soul Society, but ever since coming to the human world he had developed the nervous habit of putting his hand on top of his hat whenever he was worried about something. For him to do it meant something bad had happened. She had felt the burst of Reiatsu even through the insulated walls of the training area, although it was only faintly, and had given Orihime and Chad the rest of the day off, and had raced back here to find out what was going on. And she was not in the mood for Urahara to be evasive.

"Kisuke." The low growling in the former execution squad commander's voice was enough to get Urahara talking.

"Well, you see, in order to regain his Shinigami powers, we put him through the Shattered Shaft, but he wasn't able to become a Shinigami in time, and then-"

"And then he turned into a Hollow, and you were forced to exorcise him." Yoruichi finished, her paw over her face in a fairly accurate mimicry of a human putting their face in their hands.

"Actually, no, we were unable to exorcise him before he retreated to Hueco Mundo." Yoruichi cocked her head, unable to really believe what he had just said. A former Captain of the Gotei 13 and the former commander of the Kido Corps were unable to exorcise a newly formed Hollow?

"Urahara, what are you trying to pull? There's no way that you and Tessai could fail to take down a newly created Hollow before it could go to Hueco Mundo."

"I wish." At Yoruichi's questioning look, Urahara elaborated. "Kido spells didn't seem to affect it at all, the only one that even did damage was Tessai's Kurohitsuji (Black Coffin), and that was only after he did the entire chant. He did it without the chant when Ichigo was first transforming and there wasn't a scratch on it. I actually had to release shikai just to penetrate the thing's skin. And it was fast enough to make me use Shunpo regularly, and I was sent backwards after blocking a blow from it. What's worse is, when I finally did manage to hurt it, the Hollow regenerated instantly. The damage from Tessai's Black Coffin was almost completely gone by the time it retreated to Hueco Mundo, and it did that immediately following it's release from the coffin."

Throughout Urahara's entire explanation, Yoruichi's eyes had kept getting wider. When he was finished, her fur was standing on end, and her eyes looked ready to pop out of their sockets. "God, Urahara, and this thing was a newly created Hollow?"

"Yes, that was Ichigo as a Hollow, and now I've got to break the news to his father, and his sisters. If only-Hey, where are you going!"

Yoruichi looked over her shoulder as she walked away. "I'll tell Isshin. He probably won't try to kill me, and I'm fast enough to get away if he does." She transformed in mid-step, he long purple hair covering her bare ass. "You owe me, Urahara" she called back at him.

"Yeah, I guess I do." Urahara said to himself.

"What do you think happened to make Yoruichi take off in the middle of training us?" Orihime questioned the hulking Mexican next to her.

There was a pause for a second as he seemed to consider. "I don't know.

In Hueco Mundo, nearly everything is sand. A white and red figure looked around, trying to gain some direction in his first time here. There was sand under his clawed feet, and around him was trees, white trees as though they were petrified stone. Above him was a roof made of what looked like sand. A strange pulling sensation distracted him from his examination of the surroundings.

He stared down at his chest, gazing in wonder at the hole that went clear through his being. That was the source. He stared curiously, wondering what the pulling sensation was. It was familiar, yet different. A long howl pulled him out of his musing and he watched as a Hollow that looked like a wolf descended down on him. Without thinking, he reached out and grabbed the Hollow by the mask, forcing its mouth closed, then pulled it in and bit a huge chunk out of its shoulder. Even through its teeth, the thing wailed and with an almost unconscious move, Ichigo crushed the Hollow's face, making its corporeal body crumble to dust.

Ichigo felt a warm sensation and a temporary lessening of the pulling feeling in his chest. Realization dawned. In order to satisfy the pulling, he had to keep eating the other Hollows. His instincts kicking into high gear, it was 'kill or be killed, eat or be eaten.' The crowd of Hollows that appeared around him never stood a chance.

Yuzu Kurosaki heard the bell to their house ring and went to answer, humming a tune that she liked. Ichigo was gone for the whole summer, and it just wasn't the same without him and their father constantly fighting. Pulling on the door handle, she expected to see one of Ichigo or Karin's friends. What she wasn't expecting to see was a woman with long purple hair in a ponytail, dusky skin and golden eyes.

"Is Isshin here?" Nodding slowly, she pulled the door open a little more as she heard her fathers voice yelling from upstairs. The woman stepped into the house and called up. "Isshin, it's Yoruichi! Get down here!"

"What! Yoruichi! Hang on a second." Isshin Kurosaki came flying down the stairs, before coming to a stop. "Is Ichigo alright? Did anything happen? Where's Kisuke?" The questions came tumbling out of his mouth. He too had felt the blast of Reiatsu earlier, Reiatsu that felt like his son's.

"Hang on a second, Isshin, I think everyone needs to be here for this." Yoruichi's evasive answer only confirmed to him that something was wrong.

When the entire family was gathered, Yoruichi began her story. "My name is Yoruichi Shihouin. I'm an old friend of your father. Ichigo was visiting us for the summer and, well" Looking down to give the impression of grief and guilt, she continued. "He died."

Yuzu's hands clamped over her mouth, her eyes as big as saucers and quickly welling up with tears. Karin wasn't much better, although there were no tears in her eyes. She was just in shock.

Isshin was shaking as Yoruichi continued, but it wasn't out of sadness or grief. It was rage. "We think it was a heart attack. He just collapsed and never got back up. We did all we could, but he was already dead. I'm sorry." Her voice was low and mournful. She wasn't trying to pull one over on Isshin, but his daughters absolutely had to accept the story.

"Yuzu, Karin, why don't you two go up to your rooms. I need to talk with her about the funeral, and some other things." Karin led the crying Yuzu up to their room. Isshin turned to Yoruichi. "Outside. Now." The two of them went out the front door.

Outside, Yoruichi waited for the explosion. "What the hell really happened?" Isshin growled.

"Urahara was making Ichigo do the Shattered Shaft training to recover his Shinigami powers. He didn't make it out in time, and he transformed into a full Hollow. Kisuke and Tessai were unable to exorcise him before he retreated to Hueco Mundo." Her voice was flat, level.

"I see." Isshin's voice was cold as Hyorinmaru.

"Kurosaki" Orihime whispered in a broken voice. To her side, Chad was silent, but there was no mistaking the slumping of his shoulders as he heard that his best friend has died trying to recover his Shinigami powers. Even Uryu was in shock. The orange haired boy had defeated a Gillian class Menos right in front of him, and yet he had been killed attempting to regain the powers of a Shinigami.

'You fool.' Uryu thought savagely to himself.

"Chad" His head rose to meet Urahara's eyes. "Ichigo asked you to watch out for his sisters for him." True, Ichigo had. Before they had begun training Urahara had asked Ichigo if there was anything he would like to say to anyone in case he died.

Chad transformed his arm and placed his hand against the ground. "I swear to you, Ichigo, on my grandfather's grave, that I will protect your sisters. They won't die before me."

Chad had only met one of Ichigo's sisters, and even that was only for a very brief time. But it didn't matter to him if he didn't know them. They were Ichigo's family, and Chad had sworn to watch Ichigo's back for him, and then hadn't been there when Ichigo had died. Intellectually, he knew that there was nothing he could have done even if he had been there. But emotions don't answer to logic, and the guilt that he felt was nearly enough to drown him.

Chad felt powerless, and it wasn't a feeling that he liked. He wouldn't have been able to do a thing against the Menos Grande that Ichigo had defeated, and Ichigo had been defeated, no, destroyed by the Shinigami. He needed more power, both to protect Ichigo's sisters, and to fulfill the mission that Ichigo had left him. Rescue Rukia Kuchiki.

Warmth flowed through him, similar to when his powers first activated. Chad screamed as his arm began to change becoming bulkier, the two protrusions over the shoulder merging into one, the extension on the wrist widening, looking almost like triangles. As Chad screamed his rage and sadness to the sky, his other arm began to transform too, looking just like the first one. Chad screamed for another second, then collapsed to the floor.

His Reiryoku exhausted, and both arms transformed, Chad was fast losing consciousness. 'I'll protect your sisters, Ichigo. And I'll rescue Rukia. I promise.'

Orihime had stepped back while the transformation was taking place, as had Uryu. Having dealt with Hollows far more extensively than Orihime, he was able to feel the similarity between Chad's Reiatsu and that of a Hollow, and it unnerved him for a second before he got his instincts under control. Chad wasn't a Hollow.

Urahara stepped forward, kneeling over Chad's unconscious form for a second before straightening back up. "Nothing to worry about. He just used up all his Reiatsu transforming." He looked around. "Good thing this neighborhood is pretty much abandoned, otherwise we'd probably have people calling the cops on us."

He felt the bite at his side, but once again the other Hollow was simply unable to penetrate his tough hide. Whipping around, he slammed his clawed hand through the other Hollow's body, then tore into it with his teeth. Wailing, it disappeared just like all the ones that had come before it. Racing through the trees, there was only one thought on Ichigo's mind. 'More, I need more.' A figure appeared in front of him and Ichigo skidded to a halt.

Ichigo stared at the figure across from him. A long, thin Hollow Mask with goggle like eyes and two thin horns covered the face, and a brown pelt was draped across the shoulders, the pelt decorated with other Hollow Masks. A shield made of Hollow Masks was gripped in the left hand, and the other hand held a Zanpakuto with a green bound hilt and a square guard with a chip out of one of the corners.

Ichigo had just finished mopping up four Hollows, and was at full strength. They had tried to devour him and had quickly found out that they were nowhere near as strong as they thought they were.

And now how he found himself facing down a Shinigami who had gotten trapped here nearly three centuries before. Not that Ichigo knew that, he just knew that the Shinigami wasn't supposed to be there.

"Shinigami." Ichigo snarled.

"Hollow." The Shinigami said in a more controlled voice, but with just as much anger simmering beneath the surface. The two of them stared at each other for a couple of seconds, then they exploded into action.

Ichigo dashed forward, intent on disemboweling the Shinigami that dared to wear Hollow Masks like they were trophies. When he got within a few feet of the Shinigami, his opponent seemed to disappear, reappearing behind Ichigo, shield held out to stop the tail that Ichigo attempted to hit him with. His Zanpakuto slashed downwards just as Ichigo began to turn.

There was a scraping sound, and Ichigo felt something he hadn't felt since he first became a Hollow. Pain.

Slowly, as though he was cutting into stone with a file, each inch pulled backwards on the sword deepened the shallow wound that he had managed to put in Ichigo's near impenetrable skin. The key word being "near".

Ichigo leapt forward, getting away from the one that had caused him pain, his wound already almost completely closed. He spun, fingers already together, pulling all the Reiryoku he could pull from the environment into himself, then forcing it to his fingers to make the strongest attack he could. When he was finished, the Shinigami again vanished.

This time, however, Ichigo had guessed that he was going to do that, and waited for him to reappear.

When he did, it was just over Ichigo's right shoulder, sword held back, ready to carve into the side of Ichigo's face. This time, Ichigo was ready for him.

Bringing his tail down in a low sweep, threatening to take the Shinigami's legs out from under him, he grinned victoriously when his opponent took the bait, halting his swing for a split second as he went up, giving Ichigo the instant he needed. The cero charged on the fingers of his left hand pulsed wickedly as he brought his hand around, discharging the power over his right shoulder, hitting the Shinigami at point blank range.

Ichigo howled in frustration as he felt his quarry traveling backwards just ahead of the cero, and realized that the damned Shinigami had managed to get his shield of Hollow Masks up just in time. And the shield was holding. Ichigo let the power bleeding out of his fingers fade, and spun around, crouching low, ready to spring at a moment's notice.

When the sand settled, he saw the Shinigami down on one knee, the shield cracked but still whole, and the Shinigami, although winded, not harmed. Ichigo hissed through the mask and leaped forward. The Shinigami was already back on his feet, and dodged to the left, ducking under Ichigo's grasping hand, and leaving a shallow gash from the middle of his chest to just under his right armpit. The wound sealed instantly, and Ichigo lashed out with his tail, only to have the Shinigami flip up into the air, stabbing down into the base of his tail. Ichigo tried to backhand him while he was vulnerable, but the Shinigami disappeared and Ichigo failed to land a blow.

For a while the duel continued like that, Ichigo unable to land a hit, and the shinigami unable to do any lasting damage. Most of that was the regeneration, but some of it was that the Shinigami was simply unable to penetrate very deeply. He could scratch through the outer layer of skin with effort, but he couldn't get enough force to truly inflict damage.

However, Ichigo had the big advantage. He was Hollow, and this was Hueco Mundo. He could keep fighting by using the Reiryoku from the area around him. The Shinigami had only his own strength to rely on. And he was getting tired.

Ashido Kano had been through thousands of battles since he had come to Hueco Mundo. Hundreds of them had been against Gillian class Hollows. Dozens of those had been against Adjuchas class Hollows. But he'd never faced anything like the one he was facing now.

Nothing he was doing was actually hurting it. He'd tried Kido a few times, and had quickly abandoned that avenue of attack, and his Zanpakuto couldn't cut deeply enough into it to make it give him an opening so he could cut the mask. He'd already lost the shield earlier in the fight. With Shunpo, and reflexes honed from hundreds of close calls, he was faster, but not by enough. And he was slowing down.

The lizard-like Hollow took another wild swing, he ducked and dashed forward, Zanpakuto held low, both hands on the hilt as he slipped to the left slightly, he was inside the Hollow's guard, he drove his hands forward, tip of his sword pointed at the Hollow's face, saw too late the foot coming up to catch him in the stomach. 'Shit, can't dodge!'

For the first time in the fight, he was actually hit by the Hollow, and it felt like someone had uprooted one of the giant trees that littered the Menos Forest and hit him with it. He was sent skidding back across the sand, blood coming from the three gashes across his abdomen that the Hollow's foot had left. His mask came off his face as he collided headfirst with a tree, his vision going blurry for a second. As soon as his vision cleared, he saw the Hollow above him but couldn't move fast enough to block the strike or even bring his Zanpakuto up and make it a mutual kill. He closed his eyes. 'I've lived a good life. I've killed many Hollows. I've avenged my friends.' In his mind's eye, he saw his Zanpakuto, the chipped guard a testimony to the battles he had fought. In his hand, his thumb rubbed the Zanpakuto's guard affectionately. 'Thank you, my friend. I just wish that I had been able to learn your name.'

'Ashido.' He knew that voice, even though he'd only heard it once, before he had come to Hueco Mundo. His eyes snapped open to see that the Hollow was frozen in its killing strike. He began to laugh, the first laugh he had enjoyed since coming to Hueco Mundo. How ironic was this? He could finally hear his Zanpakuto, right before he died. After all the meditation that he had done, trying to contact it here, after all the life-threatening battles that he had barely survived, he could finally hear it.

'You've become strong, Ashido. Do not blame yourself for being unable to hear me before now. You were simply not ready. Now, however, you are strong enough to hear me. Fighting the Hollows you have with me in my sealed form is a accomplishment that many Lieutenants could not boast of. There are even Captains who would have problems fighting what you have fought without releasing their swords.

He could feel something with scales brush by his arm, and a forked tongue licked at his cheek.

'As you are now, I have always been strong. I have been waiting for you to become strong enough to reveal myself.' Ashido's Zanpakuto moved into view, a black salamander head with fangs that protruded from the upper lip, and flames running down the sides of its cheeks. 'I will not let you die here, Ashido. You have gone through too much. Say my name, let my power infuse you, and together, we will win.'

Time reverted to normal, and though he could still feel the heat his Zanpakuto was generating right beside him, he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Hollow couldn't see it. He felt power flow from his Zanpakuto, energizing him, washing away the tiredness of his muscles, replacing it with energy that his body struggled to contain. His body felt stronger, his reactions sharper than they had ever been before. 'That was only a fraction of what I can do. Say my name.

"Furea, Sanshoouo (Flare, Salamander)" Ashido whispered, lips barely moving. He didn't need to shout it to the world. The only thing that mattered was that his Zanpakuto responded, and it would do that whether he shouted or whether he whispered, and whispering saved his breath, something that he was going to need.

The Zanpakuto in his right hand was transforming even as he brought it up to block the clawed hand that was reaching down to tear his heart out. The green binding on the hilt burned away to be replaced with black, the hilt itself extending. A blade grew out of both sides of the hilt, longer and wider than the average Zanpakuto, and each blade perfectly straight. Both sides of both blades were edged, and there was no guard between the extended hilt and the blades. Altogether, the Zanpakuto stood roughly seven feet long from tip to tip.

He caught the Hollow's hand on the edge of his Zanpakuto, and cut deeper than he had before, almost up to the wrist. Startled by the unexpected turn of events, the Hollow leaped back, the wound sealing up again, just like it had previously in the fight. This time though, Ashido didn't intend to let it come back on the attack. 'Is there anything that you can do to finish this quickly? Even if I am able to cut him, this will still be a very long battle.'

'You did not believe that I would show myself to you and not have a way to win, did you?' The Zanpakuto spirit chided. 'Hold the blade in front of you, both of your hands on the hilt.'

Ashido responded to the instructions his Zanpakuto was giving him. He held his Zanpakuto out in front of him, between him and the Hollow, who was waiting to see what he would do. He began to spin the blade, faster and faster. He could feel the Zanpakuto's power burning through the sword. Small flames, so hot that they turned a bluish-white flared up where the hilt met the blades, spreading quickly down the edges of the swords. When the blades were completely covered and he was spinning the sword as fast as he could, the flames along the blades making it seem like there was a solid disc of blue-white flames in front of him, he commanded his Zanpakuto to attack. "Kikaki (Vaporizer)."

From the outer tip of the blade in, a blue-white pillar of flame shot out of the blade, nearly seven feet in diameter. The Hollow, not having remotely expected the attack, couldn't dodge in time, and was consumed in the flames.

The spinning blade had come from just above the sand to well over his head, and it completely engulfed the Hollow that he had aimed it at. He lowered the sword, panting. Even with the boost that his Zanpakuto had given him, he'd been nowhere near one hundred percent, and he'd never had a tremendous amount of Reiryoku to begin with.

'Do not fret about that. Your Reiryoku will increase as you use my ability more, which will in turn make the ability more powerful.'

'More powerful?' Ashido thought, completely shocked.

'Yes. If you were to use that pillar at full strength, the flames are so hot that they will vaporize anything they hit. Fortunately, the technique is so well contained that the flames will not burn anything outside of the pillar. Since the flames are so hot it vaporizes instead of truly burning, anything outside the pillar is safe, save for radiant heat.'

'It sounds like it makes it rather easy to dodge.'

'True, it does, if you use it straight out. If you were to, say, bind your enemy with Kido, then hit him with that attack, he wouldn't be able to dodge. And the longer you sustain it, the longer they have to try to resist it. It is possible to resist the fire by using your own Reiatsu as a shield, however, it takes a tremendous amount to do so even for an instant, and if you get your Reiryoku reserves high enough, you can sustain the attack for several minutes on end. Since it is impossible to move when you are using your Reiatsu to buffer attacks, your enemy would have no choice but to simply stand there unless they wanted to be vaporized instantly. And there is nothing that has enough Reiatsu to resist my attack for several minutes.'

The flames were gone, Ashido only having held it for two seconds, any longer and he would have collapsed even with his Zanpakuto's help. His lips twitched upwards in a smile. He'd destroyed the strongest regular Hollow he'd ever come across, which was a good thing, he wouldn't want to even imagine that thing as an Adjuchas. He'd achieved the shikai of his Zanpakuto, and hopefully now he'd be able to kill even more Hollows than before. In the previous centuries, it had seemed that no matter how many Hollows he'd killed, their numbers never seemed to decrease. Maybe now he'd be able to actually make a difference, be able to kill off Hollows faster than they could make new Hollows out of innocent people. As he turned to leave, his eyes took in the line that his attack had taken, and then widened in shock. "No." He whispered.

Standing there with its arms crossed in front of its face was the Hollow, the incredible wounds the attack had inflicted already healing. 'Can he even be killed?'

Ichigo had been absolutely certain that he was going to kill the little Shinigami when suddenly his Zanpakuto had changed and he had cut into Ichigo's hand all the way up to the wrist. He had jumped back to assess the situation, but he still wasn't truly worried. That had changed when the Shinigami's sword had changed. Intrigued, he hadn't attacked, instead he waited to see what would happen, and he had paid for it when the Shinigami's sword burst in flames and he had sent the most powerful attack Ichigo had ever seen straight at him.

At first, when the Shinigami began to spin the sword, he wasn't worried. It looked like more of a defense than anything else, and a defense he could easily get around if he really wanted to. He hadn't expected the flaming disc to suddenly create a pillar of white-hot flames that moved so quickly he was barely able to react. He hadn't been able to dodge, so he'd done the next best thing.

He had covered his mask with his hands, and he had put all the Reiryoku he could muster into protecting himself from the attack. His skin may protect him from being cut, but it didn't stop him from getting burned.

It had been beyond horrible, the sensation of his skin peeling away, melting off his body, dripping off his limbs, revealing the much less resistant body beneath. His regenerative abilities had been overwhelmed as every part of his body came under attack simultaneously. His mask had been protected by his hands, but he had burned through all the Reiryoku he had been able to gather, and all that he had had within him trying to protect himself from being totally incinerated, and the subsequent regeneration had burned through any remaining reserve of power he had deep within him. He still had his physical abilities, but without the enhancement his body received from the immense power inside of him, his skin was maybe at a quarter strength, and he was weaker and slower than he could ever remember being. If the Shinigami had another attack like that in him, Ichigo would die.

Once more, the instinct for self-preservation overcame him, and he turned and ran, darting around a tree, making the Shinigami have to through the tree to get to him. Not for second did he think that the tree would stop the Shinigami if he was actually dedicated to pursuing him, but he hoped that the Shinigami wouldn't be in much better shape than he was, and would decline following him to tend to his own injuries.

Ashido watched the Hollow leave and breathed an enormous sigh of relief. If that Hollow had been able to keep fighting, he wouldn't have been able to do much to resist it. He stayed there for a second, gathering his strength, then used Shunpo as best his battered body could manage to get back to his cave before something like a Gillian showed up.

Ichigo grabbed another weak Hollow and devoured it, feeling still more of his strength return. It was a good thing that Ichigo was so much more powerful than any other ordinary Hollow to start with, since if he wasn't he'd either be dead or so weakened that he'd get devoured, not something that he wanted to have happen.

Pausing for a second to catch his breath, Ichigo felt the ground shudder underneath his feet. Turning quickly he barely managed to get out of the way as an enormous foot slammed down on the place he had been an instant before.

Ichigo looked up at the enormous Hollow, growling low in his throat. It was far larger than any Hollow he'd seen so far, it's size rivaling the trees that dotted the Menos Forest. It was covered in black robes, and it's face had a long, thin nose.

Ichigo angrily dashed toward it, landing on its foot, claws scrambling for purchase as he climbed higher. One hand came around to knock him off, but Ichigo grabbed hold of the appendage, running up the arm towards the mask. When he got to the shoulder, the other hand tried to grab him, but Ichigo again jumped on the hand to gain a little extra height, then jumped up, grabbing hold of the nose on the mask. Everywhere else the mask would have been too thick for him to take a bite out of, but the nose thinned out, so he chomped the very end of it off. Holding up his hand, he pumped power into his cero, blasting the Gillian's mask to pieces.

Ichigo fell down to the ground, his legs absorbing the shock of impact. Ichigo turned his head and watched disinterestedly as the Gillian dissolved.

The aching in his chest that had defined his existence up until now seemed to finally go away. Power was swelling up inside of him, more power than he could know what to do with.

A red aura appeared around him as he shot up in height. Black robed swirled out of nowhere to cover nearly his entire form. His feet became booted, and his mask changed. Instead of nine red lines on the left side, there were now ten lines on each side, all of them meeting in the middle.

The newly created Gillian felt the hunger return full force, and roared its challenge to the rest of the forest. It was feeding time.

In Soul Society, Sosuke Aizen was in the Central 46 chambers, having just given his latest order. Rukia Kuchiki was to be executed via Sokyoku. "What are you doing here, Gin?" He questioned without turning around

Gin's voice was unusually serious. "I got a report from the Adjuchas you put in charge of the Menos Forest. They say that about a week ago a new Hollow appeared and started to tear up the forest. Supposedly this Hollow has a near impenetrable hide, can already use a super-powered form of cero, and took out a Gillian while in its first Hollow form. It also fought the Shinigami stuck in the Menos Forest to a draw, even after he released his Zanpakuto. The Shinigami got away before they could get him. The Hollow is now a Gillian having devoured the one it defeated."

Now Aizen was interested. A regular Hollow that strong only came around maybe once in thousand years, and even that was only when an extremely powerful Shinigami was devoured. There had been no Shinigami Captains or Lieutenants devoured recently. It was evolving at an incredibly quick rate, becoming a Gillian in a week was almost unheard of. "Tell the Adjuchas to funnel the other Gillians toward this new one. I want him as an Adjuchas by the time I have the Hogyoku. He will make an excellent Arrancar."

Gin Ichimaru, Captain of the Gotei 13, bowed and walked out of the Central 46 chamber, ignoring the bodies that surrounded him.

Aizen himself did look at the bodies and sighed. He really hadn't wanted to kill them, but he needed the information in the archives and since no Shinigami was allowed to enter formally with a Zanpakuto, he couldn't put them under Kyoka Suigetsu's (Mirror Flower Water Moon's) hypnosis, so he had to do things the blunt way. He turned back to the archives. He had to find out what else Kisuke Urahara was hiding.

The Gillian with the red stripes on its mask bit down into another Gillian, feeling the power rush into him. Turning, he saw even more Gillians lumbering towards him. The rest of the Hollows in his head made it hard to think, so he really didn't even try. All he knew was, if they were stupid enough to come close to him, he would make a meal out of them.

Kisuke Urahara had a throbbing headache. Orihime had been absolutely devastated at Ichigo's 'death'. Like with the Kurosaki daughters, a different story than what had actually happened had been told. Orihime hadn't said a thing after the first broken whisper. She was going to need watching, she now had powers but since they were tied to her will, she was in no shape to use them.

Chad and Uryu had taken it a bit differently. After they had left the shop, Uryu came in demanding to know what Urahara knew about Quincy. After getting him to admit that he had been the one who founded the Shinigami research and development department, Uryu had explained what he wanted to know.

Uryu had been training with the Sanrei glove, and had in fact mastered it, having started his training a few days before Ichigo had, claiming that he was sick for the final three days of school. Uryu knew the glove was extremely powerful, but he could also sense a limit. Which was what had brought him to Urahara, he wanted to find a way to take off the glove, granting him access to the vast amount of power he would get when he took it off, and keep his powers.

Questioning the reason why Uryu would want this, Urahara had been shocked to hear that he was doing it for Ichigo Kurosaki. Uryu's exact words had been-

"Shinigami took my grandfather from me. I always hated them after that. When Ichigo became a Shinigami, I was furious. I challenged him to a duel to see who could better protect the town." He pushed his glasses up slightly, showing the Sanrei glove.

"As I fought against and alongside him that day, I realized something. He wasn't like the rest of the Shinigami. He actually cared about the people he was trying to protect. He didn't care if the Quincy destroyed the Hollows or purified them, as long as they didn't harm the town. He was the only Shinigami I have ever seen worthy of respect." The boys voice dropped lower, coming out as a venomous hiss.

"Then, more Shinigami came, and they murdered him. If they hadn't come, if they had just left Ichigo alone to protect the town, he'd still be alive." Uryu's eyes met Urahara's for the first time since he had started talking. "I'm going to Soul Society for two reasons. The first is to rescue the girl that Ichigo was trying to save. For me, that was his last wish. The second reason is revenge. Those scum murdered my grandfather, and the only decent Shinigami on the face of the earth, and I intend to make them pay."

Squaring his shoulders, his eyes burned into Urahara's. "That's why I need to be able to take off the glove and access that power. The Sanrei glove is strong, but the Shinigami killed many Quincy who had it, and I know it won't be enough. So I need to be able to tap into the power beyond the Sanrei glove."

Urahara had thought about it hard. Aizen was getting close to attaining the Hogyoku, and once he did it would only be a matter of time before Soul Society was at war with Aizen and his Arrancar. In the upcoming war, a Quincy with the kind of power that taking off the glove would give Uryu access to would be a major advantage. However, it wouldn't do to have Uryu kill off too many of the Shinigami, or that would really not be good for the cause.

In the end, he had decided to compromise. Urahara would train Uryu to try and remove the glove, but had extracted a promise from the boy that he would not kill any Shinigami unless it was unavoidable. Uryu had agreed except with respect to the Shinigami that he felt were responsible for Ichigo's death. Renji Abarai and Byakuya Kuchiki. If he came across them, he would kill them.

Knowing that he wasn't really going to get anything better out of the boy, Urahara had told him to go practice using his inner Reiryoku with Tessai. When Uryu had demanded to know what that had to do with taking off the glove, Urahara had bluntly asked him whether he wanted help or not. Grumbling, Uryu had gone to do as the shop owner had told him.

A few hours of study later, he had what he wanted. The information on why Quincy lost their power when removing the Sanrei glove. It fit in perfectly with what he had thought.

For the last three days he had been training Uryu, leaving him with roughly four days left before he had to start opening the portal to the Soul Society. Uryu, however, was only part of the reason for his headache.

The other reason was Chad. He had come in the day after Uryu, wanting to know more about his power. He also had wanted to go to Soul Society, although his reason for going was solely to rescue Rukia, not for revenge. Chad didn't work like that.

Urahara was a scientist. He had never seen powers like Chad's before, so when the boy had come wanting training, the opportunity to see exactly how Chad's powers worked was just too much for him to resist.

He was watching the two of them fight now. Chad had both arms transformed, both of them black with red lines down the outside of the arm, white lines down the inside, and triangular blades that came out from just above the wrist to about halfway up the arms. Chad could use the blades that ran down the outside of his forearm effectively, although he wasn't devastating at it yet. What really intrigued Urahara was the fact that his powers acted more like a Hollow's than anything else. Chad probably wasn't ready for a revelation like that, though, so Urahara kept his thoughts on that matter to himself.

The large triangular extension that came up from Chad's right shoulder split down the middle, the area in-between glowing with Reiryoku. Knowing what was coming, Uryu used Hirenkyaku (Flying Screen Step) to get out of the way, sliding to the side just as the large blast of white Reiatsu tore through where he had been only a second ago. He brought the Sanrei glove up, bow extending, letting three quick shots fly. Chad brought his left arm up, the arrows bouncing off the transformed appendage.

The two of them had been at it for close to half an hour already, and showed no signs of slowing down. Yoruichi, in cat form, jumped down, settling down on her haunches next to Urahara. "They're doing well." Her comment brought nothing more than a grunt from Urahara. "What's on your mind, Kisuke?"

"I think I've figured out a way for Uryu to remove the glove and keep his powers." She said nothing so he continued. "Quincy lose their powers when they remove the glove because of the fundamental way the glove works. The reason they practice with it for seven days is to get accustomed to channeling the Reiryoku they are gathering through the glove, and the glove can, in fact channel a tremendous amount of Reiryoku. However, by doing this, their ability to draw in Reiryoku outpaces the body's ability to handle it. While the glove is still on, this isn't a problem, since the Reiryoku is being directed through the glove. Once the glove is taken off, though, they have the same concentration of power that was in the glove through their entire bodies." He turned to look at her.

"That means that everywhere in their bodies is the same concentration of power that the Sanrei glove could hold. That much power flooding into their bodies all at once fries their ability to manipulate Reiryoku. In order for a Quincy to safely remove the glove, he has to train every part of his body to take at least an equal amount of Reiryoku as the glove can provide. That kind of training would take decades ordinarily, hence the reason no Quincy ever actually got to do it."

"You said 'ordinarily', I take it that means you have another way to do it?"

"Yes. I think I can get Uryu ready for removing the glove in three days. But to do it, I'm going to need you to take Chad and train him. I can't train Chad if I want to get Uryu to permanent Quincy final form in three days."

Yoruichi laughed. "You seem to like taking things that ordinarily require decades and compressing them into three days."

Urahara gave her a lopsided grin. "I suppose I do. So, will you take Chad?"

"Alright, it seems like he needs to work on speed anyway. I'll see what I can do with him."

"You're a dear, Yoruichi." She gave him a flat look of pure disgust.

"Well, do you think I'm ready?" Uryu asked. Urahara nodded. The last three days he had put the Quincy boy through hell, and the boy had responded admirably.

The special 'three day training' that Urahara had come up with was quite simple in theory, but exceedingly difficult in execution. Quincy had a certain amount of innate spiritual power. They had to, or otherwise they wouldn't even be able to see spirits at all.

The 'training' had consisted of having Tessai teach Uryu how to channel his own spiritual power, while simultaneously having both himself and Urahara pour out a tremendous amount of Reiryoku, forcing the Quincy boy to handle as much as he possibly could. Here was the catch. He wasn't allowed to channel it through the Sanrei glove. Which meant he wasn't allowed to shoot arrows, since that now required the use of his glove. That meant he had to learn how to disperse it through his body to lessen the overload at any given point, then release it out of various other places on his body.

However, since he was a Quincy, this just meant he was putting more Reiryoku in the area immediately surrounding him, making him reabsorb and disperse the energy again. That, added to what Urahara and Tessai were giving out, constantly upped the amount of Reiryoku in the area, which forced him to constantly refine his control to keep his body from getting fried.

For two days they had continued like that, Uryu's body growing more and more resistant to the damage that the tremendous amount of reiryoku was causing to it. Once it had become obvious that he was slowing down, Urahara had started throwing reiryoku blasts from his sword, small ones of course, forcing Ishida to become even more proficient even more quickly. He couldn't take the hits directly, or try to absorb all of it, but by narrowly dodging and shaving the energy that it emitted off of the attacks, he use at least some of his enemy's power against them.

Now, three days later, only one day left before he would make the portal to the Soul Society, Uryu was about ready to remove his glove, and attempt to become the first Quincy ever to have permanent final form.

Uryu channeled Reiryoku to the glove for the first time in three days, and was surprised to find that it didn't feel much different than channeling Reiryoku to any other part of his body. He took a deep breath, preparing himself. Then he brought his left hand up and broke the horizontal spike coming out of the gloves wrist. The glove broke apart as Uryu was engulfed in a pillar of blue-white light.

The Reiatsu tore up the ground, cast an illuminating glow all across the training ground, and battered at the senses of the spiritually aware. When the light died down, Uryu's white Quincy outfit was completely changed. Armor now covered his left shoulder, and his cape was longer. A blue-white wing composed entirely of reiryoku came off of his right shoulder-blade, storing the excess power like a quiver would.

The bow was different too. Instead of the original bow of blue Reiatsu, or the bow that the Sanrei glove made, this bow was jagged and metallic, had two protrusions that went over Uryu's hand, and looked a great deal more badass.

"How are you feeling." Urahara questioned.

"A little strained, but it's bearable. The training really paid off."

Chad pulled his arm back, feeling the charge build up again and thrust his fist forward, letting the eRiryoku flow through his arm and out his fist in a blast of white energy. Yoruichi dodged yet again, letting her tail lag along behind her to let him know that she still wasn't really taking this seriously. He made ready to continue.

"That's enough for today." the surprisingly deep voice rumbled out of the cat's tiny body. "You're exhausted. Go get some sleep." Chad nodded and walked out. Never one for a lot of words, she mused.

Yoruichi was no Urahara. She wasn't a scientist, mysteries didn't endlessly confound her in the middle of the night, but she was observant, and she could see that Chad's power was most like a Hollow. Ichigo's immense and uncontrolled Reiatsu had constantly leaked out into the area around him, and since he and Chad had been best friends, they had spent a great deal of time around each other. That had led to Chad's body adapting to the Reiatsu by developing powers of his own. Powers that almost exactly mimicked a Hollow's.

The ability to transform your own body was a Hollow trait. The blast he used was little more than a rudimentary version of cero. It would have been funny if it wasn't so appalling. Ichigo's Reiatsu had turned a human into a half Hollow. Chad had the powers, just not the mask. Or the hole in his chest.

She watched him leave thoughtfully. The main question in her mind was 'Is this all there is, or will he keep transforming various body parts, gaining various abilities until his entire body transforms? And if that's the case, will he still retain his human mind when he does transform?' It hadn't been urgent at first but the more time she was around Chad, the more she realized just how unpredictable and potentially dangerous his power was. She needed to talk to Kisuke. Immediately.

Chad and Uryu stood before the gate that would take them to the Soul Society. Everything that could be taken care of had been. It had now been two weeks since Ichigo's 'death'. The two of them, Kisuke, Jinta, Ururu and even Yoruichi in cat form had attended the funeral. It had been a solemn affair, punctuated by the fact that Yuzu hadn't been able to stop crying. His coffin had been placed beside his mother following an open-casket funeral, allowing everyone to see his soulless body.

Ichigo's 'spiritually aware' friends weren't deceived by the cover story that he had died by heart attack, but his other friends, Keigo, Mizuiru, and Tatsuki had been totally suckered by the story. Tatsuki was crying, and Keigo and Mizuiru looked like they wanted to.

All of Ichigo's friends, be they spiritually aware or not, had all been crushed by his death, and each one went up to the coffin to put a few flowers or some kind of offering on the coffin. Tatsuki had left a pair of fighting gloves, and Keigo had left one of his porn magazines, claiming that Ichigo needed it since he hadn't been able to get laid in life. No one had even thought about criticizing him for his pervertedness, it was obvious that he was absolutely sincere.

Kisuke had been the most disturbed of everyone at the funeral. He, along with Yoruichi, Tessai, Jinta, Ururu, and Isshin were the only ones that knew that Ichigo was in fact a hollow. And of those, only he and Tessai knew how truly powerful and deadly his hollow was.

"Alright, we can only hold the gate open for four minutes. You have to get through the gate into the Soul Society in that time-span. This gate is equipped with a soul-particle conversion machine, which will change you into spirit form, allowing you to enter Soul Society. Are there any questions?" When there were none, Kisuke Urahara opened the gate, violet entrance swirling and watched as the two humans and one cat disappeared through it. Holding his hand out, he encountered a barrier. He dropped his hand, sadness visible in his green eyes.

A white, catlike being with a Hollow mask and teal eyes burst down out of the roof of sand that covered the Menos Forest. The pickings on the surface had gotten rather slim lately and rather that run around looking for Hollows to eat, he decided to come down here where food was in abundance. Granted, the Gillians weren't as filling as the Adjuchas he'd been eating lately, but they'd do for now. Spotting a large group of them, Grimmjow Jeagerjaques grabbed onto one of the trees with his claws, then used his powerful legs to rocket himself towards the Gillians, grinning at the feast that was about to come.

Ichigo ripped a large bite out of yet another Gillian, again feeling the power wash into him. He'd been feeding on these Gillians for nearly a week straight now, and more just kept coming. It was like they had a death wish or something. Well, he wasn't complaining. As he tore through three more Gillians, he spotted a disturbance on the other side of the group, and four Gillians disappeared in the blink of an eye.

An enraged howl broke out of Ichigo's mask. These Gillians were his prey, damnit, and anybody who ate them was going to pay. After he ate the rest of them. More Gillians on the other side were disappearing, and in Ichigo's muddled thought process, that meant that he should eat the ones around him faster before they were all gone. He applied himself to that with a vengeance, moving faster than he had since he'd become a Gillian. Gillian after Gillian went down, each one bringing Ichigo closer to his evolution to Adjuchas.

Three Adjuchas class Menos stood just outside of Ichigo's sensory range. Unknown to him, they were the ones who were providing him with the constant Gillian buffet.

"Damn." One of them groused "How many Gillians does he have to devour before he turns into an Adjuchas?"

"Quite a lot." Another one stated. "Don't forget, it takes most of us a couple of decades to go from Gillian to Adjuchas. Even devouring all those Gillians, it's still a lot of Hollows to eat. He should be getting close, though."

It required a certain amount of Hollows to be devoured before one could transform into a Gillian or Adjuchas. Gillian was a thousand, there was no question about that, but no one knew how many was required for a Gillian to evolve into an Adjuchas. The one thing everyone did know was that it was a LOT. There had been a former Espada named Aaroniero Arruruerie, who had been comprised of 33,650 Hollows, and he was still only a Gillian. There'd been a rumor that he had the power to totally fuse with another spiritual being and take their power as his own. He'd met his end when he tried to tackle a Vasto Lorde, and he'd been killed almost before he knew what was going on.

That was why Gillians and Adjuchas tended to prey more on their own kind than lesser Hollows. If a Hollow ate one Hollow, he gained just that, one Hollow. However, if a Hollow ate a Gillian, he gained a thousand Hollows. And if he ate an Adjuchas, then he gained all the Hollows that Adjuchas had previously devoured. With all the Gillians they'd been sending this guy, he had to be close.

"Quiet, you two. Someone else is here." They could clearly hear the third member of their group snarl under the mask. "Grimmjow."

Grimmjow, having taken the edge off of his hunger, and beaten those annoying voices of all the Hollows he'd devoured into the back of his head, was content to just sit back and watch as one Gillian with the distinctively different mask tore the others apart. He watched as it tore into another Gillian, making the stricken Gillian wail its anguish to the rest of the uncaring mob. It turned towards another Gillian, then suddenly stopped. Grimmjow tensed as the Gillians Reiatsu began to skyrocket, and a glow appeared around it. The panther-like Adjuchas relaxed. "A new Adjuchas. This could be interesting."

Grimmjow watched as the Gillian shrank into its new Adjuchas form. He secretly hoped that it wouldn't be one of those oversized buffoons like the ones that followed him around. Grimmjow liked being smaller than all the other Adjuchas. It gave him a speed advantage, not that his power was lacking in the slightest. He could use someone who'd give him a good fight, someone who could challenge him. After all, what was the point of being the king if there was nobody to challenge you for dominance?

As he watched the Gillian continued to transform, it's shape growing smaller and smaller. When it was only a fraction of what it had been, it stopped shrinking. Grimmjow looked on intently. This guy actually wasn't too much larger than he was, about ten feet tall. He saw the shape become clearly defined, and he had to admit, he was impressed. Visually at least.

The new Adjuchas had a mask that looked like a skull with two horns coming out of the side that curved inwards, pointing forward. There were red markings over the eyes that ran down to the chin. The Hollow itself was white, with red markings around the Hollow hole, and there were more red markings down the arms. The hands and feet were clawed, and a long, thin tail with a stingray-like barb on the end swayed around behind him. A spine stuck straight up out of each shoulder. Grimmjow was about to go down when three other Adjuchas appeared from the retreating Gillians. He recognized all three of them, weak Adjuchas who were put down here managing the forest cause they were too pathetic to do anything else. He held back, wanting to see what would happen.

Ichigo felt better than he had in a long time. The voices in his head had receded, making it far easier to think, and his power…

It was incredible. There was no other word for it. It felt like he could take on the world and come out standing. Brown eyes stared out from behind the mask as he brought his hands up, admiring the powerful claws and tough skin. He began to move, getting used to his new body when a voice called out to him.

"Hey, newbie, are you done checking yourself out yet?" Ichigo whirled, taking in the retreating backs of the Gillians, and the three Hollows facing him. Irritated at being interrupted, he responded in a manner guaranteed to piss them off.

"Go fuck yourself." As the three of them stood stock still, minds processing the insult, Ichigo, wanting to test his new body, attacked.

Tilting his head, the newly formed Adjuchas poured his Reiryoku into the ball that was forming between his horns. "Cero" His voice, slightly higher pitched than when he was a human, gave them just enough warming to dodge the stream of red-tinged white energy that came pouring out of between his horns. Unfortunately for them, he didn't give any voice to the one that was fired from his fingers, aimed at where they had jumped to. Two of them saw it coming out of the corner of their eyes and dodged. The third never knew what hit him.

The cero tore into the Adjuchas, vaporizing the lower part of his body, legs and abdomen disintegrating under the onslaught. Ichigo moved, covering the distance between them before the torso had a chance to fall to the ground. Holding his enemy by the head, to took a bite out of its shoulder, and crushed its mask in his hands.

Ichigo felt the warmth that always accompanied the devouring of another Hollow, but this was so much more intense than anything he'd ever had before. The voices in his head became nonexistent, he couldn't even hear them anymore. Eyes turning yellow with delight, he attacked the other two, tail waving behind him and claws outstretched.

Ichigo pounced on the first one before he was even aware that Ichigo had moved, and he suffered painful death as Ichigo bit deep into its shoulder, tearing off a chunk of it as his hands locked under its chin and yanked its head clear off its neck, blood spraying from the wound.

The second one was quicker and tried to attack Ichigo while he was still on top of the first one. He barely knew what hit him as Ichigo's tail whipped around, the barb extending outwards, glowing red with Reiryoku as its two foot length penetrated the mask. Not letting the Adjuchas just die, he pounced on it and tore a chunk out of its back. Just like that, the battle was over. Three Adjuchas fell to Ichigo, and their power was now his.

Grimmjow's eyes were bright behind his mask, and all his teeth were bared in a feral grin that went from ear to ear. The kid was good, taking down three Adjuchas in a matter of seconds. Leaping down, he landed in a crouch. The new Adjuchas turned to face him, but Grimmjow had already uncoiled like a spring, whole body focused on thrashing the new guy.

It was for his own good, of course. It wouldn't do for the kid to get a big head. Grimmjow was already most of the way there by the time the kid could see him, and he was confident that the other Hollow couldn't move fast enough to counter him. So it came as a complete surprise when one arm came up and a clawed hand caught him in the stomach, just in front of his Hollow hole. The breath whooshed out of him, but Grimmjow Jeagerjaques wasn't taken down that easily.

Using the momentum gained from the strike, he went over the other Hollow's head, claws catching on one of the horns, tearing it off. It wasn't a fatal blow, his claws not having penetrated to the face beneath the mask, but Grimmjow was confident that it would prevent the new Adjuchas from pulling that cero from between his horns. However, before he'd even completely passed over the kid, a new horn grew out of the mask. Grimmjow gaped. 'Great. A regenerator.' He wasn't given time to enjoy the view, because the two foot spike extended out of the tail, glowing with red Reiryoku and ready to run him through. Using his extreme agility, Grimmjow pushed with his hind legs off the side of his opponent's head. As he landed, he could feel his opponent begin to gather his Reiryoku.

Turning around he saw the other Adjuchas' horns again glowing with red light and a ball of concentrated Reiryoku just ahead of them. Grimmjow leapt to the side as the beam of Reiryoku blasted through where he was just an instant before. Before the beam had even faded away, Grimmjow was on the attack, his claws digging into his opponents shoulder. Or at least he thought so.

His claws may as well have hit a Vasto Lorde for all that he penetrated in. By which it meant he hadn't. Before Grimmjow could recover from his shock, the other Hollow grabbed both of his front paws in one hand and slammed him into the ground, then spun and hurled him with tremendous force towards a tree. Grimmjow twisted like the cat he was and landed against the tree feet first, his legs bending deeply to absorb the shock.

Grimmjow let himself fall lightly to the ground and for a moment just stood there. Then he began to chuckle, which soon turned into full blown laughter. "You're good, kid. You're really good. It's been a long time since I had a good fight. I'd almost forgotten what it was like. Thanks. What's your name?"

Ichigo was confused. First this Adjuchas attacks him, then he thanks him for a good fight, and now he's asking him his name? Warily he responded.

"Ichigo. Ichigo Kurosaki." The panther in front of him nodded and introduced himself.

"Grimmjow. Grimmjow Jeagerjaques." The panther regarded him for a moment before speaking again. "Well, Ichigo, you seem to be pretty new to being an Adjuchas. Come with me. I'll tell you everything you need to know, and I'll show you the world above that ceiling." The panther turned around and began to walk, not even bothering to look back. Ichigo, after a brief internal war, decided to follow him. He wasn't attacking anymore, and Ichigo wasn't really feeling hungry after devouring those other three Adjuchas.

After they had walked for a while, passing nothing more interesting than trees, the white panther began to speak again. "That's a pretty wicked cero you got there. Most Adjuchas lose the ability to use cero when they evolve up from Gillian." Glancing at him out of the corner of his eye, Grimmjow continued. "As you've probably noticed, lots of things change when you evolve from Gillian to Adjuchas. Listen up, cause I'm only gonna say this once."

"As an Adjuchas, you have to keep devouring other Hollows, otherwise the Hollows that you've already devoured will overcome your mind, and you'll revert back into a Gillian, and this time, you'll lose your sense of identity, and just become another faceless Gillian. You also get smarter when you become an Adjuchas, but you could probably already tell that." The panther grew solemn, in contrast to its usual sarcastic tone.

"There is one step higher on the Hollow evolution chain than Adjuchas. Vasto Lorde. The most powerful Hollows in all of Hueco Mundo. That's what we're trying to become. Me and the group that follows me around. You want in?" Brief and to the point. Ichigo chose quickly.

"Of course I'm in. More power? Who could say no to that?" Grimmjow growled his agreement, and Ichigo had a sudden feeling that him and Grimmjow were going to get along just fine.

"Hey, Grimmjow, nice of you to bring us back a snack." Edorad Leones called out gleefully.

Ichigo was about to respond with heat when Grimmjow cut him off. "This guy's nobody's snack. If anything, you'd be his. He took down three Adjuchas in the forest down below without even breaking a sweat. I'd put him at only slightly below me."

Ichigo glared at Grimmjow, who ignored him. "Ichigo's gonna be traveling with us for awhile. Anybody got any problems with that?" Grimmjow nodded to Ichigo.

Before Grimmjow had introduced him to the rest of them, he'd told Ichigo that he, being a newcomer, would have to earn his place in the group. If anybody challenged him, take them down, but don't kill them, that kind of defeated the purpose of forming the group in the first place.

"Eh, I don't know." Di Roy began doubtfully. "He doesn't look like-" He broke off when Ichigo disappeared. A weight on top of his head alerted him to where Ichigo was, but before he could move, a tail waved in front of him, the spike pointed directly at his face.

"Go on, you were saying something." Ichigo told him. The tail gave a short thrust forward, and Di Roy got the message loud and clear. If he gave the wrong answer, Ichigo was going to kill him. He didn't know that Grimmjow had forbid Ichigo from killing any of them, so to him, the threat was very real.

"Grimmjow killed off the two members we used to have, so with him and you here that brings us up to our original number. It's great to have a new comrade." Di Roy said, seriously hoping that his response would be enough to mollify the other Adjuchas.

Ichigo smirked under his mask. "It's nice to join."

The slightly expanded group resumed their travels across the sand, searching for more Adjuchas, as each meal would bring them closer to becoming Vasto Lorde.

In the Seireitei, an alarm was sounding, and Shinigami were scrambling to get into position.

"Alert, Alert, this is a Red Alert. Intruders detected in west Rukongai. This is not a drill. Red Alert."

Having been trying to relax, Renji Abarai sat up with a scowl on his face. "What the hell is going on?"

All the squads were moving to their assigned stations, and with the typical ineptitude of bureaucracy, the squads were not assigned to the area that they generally patrolled, which meant that the squads were scrambling over each other trying to get to where they were supposed to be.

Ikkaku Madarame, the Third Seat of the Eleventh Squad angrily pushed aside a Seventh Squad member who got in his way. Most people who saw the Third Seat's furious look assumed that he was angry about being interrupted in whatever he had been doing to answer the alert. In actuality, he was angry because there were so many people in his way.

His squad was assigned to the western wall, and the longer he took getting there, the more likely it was that they would start fighting without him being there. And that, in his mind, was completely unacceptable.

Uryu and Chad ran through the rapidly collapsing passageway, Yoruichi running ahead of them. The two of them had sparred with each other over the seven days that it had taken Urahara to open the gate to Soul Society, and had quickly struck up a friendship and healthy respect for the other's power.

Uryu found Chad to be a quiet person, much like himself, for which he was grateful, as well as a powerhouse with unshakeable loyalty. Uryu had learned Chad's reason for coming and he had to admit that it was a much nobler reason than his own.

Chad was coming because of a promise he and Ichigo had made to each other. The gist of it was, if there was ever anything so precious to one of them that he would protect it with his life, the other one would protect it with his life as well. Even after Ichigo was dead, Chad was still holding himself to that promise, and Uryu admired his strength of character.

Chad found Uryu to be a man who liked silence, much like he himself did. That made it easy to be around him. The Quincy did have a bit of a temper, but he was highly perceptive, and absolutely dedicated to protecting Karakura town from Hollows. And that, in Chad's book, made him an alright person.

"Hey, I don't mean to bother you while you're running but…there's something coming up behind us!" Just as Uryu shouted that out, a large light appeared out of the purple goo behind them, and a massive cylindrical object burst into view. "What the hell is that?"

"It's the Cleaner!" Yoruichi shouted. "It comes through here once a week to clean up. And it's just our bad luck that today is the day!" Chad and Uryu tried to pick up the pace, but the cleaner was just coming up too fast.

'We're not gonna make it!' Uryu thought.

As if in response to that thought, Yoruichi called out to them. "Don't look back, just concentrate your efforts on running. We're almost there. Uryu looked ahead and, sure enough, there was a doorway shining with light ahead of them. He looked back. The Cleaner was almost on them.

Making a split-second decision, Uryu slowed just enough to let Chad get ahead of him. He knew he wasn't strong enough to carry Chad, but for what he had in mind, he didn't need to be. Putting his hands against Chads back, he gathered all the Reiryoku he could from around them. Not bothering to call off the name, he put everything he could into the Hirenkyaku.

Chad shot forward, Uryu right behind him as they rode the current of Reishi to the door, getting there just ahead of the Cleaner. As they passed through the doorway, the world became a bright white light and Uryu felt himself falling. Colliding hard with the ground, he rolled with it to reduce the impact. Rubbing his head and groaning, Uryu pushed himself to his feet. Straightening his glasses, he looked around to see wooden huts and open vendors, and he was on a dusty street. The only thought that went through his mind was 'Where the hell are we?'