Chapter II: Greetings
"Neuro, Aizen-sama has requested your presence at the throne room. Will you not go?" A young looking arrancar asked without moving his eyes away from a large computer screen that covered one side of the four walls. From behind, there stood a tall being, his arms covered almost entirely of purple and green feathers save for his large clawed hands. Upon his face was a murderous grin that stretched across his countenance with malice, exposing a complete row of razor sharp fangs gleaming at the moonlight. The giant mask situated on his head illuminated with the light of various computer screens revealing the works of Las Noches as well as it's countless occupants.
"I will not." The bird-like hollow replied without so much as a glance in his direction. "What for? There is no meal to be guaranteed with such feeble souls as humans." He growled lowly.
The arrancar sighed, stopping his typing on the large keyboard and looking over his shoulder at the obnoxious soul. "You know that's not what I'm talking about. He has brought the girl."
"I am well aware, however, I will choose when I shall meet with the little maggot in my own time." He laughed, glaring at a particular screen that followed an espada leading two young girls. "He has his lap dog doing his errands again, the little bastard."
"Yes well, I'm sure if you'd allow him to turn you into an arrancar, you could easily do away with all of his subordinates and maybe him as well." He scoffed.
"And lose all my beautiful feathers? Hmm... No, that would not do well with me in the least. The last thing I would want is to blend with the color of white; dreadful thing." Clawed feet clicked against marble as he paced around in thought. "You of all things should know why I would even think of joining this band of fools in the first place, worm."
"Why of course, Neuro-sama. Although I have to wonder why you would be curious of the human mind. You've consumed countless souls of hollows, humans and shinigami alike and yet, you're curious as to how it all works. Honestly, I thought you were far more intelligent than that. A shinigami is practically no different than a human anyways. Just experiment on them." A loud laugh made him flinch and push a wrong key, an annoyed sigh hissed through clenched teeth as the arrancar slowly looked over again to see what had made the foul being laugh.
"Have you ever ventured through the minds of hollows and shinigami?"
"Sir, I am a hollow and I would never dream of looking through a shinigami's mentality, mind you." He turned away to fix the errors of his work.
"Yes, yes, but do you even understand your own state of mind? You're not a ravenous beast that mindlessly kills and eats to its hearts content only to have a hole in your chest remain unchanged. You're a beast in disguise that hungers for an answer that will never be sated. Hidden among the intelligence acquired after centuries of solitude is your insanity. What were you before you became hollow? An animal, a human, a shinigami?"
"Sir, you are making no sense."
"Exactly." Walking towards the door he placed a hand on the door way and called out to his subordinate. "Attend the meeting and make sure the girl is at least in condition for conversation. I will meet with her in due time."
"Going off again? What about the orange one?"
"That one has no business with me. Leave her with the bat."
With that the door was left open while the sound of typing continued to echo through the walls and halls of the palace. "Leaving me with his dirty work, I swear I may just get myself killed if he keeps doing this."
The small group finally entered the large room where a few other individuals glanced over at them with uninterested eyes. The man before them went on by to stand near the throne where Aizen sat, his hand under his chin as his eyes fixed on the pair so much like a father's, but Orihime knew better than to mistake this facade and stared back at him with evident fear swirling through her eyes. Next to her, clutching at the sleeve of her clothing, Yako looked over her surroundings nervously. A few times her observations were met with cold stares and evil leers from the people wearing white.
"Well done, Ulquiorra." Said man merely bowed in response and moved aside to allow the women to meet with his audience, his eyes closed in indifference of whatever matters were about to be discussed considering he had already gone through them prior to the mission. "I apologize Inoue-chan, but I must ask that you demonstrate your abilities to our fellow brethren. Some have come to question the significance of your power and it would not be well to have complications arise among our army. Isn't that right, Luppi?"
Turning, Orihime was now face to face with the espada that was slightly damaged by Toshiro and most likely would have died had they not retreated. His face was distorted in a heavy glare as he scowled at her.
"We've wasted our efforts just for one stupid human girl! Her reiatsu is nothing special at all!" He seethed.
"If you will, Inoue-chan," His voice brought the girl's attention back on Aizen as he motioned with his hand a little beyond where Luppi was. "bring back Grimmjow's arm." As he addressed the surprised ex-espada, his smile never wavered and in fact broadened at the shocked glare Luppi had sent his way.
"Aizen-sama, such a feat cannot be possible! It's gone!" He silenced him with a small gesture. Growling under his breath, he turned back towards the girl. "If you fail, I'll kill you! I swear to you I will!"
"Inoue-san..." Yako whispered, too afraid to raise her voice.
"It's okay..." She assured her, but no matter what the facts, the two were far too scared to instill any sort of peace with so many enemies surrounding them.
Going over to the designated patient, Orihime summoned forth her Rikka, surprising Yako, but she would not dare voice her question here among many. The light glow of orange enveloped around his shoulder and began to bring back what was lost by each segment.
"T-that's not possible... she's just a human..." Luppi stammered. Soon as the process was done, Grimmjow tested his arm with a few clenches of the fist.
"Hey girl, do one more thing." He turned and pointed to the jagged scar that used to be the spot where the tattoo of his rank was. "Heal this for me." Unsure whether she should follow his orders, she glanced warily at Aizen who only continued to smile fondly at her. Cautiously, she crouched a little to raise the shield over his scar.
"What the hell are you doing, Grimmjow?" Luppi asked gravely. The sixth recieved no immediate answer as the number of the other's back reformed new and complete. A feral grin stretched across his mouth with bloodlust. Without warning, a hand pierced through his abdomen. "Ack!" Blood spilled past his lips as he stared into his eyes in shock.
"Bye-bye, number six." A cero was shot, completely obliterating the hollow without any trace of him to be left behind.
Startled at the outcome, Orihime moved away from the hysterically laughing espada back to her spot with Yako who could only stare in horror at what had just transpired before her eyes.
"Ahem, continuing on, we have one more guest to greet." His fear inspiring gaze now slid to lock on to Yako who desperately hoped he wouldn't ask her to do anything; she had absolutely nothing to show for them. All eyes fell on her, but she could feel the comforting squeeze that held onto her arm keep her from getting completely lost. "I am well aware of the fact that you are no different than a normal human, but there is something that I must ask for and that is your assistance in helping one of my dear soldiers into joining our ranks." He lifted his eyes to look over at the crowd only to have them widen slightly. "He is not here yet?" Just as someone was about to answer him, the door opened and in came in another arrancar wearing the usual white uniform, holding what looked to be a laptop in his hands. His hair was a messy black and as for his mask, it was a large pair of glasses fixed on his forehead as he kept his eyes on the screen of his computer.
"Oh my... Don't tell me my little bird has taken flight again." Aizen frowned as the arrancar advanced forward to stand beside the girls.
"Hmm, yes I'm afraid so, sir." He glanced upward to briefly analyze the two that stared at him with equal curiosity. "He has informed me to take his place in the meeting once more. He will return in approximately four hours as of now." He spoke all this without looking up once from the screen.
"What a troublesome little bird. No matter. Katsuragi-chan, this here is Higuchi Yuya." He motioned to him making her look over at him with confusion still hovering over her.
"It's impolite not to introduce yourself, Miss." He said without warning. Yako glanced over at Orihime warily.
"Ah... I'm Katsuragi Yako... Pleased to meet you..." Her voice was terribly confused as she bowed slightly in greeting, but she could see that at the very least this one meant no harm as opposed to Grimmjow. Instead of a snotty remark or a harsh word, he let out a short laugh and smirked, finally lifting his eyes to look at her in the eyes.
"Yes, I know who you are. I was merely playing with you." He smiled at her and then focused back on the screen, typing away. "Although, I can't say the same for you uh..."
"Inoue Orihime, it's nice to meet you." She mumbled still unsure if talking with anyone else was all right considering that this was all about war and against her friends.
Aizen smiled as they all turned back on him. "I trust you still have that bracelet that Ulquiorra has given you in the beginning; the purple one?"
"Yes." She lifted her hand to reveal the shiny object where the lone bead sat at the vein of her wrist.
"Wonderful. With that, everyone will know your place among Las Noches and will treat you with care. There is a specific hollow here that I fear has not a clue of it's place. You were hand-picked by him so it is safe to assume he has high regards for you. Your objective here, is to convince him to become an arrancar and thus become an espada." He leaned back with a satisfied look. "It would be quite a shame to lose a precious brother with such promising gifts."
"So, you're saying that I have to make this person become like him?" She pointed at Ulquiorra who stared at her with blank eyes making Aizen smirk and Gin laugh from his place at the side.
"Hm, I suppose you could say that."
"Neuro-sama, is what's known as a vasto lorde, the highest stage of a hollow in Hueco Mundo. Ulquiorra-sama was once a vasto lorde as well, but with Aizen-sama's help had become what he is now. An arrancar; a hollow, whose mask has broken. Between the two, Ulquiorra-sama would be superior, however, should Neuro-sama become an arrancar, he would be at par if not higher with Ulquiorra-sama's stregnth." He finished with a final click of a key. "Do you understand now, Yako-chan?"
"I suppose..." In all honesty she really didn't get it but she grasped the whole point of the matter. "So I am supposed to meet with someone named Neuro?"
"Ah yes, his name is Nougami Neuro. No matter what I've offered him he simply rejects everything. But I'm sure you will be able to reason with the poor soul."
"You two must feel exhausted after having to come all the way here from the World of the Living. Ulquiorra and Higuchi will escort you to your room where you will be sharing each other's company. Wouldn't want either of you to get too overwhelmed with so many new faces now, would we?" He turned towards the espada with a small smile. "Ulquiorra, if you please."
"Of course, Aizen-sama." He abruptly came up next to Orihime and gently nudged her to walk in front of him.
"Shall we go, Yako-chan?" He smiled up at her warmly while closing the computer shut. He wasn't one to get too close to anyone's personal space. She nodded and went forward to walk beside Orihime.
"Inoue-san, will you please tell me what exactly is going on? Where are we?" She whispered nervously as the guards at either side of them stared straight ahead.
"Um... It's a little complicated." She whispered back. How was she supposed to explain what hollows, shinigami, and humans with special powers were when they had a bit of unusual company?
"If there is something you don't quite get, I'll be glad to clarify." The two jumped at Higuchi's voice.
"Ah, well... I was wondering where and who this Neuro guy was." Higuchi's eyes narrowed at her obvious lie, but nonetheless smiled at her, ignoring the irritated sigh from the espada next to Orihime.
"Neuro-sama, yes I would think you'd be a little curious about him, but I should warn you he's quite an infuriating one."
"How so?" It was slightly odd striking up conversation with a hollow, but in all fairness he seemed more human than everyone else they have met. This did not go unnoticed by Orihime, but she was not very comfortable with the idea seeing as it was highly unlikely that the male next to her would even waste his time talking about unnecessary topics and so watched the two beside her quietly.
"He is the very meaning of the word 'black hole'."
"You mean he's a glutton." 'Like I'm one to talk...' She thought bitterly.
"By all means yes, but it is not a normal type of hunger like that of hollows or humans. It involves one's mind." He pointed at his head to emphasize his point. By the expression he recieved from the girl, he could see that she could not make sense of his words. "Well, it is a very complicated topic to explain, but I'm sure you'll get it when he comes back." He smiled.
"Ok, but what about Inoue-san? Why is she here?" She asked, glancing back at her with an uncertain look.
"Her purpose here is no different than your's, Katsuragi. Your only purpose as a whole is to help Aizen-sama achieve his goals." Higuchi chuckled at his words.
"Hai, hai, Ulquiorra-sama, but there is no harm in telling them."
"I do not care for your reasons. You yourself as well as the others, are still obligated to do as Aizen-sama commands. That is all, nothing more and nothing less."
"Well, at the very least you can rest here." He said to the girls as they came upon a door. "We will come back later to give you some necessary materials for your stay. Until then, please enjoy your stay." They entered the room where there were two queen sized beds, a single large couch on top of a red carpet, a table with two chairs and a small high window with three thick bars creating a shadow in the middle of the room from the moon's light. The door silently closed and they were finally free to talk amongst themselves, away from prying eyes.
Yako sat on the couch with a heavy sigh. Orihime joined her with a heavy heart.
"Inoue-san, will you please explain everything to me?"
She looked down at her hands resting on her lap, her eyes filled with sorrow. "Hai."
A/N: Sorry for this far beyond late update for those that were interested in the story. I may have to watch the series again just to see if everyone's IC. Although I think I really should just read the manga of MTNN, never did finished it. Hopefully as the story progresses it will get longer in length (and flow better) as I am trying to build up my writing.