Chapter 12

Rukia looked down on the ground that was slowly getting farther and farther as she was slowly lifted up in the air, bound in hands and feet. The Sokyouku Hill was such a grand place to meet her end. The Shinigamis released the Sokyouku, a spear-like zanpakutou with the power of a thousand zanpakutous, and it was slowly engulfed in flames.

She knew that the moment that flame touched her, she would be instantly incinerated. No, she would be incinerated even if the flame didn't touch her just as long as it neared her for two or three feet.

She closed her eyes. She had no regret, or so she kept telling herself. Her nii-sama didn't even look at her. He didn't even recognize her presence. She was just a humiliation in the Clan now. There was no way her nii-sama would fight for her. He was even the first one who voted for her execution.

And as the phoenix eerily moved back for a momentum, she finally realized how scared she was. She was afraid to die. And tears run down her cheeks as she closed her eyes, readying herself for the impact and the promised death. The phoenix stopped from moving backwards and started to move forward with much swiftness even though it was huge. And she waited.

But the impact never came.

When she opened her eyes again, she saw that Karin had managed to somehow appear in front of her and the Sokyouku, stopping the phoenix just in time for it to not set Rukia ablaze.

"Oy, Rukia! Are you alright there?" She grinned.

"Idiot!" Rukia exclaimed.

Down below them, everyone was looking up, shocked that someone had managed to stop the zanpakutou that equaled to a thousand zanpakutou in strength. Shunsui appeared together with Sentarou and Kiyone, carrying what looked like huge sealing item, to stop the Sokyouku. Soutaichou immediately fumed in anger.

Karin immediately freed Rukia and, when she gazed down on the ground, she saw Renji running towards them. She immediately threw Rukia on Renji and the petite noble screamed as she was thrown unceremoniously in the air.

"IDIOT! WHAT IF I WASN'T ABLE TO CATCH HER!?" Renji yelled as he caught Rukia with his two arms. Karin merely smirked at that. She was about to jump down when the Sokyouku got in the way. Her eyes narrowed as she looked at it.

Down below, Shunsui was already about to seal the Sokyouku when the soutaichou got in the way. He sighed in disappointment as he looked at the Soutaichou's face. Sealing the Sokyouku was supposed to be his parting gift with Juushirou, to make sure that the man's subordinate wasn't executed…

Soi Fon immediately ordered every fukutaichou present to chase after Renji and Rukia, but all of them were intercepted by Karin quite easily while still trying to get away from the Sokyouku. Soi Fon gritted her teeth in anger. "Bitch." And she shunpo'd towards her, but was kicked off the cliff by none other than Yoruichi.

Ichigo watched from the sidelines as everyone took their own opponent and Shunsui ran away together with his fukutaichou. Soutaichou followed him immediately. Now, Renji could get away–

And of course, Byakuya had to get in the way.

Byakuya immediately saw that no one was chasing after Renji and Rukia, and he immediately shunpo'd towards them only to be stopped by none other than Ichigo Kurosaki.

Ichigo watched as Byakuya's eyes was suddenly filled with silent fury. And he was sure it had nothing to do with Rukia's execution. "And you have the audacity to show yourself here again after killing sensei, Rukongai dog." His voice was by far the coldest Ichigo had heard him say.

Ichigo couldn't help it, but he felt that Byakuya wished him dead too. Of course, anyone who cherished Juushirou or Aizen would feel that way, but he also felt fury. Ichigo felt that these people would just believe everything without even trying to hear his side. And with that, he felt his reiatsu darkened a little bit more.

Karin immediately released her zanpakutou's shikai. "Flow, Ugetsu!" She was thankful that her zanpakutou was a water-type zanpakutou and she at least could purify some of the flames of the Sokyouku. On the other side, she watched as an orange-haired teen intercepted Byakuya's attempt to chase after Rukia and Renji. And that meant that the orange-haired teen was on her side. And thus, Karin made sure to keep herself and the Sokyouku on the other side of the Sokyouku Hill so as not to disturb one another's fights.

"Chire, Senbonzakura." Byakuya voiced. He let the petals devour the teen, eyes narrowing when he found out that Ichigo could in fact escape from his zanpakutou's power. Well, if the boy was strong enough to kill two Taichous, then of course he's strong enough to evade Senbonzakura in Shikai form. His eyes darkened even more. Juushirou had been an important friend and sensei to him, and this boy, this adopted boy, killed him.

"Just so you know, Byakuya." Ichigo said as he saw hatred in those steel gray eyes. "It wasn't me who killed Chichi. I will never even think of laying a finger on him. And it wasn't me who killed Aizen either."

But it seemed Byakuya had not heard him. "Bankai: Senbonzakura Kageyoshi."

Ichigo gritted his teeth as the deadly cherry petals' number almost tripled and all of them became faster, way faster than even Ichigo. And he had no choice but to do it. He looked at Byakuya again. It pained him that the man wouldn't even listen to him. It pained him that Byakuya never realized how much Ichigo loved his chichi too, just as much Byakuya respected the older Taichou. And that was saying something.

He suddenly stopped moving and pointed his sword outward, holding it with both hands. Byakuya watched as the pain became more and more apparent in those chocolate eyes. If it pained him, then he shouldn't have showed up here.

"Bankai." Byakuya stopped for a while, wide-eyed and surprised that a young boy like Ichigo would be able to achieve it. The surge in power immediately wiped away Byakuya's cherry blossom razor blades and when everything cleared, Ichigo already wore his Shihakusho differently. The right sleeve of his Shihakusho was gone and replaced by a black chain encircling his arm from his wrist to his shoulder. On his right hand was a black fingerless glove. His hair was longer, though just a little, and he looked way calmer. His huge sword became black and slim with red hilt.

And it unsettled Byakuya. "That thing is not a Bankai, Ichigo Kurosaki. Do not even speak of that word, boy. You are a century too young to be speaking of Bankai." He immediately used his hands to make the petals doubly faster as he let them chase after Ichigo, who immediately vanished from his spot and appeared just in front of Byakuya, with the tip of his sword on Byakuya's throat.

"Who says I'm a century too young?" Ichigo voiced, his tone colder and deadlier. From the proximity, Byakuya could see that the boy's chocolate eyes had lost their warmth and their brightness. They were cold and dark, and yet, so pained and anguished that Byakuya was starting to feel that maybe, just maybe, the boy was telling the truth. Though his pride prevented him to actually listen to the words of a mere boy.

The noble was much too shocked to even move and even when Ichigo already moved back, his eyes were still wide. "I see. So your Bankai makes you faster and stronger." He recovered and now he was ready to battle again. The real battle starts from now on. "You'll regret that you didn't thrust that sword in my throat. Miracles don't happen twice, boy."

And they started the fight of speed, agility, and power.

Karin was panting hard and she knew that she wouldn't be able to win against this massive zanpakutou unless she used her Bankai. The heat was starting make her thirsty and if it wasn't for Ugetsu, she would've been burnt to a crisp for a while now.

She calmed herself down and breathed the hot air hard. "Bankai!" And her zanpakutou, which had turn into water during Shikai, had now turn into giant waves of water rivaling that of the Sokyouku's. Her water was swift, and it drenched and engulfed the massive zanpakutou in one go. The flames didn't waiver but it had started to weaken, and with that, she used all of her remaining power to fully extinguish the fire. Her zanpakutou sizzled slightly as it turned back into a sword. The Sokyouku lay on the ground, bare and weak.

She looked up at sky and tried to feel the air. She could feel everyone fighting all over the place. The soutaichou's immense reiatsu could be felt even from her spot.

She wiped the trickle of sweat on her forehead and watched as the other two individuals fought on the other side. Byakuya was magnificent in his vibrant display of cherry blossoms but the other one was also superb for actually being able to block it and even make Byakuya lose his calm demeanor. Karin wanted to watch for a while but she knew she had a mission here. She needed to go and be with Rukia too. And so she immediately shunpo'd away from the two fighting monsters.

Ichigo encircled Byakuya, creating a blur of himself, and unsettling the raven noble even more. And within seconds, his sword had slashed across Byakuya's torso, totally spilling noble blood on the ground.

"Who said miracles don't happen twice?" He asked. He intended the words to be said in mockery. And yet, the sight of Byakuya hurt was unsettling somehow. Even if the two of them weren't close, he still personally knew the man. And he remembered how Byakuya looked like yesterday. The tears…

"Arrogant boy!" Byakuya immediately made thousand cherry petals chase Ichigo, surprising the teen. Ichigo was a little bit lost in thought and some of the petals managed to graze him deeply. He didn't know how the sorrowful-looking man he saw yesterday was the same man burning in intense hatred right at this moment.

Their fight had become a fight of speed at first, but when Byakuya used Byakurai on the teen, Ichigo immediately rivaled the noble with his own kidou.

"Hado No. 33: Sokatsui!" Ichigo fired a huge amount of reiatsu in a form of blue spiritual energy.

"Bakudo No. 81: Danku." Byakuya said just as white wall appeared in front of him and Ichigo's attack was received by the wall instead.

Ichigo knew that if it was a wall like that, he had something which could destroy it. He immediately sliced Zangetsu vertically in a very swift manner. "Getsuga Tenshou!" Huge wave of reiatsu flew towards Byakuya and the noble only had the time to dodge before it hit his previous spot. The ground was cut so deeply that it made Byakuya's eyes widen again.

He knew both of them were rapidly losing reiatsu and in the end it would be a battle of will and resolve. "Senkei Senbonzakura Kageyoshi!"

Ichigo watched in surprise as he was engulfed together with Byakuya inside a huge dark dome filled with thousands of petal swords. His eyes widened when he thought what it could do to his body if those swords attacked him simultaneously while he was in a trapped place.

The teen knew that even now, he was still holding back. He could just use his full power and defeat Byakuya, but he didn't know if Rukia would ever forgive him if he ever hurt her nii-sama or kill him. And besides, he himself didn't want to hurt Byakuya even if the man irked him so much. There was no way he would do something like that. It hurt him that Byakuya didn't believe any word that he uttered, but he still wanted the older man to at least acknowledge his innocence. He wanted Byakuya to believe him. He didn't kill anyone…

"Tell me, Ichigo Kurosaki." Byakuya voiced. "Why did you decide to fight me now? Is it to intercept my chase of Rukia? Or is it to prove your innocence by defeating me? Or is it because killing two Taichous isn't enough?"

Ichigo gritted his teeth as he spat the words. "I didn't kill them. I won't repeat my words anymore. I don't care if you believe me or not. I'm here both to help in Rukia's rescue and find the real culprit who killed chichi and framed me. I want to live a quiet life, and I cannot do that unless I clear my name here." If only the noble wasn't that cold-hearted and stubborn. If only Byakuya wasn't so blinded by his rage…

Byakuya looked at him coldly. He could see by now that Ichigo was getting more and more hurt by his accusations and he now knew that the boy was not lying. He could see it in the way his eyes darkened every time he talked of finding the culprit. "And you think that helping a criminal and some ryokas will help you clear your name, boy?"

"I have nothing to say to you anymore. How you can speak like that about your own sister is beyond me, and I don't ever want to understand your reasoning." Ichigo said. "My sister is risking her life to help save Rukia, and I will not let any of them die."

"I believe I don't understand your ideals either. There's no point in talking now." Byakuya raised his right hand and a sword fell on his palm. He shunpo'd swiftly and the two of them clashed swords again.

Ichigo was panting now but he still had much reiatsu. He could see that Byakuya was panting hard as well, though not one of them dared stop from their swift shunpo and sword clashing. After some minutes, Ichigo found himself with just too many cuts and deep gashes, mirroring Byakuya's condition. He would have to end it now. He couldn't hang about in this place when the criminal was still at large, plotting something beyond his imagination. "Getsuga Tenshou!"

Byakuya dodged just in time, but it was already late when he realized that he wasn't Ichigo's target but his dome. It cracked, and in his fury, he immediately fired a Byakurai at the boy. Ichigo was tired and had unnecessary lost a lot of reiatsu in the fight. And thus, he wasn't able to see the Byakurai that was so quickly fired at him and it hit him on the chest, searing hot pain in his whole torso.

'King, do you want me to take over? You're injured badly.' Shiro said in an annoyed and yet concerned voice. 'If only you took him seriously from the start, this wouldn't have happened.'

"Idiot, I have no intention of ever killing him." He answered inside his mind. "Just watch, I'll finish this."

The dome cracked and started to break down, revealing the blue sky outside. Both men were panting heavily and almost had no amount of reiatsu remaining.

"Byakuya, tell me, why do you want to execute Rukia so badly?" Ichigo asked as he used Zangetsu to lean on.

"A person of your stature will never understand." Byakuya appeared calm even though he was already minutes to losing his consciousness. Their fight had been too intense and he had lost a lot of reiatsu and blood, both of them did.

"Try me." Ichigo said. Byakuya looked at him, a little bit surprised at the calmness of the teen's voice. It wasn't the kind of calmness that he used often. It was the kind of calmness that connoted kindness. And before the noble knew it, he was already considering on how to answer the question.

"…It's about keeping the pride and honor of the Kuchiki Clan, Ichigo Kurosaki. The nobles are the models of everyone, the ones who should be the model in following the rules and regulations of Soul Society." Byakuya answered after a while of silence. "I am the Head of the Kuchiki Clan, and it is my duty to preserve its dignity. I will personally punish any law-breaker, no matter who he or she is, to uphold the family name. If the nobles will not follow their own rules, then no one will."

Ichigo's eyes narrowed before he shook his head, shaking off the exhaustion too. "Really, I can't understand. If the rules make my loved ones suffer, then I will personally fight the rules to make the people I love at least more at ease." Now he understood why Byakuya was crying. It's because he chose his pride and honor, abandoning his only sister in the process… It was such a pitiful thing to do, and yet so painful the man couldn't help but shed tears for his decision.

Byakuya's eyes widened with understanding despite himself. He didn't want to admit it, but Ichigo's words made him look at things in a different perspective. "Let's end this. We both have little reiatsu left. I'll end it in my next attack."

Ichigo agreed though he didn't answer. He didn't need to. He powered up and, soon, his awfully dark reiatsu was surging sky-high. Byakuya did the same and his white reiatsu surged sky-high as well. By now, many Shinigamis outside the cliff already knew that Ichigo was in Sokyouku Hill. The two shunpo'd towards each other and their zanpakutous clashed marvelously, creating waves and waves of powerful reiatsus in their wake.

Their last clash felt like eternity even though it only lasted some mere seconds. Byakuya initially thought that his hand was cut off. But when he saw it bleeding, he immediately knew that Ichigo held back at the last second. Damn arrogant brat. His zanpakutou was broken and he knew, just then, he lost.

Ichigo couldn't help but hold back at the last second when he felt that Byakuya's zanpakutou broke. Of course, if he didn't hold back, he would've only not cut Byakuya's hand but also a bit of his arm. Rukia would kill him if she found out. Ichigo knew how much Rukia loved her nii-sama, and he was sure that it didn't change despite the fact that he just abandoned her to be executed. Not to mention that Byakuya wouldn't be able to use his good hand to hold Senbonzakura anymore. That would be so lonesome…

Byakuya's stance wavered a bit and the teen held the sudden urge to support the larger man's frame with his own body. Instead, he watched as the raven straightened his posture and looked at Ichigo with his usual cool expression.

"It's my loss, Ichigo Kurosaki. My sword is broken. I no longer have the means to chase after and capture Rukia." Byakuya voiced as he held his bleeding arm with his able hand. He started walking away but stopped, though he didn't turn around. "I will make sure to investigate the death of Aizen-taichou and Ukitake-taichou thoroughly. I'll make the culprit pay." And with that, he disappeared using shunpo.

Ichigo stared after him, wide-eyed and shocked. He couldn't believe it. On top of the fact that he admitted defeat, Byakuya even stopped the chase of Rukia and also admitted that he doubted Ichigo really killed Juushirou and Aizen, even if only implicitly. He couldn't help but feel warmth inside him. It was a freeing feeling, the feeling that someone believed he didn't do it. And right then, he knew that he had a newfound respect for the noble.

'Someone is in love.' Shiro snickered.

"Idiot. I'm merely giving him more credit than I already planned." Ichigo muttered, not even stopping to think about such things. He swore he would never cherish anyone again. And that was that. Shiro merely shook his head inside the teen's inner world, indicating he didn't believe a word that came out of his King's mouth.

Ichigo immediately shunpo'd away from the cliff because he knew many Shinigamis would be looking for him there. He stopped by the forest where he used to train in, listening to the chaos happening all over Seireitei while he recovered his reiatsu.

Just then, an announcement by Isane Kotetsu using a Tenteikura was heard all over Seireitei and everyone stopped and looked up, even those who were fighting against one another. Everyone slowly quieted just as shock, deep and raw shock, and utter disbelief slowly registered onto their expressions. Aizen. The bastard was alive.

The traitor was alive.

He's the one behind everything, the one plotting behind the scenes. He's the one who killed Juushirou Ukitake-taichou and the one who purposefully framed Ichigo Kurosaki, Juushirou's son, for the crime. It was so that he could quietly dispose of the two people who knew of his real identity. He, together with Gin Ichimaru-taichou and Kaname Tousen-taichou, had been plotting against Soul Society for some time now.

Aizen killed all the members of Central 46 and had been the one giving orders since then, even the order of Rukia Kuchiki and Ichigo Kurosaki's executions.

As of now, he seriously injured both Toshirou Hitsugaya-taichou and Momo Hinamori-fukutaichou just to silence them. Isane also warned that Kyouka Suigetsu, Aizen's zanpakutou, wasn't really a water-type zanpakutou but a zanpakutou that guaranteed complete hypnosis on anyone who saw its release. On top of that, he was currently holding Rukia Kuchiki hostage in Sokyouku Hill. All Taichous and fukutaichous, ryokas, and also Ichigo Kurosaki, were to immediately go to Sokyouku Hill and stop Aizen's plans, whatever it was.

When the announcement ended, the only sound that could be heard was the howl of the wind in the middle of the day. It was disconcerting. And in the little moment that everyone took to recover, Aizen had finally managed to corner Renji and Rukia in the said Hill.

Renji gritted his teeth but he refused to give Rukia to Aizen. "Aizen-taichou, why would you do this? This isn't like you!"

Aizen smiled. "It seems then, Abarai-fukutaichou, that you do not know me at all. Why do you think Ichigo cringes away every time I try to talk to him?" Renji's surprise was written all over his face. Though he knew by now, from the announcement, that Ichigo and Juushirou had been the only two people who knew of Aizen's real person, he still couldn't believe that his friend had known about Aizen all along.

Aizen raised his hand, and Renji didn't know what the Taichou would do, until a sword came in contact with the brunette's arm.

Karin's eyes widened when she saw that Aizen blocked his sword attack barehanded. Even Kenpachi bled with the impact of her sword and Aizen didn't?

"Karin!" Rukia called, worry clearly etched on her feature, but Karin merely nodded at Renji, who immediately understood what they would do.

The two of them attacked Aizen simultaneously using their Bankai, Renji's was a giant skeletal snake-like sword with a head while Karin's was the gigantic wave of water where the snake floated to gain more speed. Their attacks came crushing down on Aizen but it was unsettling that Aizen had not even moved from his spot as he was swallowed by two giant Bankai.

Karin and Renji panted both, standing side by side, and they were about to come and see the damage on Aizen when they both fell on their knees, having suffered a long and deep cut along their torsos. They didn't even realize they were already attacked by Aizen in that one second that they let their guard down. Karin coughed up blood as she fell on her knees while Renji immediately tried to stand up in order to protect Rukia. But when he did, another slash came in contact with his skin and his back oozed so much blood before he fell on the ground.

"Renji! Karin!" Rukia shouted in pain and grief. "What do you want, Aizen-taichou!?" She was still weak, but she knew she wouldn't run away even if she could, not when her two friends were sprawled on the ground beneath the brunette Taichou.

Aizen shunpo'd in front of her and immediately stuck his hand in Rukia's chest. Rukia's eyes widened as a black hole appeared in the middle of her chest. And when Aizen's hand came out, he was already holding a small bluish crystal-like stone. Aizen looked at it with awe for a while before he raised his sword and slashed Rukia with it, though his amusement grew when his sword did not hit Rukia's skin but another's.

"Kuchiki-taichou." He smiled cruelly. "How selfless of you to sacrifice yourself for your sister." Byakuya looked at Aizen coldly but not even he could shield the pain from seeping through his expression. He clutched his torso as blood slowly trickled down his Shihakusho. He looked at Renji and Karin's sprawled form.

"Nii-sama!" Rukia exclaimed in horror and worry behind him.

Despite his condition, Byakuya still fought against Aizen for a while using kidou. His sword was temporarily broken and his reiatsu had not yet recovered to fix it. Of course, Aizen found it fascinating that Byakuya could at least hold some minutes against him without a zanpakutou, but that was the end of it.

Rukia used her petite form to catch her nii-sama as the noble fell on his side, bloodied and on the brink of unconsciousness. Just then, they felt the reiatsus of many Shinigamis coming on their way and Byakuya knew it would be alright.

Sajin Komamura, the Taichou of 7th Squad, and Shuuhei immediately shunpo'd towards where Tousen was, immediately pointing their swords at him though not attacking.

"Tousen-taichou! I thought you believe in justice? Why would you side with a traitor?" Komamura asked, pained that his friend, the Taichou of the 9th Division and also Shuuhei's Taichou, was blinded by Aizen's ideals.

"Everyone has their own sense of justice. This is mine, Komamura-taichou." The blind Captain voiced and he immediately attacked both Komamura and Shuuhei. Komamura used his Bankai and Shuuhei used his Shikai but none of them lasted when Tousen used his own Bankai.

Everything went dark for them then and when everything cleared again, Komamura and Shuuhei lay sprawled on the floor, lying in a pool of their own blood. The blind man's Bankai had the ability to shut down the enemy's senses except their sense of touch.

Gin watched in amusement as everyone else's reiatsu came rushing forward in Sokyouku Hill. And he immediately shunpo'd away from his spot just as a powerful blast of Raikoho struck it. Yoruichi appeared together with Soi Fon and the two immediately used a combined attack to corner him.

Soutaichou and the others immediately arrived one by one and the sight of many sprawled bodies on the ground unsettled some of them while the majority felt tremendous rage against the three traitors. Shunsui wanted to fight Aizen to at least ease a little of the pain that the traitor caused to him by killing his best friend Juushirou, but he knew that someone else more capable would defeat him. So he focused his attention on Kaname Tousen just as Kenpachi arrived and helped him.

Yoruichi and Soi Fon fought against Gin but all of them were getting nowhere. Rangiku joined and even tried to convince Gin to just come back to their side but Gin simply gazed at her sadly before his grin switched in place and fought all three of them.

Shunsui lay sprawled on the ground after experiencing Tousen's bankai but Kenpachi remained standing, not really knowing what true fear was. Gin used Inemura on Rangiku to force her to sleep while he fought against Soi Fon and Yoruichi. Aizen had cut every fukutaichous and other seated Shinigamis who had the audacity to attack him, namely: Choujirou Sakakibe, Nanao Ise, Ikkaku, Yumichika, and even Omaeda Marechiyo who didn't even dared attack the strong Taichou fell on his knees and found himself bleeding on the ground.

Unohana, Isane, and most of the other Shinigamis were still in the 4th Division and giving or getting treatment so the ones in Sokyouku Hill had no reinforcement at all.

This made the soutaichou's eyes narrowed as he watched all his subordinates fall one by one at the hands of the three traitors. He immediately appeared in front of Aizen and spoke. "All of those who are capable, leave this Hill immediately. Or you will all get burnt."

All of those injured were the ones who helped those who were unconscious in the height of adrenaline rush. They immediately shunpo'd to the side, the forested area, of the Sokyouku Hill and waited there. The Shinigamis who were not unconscious used their little reiatsus to at least help stop the immediate loss of blood of those who were unconscious and those on the brink of losing their lives. Yachiru was surprisingly good at channeling her reiatsu in that way. And Kenpachi, unsurprisingly, only helped in carrying the unconscious ones. He had dealt a good blow to Tousen but the latter was still pretty much alive. Yachiru used a Rikujokorou on him, binding him in the midsection. Shunsui looked drunk but he was alright.

The orange-haired female ryoka named Orihime also helped in giving treatment to the wounded but her power was busily treating Karin's wounds right now. The other ryokas – namely Chad, Uryuu, and Ganjuu – were also helping in the evacuation of the area. Yoruichi and Soi Fon also used their remaining reiatsu to at least save the others. Gin was wounded badly and was bound by their combined Sajou Sabaku, a type of binding spell that thoroughly bound the target. All of them waited in the forested area, keeping themselves away from the fight but also being in the area, watching, just in case reinforcement was needed.

Now, only Aizen was left.

"There's no need for that, Yamamoto-soutaichou." Aizen smiled as he showed the Hogyouku to the soutaichou and it glowed immediately, blinding everyone in the site. And when it was all over, Yamamoto found out something that made his eyes widened a fraction – his sword Ryuujinjakka had lost its reiatsu.

"What did you do, boy?" He asked. Everyone who was about to flee watched in dread as even their Supreme Commander lost his power.

"I merely used a little of the Hogyouku's power by channeling my reiatsu in it." Aizen smiled. "Don't worry, it's a little too hard for the still incomplete Hogyouku to truly absorb your reiatsu, Soutaichou, so I merely sealed it for a while. And as for the others, don't worry. The Hogyouku is quite exhausted so it will take weeks to make it work again. So fear not that your reiatsu will be sealed too." Not that the brunette was worried of course. All this time he had feared the soutaichou's power. But without that, no one would ever stand a chance against him.

"So there will be no more sealing, right?" A quiet reiatsu stepped in the middle of the Sokyouku Hill but even those weakened could feel the intense fury boiling in his reiatsu.

"Akambo." Yamamoto voiced when the reiatsu registered on his senses.

"I'm not a baby, Yama-jii." Ichigo answered, scowling, as he walked in between Aizen and Yamamoto. Shunsui, who was quietly watching, couldn't help but grin. It seemed Ichigo had taken after his chichi, even calling the soutaichou in the same way.

"I'll let the akambo fight you for now, boy." Yamamoto shunpo'd away from the two and Aizen smirked at Ichigo.

"You think you can defeat me, Ichigo, when so many others couldn't?" He asked. "Not even your adopted father managed to scratch me." He couldn't help but chuckle, looking at Ichigo as if a child had volunteered to die first. It was a good thing that he tried his best to get a little sample of the boy's reiatsu, allowing his plan to be complete. He was surprised when he first learned that the boy was also a Vizard like his other experiments. But it was worth knowing.

Ichigo stared at him quietly, though his eyes were ablaze with fury and deep hatred. "I despise you, Aizen. I'll make you pay for taking the life of my father."

Everyone watched from the sideline as Ichigo pointed his sword outward in front of him and called forth his Bankai. An immense wave of reiatsu covered the whole area and when Ichigo appeared next, he was already dressed in his Bankai clothes, with the chain coiled from his right shoulder to his wrist and the fingerless black glove on his right hand. He wore a very solemn expression.

"Let's do this." He said before he swiftly vanished in thin air and not even one second later he appeared behind Aizen and immediately sliced him in half in a horizontal manner.

Aizen was quick to dodge and he immediately smiled, that same kind and yet cruel smile that he also used when he killed a Shinigami that night. "Kyouka Suigetsu." And everything changed. The sky turned red and the whole place turned dark.

Ichigo looked around him and saw that everyone also had the same dumbstruck expression. He gritted his teeth. He saw the release.

'Don't worry, King. I didn't.' Shiro said inside his mind. 'I'll guide you.'

Byakuya and the others watched as Ichigo slowly closed his eyes before he readied his sword in an offense position.

"What's he going to do with his eyes shut?" Omaeda's injured voice rang but he was quickly silenced by some Shinigamis. They watched as the sky turned dark and millions of tiny dots appeared.

"What's that?" Shunsui asked as they all looked upward. But the dots, it seemed were not really dots as they descended slowly. Horrified gasps escaped many lips as the dots descended low enough for them to see its real form. The many tiny dots now appeared bigger than they were.

"Hollows!" Karin exclaimed as she tried her best to stand up. Everyone tried to at least get into a defensive position.

"Ichigo!" Renji shouted when he saw that Ichigo had not moved from his position.

'Listen to me, King.' Shiro's distorted voice echoed all throughout his system. 'There's nothing to worry about. The reiatsus that you feel are not real. It's the effect of the hypnosis that Aizen has put you in. Focus. Aizen is just a few steps away. You have to attack him stealthily.'

Everyone's eyes widened as Ichigo attacked Aizen without any regard for the Hollows shrieking beside him. Aizen looked half amused and half annoyed at it. The boy's eyes were still closed.

Gin laughed and they all turned and glared at him. "It seems Aizen has found his equal." He watched as Ichigo's expression remained calm despite the enormous and creepy reiatsus surrounding him. That boy was a prodigy. Serves Aizen right.

"What's so different about it?" Omaeda asked as he closed his eyes. "I can still feel the Hollows' reiatsu even if I close my eyes. And it will definitely disconcert me if I am to fight in the midst of them without knowing if they were really real or not."

"That's why you haven't achieved Bankai yet." Shunsui said. "You have to listen to your inner soul and must have the courage and the resolve to go through it. If you're in Ichigo's position, you would've slashed every Hollow by now without taking notice of the real opponent, which is Aizen." Omaeda pouted but didn't answer anymore. Shunsui was way older than him to make him talk back.

Aizen was forced to exchange blows with Ichigo, though the Taichou still had the upper hand. Ichigo's eyes were closed and he could not see Aizen's movements thoroughly. He could only rely on Shiro for the direction of the opponent and where the attacks were coming from.

Everyone else saw that Aizen had appeared behind Ichigo and many of them shouted for the teen to turn around and face the opponent. Some even cursed the fact that he was fighting with eyes closed, which they said was preposterous if not utterly insane.

'Aizen is not behind you, Ichigo.' Shiro voiced quietly. 'The moment you turn around is the moment he will attack from your right.'

They all saw Ichigo turn around but then Aizen appeared from the right. They all thought it was the end for the teen but the attack was thoroughly blocked by Zangetsu. It seemed that even though Ichigo turned around, he knew that Aizen would attack from his right.

Aizen was growing tired of playing. He was starting to get serious and the attacks were becoming more and more powerful. And that's not all.

"Ichigo-kun." The voice was so thoroughly familiar that Ichigo had forgotten for a while that its owner was already dead. In that one moment that his eyes had instinctively opened at the call, his eyes met several attacks from Aizen's sword.

"Aizen! That's playing dirty!" Yoruichi shouted as she watched Ichigo's eyes widened at the sight of Juushirou in front of him, holding a sword and had immediately attacked him.




Ren-sama's Note:

Yeah, I know Ichigo's gloves in the anime is different and longer. But it doesn't hurt to change it a little, right? (I like fingerless gloves!) I changed his Bankai a bit – I want the way Ichigo looked when he fought against Aizen.

So, how do you think of the little change in attitude between Byakuya and Ichigo? Uh, review? ˆoˆ