A Hollow in Equestria
If there was one word Ulquiorra Cifer would use above all others to describe his current surroundings it would be emptiness. A dark void was all that greeted him regardless of wherever he may look. No light or sound, no temperature or wind, just a black void and him. He was alone here in the utter nothingness, and that was fine with him. It was strangely familiar, like the vast deserts of Hueco Mundo, but devoid of the white sands and dead trees. He couldn't find any reason to care really.
His body refused to move and obey his commands, his limbs seeming as if they were made of tungsten; not that he was in need of moving right now but it was an observation his conscious mind wouldn't help but make. With no discernible landmarks he couldn't identify his location or even his basic position, but for some reason he believed that he was currently horizontal in a lying position facing upward. Regardless of whatever attempt he made to move his eyes he was unable to truly see anything other than the surrounding blackness; not even his own body which would serve as a stark contrast with its white coloring.
Another observation: despite his attempts to examine his surroundings he felt nothing. No outside forces could theoretically be understood given the visual nature of his surroundings, but a lack of inside forces he could not explain. Despite attempts to move his body he didn't feel any struggle with its disobedience, rather he felt nothing at all. Even attempting to move his eyes produced no sensation. Nor was there any detectable sensations from his efforts to blink or to form words. With that brought yet another observation: with their being no sound in this void there was also no way to hear his own voice when he spoke. Not that he was in any need of his ability to speak as it was just him here.
Perhaps this was what the "hell" realm that the human woman had mentioned. Was he currently in hell?
"Most certainly not dear boy! At least not quite yet!"
If his eyes were not open they would have snapped open at the sudden intrusion to the silence he had begun settling himself into. He was certain that was not a voice he had imagined as it was not a voice he had ever heard before and had no reason to recall it. The dialect sounded strange. Was the voice addressing him?
"Yes I'm addressing you! Do you see anyone else in this dark and dreary place I'd be talking to?"
Curious. Whatever the origin of the voice it seemed that it was able to detect what he was thinking and respond as if an actual conversation was being held. Perhaps a series of tests were in order to determine the nature of the voice and gauge it's limitations. What was his true opinion of Sosuke Aizen?
"I'm not a mind reader dear boy! This would so much simpler if you would address me directly instead of thinking so much!"
More curious by the second. If nothing else this latest development would at least provide something to focus on. There were many questions that could be asked right now, many pieces of the current puzzle to gather. However one stuck out more than others and seemed the most logical choice to ask right now.
"If this is not the realm humans refer to as hell then what is it?" he asked even though he couldn't hear or feel his own pronunciations.
"Everywhere and nowhere really. A crossroads between the various dimensions. You're technically between the realm of the living and the dead for hollows and every other living being."
A cryptic answer devoid of anything solid or logical. Frustrating.
"For what purpose was I brought to this location?" he asked.
"That wasn't my doing dear boy. You came to this dimension after your battle with Ichigo Kurosaki when your body disintegrated."
"Who are you? For what purpose did you come here?"
"Who I am isn't important. As to my purpose that's where things get interesting. I'm aware of you, Ulquiorra Cifer, and I've come to offer you a second chance at life, free from being commanded by Sosuke Aizen and his like, free to do as you wish without having to take orders from anyone! How does that sound to you?"
"For what purpose would you make such an offer?"
"Never you mind that right now. The point is I've come to offer you an escape from this boring void. Anyone would want that if presented with the opportunity. All you need do is accept my offer. Whadda you say?"
"Assuming I accept your offer will I be returned to Hueco Mundo?"
"I'm afraid that's not within my powers. You'll be able to retain your form, your memories, your strength and your abilities but you'll be in a new world different from what you knew. What you do once you arrive there will be up to you but you will be your own entity. No more listening to a shinigami and taking orders from one who's supposed to be your mortal enemy. In fact there will be absolutely no shinigami in this world so you can reign supreme in the matter."
"Such generosity doesn't come without its price. What are you asking of me in return?"
"Never you mind about that dear boy. The simple truth is that if you don't accept my offer you'll continue to remain here in this emptiness in your current state. Surely you don't consider that to be an acceptable alternative to what's being offered before you."
"I have no reason to trust you in your claims. However I also lack sufficient reason to distrust you other than the simple fact that I know nothing of who or what you are. You may very well be "the devil" that the woman referred to. However lacking extensive knowledge isn't always a valid reason to discount a beneficial offer. There is certainly little that could be worse than indefinitely remaining in the nothingness before me. For the time being I shall accept your offer."
"Wonderful! Simply wonderful my dear boy! Oh this is going to be so much fun!"
Hearing the...excitement...of the disembodied voice gave reason for concern. Perhaps he was too hasty in making the decision to accept the offer that was presented before him.
A low grumble could be heard as well as felt, reminding Princess Celestia that she was currently hungry. A snack from the royal kitchen was definitely appealing right now but she had to show restraint. In less than an hour her sister Luna would be awakening and they would be sharing their evening meal; dinner for her, breakfast for her sister. The chocolate cake would simply have to wait for another time; maybe a midnight snack would be in order.
However her thoughts were currently interrupted by a chuckling inside a throne room that didn't belong to anypony present. This wasn't a matter of great concern as she recognized the chuckle, but that didn't make it any less unpleasant.
"Discord," Celestia spoke firmly yet calmly. "What mischief are you up to this time."
"What, no greetings? No "hi, how are you?" or anything like that? I must say, Celestia, I'm disappointed in your lack of civility towards me," the spirit of chaos stated as he poofed into existence, startling the royal guards at the base of the stars that lead up to her throne.
"I've come to know you far too well in your time free, Discord, and I know you don't chuckle except when you're up to no good. Since your reformation I've cut you a considerable degree of slack regarding your shenaniganisms simply because you've kept the chaos to an acceptable level of mere annoyance. That said I'm not currently feeling quite as forgiving as I normally do. Out of professional courtesy kindly state your business rather than just chuckling mindlessly," Celestia explained. She could already feel a migraine coming on, she was sure of it.
"Straight to business, I can respect that," Discord replied before clearing his throat. "In my efforts to do good deeds as per your orders I've come across a being in need of help and brought them here for a second chance at life. If the "magic of friendship" can do wonders for me then I believe it could do him equal wonders."
"And where did you find this mysterious being?" Celestia asked, finding a measure of intrigue in what was being presented to her.
"At a realm you'd never be familiar with, my dear, it's the crossroads between life and death in another dimension, another reality. This one died far too early to be acceptable and he's of such an interesting quality I just couldn't resist myself!"
Celestia's eye twitched. The crossroads between life and death? Discord normally played with the natural order of the world, and in a few cases she had even sanctioned it. In a few rare occasions where there was great tragedy she had allowed the spirit of chaos to disturb the natural order by retrieving the lost soul of one that had left this world far too early in order to spare the family their suffering for a while longer. But in those cases they had all been related to this dimension and reality, but now Discord was actively going out and bringing back the souls of those who weren't native to their world.
"You know how I feel about pervading the natural order of Equestria, good deeds or no. I can accept that sometimes theirs is a necessary evil that must be tolerated. That said though this is outside the bounds of Equestria. You seek to bring an unknown creature to my land simply because it's interesting and you believe it may benefit from the same lessons my student is currently studying?" she asked as she attempted to restrain her annoyance and fury.
"Precisely! You believed that I was worthy of redemption despite my natural urges, why not this one too? Just because they're not one of your subjects from birth doesn't mean they don't deserve a second chance does it?" Discord asked.
Celestia sighed and closed her eyes, mentally counting to ten in order to compose and control herself. Sometimes she wondered if all the good Discord did was worth the headaches he caused her when he was bored.
"I'll talk to this being and decide for myself whether or not to allow them into Equestria, but I promise nothing at all. Bring them forward for an interview," Celestia huffed.
Discord grinned from ear to mismatched ear and snapped his fingers. In a bright flash and a puff of smoke she saw the strange being standing before them; and it was most definitely strange. It was of a bipedal nature similar to Discord but possessed no tail in order to balance itself with. It was slender and of notable height, somewhere around her own height from what she could tell. It's skin was an ashen white and contrasted with a black mane and teal/green eyes with matching streaks running down its cheeks. Atop its head was some sort of ornament that appeared to be made of bone. It was adorned with a white attire of some sort and a black sash around its waist, some long and slender decoration on its right side.
Discord's statement about this being, about it being of an interesting nature was accurate to some degree, but she'd describe it more as unnerving as it peered at her with those eyes that seemed to possess so much emptiness.
To Ulquiorra the meeting was equally confusing. One moment he had been in an immeasurable black void and unable to hear his own voice, conversing with a disembodied voice that offered him much. The next thing he knew there had been a flash of light he found himself in what could best be described as a castle, similar to the throne room at Las Noches but intricately more decorated. Before him was a stairway that lead up to a throne where a strange creature he couldn't identify sat. From his position he could see that it possessed a horn and wings but it didn't appear to be a hollow. It was adorned with decorative trinkets that suggested regal status much in the same way the Dos Espada, Baraggan Louisembairn chose to appear. While its body was covered in a white coat of fur it possessed long flowing multi-colored hair that almost seemed ethereal in nature. All said a most a curious sight.
"What...is it?" Celestia asked simply as she blinked, looking back to Discord for clarification.
"Princess Celestia of Equestria, meet the Quatro Espada Ulquiorra Cifer," Discord introduced. Neither of them seemed particularly amused or informed simply by learning the name of the other. "This one is a most interesting case," he continued.
"I'm certain you think so but I'd prefer to make that judgement myself," Celestia replied. Looking down at her guards she could tell they were tensing up as things went and this latest edition didn't make things any simpler. "Stand down my loyal subjects. You...strange one...approach."
Ulquiorra remained silent in place and regarded the creatures before him and around him. All were equally strange as far as he was concerned. The regal creature atop the throne, the assortment of random animal parts to the side of him, and the two in golden armor at the foot of the stairs.
Further investigation was certainly warranted. A cursory exercise of his pesquisa should reveal more about the supposedly regal creature. However he'd just barely begun before being struck by the sheer magnitude of its power and nearly floored. It wasn't anything like the reiryoku that he was familiar with, nor was it reiatsu being exercised. Instead it was an entirely new type of power that seemed to flow from the creature as freely as its hair seemed to float. And for all that he could detect freely coming from its body there were vast restrained resources just below the surface. If this creature was truly in charge then it was certainly deserving of its place of authority. Such magnitude of power easily eclipsed his own...it may even eclipse Aizen's own reiatsu in the same manner.
This would require a different approach.
"Can you...understand me?" Celestia asked after a pause and seeing no response. Again she was met with no response. What had Discord said its name was? "Quatro Espada Ulquiorra Cifer I am addressing you!" she spoke with more authority, causing the creature to look directly up at her, suggesting it at least recognized its own name. "Are you able to understand the language I'm using?"
"I am," Ulquiorra replied simply as he continued to look on.
"Discord tells me he believes you deserve a chance to live in this world among my subjects. While I would like to believe that he's being truthful he's been known to engage in dishonesty for his own amusement so I'd like to hear from you myself. Do you have any objection to answering a few questions truthfully?" she asked.
"I do not," Ulquiorra replied in the same simple manner as before.
"Very well. Where do you come from?" Celestia asked.
"The realm known as Hueco Mundo. More specifically the city known as Las Noches," Ulquiorra replied.
"And what role did you fill while there?" Celestia asked.
"Quatro Espada, fourth strongest of Sosuke Aizen-sama's assembled forces. During his absence it was my duty to protect the wellbeing of Las Noches," Ulquiorra explained.
"Was this a military force?" Celestia asked.
"Correct," Ulquiorra replied.
"What type of creature are you? Nothing like you has been seen in Equestria before," Celestia stated.
"A Hollow. In more specific terms I am an Arrancar of the Vasto Lorde evolutionary point," Ulquiorra explained.
"And what is a...Hollow?" Celestia asked.
"A Hollow is the result of a soul of the deceased remaining earthbound for an extended period of time and becoming corrupt for whatever reason at which time the soul morphs and becomes a Hollow. Hollows by general nature are blind instinct devoid of higher mental reasoning and are plagued by an intense hunger that drives them to consume the souls of others in effort to quell the emptiness they experience. They are not above devouring even fellow Hollows if their hunger is strong enough," Ulquiorra explained.
Celestia went wide eyed at hearing the information she was being presented so freely. Never before had she heard of something so horrible. Discord had brought this soul-eating being to their world and claimed that it deserved a second chance at life? She was sorely tempted to banish the both of them right that moment, but she couldn't do that just yet. Like it or not she had to press on and learn more in order to make an accurate judgement.
"Do all Hollows eat souls?" Celestia asked nervously.
"Yes. However those that reside in Hueco Mundo are able to sufficiently sustain themselves through the consumption of the reishi in the general area. The consumption of souls is not for nourishment or sustenance but rather primal satisfaction," Ulquiorra explained. The strange creature before him seemed to give a sigh of relief.
"And what is this "reishi" that you refer to?" Celestia asked.
"Reishi is the technical term for particles consisting of spirit energy. Everything in Hueco Mundo is constructed of reishi whether it is fellow Hollows or the walls of Las Noches," Ulquiorra explained.
"If you were allowed to remain within my domain would you consume the souls of my subjects?" Celestia asked.
"There would be no point in consuming souls in this world as there seems to be a significant level of...for lack of a better term to describe it "reishi" available for sustenance. Furthermore as a Vasto Lorde I am a fully evolved Hollow and the consumption of souls serves no further purpose as there is no overwhelming hunger present," Ulquiorra explained.
"I believe what you're referring to is a substance known as "mana" in this world. Mana is a naturally occurring substance found everywhere in the world and utilized by all in the performance of magic," Celestia replied.
"Magic?" Ulquiorra asked and cocked the eyebrow under the remnants of his mask. "What is this "magic" that you refer to?"
"All in good time as I still have a number of questions to ask. What exactly is that thing at your side? Is it some sort of weapon?" Celestia asked and gestured to the strange ornament on his left side.
"Correct. This is my zanpakutō, it's called Murciélago. All Arrancar-class Hollows possess a zanpakutō of their own. It is formed when they divide the nuclei of their abilities and power. Our zanpakutō is used during our resurrección to regain our original forms and prowess. In simpler terms it could be described as a manifestation of the soul," Ulquiorra explained.
Celestia finally stopped asking questions and stood up from her throne, descending the stairs slowly as she approached Ulquiorra and Discord. While the information gained had been interesting to hear it was hardly conclusive of anything, and there was no guarantee that it was accurate. She would need to take a more direct approach. As she approached she could see his hoof -a strange looking hoof at that- moving towards his zanpakutō.
"There's no need to be afraid, you won't be harmed," she said in a reassuring manner as she stepped closer. "You won't feel anything, I simply need to gain some more in depth information," she explained as her horn began to glow.
"You intend to invade my mind and extract the information you deem relevant," Ulquiorra elaborated, causing Celestia to stop in her tracks.
"I was hoping to be allowed simple access to your memories so I can see for myself what type of entity you are. The wellbeing of my subjects is my main concern," Celestia explained. "I don't want to be forceful about it. But I will if it is absolutely necessary."
"Understood," Ulquiorra replied simply and closed his eyes, withdrawing his hand from the hilt of his sword to allow the strange creature to do what was necessary.
Celestia held back a sigh of relief. At least it looked like this Ulquiorra wouldn't be fighting her on the matter and had some basic understanding of its importance. Closing her eyes she lowered her head until her horn was touching his forehead. However nothing in her over thousand year reign could have prepared her for what she saw.
There were millions of images assaulting her mind as she probed. Images that were completely alien to her, strange names assigned to faces, each with some ingrained measure of respect or regard that possessed no precise rhyme or reason. She wanted more than images though, she needed to dig deeper to find out what this Ulquiorra was like, she needed memories of self, not observations of others around him.
Loyalty? Was she...yes she was seeing some measure of loyalty and respect...at least for one particular individual thus showing he was capable of such. There were a great many emotions and sensations to dig through.
A certain callousness and indifference was about him, dispassionate about many things, very cold and calculating in nature and possessing a keen intellect, however for all that was present there was an absence of anything that could truly be considered evil; at least evil in the same manner of King Sombra and Discord during his darker days. He certainly wouldn't be the type to spare others their feelings when talking to them but there was nothing overtly cruel about that. This Ulquiorra didn't seem to engage in heinous acts for his own entertainment or even personal gain; not of his own volition anyway.
The most glaring aspect she could sense was an overwhelming...emptiness of sorts. It was as if this Ulquiorra was content merely with the fact of his own existence. It was so strange, no aspiration towards leadership and rule but at the same time no overwhelming desire to simply follow the instructions of others. It was like he was...hollow inside.
She was mentally stammering at this point, taken aback by it all and the lack thereof. No concept or understanding of friendship or camaraderie with others, only certain loyalties to those that held power over him. Despair, sadness, loneliness all seemed to echo from within him, but it was a hollow sort of echo, like the growl of an empty stomach demanding food. Everything about him seemed contradictory to the values held by Equestria. Wherever he was truly native to it was not a place she had any desire to associate with.
"I have seen enough," she said as she drew back and broke the connection. In truth she'd seen far too much for her own comfort. Ulquiorra had seen more darkness and despair in his lifetime than all of Equestria had seen even before her rule. She suppressed the shudder her body so desperately wanted to issue as she turned to face Discord who had been watching expectantly. "Do you believe this Ulquiorra's presence could serve a benefit to Equestria?"
"Well I can't say for certain about that, but who could be a better candidate for learning about the magic of friendship? Look at what it's done for me," Discord replied.
"That is certainly true," Celestia replied and lowered her head, muttering to herself. Finally she raised her head and faced them again. "For the time being I'll consent to having Ulquiorra in my realm, but you will be responsible for him Discord. If he proves to be a detriment to my subjects you shall be the one to blame. Reformed or not it shall be you who is punished accordingly, understood?"
Discord was trying so hard not to laugh. She was lecturing him like a parent would their child about a puppy that'd followed them home. He could barely contain his amusement at the entire situation. "Oh I understand, I understand very well. I'll be responsible for whatever the dear boy does but first he's got to actually do it. For right now though I have to leave and see a train about a man. Toodaloo!" the spirit of chaos exclaimed and disappeared out of sight in a flash of spoke.
"Trash," Ulquiorra stated simply once the conglomeration of mismatched animal parts was no longer in sight.
"He can be that way at times," Celestia agreed and allowed herself a chuckle. However she soon became serious again as she faced Ulquiorra directly. "I have learned a great deal about you and your character, some of which I am displeased and concerned by. However the land of Equestria is a place of second chances and redemption and I'm willing to provide you with the opportunity for just that. That being said I expect you to understand that as long as you're here you'll be under my rule and obey my orders. You will not attack my subjects nor do anything to cause them harm or put them in risk. For the time being you'll be confined to the inside of the castle and kept under guard. Is that clear?"
Ulquiorra would keep his observations to himself for now, about the pointlessness of him being guarded and such. If the beasts that remained at the foot of the stairs were an example of what he would encounter then they served little purpose as their reiatsu was nothing compared to his and could be easily dispatched if he so chose. However the reiatsu that came from the creature identified as Celestia was several magnitudes above his own and gave him motivation to not try anything unwise at current time.
"It is clear," Ulquiorra replied simply and didn't elaborate any further.
"That's good," Celestia replied and allowed a sigh to slip past her lips. "I trust you have questions of your own?"
"Seventeen at present time."
She nearly laughed. Ulquiorra's knowing how many questions he actually had to ask reminded her of Twilight's organizational skills. "Ask away and I'll do my best to answer them."
"You are ruler of this land but you are referred to as Princess Celestia rather than Queen Celestia. The former ruler of Hueco Mundo held the title of King. Assuming your world's royal hierarchy follows that of my world the structural order is King, Queen, Prince and Princess. Is it correct to assume that you are not the true ruler of this world? And if you aren't then who is?"
"Equestria doesn't recognize a monarchy but rather a diarchy. I'm co-ruler of this land with my younger sister Princess Luna. I control the sun and the day while she controls the moon and the night," Celestia explained.
"Eighteen questions now," Ulquiorra noted. "What species are you?"
"I'm a member of the Alicorn race," Celestia replied.
"Still eighteen. Please elaborate on what an "alicorn" is."
"An Alicorn is a ruling class of pony in Equestria achieved through meeting certain prerequisites for ascension. Other races include unicorn, pegasus and earth pony, each capable of ascension to a higher form under the right circumstances, although few ever do in order to maintain balance in the world," Celestia explained.
"What is the substance "mana" you referred to earlier?" Ulquiorra asked.
"Mana is a naturally occurring resource native to Equestria and found in all aspects of nature. It serves as the building blocks for the use of magic," Celestia explained.
"What is this "magic" that you refer to?" Ulquiorra asked.
"Magic is a manipulation of the mana surrounding us and applying it in a specific manner, allowing for feats that non-magic users would deem to be physically impossible, ranging from transfiguration of one object into another, to weather manipulation and everything inbetween," Celestia explained.
"Of the three races mentioned earlier which of them are able to utilize magic?" Ulquiorra asked.
"All three. Earth ponies utilize magic for the purpose of taming nature and ensuring plants grow accordingly. Pegasi use magic for the purpose of flight and manipulation of the weather. Unicorns utilize magic for the purpose of performing various feats in a more direct manner the other two races are incapable of performing," Celestia explained.
"Who or what was that creature responsible for my presence in this world?" Ulquiorra asked.
"That was Discord, the spirit and physical embodiment of chaos and disorder. He's...a work in progress regarding redemption and rehabilitation," Celestia replied.
"Is he responsible for why our spoken languages seem to be the same and we are able to understand each other?" Ulquiorra asked.
"More than likely," Celestia replied and nodded.
"How was this palace constructed if your species lacks the ability to grasp and hold even basic tools?" Ulquiorra asked.
"Magical aptitude. Gripping tools isn't necessary when you can lift and carve stone with just a thought and focus," Celestia explained.
"Did you kill the original dominant race and assume their position in order to ensure rule of the land?" Ulquiorra asked.
"Goodness no! We don't do such things here in Equestria," Celestia exclaimed, utterly surprised by the question.
"When was the skill of magic originally learned and by whom?" Ulquiorra asked, not even fazed by Celestia's outburst.
"I'm afraid that's one question I can't answer. The origins of magic are something that's been lost to time itself and predates the formation of Equestria," Celestia explained.
"Then it is unlikely that you will be able to answer eight of the remaining nine questions I currently have. The remaining question is: what is this "friendship" that you have referred to several times prior?" Ulquiorra asked.
"That...is a more difficult question to answer. Friendship isn't something that's easily defined from an analytical standpoint, my student Twilight had to find that out firsthoof. Friendship is something that has to be experienced to be understood, and even then it isn't understood in simple black and white terms, there are no clearly defined boundaries or prerequisites for categorization. I'm afraid the best concrete answer I can give you is that friendship is a relationship of mutual care and affection shared between two or more individuals."
The answer given to him by Celestia was no more helpful or explanatory than the answer given by the human woman back in Las Noches. The concept of "friendship" was as foreign to him after his death as it was prior to such. Perhaps it was a concept recognized only by those who were not Hollows in nature. Or perhaps he was simply in need of further information to form a conclusive answer and evaluation. Either way he was unlikely to learn anything more right now from this "alicorn" before him.
"As I am not permitted to leave the palace ground am I to be escorted to a holding cell now?" Ulquiorra asked.
"I don't really believe that'll be necessary. You at least seem to understand the terms you're bound by, and I have no reason to believe you'll go against your word," Celestia explained and smiled slightly. "My sister will soon be awakening. Would you care to join us for our evening meal?"
"That will not be necessary. There is more than sufficient reishi...mana in the area to sustain a Vasto Lorde such as myself. The consumption of food would ultimately serve no purpose in the matter," Ulquiorra replied and slid his hands into his pockets.
"To be honest I understand what you're talking about. Food isn't necessary for me to survive, but it does make for a nice indulgence," Celestia replied and gave a knowing smile. "My sister will also be curious about your presence. It would be best if you explained matters rather than me relaying them to her."
A logical point, he couldn't deny that. Even if he didn't partake in any of the foodstuffs presented he could at least gather more information about his new surroundings and learn about the extent of his confinement. Without a word or a shrug in response Ulquiorra followed at his own pace as Celestia lead the way, the two guards following behind him and glaring.
When Celestia stated that food was an indulgence it had not been an understatement. The dining hall -for lack of a better term based on his observations- housed a large table topped with what looked to be a lavish banquet. There were foods he had never seen before but that was hardly surprising. Two alicorns were supposed to eat all of this before them? Based on his observations regarding Celestia's size, and allowing for the possibility of her sister being of similar build, he did not see how it was physically possible.
Then again he had experienced a number of things that were not physically possible in the last few hours, his defeat at the hands of Ichigo Kurosaki being only one of them.
His thoughts were quickly interrupted when his pesquisa detected another incoming source of reiatsu...or whatever the proper term was. The source soon appeared in the dining hall's northern entrance in the form of another alicorn but of notably smaller stature, midnight blue in coloring, it's hair and tail flowing in a manner similar to Celestia but of dark midnight blue coloring adorned with small twinkling white specks.
"Greetings dear sister," it greeted in a feminine voice as it saw the taller alicorn. It began to speak again but stopped when it became aware of his own presence. "Dear sister what is this strange being? Do we have guests?"
Ulquiorra said nothing in response but instead displayed a look of discomfort on his face. Each of this beings possessed a level of reiatsu that easily eclipsed his own and the two being in such close presence seemed to add together in a unified front. The pressure being exerted on the surrounding area was significant enough to cause him actual pain over his entire body. In a flash he stood at the back wall as far away from the two as possible.
"Is something wrong?" Celestia asked upon seeing the display.
"Your presence," Ulquiorra stated as he brought his arm up in an effort to shield his face as if he were being confronted with extreme wind or light. "Your combined reiatsu is overwhelming even by my own standards and causing physical pain. Even with my hierro at full strength I can feel it exerting extreme pressure on my body," he explained, his voice never raising in level but taking on an edge that signaled he was certainly upset at the developments.
"Dear sister what is it saying? We doth not understand the terms it uses," Luna stated as she looked to her sister for guidance.
"I believe he's saying our magic is too much for him to tolerate," Celestia replied. Luna looked at her curiously before nodding and closing her eyes, mentally focusing on restraining the magic that naturally flowed from her body and locking it up within her. Her sister did the same before speaking again. "Is that better?" she asked.
"It is...more tolerable now," Ulquiorra replied after a moment and lowered his guard, his appearance more relaxed than previously but he didn't step any closer to the dining table of the two alicorns before him.
"Sister we feel the need to ask yet again. What is this strange being before us?" Luna asked as she looked between them.
"Another of Discords efforts at reformation; one that shows actual promise this time," Celestia replied before taking to face him again. "Princess Luna this is Ulquiorra Cifer, I...I'm sorry but I can't seem to recall the rest of what you said earlier. Would you mind stepping forward and introducing yourself for my sister's benefit?"
He paused a moment before finally submitting to the request and approached the table. "Cuatro Espada, Ulquiorra Cifer, fourth strongest Arrancar in service to Sosuke Aizen-sama, currently under the direct control of Celestia-sama," Ulquiorra explained calmly as he stopped at the edge of the table.
"Sama?" Luna asked curiously and tilted her head to the side.
"A title recognizing and referring to one of notable rank and authority," Ulquiorra explained.
"I'm fine with "Princess Celestia" being my title," Celestia replied before turning to face her sister again. "I'm sure you have many questions dear sister. But perhaps our evening meal should come first," she suggested, a well timed rumbling in her stomach emphasizing the point and causing Luna to laugh in response at her sister's expense.
"As thou wishes dear sister. We are especially hungry this fine evening and dost look forward to our breakfast!" Luna exclaimed and took her seat as the table.
Ulquiorra for his part merely stood at the end of the table and observed the two as they interacted and ate. Theirs was a cheerful and happy attitude that he had never witnessed before. They were not approaching the matter logically and treating the meal as a mere source of sustenance. It was rather baffling to him and left a feeling of confusion that was unlikely to be satisfied anytime soon.
Their method of eating was equally as strange as their choice of banter. Food was spread all over the table far beyond their natural ability to reach but they seemed to have no trouble reaching it. If one wished for a particular dish the horn atop their head would glow with some sort of aura around it and the desired dish would be surrounded by a similarly colored aura and levitated over to them. Lacking anything else to draw from it seemed logical to assume that this was a display in the exercise of magic.
For the most part their brief uses of magic didn't cause him any significant discomfort despite being in close proximity.
"Dost thou not desire to eat with us?" Luna asked curiously as she looked up from a muffin and saw Ulquiorra continuing to stand there as if studying them. It was...unsettling.
"The consumption of food is unnecessary for my survival. There is a sufficient level of reishi in the general area to sustain me for an extended period of time," Ulquiorra calmly explained, for the third time in the last hour.
"Reishi?" Luna asked and tilted her head in confusion. "We have been gone long but never have we heard of this "reishi" you refer to."
"I believe "reishi" is his world's term for describing mana, dear sister," Celestia elaborated.
"thou consumes mana for sustenance?" Luna asked as she turned her attention back to their guest. "Most fascinating! Never before have we heard of such a being! Please confirm what does it taste like?"
"...The substance you refer to as mana possesses no discernible taste as it is not consumed orally. Rather it is absorbed directly into my body by being in its presence," Ulquiorra explained, not so much as blinking at the increase in Luna's pitch or level of voice.
"You'll have to forgive my sister. She sometimes gets easily excited," Celestia replied before pausing to grab a muffin of her own before turning back to face him. "You said you don't need food to survive. Are you able to experience the different tastes and textures of food?"
"I am. However as the act of eating is focused purely on nutrition the two standards serve little relevant purpose and I see no point in exploring their value of existence," Ulquiorra explained. "I count thirteen different types of food present. Their ultimate purpose seems inconclusive with regard to the overall point of consumption in the first place. Why is there not simply one foodstuff of adequate nutritional value?"
"Thou hast obviously never tasted Canterlot's blueberry muffins, the most delicious in all the land," Luna stated proudly as she levitated another muffin over to him. "Partake in the delicacies before thee and make thy observations then."
Ulquiorra merely glanced at the muffin that was hovering in front of his face before returning his gaze to the two alicorns at the table. Should he open his mouth to reply he couldn't be certain the younger of the two wouldn't attempt to feed him through trickery and force.
"Thou wouldst forsake the royal muffin? 'Tis Unheard of! Eat," Luna insisted.
Ulquiorra merely stared in response.
"Eat the muffin!" Luna pressed further.
Ulquiorra continued to stare unfazed.
"EAT THY MUFFIN THOU MOST CONTESTABLE CURR!" Luna bellowed.
Ulquiorra merely blinked in response.
Celestia meanwhile was trying so hard not to break down laughing, if it weren't so undignified in front of strangers she'd be pounding her hoof against the table. The one sided banter between her little sister and the strange being was comedy gold to her, and Ulquiorra's stone face reaction to being assaulted by the royal Canterlot voice Luna so loved to use was threatening to send her to the floor if she didn't properly compose herself.
Luna scowled. "Thou must join us for a game of poker sometime," she grumbled and withdrew the muffin back to the platter it had rested on.
Celestia allowed herself a few minutes to properly compose herself and suppress the urge to laugh before deciding to continue the discussion. "Do you mind answering a few more questions?"
"I do not," Ulquiorra replied simply.
"What were you referring to when my sister entered in? Was it...hierro? What is that?" Celestia asked.
"A technique shared by all Arrancar regardless of status or rank. Their reiryoku is condensed into their skin to create an armoring of great density and strength capable of resisting significant damage. However your reiatsu proved to be significantly greater than I was able to resist," Ulquiorra explained. "I am left uncertain as to how your guards are able to resist so effortlessly despite their minute level of strength. I can only theorize that being native to this land and its strange ways insulates them in some manner."
"Reiryoku? Reiatstu? These terms thou mention are foreign to us. What do they mean?" Luna asked curiously.
"Reiryoku is the technical term to describe the spiritual energy an individual possesses. Reiatsu is the physical pressure that reiryoku exerts on the area around it. All beings in possession of reiryoku are capable of exerting reiatsu but it is proportional to the amount of reiryoku they possess and can control. Depending on individuals the pressure can be quite intense and overwhelming, even painful in nature," Ulquiorra explained.
"That's...very fascinating. I've never been informed that our magical presence could actually cause somepony pain," Celestia stated.
Ulquiorra raised an eyebrow. "Somepony?"
"A term native to Equestria used for referring to another. What term is native to your world?" Celestia asked.
"Somebody?" Celestia asked curiously. The word was strange to hear and even stranger to say. "Would you mind elaborating on some more of the words you've used since your arrival?"
"I would not."
"You said you're an Arrancar but you've also used several other terms for referring to yourself, such as "Hollow", "Espada" and "Vasto Lorde." What's the differentiation?" Celestia asked.
He briefly considered how to answer. The knowledge of what a Hollow was, was something Celestia already knew. He suspected it was for her sister's benefit. Furthermore he didn't see how elaborating on his nature of being would prove detrimental to his wellbeing. Barely even a shrug before reaching the decision of how to approach.
"All of the aforementioned titles apply to the Hollow race. Hollows are the result of earthbound spirits who remain in the mortal realm well beyond the time after their death and are subject to corruption via outside sources. All Hollows are similar in nature yet unique at the same time and possess unique traits and abilities. Among Hollows there are three higher levels of evolution. Gillian is the second level of evolution to be reached when hundreds of Hollows converge at one point and united by a single goal. They are mindless brutes with no personality or individuality. In rare cases one Hollow in particular will emerge and exert control over the mass, those that achieve this goal have the potential to evolve to the third level and become an Adjuchas. The Adjuchas class is far greater in strength and intelligence than the Gillian class and exert control over them though they are fewer in numbers. The fourth and final stage of evolution is Vasto Lorde and they are by far the strongest and the smartest of Hollows. Arrancar is a term to describe Hollows who have removed their masks in order to gain increased power and abilities. While all Hollows are capable of removing their masks only Gillian class and higher will benefit from the act. Espada is a title held exclusively by the ten strongest Arrancar in all of Hueco Mundo."
"Thou art the conglomeration of many hundreds of ghosts?" Luna asked in a shocked and equally amazed tone.
"Lacking more defined terms for categorization that would appear to be an accurate statement," Ulquiorra replied without even blinking at Luna's statement.
"Most unique! Thou wouldst be spectacular on Nightmare Night!" Luna exclaimed. "Is this "Hueco Mundo" you refer to a city of the dead then?"
"Hueco Mundo is the realm in which all Hollows reside. If I am categorized as a ghost in this world then the fortress of Las Noches would more accurately fit your terminology," Ulquiorra replied.
"But if thou be a ghost how are you of solid construction like a living being? Thee possess mass and density that no disembodied spirit should have," Luna pointed out.
"All things in Hueco Mundo are constructed from reishi and have mass and density to varying degrees. The Hollows, the sand, the walls, everything. At present I am unable to arrive at a conclusion to explain my own physical construction here. Nor am I able to determine how your guards are aware of my presence as only those possessing a greater than average level of reiryoku are capable of detecting Hollows. The only theory I can arrive at is that in this world mana is of greater intensity than the reiryoku of my world and it is enough to compensate for the difference," Ulquiorra explained.
"I must say you have impressive analytical skills, Ulquiorra, you've only been here a short amount of time and already you seem to have a good grasp of the situation," Celestia stated.
"Merely unconfirmed and unverifiable theories to try and make sense of this new world," Ulquiorra replied in a dismissive manner.
"Doth thy world contain magic like Equestria?" Luna asked curiously.
Ulquiorra paused for a moment in contemplation of the question and searched what knowledge he'd gathered so far to formulate a response. "The telekinetic abilities you have displayed is not something I have witnessed in my world. That said there are certain skills that may bear a passing resemblance to magic."
When Ulquiorra didn't elaborate any further Celestia spoke up. "Such as?"
"Earlier in the evening you referred to the pegasi race and described their use of magic in order to fly. Arrancar possess the ability to walk upon the air and engage in limited flight despite a lack of wings or body structures that are aerodynamically unsound," Ulquiorra explained, pausing as he gave a matter some more thought. "Perhaps another example would be the use of kido by the Shinigami."
"Shinigami?" Celestia asked.
"Soul reapers. They are the ones tasked with ferrying the souls of the departed to the afterlife where they may rest in peace. They are the mortal enemy to the Hollow race. It is their laziness that is responsible for Hollows coming into existence and it is their barbarianism that motivates them to kill us after we have established ourselves as conscious beings. It is only due to our superior numbers that they do not invade Hueco Mundo and attempt to drive us into extinction," Ulquiorra explained calmly despite the subject matter.
Luna gasped. "Such brutality!"
Celestia pondered if she should share with her sister what Ulquiorra had told her prior in the evening, about how Hollows engaged in the cannibalistic behavior of devouring other souls and even fellow Hollows. It wasn't something she wished to think about but Luna did have a right to know what she knew.
But that fact aside this new revelation made her pause. While Hollows did eat their fellow disembodied souls it was the Shinigami that seemed to allow it to happen by not exercising due diligence in ensuring that there were no earthbound spirits who could become corrupted. The fact that they seemed to be lazy in their duties was enough to leave her wondering if the Shinigami were deliberate in their laziness and the subsequent extermination of Hollows was a matter of sport for them. Was the killing of such beings a source of entertainment for them?
These thoughts and many others were flying through her mind at a mile a second. If this really was the case then Ulquiorra, despite the brutality she'd seen in his memories, was a member of an unjustly oppressed race. Perhaps that was why she sensed such emptiness coming from him.
"I'm inclined to agree," Celestia added as she shook the thoughts from her head. "Perhaps discussion of these "Shinigami" isn't appropriate right now. What can you tell us of the magic they can perform? This... "kido" you refer to?"
"Upon his arrival in Hueco Mundo Aizen-sama provided detailed information regarding the ways of the Shinigami. Kido is generally divided into three specific categories: bakudo, hado and kaido. Bakudo are supplemental techniques that aid in combat and take the form of binding restrictions or shields. Hado is directly offensive and kaido is related to healing. Kido techniques are numbered in accordance to level of strength and difficulty and range from 1 to 99. For proper deployment of a kido technique an incantation must be verbally cast, however such an incantation is long to recite and must be spoken correctly," Ulquiorra explained.
"Spoken incantations for performing magic? Fascinating," Celestia muttered as she rubbed her chin in thought. "Can Hollows perform kido as well?"
"Kido is exclusive to the Shinigami race. However Hollows have their own techniques that allow for partial compensation of this fact," Ulquiorra replied.
"And what are they? Besides the hierro you've already explained?" Celestia asked.
"I decline to answer that question. Simply because you have placed me under your rule does not negate the fact that it's unwise to share vital information that could potentially be used against yourself for the purpose of causing harm," Ulquiorra explained.
"Thou doth accuse our sister of being treacherous!?" Luna demanded to know and rose from her seat.
"Calm down little sister. Ulquiorra is well within his rights to refrain from sharing any information he feels might be sensitive in nature. He raises an excellent point, we shouldn't be so quick to volunteer information if we have a good reason to do otherwise," Celestia explained in a reassuring tone to relax her sister.
"Mayhaps," Luna finally relented and sat back down, turning her state of unrest towards her scrambled eggs instead of their unusual and impolite guest.
Silence quickly settled back over the room at the two sisters ate, Ulquiorra continuing to observe them in a detached and disinterested manner, mentally noting his various observations based on the available information, limited as it may be. He would need to expand on what information was available if he was to form more accurate observations.
"This "Canterlot" as you refer to it is a capital city in the land of Equestria is it not?" he asked.
"Yes it is," Celestia replied and nodded.
"As a capital city it's only logical to assume it would contain libraries to house extensive knowledge of the land and the surrounding territory, including but not limited to history, regional customs and the law. If I'm bound to this dimension for an interminable period then perhaps it would be prudent to learn about the relevant details of my new surroundings."
"That sounds reasonable. However as you're still a stranger there are a number of sections in the archives and library that're restricted and you'll be denied access to them. So long as you abide by this I don't see any problem with you learning more about your new surroundings," Celestia pointed out.
"That is an acceptable condition," Ulquiorra replied and gave a small nod of understanding.
"Very well. Guards please escort our guest to the library," Celestia ordered politely.
"Perhaps it would be best if my shadow guard were to escort him. 'Tis nearly nightfall and our turn to watch over Equestria shalt soon be upon us. Let thou guards rest after they escort our guest and our guards shall relieve them there," Luna stated.
"Very well dear sister, if that's what you wish," Celestia replied and gave a small nod to the stallion guards at the doorway.
"This way," one of the guards spoke. Ulquiorra said nothing in response, merely turning around and following his assigned escort out of the dining hall.
Celestia sat patiently sipping her tea, silently waiting and watching until Ulquiorra and her two guards were no longer in sight before turning to address her sister, who was currently looking at her in a confused manner. "What's your opinion my dear little sister?"
"Most curious. His very nature seems contradictory to everything Equestria is. We doth not believe he presents a significant source of danger to our subjects," Luna said as she paused in thought. "Most peculiarly he seems to emit a sense of loneliness and emptiness, 'tis as if he hath no understanding of friends. And his eyes...his eyes convey such sadness, 'twas painful to even look at him for more than a few seconds. Wherever this Hueco Mundo is 'tis not a place we would wish to visit within our lifetimes."
Celestia said nothing in response. Luna's opinion was accurate to some extent but didn't take into account the darker things she'd experienced. She'd seen so many things when probing his mind, so many disturbing experiences, memories and thoughts that she didn't even wish to think about it. She'd seen many atrocities to him, many things she didn't know if she could forgive. But what she hadn't seen was an overwhelming degree of malice behind his actions. Perhaps there would be hope for him if they worked with him enough.
Right now she wasn't certain just how much to freely share with Luna on the matter. She would have to approach this matter cautiously.
"Perhaps I should put off resting for the night," Celestia suggested.
"Nonsense dear sister. We art perfectly capable of handling whatever situation may arise on our nightly watch. Thou needst thy rest for the coming morning," Luna pointed out. As soon as she finished a mischievous thought occurred to her and she pressed on before Celestia could speak. "And if thou doth protest we shall devour all the cake in Canterlot and leave not so much as a single piece for thee."
Luna knew how to play dirty, and threatening her cake was most certainly a low blow to be making. She doubted her little sister would actually stoop to such a level, but she didn't really feel up to testing that theory right now. Truth be told she was tired after the day she'd had and she really wanted to rest.
"Very well Luna, I leave the kingdom and our new guest in your capable hooves," Celestia said as she stood up from the table. "It seems time to usher in nightfall. Let us be off."
"Agreed dear sister, agreed," Luna replied and stood up to join her.
The presence of the guards didn't serve as a distraction from Ulquiorra's search for relevant information. Even the changing of the guard and the presence of a new type of reiatsu with the strange looking creatures he assumed to be Princess Luna's shadow guard didn't warrant investigation. His pesquisa didn't detect anything to warrant his interest.
The matter of most interest to him was presently in his hands in the form of a book on the history of Equestria. The symbols contained within the book were not one he had any conscious knowledge of, he was most certain of that. Despite that fact he found he was quite able to understand them and what they were saying. Logically it didn't make sense. The only likely explanation he could arrive at was the possibility of Discord having adapted him to this world and all it held.
That said the history detailing the founding of Equestria seemed far-fetched and hard to believe. The three great pony races united against beings known as windigos that fed on strife and disorder and created an endless winter in their wake? Was this attempt at humor? Or had the historical documents been unorganized and mixed with childhood tales of fantasy and unbelievable notions?
"Trash," Ulquiorra muttered and snapped the book shut before placing it back on the shelf. Perhaps another book would hold the information he needed. In a library this size there had to be relevant and accurate texts to tell him what he needed to know.
"I have been aware of your presence for the last ten minutes. As I have been here for over an hour I can only assume you had royal duties to tend to. That said I am uncertain of why you have attempted to conceal yourself from me," Ulquiorra stated as dry and unfeeling as ever before reaching for another book in hopes of gaining greater information about his new surroundings.
"How didst thou know we were present?" Luna asked in a shocked and dumbfounded manner as she finally stepped into the library. She'd been so quiet in her approach even her own shadow guards hadn't heard her approach and she'd been sure to silence them so as to not alert him.
"My pesquisa detected your overwhelming reiatsu even before you ever approached me. If your intent was to try and take me by surprise then your goal has failed," Ulquiorra replied without even looking up from his book.
"Thou's ability to detect the presence of others is most impressive," Luna commented as she stepped closer.
"It's highly unlikely you attempted to hide yourself simply to comment on my abilities. What do you want?" Ulquiorra asked bluntly.
"...We wish to learn more about you. Never in our history have we encountered one such as thee," Luna admitted as she stopped a short distance away from him. "Can thou tell us of Hueco Mundo? What is it like?"
He paused a moment, absently trailing a finger along the edge of the book before finally speaking up. "Barren. A cold desert, white sand and tree-like structures stretching on forever beyond the feeble limits of the eye. Countless miles of emptiness under an unending night sky," Ulquiorra explained.
"Thy world has eternal night?" Luna asked, easily caught off guard by the revelation. If Nightmare Moon was still around she'd love to hear this. "What of the moon? Does Hueco Mundo possess a moon?"
"Yes. As eternal as the night sky it sits in, forever at three quarters crescent."
"Crescent? Thou hast no full moon in your world? 'Tis a tragedy!" Luna stated. "Our moon is eternally full for all to see!"
Ulquiorra said nothing and simply went to reading the book.
"Wouldst thou like to see the night sky of Equestria? 'Tis a beautiful sight."
"I see no beneficial purpose in the act," Ulquiorra responded as he scanned the page. "Comprehensive knowledge of Equestria is needed but these books so far are sorely lacking. So far I've found no records of the various campaigns waged between now and the founding of Equestria. Even records prior to the supposed founding are limited. No documentation concerning the tribes of unicorn, pegasi and earth pony."
"The royal library is quite extensive dating back many libraries. Our sister's student, Twilight Sparkle, is a most enthusiastic reader and she could not read every book present in five years. Thou hast just begun thy quest for knowledge," Luna pointed out.
"Then perhaps you can direct me to the relevant texts."
"T'will be a long read. Thou wouldst need to stay awake the entire night to get through such books," Luna stated.
"Sleep is not necessary for the survival of a Hollow," Ulquiorra stated plainly.
"Truly?" Luna asked and blinked. Didn't need sleep? Ulquiorra Cifer was awake to experience the fullness of the night? "Wouldst thou consider taking part in our company in exchange for a firsthoof account of Equestria's history that we experienced firsthoof?"
Ulquiorra cocked an eyebrow and cast an aside glance at Luna. The notion of her being ancient wasn't surprising. Shinigami could live for thousands of years depending on the potency of their reiryoku, Hollows were eternal and never aged, it only made sense that certain beings in this world could be long lived as well. "Princess Celestia has stated that knowledge on the origin of magic has been lost to the passage of time and predates the founding of Equestria. Unless you were present for this then there is little information that can be garnered by such an interaction," he explained and closed the book before placing it back on the shelf.
Luna frowned. He was certainly callous in nature to turn down an audience with Canterlot royalty. She would have to do something about that "Then perhaps thou canst make use of these," she said as her horn took on a pale blue glow, retrieving numerous large tomes and hovering them over his head before dropping them.
Ulquiorra didn't so much as blink, simply stepping aside out from under the stack of books and extending his left hand to catch them effortlessly as if it were nothing.
Luna frowned more at this and his unflinching attitude. He was far too cool under pressure for her liking. "Thou art very good," she commented. "We must get back to our royal duties. If thou changes thy mind we shall be in the throne room, the guards will escort you back."
Not so much as even a noncommittal grunt in response. Ulquiorra simply set the books down before opening one and began to read its contents. Luna sighed and turned to leave. But before even the first hoofstep she looked behind her once more.
"Ulquiorra Cifer. Regardless of who or what thou are, thou will be welcomed by the ponies of this land. We should know as we ourselves were welcomed even after what we did," she stated before facing forward and began to leave.
"What did you do?"
She hadn't expected a response and stopped in her tracks. However she didn't face him before speaking again. "One thousand three years ago we rebelled against our sister and attempted to initiate eternal night out of petty jealousy over the adoration she received. Our nights were shunned by fearful ponies who would rather sleep than rejoice in the natural cycle of order. We allowed ourselves to become Nightmare Moon and became a symbol of terror and fear. For such actions we were banished to the moon for one thousand years by our sister. Even now many have not forgotten about our legacy; but many have been willing to forgive," she explained.
"How very...hollow-like. Perhaps I underestimated them," Ulquiorra thought to himself. "Is it permitted for the books to be removed from the physical constraints of the library?"
"But of course."
Without a word Ulquiorra closed the book and placed it atop the pile before kneeling down to effortlessly lift the pile as he stood back up before approaching Luna. Luna said nothing as she watched him take a position to her side but she smiled to herself. The significance of the gesture was not lost to her. Without a word she moved to leave the library, Ulquiorra following close behind. At the very least the night princess had managed to prove interesting.