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Legend:

"Someone is talking."
'Someone is thinking.'
"A technique is being used."


Chapter 23:


(The U.S.A.—Wisconsin—Vlad Master's Mansion)

Danny's first thought of Vlad Plasmus was that he was a good guy.

The man's white hair made him look older which, when combined with how he acted and the eloquent manner in which he spoke, made him seem like modern day aristocrats you see at important events that normal people would never be able to attend. Still, the man hadn't been patronizing or ignoring him and Jazz in favor of talking to his parents so that was a plus to him. Another thing that spoke well of Vlad's character would be how he had offered to allow them to stay inside his mansion until the upcoming college reunion ended. Finally, no more sharing a small uncomfortable space and dealing with the combined snoring of his dad and Jazz.

After their bags had been taken away by some of Vlad's maids, Vlad began to lead them about on a tour of his mansion. He had told them that the place had originally been home to the wealthy entrepreneur of the dairy business, named the "Dairy King" of all things, before he had mysteriously passed on and the property went to market. It wasn't a stretch of the imagination to believe any kind of king, even if it was just a title, would live here considering how massive and extravagant the castle really was.

The first room that Vlad showed them was an expansive ballroom that he said would serve as the main area that the college reunion would take place in. Vlad explained that it would have to be redecorated and filled with some college memorabilia that he had said he had saved or bought recently. Vlad assured them that with the help of his staff it would look amazing when it was finished. He then showed them the library which Jazz gawked over, the movie theatre room which Danny and his dad gawked over, and various other cool rooms.

Finally after leading them through a couple more twist and turns through the long hallways, Vlad stopped before a large set of medieval-looking doors.

"I thought that I would save my favorite room for last." Vlad said as a small, prideful smirk appeared on his face. He looked at them once before he pushed the doors open with a flourish, "I believe that you and Jack will really appreciate this Maddie."

Once the doors were fully pushed open and the room was revealed, Danny and Jazz found themselves agreeing with Mr. Masters. Their parents would love this collection. The room was filled with various shelves full of old-looking objects, some looked like antiques from the old days of American history while others looked even older. Danny noted that a few of the objects had a faint green glow around them that silently pulsed as if to an unseen signal. Near some of the objects were various jars full of what they assumed to be preserved Ghost parts. The star of the lot however, would have to be the large metal cross hanging in middle of this collection in a large display case. The thing was practically a beacon of light in a dark room in terms of power when compared to the other objects in the room.

"Vladdie you dog, I thought that you said that you had given this up!" Jack said as he threw an arm around Vlad's shoulder, " All this time you've been pulling my leg."

Vlad shook his head and carefully lifted Jack's arm off his shoulder. "I'm sorry Jack, but I've put my interest with Ghosts behind me. I kept and expanded this collection of mine because, while I have given up Ghosts, I am still interested in the supernatural. And, well, part of me was unable to get rid of things that I had spent so long and worked so hard to acquire."

Danny noticed that Vlad's eyes flickered to his mom for a moment as he said that but quickly put it off as his imagination. Vlad wasn't interested in his mom; she loved dad and he knew that. To distract himself from that line of thought, Danny began to look around the room at all of the objects.

It wasn't an ideal way to distract himself as he felt a bit sick at the contents of some of the jars-what if the "samples" had been taken from Ghosts like Sidney?—but it would be rude of him to leave when Mr. Masters was still giving them a tour. And besides, not all of the stuff in the room was bad. There was an old colt revolver with crosses inscribed into it, a jewel encrusted hair pin, and a book that seemed to twitch every now and then.

After a few minutes of looking at the artifacts, Danny's eyes once again found the cross in the center of Vlad's collection. He didn't know why but that cross honestly drew Danny's attention unlike any other object in the room. Maybe it was because of how old it looked, how it was slightly damaged, or what he could sense about it but Danny knew for sure that the cross was more then what it appeared. While it didn't seem to hold reiryoku in it there was something about the cross that made his senses react to it.

"Ah, I see that you have noticed the Quincy Cross. It may not seem like much now, but it's rumored that this cross once belonged to a clan of German exorcists that existed a long time ago." Vlad stated as he walked away from Jack and towards Danny. "This was one of the few artifacts that of the clan that still exist. Very few artifacts still exist since the clan mysteriously disappeared over 200 years ago almost overnight."

"Does anyone know what happened to them?" Danny asked curiously.

Vlad sighed at the question, as if with disappointment, "Not exactly Daniel. This clan was great was said to be great in number and each member was said to be skilled in art of exorcism. This has spawned many myths about the clan's exploits—usually involving a member of the clan arriving in a town plagued by an evil spirit and then vanquishing it—but no one knows how or why the clan vanished." He looked up at the cross, "Some say that the evil spirits gathered together and attacked when they were weakest while others suggest that the clan's method of exorcism angered god and then god struck them down."

Danny felt a bit of a chill at the explanation. Evil spirits? Like Hollows? Those were the only type of evil spirits that he knew would probably terrorize villages, besides ghosts of course, and they weren't especially shy about attacking the living. Despite the fact that he hadn't actually met another Hollow before but Sidney's description of them and his own nightmares where he was one instead of an Arrancar gave him a general idea what they did to normal people. Still, would those exorcists have gone after him if they were still around?

Probably.

"Oh, look at the time." Vlad said after his wristwatch beeped and he looked at it. "It seems that the tour has gone on longer than I expected it would. Please, let me escort you to dinner and then show you the rooms you'll be staying in."

XXXXXX

(Wisconsin—Vlad Master's Mansion—With Vlad)

After everyone had finished the lovely three-course dinner that his cooks had made, Vlad had excused himself from the Fenton Family's presence and had ordered two of his servants to direct his guests to their rooms. He would have liked to escort Maddie to her room himself, but he hadn't been able to stand Jack's presence any longer. The very sight of the man made the same bitter hatred that he felt for many years wrap around his heart even tighter and the sight of Maddie's children filled him with the grief of what could've been his.

Still, that didn't mean that Maddie and the children wouldn't be his soon enough.

Once the reunion was over, Jack Fenton would no longer be a problem. It would be Vlad himself who comforted Maddie and the children in their time of need before slowly, ever so slowly, Maddie would fall in love with him. Vlad couldn't wait until that day.

Thinking of the children, Vlad had to admit that they had surpassed his expectations. Jasmine was a beautiful, intelligent, and rule-abiding female with a great future ahead of her. It wouldn't surprise him if she was accepted to Yale or Harvard and, if she wasn't, then she would be. Daniel on the other hand, seemed like a skinnier version of his father at first until Vlad had gotten to know him more. The boy had a good head on his shoulders and was generally pleasant to be around unlike his oafish father. There was the issue of Danny perhaps being slightly spiritually-attuned, but that could be expected considering that he had grown up in a Ghost Hunter household.

That wasn't to say that, suspecting this, Vlad wouldn't take the proper precautions. It wouldn't do if Daniel began to notice anything wrong with his servants or heaven forbid... himself; the boy could become distrusting of him and make the time he had to spend trying to make Maddie fall in love with him much, much longer.

"Silvia!"

Hearing his call, Vlad's personal servant/maid that he had stationed outside of his study opened the door and walked inside. The woman, Silvia, had unusually sea foam-colored eyes, shoulder-length brown hair underneath a white maid's cap, a black dress with a white maid's apron, white socks, and black shoes. "Yes, Mr. Masters?"

"I wanted to inform you that I expect all of the preparations for the reunion done by mid-afternoon tomorrow." Vlad said before he leaned forward, hands coming to rest underneath his chin. "In addition, I want this to be done without anyone alerting the Fenton Family to our unusual natures. I'm not sure about the rest of the family, but Daniel seems to be a tad spiritually-attuned."

"Of course, sir." Silvia readily agreed.

Vlad made a dismissive gesture and then watched as Silvia quickly phased through the wall of his study to go inform all of his other servants about his orders. It miffed him a little bit that she hadn't bothered to close the door, but he could reprimand her latter. Now though he just wanted to think about some of the finer details to his master plan and think about the day when Jack Fenton would be dead. The day that Maddie would become his wife and, together with her children, become a family.

XXXXXX

(The Next Morning—Vlad Master's Mansion—With Danny)

The room that Mr. Masters had provided for him had everything that he would need until his parents' college reunion was over. It had a nice dresser for his clothes, a window with an excellent view of the garden that Mr. Masters apparently kept, decent if a little old decorations, and an awesome bed. The bed itself had been one of the most comfortable things that Danny had ever slept on.

Normally, it wouldn't be so weird that he would have woken up feeling so refreshed, especially after sleeping in such a nice bed, but it was. You see, he hadn't really been "sleeping". No, he had been training with Leviatán inside of his Inner World while his body had been sleeping.

From what Leviatán had told him, he wouldn't get physically stronger while training in his Inner World but his control over his powers would get better. He would also apparently learn how to use them more "creatively", sort of like how he had begun to try and change the shape and size of his Cero. All in all, it suited him just fine; in his previous fights, he usually ended up before knocked unconscious with barely energy left because he had wasted so much or didn't know how to use what he knew properly.

"At least I can start using proper Hollow skills now..." Danny muttered as he changed out of his pajamas and into his usual clothes. 'Leviatán is really helping me out by explaining how to do everything and what I've been doing wrong... Still, he doesn't have to sound so smug about it.'

"How is it that I'm "smug" when I talk to you? Is it because I know more than you consciously do about your powers and how they work? Or do I sound smug as I help you learn what I already know so that you can do better whenever you face an enemy in the future?" Leviatán asked lightly and Danny could practically hear the smirk on the dragon's lips as he spoke.

Ouch.

'... I thought you were sleeping.' Danny answered back in his mind.

"Why would I do that? No matter how nice this place is, it is technically enemy territory." Leviatán replied. A trace of humor entered the inner spirit as he then continued, "Considering your track record, it wouldn't surprise me if something were to happen on this trip." He paused for a moment before continuing on. "And don't think I will forget about you calling me "smug"."

'I'm sorry?' Danny tried to placate the spirit.

"Nice try, but apologizing now isn't going to save you."

Danny tried to apologizing to his inner spirit, to avoid getting more training from hell, but Leviatán ignored him causing Danny to give up after a couple moments. Danny shivered as he remembered the last training session from hell as Leviatán practically froze him solid with his breath and told him to "be one with the ice". As Danny left the room he felt as if he was going to meet certain doom.

Trying to put the feeling out of his mind, Danny began to walk towards where he remembered the kitchen and dining rooms to be. On the way though, he couldn't help but notice how quickly Mr. Masters' servants were going about their jobs and how it seemed all-but effortless to them. He lost track of how many of the staff he had seen coming and going around which was since they almost seemed to disappear whenever he wasn't looking.

When Danny finally reached the dining room he noticed that everyone was already there. Jazz had her nose deep in a psychology book while his parents were talking to Mr. Masters about their battle against the Lunch Lady. Danny could have added a few things to their conversation— after all he had been the one to defeat and use the Fenton Thermos to capture her—but he certainly wasn't going to say anything that could lead his parents to discovering about him. Mr. Masters looked vaguely bored with the conversation but when his parents began describing how "he", or at least him when he was in his Arrancar form, was battling the Lunch Lady he become more interested in the story.

"Do you know what happened to the Ghost? From the sound of it, it could cause a lot more damage if it were to attack again." Vlad asked with a small grin on his face.

Jack shook his head at that, looking more than a little depressed, "No. All that we know about it was that it had the capability of speech, took on a form reminiscent of a lunch lady, and had the ability to control meat. It seemed to be fighting something before Maddie and I arrived. We suspect that it was fighting with another Ghost and that one defeated the other. It's also possible that they both retreated before we could capture them, but we were able to get some samples of the Lunch Lady Ghost's energy."

"Did you get a glimpse of that other Ghost?" Vlad asked, somewhat curious "Or why it was fighting the "Lunch Lady"?"

Danny twitched.

"Not really. While we haven't seen the Lunch Lady ghost we have seen the other one around, so we believe that it either destroyed or drove off the Lunch Lady. So far we have dubbed it the "White Ghost" due to its white hair and white clothing. It seemed capable of moving around quickly and using its ectoplasm to create a massive, energy blasts... but that's it." Jack said with a frown. "We've heard some rumors about it appearing around town. Some say it's the ghost of a samurai based on its sword, others say it's an ancient demon that's always been in the city but we haven't found anything concrete yet."

"One of the rumored sightings happened around the city's junkyard. It seems like the White Ghost fought another Ghost there, we don't know the reasons why though. There weren't any witnesses but the day afterwards over half of the junkyard had been destroyed and there was residual ghost energy all around the junkyard." Maddie paused as Vlad turned to her, thinking about what she was going to say. "It seems to us that the White Ghost has claimed the town as its territory and hunts down any other Ghosts that enter it in order to expel them from it. It's almost like a predator protecting its territory from other predators"

'I don't go purposefully hunting down Ghosts!' Danny thought as he unsuccessfully tried to ignore the conversation by digging into his breakfast. 'The fights usually start because they either hunted me down or there was some sort of misunderstanding.'

"That's really interesting, Maddie." Vlad said with a small smile. "I know I said that I was out of the business, but would you mind if I came to see the town sometime to try and investigate that White Ghost?"

A cold chill went down Danny's spine as Vlad said that. It wasn't the idea that his parents were giving away information on his supernatural activities or even the way that Vlad had asked the question. It was the look in his eyes as he said it that gave Danny the chills. When Vlad had begun talking about looking for his alter ego there was a dark flash of something that flickered in his eyes for just a moment before it was gone. That didn't stop Danny from noticing it though, it wasn't anything he had ever seen before, not even from the worst of his foes, and honestly it frightened him.

Vlad's attention then turned to Danny and Jazz as he started to talk again. "So tell me Daniel, Jasmine, do you share your parent's enthusiasm about the supernatural?"

Danny was about to answer Vlad's question but Jazz spoke first. "Hmph. Just because other people are beginning to delude themselves into thinking Ghosts exist, it doesn't mean I will." She muttered and either missed or ignored the flash of hurt in her parents' eyes before going back to her book. "I'd rather do something worthwhile."

"You don't think they're real?" Danny asked incredulously. How could Jazz not think that Ghosts were real after all that had happened? Sure, she hadn't been there with him through everything that had happened to him, Sam, and Tucker but she had been there for other events. "What about when the Lunch Lady attacked at the rally or when that other Ghost attacked during lunch? If Ghosts didn't attack during those times, then what did?"

Jazz was silent for a few moments at that. To be completely honest, Jazz didn't have an explanation for those two events. No matter how many times she tried to examine the events rationally she kept coming up with the fact that her parents might have been right; that Ghosts existed. Her pride, however, wouldn't let her accept that fact. She had spent too long trying to rationalize the world, too long separating herself from her parents, just to have the fact that Ghosts might actually existing make all of her efforts wrong.

Her mind wouldn't acknowledge that, even if it was the truth.

"It was probably a case of mass hysteria." Jazz began to say, sounding more and more sure of herself as she continued to talk. "The protesters at the rally probably became too violent and tried to use a Ghost as an excuse for the damage that was caused. I'm also sure that whatever may have happened at the school wasn't the work of ghosts. Someone probably just yelled there was a ghost so they could get out of class."

Danny was struck speechless for a few seconds. In just a single explanation Jazz had simply talked away the danger that everyone had been in as if it was their fault to begin with and then tried to use a pathetic excuse to cover it up. The shock wore off as a red-hot anger began to spread through Danny's veins.

"Just because you don't want to believe that they exist doesn't mean that Ghosts don't, Jazz." Danny said, straining himself not to yell, before he stood up from the table and glared at his sister. Normally this wouldn't intimidate anyone, but this time it did. "And Mom and Dad are doing something worthwhile; they're helping people find up with ways to protect themselves against Ghosts instead of burying their heads in the sand!"

With that said, Danny spun on his heel and marched out of the room before he could say anything else that he would regret later. He was already angry enough as he is, but he knew things would've gotten pretty ugly if he didn't leave right now. He had snapped at Jazz, yes, but it hadn't been bad as some of the hurtful things he could have said to her in that moment.

In what seemed like no time at all, after backtracking through the maze-like hallways of Mr. Masters' mansion, Danny finally made it back to the bedroom that Vlad had said he could use. He fell onto the bed before flipping over, still feeling a little angry, but also a little guilty at what had just happened. He shouldn't have snapped at Jazz like he did but he couldn't believe how she was trying to rationalize everything and like he said, "bury her head in the sand".

To distract himself, Danny pulled out his cellphone from his bag, opened it, and saw that he had several messages from Tucker and Sam. "I wonder what the guys could want...?" He wondered as he went to the messages screen and started to scroll through them.

What could have they been up to since he'd been gone?

XXXXXX

(A Few Hours Earlier—Amity Park—Folely Residence)

"What do you mean that you were attacked?!" Sam demanded of Sidney, who was sitting on her bed within her golden prinny plushy.

Sidney looked down at his peg legs, "I was in the Fenton's Laboratory and was just about to leave when a woman appeared. She said her name was Emilou Apacci and that she wanted information before attacking me. She was really strong and had these kooky weapons she could control like boomerangs. I caught her with Piège papier, but I wasn't able to ask her some questions because some bull Ghosts ran out of the portal and took her away with them."

"Do you think the bulls were working with her?" Tucker asked.

Hey, it might've sounded crazy but Tucker thought it was a good question considering everything that had happened. He had witnessed a Ghost control vast amounts of meat, control metal, control and cause mutations within technology, had a best friend capable of shooting destructive beams and walking on air, had another that could control plants, and his own abilities. It wouldn't surprise him if that female Ghost could control animals and had called them in to help her.

"No, I don't think the bulls were working for her. The Ghost Portal just opened up and the bulls ran out of it and she just got lucky." Sidney answered with a small shake of his head before sighing. "Animal Ghosts generally don't listen to anyone so they may have just been passing through. Besides i doubt they would work for an Arrancar—"

"—Wait." Sam interrupted. "What did you just say?"

Sidney looked at them strangely, "Didn't I say the cat was an Arrancar?"

"No, you didn't." Tucker said as he leaned closer to Sidney. "Generally most people would've started with that information before anything else."

"And how do you know that the woman was an Arrancar anyway?" Sam asked quickly. She wasn't trying to imply that Sidney could be wrong, as he was the one that had seen his attacker, but mistakes could happen. And if there really was another Arrancar in town... what could that mean? "She could've just been a Ghost or one of those other beings you told us about."

"No that cat was definitely an Arrancar. She was dressed in the same uniform that Danny wears, she didn't act like a ghost, and she couldn't use any Ghost abilities." Sidney told them compete confidence in his voice. "I didn't want to believe it either but all of that combined with how her reiryoku felt made me sure that she was an Arrancar."

Silence descended upon the group at what Sidney had said.

What was there to say? Each of them now knew that there were other Arrancar out there—obviously hostile Arrancar since she had attacked Sidney without that much provocation—but none of them had ever expected for one to show up here. They had grown too used to only have to worry about Ghosts popping up after sneaking through the Fenton Ghost Portal. They never considered that other Arrancar would show up and now that one had none of them knew what to do about it.

First of all they didn't know the other Arrancar's motives were. They knew that she wanted information that she thought Sidney had, but that could be because of where he was when she met him. And now that she had escaped, she could recover from her battle with Sidney before using that sonar-like technique to try and find him.

"... Maybe she and those government people are working together." Tucker mused aloud, breaking the silence.

Now it was Sam's turn to look at her friend like he was crazy, "What makes you think that?"

"Think about it." Tucker said to Sam. "Danny leaves for his parents' reunion then, only a few hours later, two female "government agents" show up at our houses and ask us for information about the ghost attacks. While the two agents keep us distracted, Sidney gets attacked by someone who was snooping around Danny's house." He then turned to giving Sam a pointed look. "And didn't you say that you felt some weird spiritual energy coming from the agent that was interrogating you?"

"... Yeah, it was weird it was sorta like Danny's but more... flowing." Sam admitted, almost unsure about what she really saw.

"It's too big of a coincidence to ignore... it all makes sense if you put it all together; those three women are working together." Tucker said, completely sure of his theory. "Whoever these women are they could have posed as government agents to get information and keep us busy while the other one went to go examine the Fenton's Ghost Portal. Only she didn't expect that Sidney was there so she took the easy way out and attacked him to get the information she wanted."

"That... that actually makes sense." Sam said after thinking over what Tucker had said.

"What would those cats want with the Ghost Portal, though?" Sidney mused with a small frown on his beak. "As far as I know, Ghosts and Arrancar don't get along and generally leave each other alone. Why would they want with the Ghost Portal?"

After thinking about it for a moment Sam's face twisted in horror as she came to a horrible realization. "I don't think that they're looking for Ghosts, guys." She told her friends as a feeling dread began to curl around her heart, "I think they might be looking for Danny—"

Tucker and Sidney's eyes widened at this but before they could say anything the sound of footsteps distracted them. Sidney froze for a few moments then went limp in his doll just as the door opened up, reveling Tucker's dad with a small grin on his face.

"Tucker I know that your mother and I Said that you were ground but you'll never guess what's going on!" Mr. Foley as his grin grew wider. "That band you like pulled up and is preparing to have a concert down the street at the park! If you're back by sundown I can look the other way for a few hours."

"You mean Ember's going to be there? That's awesome!" It was not a secret that Tucker had a crush against the blue-haired singer and loved her band's music. It kind of made Sam wish he hadn't heard of the band at all because, when he did, he could turn into an Ember fan-boy. "I wonder if I can ask her to sign a copy of the band's newest album? Or my hat. Maybe even both..."

"Tucker..." Sam warned.

"I know how much you seem to like it and, after talking about it with your mother, I was able to convince her to end your punishment a little bit early so that you could go to this new concert." Mr. Foley all-but beamed, forgetting to mention the official concert that would be held that night. "So you guys better get going before that little concert ends."

"Thanks, Dad!" Tucker said before he jumped off his bed. He rushed over to his desk, grabbed his PDA, the Remember Yesterday "Ember" Album, and gave himself a quick once-over. He made to walk out of the room, but stopped when he noticed that Sam wasn't with him. Turning, he smiled. "Let's go, Sam! This concert will be really awesome!"

"Weren't we just talking about something, Tucker?" Sam asked with gritted teeth.

"Yeah, but we can talk about that stuff after the concert!" Tucker replied before he grabbed Sam's arm and pulled her to his feet, "Now, c'mon Sam! Ember is waiting for us!"

Mr. Foley nodded, "Whatever you guys were talking about can wait for now." He gestured towards the open doorway, "So go to the concert and enjoy yourselves. I'm positive that both of you will have a really good time!"

"... Alright, I guess."

XXXXX

(Meanwhile)

'The seals are breaking?' Dexter thought disbelievingly.

Despite his disbelief, there was no denying the evidence that his latest examination of the four sealed Arrancar presented him with. The seals that bound the four of them to their Gigai were breaking, albeit at an incredibly slow pace. If it wasn't for the slight deterioration in Emilou Apacci's own seal, he probably wouldn't have noticed that the seals were breaking down.

How, though?

How were the seals breaking? Why? Judging from the reports that Dama Harribel and her Fracción had been able to give him, the seals were able to function by using the reiryoku that they drained from their hosts to fuel themselves. In addition to that, the seals acted like "limiter" on the four's power by making their reiryoku very difficult to draw on and wield. So how—why—were the seals deteriorating?

It should have been impossible. Another part of Dexter's mind argued that it should have been impossible to seal Dama Harribel and her Fracción to their Gigai in their first place. Arrancar like Dama Harribel could easily break out of most Kido that Shinigami could cast, even if the higher levels took a couple of seconds or a minute to break, and he assumed that she had been teaching her Fracción how to do that as well. It wouldn't be as good as Dama Harribel's was, but the corrosive nature of their reiryoku—

Dexter's eyes widened.

How could he have been so stupid?! Hollow reiryoku by its very nature was corrosive. Arrancar reiryoku, though tempered by silvers of Shinigami-esque reiryoku, still possessed that same corrosiveness. In high even doses, Hollow reiryoku would be able to corrode Shinigami Kido until they broke or weakened enough for an Arrancar to break it themselves or escape from it.

It was no wonder that the seals were deteriorating; even if Dama Harribel and her Fracción had a hard time accessing their reiryoku, their reiryoku was actually corroding the seals binding them. It also explained why Emilou Apacci's seal was different than the others. She had used a lot of her reiryoku to battle one of the "Ghosts" that his division had been able to detect with their equipment and, naturally, the usage had caused further deterioration.

That meant that the method to break the seals was simple: channeling reiryoku. To think he and the others had been so foolish as to ignore such a simple solution despite it staring them in the face the entire time. He had assumed that it would be different than a Shinigami's Kido because it was a Human had cast it. And so he and his men had come up with increasingly convoluted ideas on how the seals worked and methods they believed would break them.


Omake: The Reactions:


(Huceo Mundo—Las Noches)

At the moment, one could find the Espada together in their customary meeting room while waiting for Dios Aizen to arrive. The reason the meeting had been called was to discuss what had happened to one of their members and the possible existence of another spiritual race. Unfortunately, however, without Dios Aizen being there the conversation went south.

"Tch. Shows just how strong Tier is if she was able to be defeated by a Human of all things." Grimmjow said with a somewhat gleeful expression on his face, wishing he had been assigned to the Human World so that he could rub it in Tier's face. And maybe, if he was in the Human World, he could show her how powerful a high-ranking Arrancar should be? "Even my weakest Fracción wouldn't have had to break a sweat to kill a Human..."

If Grimmjow had been able to, he would've already found his way to the Human World to get rid of the four women. Arrancar that showed weakness were often preyed upon and/or killed by other Arrancar. It was hard to do while within Las Noches—as "Dios Aizen" wanted as much Arrancar for the inevitable attack on the Shinigami—but accidents could happen. And if an "accident" happened to an Espada that had showed himself/herself to be weak, well, so much the better.

"I would have liked to study them and this Human, but I suppose Dexter is doing a good enough job." Szayel remarked with a false smile. He would have loved to tear that usurper's arms from his body and beat him with them, but Dios Aizen had assigned him to another project. It couldn't be because of that incident with the former Tereca Espada, right? 'Even if the little shit hasn't managed to capture that Human.'

"Who cares about any of that shit?" Nnorita Gilga demanded of the scientist with a sneer, "What matters is that woman was defeated by a fucking Human! Never before has an Arrancar been defeated by a Human and I won't stand for an Espada to be so weak." He leaned back in his chair and gripped the edge of his dual-headed, crescent moon-shaped scythe. "I say we eliminate the woman before rumors start spreading. Or," He spat out, "we could demote the bitch."

Following this suggestion came a silence that enveloped the rest of the room. There was no denying it; despite all of differences in their personalities and their outlooks on life, they were all considering what had happened. Should they request Dios Aizen to strip the Tereca Espada of her rank, making her a Privaron Espada? Or should they try to eliminate the woman to prove their own power and, hopefully, be able to take her coveted seat?

"It doesn't matter what we think." Coyote Starrk said after a moment, resting his head in his arms with a bored expression. "Only Dios Aizen will be able to decide what happens to Dama Harribel. So please stop arguing about it; I'm trying to take a nap."

"Who says that fucking Aizen has to make all of the decisions?" Nnorita growled as he stood up from his chair and knocked it over in one move, "He's not the—!"

Nnoitra was unable to finish his statement. Some of the gathered Arrancar wondered what he would have said and, if un-interrupted, how far would he have gone. Still, that didn't matter. It didn't matter because Dios Aizen had somehow entered the room without being detected and, hearing Nnoitra begin to speak against him, decided to show why he was in charge. It wasn't the promises of power or revenge against Shinigami, the dream of a civilization of Arrancar, no... it was through sheer force of strength and how he used it.

"Now, now Nnorita... please calm down" Dios Aizen smiled thinly, cold eyes glinting as he stared at Nnoitra's gasping form. He waited a moment before increasing the force of his reaitsu, forcing the black-haired Arrancar to start choking on air. Only when the unruly, foul-mouthed male had managed to get out a weak, insincere apology did he lower the pressure. "Now that everyone has calmed down, I would like to discuss what happened to your sister and what it means."

Nnoitra went to open his mouth, but stopped when a sliver of pressure began to build. 'Bastard...!'

"For the first time in recorded history, an Arrancar was defeated by a Human. Not by a Quincy, but by a Human." Dios Aizen steepled his fingers and looked around. "More importantly, that Human was able to battle on a level comparable to an Espada."

"Why don't we demote the Tereca?" Aaroniero Arruruerie asked in that odd dual-toned voice that he possessed, tilting his head as he considered the idea. "Dama Harribel has proven, through that conflict, that she wasn't strong even to handle a Human. So how would Dama Harribel she be able to handle a Shinigami Captain or Vice-Captain?"

Aaroniero was asking that as, like most other Arrancar, he had never witnessed Dama Harribel in combat. He had heard rumors, yes, but he had never saw the proof to back those rumors up. In addition, it wouldn't be the first time that Dios Aizen picked favorites and assigned people to places they didn't belong in. It was ironic considering his own position as a Natural Arrancar (who had been a Gillian before he had removed his mask), but it was true.

"You are thinking that your sister is weaker than what an Espada should be, but she isn't. Tier Harribel may be a Natural Arrancar, but she was a Vasto Lorde before she became one of us." Dios Aizen stated to the shock of several of the people who were doubting Tier's power. "The only reason that she could have lost, even in a weakened state, by a Human would be because that Human had managed to reach her level."

Finally, one of the Espada spoke. "So what if some Human managed to become powerful? We'll eliminate him and anyone who stands in our path!" Grimmjow slammed his hands on the table for emphasis and glared directly at Aizen. "So why the hell should we care about it?"

"I don't believe you have realized the situation yet, Grimmjow." Ulquirroa Cifer said before he turned to look at his fellow Espada. "If that Human was powerful enough to defeat four weakened Arrancar, why not kill them while he had the chance? Why hide behind a barrier neither Shinigami or Hollow has met before? Why not kill the Arrancar that had been hiding out in his town?" A small pause. "Either the Human didn't want to be found and tried to avoid conflict until he sensed an invasion of hostile forces or that he has been hiding the Arrancar and helping it."

Silence descended upon the room.


A/N: Author's Note: Well, here is the newest chapter! We both hope that you guys enjoyed it as well as the Omake. In addition, we would like to thank all of you for the wonderful reviews. If you feel the need to point something out, offer a suggestion, or just tell us your thoughts... do it! We are directly inspired by you, dear readers, and it encourages us whenever we hear back from you.

Sorry about the update rate, though. Both of our lives have been a little busy (high school/college classes, graduation, summer camps and activities, moving to different locations) so we didn't have as much time to work on our stories as we had before.