Author's note: I suck at fight scenes… I hope this goes okay…
Vandular closed his eyes, gently pulsing hollow power through his hands and into Ichigo's body. Not enough to put his hollow in control, it was more than enough to direct Jinzen in the right direction and aid in the awakening of his hollow.
Van was truly angry about what had happened to his son, a soul deep anger that demanded retribution. He'd loved Shiro-hana. True, he could be more than a little selfish and he'd always had a love of terrible jokes, but he'd been a good pup. Strong and capable, willing to meet the challenges life threw at him headlong. He'd always been a warm, cheerful presence, despite the coldness of Hueco Mundo. But then, that was the only life he knew, as a natural born vasto lorde.
Pulling his hands away, Vandular watched Ichigo for a moment before nodding. The teen no longer needed his help. His expression was smooth and his reiatsu had a touch of hollow perfume that signified something was happening. Setting his hands in his lap, the elderly hollow prepared himself to wait.
Unfortunately, he didn't have the chance to wait long. Glancing up he uncrossed his legs, then stood in a fluid motion. He was picking up a flare of powerful reiatsu. No, he was picking up more than one signature. Clearly the shinigami had managed to track him down.
"Damn." He said mildly, trying to comprehend it. How had they found him so quickly? True, this was a high reishi spot like Karakura town… otherwise it would have been more than mildly uncomfortable to one of his kind… but it was nowhere. There was no one and nothing living here, from what he could detect. Even the great herds of beasts that had once sustained his people seemed to be gone.
Sudden suspicion hit him and he glanced at Ichigo sharply. Taking care not to disturb his concentration, he began searching him with claws and reiatsu. He soon found what he was looking for.
"Damn." He said again as he dangled the shinigami badge from sharp talons. He'd never encountered anything like it before but Vandular was certain he'd found the problem. "Ah well." Dropping the badge he turned, assessing his chances. They were not particularly good. There were four… no, five taichou-class shinigami and another presence that he found worrisome. The power was vaguely familiar yet nothing he could remember encountering before.
Looking back at Ichigo he called on his power, forming a dome of energy over the teen. Then he narrowed his eyes, seeking out his blood connection to the land. At first the dome was golden but then it abruptly went blue as he made the connection and fed the reishi of the ground into the protection. Vandular grunted in approval before quickly going to the other side of the mound and fetching Zangetsu. He dropped it in front of the shield, regretting that he had not fetched it first. But the sword could withstand more battering than fragile flesh.
Turning around, he watched as the shinigami appeared in front of him. He knew two of them, the man with the spiky black hair and the one wearing the pink kimono. The others were strangers to him, a male with a wolf's head, what looked like a very young boy – that had to be deceptive – and a man with blonde hair and a rather disconcerting, extremely toothy smile. Vandular stiffened as he caught an all too familiar scent on him. How many pieces had his white flower been broken into?
"Welcome to my homeland, shinigami." He said as calmly as he could, still assessing his chances. The strange power was a boy with black hair, no older than Ichigo. He wore white and his power felt so different. Yet… it called out to something in him. Van knew this power in his bones. "May I ask what you are?" He questioned the boy. If he could keep them talking long enough, Ichigo might complete his Jinzen. Van really didn't want to fight if he could avoid it.
"He is a Quincy. Hand over Ichigo, hollow." The man in the pink kimono ordered. Then he continued, his tone almost regretful. "We do not want to fight you but we will if we must."
"It is wise of you not to wish to fight." Vandular said mildly before gesturing towards the ground. "As I said, this is my homeland. It is most unwise to challenge a shaman on his home ground." That was something of a bluff, but with an element of truth to it. He had immense powers here, in addition to his massive reiatsu. But would it be enough against such a powerful force? He didn't think so. Generally speaking, his way of handling such a situation would be not to get into it in the first place. "However, Ichigo is embarking on a spirit quest. I cannot let you disrupt him before it is complete." He said, concealing his knowledge of Jinzen. He preferred to let these shinigami think him an ignorant hollow, as much as he could. The man in the pink kimono looked puzzled, glancing towards the dome of blue. But it was impossible to see inside.
"What the hell are we talking for? Let's do this!" The man with the spiky hair said with a grin and Vandular groaned, silently. He could feel the bloodlust radiating from him and knew the man was itching for another crack at him.
"I agree." The boy with the white hair said and Van decided to just try to keep them talking. His read on the situation was that it was bad. There were just too many of them, they would overwhelm him in the end.
"Forgive me, but aren't you a bit young for this?" He asked as innocently as he could and the little boy stiffened as the Quincy boy looked slightly pained. "And what are you, if I may inquire?" He asked the man with the wolf head. That was partly genuine curiosity, the old hollow had never seen anything like it. Unfortunately, someone understood what he was doing.
"Enough. You're trying to delay us. If you won't give us Ichigo we will have to make you." The man with the kimono said and Vandular had to dodge as several attacks were launched at once. Too much power…
"I cannot hold back." He muttered to himself before calling on the full power of his reiatsu. It exploded around him in a corona of black and gold light before travelling upwards in a ray of absolute darkness. That darkness spread across the sky and clouds billowed up, lightning flashing and thunder rolling as the storm came. "Forgive me." That was for Ichigo, for his Shiro-hana. They wouldn't want this but Vandular would not go down without a fight.
What followed was very unpleasant for everyone involved. The shinigami tried to engage him as a group but only so many could come at him at once. Lightning bolts flickered and flowed, countered by shinigami power. The little boy called on a power that was iced based, which did not impress Vandular at all. It took him a few tries but he managed to rest one taloned hand on a wing of ice.
"Ice conducts." He said softly before demonstrating the principle. The boy spiraled out of the sky, his clothing smoking and Vandular just barely parried strikes from both man with the kimono and the shinigami with the blonde hair. Then a blow went home and he cursed softly as blade tore into his wing. He had to reinforce himself with reiatsu to keep flying.
The blasts of electricity that followed were blinding and Van called on the winds, using them to knock his enemies off balance. Then he exploited the opening, landing a good slash on the man with the spiky hair. Then he went for the blonde, driving him back with powerful wingbeats.
"I notice you do not call on your hollow, shinigami. Why is that?" He asked and the man didn't answer, just concentrating on keeping sharp claws away from his throat. "Damn!" There was another flash of lightning and Vandular saw something unpleasant directly in front of him. He disengaged and ran, which caused the shinigami to pursue… but someone else was in danger. "Behind you." Van used an ancient power to throw his voice. To the Quincy, it would sound like someone was speaking in his ear. The boy glanced behind him involuntarily and his eyes went wide as he saw the tornado bearing down on him. Van glanced around the battlefield and silently cursed.
When his power was released too long, it had unpleasant effects on reality. That was bad enough in Hueco Mundo, which had no true weather. In the Living world it became even more extreme and several cyclones were forming. Hail began to drop out of the sky, causing the old hollow no real pain but pattering against his bone in a staccato rhythm. Then a kido was fired at him and he had to counter. Vandular growled softly as the battle continued. He was bleeding from several wounds and feeling the strain of this. How much could he take?
"Tenken!" That caught his attention admirably and black and gold eyes went wide as he saw the tremendous thing, swinging a sword at him. Van expected it to be slow but it wasn't. In fact, it was preternaturally swift for something so large and he knew there was only one way he could handle such a thing. Clouds swirled and parted, swirling in a circular pattern, forming the eye of the storm. Vandular danced along the huge thing, trying to hold it in place as his power built. He had to handle the other shinigami at the same time, but they were wary of what was happening above them. A dozen dots of pure light appeared at the edges of the storm clouds and power flowed to meet in the center of the eye-
That was when Vandular made a critical error. He was too concentrated on what he was doing and had forgotten a very important detail. He'd seized Tenken's arm when a sword abruptly thrust out of his own shadow, a shadow he had created with the building of his ultimate power. He gasped softly as it impaled him through the lower chest, cutting through his already weakened hierro and wounding him severely. Even worse, it held him in place for a critical moment. The arm he was holding held Tenken's sword, but his other arm was free.
The fist hit him like the wrath of an angry god. The vasto lorde was knocked away, bits and pieces of broken bone flying through the air. Vandular was in shock as he felt the loss, felt the breaking of something important and irreplaceable. The heavens felt it as well and the storm suddenly went insane. Lightning glowed and gale force winds ripped through the plains, tearing up the long grasses and uprooting the few trees.
Then the wind died as the ancient hollow fell from the sky. He was sorrowful yet peaceful as the ground rose up to greet him. Vandular had lived a good life, for a hollow, and he had few regrets. He mostly regretted that he would never see his last child.
He hit the ground hard, raising a great cloud of dust as his body dug a crater into the unforgiving earth. Wings broke and more bones shattered, but Vandular was already past caring. He could feel the reiatsu draining from his wounds and looked up at the stars, his eyes hazy. In a way, it seemed strangely appropriate.
This was the burial ground of his clan, the place he had been interred as a living man. It seemed right that he would rest here a second time.
Ichigo blinked as he came to awareness and saw the dome of blue around him.
Reaching out with one hand he touched it and it shattered. Wind hit him and Ichigo gasped, trying to find Zangetsu. He had to grab the blade as it rolled past. It had been snug against his little protection, pushed there by the wind. Looking around wide eyed, Ichigo saw the eye of the storm and saw Tenken, silhouetted in the white light. And he saw when the end came.
Papi, no! His hollow's anguished scream sent him into motion but then the lightning struck. At least a dozen bolts hit the ground simultaneously and Ichigo could smell the ozone, see the dry grassland taking fire as the wind whipped it up. That made him lose track of the falling hollow but he saw the impact, saw the cloud of dust and dirt that exploded into the air.
Landing beside the crater, Ichigo caught his breath as he saw the hollow within. Vandular's mask was shattered. Half his face was exposed and Ichigo could see a slight resemblance to the hollow in his mind. The exposed face was very handsome, with clean cut, regular features and an aquiline nose. The resemblance to his hollow was something about the set of the eyes and the profile of the jaw. Shiro had clearly taken more after his mother.
Who cares about that?! Do something you idiot! His hollow demanded and Ichigo swallowed as he realized how badly Vandular was hurt. The usually graceful wings were ripped and torn, one of them folded under him in a way that indicated it was badly broken. A pool of blood was forming beneath him and his black and gold eyes were half-closed, looking sleepy. Ichigo knelt beside him, heedless of the blood and took his hand.
"Van, you have to heal yourself. Please, do something!" He pleaded. He knew he couldn't do it. Ichigo had no skill with healing kido and he doubted his hollow did, either. "Don't leave Rin alone!" That was killing him inside. Rin had a pup on the way. She couldn't lose Vandular, not now, not like this. The ancient hollow stirred slightly before shaking his head.
"Everyone dies… Shiro-hana…" His voice was a fading rasp and Ichigo's grip on that bony hand tightened. Ichigo was vaguely aware of a half-mask forming on his face, aware of the shinigami watching them, but he didn't care. "I can't…"
"Yes you can!" Ichigo could hear his voice going echoing, feel his hollow rising. But he couldn't deny him. This was his father, the one who had held him as a small child, flown him through the endless night. "You can do anything papi! I believe in you!" That sounded almost childish, his hollow's absolute faith in his sire shining through. Vandular sighed, stirring then gasping in pain.
"If you're going to whine at me so much… I'll try…" He murmured. "Help me… up…" Ichigo put a shoulder under Vandular's arm, putting the limb over his back and shoulders. The hollow was surprisingly light but his wings were badly in the way, dragging with every step. "The mound… the top…" He said and Ichigo nodded, helping him to walk.
Vandular was sagging badly by the time they reached the top of the mound. He muttered a quick instruction and Ichigo obeyed, letting the hollow go. He fell to his knees, digging his hands into the hard earth and closing his eyes, his head down. For a moment nothing happened… but then it did.
The reishi of the land responded to the shaman's call, lifting from the grasslands and converging on the ancient burial ground. Ichigo had to step back as the blue light surrounded Vandular, growing ever more intense. As he watched the worst of the wounds bound together and the broken wings straightened, becoming whole once more. Van's mask remained broken, exposing the left side of his face, half his chest and his left upper arm. The light of the reishi seemed to illuminate his tattoos, elegant, flowing depictions of prey animals. Then the light died and Ichigo reacted, catching Vandular before he could fall. To his dismay, he saw that the ancient hollow was unconscious. Looking around, he realized he was the centre of attention and squared his shoulders, scowling at everyone.
Whatever happened, he was not going to let them kill his hollow's father.
Vandular came back to consciousness slowly.
For a time, he thought he was in Hueco Mundo. The air was thick and heavy with reishi. But the smells… the smells were very wrong. He scented wood, herbs and spices, the strong scent of tuna for someone's meal. That last roused him, because it was very out of place. A hollow might have uses for wood, herbs and spices, but not fish…
Van blinked slowly, the world whirling a bit before resolving into a ceiling. The ceiling was white and swirled in a rather pretty pattern. His eyes traced it, quite fascinated. His own people had lived in tents, they had no roofs… Then he blinked as he realized there was something over his face. He tried to reach up to touch it and realized he was bound. What…?
Shiro-hana. Vandular stiffened as the recent past came back to him. His son and Ichigo had convinced him to remain and, using his powers as a shaman and his blood connection to the land, he had managed it. But that had left him helpless at the mercy of shinigami. Van had no illusions about that. While they should be sending him on, he was a unique example of his kind. Squirming, he twisted his head and tried to figure out how to get out of this fix. It wasn't good. In addition to the restraints, there was some form of reiatsu limiter around his neck –
"You really shouldn't be moving like that." A cheerful voice said and the ancient hollow looked sharply to the right. A man was there, wearing an odd green and white bucket hat and licking a lollipop. "You might knock out your IV."
"My what?" Vandular asked, completely confused. The man just pointed to his arm and he lifted his head, looking down and seeing… "What is that?" He honestly had no idea. He was a skilled healer in his own way but Van had left the Living world behind a very, very long time ago.
"It's food. Essentially, we're feeding a steady stream of liquefied reishi into your body." He explained and Van blinked. He would never have thought such a thing was possible. "You were starting to get hungry and it was very unpleasant to be around you." That would certainly have been true. He was normally in complete control of himself but if he became hungry while unconscious his body would automatically seek sustenance.
"May I ask what your plans are for me?" He asked as politely as possible. The shinigami smiled and shrugged, enjoying his sweet.
"Well, many people wanted to kill you. But Ichigo had other ideas… I hope you don't mind the restraints, but no one was willing to leave you alive without them." He explained and Vandular nodded slowly. That was… sensible.
"I see. What is your name?" He couldn't really sense anything with the reiatsu limiter in place, but he thought this man was powerful.
"I'm Urahara Kisuke." He said cheerfully. "But you can call me Kisuke. Now, I have some questions for you if you don't mind?" He asked and Van shrugged slightly.
"I have little else to do." He could at least listen to the shinigami's questions. If any of them were too personal or sensitive, he could refuse to answer.
"Excellent!" Suddenly a notebook came out and Van blinked, wondering if this had been a good idea. "Now, to start with… approximately how old are you?"
"I really don't know. Five thousand years?" He hazarded a guess. "It might be more." Considerably more. Younger than Barragan but older than anything else had been his default measurement. Although now that Barragan was dead, he was the oldest hollow in Hueco Mundo. The shinigami jotted that down and kept asking questions. They mostly related to himself but quickly went into general information about hollows. Vandular found himself reminiscing about his children, how they had grown and developed. He couldn't hide the sadness in his voice and that caught Kisuke's attention.
"Is something wrong?" He asked and Vandular paused before giving the man a small smile. With half his mask gone, he could see it. That was an unexpected positive of the situation.
"In the fight, they broke my mask and I lost essence. I am sterile, now." He said softly and the shinigami's eyes widened. "It is painful. I love children." He always had. They had been his joy in life and as soon as he was advanced enough, they had become his joy in death. "But the change is permanent. There is no point in thinking about it." There was nothing that could be done. "I am on the next stage of my life." That was decline. His power was lower, now, and would gradually continue to fade. It might take a thousand years but Vandular knew it would happen. "Ah, well."
"Can you explain that?" The shinigami asked and Vandular sighed before explaining how a broken mask could sterilize a hollow. It didn't always… only when too much was lost, or part of it was eaten by another hollow. He'd lost quite a bit when Tenken had shattered his bone. They were still talking when someone familiar and welcome entered the room.
"Vandular! You're awake." Ichigo said but his smile seemed forced to the ancient hollow. "How are you feeling?"
"Well enough." He was still alive, at least. He wasn't going to burden Ichigo with his troubles. Shiro-hana would know what was wrong in any case. Had he told the teenager? An interesting question. "Now that you know what has happened, what will you do?" That was also an interesting question. Ichigo sat down beside him with a sigh.
"I don't know. Kisuke, can we remove those restraints?" He asked and the shinigami shook his head.
"No, Ichigo. You know what the Soutaichou said. He'll only be freed back into Hueco Mundo." Kisuke gently chided him and Van blinked. He was honestly surprised that they would let him go at all. Ichigo sighed but didn't protest.
"You have several options." Vandular said and their attention went back to him. "You can, of course, abandon Hueco Mundo and remain in the Living World." That thought pained him and Ichigo's lips tightened in pain and rejection. "The second option is to return to Hueco Mundo and abandon the Living world." From the look on Ichigo's face, that was no more acceptable than the first option. "You could try to bring Grimmjow and Masahiko here…. But that would be difficult. Your child is a hollow." There were certainly shinigami aspects and the child had inherited things from Ichigo, but he was Shiro-hana's son. The nature of the conception ensured that. "And I don't know if I would trust the shinigami." That was definitely a concern. Ichigo rubbed his forehead, looking pained. "The last option is most interesting… I believe there is a chance my youngling could be recovered." That made Ichigo stare and Kisuke blinked, the lollipop in his mouth stopping its' slow movement for a moment.
"What? How?" Ichigo asked, confused, and Vandular looked at him thoughtfully.
"It will be dangerous to you." He warned as the teen frowned. "But I believe it might be possible to gather the scattered pieces of my Shiro-hana from the shinigami who hold him. I hope you know who they are?" If they didn't… but Ichigo nodded.
"They're called the Visored." He said and Van nodded.
"The Visored, and then reclaim the largest piece from you. That will be the dangerous part. My Shiro-hana is a large part of your soul. But with my blood connection I believe it is possible." If it weren't for that, it would be impossible. Kisuke took a deep breath as Ichigo bit his lip, looking down at the floor. His brown eyes were glazed with a suspicious wetness.
"But then I wouldn't see Grimm and Masahiko again." He said softly and Van nodded. "But Masahiko will have his mami… I… I don't know. I have to think about it."
"Take as long as you like. I think this shinigami has more questions for me." Van said drily and Kisuke laughed as Ichigo smiled weakly.
"I certainly do! Now, how many other hollows of your strength are there, approximately?" He asked and Van gave him a narrow eyed look. That was getting into areas he would not discuss. "Um… a bit too sensitive?"
"Yes." He said firmly. Shinigami sometimes approached purifying hollows as a holy mission and that simply would not do, in Hueco Mundo. The balance didn't need more disruption and if they tried to hunt down the great old ones, it would be greatly harmed. "Is there anything else?" They went back to the children, which was less sensitive. Vandular was happy to talk about that. It would only underscore how similar the greatest hollows were to shinigami.
They came at it from opposite directions, but they came to a similar place in the end.