The mask broke, fragments blowing away in the wind and slowly disintegrating. The orange-haired teen stood, panting, before bringing up his sword to block Ulquiorra’s strike. Staring at the Arrancar’s large emerald eyes he pushed him away with his Zanpakuto. Far behind the Cuatro Espada, sat Aizen, casually drinking his tea as if training a Vizard was an everyday occurrence. Biting his lip, he continued to strike at Ulquiorra. He had to gain control over his Hollow, if he failed to do so the consequences were severe; is Hollow would take over and kill everyone he loved.
So pathetic, King… The albino Hollow, who he now called Shiro, taunted. Manic laughter echoed in his mind. Mind letting me take over?
“No…” Ichigo replied through gritted teeth, saying the words out loud without realising. The Cuatro raised an eyebrow at the substitute Shinigami before blocking yet another attack. A soft sigh escaped his lips; the progress being made was slow, impossibly slow. It had taken three days of continuous training for the teen to reach the level of using his mask, and even then, the longest he had been able to keep it on for was twelve seconds. The boy had proven weaker than Ulquiorra had originally thought, he didn’t understand what use Lord Aizen had of him or why he had given Ichigo the position of Cero Espada.
“Enough, Ichigo, Ulquiorra.” Called the voice of Sosuke. Both turned their heads towards the ex-captain. A smile played on Aizen’s face as he sipped his tea. “I think our dear Cero needs a break, don’t you?”
Ichigo glared at the man before using shunpo to exit the training room. There his Fraccion were waiting, seemingly concerned about their Espada.
“Lord Kurosaki…” Both the girls said bowing swiftly, giving a curt nod in response, he flash-stepped to his room with Loly and Menoly following. Once he entered his large bedroom, he hung Zangetsu on the wall beside his bed and collapsed on his bed, not even bothering to change his blood stained, torn uniform. Sinking into the silk sheets, he thought about his friends and sisters. Yuzu and Karin. Dread dawned on him; his sisters were alone in the World of the Living, expecting him and Isshin to return. He imagined Yuzu cooking meals for a father who would never return, for a brother who was serving a mass murderer. Tears pricked at his eyes, swallowing down sobs, he buried his face into a pillow. When he opened his eyes again, he was surrounded by familiar side-ways sky and oddly-rotated buildings.
“Ichigo…” Zangetsu called, balancing on a metal pole, looking as stoic as ever. Realising where he was, Ichigo frantically searched the area for his Hollow. A still white figure in the distance caught his eye. Shiro. Flash-stepping in the albino’s direction, he felt a melancholy aura surrounding his twin. Naturally, Shiro was aggressive and manic, always wanting to fight Ichigo for control over his body- but the albino’s expression was thoughtful, his shoulders slumping in defeat.
“Shiro?” Ichigo said, placing a hand on his shoulder, causing said Hollow to jump.
“King?!” He sputtered looking incredulous. “When did you get here?”
“Seriously, you didn’t know? What were you so engrossed in thinking about that you didn’t realise your arch-nemesis arriving?” Ichigo asked, shocked.
“Who said you were my ‘arch-nemesis’?” The Hollow muttered. “If you came to fight, let me tell you, I’m not in the mood.”
Ichigo was taken aback. Did Shiro just say he wasn’t in the mood to fight? “I thought your only goal in life was to fight?”
“Ouch. You hurt my feelings.” Shiro replied, half-heartedly, acting out stabbing a knife through his heart.
“You’re a Hollow; you don’t have feelings. Or a heart.” Ichigo snapped back, growing tired of Shiro’s antics. At his words, the albino’s shoulders slumped even lower and he turning away, looking crest-fallen.
“It may have been true, King, but it wasn’t very nice.” Shiro said before flash-stepping across the buildings, far away from Ichigo.
“I have to agree, Ichigo that was rather savage.” Zangetsu chided, watching the disappearing figure of Shiro carefully, then turning his attention back to Ichigo. “He was in a rather depressed mood when you ended your training.”
“I…” Ichigo started trying to explain himself, but being unable to find the words. He felt bad, Shiro- who was never anxious or worried- had been depressed and he just made it worse.
Emerald eyes scanned the white corridor, a reiatsu lingered in the air. From behind a wall, emerged a scowling blue-haired Espada, looking over Ulquiorra’s shoulder, his scowl deepened.
“Where’s the Kurosaki brat?” He demanded, shoving his fists into his pockets and scanning the room as if Ichigo might be hiding somewhere. The Cuatro mentally snorted at the thought of Ichigo hiding, as if the Shinigami could control his reiatsu to control it to begin with. The idea that Grimmjow was stupid enough to think that he could hide was even more amusing.
“He has retired to his room.” Ulquiorra replied calmly, seeing the Sexta move in the generally direction of the Cero’s room, he moved forward swiftly to grab Grimmjow by the wrist in a vice-like grip. “He shall not be disturbed by trash.”
“What did you call me?!” Shouted Grimmjow, attempting to free himself from the Cuatro’s grip.
“I called you trash.” Answered Ulquiorra evenly.
Grimmjow knew full well that the green-eyed Espada was much more powerful than him, so gritting his teeth he growled at his comrade. “Why does Aizen allow you to train him?”
“Because I am not reckless, and will not kill him in the process.”
“Damn you, I was supposed to fight the brat!” Yelled the Sexta, finally pulling his wrist out of the other Espada’s grasp.
Ulquiorra’s eyes widened ever so slightly. “Are you jealous?”
“Fuck! I’m not jealous, I just want to beat Kurosaki.” Huffed the blue-head, his face reddening at the accusation. Giving one last murderous glare to the Cuatro, he shunpoed away.
Ulquiorra observed his fellow Espada, before reaching a conclusion for Grimmjow’s behaviour. The Sexta was definitely jealous.
Ugh. Grimmjow was pissed. Again. Ulquiorra had called him jealous? Why would he be jealous of the Cuatro? Clutching his hair, he almost tore it out in frustration. Just at that moment a blonde Arrancar passed him, casting a wary look at the blue-haired Espada before speeding up a little. Familiarity struck him; she was one of the Cero’s Fraccion. Smirking, he grabbed the smaller Hollow by the back of her collar and abruptly pulled her back to face him.
“Where’s Ichigo?” He asked menacingly, his trade-mark psychotic grin splitting his face. Menoly whimpered at the sight, her face paling.
“H-he’s in h-his room, r-resting.” She stuttered, cowering away from the Sexta’s gaze.
“Take me there.” Grimmjow ordered.
“B-but, h-he’s-” The Fraccion was cut off sharply by the other Arrancar.
“Now!” Grimmjow yelled, a manic glint in his eyes. Shaking with fear, Menoly led the way to her master’s room. Without knocking, Grimmjow barged through the door, right into a half-naked Ichigo. The Sexta, who was planning on drawing his sword on the Shinigami the moment he walked in, froze with one foot placed in the room. He had a rather awkward expression on his face. “Errr…”
“Ever heard of knocking, Grimmjow?” Asked an irritated Ichigo with his face reddening by the second.
“Shut up, Kurosaki!” He snapped showing the finger before moving to wait outside, slamming the door behind him.
Sighing, the orange-head pulled on his Espada uniform, running his fingers through his short hair, he faced the mirror. He was one of Aizen’s Espadas now; he wanted to escape the place but he couldn’t risk playing with his friends lives.
You can find a way out of this, Ichigo. You must become stronger. Zangetsu said. Run and you will age, hesitate and you will die.
The sound of someone pounding against his door brought him out from his thoughts. “Hurry up Kurosaki!”
Ichigo swung the door open and scowled at the Espada. “What do you want?”
“We didn’t get to finish our fight last time.” He replied.
“I don’t have time to play your games, go find a ball of string or something.” Ichigo retorted, remembering the time Ulquiorra mentioned the Sexta’s Resurreccion. Grimmjow glowered at the comeback, reaching for his Zanpakuto.
“Mah, mah, we don’t want fights breaking out between comrades.” Said a silky, yet slightly high-pitched voice. Gin appeared between Grimmjow and Ichigo, startling both. “Aizen doesn’t want his precious Cero injured.”
“I can look after myself.” Snapped back the substitute Shinigami, making Gin chuckle lightly.
“Yes, of course.” He replied, his voice laced with sarcasm. Grabbing the Cero by the wrist, he shunpoed to the training rooms where Aizen waited. Grimmjow watched as the orange-head escaped from his sworn re-match once again. Gritting his teeth the reiatsu around him thickened with uncontrollable anger. He was the Espada of destruction. And right now, more than anything, he wanted to destroy Ichigo Kurosaki.
Rukia observed her unconscious friend, her chest rising and falling with every breath, white hair spilled around her head like a halo. It had been a week since Zayla had entered her coma- as Captain Unohana said, the teen’s hopes were slim. A small twitch of her friend’s finger caught the petite Shinigami’s eye. Almost leaping out of her seat, she rushed toward the Shadowhunter. Eyelids fluttered before golden orbs were unveiled.
“Rukia?” She asked softly, a smile stretching across her features. The raven-head smiled warmly at Zayla, then twisted her head towards the door to call for the Fourth Squad Captain. Unohana entered the room quietly, smiling kindly at the girls before helping her patient to sit up in her bed. The blue-haired teen examined her right hand where Amriel was secured tightly around her wrist.
“How are you doing, Zayla?” Retsu asked, observing the Shadowhunter.
“I feel much better, Captain.” She answered. Swinging her legs over the side of the bed to get up. Just then her friends rushed in; Orihime, Chad, Uryuu and Renji looked relieved as their friend stood rather steadily on her feet. “When can we go after Aizen?”
“Ah…” Renji scratched the back of his neck, nervously. “The Head Captain suggests we wait until we can find a way to enter Heuco Mundo.”
“Heuco Mundo?” Zayla asked.
“Heuco Mundo is the Hollow World, it’s where the hollows in the World of the Living come from. That’s where Aizen has taken Ichigo.”
“Can’t we get there through a Senkaimon?” This time the question was asked by Uryuu.
“No, it’s not possible.” Rukia replied. “Hollows enter Heuco Mundo using a Garganta, or a Negacion as Aizen did. Both require a Hollow.”
“How long will it take to find a way?” The blue-head demanded trough gritted teeth.
“I reckon around four or five days.” Answered Renji.
A look passed the Shadowhunter’s face but it went as quick as it came. “How’re are Yuzu and Karin?” She inquired in a voice so quiet, it was almost a whisper.
“Kon is looking after them, Kisuke checks on them now and then.” Said Rukia.
“Perfect; two perverts are with them.” She retorted half-heartedly. Glancing up at her friends, she walked out of the room to the field outside. Inhaling the fresh air, a sense of homesickness overcame the teen; the scenery reminded her so much of home. Pink, Purple and Orange hues highlighted the sky, bringing back memories of when she first met Ichigo; when he saved her from the Hollow. Then the one day they spent killing Hollows and demons, when they both became parabatai and when they had trained together. She had sworn to protect him, but then Aizen… She was weak, so weak. Yammy had swung her about like a doll, but she could do nothing.
Quit blaming yourself aibou, it’s pouring in here!
Finally, Leiko has said something smart.
‘How can I not blame myself? If only I had actually achieved Bankai-‘
And then what…? Aizen was stronger than the Captains themselves. Stop whining about what already happened and think about what you’re going to do next.
Surprising how spending time with your Hollow has actually had an effect. Rai muttered in the back of her mind. Leiko is right, she should think about how she’ll do next instead of lingering on the past. The sound of the shoji door sliding open brought Zayla back from her thoughts, twisting her head around, she saw Rukia.
“We’re going to the World of the Living, you coming?” She asked.
“I’ll come.” Zayla replied. She hurried back into the room to pull on a shihakusho and grabbed her Zanpakuto before following the raven-head to the Seireitei’s Senkaimon, where they met with Orihime, Uryuu and Chad. The group entered the through the Senkaimon, after a short walk through the Dangai, they arrived in front of Ichigo’s house.
“Are you going to tell them what happened to Isshin?” Questioned Uryuu. Rukia and Zayla stiffened the words.
“It our place to tell them, they need Ichigo for this.” Rukia answered.
“But Yuzu and Karin think that Kon is Ichigo…” Orihime said, stating what everyone was thinking. Shaking her head Rukia moved forward to knock on the door, only to have to swing open by Kon himself.
“Where’s Ichigo?” He whispered. Everyone suddenly seemed interested in the floor, dropping their heads low and not meeting Kon’s eyes. “Wh-what happened?”
“Let’s go to Urahara’s, I’ll explain.” Zayla said.
Once they were all seated in the Urahara Shoten, no-one seemed eager to explain.
“What happened?” Asked Kon once more. An awkward silence hung in the air, even the blunt Chad was hesitant to explain. As the silence stretched out, Kon grew more and more impatient with the group’s behaviour. “Will someone -”
He was cut off when Zayla’s phone started vibrating loudly. Glancing at the phone, the Shadowhunter grew tense. “Sorry.” She muttered, grabbing the phone and leaving the room.
“Tell me what happened, Rukia.” Demanded Kon, in an unusually serious voice.
“I was in the Repentance tower before I was taken to the Sokyoku Hill, but when I got there Sosuke Aizen, the Captain of the Fifth Squad, was there and he -”
The shoji door slid open to a pissed off Zayla. She clutched her phone in a crushing grip, a scowl engraved into her features. “I have to go to Idris.”
“Idris?” Uryuu looked up questioningly.
“Home of Shadowhunters.” Rukia said to Uryuu before turning her attention back to Zayla. “Why?”
“War has broken out, they need every Nephilim to fight.”
“What about Ichigo?” Chad asked.
“I’ll be back then, I’m sure. It should be over in a few days.” She assured her friends. “Tell me if you make any progress in the plan.” The Shadowhunter called out over her shoulder, walking out of the room.
A stunned silence enveloped the small group as they watched their friend leave. Rukia couldn’t but feel a foreboding sense of worry wash over her.
The doors to throne room of Las Noches flung open, revealing a small group of Arrancar lead by Ulquiorra. The group made their way to the centre of the room and knelt on one knee to their Lord. Aizen was seated on the throne, his watchful eyes scanning over his creations a small knowing smile stretching across his features. Two of his more trusted companions stood by him, Tousen and Ichimaru.
“Ulquiorra.” Aizen called, elongating the name. The Cuatro lifted his head to meet the ex-Captain’s glare. “How’s my dear Cero faring?”
“He is training with Halibel. He seems to be making quick progress since his last training session with me, my Lord.”
“Why do you reckon that is?” Aizen inquired.
“It may be because he formed a pact with his Hollow, my Lord.” Replied the emo-like Espada.
Sosuke smirked at the answer. “How are the preparations going?”
“Well, Lord Aizen.”
“When will it take place?”
“In two days.”