Note: This is Part 2 and you should really, really read Part 1 or you will be completely clueless as to what is going on here. I would also recommend reading my wonderful Beta's story Consolation Prize (of Victory) which can be found on Adultfan only (rampant amount of sex occurs) and covers the five year time skip from the view point of Renji. Events in that story will be referenced.
This story takes place 5 years after the end of Part 1 so it has now been 15 years since Aizen ascended the throne. There are no planned time skips in this one and should wrap up in no longer than 3-4 months story time (not real time)…. Hopefully. I am really trying to push the story along without given it a rushed feeling. It's a hard balance.
"Good afternoon, my dear Espada. Another year has passed us by and once more we celebrate the day of our Victory and my Ascension. I trust all has been going well with your prizes, yes?"
Aizen addressed the collective gathering pleasantly, ending his sentence with a sip of tea from his cup. Despite his rank of Kami, Aizen's cup was still a simple earthenware container instead of one made from delicate, horribly expensive bone china, as would be expected of such a high ranking person. When she was a child, Ajuga had once asked him why he hadn't upgraded his drinking vessel accordingly (Hana had been too afraid to say anything) his reply was simple: china allowed the tea to cool too quickly, whereas the thicker earthenware kept it at a hot temperature considerably longer, letting one savour it the way tea was meant to be enjoyed.
The answers to Aizen's opening question varied. Everything from grunts of agreement to proper and formal polite 'yeses' were given. Despite the various responses, they were all still positive.
"Excellent. Starrk, would you please be kind enough to begin? How are your pets doing?"
"Well," Starrk answered simply, and left it at that without any further elaboration.
Some things definitely hadn't changed over the years, and the Primera was one of them. Five years was not so long to a Hollow, or to a Shinigami for that matter. Still, Starrk's ability to doze off in mid-sentence was something to behold.
"What of Jushiro's health?" Aizen prompted, letting his eyes slide to the silver-haired man sitting silently beside his Master.
Jushiro sat with his head bowed and his hands clasped before him in a pose of obedient submission. The only time he moved from that pose was when he took a polite sip of the tea Aizen provided for his 'guest' during these meetings.
"Mmph…Still cough-free and half-blind," Starrk replied with a huge yawn and a scratch to his side. It was faint, but he said this with just the slightest hint of displeasure at the end, which he managed to cover up with another yawn.
Aizen had been the one responsible for nearly blinding Jushiro and would have fully blinded him, as had been his intent at the time, had Jushiro's highly-trained reflexes not kicked in, causing him to flinch backwards before his mind had even registered he was being attacked. Lilinette, and by extension Starrk, had not been pleased with the attack on what was his/their property. In fact, Lilinette's near-unquenchable fury had pushed Starrk into action over their shared anger regarding the assault. It was the only time Starrk had ever heard anything resembling an apology from Aizen. Of course, Aizen had done nothing to rectify the mistake, since doing so would have implied that Kami had made an error in the first place and that simply didn't happen. Therefore, Jushiro remained half-blind, sporting a black eye patch over what Aizen had destroyed.
"And Nanao?" Aizen inquired, continuing what amounted to a politely-phrased interrogation.
Unlike Jushiro, Nanao was not at the meeting, as Starrk didn't have an active Claim on her. His 'Claim' on her remained a vocal one, just like the one Ulquiorra had once held on Tatsuki before permitting her to choose her own Master.
"She's content and proud of Hana-chan for finishing her tenures at Shinōreijutsuin this summer and joining the Third Division." There just may have been a wee bit of pride in his voice as well when he said this. It was hard to tell with the First, but it was well known that Hana held a soft spot with him.
The 3rd Division had been the best choice for Hana, as members of the family ran both the 2nd and 5th Divisions and her presence in either of those units might have resulted in a conflict of interest. Aizen ran the 1st Division and neither her mother nor Karin considered it a 'safe' place. Since Hana was not a healer, assigning her a spot in Toshiro's Division had seemed like the most logical choice. He would make sure to keep an eye on her without having conflicting interest that arose when relatives worked together.
"I'm pleased to hear about her achievements. A pity she never inherited her father's strength, but I have heard that she has a rather sharp mind. Not too surprising, given her heritage. She is still young however. There is a chance she could come into her power within the next few years."
Aizen's assessment was accurate, up to a point. Yes, Hana was getting older, and while not as powerful as her father had been, few were. She'd gained enough strength and had reached an age where she stood a chance of becoming attractive to those Arrancar that had yet to Claim pets or who had lost or dismissed the ones they'd once held. Again, finding a place for Hana in the Third Division helped ease Nanao's growing concern for her daughter's safety. It was a concern that the widow shared with her housemate and fellow mother, Karin.
Arrancar aged quickly; the deserts of Hueco Mundo were not a safe place to take one's time growing up, and Ajuga was an eye-catching choice for a mate. Barragan's thwarted attempt on her years ago proved that. Both girls were 'teenagers' now and eyes were starting to wander their direction. Their parents knew that it would only be a matter of time before someone tried something and when that happened, there were more than a few betting pools going as to how much of the suitor would be left to sweep up once Grimmjow caught sight of lesser creatures perusing his daughter. She might be older now, but the Sexta's protective instincts had never wavered and he'd never dropped his guard where his child was concerned.
Aizen turned his attention towards Barragan next.
"And how do your pets fare?"
"Obedient and acceptable, as always," the scared man grunted.
"Oh? You've nothing exciting to report?" Aizen asked in a tone that indicated he knew Barragan was withholding something he considered newsworthy.
"The broad's knocked up," Barragan admitted grudgingly.
That tidbit of information certainly caused a stir, to the Second's apparent irritation. Nemu had been the only Shinigami to produce offspring so far, so to hear of another was both interesting and to the Espada, exciting. Szayel, in particular, seemed almost giddy. His pool of hybrid test subjects had been limited so far to just two humans and one altered Shinigami.
"When is the expected due date?"
"Three months, according to your wife," Barragan grunted. The man on the throne tapped his lip with one finger, as if pondering something.
"Intriguing. That's not long at all. I trust you are following closely Szayel?" Aizen questioned the excited scientist.
"Of course, Kami-sama," he almost squealed, before visibly forcing himself to calm down. "Unohana-sama and I are keeping a close watch on the situation, just as we have with the other four current offspring, including the twins," he couldn't help but brag just a little. "I expect that her pregnancy will run similarly to the one endured by Karin-sama."
"Karin? That's new. I never knew you were so cat-like, Barragan," Aizen said with a certain amount of amusement in his voice. Unfortunately, the one receiving it wasn't inclined to agree with his 'Lord'.
"The little bastard isn't mine," Barragan sneered. "I would have ordered it destroyed if not for your insistence that the runt be born. Do not expect me to care for the thing after she whelps it," Barragan spat.
"I expect you to care for it as long as it takes to determine if the baby has any potential worth mentioning. If so, you will raise it beneath your roof for my benefit, as expected of a loyal subject. If it is not useful, then you may have your way with it."
Aizen gave a wave of his hand, indicating he was done with the subject. The Second looked as if he was simply dying to argue, but crossed his arms and 'Humphed' loudly.
Only the most observant, and those that knew her well, noted the small flinch of emotional turmoil Soi Fon gave off at the callous disregard for the child she carried. More than one of the Espada seemed angered by Barragan's words, but everyone was wise enough to keep their mouths shut about it, at least while the meeting was still in session. Still, even Nnoitra cast a look of naked disgust in the wrinkled Espada's direction.
Harribel was next.
"Nothing has changed, Aizen-Kami. Toshiro continues to perform admirably in his duties to both the Division to which he has been assigned and in the duties I request of him," she answered. "I've had no reason to exercise my control over his Claim during the last year, nor do I expect to have to do so in the future," she reported.
Nnoitra chose that moment to snort and toss a sneer in the direction of the Tercera, and immediately schooled his features when Aizen leaned back and turned to face the Fifth, one eyebrow cocked.
"Do you wish to say something, Nnoitra Gilga? Are things under your roof going so well that you want to rush ahead of the Fourth?"
For a second Nnoitra seemed to be casting about for an answer, then simply shrugged and settled on his usual overtly confident grin. He also reached back and gave the woman sitting next to him a smack on her silk-clad ass. To her credit, Rangiku didn't take her eyes off the floorboards in front of her, though her hands did tighten in the folds of the kimono's fabric, pooled around her legs.
"I ain't got any complaints. She knows exactly how I like things!" he boasted.
While Harribel gave no outward indication that Nnoitra's interruption had ruffled her in any way, Toshiro's jaw tightened a little and his eyes narrowed just a fraction at the display.
"I'm glad to hear it," Aizen said dryly. "Thank you for your input."
He did however give Halibel and Toshiro a pleased smile before turning his attention to the next of his Espada, waiting patiently as always. "Ulquiorra?" Aizen prompted.
"Things are fine," Ulquiorra said and Orihime beamed at him happily.
"How is your son?"
Orihime elbowed him sharply in the side before wincing in pain as her soft, human flesh met the strength of his heirro. The Espada let his eyes flicker to her briefly in annoyance before letting out a barely discernible sigh and elaborated on his answer.
"He is progressing at a satisfactory rate and his behaviour is... normally perfect when not affected by… outside influences." There was the barest hint of annoyance in his voice and green eyes flickered briefly to glare at the very amused blue ones across the table.
The first chuckles since the meeting began filled the hall and smirks touched several lips. Even Aizen seemed to appreciate the way the Fourth phrased things. It was no secret that Diaemus, despite his best efforts, usually got tangled up in whatever scheme Ajuga and Hana had cooked up between them. This 'tangling' seemed to happen on a weekly basis. Ulquiorra had tried to ban his son from associating with the delinquents, but the order had quickly been recalled when everyone discovered just how much more damage occurred without Diaemus acting as the voice of reason.
Of course, shortly after those snickers stopped, the snickers about a certain green-eyed Arrancar and a certain human woman's pinkie finger began. They were very quiet snickers, however, as most of those present were not suicidal.
"Which leads us to our next group," Aizen turned his gaze towards Grimmjow and Karin. "Dare I ask how your family is coming along Grimmjow?"
"I must strongly protest this course of action," Diaemus announced in a calm voice.
"Yeah, try actually adding some emotion to that tone and I might believe you," Hana replied and laughed at him.
"You always 'protest'," Ajuga pointed out. "Stop being such a baby, hanging on your daddy's coattails."
The taunt appeared to have little effect on him.
"And do the protests I make in these cases more often than not end up being valid?" he shot back, ignoring her personal jab.
"My math is always dead on," Hana snorted as she crossed her arms. "I've run the calculations on this at least ten times, to make sure I'm not leaving anything out. I trust those more than I trust decisions made out of fear."
"That's not the point, Diaemus," Ajuga sighed and gave Hana an encouraging look. The young Shinigami nodded and made her case yet again to the boy in front of her.
"Ajuga-chan is right. This is a matter of… oh, how should we put it?"
Hana looked at Ajuga for help and the other girl shrugged. Hana was a whiz with numbers, Ajuga with words and right now, Diaemus needed persuading with something more than data.
"Think of it as a training exercise for everyone. If the three of us can get the drop on Aizen-kami's forces, then clearly they need more training. We are simply finding and exploit…I mean, showcasing," she quickly corrected "the flaws in the Defence Net that need fixing. While doing so, we're presenting them with the opportunity to deal with defence scenarios that they might not have considered as far as preparations. Better us than the Swarm, right?" Ajuga pointed out.
Diaemus let out a sigh of defeat. Ajuga always found a way to talk him around to her point of view. Briefly, he prayed that his father would forgive him for his involvement, but he know that if he didn't go to keep an eye on the two girls, things usually ended up much, much worse for all those unlucky enough to be involved.
"Fine! Once again you have managed to convince me to participate in your wild schemes. Although, I cannot see the Swarm infiltrating our defences in such a manner, nor using the kind of creative attack that you have in mind."
"That's all the more reason for us to test this out! I can see them trying this tactic," Hana said, trying to explain her reasoning. "Just imagine: we all rush to point A and the Swarm slips in under point B."
Diaemus held back a sigh and wondered, once again, how the two girls always managed to talk him into helping them. It wasn't as if he didn't know the script by now. Ajuga and Hana were invariably caught, lectured, and punished, time after time, and yet they kept at it and somehow they had managed to reel him in yet again. He was not happy about it.
"Okay, everyone get in position. We only have a small window to pull this off without getting caught," Hana ordered, sharing a smirk with Ajuga.
"It is good to hear that…"
Suddenly, several of the perimeter tower alarms began blaring, cutting Aizen short.
For a brief movement everyone sat there stared at each other stupidly. It had been so long since the Perimeter Breach Alarms had gone off that it took them a moment to even realize what it was they were hearing. Yet no one panicked, as it was common knowledge that the Science and Research Division often took down the Defense Grid for short periods, usually for maintenance.
Szayel acted first, whipping a device out of his pocket and tapping it furiously. Aizen stared at him in a displeased manner and it began to dawn on those present that the current interruption wasn't expected.
"The Net is still up and stable," Szayel reported with a slight hint of relief in his voice. "And the cameras are clear. There is no sign of Swarm activity in the vicinity."
Most of the room's reactions varied from relief to disappointment: relief for some that the population was safe and disappointment from others that they were still stuck in what amounted to an idiotic meeting and that there wasn't a fight in the offing.
The Seventh pulled out another device and flipped it open.
"What is going on?" he asked sharply as someone picked up the other end.
"It would seem that 'someone' or several 'someones' manually activated several of the Perimeter Breach Alarm towers. I would give you three guesses, Otou-san, but that would be two too many."
Abisara's young voice crackled dryly over the communication device.
Szayel's twins had grown over the last five years, and took two completely different paths while doing so. Abisara was very much his father's son, while Vindula resembled no one in her little family. If anything, she seemed more like a younger version of Ajuga, minus the ears, the tail and the hind paws and with the addition of an appreciation of all things 'pretty'. The little girl was always eager to explore, hunt and simply get into whatever mischief she could find, often in the pursuit of something she thought attractive.
"Would you like me to override the alarms and shut them off, Otou-san?" Abisara asked.
"Yes, if you would be so kind…" Aizen spoke up, answering for Szayel.
"As you command, Kami-sama," Abisara answered, terminating the connection.
Aizen turned his attention towards the culprits' parents. Grimmjow was grinning unabashedly, Karin had a hand to her forehead, rubbing it in irritation, Orihime had the good grace to look chagrined and Ulquiorra's expression, if one could call it that, hadn't changed one iota.
"Do be so kind as to rein in your errant offspring," he ordered.
All four of them nodded in affirmation.
"And please, see that it does not happen again, or I shall take measures to show them myself what I think of chaos in my Empire," he said sweetly, his eyes as hard as burnished steel.
That elicited a very different set of responses, not only from the guilty parties' parents, but also from several of the others in attendance.
"Hai, Kami-sama," Ulquiorra was the only one to respond, but only because Karin kicked her mate when he opened his mouth.
"Damn it, who messed up?" Hana growled in annoyance. "I spent hours on these calculations!" She scowled at Ajuga, who defensively put up her hands and scowled right back at her.
"Hey, I didn't even get up to my tower before the alarm went off!"
They glared at each other for several minutes before a very loud, creaking noise interrupted them. Both girls froze and then looked cautiously at the tower they were currently standing near, but the noise didn't come again and the alarm died, much to Ajuga's relief.
"Bloody thing," Hana snapped, rubbing the back of her neck. "My poor ears are buzzing now."
"Yeah, so are mine," Ajuga agreed, than frowned and started to sniff the air. Her ears, which she'd held tight against her skull to protect her far more sensitive hearing, suddenly perked up and swivelled towards the tower.
"Ah, Hana-chan is it just me or is the buzzing getting louder?"
Diaemus appeared before them, a frown on his features, but for once, he wasn't scowling at them. Instead, he seemed focused on something in the distance.
The tower creaked again, and this time it sounded as if something metallic and heavy within it was bending. They looked at one another, as if to confirm that each of the others had heard the same thing.
Their original plan had been to start at different towers and run down the line, two of them setting off alarms while the third snuck past the Net at a different point, to prove that if they could do it, the enemy could as well. Before Ajuga could do anything more than put her hand on the door, the alarm had gone off. The sound had disoriented her as the alarms blasted her sensitive hearing at point-blank range. She had quickly retreated to the small clearing that the three of them had designated as a meeting point.
While Hana couldn't explain what they'd heard, she did give her two friends a moment of silence while their sharpened senses tried to hone in on the problem. The wind carried a whiff of something their way, something vaguely familiar to the black-haired, half Arrancar, something she hadn't scented for a very long time.
"Something's wrong," Ajuga declared, sniffing the air more intensely as she dashed forward. "This way…"
"Ajuga-chan, slow down," Hana called as she raced after her friend.
"Don't' you think it would be wise to alert the authorities first?" Diaemus suggested.
Ajuga didn't answer. She was already in full hunting mode. Nose twitching and ears straining to pick up anything that might be out of place, the girl also kept her eyes peeled for some clue as to her foe's identity. She was the first back to the tower that had been her original target, eyes narrowing as she studied the door. It seemed fine, but the scent was definitely stronger here. She racked her brain, trying to recall where she had smelled it before, but the answer eluded her, to her growing frustration.
She did know one thing and that was the scent she'd followed was much stronger on the other side of the door. Then the tower gave off yet another groan, as if something within it was under some great distress and buckling from unseen force. In addition, she thought she could smell burning metal, which in her mind was never a good sign.
Ajuga slowly opened the door and entered the room, then abruptly froze. Hana and Diaemus followed her in and almost tripped over her as they stared about with a mixture of shock and disbelief on their faces.
The scent finally registered with Ajuga and with the realization of what it was came a memory she had nearly forgotten. She could still taste the ichor in her mouth as the giant grasshoppers foolishly attempted to interrupt her hunt and dared to presume that she was their prey. She'd often smelled the same stench on her parents when they returned home from battle when she was younger and before the Defence Net went up to protect the Seireitei and its Districts..
What looked like a massive cockroach, one the size of an elephant, turned their way and let out a loud, resounding hiss. Several smaller insects appeared around its legs, reminding the three of pill bugs, albeit pill bugs the size of a cow.
"It's the Swarm…" Ajuga heard Hana whisper, more out of shock than any attempt to stay quiet.
Ajuga, for her part, could only nod in agreement. She had no doubt that the creatures before them were a part of it, given their race, size and apparent hostility. Worse, these were clearly new and undocumented members of the flying horde.
"Szay' is going to wet his hakama when he learns of these things," Ajuga thought slightly amused.
The buzzing grew louder and, now that they were fully in the room, she could tell it came from the very large hole that something had dug in the middle of the floor. The Swarm had tunnelled under the Defence Net and come up in one of the Perimeter Breach Alarm Towers.
"We need to plug that hole before more come through," Hana declared. The noise was loud enough now for even her lesser hearing to make it out.
Ajuga snarled, dropped down on all fours and charged the creatures like the panther she resembled. The cockroach let out another loud hiss and the pill bug-like creatures rushed forward to meet her.
"Shit," Hana hissed as she drew her Zanpakuto and followed Ajuga into the growing fray.
"How very troublesome," Diaemus stated calmly.
Unlike the two girls, he did not join the fight against the smaller insects, but rather made for the tower's control panel. The cockroach moved to intercept him, but it was nowhere near as fast as he was, giving him ample time to hit the manual alarm, a feature from the time Science and Research Division staff members manned the now-automated towers. Once more, the alarm blared, pulling a pained noise from Ajuga as it once more assaulted her hearing.
Diaemus stepped to the side, letting the large creature crash into the wall and through it, tearing through the heavy sheet metal as if it were nothing more than wet paper. Cries of alarm met it from outside as the Shinigami responding to the first set of alarms, having not gotten the message from the Espada Claim Meeting that it had been 'fake,' got their first look at the thing.
"Diaemus, check the other towers we targeted! If we didn't trigger the alarms and they went off anyway, this might not be the only one they've infested!" Hana called out. "The Swarm could be pouring in through tunnels all over the area!"
The theory was sound and he was, by far, the fastest. He didn't bother responding and simply disappeared from sight.
"You pathetic rats!" Ajuga snarled, her claws tearing another chunk out of her target's armor.
The creature's exoskeleton was strong, but her claws were tougher and stronger. Still, it was the depth of the armour, not the strength of the stuff, that caused problems for her. It was far too strong for Hana's Zanpakuto so she sheathed the blade and quickly switched to her preferred method of fighting, one she had inherited from her mother: Kido.
Balls of fire erupted into the fray and the air became charged as bolts of lightning also flew from Hana's fingertips. The armour that protected the creatures also hindered them, making it almost impossible to defend themselves from the air, so across their back was where Ajuga remained. Through it all, the droning grew much, much louder. It was the sound of thousands of sets of insect wings approaching.
"We have got to find a way to collapse that tunnel!" Ajuga snarled.
The first of the locust like creatures was just starting to emerge from the tunnel, buzzing in excitement as they made their way towards the hole in the wall.
"The supports! They are already weakened, no doubt in an attempt to bring down the tower and destroy our warning system. A few good hits should bring it down," Hana declared.
Ajuga didn't argue, when it came to team strategy and tactics Hana was far better at it than she was. She much preferred to stalk her prey solo. Despite that, she was still a team player when it called for it. She had many fond memories of hunting larger and more dangerous prey in the forest with her father and he'd be disappointed in her if he knew she hadn't taken advantage of someone to help in this situation. Hana had always been the brains of the operation and Ajuga the muscle.
She manoeuvred the milling Swarm towards the heavily damaged pillars, letting their far more powerful and heavier bulks do the job for her. The tower creaked and groaned ominously. Hana was the first to retreat, doing her best to slow the Swarm down as they flew out of the hole in the ground and made for the one in the wall.
Once she knew Hana was safe, Ajuga retreated as well. Most of the pill bugs had been destroyed and now it was the normal member of the Swarm she was swatting. Their numbers were growing quickly and the room inside the tower dwindled. The structure truly began to groan now as the supports that held everything in place began to give way.
She darted for the nearest exit, not the large hole in the wall but rather the human-sized door they had first entered. Ajuga was just in time. Debris rained down around her as the tower's framework buckled. Now she went low instead of high, using the large flying locusts as a living shield for herself from the dangerous chucks of metal falling everywhere.
Several chased after her and smashed into the door frame. Their larger bulk were too big to fit through the smaller opening. She could see the Shinigami, formed up in ranks, hammering the larger hole with waves of Kido blasts and a few used their Shikai abilities, another reason she'd chosen her escape route carefully. She had just enough time to turn around before the structure completely collapsed, pushing out a wave of dust that had her covering her face and flattening her ears.
"Damn it," she cursed and coughed, then shook herself like an animal to try to get the dust out of her fur.
Ajuga was caked in dust and it tickled her sensitive nose, sending her into another sneezing fit. The gore that covered her from her opponents turned the dust almost muddy, making it that much more difficult to dislodge and caking it to her once, pristine white fur.
Her mother's frantic cry caught her attention. Karin was by her daughter's side in an instant, enveloping her in a tight, if messy hug.
"Mama," she protested, trying to pry herself out of her mother's death grip. "You are embarrassing me," she complained.
"Indulge me," Karin insisted.
The few members of the Swarm that managed to escaped the Shinigami's Kido bombardment went scattering, not towards the city as everyone expected, but towards the Defence Grid pillars.
"Stop them, quickly!" Nanao ordered her troops.
The Shinigami broke ranks, racing after the massive insects. Karin finally released her daughter and took up her own pursuit. Ajuga looked down briefly at the filth that covered her and then put it out of her mind and joined in the pursuit. It wasn't hard to forget, temporarily, her discomfort while caught up in the thrill of the hunt. It was going to be hell to try to get the guts out of her fur and hair later, but she had bigger things on her mind at the moment.
Ajuga picked her targets and tore them to shreds as she caught up to them. The Swarm's Locusts were far easier to kill than the strange pill bugs, since they had thinner carapaces. They also seemed to be completely focused on their goal and didn't even try to defend themselves as they flew towards their targets.
The Defence Grid slowly approached, the bright light of the Kido chain-link fence easily coming into view. Her eyes went to the next target, and she increasing her speed. She was just about to make the leap to engage the creature when she caught a flash of blue and white and her target was sliced cleanly in half a second before she reached it.
"Papa!" she cried in frustration as she veered to avoid running into him. "That was my prey," she hissed in annoyance.
"Should have gotten to it faster than," Grimmjow smirked at her.
Ajuga huffed in annoyance and pouted. She changed her target and went after the next target, letting her frustration out on the creature. She may have puffed up just a little as her father praised her as he sped past her, intent on taking out another insect. Unlike her mother, her father had no problems letting her sharpen her talons on such pathetic prey.
They were almost to the nearest pillar. Out of the corner of her eye, Ajuga spotted a dark cloud to the West, already inside the fence.
"Papa, Mama!" she called, indicating the large group of creatures heading to the pillars, totally forgetting that she had been trying not to let her mother know she was still on the field.
"Shit!" Karin cursed, changing her course to intercept. "Go home Ajuga!" she ordered fiercely.
The Shinigami under her command veered off with her to intercept the Swarming mass of locusts. Karin was out of range before Ajuga could respond that there was no chance in Hell she was leaving the battle now and missing out on all of the fun. This was the largest engagement since the Defence Net went up and she was finally old enough and skilled enough to participate in the hunt. She did veer east, however.
"Out of sight out of mind," she thought smugly. "And home is in this direction, in a roundabout way. Sort of. It's not like mother told me exactly when I had to be home, or what path to take to get there."
Two more Locusts fell under her claws, but the rest of this group had reached one of the Defence Net pillars. Those members of the Swarm that had made it were doing their best to destroy it. Several were knocked into the Net and a good number more were pulled by instinct towards the light. The air quickly started to smell unpleasantly like charred bug.
For those using Kido or other forms of ranged attacks from their Zanpakuto the fight got a bit more intense. With the Swarm now trying to take out the pillars from the outside, they had to watch their own attacks least they damage that which they were desperately trying to protect. On the other side of the net, the sky was black with those headed towards the city.
The few bugs that were left attacking this pillar on the city side of the grid were quickly cleaned up. Once one pillar was secure, Ajuga moved East with the intent to check the rest of the pillars, in case any more of the furtive rats managed to sneak in undetected. As much as she wanted to hunt with her father, she didn't want her mother to know she had disobeyed her order to head back home. This was far too invigorating.
Several of the Shinigami that has been assigned in her direction followed her, clearly having the same idea. She smiled at the few she knew from her mother's Division, but otherwise ignored them. Their power was nothing compared to hers. They were merely Shinigami. She was an Arrancar. They could never hope to rise to her level, at least as far as this sort of fight went. It was as if she was built for this kind of fighting, had been born for it and there was little ego in her own self-assessment. The number of insect corpses she left in her wake confirmed her strength.
"I wish Papa could see this. He would be so proud of me," she thought as her claws shredded another locust like paper.
The last thing Karin had been expecting was an actual reason for the alarm activations. She couldn't help but to cringe. Szayel was going to be in for a rough time with Aizen when he found out that there was a serious reason for the blaring sirens.
"And things have been going so well on that front too," she couldn't help but to mentally sigh.
With the Defence Grid holding and the Realms holding relatively stable, Aizen had been calmer, less vindictive. Almost no one had suffered at his hands since the Net had gone up. While there were the odd displays of displeasure now and then, those displays had been relatively mild altercations. They were nothing like what she had come to expect from the bastard. Somehow, Karin had a feeling that the peace and tranquility most people had been enjoying was about to evaporate.
While Nanao deployed their troops, Karin hesitated over making the call she had to make. She hoped that Szayel would have left the meeting already and Aizen wouldn't hear about how the scientist and his son had inadvertently turned a real alarm off simply because Ajuga, Hana and Diaemus had been spotted by the premises, at least not until later. It was not very wise to lie to Aizen and she had no doubt that the truth would be out very quickly, if it wasn't already. There was no way to convince the sheer number of people that would be writing reports over this incident to fudge the facts.
With a sigh, she called up Szayel.
"I am a little busy here, Karin-sama…" he complained over her headset, not even giving her time to speak.
"Busy with work or busy trying to hide?" she shot back, irritated at his tone and not above being a bit cruel about it.
She felt the bolt of fear he gave off from her statement rush down the Claim, followed quickly by annoyance. It was a mean thing to have said, but she was in a bad mood right now herself and his back talk just made her a little more pissy and vindictive.
"It looks like we got some new bugs for you to poke at."
She felt her own annoyance fade a bit as his overwhelming excitement at the prospect of new experiments zapped her from Szayel at the news.
"Make sure the specimens aren't disturbed. I'll send over a team right away to secure them for transport," he ordered breathlessly.
"There are more important concerns right now than the corpses. It looks like the Swarm tunnelled in this time. They're attacking the pillars. If we don't want to have to replace the whole Defence Net, we are going to have to turn the grid off and retract the poles."
"Doing that will leave us open for the rather large contingent heading towards the Net, and most of the force is out in the field right now," he pointed out.
Karin felt that old, familiar, hopeless feeling, the tightness in her chest that she equated with being strangled slowly. Szayel was right; most of the Shinigami force was in the Living Realm performing their duties, still desperately trying to catch up to the backlog of their duties even after five years. There would be no way to recall them in time to help fight. Almost the entire Arrancar force was here, but as powerful as they were there were simply far too many opponents on hand for the hollow half of Aizen's army to deal with before major damage was done. The very balance of the realms depended on things remaining as stable as can be and large civilian casualties would be very, very bad for that balance.
"I hate catch-22s," Karin complained under her breath.
The decision wasn't hers to make either. She could order Szayel to bring the Grid down and he would have no choice but to obey. However, she didn't have the authority to do so and, as many had learned the hard way, Aizen did not like people acting out of turn. The very last thing she needed was for him to decide to punish her for overstepping her authority the way he had many others, by rape. It would be just her luck to get pregnant and give him the very thing that he had been searching for, the last key he needed for total domination: an heir of Royal blood.
There were bigger fish to fry right now so she closed the line and concentrated on swatting the bugs currently trying to attack the pillars. So far, the Net held and as long as it did so, nothing on the other side of it mattered.
"One problem at a time, take care of the things I can, the threat in front of me," she thought resolutely. She could not afford to be distracted by things she could not effect.
This was the first battle in which Hana was forced to participate. She had always figured that she would react to what occurred during a battle calmly and rationally, but all she felt right now was blind panic. Things were happening so quickly and there were so many enemies. She found herself stumbling over her Kido incantations, making desperate moves with her Zanpakuto and blocking rather than taking firm control of her actions, as she'd hoped she would. It wasn't until the Swarm scattered and began going after the pillars with a single-minded purpose that she finally calmed down enough stop reacting and start planning her next attack.
The first thing she noticed was that Ajuga was missing. She felt overwhelming fear for her friend's safety, and it wasn't because Ajuga, like the rest of the troops, might end up dead. She was well aware that most Arrancar could count on their Hierro as a first line of defence and Ajuga was no exception. The holes were far too small for the beetles to get through and, as far as Hana knew, those were the only ones that were capable of seriously harming an Arrancar.
She desperately scanned for Ajuga's familiar reiatsu and nearly sobbed in relief when she picked it up off to the East. If Ajuga had been in full 'stalking mode', Hana wouldn't have had a glacier's chance in hell of finding her. Hana rushed towards Ajuga's position, desperately praying that her friend hadn't gotten scratched due to carelessness or cockiness.
"It would be just like her to let one of the damn things bite her to show off," Hana couldn't help but to think with a mixture of annoyance and a little amusement.
She caught up to Ajuga only because her friend was stopping at each pillar to swat the bugs chewing on the poles. Fortunately, the Swarm's locusts were similar to their smaller, more native cousins in that they were herbivores. Their mandibles lacked the strength to bite easily through the steel metal poles that held the grid up. It was a good thing too, because it was quickly looking like the infiltration had been part of a much larger invasion plan.
"Ajuga-chan!" Hana called out as she finally reached a pillar still crawling with locusts.
At least her friend wasn't alone. Several Shinigami were busy attacking the Swarm as well. To Hana's relief, the Locusts seemed to be solely focused on assaulting the pillars rather than trying to defend themselves.
"Definitely a hive-like mind," Hana grumbled as she caught up to her friend.
"Hana-chan," Ajuga acknowledged her with a wide smile of excitement, clearly enjoying herself immensely.
"Eww… good grief, Ajuga! You desperately need a bath. You reek and you're covered in dirt and gore," Hana complained, covering her nose and waving a hand in front of her face.
Only now did Ajuga seem to notice the state she was in and gave off a shudder of her own with a loudly proclaimed, 'Yuck.' The two girls weren't idle as they spoke. With this pole secure, they headed towards the next, the few Shinigami traveling with their little band greeting Hana warmly, even though they were from different Divisions.
Hana recognized them as her mother's troops from their armbands, even though she didn't know their names. She was pleased to note that Ajuga's presence didn't seem to bother them in the least. Ajuga had won over most of the 5th Division when she was still a bright-eyed, far-too-adorable cub. The 5th division had collectively watched the Arrancar child grow up, since Ajuga was not the least bit shy at showing up in her mother's office when boredom got the best of her.
The next Defence Breach Tower came into view and Ajuga paused, sniffing that way before suddenly disappearing from Hana's senses completely, even though Ajuga was still right in front of her. The Shinigami in the group continued on towards the Defence Net Poles that were covered in the Swarm.
"Ajuga, what is it?" Hana asked worried.
"That tower is infested," she replied, sniffing the air again. "These ones smell different though."
Before Hana could ask that Ajuga elaborate, her friend was just gone, disappearing completely. With her reiatsu completely concealed, Hana couldn't track her.
"Ajuga," Hana called after her before letting out a string of foul curses she had learned from Grimmjow, although she would never let her mother or her surrogate aunt ever know she knew them and used them, let alone where she had learned them. She didn't actually wish any injury on Grimmjow.
Hana followed as best she could and made for the tower. It appeared completely normal from the outside. She heard no buzzing, nor were there any other sounds or indications that this tower, like the last, was under attack.
By the time Hana made it to the door, she was shocked to discover that it was still locked. For a brief moment she feared Ajuga had already gone in and secured the door behind her, but she was proven wrong when a hand landed on her shoulder. She nearly screamed in terror but managed to clamp down on it before she could give their position away to any enemies that might be nearby.
"Ajuga!" she hissed angrily.
Ajuga scowled at her, and then whispered, "You never were any good at hunting."
Both girls pressed their ears against the door and listened intently. Hana could hear voices, but she couldn't make out the words. There was something about them, though, that tugged at her memory. She found that strange because she hadn't had many encounters with the Swarm prior to today, let alone ones that… could…talk…
Hana's brain began putting two and two together. If the Swarm itself had a hive-mind, then something had to be controlling it, issuing orders to the Swarm's various parts. That something also had to be close enough to issue those orders, yet far enough away or concealed well enough to protect the ones giving the orders from attack, thereby interrupting the lines of communication.
Pulling away from the door, Hana suddenly knew what she and Ajuga would find behind it. From Ajuga's rapidly widening smile and gleefully vicious grin, Hana could guess that Ajuga realized it as well.
Well, here we are boys and girls, to Part 2 of Prize of Victory. I know I promised this one was going to be lighter, but, um, reviewing what I have written I may have, umm lied. I am doing my best to add some more light hearted scenes to offset the darker ones. Also trying to add some more scenes with the others side characters (Like Toshiro/Harribel and Yumichika/Soi Fon/Ggio) while not spending too much time with the kids and keeping to the cannon characters. As usual, the really, really dark scenes will only be posted on the Adultfan version.
Thank you everyone who supported part 1, and I hope part 2 will live up to your expectations. I will say now that the Escapee's, while they will play a much larger role in this fict, won't show up for some time, so please have patience on that front. Also, make sure to read Consolation Prize (of Victory) by Black Fox on Adultfan, which primarily features Renji and Nel. While it's not mandatory to read it to read this fict, some events will be referenced and for those of you that love smut, it's full of it. I encourage you to read it as Black Fox but a lot of work into it and I would love to see you all support the Amazing Beta who made Prize of Victory become the epic that it has turned into.
Now, I do not have 500 prewritten pages like I did with POV 1 so there may be delays this time. I will do my best to keep updates even, but I make no promises, especially now that I have a child to care for.
One last note, while I generally despise authors who beg for reviews, if I do not see an interest in this story (as I didn't for Part 1 on this site) I simply won't continue it as there is just too much going on now. This story is a lot of work and POV 1 didn't seem to garner that much interest. I know it can be difficult to think of things to say sometimes, so I will try and continue with my "This Week's Question" to help give a prompt and let me know people are, indeed, reading.
This Weeks Question: What was your favourite Chapter in POV 1 and, if you can put it into words, why?
Next Week: the battle continues.