Disclaimer: This space intentionally left blank.
*spacepod falls out of the sky, crash landing with an earth-shaking 'KABOOM!'*
Cerokun: "I'm back, bitches!"
#380: 000000000000000000000Zero000 00
#420: Lawrence Helmbain
#430: Nexus the 13th
Due to being #300 and 400 respectively, Good Omens and Ethorin, you each have the right to one question about anything you want about the story. Chose wisely!
So much later than I planned on…
Man, what happened to the days when I updated almost every other day? I blame the fact that I have several muses, each with different ideas on what I should be working on. They keep getting into massive catfights, resulting in multiple mutual KOs and nothing getting done in the end. I finally got fed up with it, locked all of them except for SNGaP in a box, and pitched the box into the Atlantic. It should take a while for them to get back and start causing problems again.
"Hmph. And here I thought the Living World wouldn't be as exciting as Hueco Mundo." Apache smirked as she felt reiatsu clash in the distance. "Think stuff like this happens a lot?"
"I certainly hope not. Lady Harribel ordered us to spend our time relaxing while she reports to Lord Aizen, not getting into trouble," Sun-Sun reminded her. She then turned to her other companion. "Mila Rose…"
The Amazonian Arrancar turned to look at her, drool running down her chin. "Huh?"
"No eating the Pluses."
Mila Rose grumbled as she turned back to stare longingly at the ghost of a salaryman walking on the street below them. "Haven't had a human soul in years and the first chance we get, some berry-head thinks he can order us around…"
Apache snorted. "You want to have a snack, Mila? Go ahead. I'll be watching from across town when that 'berry-head' shows up to rip you to pieces."
"Go screw yourself, Apache," Mila Rose growled. "Hmm?" The ghost had turned down into an alley and a brown-haired human woman broke away from the crowd of pedestrians to follow him. "And there are so many sensitive humans too… This sucks…"
"Mila, just shut up. You're making me hungry now." Apache turned toward her fellow Fraccion just in time to see the human woman bite down on the Plus and suck it up like a bowl of ramen. "What the hell?"
The woman finished her meal then spared a glance at the trio of hovering Arrancar. When they made no move to interact with her, she turned and walked away.
"How odd," Sun-Sun noted.
"I'm still hungry…"
Soifon considered how to explain the situation to Kurosaki. Her normal method to convey information was to simply and bluntly lay out the facts. But while that might work for her subordinates, Kurosaki was neither loyal to her nor astronomically weaker than her.
If this went badly, there would be a fight. One she wasn't certain she could win without wiping Karakura off the map.
In the end, she decided to use her Captain's Prerogative: delegation.
"You explain," she said to her former mentor.
Yoruichi pouted a bit before putting down her shopping bag. "Okay, kids, we've got good news and not-so-good-but-not-quite-bad news. Which would you like first?"
The Arrancar scowled. "Good news."
"We figured who the Shinenju is and where they are," Yoruichi said with a smile.
"And the not-so-good-but-not-quite-bad-news?" Senna asked.
"It's you," Yoruichi answered, still smiling.
Soifon face-palmed as she remembered the personality of the person she had just delegated.
Both Kurosaki and Senna blinked at the blunt proclamation.
"Well…that explains a lot…" Kurosaki finally said.
Now it was Soifon's turn to blink. That was not the reaction she was expecting.
"What the hell do mean 'it's me'? Is this some kind of joke? How the hell could I be the Shinenju?" Senna said incredulously.
There it was.
"Well, let's see…" Yoruichi mused, tapping her chin. "Do you remember what division you're in?"
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"No, but –"
"Do you remember how you got to the Living World?"
"No, I woke up next to the river a few days ago…"
"Are you experiencing bizarre, disjointed, and contradictory flashbacks?"
"Do you think Ichigo is sexy and want to have hot, passionate sex with him?"
"Y – N – Wha -?" Senna's brain–mouth connection short-circuited and her whole face lit up like a stoplight at the question. Next to her, Kurosaki's jaw had dropped open and he was staring blankly in Yoruichi's general direction.
Soifon turned to her teacher. "What does that have to do with anything?"
Yoruichi shrugged. "Nothing at all. I was just curious."
Soifon sighed. "All kidding aside…" she said, getting Kurosaki and Senna to focus on her, "I have orders to bring the Shi – Senna to the Seireitei." Ichigo glared at her and started to protest, but she cut him off. "The Valley of Screams is connecting Soul Society and the Living World. While it's not an immediate problem, if something were to destabilize the connection, things could go very badly for both worlds."
The Arrancar growled and Soifon tensed at the very Hollow-like sound issuing from his throat. "And what will happen to Senna?"
"If my confidence in the R&D Institute is not misplaced? Absolutely nothing," Soifon asserted. "In our current state – which is partially your doing, I might add – we can't afford to lose any Shinigami. Even one of Senna's unorthodox origins."
"Gee, thanks," Senna pouted.
Soifon shrugged. "Once the issue with the Valley of Screams is resolved, I'll recommend you be inducted officially into the Gotei 13. With your abilities, there's no chance you won't be accepted, probably as a Seated officer. And maybe as a Vice-Captain once you have some actual experience."
"Wow, really?" Senna asked.
"And if the R&D can't do anything?" Kurosaki cut in.
Soifon struggled to find a gentle way of saying "The current form of the Shinenju will cease to exist" and came up blank. Sugarcoating things really wasn't her strong suit. Fortunately, she was spared from having to explain.
"Alright, I'll go," Senna said.
Soifon blinked. "Really?" That was easy…
"Yep! A chance to be a Vice-Captain? No way am I passing that up!"
Kurosaki looked at the excitable Shinigami. "You sure about this, Senna? I mean, it is your choice. If you want to stay in Karakura, there's not a whole lot Soul Society can do about it."
There's quite a bit Soul Society can do about it. Most of those options will just result in large-scale collateral damage that we'd really rather avoid. Soifon refrained from voicing those thoughts. Still, it was unsettling that Kurosaki thought he could just give Soul Society the finger and do whatever the hell he wanted. She would have to find a way to disabuse him of that notion.
Senna nodded. "I'm sure." She smiled. "I had a lot of fun, Ichigo. I'll make sure to come back and visit sometime."
"You better. You still owe me for the food and that ribbon."
Senna pouted and stamped her foot. "Stingy!"
Soifon sighed. "Crisis averted, I guess."
Yoruichi draped herself over Soifon's shoulders. "Ready for some R&R now?"
"Yes, but it will have to wait a bit. I'll escort Senna to the Seireitei and get things rolling with the 12th Division. I also need to get Amagai's answer and send the Captain-General my recommendation if he accepts. I should return in a day or two."
"Shusuke Amagai. He's a Patrol Leader. I asked him to fill one of the vacant Captain positions."
"Promoted from the Patrol Corps? I don't think that's ever happened before. He must be strong."
"Very. The strongest in the 2nd Division after myself. He's also a hard worker, reliable, and very good at inspiring loyalty in his subordinates. I think he will make a fine Captain."
"Good afternoon, Kibune. Almost done filling out your report?" Shusuke asked a young man with reddish brown hair and glasses.
"Ah! Yes, sir, Patrol Leader Amagai! I'll be done in just a few moments," Makoto Kibune responded. He finished a few more lines and handed the paper to Shusuke.
"Good job," Shusuke said with a smile. "Captain Soifon is in the Living World at the moment, but she'll probably be back within a few hours. I'll pass it to her then."
"Hm? How do you know she'll be back so soon, sir?"
"The Captain asked me a very important question last night. I imagine she's rather anxious for my answer."
Shusuke smirked as understanding dawned on Kibune's face.
"Is it about the empty Captain positions, sir?" Kibune asked quietly.
Shusuke nodded. "Once you've finished your work for the day, contact Kumoi. It'll be time to move soon."
"Yes, sir," Kibune said as the two parted ways.
"That is interesting," Aizen said. "I had expected some tension between Ichigo Kurosaki and Soul Society. To think he would throw them out of the Jureichi completely is a surprise. Even more that they actually complied."
Harribel knelt silently as her lord considered the information she had given him.
Aizen smiled. "I suppose that does work to our advantage. It will take time for the Gotei 13 to take action when the time comes. I suppose we should thank Mr. Kurosaki for his assistance."
"What of his refusal to join the Espada?" Harribel asked.
Aizen waved his hand dismissively. "Irrelevant for the time being. I expected him to deny the offer at this point." His smile widened a bit. "We will welcome him into the fold in due time."
"You may leave now, Harribel. I have no need for your services in the near future, so feel free to enjoy your time in the Living World."
"My thanks, Lord Aizen." She bowed and left the room.
As the door closed behind her, Aizen's smile faded and his form flickered. A moment later, the illusion fell, revealing a slightly more ragged looking Aizen clutching at his chest.
The Hogyoku pulsed, dim light peeking out from the spaces between his fingers.
"Greedy, aren't you? I'm afraid you can't have that one. She's far too useful a tool to feed to you."
More flickering light, seeming almost insistent this time, and Aizen grimaced as he felt a pain in his chest.
"Demand all you want. I've made my position clear."
A quick application of Kido sealed the room. It would be poor form to allow his pawns to see him in such a state. Aizen leaned back in his throne and closed his eyes, focusing on the orb embedded in his chest.
The Hogyoku would acknowledge him as its master. He would accept nothing less.
Harribel made her way through Las Noches, heading for the nearest exit point. It was annoying that she could no longer open a Garganta in the palace, but precautions must be taken when one of your potential enemies is capable of the same.
She ignored the blue-haired Quinto and his three remaining Fraccion standing in her path until a hand landed on her shoulder.
"I would suggest removing your hand, Grimmjow, unless you would like me to do it for you."
Her fellow Espada released her and held up his hands in mock surrender. "No need to get testy, Harribel. I just wanted to ask how your mission to Living World went."
Harribel turned to face him fully. Grimmjow's lips peeled back, baring his teeth in a feral grin.
"Are you asking about the mission? Or Ichigo Kurosaki?"
All of Las Noches was interested in Ichigo Kurosaki. The first Arrancar to break into Soul Society (and make it out alive and with all his limbs still attached). The one that denied Lord Aizen the Hogyoku. The one who fulfilled nearly every Hollow's wildest dream by eating a Captain. There were rumors flying around that he had taken on all the Captains and the Espada (at the same time in some accounts); that he was actually a former, secret Espada who had been banished by Lord Aizen for indiscriminately slaughtering everyone who passed before his sight; and one nut had actually started telling anyone who would listen that he had seen Kurosaki roundhouse kick the Spirit King in the face.
It was rather baffling to Harribel how such deadly creatures as Arrancar could be such colossal gossips.
Grimmjow didn't care about rumors. He only cared about two facts: Kurosaki was strong and he wasn't (currently) an Espada, which made him fair game for whoever had the power and guts to kill him.
If Aizen had not expressly forbid it, Grimmjow would have gone after him the second he finished viewing Ulquiorra's recounting of Kurosaki's battle with Kenpachi Zaraki.
Needless to say, the Aspect of Destruction was chomping at the bit to take his shot at the rogue Arrancar.
"You know that Aizen will not allow you to leave to challenge him."
Grimmjow folded his arms. "I don't see the problem. I just want to test to see if he's good enough for the Espada." The leer on his face would have made a saber-tooth tiger envious.
"Your idea of 'testing him' would leave the Jureichi a smoking crater. Which would make it rather difficult for Lord Aizen to make the King's Key, would it not?"
"If there is nothing else?" When she received no answer, Harribel continued on her way.
Uryuu sighed and put down his pencil.
"Finally finished," he said to himself, arranging his summer assignments in a neat pile.
He had neglected his schoolwork in the run-up to and aftermath of the invasion of Soul Society. It wouldn't do to compromise his #1 ranking, so he had locked himself in the reiatsu-sealed training room in the basement to prevent any distractions while he got it all done.
So it was a bit of a surprise when he left the room and detected two Shinigami and three Arrancar that had not been there two days ago.
Wait. The Shinigami were leaving. But that still left the trio of Arrancar.
No wait, four Arrancar. Another had just entered the Living World.
"This is Kurosaki's fault. I just know it."
Ichigo let loose an explosive sneeze as the doors to the Senkaimon closed, leaving him and Yoruichi standing alone in the temple courtyard.
"Stupid smoke," he grumbled.
Yoruichi sighed. "And now I have to find something to do to pass the time until Soifon gets back." She yawned. "Later, Ichigo. I'm gonna go take a catnap." With a lazy wave, she stepped away and was gone in a flash.
Now alone, Ichigo pondered on what to do with the rest of his day. "Oh, right," he said, snapping his fingers, "I need to let the Vizard know about those Arrancar before they run into each other."
Of course, before he could put that plan into action, his phone started ringing.
"Good afternoon, Kurosaki. Would you like to explain why there is now a total of five Arrancar in Karakura, counting yourself?"
Ichigo scratched at the back of his head. "Not if you're going to be a dick about it, Ishida."
"Need I remind you that they work for Aizen? What makes you think it's a good idea to allow them to be here?"
"The fact that as a deterrent we've got you, me, Inoue, Chad, Yoruichi, Urahara, and all of the Vizard? They cause trouble, we put them down hard. Simple as that." Ichigo shrugged. "Have you seen Hueco Mundo, Ishida? It's an endless desert. If I were them? I'd be willing to be on my best behavior if it meant a change in scenery after a few hundred years."
"… I suppose you have a point," Ishida conceded. "Still it would be best if we kept a close eye on them."
"I'm going to rope the Vizard into it. They might as well do something useful instead of sitting on their asses in that warehouse all day. Sound good? Okay, bye now." Ichigo ended the call there. If they kept going, Ishida would probably find something else to bitch at him for.
The Arrancar Sonidoed toward the Vizard's warehouse. He'd get that taken care of and then he could kick back and enjoy the rest of his summer break in peace.
"So this is the Quincy's home?"
"Pretty impressive. Though I guess it makes sense that a guy that runs a hospital would be loaded."
"Well then, Ho, shall we?"
"We shall, Ban."
The duo pulled out a pair of plastic water bottles, uncapped them, and poured the contents onto the ground.
Finally done! Thank you to everyone who sent encouragement and Howlers telling me to get back to work.
Who else is chomping at the bit for new chapters of Bleach? I know I am, because the current arc is exactly what I need to know so I can get to work resolving the Kurosaki family issues (and get back to work on 'Bring It On'). The suspense is killing me!
Speaking of the latest chapters, I knew Unohana was Badass, but damn! How often is it that fanon builds up a character as insanely awesome, only for said character to blow all expectations out of the water and into the stratosphere? Shawlong thinking he could take Unohana back in NQaP was funny when I wrote it. Now it's hilarious.
And of course, Kenpachi can finally hear his Zanpakuto. Several years after I had given up on it ever happening in canon. What does this mean for the Zanpakuto I had planned? Couldn't tell you. It'll depend on what his Zanpakuto can do in canon. If it's as Crazy Awesome as Kenpachi, great. If not, well, this is fanfiction; I'll pull the AU card.
Now go review! I bet SNGaP can surpass NQaP in review count after this chapter!
And if you feel like it, check out the 'Not Quite as Planned' TvTropes page. It needs more love.