A/N Holy crap this is a long chapter… anyway, it's the last one so I hope that it's good! Incidentally I finished writing it today and as a result I haven't really had time to proof-read it, so please forgive any mistakes and feel free to point them out if you feel I should edit them out given that this is the last chapter. The end of this chapter will tell you more about the future, and I hope you're enjoyed reading this story as much as I have writing it!
"I merely await the right time to act." Ichibei replied, somewhat cheerfully.
"Speaking of which…" Ichigo trailed off, his vision shifting to the sphere of light that encased the form of the Sprit King.
Cracks began to show in the barrier, causing Aizen himself to smirk contentedly. Thus far his plan had worked like a charm, and he was ever so glad that it had gotten this far. Just a few moments more and he would get to bear witness to the final clash between Ichigo and the Spirit King. The final stages of his plan were coming to fruition, and crack by crack on the sphere it became all the more closer.
"I believe your time to move had come, Ichibei, and so too has yours to fight, Ichigo." Aizen stated contentedly.
"It's about damn time." Ichigo said, smirking beneath his horned mask.
The barrier that had surrounded the Spirit King began to break more and more with each passing second, but given the circumstances it felt as if it were an eternity.
Like a chrysalis, the pieces of the barrier began to fall to the ground, revealing the gray-haired man to be still sitting in a meditative position. When the spell had completely vanished, his eyes opened and his neutral expression shifted into a hard scowl.
A moment later he slowly got up from his seated position, grabbing his zanpakuto and allowing it to hang at his right side within his hand. His brow eyes shifted along with his head over several remote areas of the city, though given the locations and which fights had occurred thus far it was clear he had sensed the casualties.
While he did so, however, Ichigo along with Aizen had the distinct privilege of feeling out the other areas of the city, specifically the area where the portals had opened near the pillars. The spiritual signature of the energy masses had completely vanished, meaning that if the king was going to attempt any further acts of aggression he would need to do so himself.
'Which means he'll also have to go through me first.' Ichigo thought.
"So my senses were not deceiving me…" The Spirit King trailed off.
He turned to look at the neutral expressions of Sosuke Aizen as well as the demonic visage of Ichigo Kurosaki, his own scowl still present. The man then felt a bout of rage, specifically because the reason he had exited his protective barrier was purely for the reason that he thought he was completely mistaken as his best soldiers could not possibly lose to hollows.
'The very best of the best… were defeated by the likes of them. What's more, the captains have indeed betrayed me. I knew they were siding with him.' He thought.
"I don't know how you managed to do it, Sosuke Aizen, but you have. Those I consider to be my greatest warriors have been defeated and executed by the hands of your underlings, and even now the former captains, lieutenants, and even several others that allied themselves the Thirteen Court Guard Squads have put aside their hatred of you to betray me. I cannot fathom how this has happened, but I want you to know these things matter very little. Everyone here will die by my hand." The Spirit King stated confidently.
'The depths of his paranoia are extremely vast for him to assume that his former subordinates are now siding with me. Such a mentality makes you all the more easy to read, which is the exact reason your defeat was sealed even before you arrived here today.' Aizen thought.
"As for you… Ichibei, why is it that you are still sitting here while the others fight across the city?" The king questioned, turning to the black-bearded man who floated off to his right a fair distance away.
"I simply wait for the right time to act." Ichibei replied calmly.
"I see… however unfortunately that time will never come." Kenji stated.
The purple-clad man then disappeared in the blur of flash step a moment later, appearing behind Ichibei in the next instance and stabbing his zanpakuto directly through the center of the man's chest.
"You are relieved, Ichibei." Kenji said venomously, all the while leaving his sword lodged in the man's chest.
The bald-headed man's hands slowly reached to grasp the blade of the bloodied sword that pierced through his body, but in a short amount of time his hands fell to his sides, and all life seemed to leave his eyes.
Without any emotion or sense of regret, the brown-haired king ripped his sword out of his subordinate, allowing the body to fall to the grounds of the city shortly thereafter. He then swung his zanpakuto off to the side, ridding it of the man's blood before he shifted his vision back to the two people he wanted to kill more than anything in the world at this point.
At first, he was somewhat startled by the calm and emotionless demeanors he saw, however upon second thoughts it made a good bit of sense. Aizen likely didn't care that an enemy of his was just killed by his own commander, and the face of Ichigo Kurosaki was completely hidden underneath his mask, while at the same time his general appearance and body language made him seem angry and poised to fight at all times.
"I find it interesting that you would cast away the lives of your subordinate so easily. Did his inaction really bother you to such a great degree?" Aizen asked in an emotionless voice.
"If I'm being honest, it did. However, it in no way bothers me more than the fact that you are still alive while my men have perished. As I said, it doesn't matter. When I have killed you, and the rest of those traitors, I will start anew and ensure that peace is restored." Kenji replied.
The king's words elicited a chuckled from the brown-haired man, who closed his eyes for a moment and began smirking in a cocky fashion as he typically did when he knew for a fact he had the upper hand.
"Your perception of the future is very different than my own. This is unfortunate, as between the two of us only one of us is correct while the other is simply clinging to a delusion. Given that everything has gone exactly as I have said thus far, who do you think between the two of us is correct?" Aizen said.
The brown-eyed man across the skies of the city seemed unfazed at the words of his enemy. In fact, he seemed a bit bored or tired after hearing such things given that his scowl lessened slightly and his eyes slightly dropped.
"Over the course of the last thousand or so years I have dealt with those who believed they could overthrow me. Granted you are only the second to come so far as to confront me directly, but the end result will be the same." Kenji replied.
"Say whatever you like, think whatever you like, and feel free to do whatever you like, but I will tell you now it will do nothing to change your fate. You will be defeated here today with the old ways of the Soul Society, but I will not be the one you battle." Aizen stated.
"Ha! Then you would send Ichigo Kurosaki to do the job you are obviously incapable of doing? That is quite comical, especially given the lengths you yourself has gone to come this far." Kenji sneered.
"Do not flatter yourself by assuming all that I have done in my existence is to take you down. You are simply an old wall blocking the path to the future, and thus you must be taken down." Aizen stated.
He turned his back to the brown-haired royal, an action that very clearly aggravated said man, and began to walk away. After a short few steps, he stopped in his tracks and chose to speak one final time before his departure.
"I will move along and ensure the defeat of the remaining squad zero members. In the meantime I will leave the rest to you, Ichigo." Aizen said before vanishing in the blur of flash step.
"That man has great faith in you, though why that is I don't really know. Your nothing all too special, in fact I hadn't even gone so far as to deem you a potential threat." The Spirit King thought aloud.
"Then that was your mistake." Ichigo said in an aggravated tone, eliciting a slight chuckle from the purple-clad man.
"I don't make mistakes my boy, I correct mistakes. However every now and again something evades my sight, such as Sosuke Aizen, or in this case you." Kenji stated.
"Tch, you really think letting me slip under your radar was a mistake? I would argue that it was the only thing you've done right in your life since I am the one who's going to defeat you!" Ichigo shouted.
"Bold words coming from someone who has relied on his comrades to do the dirty work. Tell me, as someone who wants to protect everyone and everything how do you feel about others being wounded in your stead?" The king taunted.
"To be very honest I don't like it at all, but my job here is to make sure you're defeated at all costs. Thus far I have been conserving my spiritual energy, and even now I still possess more than enough to challenge you." Ichigo replied calmly.
The purple-clad man examined Ichigo's body analytically, sensing his level of spiritual energy with a calm exterior. It was certainly above a captains level and comparable to many of his strongest subordinates, but to challenge him would require a great deal more spiritual energy.
"Please, at your level you don't even have a chance of making me break a sweat. Even should you come at me with everything you've got I will be able to crush you within moments." Kenji stated matter-of-factly.
"Heh… who ever said this was the highest level I am capable of fighting at?" Ichigo asked rhetorically.
A massive amount of pressure shot through the air and forced the very winds of the city to whip about for miles. The king himself involuntarily shot his eyes wide opened, almost forcing himself to look at the source of the disturbance.
Around the body of Ichigo Kurosaki's demonic visage swirled a large amount of pitch black, white-laced spiritual energy. Within a moment it covered his body like a protective shield, after which it expanded to such a degree that it became a massive column stretching into the skies so high that it could have been seen from anywhere in the city. The winds picked up more and more, the form of the orange-haired teen now being completely obstructed.
'What is this spiritual pressure?' Kenji wondered, a light amount of sweat making its way down his cheek. He looked into the center of the dark mass of energy, catching a glimpse of what seemed to be the outline of a man's body. Clearly the horned mask was gone, but the exact appearance was still a mystery to him.
Remote Part of the City
"I take it the portal vanished for you as well?" Risha questioned, referring to the group of approaching arrancar and Soul Reapers.
Nelliel nodded firmly at this, her eyes and expression emotionless as she along with several others walked up to the group.
"That can only me that the Spirit King has exited his barrier, which means that everything is almost over." Nel stated.
"Speaking of which… I am a bit confused as to what you Soul Reapers are doing here sitting around. I thought for sure you'd at least try to fight us when the pillars were safe." Grimmjow scoffed.
"We have more pride than that, Espada. When this is over we will go after Aizen, and should you stand in our way we will fight you once more." Hitsugaya stated.
"To be honest I am surprised that all of you have yet to show acts of aggression." Soifon said, her words mimicking the thoughts of many present.
"Fighting the likes of you at this point is meaningless. When this is over and our goal is complete, we will only fight you should you choose to fight us." Risha replied.
"Ain't that a bit interesting? Never thought I'd live to see the day when a hollow wasn't begging for a fight." Shinji said sarcastically.
"That makes two of us." Hiyori added in an annoyed tone.
"Calm down, at least they didn't backstab us like you all thought they would." Lisa stated.
The arrancar present turned and looked at the group of Soul Reapers with deadpanned expressions, obviously finding it insulting that they seemed to think so low of them.
"Why the hell would you…" Apacci began, only to be cut off.
A massive burst of energy from the center of the city instantly forced everyone present to shut their mouths and widen their eyes, though the latter was done involuntarily. Each then simultaneously turned to gaze at the large pillar of black, white-laced spiritual energy that shot up into the sky from the town's center.
"What the hell?" Omaeda exclaimed, sweating in the wake of the energy.
"Who's spiritual energy is that?" Hitsugaya asked to no one in particular.
"It's so powerful…" Orihime trailed off in awe.
"It's Ichigo…" Nel stated.
The group of Soul Reapers and vizards alike, as well as even a few arracnar, grew extremely surprised by that statement. Each then had one identical thought, and that was the simply notion to avoid the center of the city for the duration of the battle each knew to be just a moment from starting.
'Guess he inherited his lack of discretion when releasing spiritual pressure from me.' Isshin thought jokingly, smirking slightly as he gazed at the large amount of energy.
"That… is Ichigo?" Rukia wondered aloud.
'Ichigo… please win.' Several thought in unison, mostly those who desperately wanted to see him once more with their own eyes.
Center of the City: Ichigo vs. The Spirit King
"What is that form?" Kenji wondered aloud out of both confusion and surprise.
The energy finally began to dissipate to the point that a man's body was now visible, though bits of black spiritual energy still flowed around his body. Said man had black hair, deep crimson eyes, and a very muscular figure.
His upper body was covered with nothing but the skin on his chest and parts of his arms still sported the black tribal markings that were somewhat similar to his previous form. His lower body was covered by what seemed to be the bottom half of a pitch black shihakusho that flickered with spiritual energy, the color of which was the same as that which already floated around his body.
"Resurrección, Segunda Etapa." Ichigo uttered.
"A second release form?!" Kenji exclaimed.
"You catch on quickly. Clearly observation is your strong suit." Ichigo jeered from across the battlefield, his face expressionless and his eyes cold and unyielding.
"Don't mock me you pathetic little arrancar." Kenji scoffed, regaining his composure in the midst of his opponent's insult.
"It is clear to me… that you and several others possess something greater than a Resurrección. Yes, that is what has given your comrades the upper hand over my men and you believe it will do the same for you. However, you clearly overestimate yourself if you think such a simple trick will grant you salvation." He continued.
"You really think I've overestimated myself? Please, between the two of us you're the only one who's allowed their pride to cloud their sense of reality." Ichigo countered.
The king released a slight grunt of annoyance at this, choosing silence for the time being in order to get a better look at his opponent. Upon second glance, he caught something that confused him a great deal, and that was the fact that his opponent currently wielded no weapon whatsoever. Two black, clawed glove-like armor pieces covered his hands, and while they themselves were very interesting they clearly weren't meant to be used as weapons.
'Is it possible… that his zanpakuto no longer exists in this form? Or perhaps his weapon is energy-based. I can't approach this battle by just attacking him outright, especially given I don't yet know this forms capabilities.' Kenji thought, analyzing his opponent all the while.
"From the way you're looking at me, I assume you're wondering why I don't have a zanpakuto anymore… am I right?" Ichigo questioned, breaking the king out of his thoughts.
The brown-haired man's eyes widened slightly at this, mostly due to the fact that the boy had been right. An instant later the look of surprise vanished, and in its stead he scowled deeply and glared at the former substitute.
"What of it?" Kenji growled out.
"I'll save you the time by telling you that it isn't energy based like some of the other Espada. My second release form does use a zanpakuto, and I'm about to show you exactly what it looks like." Ichigo stated.
Black energy began to swirl around his right hand at a rapid pace, forming a shape initially around the glove and then expanding straight upwards in the form of what seemed to be an elongated blade while a thin strand of the energy made its way up the teen's arm, wrapping around it and subsequently his shoulder. The energy itself slowly began to dissipate, little by little giving way for the sword that the Primera now wielded.
The color of it seemed to be exactly the same as the zanpakuto he had used in his primary release form, being pitch black, and the length of the blade appeared to be exactly the same as well, but that is where the similarities ended. The four prongs on the guard of the sword now extended out more so, taking on a thinner and more slender appearance. The sword itself seemed to be fused to the clawed glove of his right hand, and from the bottom of the hilt a long, thin, black chain protruded that wrapped itself around his right arm.
"Tensa Zangetsu." Ichigo uttered, swinging the blade to his side in order to very quickly get a feel for the sword as it lay fused to his hand. With that singular effortless swing the wind from shot backwards as if a captain level Soul Reaper had just shot themselves across the battlefield as fast as they were able.
'Remember what I said, Ichigo. The strain this will put on your body will continue to build up until your vision becomes blurry. If that happens, no matter what, I will stop you from continuing, no matter how much you whine!' Zangetsu stated from within his mind.
"Tensa Zangetsu?" Kenji said confusedly.
The purple-clad king looked at the blade with a sense of awe. Simply put it was a magnificent sword, the likes of which matched his own in terms of sleekness and aesthetic beauty. Self-obsession with looks aside, two things stood out about the new zanpakuto.
First and foremost, it seemed to be completely fused to his arm, a technique that hadn't been mastered since the first Spirit King lived several thousand years ago. In fact, it had been with the zanpakuto that he currently wielded, but since then no one, not even Kenji himself, had been able to master that technique. There had been those who had come close, but ultimately they died in the attempt save for one woman who nearly achieved the level so many aspired towards. She, incidentally, was recruited by himself several centuries ago and upon an open discussion she was unable to explain what she had done to get so close.
'No… there's no way he could possibly have achieved that level of power. He's a hollow, and above all else he is incapable of even mimicking something only a Soul Reaper is capable of achieving, let alone something that only one has ever succeeded in mastering.' Kenji thought.
However, then the second outstanding characteristic of the blade came to his mind. The very name, Tensa Zangetsu, as well as its general appearance gave him a great deal of doubt when it came to the issue of incapability to mimic a Soul Reaper. Not only had that been the exact name of his zanpakuto before his transformation, it also appeared to be much the same in its appearance.
'Could he really have done accomplished something like this? A hollow who also has the powers of a Soul Reaper. I suppose if the vizards are capable of gaining the mask perhaps a hollow is capable of gaining something similar to a zanpakuto. But even then to this degree should not be possible.' Kenji thought.
Something then occurred to him, and that was the fact that the very person he was facing, or at least indirectly facing, was a master of manipulating perceptions. Sosuke Aizen seemed to think this boy could defeat him, in fact he had such confidence in that fact that he left him on his own to fight. Given that this was the case, perhaps this was part of Aizen's attempt at intimidating him and throwing him off of his proverbial game.
"I see…" Kenji trailed off, shaking his head to rid himself of such preposterous notions.
"What exactly are you talking about?" Ichigo asked calmly from across the sky.
"I am talking about you, actually. Everything about your appearance, the sword that seems to be fused to your hand, the name your sword seems to possess. I believe all of it is preposterous, a fickle attempt at mimicking a lost ability that no Soul Reaper has ever come to replicate. I, however, want to let you know that regardless of how your sword appears, a false technique can never match up to the power of my sword." Kenji stated.
He brought up his zanpakuto a moment later, pointing its tip across the battlefield in an attempt to show his own resolve and potentially intimidate his opponent.
"I am the second king of the Soul Society, the high lord of the heavens. By my birthright and by my true birth name of Kenji I will take you down." He boasted pridefully.
"I was under the impression a king needed followers. You, however, simply use fear and manipulation to keep others from rising up even before they could become a potential threat. That's not a king, it's a coward." Ichigo countered, aiming the tip of his own zanpakuto at the brown-haired man.
"Enough talk… let's get this started!" Kenji shouted, after which he shot across the battlefield in order to engage his opponent.
The two blades met with a resounding boom, after which both combatants began to parry and slash at one another without a second thought.
Dimension of the Soul King: Entrance of the Royal Palace
"Kisuke?" Yoruichi called as she walked up to the green-clad man.
The humble shopkeeper turned his head with a slightly lost expression present on his face, the likes of which matched that of someone who had been broken out of deep thought.
"Yeah, what is it?" Urahara asked confusedly.
"Nothing… you just really seemed to be deep in thought just now." Yoruichi stated.
"Did I?" Urahara questioned cheekily, grinning in the very same annoying fashion that he traditionally did.
"Yes, and if you don't tell me what about I can always beat it out of you." Yoruichi replied.
The former noble smirked in a manner that only she seemed capable of, her golden eyes giving off a vibe that though she was being playful there was an all too real possibility that she could follow up on her words. This, in turn, made the blonde-haired former captain gulp involuntarily.
"So spill, what was on your mind?" Yoruichi asked.
"I'd say the same thing as you, Yoruichi. You can feel it… can't you?" Urahara asked seriously.
The purple-haired woman nodded solemnly in response, herself knowing full well what the shopkeeper had been referring to. Within this world there was a connection that seemed to flow into the world of the living and the Soul Society itself. Even from here they could feel the energy signature of a battle erupting between two powerful forces, the likes of which many couldn't even possibly imagine.
"To think that he's come this far… I honestly can't believe it." Urahara said, sighing wistfully as he looked up into the sky of the eternal realm of the Soul King.
"It bothers me a lot that this power resulted from his interaction with the Hogyoku, but I don't think Ichigo needs to know I dislike that fact." Yoruichi stated.
The humble shopkeeper knew very well that those words were very far from true. His friend was indeed correct that the Hogyoku was capable of creating something with power like this, but the actual truth of the matter was that the Hogyoku wasn't needed for Ichigo to gain this power. His abilities were fused to his soul from birth, but perhaps the sphere of energy had a hand to play in speeding up the evolution process.
That in mind, there was no way in hell he was going to explain such things to his longtime friend now of all times, therefore he figured he should cover up his knowledge with some form of a jibe.
"Something you don't want him to know? I smell something I can use for blackmail!" Urahara chirped, bringing is fan out and waving it in front of his face.
The purple-haired woman smirked cheekily at her friends words, after which she began to chuckle quietly, if not a little bit evilly.
"Nah, you value your teeth to much too even threaten to blackmail me." Yoruichi stated.
"I could get artificial teeth if I had to." Urahara said childishly.
"Boss…" Tessai called from the gate, interrupting the antics of the two close friends.
Both of the former captains turned to face the kido expert with neutral expressions on their faces, after which the object of the man's words chose to speak.
"Yes, what is it Tessai?" Urahara questioned.
"Sorry, I believe it's just time to leave." A voice called out from the shadows of the nearby gate.
Two figures stood, one concealed by the lack of light and the other in full view. The visible being was a man with dark skin, and thick, black hair which was shaven off on one side and dyed green. He wore golden framed sunglasses, and a green-outlined shihakusho below a white, sleeveless puffer jacket that held the emblem of the royal guard on its back. His outfit was complete with a pair of shortened hakama that revealed his lower legs.
"We're gonna need to get goin' now if ya want to make it in time to the end of that battle. Your boy Ichigo is about to throw down with the Spirit King, and if we're not there to see it to the end then everything might not work out as perfectly as ya planned." Nimaiya stated.
"Yes, I believe it best that we go now… just trust my judgment on this, eh?" The shaded figure requested.
"As you wish… your highness." Urahara said with a slight bow, only to be slapped on the head for doing something that could be considered mockery in front of royalty.
"Ow, what was that for?!" Urahara exclaimed.
Fake Karakura Town: Center of the City, Ichigo vs. The Spirit King
'His movements are very sound…' Kenji thought as he charged forwards, slashing at his opponent in an attempt to gain a greater understanding of his defensive abilities.
The two blades clashed momentarily, after which the black-haired man forced his opponent back across the air with a simple follow through of his blade.
The king of all souls scowled briefly as was pushed back, but he didn't let such disappointment stop him from continuing with his aggression. He used flash step to appear behind his opponent, after which he made to stab through the center of his back and run him through.
Ichigo, however, used sonido to evade the attack, after which he appeared directly behind the king with his blade prepared to strike. His opponent was completely unprepared, and this undoubtedly would result in his gaining an advantage.
The black zanpakuto made contact with what seemed to be an invisible barrier, which in turn made the former substitute scowl. An instant later the brown-haired man spun himself around and launched his blade at the presumed hollow in an attempt to cut him across his chest.
Without even any real effort, the Primera leaped backwards in the air, the blade of his opponent very clearly missing its mark. He landed a moment later, his blade hanging at his sides and his eyes locked on the now smirking form of his opponent.
'Bastard has a barrier around his body.' Ichigo thought out of annoyance. He certainly didn't expect a heads up, but nevertheless it really got under his skin.
"I would wager you really thought you had me there, didn't you?" Kenji sneered condescendingly.
"I guess someone whose come as far as you have has found ways of making up for their lack of fighting ability." Ichigo taunted, still maintaining a scowl and his signature glare.
The purple-clad man released a slight dry chuckle at the words of his opponent, after which he raised his zanpakuto and pointed it directly at his opponent. He smirked once more, after which he chose to speak.
"This zanpakuto is called Hajime, a fitting name given that it was the first zanpakuto to ever be birthed into existence. Over the course of my life I had the opportunity to see my father wield this blade, and as a result of this I am fully aware of its powers. This sword cannot be dulled, it cannot be shattered, and it cannot be stopped. The only flaws this zanpakuto possess as I wield it are the fact that it offers very little defensively, but given my status as a transcendent being I have crafted a means to negate this problem." Kenji stated.
"A transcendent being? You really think of yourself like that?" Ichigo questioned evenly.
"No normal Soul Reaper could wield this sword. No normal Soul Reaper could erect a barrier as strong as the one I currently have around my body, and more importantly no Soul Reaper has ever or will ever rise to the level of power I currently possess. I do not expect a human turned hollow to understand such power, but even if you cannot comprehend it that doesn't make my power any less!" Kenji said triumphantly.
He used flash step a moment later, not even waiting for his opponent's reply, after which he appeared directly at the former substitute's rear. Ichigo immediately turned and parried the attack, after which the two began clashing blades without any hesitation.
With each passing strike the winds shot towards various surrounding buildings, shattering pieces of them in what seemed like an impossibility. The area for miles around the current location seemed as if they shook under the very pressure of the colliding swords, and yet neither of the two combatants had yet to break a sweat.
In the wake of this spectacle of a confrontation, the Spirit King himself found his thoughts plagued by agitation and doubt. Currently, the former substitute turned Espada was keeping pace with him, in fact it would appear that he was able to predict his movements and counter accordingly.
As a transcendent being who wielded a sword that was so powerful no Soul Reaper in existence could even touch it save for a select few, he should have easily been able to overpower the boy with the brute force of his zanpakuto. However, since he was not one singular question continued to pop into his mind.
'How is it that he is capable of keeping up with me?' Kenji wondered.
With one powerful swing, he sent his own zanpakuto crashing down on the form of his opponent, the reason for which was likely just his rage and nothing more. The attack was easily blocked, after which a stalemate ensued between the two opposing forces, neither really choosing to act for the moment.
"Is this supposed to be the strength of a transcendent being?" Ichigo asked, his tone emotionless and his expression unchanged from prior.
"Grrr…" Kenji growled beneath his breath.
The purple-clad man used flash step a moment later, appearing across the air with his blade now hanging at his side and a glare fixed on the crimson-eyed Espada. Without a doubt he was agitated, but what he was going to do about it remained to be seen.
"You seem very content that you are able to keep up with me at this level…" Kenji trailed off, shutting his eyes and taking a deep breath to calm himself.
When his thoughts were once again consolidated he opened his eyes and smirked at his opponent, who still held the same, aggravating, expression he had the entire battle thus far.
"However, you fail to realize that even if your strength and speed are adequate enough to stop my blade, you cannot stop what you don't see coming. Observe, hollow, as you bear witness to what it means to be a transcendent." Kenji stated cockily.
His entire body became engulfed in a bright light that consumed his body at what seemed to be a slow but steady pace. The last thing the Primera saw before the energy dissipated was a cocky smirk, and then the light vanished into numerous purple shards.
'Teleportation?' Ichigo wondered.
Ichigo shifted his vision around the battlefield, not sensing the presence of his opponent but all the while knowing he was there. Given how his opponent had gone about confronting him thus far, he felt as if he knew where the attack would come from, but he simply wanted to make sure.
The very instant that he felt the Spirit King's presence once again he turned as quickly as he was able and successfully blocked the subsequent attack his opponent had mounted. A loud resounding boom sounded off in the wake of the coming meeting of blades, but once that had occurred the two warriors once again stood in place, their blades locked and their postures seemingly frozen.
Between the two of them, however, it was clear who stood to gain an advantage from such an occurrence. The king stared wide eyed with a slight bead of sweat making its way down his cheek at his current situation.
Not only had someone who was beneath him blocked his sword, he had read the movements of his teleportation, which should have been completely impossible. There were only a select few who were ever capable of such a feat, and of those people none of them resided outside the royal family.
'If he had simply dodged the attack I could have understood given that in that case blind luck would clearly be a factor, but he managed to predict my movement and block my attack?!' Kenji thought out of disbelief.
"You want to know how I knew where you would attack?" Ichigo questioned, breaking the brown-haired man out of his thoughts.
The Spirit King made a slight gasping noise out of surprise given that he had both been taken away from his thoughts and also told what he was thinking by the very man he was fighting against. He didn't even get a chance to respond before the very inquiry was answered.
"It's because every time you've tried to come at me so far you've gone for my back. Do me a favor, if you want to prove you're stronger than me…" Ichigo began.
He began to apply more and more pressure to his blade, effectively causing the zanpakuto of his opponent to shake under the sheer amount of pressure. With widened eyes, the ruler of the Soul Society watched as his hand was forced back, little by little.
"Then at least have the guts to come at me directly!" Ichigo shouted, following through with his blade with a powerful motion of his arm.
The brown-haired man shot into the structure of a nearby building as a result, causing it to fall towards the grounds of the city a moment later while he himself remained floating directly where he had come into contact with the current segments of debris.
He disappeared via flash step shortly thereafter, choosing to phase back into existence directly across from the black-haired arrancar that had thus far proven all of his assumptions null and void.
"Ridiculous… that a hollow could read my movements and even manage to push me back for a short instance." Kenji said disappointedly.
"A hollow? Is that what you really think I am? We both know it's not true." Ichigo stated.
The Spirit King's expression shifted to one of surprise a moment later, mainly due to the fact that whatever had just been said unnerved him a great deal. Yes, he had his doubts that Ichigo Kurosaki was a full hollow, but that was again just doubts, not actual fact.
"It is true that I have the powers of a Soul Reaper as my powers have a manifested form inside my soul, and even right now I can tell you that my zanpakuto has a spirit just as it did before. Perhaps he is different, but the principle is just the same. It is also true that I also possess the powers of a hollow in addition to those of a Soul Reaper, evidently just as I did before. However, I am none of those things, because those things do not make up who I am." Ichigo began.
He pointed allowed his zanpakuto to fall to his sides, after which he brought up his left hand and primed his thumb directly at the center of his chest in a prideful manner.
"My name is Ichigo Kurosaki, and above all else I am a human being! I want you to know this because when I take you down it will be for all hollows, for all Soul Reapers, and for all the humans whose lives you were so ready to throw away if it meant saving your own skin." Ichigo stated.
At first the king of all souls stared at the boy with something akin to disbelief. He seemed not to quite register exactly what was said or what he had meant at first, but when he did it made him break out into laughter. The notion that a hollow could defeat him, or even a Soul Reaper, was ridiculous. In fact it was too ridiculous to even consider. Yet the concept of being defeated by a simple human was absolutely unbelievable.
"Hahahaha! Really, you think that identifying as a human will make you…" Kenji began.
He was cut off a moment later by two separate events that occurred in sequence and almost in an instant. The first of these was the sound of what seemed to be shattering glass, which at first confused him given that he didn't really quite know what could be the source of this. However, when his eyes opened he was greeted with a black, clawed glove covering a hand whose open palm was heading directly towards his face.
Almost before he could even register what had occurred, he found himself being thrown into the very grounds of the city at such a speed that velocity rings circled his body before he hit the ground with no grace whatsoever.
'Impossible… he broke through the barrier… with his hand?!' Kenji wondered.
A dark light illuminating the skies above his body broke him out of his thoughts, after which he looked up to see his opponent with his left hand extended and a pitch black cero with a white center forming at its tip. The very feel of this energy was outlandish, so much so that he himself, a transcendent being, almost stood in place marveling at it.
"Cero Cataclysmica." Ichigo uttered.
Any semblance of awe vanished in the brief instance that the attack fire off, releasing a massive ray of energy the likes of which many could only imagine. Kenji, from his position on the grounds of the city, extended the tip of his sword in an attempt to ward off some of the attacks damage, but even he knew that there was no chance of surviving unscathed.
He felt the energy wrap around his body, burning his skin despite the fact that he made the attempt at blocking it with his zanpakuto. A moment later a colossal explosion erupted, shooting black and white spiritual energy into the bright blue skies so high that it could be seen from anywhere in the city.
Ichigo himself only watched as the energy shot up in a pillar-like form, silently waiting for the attacks results to dissipate so that he could get a good look at his opponent. Using such an attack was incredibly risky, even at such a distance away from the pillars given that its residual effects had the potential to smash them outright. However, he quickly found himself relieved that the three pillars still stood strong within their respective portions of the city.
When the energy finally vanished he observed the large crater that had resulted from his attack, but the king himself was nowhere to be found. It took only a moment for Ichigo to shift his head to look at the area across the battlefield in the skies, shortly after which the ruler of the Soul Society appeared, though he was but a shadow of his former glory.
His clothes were completely in tatters, the only portions left being the remnants of his shihakusho that covered his left leg and part of his right as well as his waist. The brown-haired man's skin was burned all over his body, and a large red scar now made itself apparent running down his right arm, which had incidentally been the one he made the attempt at repelling the attack with in unison with his zanpakuto.
'His breathing isn't heavy… which means he still has strength left. Damn, how the hell can that be possible? I was sure he wouldn't be able to move for at least a few minutes after taking that attack full force.' Ichigo thought. He, however, knew very well that letting his aggravation and surprise show on the surface would undoubtedly give his opponent some sort of an edge, therefore he simply kept quiet and dialed it down to a scowl and a slight glare.
"Why exactly is it that you have the strength that you do, boy?" Kenji questioned, glaring daggers at his opponent as he did so.
"I have this strength because at this point I can't allow myself to lose and therefore I have no choice but to be strong. If I am going to protect my friends, my family, and everyone else, then I must be strong enough to defeat you." Ichigo replied.
'He fights for his comrades? Tch, what a complete joke. The strong do not have a need to fight for others as it only serves to weigh them down.' Kenji thought.
The proclaimed king of the Soul Society sighed for a brief moment upon sensing the remainder of the city once more, and for what was the first time since his battle with Ichigo Kurosaki had begun. No longer could he feel the booming spiritual signatures of the remaining members of the zero division, but at this point it mattered very little. He would start from scratch if he had to, and all that remained to be done before he could begin doing so was to defeat the man that currently hovered in the skies across from himself.
"You must be very happy that you are capable of fighting on the same level as me. You must be very happy that you read my movements perfectly when I used my teleportation ability. You are likely happy that you have wounded me, and above all else you must be extremely happy with the fact that you have made me listen to such a foolish explanation of your will to fight." Kenji began, finishing through gritted teeth.
"However… I have yet to show you the full force of my zanpakuto, so prepare yourself, Ichigo Kurosaki!" He roared.
His body became a flash of light once more, after which said light shattered into numerous tiny shards upon dispersing. This time, however, the light materialized directly in front of the Primera.
Ichigo smirked contentedly at this, and immediately thereafter he found it necessary to block the following strike of his opponent. The two warriors began to throw all of their strength into each strike, applying so much so in fact that with each passing collision of blades a large shockwave burst forth, causing the winds for miles around the immediate area to rage in the wake of the brutal force.
"Why will you not simply die?!" Kenji roared angrily, slamming his blade down on his opponent like a ton of bricks.
The black-haired man stared dispassionately at the outburst as he simply stopped the weapon with his own and pushed the sword aside with enough strength that the resulting force toppled a building off in the distance.
The king was not deterred, however, and he once again began to slash and stab at the being he viewed as nothing more than an ant beneath his feet. Truth be told he was having an issue maintaining that particular thought given that if someone he viewed as an ant could injure him that left the matter of what exactly that made him.
"You are nothing!" Kenji shouted amidst a powerful swing.
His blade was once again stopped, after which the former substitute opted counterattack with his own zanpakuto in order to prove he was capable of going on the offensive.
The Spirit King parried the blade, but immediately thereafter Ichigo's fist made contact with his ribcage. To his credit his stance didn't falter in the slightest, despite the fact that very clearly the attack would have crippled a lesser opponent.
For a brief moment the only thing the brown-haired man did was cringe, but then again that was only for a brief moment. Stealing his resolve he began to slash at his opponent once again, using as much speed as he was able while maintaining some semblance of a fighting style.
Each of his attacks, no matter how fast he would swing his sword, and no matter with how much force, would be blocked and cast aside as if it had been enacted with an empty, powerless sword.
With frustration coloring the emotion of his face, the ruler of the Soul Society sent a powerful horizontal swing at his opponent with all the force he was able. It, again, was blocked, but in this instance neither chose to follow up, leaving the blades connected with one another in a stalemate.
The king yet again forced himself to look at the same aggravating expression the black-haired Espada sported. It wasn't the emotionless nature or the perpetual semi-scowl, nor was it the intimidating crimson eyes that seemed to have the ability to radiate power. By far the most aggravating aspect of the look was what it implied. It was deadly serious, the look of a warrior who has devoted everything in his heart into the battle.
'That look on his face… the look of a man facing off against an opponent he views as his equal, a man who seeks to understand my nature and the reasons that I fight.' Kenji thought.
His teeth bean to grind against one another within his mouth and his hands began to shake out of anger. To be brought down to the level of this man was the most obnoxious offense to his pride that Sosuke Aizen had ever mounted. What's more, he had yet to do anything to prove this was incorrect.
"I can't stand that look… the fact that you believe us to be equals in this battle… the fact that you seek to understand me. However, you fail to consider that if I so wished in could run you through in an instant!" Kenji roared.
Very quickly he drew his sword back and stabbed it forwards without a second thought. He half expected the attack to be blocked, but that didn't really matter to him given that it was an attack of pure anger and frustration.
To his surprise, somewhat, the sound of piercing flesh graced his ears, causing him to look, wide-eyed, at the science before him. His zanpakuto was currently lodged in the upper left shoulder of his opponent, but the black-haired Espada did little more than continue to stare directly into his eyes with his zanpakuto still placed where it had been before their stalemate had ended.
'Why did he…' Kenji thought.
The Spirit King's would be mental questioning was cut short upon seeing the former substitute bring up his left hand and grab onto his zanpakuto and tightly as he could. No sooner than this happened the brown-haired man tried to pull the blade out of the man's shoulder, but despite his best efforts he simply found himself unable to do so.
"Impossible…" Kenji uttered. The fact that his blade could even be touched by this man was something that should not even be capable of occurring. At the very least his skin should burn under the pressure, and yet it did not.
"My turn." Ichigo uttered, drawing back his blade to illustrate rather clearly his intent.
At this, the eyes of the brown-haired man widened and he himself let loose a quiet, involuntary gasp. Before he knew it, the obsidian zanpakuto came slashing across his chest in a pseudo-diagonal manner, causing blood to pour forth from the wound and fly into the air around the bodies.
Feeling the immense wave of pain shoot through his body, the king of souls opted to retreat as best as he knew how. In a flash of light, his body quickly vanished, reappearing a moment later across the skies with the wound still releasing a good amount of blood.
The king's very eyes shook as he brought up his free left hand to lightly touch the wound he had recently received. At this very moment in time, he felt something he had never felt in his life before, and that was the fear of his own mortality. A god cannot die, and yet even now he was shaking in fear that he had the potential to fall to the grounds of this city without any ability to stop his own demise.
'No one should be able to do this to me… unless…' Kenji thought.
He looked back at the form of Ichigo Kurosaki, the man who still held the very same expression of a man who currently poured his heart in his blade and allowed it to do the talking. His thoughts were that if such a man could cause a god to feel his own mortality, then perhaps there was the likely possibility that the level of power the former substitute currently possessed was indeed that of a Soul Reaper's strongest form.
'A hollow that can fuse with his blade? That's… not possible… no hollow is capable of doing such a thing. Is it because he also possesses the powers of a Soul Reaper? Or perhaps it is something different altogether.' Kenji thought.
One thing remained certain, however, and that was the undeniable fact that the manner in which the black-haired Espada currently wielded his blade was not a cheap mimicry of his own father's technique. It was the real thing. Such a concept caused the Spirit King to forget his previous doubts and shake with rage, his teeth grinding together because of this.
"How can someone like you possibly wound me?! How can someone like you have stumbled upon a technique that even I have yet to achieve?! How is it that above all else I have been unable to kill you?!" Kenji shouted angrily, his spiritual energy flaring uncontrollably as he did so.
"The fact that you don't understand goes to show how horribly arrogant you've become. For as much power as you have, you're incredibly weak. The reason is simply because you have nothing to fight for." Ichigo began.
"HA! A human is calling me, a being that has surpassed simple hollows and Soul Reapers, weak. How humorous." Kenji replied sarcastically.
"That is because it's true. True strength comes from the ability to draw on what your heart truly desires and it is that desire that drives us to become even more powerful than we already are and in doing so we become strong. However during our fight I realized that you simply don't have anything worth fighting for." Ichigo stated.
"I fight for myself, for my survival and for my own honor. That has always been my reason and I doubt you will ever understand my desires given that you are but a lowly human who desires to have an ideological world where violence cannot simply pop up at any moment and take away those you care about. Let me tell you something, this world is not, nor will it ever be, that kind of place. The world is cruel and cold, and because of this one must keep a watchful eye if you are to maintain your life as you know it." Kenji said seriously, directing a cold gaze at the black-haired Espada.
"You claim to have a reason for fighting, but your blade says otherwise." Ichigo countered.
"What are you babbling about?" Kenji asked in a bored fashion.
"When I fight someone, when our blades meet in battle, I am able to understand a little bit of what it is that they fight for. I may not notice until after the fact, but still I am able to do so. However when I block your sword and the metal of our weapons meet, I can feel nothing but a hollow shell. Outwardly your sword is strong enough that you claim it won't break, which seems to be correct given that I have tried at one point in this battle to shatter it completely, but even if it won't break your sword is empty. That is how I know you are weak, and that is why I figured out from the start of this fight that I would be the one to win." Ichigo stated.
He brought up his zanpakuto, after which he vanished in the static buzz of sonido, appearing in front of his opponent with his zanpakuto prepared to slash down across his left arm. The brown-haired man blocked the strike, forcing the two weapons into a stalemate once again.
The seemingly radiant blade of the Spirit King shook under the pressure of the former substitute's zanpakuto, during which time Ichigo did nothing but stare directly into the eyes of his opponent.
"Did you really think it would end that easily?" Kenji questioned through gritted teeth.
In response, the Primera forced his sword out of the stalemate and in doing so pushed his opponent across the air in the bright blue sky. The slight skidding of spiritual energy underneath the man's feet could be heard, and his form obviously dropped for a brief period, but even so the black-haired warrior did nothing to capitalize.
"You may not have been taken down by my last attack, but I will just keep attacking, again and again, until your finally lose the will to fight. It's started already, and even now you can probably feel your senses dulling, your grip becoming weaker, and your sword dulling." Ichigo replied.
At this, the brown-haired man became to sweat slightly. The feeling he received from blocking the last attack the former substitute had mounted was that of great unease. The pressure he felt was extreme, a direct contrast to the beginning of the confrontation when he could barely feel anything through the clashing of blades. He could also feel his speed slow, his power waver, and perhaps even at this point he felt his body become tired. Even so, such things were not applicable to a being of his level, and thus he openly denied such things.
"You're wrong!" Kenji exclaimed defiantly.
"If that's how you want to see it, then I won't…" Ichigo began.
Abruptly he stopped speaking and his previously calm deadly serious eyes widened out of shock. His free left hand gripped his face and he seemed to stumble back slightly, the sight of which greatly confused his opponent.
'What the hell?' Ichigo wondered.
The teen's vision from beneath his left hand began to become blurry, a distinct side-effect of the technique he currently used. His teeth grit together and his scowl deepened, and even though his urge to utter a thousand curses was strong he said not a word.
'Not now… not at a time like this…' Ichigo thought.
From across the battlefield, the Spirit King watched with both a sense of confusion and surprise. Upon cursory glance it appeared his opponent was left wide-open and incredibly susceptible to counterattacks. Due to the fact that this had yet to happen over the course of their fight, confusion was indeed the correct response. However, immediately upon seeing very clearly that this was not an act, nor was it a ploy, he readied his weapon with a triumphant smirk on his face.
'He's wide open!' Kenji thought.
Without wasting another second he gathered his strength, bringing his blade up and zooming through the air towards his opponent. He himself gave up everything for the sake of one final offensive, knowing that should this work the fight would be over and the rest would fall before him in fear. In an instant he was before the black-haired Espada and began to bring his blade across his upper body, practically seeing the beginnings of his triumph with his own eyes.
"You're through!" Kenji exclaimed.
Just as his victory was at hand, just as he was about to bring his blade across the form of the man that had challenged his authority and nearly defeated him, he felt a surge of pain. Despite the fact that he felt such a thing, he continued to bring his hand across his body of the former substitute, knowing that whatever injury he had received would mean nothing if only he could end his life.
Sadly, however, he was not greeted with the sight of the teen's death. Rather, he saw but half of his arm, blood flowing from its end, rip across the air in front of his opponent.
His eyes immediately turned towards the grounds of the city upon noticing this, after which he saw the remnants of his arm, his zanpakuto still within his hands grasp, slowly falling to the grounds of the city.
Stealing himself, he brought his left hand across his body in an attempt to retrieve the falling magnificent blade, but his hand was stopped, courtesy of someone grabbing his forearm and preventing his motion.
With widened eyes, the king of the Soul Society turned once more to look at the face of whoever had prevented his triumph, and when he did his very being was shaken to its core.
Holding his arm with a satisfied smirk and a condescending expression was none other than Sosuke Aizen. Within said man's right hand, the blade known as Kyoka Suigetsu resided, its tip clearly bloodied and freshly covered at that.
"Y-you…" Kenji breathed out, his voice one of surprise.
"It's over." Aizen stated.
Kenji brought his half-arm across his body in a punching motion, accomplishing little else than forcing the white-clad former captain to release his left arm and move slightly backwards in the air.
The proclaimed transcendent, believing an opportunity to have arisen, leaped backwards in the air before he turned his sights to the grounds of the city in an attempt to find his zanpakuto quickly before he would retrieve it and continue fighting. When his eyes shifted, however, he saw nothing. The sword was simply no longer there, nor was his hand. He couldn't sense it, he couldn't see it, and he couldn't feel it.
"Looking for your zanpakuto? A pity, I have mine right here in the palm of my hand." Aizen stated, allowing said weapon to fall to his side.
'He couldn't have… not even his zanpakuto should be able to hide that sword from me!; Kenji thought.
"You can look all you want, you can think that my powers don't affect you all that you want, but it cannot change the fact of the matter that you have lost. You no longer have a sword to use, no subordinates to throw at me, and without both of your hands any specific spells you may have wished to use will likely be ineffective." Aizen said.
The king of all souls took a step back from the former captain, something akin to fear striking his being. That fear, however, was nothing compared to his rage. He simply chose to acknowledge his fear because that lead to his momentary retreat while acknowledging his rage would simply lead him to blindly charge the man without a weapon and end up dead.
"I know this is difficult to accept given that you were so close to killing Ichigo Kurosaki, but I will already tell you that even had I not severed your hand just now you would not have killed him… observe…" Aizen began.
The form of Ichigo's body faded into the very air of the skies, after which the real form of the black-haired Espada was revealed to be standing some distance behind Aizen, though he didn't wield a zanpakuto.
'Then he really was open, but even so Sosuke Aizen used that opportunity as bait?' Kenji wondered.
"Are you finally ready to concede?" Aizen questioned.
"I will never concede to the likes of you!" Kenji replied in an agitated fashion.
"You cling to a world of illusions. Allow me to enlighten you as to what this world truly looks like." Aizen stated, his expression becoming serious once more.
Around the immediate area the sound of glass shattering began to echo. In what seemed to be all at once the forms of various warriors began to make themselves apparent around the Spirit King. It seemed that the arrancar, the Soul Reapers, each and every one of them currently stood near his current position. The captains and vizards made their appearances in the skies, while the lieutenants stayed put on the grounds of the city.
The head captain himself seemed to have made a recovery and currently stood among the group that presumably sought to end his life, but that wasn't quite the most surprising appearances that took place. Before his very eyes, each of the remaining zero division members, whom he thought dead at this point, stood at the ready and in one concentrated group.
'Wait… Ichibei?!' Kenji wondered out of shock.
The black-bearded man stood in place with his usual expression of joy despite the current situation and despite the fact that he should have been dead. None of this, however, made any sense to the ruler of the Soul Society, who could do nothing but stare with confusion written all over his face as the group did nothing but remain stationary.
"This isn't possible…" Kenji trailed off.
"Oh it's very possible. In fact it is reality." Aizen stated.
"But… how? How is this even possible?" Kenji wondered aloud in a defeated tone.
The brown-haired royal turned his head to look at various persons in the group, taking note that the arrancar had dropped their released forms, the Soul Reapers and vizards alike currently had their zanpakuto sheathed, and even now all they did was stop and stare with emotionless expressions. One acceptation to this was a teal-haired man who just continued grinning, though his name escaped the mind of the proclaimed king.
"How is it that you have turned the entirety of the Soul Society against its ruler, against its king?! Above all else you are the one who they should desire dead, not me! It was you who murdered Central 46, it was you who was behind the creation of the vizards, and it was you who desired to destroy the souls of humans to enter my realm!" Kenji shouted, directing his angry gaze at the renowned traitor who seemed to have masterminded this entire sequence of events.
"You misunderstand their behavior. They have no intention of joining me, nor did I ever have any intention of allying myself with them. It was your actions, not mine, that have spurred them to this course of action. In fact I had absolutely nothing to do with this." Aizen replied, giving a small smirk to the seemingly panic-stricken man.
"Even so… the royal guard as well as Captain's Kyoraku and Ukitake have shown clear evidence of a premeditated alliance. Surely you don't claim not to have masterminded that!" Kenji pointed out.
"Captain Kyoraku as well as Captain Ukitake were not manipulated by myself. They had faith that Ichigo Kurosaki had proper motivation for allying himself with me, and it is because of this that they decided to see for themselves if what I had told Ichigo to relay to them was true. Ultimately it was your reaction to the defeat of the captains that sealed their cooperation with the matter." Aizen explained.
"And the royal guard… how the hell did you pull that off. How could you have infiltrated my inner sanctum to such a degree?" Kenji asked, practically demanding he be told.
"You are once again mistaken if you believe the royal guard to have joined me in trying to defeat you. They simply wish for a peaceful transition of power, to one who they believe is capable of earning the right to lead. Those among them that you personally chose to be part of your inner circle were deemed as too dangerous to live, and because of this I had my various Espada kill them. Those who remain are those that no longer serve you, but still wish for your life to continue as per the wishes of a certain individual." Aizen replied.
The words the brown-haired former captain chose to use seemed to shock the king of all souls a great deal. In fact it seemed so effective in doing so that he began to shake.
'Peaceful transition of power? That… that isn't possible… there is no possible way they were able to contact him… not when he was under surveillance, there is no way.' Kenji thought.
"Speaking of which, the man responsible for your heart still beating should be arriving shortly." Aizen stated.
As if on cue a large Senkaimon opened up directly atop the encircled group of arrancar, vizards, and Soul Reapers which immediately drew the eyes of everyone present. The wooden gates began to open, giving way for a total of five figures.
Each was nothing more than a walking shadow due to the high amount of light shining from their flanks, but most present could pick out the outlines of at least three of the individuals. Very clearly, one was a woman who wore her hair in a ponytail-style while one was a large, muscular man wearing glasses and another was a fairy tall man who sported a cane, clogs, and a hat. The other two were rather difficult to describe, but one was best noted for the style of hair he chose.
The final figure just appeared to be nothing more than a tall, well-built man with what seemed to be long hair. A select few knew the man they were waiting for was either him, or the man with the oddly-styled hair, but in just a moment they would find out which.
"I-impossible…" Kenji trailed off in disbelief.
The gates of the Senkaimon closed upon the five figures stepping out, each of whose appearance was subsequently revealed. Among them was Urahara, Yoruichi, Tessai, and the god of the swords himself.
'So… that's him huh?' Ichigo wondered upon seeing the form of the group's final member.
The fifth person was a fairly tall, well-built man with gray eyes, and long black hair that went all the way to the bottom of his back. His clothes were pure white with a royal-purple pattern lining the collar and cuffs and appeared to be styles similarly to a Soul Reaper's Shihakusho. He sported no weapon, but had a deadly serious face.
"That's enough… brother." The man spoke.
The group made their descent a moment later, arriving down at the level of the others shortly thereafter. Yoruichi, Urahara, and Tessai went off to the side while the creator of the zanpakuto joined the remaining members of the zero division. The black-haired man who claimed to be the brother of the Spirit King, however, walked towards his brother until he stood shortly in front of Aizen a good distance away from Kenji.
"I would ask that you stop this nonsense and return to the royal realm. I will speak to you about what will occur at a later time. Right now I would like for nothing more than to diffuse the situation." He said in a calm manner.
Though his words were assertive and to the point, they were received very negatively if the brown-haired king's reaction was anything to go by.
"What is the meaning of this?! Are you behind the treachery of squad zero?! If that is the case then I commend you for such treason as not even I thought you were capable of such a thing." Kenji shouted.
"Do not treat this as some sort of power grab. When you first thought of the contingency plan I knew something had to be done, and so I took action when a solution was offered. Now please, brother, stop this nonsense before it is too late." He seemingly pleaded.
"I am what protected us for so long against the likes of men like Sosuke Aizen, and the moment that someone like him slips through the cracks you side with him?! Tell me what I am supposed to think, brother, tell me what I am supposed to feel?!" Kenji roared angrily.
The black-haired man across from him in the skies above the city noticeably cringed at those words. It seemed as if they were a stab to his already heavy heart. He offered no response, however, as he felt it was just his sibling venting for the time being.
"I refuse to accept this! I am the ruler of the Soul Society, I was father's chosen, and above all else I will protect my title to the bitter end!" Kenji exclaimed.
He raised his left hand, extending his palm directly towards his brother. Within the palm a dark, sinister aura of energy began to form, alerting the sibling as to what exactly was about to be fired off. It shocked him to such a degree that his eyes shot wide open and a bead of sweat made its way down his face. However his shock was replaced with sadness a moment later, as he knew all too well what was about to happen.
Kenji made to speak, but the only sound that was uttered from his mouth was an audible gasp. He felt something pierce through his body, and thus his attack vanished before it had even begun to take its true shape. With shaky eyes, he brought his vision to where he knew he would find the perpetrator of that last attack.
He saw someone he half-expected to have dealt the finishing blow, and that was none other than Sosuke Aizen. The man stood directly in front of him with his zanpakuto stabbed directly into his heart. What was more insulting than the fact that he had dared to do so was the fact that he did it with only one hand, making it appear as if it was a meaningless act of swatting a fly that just continued to buzz about in the air.
"Y-you… bastard…" Kenji uttered weakly. He felt his body go numb very quickly, and even now a cold sensation began to extend throughout his being. Never had he felt so mortal, and never in a thousand years would he have expected he actually could.
"This might be difficult for you to hear… but I will tell you regardless given that even as you die I want you to know this." Aizen began in a hushed tone.
The former captain leaned forwards slightly, illustrating that what he was about to say was something that only two people present would ever directly hear.
"No matter what you choose to believe, no matter how many times within the next several seconds you think to yourself 'that's not true', what I am about to tell you is, in fact, true… your death means nothing in the long run. You are but a spec on the overall portrait that is history, a false icon playing the part of an immortal. In truth I don't even find any joy in ending the life of such a pathetic creature, but you stand in the way of what is to come, and what is to come will reshape the structure of the worlds. Die now, knowing that with you dies the past as we all move into the future." Aizen said in a quiet voice.
The Spirit King's eyes went wide for a brief moment, after which all life faded from them. The brown-haired former captain looked blankly at the defeated royal, after which he withdrew his zanpakuto and allowed the body to fall to the grounds of the city.
An instant thereafter and before the body had even made its way a fourth of the way down towards the concrete streets of the city, one of the royal guard members used flash step and grabbed the body before returning to his comrades.
Aizen turned, seeing that it had been retrieved by Tenjiro as he currently had the man's battered and beaten body hurled over his back. His expression was much the same, but anyone who knew anything about his nature could tell he was annoyed he had to do something of that nature.
"Brother… why?" The black-haired man wondered aloud.
The gray-eyed man felt a small stream of tears exit his eyes, after which he hung his head slightly and for but a moment. Shortly thereafter he cleaned his cheeks of the streams, and picked his head up once again. Clearly, however, he was wracked with grief, as even his formerly stern expression gave way for a saddened frown.
"It's finally over…" Yamamoto trailed off, his voice as authoritative and booming as ever.
"Not quite." Aizen said, his voice causing many present who fought for the Soul Society to widen their eyes out of surprise.
Each turned to face the brown-haired former captain who currently stood at the technical center of the group. He readied his zanpakuto, slashing it to the side so as to rid it of the formerly known Spirit King's blood.
"Now that the Spirit King is defeated, all that remains left to do is to defeat the remaining Soul Reapers present, at which point I will have proven who it is that stands at the top." Aizen stated.
The hollows present used sonido to appear behind Aizen in a dispersed formation, their hands on the grips of their respective zanpakuto and their eyes fixed on a random individual who currently made up the large number of Soul Reaper's present.
Along the same lines, the Soul Reapers and vizards used flash step to appear behind the form of the man who claimed to be the brother of the Spirit King in much the same manner, though the lieutenants still remained in place on the grounds of the city beneath the large gathering of warriors. It wasn't necessarily that they had wanted to, but the head captain did so and beyond the shadow of a doubt if the head captain were to trust this man it either meant it was earned or the aged Soul Reaper had finally lost his mind. Many chose to believe the former as it made their next choice rather easy.
"Who among you wishes to challenge me first?" Aizen questioned in an amused manner, pointing the tip of his zanpakuto outwards in order to intimidate those across from him.
"Now, now Lord Aizen… why don't you let us handle this?" Gin asked rhetorically.
The teal-haired man stepped in front of his alleged superior, palcing his left hand on the literal blade of Aizen's zanpakuto. Said former captain quirked a curious brow, after which he made to speak.
"Gin, what is it that you are doing?" Aizen inquired in a calm voice.
"This…" Gin trailed off, grinning even more so as he finished.
From behind the long white sleeve of his uniform, the blade of his Bankai shot forth, piercing directly through the center of Aizen's chest and shooting back even further across the skies of the city.
Everyone watched, wide-eyed, as this course of events unfolded. Within a moment the sword was retracted, after which the teal-haired man turned to face the form of the mane he had just impaled, the same grin still etched on his face.
"There is only one way to escape the effects of your Kyoka Suigetsu, and that is to touch the blade before its powerful influence puts one into complete hypnosis. It took me decades of gaining your trust just to gain that simple fact out of you and even now I am the only Soul Reaper who knows that this is the case. You see, that is why I am the only one who can kill you." Gin stated.
Most present could simply not believe their ears, explicitly because most everyone understood the implication of the man's words.
"Even so… I know simply piercing your chest with my blade won't do you in… and that's why I must apologize to you, because I lied. My Bankai doesn't extend as long as I said, nor does it extend as fast as I told you, however when it extends and contracts it turns to dust for just an instant. Also… inside the blade there is a powerful poison that dissolves and destroys cells rapidly. You see this…" Gin trailed off.
He brought up his zanpakuto and flashed the side of it so as to bring the man's attention to a diamond-shaped hole in the metal immediately thereafter, still grinning all the while. At this, it seemed that Aizen fully grasped what those words implied as an expression of worry quickly made itself present on his face.
"…It's a hole in my blade. When I was pulling my sword out of your chest I left a fragment inside your heart. You see, that tiny chunk of metal didn't turn to dust. Given your expression, you likely realize what this means, and so I would suggest that if you have anything to say you should say it quickly. But no matter what you say, you're going to die very soon." Gin said, bringing his left hand up towards the wound he had just recently given the brown-haired former captain.
"Gin… you bastard." Aizen grunted out, the blood in his throat seemingly not allowing him to say much more.
"Kill 'em… Kamishini no Yari." Gin uttered.
Within an instant the open wound of the infamous traitor glowed with an ethereal blue light that shined so brightly that even the lieutenants on the ground bore witness to its splendor. Any grace the light emitted, however, was overshadowed by the fact that a moment later a large hole opened up and began rapidly expanding where the hole in Aizen's chest had been. The man said not a word as his entire body disintegrated into nothingness, his expression unreadable and his thoughts unknown. It seemed that in death even he knew not what to say.
"Now it's over…" Gin stated.
"Not quite." Ichigo corrected.
He turned to face the group of Soul Reaper, standing at the forefront of the group directly in front of Gin and thereby bringing all attention to himself. For the briefest of moments he stared at the group of Soul Reapers and hybrids alike with a deadly serious expression etched on his face, intentions unclear and his face unreadable.
The black-haired Espada closed his eyes a moment later, after which his body became engulfed in a wave of pitch-black spiritual energy from head to toe. Shortly thereafter it dissipated and scattered in the air near his body, revealing the original form that most present knew and loved, orange hair and all.
"With Aizen dead, Tosen out of action, and Gin turned traitor, leadership over the arrancar falls to me… do any of you oppose this fact?" Ichigo questioned, ending on a slightly louder note.
Somewhat to the surprise of many present, the hollows that stood behind his back said not a word in response. Each just kept a stern expression, as if to say they had absolutely no objections.
"Then if that is the case… as I am in charge it falls to me to choose our next course of action. All arrancar stand down, this fight is over." Ichigo stated, sheathing his zanpakuto as he spoke.
"As you wish, sir." Ulquiorra uttered obediently, mimicking the Primera's action a moment later. The remainder of the group did so as well, not even giving it a second thought despite the fact that most likely had no love for the Soul Reapers.
"Now all that's left is to see where exactly you stand… Spirit King." Ichigo said, looking over at the form of the black-haired man.
"With my brother dead, it is true that I am acting ruler over the Soul Society. However, I will make no decision without the consent of those who surround me. I know my brother has done a great deal to tarnish your loyalty, but I ask that in this you place your faith in me." The man solemnly proclaimed.
"We will follow you, your highness." Ichibei replied sternly.
"As the head captain of the Thirteen Court Guard Squads, I hold no ill will to the royal family. I will uphold my duty to protect you and the remainder of your family and so long as you vow to uphold the laws and traditions of the Soul Society I have no intention of deviating from that path." Yamamoto stated commandingly.
The remainder of those present said not a word in response, even the vizards kept quiet though that was likely because they weren't quite sure what to do. One thing was certain though, that this conflict was over, and so long as this was the case none of them really felt the semantics of whose call it was really mattered.
"Then that settles it…" The apparent new king trailed off.
He began to step towards the form of the orange-haired former substitute, a smile present on his face and his thoughts likely those relating to a better future. For now the remainder of his family was safe, and the mess of his brother was more or less cleaned up. Nothing else really mattered at the moment, and so, with the same smile on his face, he stopped in front of the teen, and began to speak once more.
"I declare by my right as the Spirit King, by my birth name of Takahiro, and by the sovereignty of the crown my subjects have graciously bestowed upon me that this conflict has ended. Though our paths have only recently crossed, it is clear to me that you have helped put to rest a dark part of the Soul Society's history, and for that you have my thanks. Furthermore, there will be no aggression on the part of the Soul Reaper's by my word, nor will we tolerate such actions from our allies. You have my word that with this peace comes just that." The now named Takahiro stated with authority. He extended his hand a moment later, giving a friendly smile once more to the orange-haired teen.
"And you have my word that no arrancar will actively invade the Soul Society or the world of the living. The past is behind us now, and we can all look forward to a better tomorrow." Ichigo replied, shortly after which he took the hand that was offered to him.
"Oh and one more thing…" Takahiro trailed off quietly, causing the teen to raise a curious brow.
The black-haired man leaned forwards, albeit barely, in an attempt to further conceal what he was about to say. Incidentally, the Primera knew exactly what was to be said, but even so he still needed to act slightly surprised given that several likely heard the king say those last few words.
"Your plan involving Sosuke Aizen… I agree so long as the very instant we enter the Senkaimon he disperses the effects of Kyoka Suigetsu on myself and the members of the royal guard. Once we enter the royal realm, he is to hand over his weapon and allow the creator of the zanpakuto to watch over it during his stay. Now tell me… does he understand this?" Takahiro questioned in a voice just above a whisper.
"I don't know… does he?" Ichigo questioned, giving a mock-glance at his rear even though his head and back remained unturned.
"Of course I do, after all I was the one who suggested the conditions." Aizen's smooth voice cut in.
The Primera didn't know how he knew it, but he could tell even now the brown-haired former captain was smirking contentedly. Maybe on some level this did work out for him, but at the same time there was almost no possibility of it doing so. To be sent to the royal realm was both a blessing and a curse for him. For one, his life was spared, but on the opposite spectrum he was in a virtual prison surrounded by those who were more than capable of putting up a fight to even his level of power. The perfect prison if one was to ask any sane person.
"He said yes, he does." Ichigo finally replied, choosing not to add the ladder part of the sentence due to the involved egotism.
"Splendid." Takahiro replied.
The new Spirit King turned his back and began to walk towards the royal guard, after which he seemed to strike up a conversation. Ichigo, however, stood in place, mostly due to the fact that he knew very well a certain individual likely had more to say. Then again he always seemed to.
"I would like to thank you for your cooperation in this matter, Ichigo. It is because of you that this was all possible, and because you have helped me such a great deal these last few months, I will give you some friendly advice. Try not to allow yourself to be killed until next we meet." Aizen stated.
Ichigo released a quiet chuckle of amusement before seeing the form of the devious brown-haired man walk past him and towards the side of the newly named Spirit King. Truthfully he didn't expect to see Aizen any time soon, but ironically enough the last time someone had said those words to him was his inner hollow. Since that time they had become something akin to allies, partners at the very least, and at this point he now believe, even if it was only slightly so, that Sosuke Aizen was capable of making a similar change.
'You sure that you can just leave him alone?' Zangetsu asked out of curiosity.
'Hell no, in fact I know I can't. That's the reason that I'm allowing him to leave like he is. If even Gin can see the logic behind it, I am sure you can.' Ichigo replied.
'Ten to one odds the kid with the spiky hair and the ice sword has a heart attack when he finds out.' Zangetsu stated in a tone of high amusement.
'Your… probably right. But then again it doesn't matter now. By the time he leaves it will be too late to stop him, and eventually he will just be forgotten given that he won't be around plotting to destroy the Soul Society.' Ichigo mused.
"Your highness, what of the traitor captains Gin Ichimaru and Kaname Tosen?" Yamamoto questioned, successfully breaking the Primera out of his thoughts.
"Do you really need to ask me something like that? If you want me to prosecute them for fighting against my brother then I would have to do the same for all of the captains. I hold no ill will towards them, and to be honest it would seem that Gin Ichimaru never had the intent of truly joining Sosuke Aizen. At the same time the only crime Kaname Tosen committed was the murder of a criminal. It is up to you how they are to be treated, but they are given full pardons by my order." Takahiro replied.
The aged Soul Reaper nodded his head at this, after which he turned to face the group of captains and vizards that stood behind him.
"The bodies of the squad zero members are to be retrieved if possible. I would ask that you help in this matter, and any sustained injuries will be tended to by the human Orihime Inoue or Captain Unohana of the fourth division." Yamamoto ordered.
Many vanished in the blur of flash step a moment later, going off to follow orders. Nearly all of the lieutenants did so, however a select few seemed to stay behind.
"Would all of you mind helping them out, I think a few people need to speak with me about something." Ichigo requested.
Without any hesitation, the group of arrancar vanished to scour the city or have their wounds tended. Either way, the only Espada left in the air was Ichigo, across from whom stood the vizards as well as a select few captains. He did, of course, have some company in the form of Gin, but depending on your view that was either a good or bad thing.
The Spirit King himself along with the remnants of the zero division began to walk off into the distance, eventually calling forth a Senkaimon so as to bring about their departure. As a group they entered, but only Ichigo was able to see absolutely everyone among them. He caught a brief glimpse of Aizen looking back at him, after which the gates finally closed, and the man who had put up the greatest challenge the Soul Society had ever seen was gone before his very eyes.
"So Ichigo… you managed to become an arrancar, eh? Can't say I'm happy about it, but even so I guess one way or another you're part hollow like us." Shinji mused.
"More of a perfect mix of hollow and Soul Reaper, but yes, that's the general concept." Ichigo replied, smirking amusedly at the group of vizards.
"Oh, so you think you're perfect do ya?" Hiyori questioned, a tick mark forming on her head.
"Far from it, but still closer than you." Ichigo said jokingly.
"Why you…" Hiyori growled out.
The blonde-haired female ceased her would-be tirade upon hearing the slight chuckles of her comrades. Most of them were laughing, but as she traditionally would she chose to take it out on a very specific person.
"What the hell are you laughing at you dumb ass?!" Hiyori roared, slapping Shinji across his face with her sandal.
'That's gotta hurt…' Ichigo thought.
"Why'd you do that?!" Shinji exclaimed.
"I don't have to answer to you!" Hiyori shouted.
The group of vizards bore witness to their comrades arguing for a brief moment, after which Shinji began to run off into the distance with Hiyori hot on his tail and a sandal raised high in the sky. A majority of them then shook their heads, after which they all vanished in the blur of flash step.
"Well Ichigo… you certainly managed to surprise us." Kyoraku admitted, smiling in a cheerful fashion and rubbing the side of his head.
"Yes, indeed he has. However you have our thanks for following your beliefs. I must admit I was hesitant to listen at first, but circumstance demanded that I at least give your words consideration." Ukitake added, sounding equally as cheerful.
"That's our Ichigo." Urahara stated, bringing out his fan and waving it across his face as he traditionally did.
"Like hell he is. He's mine, not yours." Yoruichi corrected, giving a half-glare to her blond-haired friend.
"Jealous?" Urahara asked jokingly.
The purple-haired woman opted to hit him upside the head, after which the two began bickering in the background as the head captain made his way to the front of the group, his eyes set on Ichigo and his demeanor as serious as ever.
"What exactly is it that you will do now, Ichigo Kurosaki? Will you lead the hollows from within the confines of Las Noches?" Yamamoto asked seriously.
At this those present perked up, even Urahara and Yoruichi ceased their squabbling at that question being asked. The shopkeeper, specifically, was the most curious about this.
"I have no intention of leading the arranar anymore. They can follow me if they like, but I intend to come back to Karakura Town and live out the remainder of my human existence… Tessai, I believe my body is still at the shop?" Ichigo asked.
The muscular kido expert tensed for a brief moment upon hearing the words of the former substitute, but just the same he nodded sternly in response.
'Well I'll be… I had a feeling he was going to do something like this, but it's still good to see he hasn't changed.' Urahara thought, smirking amusedly behind his fan. He did, however, feel a bit of pride at the fact that the teen had come to this choice, especially given that most others would likely have jumped at the opportunity to become the ruler over a large group of powerful individuals.
"Very well, if that is the case then can we consider you an ally to the Soul Society once again?" Yamamoto asked, just to make certain this was the case.
"Hah… of course you can, and in fact you can consider the arrancar to be on good terms with you as well. Do anything to change that, however, and all bets are off." Ichigo replied.
"I will see to it that we do not." Yamamoto said, smiling slightly but genuinely before vanishing in the blur of flash step.
"Hopefully everything went as it should have on your end, Kisuke?" Ichigo asked.
The green-clad shopkeeper stared incredulously at the former substitute for a moment, his expression being one of either confusion on bewilderment. Nevertheless he replied after realizing that an actual question was prompted.
"Um… yes, everything went as it should ha… did you call me Kisuke?" Urahara questioned, his tone likely being one of far more surprise than he likely thought it would.
"That's what I said!" Yoruichi exclaimed.
Their respective reactions elicited an audible sigh from the orange-haired teen, which in turn caused both of the captains to chuckle as a result.
"Does that matter at all?" Ichigo asked rhetorically.
"I guess not. Anyway, where did Gin go?" Urahara pointed out.
"He…" Ichigo began.
The former substitute turned his back to the position he thought said man to be, but he encountered nothing. Somehow and for some unknown reason the former captain had slipped away. The fact that he had wasn't all that concerning, but the many potential reasons were something that sent an involuntary shiver down Ichigo's back.
"Oh well. He'll show up eventually. I'm sure he'd have to, otherwise Rangiku might just skin him alive." Yoruichi stated.
"Hell hath no fury like a woman scored, eh Jushiro?" Kyoraku mused jovially.
"Speaking from personal experience Captain Kyoraku?" Ichigo jibbed from across the airs.
"Now that was just cruel!" The captain wailed in an overdramatic fashion.
"Speaking of cruel…" Urahara trailed off, pointing a warning hand behind the orange-haired Espada.
Ichigo then turned to see the approaching form of Kenpachi Zaraki leaping over several buildings in an attempt to quickly travel towards the area where he and the others floated in the air.
"ICHIGO!" Kenpachi roared in an animalistic fashion.
"Dammit." Ichigo sighed out in defeat, knowing full well what the man wanted.
A sudden pink distortion began to make its way up the man's back, grabbing onto his neck and happily flowing with the wind as the black-haired captain leaped atop numerous buildings.
"ICHI!" Yachiru chirped loudly as the duo approached.
"Dammit… again." Ichigo sighed once more.
With a loud resounding boom, the eleventh division's captain hit the last rooftop without impunity. He landed with such force that the ceiling almost collapsed, but despite this the structure itself still remained intact.
"You owe me a fight." Kenpachi immediately stated.
"Are you serious?" Ichigo asked in a tired fashion.
The black-haired captain simple gave the former substitute an expression that suggested he had recently heard something ridiculous, which in turn made the orange-haired teen sigh.
"Your right, stupid question." Ichigo admitted.
"Glad you at least know that." Kenpachi replied in a joking manner.
"Anyway… can this at least wait a bit? I'm sure everyone has a lot to do, and with the winter war now over I'm sure your busy as w…" Ichigo began, only to be cut off.
"Nope, not busy at all. Now about that fight?" Kenpachi said.
"I… you know what, fine. You can have your fight soon enough, but please, for the love of all that is sacred, wait!" Ichigo practically pleaded.
"Alright." Kenpachi replied, causing most present to look at him with a deadpanned expression.
Noticing the stares, the black-haired captain shifted his vision around the group that hovered up in the skies of the city with a confused expression.
"What?" Kenpachi asked.
"You gave up on that really quickly…" Ichigo pointed out.
"So you're saying you want me to keep pressing, because…" Kenpachi said.
"NOPE! We're good!" Ichigo immediately exclaimed.
"…That's what I thought. Besides, I'm really not the one who gets first crack at you." Kenpachi said to himself.
"Wait, what? Since when do you ever let anyone beat you to a fight?" Urahara asked amusedly.
The stern look he got from the eleventh division's captain immediately cast away his good-natured mood. If Zaraki wasn't going to talk about it, then he most certainly knew whoever was 'first in line' was certainly not someone to mess with. That in mind, there really was only one logical conclusion as to who exactly could make the barbaric man subdued to such a degree.
"Wait… you can't mean her?" Urahara questioned, his voice cracking and his skin paling slightly.
"Yup, her." Kenpachi replied, judging from the shopkeeper's reaction that he knew very well who he had been referring to.
"What's he talking about Kisuke?" Yoruichi questioned, her words mimicking the thoughts of her technical boyfriend.
"Um… well it's… complicated." Urahara replied in a jumbled manner.
"No it isn't! And what the hell is with that reaction?! Tell me why everyone seems to think Unohana is so damn scary!" Ichigo demanded.
He was more confused than anything, and what's more it was the same scenario as previously where two people seemed to know something he simply did not. At least Yoruichi and Tessai seemed just as lost as he was, so it, perhaps, wasn't quite as bad.
"Am I really that intimidating?" A sweet-sounding voice called out from behind the group of Soul Reapers in the sky.
"No, of course not!" Urahara immediately replied.
"Tell me why dammit!" Ichigo exclaimed, practically feeling the fear that gripped the shopkeeper as he spoke.
"Ichigo… first thing is first. I must say I am grateful that you have brought peace to the Soul Society. Secondly, I would like to suggest that you speak to your friends. Since Captain Zaraki is here they are likely not very far behind." Unohana stated.
"Sure… hey, did you do something with your hair? It seems different than before." Ichigo pointed out.
"Hey yeah… it does." Urahara thought aloud, staring incredulously at the now rear-ponytail as opposed to the reverse version the healed traditionally sported.
"Why yes it is different from before, thank you for noticing." Unohana said sweetly.
With a small nod of his head, Ichigo vanished in the blur of flash step, shortly followed by Yoruichi who believed it necessary to keep the teen company for the time being.
After this was done, however, the healer turned to look at Kisuke Urahara, smiled sweetly, and then punched him in the stomach.
"W-what the hell was that for?" Urahara said in a low voice, clutching his stomach as he did so.
"That was for two things, one saying I am scary, and the other for not noticing my hairstyle before. Women are very fickle like that." Unohana replied.
'Ichigo… I completely and totally pity you, especially if she is going to seriously fight you. Oh well, your life is pretty easy as it stands, guess you can handle a little bit of hell.' Urahara thought. He dared not smirk or make any facial expressions as doing so would likely just aggravate the healer more so.
"It still pisses me off that you get to fight him first." Kenpachi stated.
"Too bad, you lost our bet fair and square. Besides, you still owe me a great deal for what you did in Muken. Don't think for a second that I've forgotten about that." Unohana said in an agitated manner.
"Whatever…" Kenpachi trailed off nonchalantly.
"Excuse me Captain Unohana, but what exactly did you two bet on?" Tessai asked with curiosity evident in his tone.
"Rock, paper, scissors." Unohana replied.
"I still say rock crushes paper…" Kenpachi said to himself in an annoyed manner.
"Well tough, it doesn't." Unohana stated, glaring slightly at the black-haired captain.
Remote Part of the City: With Ichigo's Friends and Company
"Hurry you guys!" Orihime shouted as she continued to run through the streets of the city.
"Slow down Orihime, Ichigo isn't going anywhere!" Rukia shouted as she and the others ran for a sizeable distance behind the redhead.
"Listen to Rukia, Orihime. I could stand waiting a bit longer to see that smug bastards face anyway!" Uryu said in agreement, though in his own affectionate way.
In truth many of them could have used a different means with which to travel that would likely get them there infinitely faster, but none of them had the heart to leave behind Chad and Orihime just for the chance of seeing Ichigo all the sooner.
"Calm down you two, let her do what makes her happy." Isshin piped in cheerfully.
"Isshin you really should stop giving advice to children, after all your own son is in this situation in part because of you." Ryuken chastised.
"What's that got to do with anything?!" Isshin exclaimed.
Orihime continued to press forwards despite the sounds that clearly came from behind her. She had to see with her own eyes that Ichigo was alive, and nothing was going to stop her from accomplishing that goal.
At the end of the street, in what for a brief second she thought to be an illusion, she began to see the form of a spiky-haired teenage boy with orange hair. There was very clearly a woman by his side, but she didn't even pay the slightest attention to that. For a moment she considered stopping, just standing still and gazing at the form of the man who she hadn't seen in what seemed like an eternity. However, she didn't have the will or the self-control to stop herself, and thus, she continued to run until she finally jumped at the man.
"Hey Orihim-EH!" Ichigo grunted upon the female tackling him to the ground, her arms wrapped around his midsection so tightly that she had practically emptied his lungs in half a second.
"Ichigo… is it really you?" Orihime questioned, her eyes shut and her grip tightening as she spoke.
"Ori… hime… can't… breathe… crushing… lungs…" Ichigo gasped out.
The bubbly orange-haired woman perked up at this and subsequently released the teen from her grip. She quickly brought up her arms, placing her hands on his chest, and picked up her upper body in order to get a better look.
"It… it really is you…" Orihime uttered, tears forming in her eyes and quickly running down her cheeks.
At this, Ichigo released a quiet gasp. Shortly thereafter he heard the approaching footsteps of what he assumed to be his remaining friends and his dad if his ability to sense spiritual signatures was anything to go by. He then smiled, however, after feeling the presence of the people he cared for so much.
"Yes Orihime… it's me." Ichigo finally replied.
"Oh Ichigo…" Orihime sobbed out, tears now falling from her eyes and dropping on Ichigo's chest.
They stood there for a brief period of time, up until the point that the uniquely classified healer no longer wept. She just stared down at the Espada's face with a smile etched on her own.
"Um… could you get off me?" Ichigo requested.
The orange-haired girl blushed rather noticeably at this, after which she nodded and did, indeed, get up from her position. She quickly turned her back on the former substitute, and while she did not reveal her crimson face to him everyone else save for Yoruichi bore witness to a practical blood-vessel burst.
One among them, however, decided to diffuse the situation and give Orihime some time to recover. It may ruin the moment, but at this point it didn't really matter all that much.
"Kurosaki you bastard, how could you make her cry?" Uryu questioned.
A tick mark quickly appeared on the former substitute's head, after which he opted to make his annoyance rather known given that the white-clad teen just had to ruin the moment.
"I'm ashamed that my own son would make such a lovely lady cry!" Isshin wailed, himself releasing overdramatic tears upon finishing his sentence.
"What the hell is wrong with you two?!" Ichigo exclaimed.
A hand very abruptly slapped him across the backside of his head, after which he turned and glared in the direction he assumed the attacker to be. He, however, only saw air given that he was looking at a height similar to his own. At this, an expression of confusion became present on his face, but that very noticeably angered someone.
"Down here you moron!" Rukia shouted angrily, making to punch the former substitute in the gut.
Ichigo sidestepped the punch, after which he flicked the raven-haired Soul Reaper on the center of her head, which succeeded only in annoying her further.
"What the hell was that for?!" Rukia exclaimed, butting heads with the orange-haired teen.
"I was about to ask you the same damn thing!" Ichigo countered, gritting his teeth.
"It really doesn't seem like it's been so long since we've seen each other… with you two acting like that." Chad pointed out calmly.
The two individuals in mock-combat pulled back their heads and looked at the dark-skinned fullbringer with a contemplative expression on their faces.
"Yeah… I guess you're right." Ichigo admitted, rubbing the back of his head and flashing a smile towards the group.
For a while, no one said a thing, but eventually a certain purple-haired woman decided to clear her throat and diffuse the situation further.
"Ehem… I hate to interrupt this little moment of friendship but to be honest I think you need to tell them something. Right, Ichigo?" Yoruichi pointed out.
Most were confused at this, and for a moment it seemed that even the orange-haired teen himself was lost. However, very quickly he seemed to grasp what she had meant, and thus he spoke once more.
"Right… I guess I should say I'm sorry. I owe all of you an apology for waiting so long to see you. No matter what my goals and motivations it was wrong of me not to come to you directly, and for that I apologize." Ichigo stated.
"You damn well better." Rukia said with a small smirk.
"I-it's okay Ichigo… I k-know that what you were doing must've been really important." Orihime said sheepishly.
"Ehem… not what I was talking about." Yoruichi stated. Once again most were confused at her words, but none appeared more so than the former substitute.
"Wait, now? Why would I have to tell them about that now of all times?" Ichigo asked confusedly.
"Well… we could just show them, if you'd prefer." Yoruichi offered, giving off a smirk that made the Primera chuckle nervously.
"N-no, I think we're good." Ichigo replied.
"Good about what?" A voice called out from a short distance down the road to the left.
Each member of the group turned, seeing Byakuya, Renji, Hitsugaya, and Urahara walking in to join the group. Oddly enough Tessai was not among them, but he was in all likelihood off doing something of importance.
"Hey Renji, Byakuya, Toshiro… where did you guys come from?" Ichigo greeted.
"It's Captain Hitsugaya to… never mind." Hitsugaya sighed out.
"We have come from the finished search. None of the bodies were found, therefore giving us the freedom to do what we wished for the time being. I cannot speak for the others, but I for one am here to convey my thanks to you." Byakuya stated, his words greatly surprising several present.
"What?" Ichigo wondered aloud, likely sounding a great deal more surprised than he thought he did.
"You have helped protect the law and traditions of the Soul Society on this day. On top of that I believe that you have once again, in your own irrational way, brought about peace. For that, I thank you. However, do not get too accustomed to hearing those words." Byakuya said calmly.
"As for me… I'm a bit insulted that you think I need a reason to want to see you after all the crap you've pulled. Taking down the Spirit King, now how the hell am I supposed to catch up to you?" Renji asked jokingly.
"Tch, feel free to climb as high as you can and I'll smack you down any day of the week." Ichigo replied.
"That so…" Renji trailed off with a smirk.
"Could you two knock it off? Anyway, Ichigo, I guess I should say thank you… for more than one reason. With Aizen's evil ended and the arranar no longer a threat I believe that the Soul Society has entered its most peaceful time as of late." Hitsugaya said.
"I'm touched." Ichigo replied with mock-affection, causing a tick-mark to form on the captain's head.
"Would you just shut up and accept my praise for once?" Hitsugaya questioned in an annoyed manner.
"I don't think he's really capable of that." Urahara piped in.
"Yoo-hoo!" A voice chirped from down the streets behind Ichigo.
Out of the section of concrete stepped four individuals in total, one of who being Gin Ichimaru, and the others being three female arrancar that only a select few knew by name, and currently only two individuals present knew them each in that manner.
"Oh great, your back." Ichigo grimaced.
"What kind of a greeting is that? I even went to all the trouble of gathering Halibel, Nelliel, and Risha here for you." Gin said, more to himself than anyone else.
"Did I ask you to?" Ichigo countered.
"No, but never mind that. Anyway, Halibel is upset with you right now because I told her you took back your promise to take her out on a date in the world of the living." Gin began, causing the Primera to noticeably cringe.
"And the other two are demanding that you give them an explanation as to why you didn't offer the same thing to them." Gin finished.
"Hey, why the hell didn't you do the same for me?!" Yoruichi exclaimed, turning and glaring at the orange-haired teen.
Ichigo almost immediately paled at this, mostly because he knew it wouldn't stop there. Within an instant later, such worries would be realized.
"Honestly, given that you have four girlfriends I'd have thought you'd be capable of at least paying proper attention to one of them." Gin stated.
"He has a point." Halibel piped in.
"Agreed." Risha added.
At this, the orange-haired teen felt the strong urge to slap a palm over his face. Most present were at first confused, but very quickly each began to realize what those words implied, one by one.
Byakuya stood in silence with his eyes widening out of shock but his stoic nature not allowing him to do much else. Renji stood in silence but had a wide-open mouth in addition to his widened eyes.
Orihime had a crimson blush on her face, her mouth hung open, and eyes the size of saucers at this information, so many various things coming to her mind at the moment but nothing capable of being synthesized into speech.
Rukia had much the same reaction as Renji, though one could feel that she was infinitely more surprised. Chad just stood in place, not saying a word, but having a slightly open mouth, which for him was an indication of great surprise as well.
Hitsugaya stared wide-eyed at Ichigo with an expression of disbelief etched on his face. It was as if he simply couldn't fathom such a thing, and yet it appeared he knew what was said to be apparently true.
Uryu glared at the orange-haired teen with his arms crossed and a scowl present on his face, however that was likely due to the fact that even he expected more from the young Kurosaki.
Isshin and Urahara were the polar opposite of everyone else present, as illustrated by the fact that they had both begun to dance in a comical fashion as if they had just struck gold or an equally valuable substance. For Isshin that was likely the prospect of grandchildren, and for Urahara it was likely a fount of near-infinite teasing material that he wasn't likely to be bored with anytime soon.
Ryuken, last among the group, mimicked his son's actions only he directed his glare towards the father of Ichigo and his personal friend, despite what he would outwardly imply.
"I-Ichigo?!" Orihime squeaked, not believing what she had heard.
"I… I can e-explain." Ichigo said in a last ditched effort to control the situation.
Everyone looked at him briefly, but shortly thereafter when no follow-up was given the orange-haired teen sighed in defeat and hung his head, obviously due to the fact that he simply couldn't really put what had just happened into words.
"You're welcome." Gin chirped from behind him.
For the briefest of moments Ichigo considered picking a fight with the teal-haired man, but something else came to his mind. Something far more evil than wounding him outwardly or any other prank his mind could fathom. With a smirk present on his features, he vanished in the static buzz of sonido.
Before anyone could even begin to wonder where he had gone, the orange-haired Espada returned with cargo. Tossed over his shoulders was what appeared to be a Soul Reaper with orange hair and a generous bust.
At first glance Gin didn't really think anything of it, but upon hearing the woman's voice he inwardly began to panic.
"What the hell Ichigo?" Rangiku exclaimed, after which she was put down.
The teal-haired man audibly gulped at this and his skin began to pale. He supposed he had something coming, but nothing this cruel. Even Aizen wouldn't have done something like this to him.
"Why did you…" Rangiku began to ask, only to stop as Ichigo pointed a finger directly in the direction of the man who had just recently annoyed him past his saturation point.
"Um… hehe." Gin chuckled somewhat nervously, taking a small step back.
The strawberry-blonde glared daggers at the teal-haired man, ignoring the means by which she was brought here and taking several steps forwards with her sights set on the man she had known since her childhood.
"You…" Rangiku growled out in an aggravated fashion.
"Now, now, can't we talk about this?" Gin asked, holding his hands up defensively.
"Oh I intend to have a lengthy discussion with you." Rangiku replied.
The bubbly lieutenant grabbed the man's collar, after which she began to drag him off down the streets of the city opposite the direction of Ichigo and the others. Gin himself watched as he continued to be spirited away, catching the grin that the Primera currently sported.
'I guess I had this one coming.' Gin thought, releasing an inward chuckle.
"Finally… I've waited to do that for so damn long." Ichigo thought aloud.
"Ichigo Kurosaki…" Byakuya's voice cut in, bringing the attention of the former substitute towards himself.
"Yeah, what is it?" Ichigo questioned, nearly forgetting the reason he had just found the need to exact revenge on Gin.
"It does surprise me a great deal that someone of your nature has found his way into promiscuity, however now that I know this is the case I must tell you this. Ichigo Kurosaki, stay away from my sister." Byakuya stated coldly.
"Big brother!" Rukia exclaimed in an embarrassed fashion.
"F-four girlfriends… four…" Orihime trailed off, seeming as if it was completely to herself.
"Waita go son! Remember to give me lots of grandchildren!" Isshin exclaimed happily, still dancing around with the humble shopkeeper.
"Now about what Gin had told me…" Halibel trailed off calmly.
"WHY ME?!" Ichigo shouted into the sky.
Royal Realm: Palace of the Spirit King
"… and here we are." Takahiro stated, opening the door to the chambers that would service to house the infamous traitor.
The brown-haired former captain stepped into the room, carefully examining his surroundings and taking note of the rather spacious nature of the room. Certainty it was better than a prison cell as he had originally thought he would be in. Then again that plan was cast aside upon Ichigo Kurosaki losing control of his hollow at a much quicker rate. Regardless, none of that matter now, as he was exactly where he expected to be as everything currently stood.
"I take it you find the room suitable?" Takahiro asked, chuckling slightly as he spoke.
"Yes… it will do quite nicely." Aizen replied evenly.
"Once again you have my thanks for your cooperation. I know your hatred of my brother ran deeply, and I am also aware it likely took a great deal of restraint on your part to not kill him until I arrived. It is because of how you have acted that I believe you will one day be able to help make the Soul Society a better place for us all." Takahiro said.
The black-haired man walked towards the doors of the room, making to leave a moment later. He, however, stopped and opted to say one last thing before his ultimate departure.
"It is my hope that you are exactly where you want to be. Now let us put the past behind us and look towards a better tomorrow, eh?" Takahiro stated, after which he left the chambers.
As the doors to the room closed, Aizen smirked contentedly to himself. Releasing a slight chuckle, he reached into the pocket of his white garb, feeling around for a very specific object he had kept closely on his person for some time. A moment later his hand grabbed onto it, after which he brought said hand to his front, and opened his palm.
Within it sat the ethereal orb known as the Hogyoku in all of its glory. Seeing such a thing made the former-captain's smirk grow in size, after which he grasped it in his hand and looked off into the distance.
"Yes… I am exactly where I want to be."
The End… Or is it?
A/N Okay, so this is the end of this story! I have in the past stated exactly what my next one will be, and it is rather late as I am writing this so I would prefer simply to not re-write my explanation of that. If you have any questions at all I will gladly answer them over PM, and I may as well say that this story is extremely LONG, and I am proud of that. If you feel like sticking around for my next words as well as when you can expect. Also I should add that I will update this story when my next work is posted just as an FYI. So with that...
Final Words: This story is extremely long and now that it's finally done I am very happy I decided to write it. Yes, it will have a sequel but I won't work on it for some time. Kind of a trade-off given that I only focus on one story at a time, but I have other ideas I wish to work on. This last chapter was over 20k words, and I still can't believe I wrote that much but then again I'm not the one I wrote it for so I hoped you enjoyed! Expect me to start writing again at the end of next month as I am finishing up with school and will lilely be busy. Also, after a year of basically non-stop writing I am taking a little break, but it won't be too long so don't worry! With that, see you next time!