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Bleach novel: Can't Fear Your Own World-By Narita Ryohgo v.2

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Continued from Volume 1 [LINK]




Poll is located in Volume 1.

For reading earlier translations and other information please go to page 1 of Volume 1.




More translations by Scheneizel: Collected here
Were first posted in Bleach Reddit

(Officially 10 and 11 are Part 9)

Part 10

The Four Great Noble Families, the Soul Society, Hueco Mundo and the World of the Living. With Grimmjow's appearance in front of the Quincies and Fullbringers, a fierce struggle would ensue, accompanying an ongoing conspiracy. Meanwhile, Hisagi Shuhei, alongside Urahara Kisuke were involved in incidents within the World of the Living. In the midst of this chaotic vortex, lay the mysterious existence of the Spirit King.

"It's an Espada."

In a darkened room without windows, Tsunayashiro Tokinada was curiously gazing at the screen of a monitor. This room was similar to the ones within the SRDI, however, this room belonged to the Visuals Department. Tokinada confirmed that the man on the screen was one of the Espada by looking at the red flash of the signal. A candlestick stood on a table near Tokinada. This candlestick was actually a communication device. Tokinada needed to make sure whether the appearance of the Espada was mere coincidence or an assassination attempt. Without hesitation, Tokinada used the candlestick to put through a call. An innocent voice echoed through the device.

"I will fulfill your expectations this time, Tokinada-sama! Thanks to Yamada-san's treatment, I have completely recovered."

"Don't say such things; you have always lived up to my expectations. Let your previous defeat be a lesson to you, learn from those mistakes and this time defeat them at once."

Tokinada suddenly laughed and addressed Hikone once more,

"In your previous battle in Hueco Mundo, Ikomikidomoe was used. Yet I expected you to lose. Do you despise me for that?"

"No, Tokinada-sama! I am always happy whenever your predictions come true!"

"But you know, I wouldn't really mind it if you were to hate me. You will become the Rei-o in the future, after all. In fact, I think it's fitting for our soon-to-be king to hate aristocrats like me."

"I could never hate you! I will never forget your kindness, Tokinada-sama! If it hadn't been for you, I wouldn't even have been born in the first place. Besides, you said it yourself, Tokinada-sama; I was to be on equal terms with you."

Tokinada's smile distorted even further at Hikone's words.

"Thank you, Hikone. I am glad to hear that."

-An equal, huh? I wonder when that moment will come.

A completely different voice was heard from the other end of the communication device, interrupting Hikone.

"This is just ridiculous!"

This voice was dark and malicious, unlike Hikone's cheerful tone.

"Oi, Ikomikidomoe! Don't address Tokinada-sama that way!"

Various rough sounds were heard on the other end, a few dull thuds. Finally, Hikone's voice was heard again.

"Sorry about that. Ikomikidomoe has finally fallen silent."

"Good, Hikone. Ikomikidomoe is a sword that was inherited from others, just like my Kuten Kyokoku and the Ise Family's Hakkyoken. It will take some time for Ikomikidomoe to understand you."

"It's not a bad spirit. I don't mind if I'm misunderstood by it. I just don't want you to be misunderstood, Tokinada-sama!"

"You are kind, Hikone. But alas, I am unable to use that sword myself."

Tokinada's tone was light, as if he was trying to cheer the child up. But in reality, his eyes were burning. It was a good thing that the communication device only conveyed voices, not facial expressions.

"You and Kurosaki Ichigo are probably the only ones who can handle the zanpakuto."

He then paused and spoke further, his voice heavy with intonation.

"Ginjo Kugo may also be able to use it."

"Ginjo-san? I have heard that name before. Is he strong?"

"Why don't you find out for yourself? In fact, the reason I contacted you was for this."

At the moment, the monitor displayed the area of Rukongai where spiritual pressures were soaring. Tokinada's words prompted Hikone to act voluntarily.

"Currently, an Espada is facing off against Ginjo. Take this opportunity to show them that you are the king."

Barely keeping a pleasurable smile in check, Tokinada thought

-Show them that you are the real king's vassal.

On the surface, however, Tokinada encouraged Hikone.

"I am expecting you to win, Hikone."

"Please leave everything to me, Tokinada-sama."

After Hikone had rung off, Tokinada placed the candlestick back on the table. He recalled Ikomikidomoe's voice. He then gave way to intense laughter. Then he turned his attention towards the observation equipment. It was now showing a completely different area. Tokinada narrowed his eyes.

"Karakura Town, eh?"

While analyzing the flow of spiritual pressure around the entire town, Tokinada stated,

"Kurosaki Ichigo is not there right now. It was a wise decision to have chosen this particular time."

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Seireitei; 1st Division office:-

Kyoraku Shunsui was listening to a report.

"Thank you, Momo-chan. We are going to send out personnel to investigate this matter soon. Momo-chan, you wait while Captain Hirako checks out the situation."

"Yes, Head Captain."

Hinamori Momo bowed and left. Kyoraku sighed.

"Things are getting troublesome again."

His lieutenant, Ise Nanao held a document in her hand.

"There was a prior application sent in by the 12th Division to conduct an experiment using the Quincy and Arrancar corpses. Perhaps that experiment went out of control."

"While I don't approve of this, it is true that this could have been handled better; treating our zombies, I mean."

"It was probably an Arrancar that's not under the 12th Division's jurisdiction. We are unable to identify the spiritual pressure from here."

Okikiba Genshiro said gloomily.

"Okikiba-kun, please contact the 2nd Division and ask them to dispatch an investigation team immediately. If the 12th Division makes a fuss then tell them that these are the Head Captain's orders."

Even though Okikiba was older than Kyoraku, he greatly respected Kyoraku's leadership skills. Kyoraku's eyes never shone brilliantly, but they always held clarity, always looking at the bigger picture; he carried the determination to sacrifice certain things in order to protect the greater good, much like Genryusai-dono, thought Okikiba.

Kyoraku had learned many things ever since he had become Head Captain. In order to preserve the teetering balance of the world, Yama-jii had issued an order to sacrifice a part of the Rukongai's population. Kyoraku knew that these actions were outrageous, yet Yama-jii had borne the title of Head Captain for a millennium under such immense pressure. Necessity had often guided his actions, actions which he normally would never have taken. How had he felt when he had issued Kuchiki Rukia's execution order? How had he felt when necessity forced him to abandon Inoue Orihime in Hueco Mundo, labeling her a traitor? How had he felt when he had sacrificed his own arm to bring down Aizen? How had he felt when he was forced to confront Ukitake and Kyoraku for disobeying the law?

Kyoraku could not even begin to fathom how Yamamoto Shigekuni must have felt. Perhaps the time will come when I, too, will have to take difficult decisions, thought Kyoraku, just like that time when I had almost stolen away Ichigo-kun's future. In order to protect this world, I truly believed that there was no other alternative.

"Putting myself in your shoes is difficult, Yama-jii.."

Kyoraku's smile was bitter.

"Now that I think about it; ever since I became the Head Captain, I may have gotten further away from you, Yama-jii, even though now I have the same position as you. One would have thought that I've gotten even closer to you, even though it's actually the opposite."

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

World of the Living; Urahara Shoten:-

"So you're saying that Kurosaki is not here now?"

At Hisagi's question, Urahara nodded.

"Unfortunately, Kurosaki-san and his family have gone on a trip. They left yesterday."

"What? He's travelling? At a time like this?"

Hisagi was surprised at the very notion of Ichigo going on a trip when the town was shrouded in mystery.

"I will contact Kurosaki-san only as a last resort. Remember, Kurosaki-san is not the one in charge of this town. There are Shinigami assigned to this town. I'm surprised that you didn't know this, Hisagi-san."

While gathering various tools and equipment, Urahara continued to speak to Hisagi.

"I was aware of trouble brewing here in this town, but back then, it didn't seem like an emergency, so I didn't stop Isshin-san and Kurosaki-san."

"That person... he was a former captain, wasn't he?"

"Yes. In any case, Kurosaki-san won't be back soon."

"So that's how it is."

"It is possible that this trouble has started at this point in time precisely because Kurosaki-san is away."

Hisagi looked worried, but then shoved that thought into the back of his mind.

"You, Urahara-san, could have easily resolved this situation, right?"

"Yes, but you see, I had my doubts. That's why I decided to wait and observe."

"Did you know that something might occur now that Kurosaki is out of town?"

"Well, it's always nice to be proven wrong in these kinds of situations. The possibilities can no longer be neglected."

Urahara turned his eyes towards the courtyard. As he took the first step outside, something made a noise like the crackling of a TV screen. A young boy's voice reverberated through the air.

"It's been a while, Urahara Kisuke!"

"My! What a pleasant surprise to find you here at my humble abode!"

"Don't lie! You knew, right? A man like you would definitely have guessed."

Urahara waved his fan.

"Of course I knew! But thanks for the compliment."

"You really excel at annoying people, don't you?"

The voice seemed both frustrated and fascinated at the same time.

"You can save both time and effort if you would just explain what's going on."

Urahara's opponent did not rise to the provocation. Instead, a projector came to life; a figure appeared on the rectangular screen.

Hisagi did not recognize this face.

"Urahara-san, do you know this child?"

"Oh, you don't know him, Hisagi-san? Yet you know a lot about his ability called Fullbring."

Urahara looked up at the screen and asked the boy again,

"So, will you please explain, Mr. President, or should I say, Yukio Hans Vorarlberna?"

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Who exactly are you? This isn't a party, you know? People coming in one after the other.."

Ginjo Kugo, annoyed, looked at the Arrancar who had just arrived.

"Well, didn't some Arrancars join Kurosaki Ichigo's group during the war with the Quincies?"

Tsukishima Shukuro had already turned his bookmark into a sword.

"I believe his name is Grimmjow Jaegerjacques, a former member of Aizen Sosuke's army of Espada."

Grimmjow turned towards Tsukishima.

"How do you know me? We have never met before."

"Oh, I had witnessed Inoue Orihime's past; it was there that I had seen you. In the past, you were quite fierce, unlike now."

Tsukishima felt no guilt at provoking Grimmjow. Ginjo, on the other hand, noticed Grimmjow's suddenly warped expression. They were in trouble now, and on top of that, there were the Quincies to deal with, a no-win situation. This three-pronged battle scenario posed a big problem, thought Ginjo.

-Should we retreat for now?

-No, too late. We might find a way to get out of this situation; after all, it doesn't seem likely that the Quincies will hold hands with the Arrancar.

"What did you just say?"

"Funny how that statement got you riled up."

Ginjo decided to smooth over the situation between Tsukishima and Grimmjow. He gestured with his eye at Tsukishima.

"My, you sure have sharp ears, ha ha!"

Ginjo addressed Grimmjow in a friendly tone.

"He was just joking, don't mind him."

Grimmjow was highly affronted. Narrowing his eyes, he rushed forward like a wild beast. The next moment, there was the sound of a collision. The surrounding air shook violently.

"Out of the way."

Grimmjow had moved forwards, his sword drawn. Ginjo, who had thought that Tsukishima was in danger, had tried to protect him by blocking Grimmjow's sword with his own.

"Are you a Shinigami?"

"No."

They exchanged short, staccato remarks amidst their conflict. Ginjo was unable to follow all of Grimmjow's movements with his eye. The spiritual pressure seemed to fade for an instant as though the moving entity was a mirage. Ginjo corrected this sense of incongruity by making use of both instinct as well as his piled-up combat experience. Ginjo felt that incongruity a second time as Grimmjow momentarily evaded him.

"You move strangely. What is that technique?"

At Ginjo's question, Tsukishima replied on behalf of Grimmjow.

"It's a technique used by Arrancars that lets them slip past one's spiritual awareness."

"I see. That must be what is known as 'Sonido', much like Shunpo and Hirenkyaku."

"There are subtle differences between their technique and our own. In our case, we can minimize the fluctuations in the spiritual pressures of our surroundings. But they can escape their opponent's perception."

"Huh! You sure know a lot."

Grimmjow was staring at his wrist. There was a nick on it, blood flowed out of the small cut. He looked up.

Tsukishima's blade had cut Grimmjow. Grimmjow's eyes held doubt as he leapt forward to attack.

Tsukishima's sword had managed to 'penetrate the steel and do damage', thought Ginjo. Tsukishima's ability was effective even from the tiniest of cuts.

"And as a result..."

Grimmjow's sword was blocked by Tsukishima. He had prevented the blow from making contact with Ginjo by a hair's breath.

"What did you insert yourself as?"

"You're wondering why he still managed to land a blow on his 'benefactor'?"

Tsukishima had once done the same to Kuchiki Byakuya.

"Wild beasts such as this one often act on animal instincts. Perhaps that's why it wasn't quite effective."

Ginjo used this opening to pour his spiritual pressure into his sword.

"Everything seems to be wrong! Damn! I'm in the midst of killing these people!"

Grimmjow looked like a vicious carnivore who was stripped of its fangs.

"I'll soon cut through all those lies in your head."

Ginjo swung his sword. The air shook. Grimmjow managed to dodge the attack in the nick of time because of his past experience with Ichigo. Recalling the attack that had just grazed him, he asked Ginjo,

"Your spiritual pressure... Are you related to Kurosaki? A member of his family?"

Meanwhile, the Quincies were watching from afar.

"What the hell are they doing?"

They were trying to judge the course of the fight between the Arrancar and the Fullbringers. Meninas, who had been observing in a leisurely manner, spoke.

"Reminds me of the time when I was forced to use my abilities under the influence of someone else."

Candice recalled the heinous ability of their fellow Sternritter, Pepe, 'the Love'. Even though these two situation were not quite the same, Candice understood.

"Well, at least, this isn't as horrible as that one."

Candice suddenly asked Meninas,

"Hey, Minnie! That scientist, Mayuri.. Do you think we can get away from him?"

"Lil may have found out a way."

Lil had told them that Mayuri was the one who had taken precautions against the 'shadows' of the 'invisible empire', Wandenreich. Lil had always been good at information analysis. Candice tried to imagine what Lil would say if she were there with them.

"Don't be hasty."

Candice suddenly had a mental image of Lil telling her that.

Meninas, observing the battle, said,

"I don't think we should interfere."

"I could burn that Arrancar to a crisp with my electric shocks."

"That's won't help."

"We won't know until we try."

A voice interrupted their conversation.

"It really will be pointless."

Candice and Meninas looked back. An Arrancar was standing there. Luppi Antennor.

"You're with that scientist! Have you come to take us back?"

"Oh no! I've come here for a very different purpose."

His lips curled into a mischievous smile.

"I came to inform you that you are now to retreat."

The Quincies did not understand whether those were Mayuri's orders or the Arrancar's whims.

"Huh?"

"Ah, sorry! I guess that was too difficult for you to understand. I'll explain in simpler syllables."

"You looking for a fight?"

Luppi's provocative words had greatly angered Candice.

"Grimmjow was the one who had killed me. So, now if you'll excuse me..."

Luppi barely managed to spit out the words. At the same time, spiritual pressure swirled around his body. Candice involuntarily took a step backwards. Luppi unsheathed his sword, crying out,

"Strangle, Trepadora!"

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"What was Luppi thinking, running off on his own.."

Cirucci exclaimed as she observed Luppi through the 12th Division monitors.

"He can't win against Grimmjow. I heard that Luppi died at the hands of Grimmjow?"

Dordonii asked Cirucci.

"Yes, apparently it was a surprise attack. His torso was blasted away by a Cero."

"Szayelaporro must have given his corpse the same treatment as ours."

Dordonii tried to speak further about Szayelaporro, but was interrupted by Mayuri.

"Don't say stupid things. It is not difficult to preserve a body."

Mayuri kept speaking as he used one of his hands to operate the monitor.

"That self-proclaimed scientist wasn't so useless, after all. What you all don't realize is that I've modified your bodies to give you greater efficiency."

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*P.S. I'm so sleepy, I think I'll type the rest later. Sorry if I've made any mistakes.*

Part 11

---------------------------------------

"That spiritual pressure!"

Grimmjow recalled that disagreeable spiritual pressure from long ago. He normally did not bother to remember the enemies he had erased in the past; but he remembered this particular one, because its owner had humiliated him.

-But how can this be? I had killed him..

The Fullbringers had also become aware of this new spiritual pressure. Grimmjow, as though by sheer instinct, had suddenly discharged a blinding flash of light in the direction of the approaching spiritual pressure; ignoring his current opponent, Ginjo. It was not advantageous to turn one's back towards one's enemy, but Ginjo did not pursue him. As he barely avoided the flash of light, Ginjo gave this imminent danger his attention.

There was another torrent of distorted spiritual pressure in the form of dazzling light. It was similar to Grimmjow's, but heavier and much denser. The flash of light shot by Grimmjow was canceled out. Grimmjow recoiled slightly. Finally, as the dust cleared, the one who had shot that ray of light appeared.

"I thought it was you."

Grimmjow looked at the newcomer with a mixture of frustration and irritation. The newcomer smiled, frenzied with murderous intent.

"Oh, I'm sorry, I thought that the king had forgotten my face. Thanks for the greeting."

The Arrancar's appearance had changed. Eight tentacle-like vines, as thick as large trees, were protruding from his body.

"I'm so glad that you remember me, Mr. Ex-Sexta."

This specific phrase was meant to provoke Grimmjow. The Arrancar's spiritual pressure in his Resurreccion state was much heavier than before, almost as though it belonged to a different person altogether.

"Luppi Antennor, you're still calling me that? Instead of that, why don't you use the name of the one who killed you?"

"Oh yes, I seem to remember that you weren't too fond of that name."

--------------------------------------------------

"That flash of light just now... It wasn't an ordinary Cero."

Ginjo had managed to just avoid it the moment Grimmjow had fired; in fact, he was able to dodge it in the first place only because he was lucky. Tsukishima, on the other hand, had avoided it by a wide margin.

"You seemed to know exactly when to dodge it."

Tsukishima, who had cut Grimmjow and had caused him to bleed, had peered into his past. Thus Tsukishima knew what it actually was. He narrowed his eyes ever so slightly.

"It was a Gran Rey Cero."

Tsukishima's usual smile was present on his face but as he explained it, Ginjo felt a sense of alarm. Tsukishima turned his eyes towards a hill a little farther off, shrugging his shoulders. Ginjo, too, noticed the part of the hill that had been gouged out by the flash of light.

"Arrancars have evolved that much?"

The two men, both of whom had connections to Hollows in various ways, continued their conversation.

"Good thing we were able to avoid fighting that savage."

Meanwhile, Grimmjow and Luppi continued provoking each other.

"That was a long time ago. Things have changed while you were not around."

Both of them were sizing each other up. They had mutually come to the conclusion that their opponents' strengths were now different than how they had been in the past. Luppi opened his mouth, his voice full of hatred.

"You thought I would die from that, didn't you? But I'm not dying before I kill you, Grimmjow."

"Yes, otherwise the battle would be boring. So do me a favour and stay just the way you are."

Grimmjow condensed his spiritual pressure.

"I don't know how you are still alive and I'm not interested either."

He fired another Cero at Luppi.

"I did not come here to be killed by you. And I won't die from a normal Cero. Didn't you see what happened when you used the Gran Rey Cero before?"

Luppi tried to incarcerate Grimmjow with one of his vines but Grimmjow had already disappeared. He had completely slipped past Luppi's Pesquisa and had appeared directly in front of him. Luppi retaliated swiftly and created a protective layer around him using his vines. But at the same time he realized just how foolish he had been.

"Damn!"

By switching to defense, he had left openings all over. Luppi cursed his defensive instinct.

The blood from the cut made by Tsukishima flowed down to Grimmjow's palm. He used his blood to shoot another Gran Rey Cero; this time a point-blank one. It swept over the mass of the tentacle-like vines rotating around Luppi.

Kutsuzawa Giriko, watching, exclaimed,

"Such power!"

He had shrunken to his original size.

"What should we do? We are outnumbered here."

Ginjo was analyzing the present situation. He figured that the two Quincy women had also realized the dangers of the Gran Rey Cero. However, they made no attempt to move or interfere; they just stood there, watching, observing. It reminded Ginjo very much of the Shinigami who had kept watch over him through his Substitute badge. All of a sudden, he became aware of multiple spiritual pressures.

"Shinigami are headed to this spot. Also, another one...."

Ginjo knit his eyebrows.

"This strange spiritual pressure..."

But it was still far away.

"Is it Ichigo? No, not him."

------------------------

"Oh? You're still alive?"

Luppi's body was burnt and he had lost a number of his vines.

He should have been eradicated, thought Grimmjow. After tasting defeat in the hands of Ichigo, Grimmjow had killed and consumed several Hollows and Arrancars. As a result, his spiritual pressure had risen significantly. Grimmjow was amazed that Luppi had endured through such a potent attack. He then noticed the two marks on Luppi's face, marks that looked as if someone had cut him open and sewn him back together carefully.

"Someone fiddled with your body, didn't they?"

Those stitch marks reminded him of what Urahara had done to him in the past. Grimmjow thought that it either must have been Szayelaporro or someone like Urahara.

Luppi grinned suddenly and spread out both his hands, as though ecstatic at this turn of events.

"Ha ha! So that's what happened!"

His murderous look was replaced by one of pleasure.

"So that's what that scientist meant when he said that we were 'revived'!"

---------------------------------------

"Oh, for the love of god! That moron Mayuri and his stupid experiments!"

Hirako Shinji had reached one of the Seireitei gates and was exasperated by the vast amount of spiritual pressure disturbances.

"That wasn't a normal Cero. I know that guy, I've fought him before."

Hirako wondered if he ought to suppress his spiritual pressure so that he could go there unnoticed.

"Should I put on my mask?"

Hirako sensed another spiritual pressure heading for that area.

"Momo did tell me that Head Captain Kyoraku had mobilized the 2nd Division's investigation team, but this spiritual pressure isn't like that of a normal Shinigami."

The base quality of this spiritual pressure was akin to that of a Shinigami, but there were other elements mixed in.

-Like an Arrancar's? Or perhaps like my own?

-No, there's something else mixed in as well.

Hirako rushed towards the battlefield to join the fray. As he moved, he realized that someone had suddenly joined him, running alongside him, as he sped forth. Hirako was startled to see a child wearing a shihakusho. The child's gender was ambiguous. He exclaimed,

"Hey, who are you?"

The child smiled happily.

"Oh, wow! You are a Captain of the Gotei 13! It's such a pleasure to meet you!"

"Likewise."

Hirako answered, not letting up on his vigilance in the slightest. I guess I could hold a conversation with the kid as I head over there, thought Hirako. Such spiritual pressure! Hirako guessed that the person running alongside him was not really a child, even though it had a small body.

-A mysterious Shinigami with unimaginable spiritual pressure. If this child is still in the developmental stage, then who knows what would happen at the end?

In the midst of his musings, Hirako asked,

"Tell me your name. Which Division do you belong to?"

"I am Hikone, the retainer of Tsunayashiro Tokinada-sama."

As soon as he heard this name, he became alert. That name was familiar to Hirako, who belonged to the older stock among the current Gotei generation. He knew there were exceptions even among the Four Great Noble Families; there were carefree ones like Shihoin Yoruichi and dutiful ones like Kuchiki Byakuya. Nowadays, among the court members, the negative bunch among the aristocrats were mostly removed. Hirako had no intention of getting entangled with the nobles, but he had heard that Tokinada had been involved in a murder incident hundreds of years ago. That incident had also included Tosen Kaname. Things were looking bad, Hirako concluded. He continued speaking to Hikone in a friendly manner in order to extract information.

"Such a rampage going on over there, isn't it?"

"Yes, I know about that Arrancar. He nearly killed me once before!"

Hirako was surprised to hear this. He started feeling uncomfortable.

"How did you know about the appearance of the Arrancar? We, the Gotei, only just received a report from the Visuals Department. Yet, you, who is not a soldier, got here so fast."

"I went to Hueco Mundo. I was supposed to be the king of Hueco Mundo, but I was defeated by Arrancars!"

Hirako dismissed this as a joke. He spoke to Hikone in a condescending tone,

"King of Hueco Mundo, a Shinigami?"

"Why , of course! I will also be a king of the Shinigami and the humans. I am also supposed to become the Spirit King!"

"Eh?"

"Yes, Tokinada-sama told me. The Zero Division and the Gotei are going to protect me in the future. Everyone will respect me. I'm very happy!"

Hikone looked like a little child who was extremely pleased at receiving a present from Santa Claus. Hirako narrowed his eyes.

-Are these the incoherent delusions of a child? Or is there something sinister going on behind the scenes?

Something about the child's unnatural spiritual pressure told Hirako that these words were probably true.

-It was too late to retreat now anyway.

Hirako sighed a little.

"Hey, won't you get scolded for revealing such important secrets to me?"

"Oh, that's okay. I already have permission. Tokinada-sama says that there is no point in keeping it a secret anymore as everyone will soon find out about it."

"Is that so?'

"Are you going to laugh at what I told you, Hirako-san?"

Hirako looked at Hikone. The child was innocent, at the same time Hirako couldn't help but feel a chill.

"No, I won't laugh."

"But even if you did, I wouldn't get angry."

"That's nice of you."

"Hirako-san is a nice person. I wouldn't want to use this sword needlessly."

Hikone glanced at the sword at its waist.

-Even that zanpakuto is odd. I don't like it at all.

Hirako thought inwardly. He asked Hikone another question.

"There is something I don't understand. Are you male or female?"

Hikone answered promptly.

"I am neither. Tokinada-sama told me that I am the beginning and the end; so I do not require reproductive organs, or gender, or growth. That's why I look like this. I don't really understand it myself, either."

"I see. The structure of living beings is indeed complicated."

Hirako maintained his friendly facade, but he was really alarmed. His suspicions of Tsunayashiro Tokinada had increased even further. However, this child did not seem to be evil. Nevertheless, Hirako did not relax his guard around the child.

"I wonder what's going to happen once this kid arrives at the scene of battle.."

--------------------------------------------------

P.S. That concludes this installment. Thank you, u/hypnodarkrai for the images. Forgive me for any mistakes I might have made.


(Offficially part 12 and 13 are part 10)

Part 12

The conflict between Arrancars Luppi Antenor and Grimmjow Jaegerjaques soared in the Rukongai. In the past, Inoue Orihime, under Aizen's orders, had regenerated Grimmjow's lost arm using her powers. She had also restored the skin on his back and the number '6' engraved there. Thus, there had been two with the position of 'Sexta' within the Espada ranks. Luppi clearly remembered the confusion he had felt as he watched the number 6 being restored and Grimmjow's triumphant yell of

"I'm the Sexta once again!"

Luppi's very last memory before death was that of Grimmjow's enormous reiatsu springing up. After he had opened his eyes in Kurotsuchi Mayuri's lab, he retained memories of his vengeful grudge from his 'previous life', memories of those who had looked down upon him, had humiliated him. He recalled the name of another who had shamed him; Hitsugaya Toshiro. Luppi had been defeated for the first time by this opponent when he had been deployed to Karakura town for battle. When he had retreated after his defeat, he had addressed Hitsugaya thus,

"Don't forget my face. The next time I meet you, I will crush you!"

He had meant every syllable. It was not a speech he had thrown out casually, it was a sentence filled with the deepest hatred. He had acknowledged that his opponent was strong and that it was he who had been careless. Even so, he had decided to carry out his threat to destroy the young captain. Luppi had been presented with this opportunity during the war with the Quincies. On the day he had appeared on the battlefield with Dordonii and the others, he had come across Hitsugaya Toshiro in a most unexpected way. Hitsugaya had become a dead doll animated by one of the Quincies who could manipulate zombies. In front of the Shinigami, Hitsugaya had run amok. Luppi had been ready to fight, but when he had looked at Hitsugaya, he realized that his destructive impulses had died down. He had thought to himself,

"Why, he is already broken, the one whom I intended to crush."

There had been a woman with Hitsugaya whom he remembered fighting with and nearly skewering her with needles. Matsumoto Rangiku. She, too, had become like Hitsugaya. Ever since his body had been revived and he had become the living dead, Luppi no longer felt his destructive urges rise to the surface at the sight of an opponent, nor did he feel pleasure at the prospect of crushing an opponent. A dried-up thirst for revenge. Even after hearing that Hitsugaya and Matsumoto had returned to their original state, he felt no desire to kill again. Nowadays, all he did was work for the SRDI, capturing and monitoring new-born Hollows with unusual abilities. Luppi was not amused at the idea of a self-destructive bomb being placed inside his body. However, even without it, he believed that he would no longer feel excited, if for example, he had been asked to fight Hitsugaya under Mayuri's instructions. He had felt unhappy every single day. His desire for vengeance was present, but faint, there was no craving anymore. He wanted something to fill the emptiness within himself. Was it the very root of his existence as a Hollow that had withered away? Thoughts such as these often crept into Luppi's mind.

-Just like this, I will dry up and disappear, becoming the sand of Hueco Mundo.

-I am thirsty, but I possess no will to quench my thirst. What meaning is there in an existence such as this?

These were the thoughts that flitted through Luppi's mind as he spent his days listlessly at the 12th Division's lab. But the moment he had noticed Grimmjow's appearance, all of his lethargy had disappeared. Old, familiar emotions were recalled. Fear of the one who had murdered him, hatred towards the one who had belittled him, pleasure to destroy his target for revenge. These emotions, which had long since dried up, blew out violently from the depths of his body. It was as if he had lost a part of his body and had now regained it. His Hollow-hole was now filled up as if water was overflowing from the bottom.

Grimmjow's Gran Rey Cero destroyed some of his vines. Blood flowed freely from his body, but his reiatsu had not diminished. He increased the speed of the remaining vines and lashed out at Grimmjow; blood splattered from the slashing vines, dripping onto Grimmjow's cheek. Luppi changed one end of his vines to a swarm of needle-like protrusions. They rotated at high speed like the rotor of a helicopter and struck Grimmjow. Grimmjow, on the other hand, tried to steel himself in between consecutive shots. He kicked out towards Luppi and fired another Gran Rey Cero. From the tip of his vines, Luppi shot balas one after another. They were not as powerful as ceros, but they could hit an opponent with the momentum of a bullet if one's blood was mixed in and reiatsu increased.

"This is getting really annoying!"

Grimmjow, ignoring his bodily injuries, cried out, sword in hand.

"Grind, Pantera!"

------------------------------------

Hueco Mundo:-

"Are you really going, Halibel? Are you okay with leaving Hueco Mundo and heading to the Soul Society?"

"To get to the bottom of this, I have to go."

"I have resigned myself to the fact that Grimmjow cannot be persuaded to come back."

Neliel and Halibel were prepared to head out. Halibel opened up a Garganta. After surveying the Garganta for a while, they confirmed that the reiatsu which had suddenly surged was indeed Grimmjow's. There were other people with him. It was necessary to stop him before the dispute turned into a large-scale one, attracting unwanted attention from the Shinigami. Grimmjow's actions might be deemed as acts of hostility against the Soul Society. Halibel knew that there was no point in exhausting their current resources in case of a negotiation attempt and therefore she decided to leave with as small a group as possible. She left her subordinates, Mila Rose, Apacci and Sung-Sung in charge of defense during her absence.

"Please leave everything to us."

There was anxiety in Sung-Sung's voice but she tried to hide it. Halibel realized that her subordinates were worried because she had been captured by Yhwach during the last war. She tried to soothe their fears.

"I'm sorry. That will never happen again. That is exactly why I have to go now."

In addition, Halibel voiced her speculations about certain events, which had been building up inside her for a while.

"That Shinigami child might end up just like Yhwach did."

---------------------------------

Liltotto Lamperd was observing this scenario from a sizeable distance. After Halibel and Neliel left through the Garganta, she spoke mildly,

"They have moved out."

Behind Liltotto, Giselle Gewelle was playing with Bambietta Basterbine. Giselle asked Liltotto, he voice devoid of tension,

"What are you so worked up about?"

"I have bad feeling after what I heard Halibel say."

"What are you going to do?"

"I heard that the Arrancars there have gotten involved in a fight. They seem to be attracting the eyes of the Shinigami. I want to know the whereabouts of Candy and Minnie."

And thus, this small group of Quincies, comprised of the remnants of the Wandenreich army, also began to mobilize. Little did they know that the ones they were looking for were also involved in the struggle.

-------------------------------

Soul Society; 1st Division office:-

"Well, I'll be going out for a bit. Will you take over during the course of my absence, Nanao-chan?"

Nanao, surprised, asked Kyoraku,

"Where are you going?"

"To a little place with 46 throne-like chairs and an aristocratic-looking conference table at the centre."

Nanao realized what Kyoraku was talking about and looked nervous.

"Don't look so scared. It's not like I'm going to be sentenced to death or anything."

"But it is still under construction."

"Oh yes, but after listening to Momo-chan's report, I had an uneasy feeling."

Kyoraku laughed it off in order to put Nanao's mind at ease.

"Well, if you want to be angry at anyone, be angry at Ukitake."

"Captain Ukitake?"

Kyoraku kept speaking bitterly.

"That place is best left alone."

He recalled memories from the past, missing his dearest friend. It was such a long time ago. He, Ukitake and Tokinada had been classmates at the Academy. Back then, Tokinada used to be extremely inconspicuous, hardly noticeable. Yama-jii had cause to neither praise Tokinada nor reprimand him. He had almost seemed like a shadow. Ukitake, always pleasant to everyone, had been on friendly terms with Tokinada. After graduation, it was no longer like that. Ukitake had been shocked to hear that Tokinada had slaughtered his own wife and colleague. Ukitake was always so trusting. Ukitake even believed that under the correct guidance, Tokinada would eventually realize the error of his ways and reform. Kyoraku, on the other hand, had believed that he must be punished for his sins.

"But at the time, there was not much that I could do."

Nanao felt uncomfortable at the phrase uttered by Kyoraku: 'At the time'. But she questioned him no further.

"To think I had pushed on the unpleasant work to another.. I have wronged Shuhei-kun."

Okikiba had returned after giving instructions to the 2nd Division.

"Okikiba-kun? What's wrong?"

Kyoraku had noticed Okikiba's expression.

"I have just received a report. Hisagi Shuhei, who is currently in Karakura town, has just applied for the release of the Gentei Kaijo. It seems that unidentified enemy forces have appeared there. According to the observation team, communication was interrupted when they had tried to authorize the Gentei Kaijo. Furthermore, all the devices that monitored Karakura are now blocked. Karakura is now in complete isolation."

Kyoraku's face remained calm. He asked,

"Can you contact Yuki Ryunosuke or Madarame Shino?"

"No, there is no way to contact either one of them."

"Contact the Shinigami in charge of the neighbouring towns and ask them for details."

"Do we go over there to check?"

"Yes, please."

As Nanao and Okikiba left hurriedly to make preparations, Kyoraku muttered to himself, his face serios.

"This is bad. He is most certainly ambushed by Tokinada."

---------------------

Karakura was not a countryside town. It was located in the heart of Tokyo and is quite a populated town, with train lines passing through the centre of the city. With a population exceeding one million, there was a general hospital in the vicinity of the railway station. In order to protect the town from Aizen, every citizen was put to sleep and transferred to the Rukongai. It had been a difficult task for the Shinigami. They had to also temporarily block all entry and exit by train and traffic; they had to cut off electricity and water supply. So as not to cause any noticeable abnormalities for the resident of adjacent towns, Karakura had been completely isolated. There were a few casualties, but a catastrophe was successfully averted by the Shinigami. And now, once again, Karakura had been isolated from the world. The purpose was still unknown. If tangible barriers that separated reality from virtual reality existed physically, then perhaps it could be said that the town was spirited away. There were no visible changed to the town; the trains continued moving on their tracks, the cars passed by, pedestrians walked past, birds and sparrows fluttered in the sky, the flow of the river was not stagnant. Everything looked normal on the surface. However, it was quite clear that the town was cut off from the rest of the world.

"Hey, why did the TV suddenly stop?"

"We are only receiving static on the radio!"

"I can't send e-mails! What's happening?"

Conversations such as there were heard all over town. All communication equipment and radio-wave transmission and reception devices connected to the outside world had all stopped working. There was no electronic contact with the outside world at all. But all this happened for only a few minutes. The television broadcast was visible again, so was the radio, followed by the internet and the cell phone. People all over the town went back to their daily lives; convincing themselves that it was just a power shortage of some kind; the incident soon forgotten. They did not realize that every single communication device within the town had been out of order for a few minutes. Certain 'special' communication devices did not recover even after that.

"That's weird.."

Ururu commented. The three of them were out shopping.

"What's going on?"

Ignoring Jinta's words, Ururu asked Tessai,

"Tessai-san.. my cell phone is not working."

"Hmm? A radio interference maybe..."

He, too, took out his phone.

"It's the same with mine."

Tessai made a few adjustments to his device. Then he raised his eyebrows.

"This isn't a normal radio interference. I can feel the fluctuation of reiatsus. Let's return to the store as soon as possible."

------------------------

"What is this?"

On the west side of Karakura, a young Shinigami in charge of the neighbouring town, stared at the borderline which cut off Karakura town.

"I received orders from the Soul Society to arrive here. It seems there is some kind of strange barrier at this spot."

There was a hologram-like curtain projected upwards towards the sky that enveloped the entire town. But it was not visible to normal humans. Things went on as though there was nothing there. The Shinigami hesitated, then stepped across the threshold.

"So you've passed through."

There was another Shinigami in front of him.

"And you are?"

The overseers of Karakura town were supposed to be a young girl and a young boy. This graceful-looking Shinigami answered,

"I'm in charge of the town beyond the east border of Karakura."

"So what's going on here?"

"The scenery around me is completely different than the one I saw before passing through the curtain."

"I am concerned about the two Shinigami in charge of Karakura."

"They are not that strong but they will be fine. The former Captain of the 12th Division, Urahara Kisuke, lives here in this town. He will surely think of something. Besides, I have heard that the Kurosaki Ichigo lives here."

"You serious? The famous Kurosaki Ichigo?"

The two of them had no idea that Ichigo was not in town. Instead, there was now a lieutenant who could not be compared to Ichigo.

----------------------------

P.S. Reddit made me break up the post into two. Sorry if I've made any mistakes. On another note, doesn't it appear as though Luppi's aspect of death is 'revenge'?


Part 13

Urahara Shoten:-

Yukio Hans Vorarlberna.

Hisagi was a little puzzled at first, after hearing the long name. Then he suddenly remembered that he had heard the first name quite recently, something in connection with Kurosaki Ichigo's group.

-"We travelled using Yukio's and Riruka's abilities."

-Ginjo! Of course! It was he who had mentioned that name.

"I'm protecting you, you know."

"Just wait a moment, please! Tell me what's going on!"

Ignoring Hisagi, Urahara addressed Yukio cheerfully.

"I'm meeting you for the first time in six months. I tried to call you so many times but you never answered. Do come in."

"No, thank you."

Yukio answered irritably.

Hisagi looked at Urahara in surprise.

"Is this true, Urahara-san? What's his purpose?"

Urahara laughed a little as he snapped shut his fan.

"He is the young president of the Y.Hans Enterprises; an industry which has grown exponentially; primarily in the entertainment business. I have one request of him. I have to ask him to pull out."

Hisagi didn't know how to respond.

"You're asking me to pull out when business is thriving?"

Urahara continued to speak unabashedly.

"No, no. If I develop new products, then it places me in a position where I can keep an eye out for the major players in this case. Does this make you think that I'm greedy?"

"If you want to buy a share of our company, then you had better be sincere."

"How about 7% of your company's stock? After all, this old shop does not have much going for it."

He turned to Hisagi.

"Hisagi-san, we really need to handle matters such as these with politeness and delicacy, don't you think?"

Yukio wasn't angry. He simply voiced his frank opinion.

"You are scary, after all. You are not someone to be messed with."

"Ah, you really see me as a scary guy? When it comes to business, I see you as my opponent."

Urahara placed his hat upon his head and smiled widely from under the brim. Yukio sighed and then spoke,

"Your reason for asking me to pull out is different, right?"

"That's the first phase. Although I have more or less guessed the purpose for this, I am not confident enough to give you an answer right away."

-Well, at least I don't sense any hostility from this child.

Thought Hisagi. The monitors and the flickering noises around the store made Hisagi think that his ability was to blend in the digital virtual world with reality. Hisagi tried to surreptitiously use his reiatsu-perception to figure out where Yukio really was. It was possible that this ability may rewrite his body functions and force him to do things involuntarily. He didn't really think that could be the case, but one never knew. In the war, Hisagi had been manipulated by the Quincy PePe. The very memory of that annoying geezer's brainwashing was enough to make Hisagi shudder.

"Urahara-san, why has this entire town been quarantined?"

Prior to this, Hisagi had contacted Soul Society to request for the authorization of the Gentei Kaijo but communications had been cut off abruptly. Not only that, he was unable to return to Soul Society. The incident had made him realize that the town had been entirely isolated, and that, if enemies were to appear, he would have to fight without his full strength. Yukio began answering his question.

"I'll tell you. I am not the enemy.."

Almost at the same time, there was a fluctuation of reiatsu just behind him. As he moved away in the nick of time, he turned back to look at the exact spot where he had been standing just moments ago.

A shadowy figure had appeared there. At the place where Hisagi had stood, a strange-looking baton had been swung down. It was not a sword, but if one were to be hit on the head with it, they could become unconscious. Compared to a Shinigami's weapon, it was comparatively harmless, but it was more than just a blunt instrument. At the same time, another person, carrying an identical weapon appeared. Hisagi judged that the situation had shifted to battle status.

He reached for the handle of his zanpakuto as more people appeared in the vicinity. Their reiatsu was not that of Quincies or Hollows. These people were not dead souls, they were human beings, inhabitants of the World of the Living. They all wore identical black suits with white patterns engraved on them. They also donned black and white gas-masks.

Hisagi had felt a strange sense of compatibility when dodging the previous attack from the person who had tried to catch him off guard. Years of experience as a warrior had allowed him to move away at just the right time as though there was an eye in the back of his head.

-Who are these people?

Their speed was slower than that of the Shinigami, but far, far superior than an ordinary human's. Hisagi tried to locate their spirit ribbons, but of course, these newcomers gave him no time at all, as they started attacking from all sides. He soon started noticing a small abnormality in his own movements. It seemed like he was slowing down by 10% of his usual speed, even considering the fact that the limiters had not been removed from his body. He just could not shake himself off his quarry, they kept appearing way too fast behind him. Urahara noticed this and narrowed his eyes.

"Could it be....some sort of drug? Or is it something else?"

"Did you say something, Urahara-san?"

"No, it's just that I felt that your reiatsu is disturbed, Hisagi-san."

"You are so calm in a battle, Urahara-san."

"Is that so?"

Hisagi was impressed even in the midst of the assault, as he watched Urahara's methods of fighting. Then he came to the realization that the people in the gas-masks were only attacking him, there was a large gap between them and Urahara.

"What's wrong? They are only coming after you, are they not?"

It was Yukio. Hisagi looked up at the projected image.

"What did you want to talk to Urahara-san about?"

"There isn't any point now, is there? It has already begun. They started attacking just before I could explain."

"What's their reason for attacking only me?"

"Well, I heard that their leader dislikes Shinigami. Probably because that the Shinigami betrayed and murdered their comrades."

Hisagi was startled. He addressed Yukio.

"I have heard of such a story from Ginjo."

"Kugo actually talked about that?"

Yukio had a strange expression on his face. For the first time, his interest in Hisagi was roused.

"I don't think he was subjected to torture or interrogation in the Soul Society. How did you become a confidante of his?"

"For now, I am neither an enemy of his nor an ally. I just listened to his side of the story."

Hisagi finally managed to leap into the air, escaping his mask-clad attackers. He firmly consolidated his position on the air, out of their reach, and faced Yukio's image, which was now at his eye-level.

"You're standing on air now?"

Hisagi looked down below. If these people were Fullbringers, then it was possible for them to leap high up in the air. He realized that he was suddenly short of breath. Someone's arms had tightly grasped the upper part of his body.

-What was that? I don't see anyone behind me. Yet, I can definitely feel someone touching me.

His reiatsu-perception did not detect anything out of the ordinary. As if to prove that this was not a hallucination, a woman's alluring voice was heard close to his ear.

"How surprising!"

A chill ran down Hisagi's spine.

"To think that the profession of journalism also existed in the Soul Society."

The liquid tones of the woman's voice made Hisagi nearly forget that he was in the middle of a battle-field. However, he managed to steady himself. He looked back, trying to shake off the arms, the arms moved away, but the person was definitely still there.

"Who are you?"

He could finally see her. It was a young woman. In Hisagi's eyes, she looked beautiful.

"Are you an acquaintance of Yukio's? A Fullbringer?"

The woman tried to answer, but stopped midway with a meaningful smile.

"I think that saying 'exacta' would suit the occasion. Wouldn't you agree, Lieutenant of the 9th Division?"

-That phrase! It was unique to Findorr Calius whom I had fought at this very same spot in the fake Karakura town! She knows all about it!

He once again placed a hand on the handle of his zanpakuto. He thought of how men were often lured into dangerous situations by la femme fatale.

As if reading through his mind, Urahara called out to him from the ground.

"Now, now, Hisagi-san! Please be careful around her!"

Hisagi protested, blushing,

"Urahara-san! I'm a Lieutenant, you know!"

The woman smiled invitingly at Hisagi.

"Oh, I am disappointed. I really wanted to avoid fighting with you."

"C-c-calm down, c-calm down...."

Hisagi kept repeating this to himself inwardly. He pretended to act cool on the surface.

"Hisagi-san! Calm down! She is not as attractive as Rangiku-san!"

Urahara called out once more. And Hisagi blushed again.

The woman gave a silvery and tinkling laugh, watching Hisagi blush to the roots of his hair.

"You are really funny. I wish the other Shinigami shared your sense of humour."

She slowly spread out her arms as if commanding an orchestra.

"Reform.."

She twirled her fingertips, as though ordering her personal puppets to move.

"The one who stands above all, used by the worthless beings who control death, do not forsake us!"

-What is she talking about? Is she calling out to some deity?

The woman named Michibane Aura made a final move with her hands and instantly, the reiatsu of the people on the ground changed. All of them threw their batons high up in the air; the batons flew up towards the sky as if they were ivy branches moving in unison towards the sun. They increased in size and materialized, taking a strange shape, like that of a large creature. Tentacle-like protrusions formed and started attacking Hisagi. There were a number of symbols and letters on the strange creature-like pattern, reminiscent of some kind of magical spell.

Hisagi slashed at some of the tentacles approaching him; but the torn tentacles immediately branched into several more and attacked again.

"It's like swarm of insects!"

Hisagi realized that he would soon run out of strength. Each time his zanpakuto cut through the letters and the symbols on the tentacles, he felt an odd distortion in his zanpakuto's reiatsu. He himself felt his strength dwindling just like before. His zanpakuto felt like it had become blunt. He recalled the time when Ayasegawa Yumichika's Ruri'iro Kujaku had robbed him of his spirit energy. This attack, however, was slightly different. Instead of spirit energy being absorbed, it felt more like he was being pressed down by it.

-Becoming aware of an eerie, dull feeling, as though the sword is immersed in thick mud. Could it be that sword's weight has somehow been increased?

"You appear to be the enemy. But your goals are not clear to me yet."

"So you immediately consider us to be the enemy?"

Aura asked. Hisagi narrowed his eyes.

The people in black down below started behaving in an entirely different manner than before. It was unnatural for human beings like them to give in to bloodlust and then throw it away without hesitation at the drop of a hat.

Tosen Kaname's influence had taught Hisagi that for one who was devoted to duty, they ought never to judge an opponent beforehand. Hisagi gave a final warning.

"Attacking serves no purpose. Firstly, tell me why this town was isolated."

"It's alright."

Aura raised her hands. The people stopped attacking. At the same time, the creature formed by the weapons also calmed down.

"Wait a second! Karakura is one of the most spiritually-rich areas in the world. You people aren't trying to create the Oken, are you?"

In order to create the Oken, 100,000 souls were required. Hisagi considered that to be a likely possibility for the town to be quarantined.

But Aura slowly shook her head.

"You're wrong."

"What is your goal, then?"

"We do not need to sacrifice the souls of the innocent. In fact, we don't actually require a 'key'."

Aura smiled.

"What do you mean?"

"Our goal is to turn Karakura town into the 'King's' capital."

Hisagi did not immediately grasp the meaning behind these cryptic words. Aura continued speaking.

"The king's throne is in the Soul Society. However, the king rules over this world and Hueco Mundo as well. We want to create a capital befitting a king whose rule encompasses all three worlds. That is our destiny."

-What is she going on about? Is this some kind of joke? Who is this 'king'? It isn't Aizen, is it? Or is it Yhwach?

But deep down, Hisagi knew. The young, innocent face of the child flashed before his mind's eye. The 'king'. The phrase he had heard in the medical institution of the aristocrats. As he had told Urahara before, there was something definitely inexplicable about the child. Recalling the events at the medical institution, his heart went cold.

-It was Tokinada who wanted to make the child the king.

As a piece of the puzzle fell into place, Hisagi felt sick.

"Are you talking about the child called Hikone? Or perhaps, Tsunayashiro Tokinada?"

For the first time, the smile disappeared from Aura's face.

"It is not right to address the Head of one of the Four Great Noble Families without an honorific."

Aura tried to provoke Hisagi, but he did not act upon it.

"He doesn't deserve a fancy honorific. If it were Yoruichi-san of Kuchiki-san, I would have addressed them thus, but certainly not him."

Urahara had heard the conversation from down below. Yukio asked him,

"Aren't you going to help him? He can't face off against Aura all on his own."

Urahara held his cane in his hand.

"You see, my Benihime is a support-type zanpakuto. But Hisagi-san's is excellent for attack purposes."

"Hmm? Really? He doesn't seem to be very powerful."

"You'll see."

Yukio was observing at the gas-mask-wearing bunch. They had suddenly started trembling. Urahara had injected them with a drug that had rendered them impotent.

"I did it while I manoeuvred around those people when they were attacking."

"As always, you really are a scary person, Urahara Kisuke!"

"Oh? So you heard that?"

It was Aura. She asked Urahara.

"You have already experienced the inherent ability of my Fullbring, yes?"

Hisagi reacted to that phrase. If the woman in front of him was also a Fullbringer, then could it be that her ability is to blur and distort the people and objects in her surroundings?

-Is that why my zanpakuto felt dull and I felt weak?

Hisagi awaited Urahara's reply. Urahara laughed and addressed the woman.

"No, no, no. Isn't it better to say that you do not use any specific ability?"

-What did he just say? 'No specific ability', was it?

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

P.S. That concludes part 10. Forgive me for any mistakes I might have made (my eyesight is bad and I lost my glasses last week, so it is possible that there might be errors). And thanks a lot for thanking me in that other thread, you guys are great! Thanks, u/hypnodarkrai, for the images.


Part 14

(Officially part 11)

Karakura Town:-

"Shino-san, I can't get in touch with anyone in the Soul Society!"

A young Shinigami boy spoke tearfully, clutching his denreishinki.

"Once we step out of town, we have to consult Urahara-san."

Two people, Yuki Ryunosuke and Madarame Shino, in charge of Karakura, had noticed the 'strange curtain' that had enveloped the town. They were struggling to take in the current situation. In addition to being unable to communicate using the denreishinki, they had also learned that Kurosaki Ichigo was out of town. Thus, at present, the purification of Hollows was mainly carried out by the two of them.

"But there's the Quincy, Ishida."

"That person sometimes appears in front of the hospital, but honestly, he doesn't talk much and has sharp eyes."

"But you and your Ikkaku-ani are scary too."

Ryunosuke nodded sagely.

"How do you know about him?"

"Oh yes, I know, because your forehead shines too, just like Ikkaku-san!"

Shino punched Ryunosuke's face.

"S-sorry.. I'll be going then.."

Ryunosuke tried to step out of the border of the town.

"I can't walk through."

The two of them then moved swiftly along the railway track towards the other end of the town. But here, once again, they faced the same problem. Ordinary people and cars were able to pass through the curtain, but they could not. They used their zanpakutos to confirm that the curtain was indeed a solid barrier. Their zanpakutos struck the barrier, but even that did not help. The barrier did not receive a single scratch.

"The train normally passes through this place, right? How about we board the train?"

Ryunosuke, whose face was swollen, was the one who proposed this. Shino was amazed at this idea.

"Well, the train can pass through, so I thought that perhaps we could as well, if we were to be on board."

"I suppose we have no other choice. We have to contact Urahara-san at any cost."

"Urahara-san's shop is on the other end of the town."

Ryunosuke and Shino stopped talking as they were surrounded by a number of men and women in black suits. They seemed to appear from beyond the curtain. They had on black gas-masks. Although Ryunosuke could not have known about it, the appearances of those people were identical to the ones near Urahara Shoten.

"Shino-san, run! They have human forms and they're wearing masks! They must be Vasto Lordes!"

Ryunosuke grabbed Shino's hand and tried to run but Shino stopped him.

"Calm down! Their reiatsus aren't like that of Hollows. Besides, their masks aren't white."

"What are they, then? Quincies?"

The Quincies were a source of trauma for Shino. Her superior, Kajoumaru Hidetomo, whom she had greatly admired, had been slaughtered right in front of her. The area their division had protected had soon afterwards turned to scorched earth. Shino only remembered blood, smoke and rubble. She had fainted afterwards. Ryunosuke, too, had been there. If he had not been there with her, while she was overcome with grief and fear, she surely would have been killed by the Quincies. However, as she now looked sideways at Ryunosuke, who was trembling, she realized that it had been nothing short of a miracle that the two of them had survived. In Shino's eyes, Ryunosuke was a comrade who was not courageous in the least, but could be firm when push came to shove. She turned to face the black-garbed people.

"You can see us, so you're not ordinary human beings, are you?"

They remained silent. Shino held out her zanpakuto, one of the black-suits charged forward with their special batons. Shino blocked it, but Ryunosuke screamed out,

"Uwaaaah..."

He blundered around, wailing.

"Oi, wait, Ryunosuke! Fight a little! Don't just run!"

"But these people are human beings!"

Just like Hisagi had felt earlier at the store, Shino sensed that the reiatsu released by her zanpakuto was diminishing.

"My zanpakuto... what's happening?"

Taking advantage of her momentary hesitation, one of the black-suits hit Shino from behind.

"Ugh!"

"Shino-san!"

Shino felt as if her entire body was caught in a huge spider's web. Her movements felt sluggish, as if her limbs were like machines without oil. She was conscious and her physical condition had not deteriorated, but there was something abnormal in the flow of reiatsu around her.

"What's wrong with me..?"

Her attacker held up his baton and just like before, a distinct pattern appeared on it, materialized into some sort of tentacle-like shape and moved forward to attack Shino. Ryunosuke, who had been scared earlier and had not released his zanpakuto, now quickly rushed to protect Shino.

"I'm coming, Shino-san!"

But before he could reach Shino, something happened, changing the situation completely. As the mysterious figure moved towards Shino, someone kicked the black-suit violently, and then landed on the ground with the fierce momentum of a cannon, scattering dust everywhere. Shino covered her face, coughing. When the dust cleared, they saw a girl standing there.

"Where's the customary 'thank you for coming', huh? And this is my territory, got it, baldy?"

A Kansai dialect.

"Shinigami..?"

The reiatsu was certainly like that of a Shinigami, but there was an odd incongruity mixed in. The girl was wearing a red jersey, a cap and red track-pants. Her voice was irritable and she looked angrily at the man she had kicked, who was trying to get up.

"Don't you dare get up, baldy!"

The girl kicked a large stone; it hit the black suit and he fell again. Shino called out in awe.

"Ah! Thank you very much, ma'am! Are you a member of the Gotei 13?"

"Huuuuuuuuuh? What're you saying, baldy?"

She hit her cap with her thumb. On it, was written 'Unagiya'.

"We're the odd-jobs shop. We help everyone, from cats to Shinigami, from kids to adults, from teacher to apprentice. Sarugaki Hiyori-sama, at your service!"

"Eh? Odd jobs? Eel-shop?"

Ryunosuke and Shino were confused. But the girl ignored them and kept on speaking in her Kansai dialect on top of her voice.

"I dislike Shinigami, but I won't refuse a job for help. You'll get a discount, under the circumstances."

Ryunosuke and Shino were gaping at her. That annoyed Hiyori even more.

"At least say something, morons!"

Ryunosuke and Shino looked at each other blankly. But before they could respond, more black-suits emerged.

"Shino-san, look! There are more of them!"

Ryunosuke realized the dangers of the situation and lowered his head to Hiyori.

"Please! We will pay! Please take us to Urahara Shoten!"

"To Kisuke? What's the story, huh?"

Hiyori brought out her zanpakuto, which she had been carrying. She slashed the ground, sand and dust rose up, keeping the black suits in check. Then she grabbed both Shino and Ryunosuke with unimaginable physical strength and leapt up in the air, despite her small stature. She could sense the odd reiatsu that she had picked up from the black suits all over town. She frowned to herself as she recalled the face of the first chief of research of the SRDI, her former superior officer.

"That dumbass Kisuke... wonder what he's up to.."

Urahara Shoten:-

"Shouldn't you be saying, 'Exacta'?"

"What?"

"Well, correct or incorrect answer? On the whole, I think I did rather well in the guessing department, wouldn't you say so?"

From beneath his hat, Urahara sharply looked at Aura. Although he had been laughing earlier, his expression was of one who was about to stab an enemy. Aura looked at Urahara, her face now alight with joy.

"My! Who gave you that information, I wonder?"

"X-CUTION. The name of the religious cult that was formed after the Quincies attacked Soul Society. Did you really think I wouldn't know?"

Urahara placed his cane upon his shoulder and addressed Aura lightly.

"I could only gather information about your public activities, Michibane-san, but now that I've seen this, the whole picture is starting to take shape."

"As expected, you really are something, aren't you?"

Urahara smiled slightly as he heard Aura's words. Now it was Hisagi who opened his mouth.

"What are you talking about?"

"Now, Hisagi-san, you are the journalist here. Why don't you hold the court of inquiry?"

Aura boldly spoke to Hisagi. Hisagi did not know her real intention, nor could he guess her next move.

"What am I supposed to be asking you?"

"You don't know?"

"If you cause further chaos, I will eliminate you."

"Ah, is that so, Lieutenant?"

Aura tilted her head slightly, an inviting smile upon her lips. The next instant, the tip of a zanpakuto was held close to her throat.

"Even though the Gentei Kaijo was not authorized, my Shunpo is still fast enough to overcome you."

Aura blinked; then turned to look at Hisagi admiringly.

"How manly!"

The smile was still there upon her countenance.

"Did you think that I was the type of person who would hesitate to attack a woman?"

"No, as far as I know, you are a Shinigami just like all the others. Regardless of age or gender, they are equally unforgiving and merciless."

Aura's smile was now chilly. Hisagi then told her the one thing that had never failed to freeze his heart, even now.

"Exactly. For the justice that I believed in, I even cut down my own mentor. I am merciless."

Aura narrowed her eyes a little. The reiatsu surrounding Hisagi was now heavily distorted. It staggered Hisagi, but his blade did not waver. He did not remove the sword from his opponent's throat.

"Oh, there's no need to get rattled. I am just stating a fact. I am indeed guilty of stabbing my own teacher."

Then, a fragment of a conversation from six months ago flitted through Hisagi's mind.

-"Eternity? Don't you think that you are tossing around that word a bit too lightly? Even Tosen Kaname's convictions were not eternal."

-"I killed Tosen Kaname with my own hands, not because I saw him as a defeated soldier whom I saw fit to punish."

-"It was out of mercy."

Aizen's words.

"You really are an interesting person. How about we become friends?"

Hearing Aura's provocative words, Hisagi told her,

"Do you understand the situation here? I move my hand slightly and this sword rips your throat out. Then perhaps this blockade of the town will be lifted."

-Urahara-san says that she is not using a specific ability.

-Then that tentacle-creature was the doing of another?

-Is she imitating others?

Recalling Urahara's earlier words, Hisagi came to the conclusion that the woman in front of him did not use unique abilities like the other Fullbringers.

-I don't know why Urahara-san has reached such a conclusion, but knowing him, his speculations are probably right.

-But it's strange. I can't perceive a decent reiatsu emitting from this woman after all.

-It's not exactly nil, but it's too weak. It's not like Ginjo's.

-If she shows the slightest sign of movement, I'll slash at her neck.

"We are a religious sect. The ones on the ground are not believers, in fact, they were rather hostile. But they are very cooperative now."

Aura suddenly spoke. Hisagi strengthened his vigilance further.

"The number of believers we have gathered now amount to roughly 770,000 people."

When he had heard that Aura was the leader of a religious cult, he had assumed that it was a small group, consisting of a hundred people, at most. But this number stunned him. It was a number far, far beyond expectation. Hisagi wondered if the woman was speaking the truth.

"It is an entirely new and emerging religion that has spread across Japan. The amount of followers are rather unusual considering that it has only been a few years."

"How do you go about gathering people? By brainwashing them like your acquaintance Tsukishima does?"

"Oh, if Tsukishima-san were alive, then it certainly would have been easier. But even he could not bookmark as many as a hundred thousand people."

"You know, if you're talking to stall for time, it would still be useless."

Just as Hisagi had really started to think that she was indeed trying to buy time, Aura acted quickly. She pressed her throat against the blade.

-What is she doing? Inflicting pain upon herself? It makes no sense!

He tried to pull the sword away before the injury became fatal, but to no avail. She had moved faster than imagined and very soon, the sword edge separated her head from her body. The head flew away from the body as it danced through the air. The smile did not fade from her countenance. Then, from the mouth, a voice emerged, the lips moved; a voice that should have been lost since its connection to the lungs was severed. The voice was just the same as before, smooth and alluring.

"This is how I gather followers. By showing them a miracle."

A strange pattern formed near her head. Her body moved forward, towards the head, and the two fit in neatly. She turned to Hisagi with a gentle movement and tilted her head. There was no scar on her throat, no drop of blood, nothing but beautiful skin.

"Wasn't my neck cut?"

Aura spread out her hands and began manipulating the various branches of the tree-like pattern that had spread around her. The number of branches increased to more than double.

"My head was disconnected but now it is connected."

"High-speed regeneration? Don't tell me that you're.."

"No way, but you're not far from the truth."

She smiled a little sadly. The strange branch-like pattern moved towards Hisagi.

"Since I am a Fullbringer, my body does indeed have a Hollow element by birth."

Yukio was observing from the ground. He witnessed the sudden, violent rise in the surrounding wind.

"Reap, Kazeshini."

It cleaved through the surroundings, ripping apart the branches of the pattern, its trajectory unpredictable. The two scythes of Kazeshini were being clenched by Hisagi. One hand rotated a blade that resembled a huge sickle, while the other hand clutched an identical blade, the two connected by a chain. The smile disappeared from Aura's face, to be replaced by an expression of wariness.

"Dual-wielders are rather unique, aren't they?"

The dual-wield style of swordsmanship is extremely rare amongst the Shinigami. There have been only two swordsmen in the history of the Soul Society who possessed dual-bladed zanpakutos; Kyoraku Shunsui's Katen Kyokotsu and Ukitake Jushiro's Sogyo no Kotowari. Technically, Kurosaki Ichigo also fell into this category, one sword represented his Hollow side, the other his Quincy lineage. But Hisagi saw no reason to disclose this information.

"Kazeshini is not a dual-bladed zanpakuto."

Hisagi spoke quietly. He twirled one of the scythes like a lasso using the connecting chain and flung it towards Aura.

"Let's test out whether your so-called miracles are genuine or not."

The blade rotated at such high speed that it looked like a silver disc dancing past. The scythe passed by Aura and drew a rapid curve in the air behind her. Hisagi flung the other scythe and crossed the two blades together using the chain. The chain curled itself around her body, one of the blades returning to Hisagi's hand

"Bakudo number 62: Hyapporankan."

A myriad of bluish light wedges formed near Hisagi's hand and flew towards Aura, restraining her.

"Let's see you try and escape using those magic tricks of yours."

The chain fell loose, it slipped off her body and hung down. The wedges restraining her were also scattered.

"Well, what do you think?"

-If the chain and the kido passed right through her body, then perhaps she is using some kind of optical illusion.

Hisagi turned to look towards the store down below. He called out to Urahara.

"Urahara-san! I think that..."

But Hisagi's words stopped in mid-sentence.

"Eh?"

Urahara had disappeared from the front of the store. Hisagi sensed someone behind him and turned to look, and there he was.

"What's g..."

But Urahara had already completed his action. He had made a small puncture in Hisagi's fore-arm, injecting something. Before his brain could register anything, Hisagi was aware of a sharp pain spreading from his arm towards his entire body.

"Urahara-san, what did you do to me?"

"I'm sorry, Hisagi-san."

Urahara had on his usual smile.

"Because this was an emergency situation, I forcibly removed the limiter from your body. Just hold on a little, the pain will soon go away."

Hisagi noticed the white poppy insignia on his arm glowing. His body was now overflowing with reiatsu.

"But I didn't receive permission from the Soul Society. I thought that the seal could not be removed unless we get authorization?"

Urahara held up the syringe.

"It was I who had developed the idea of the Gentei Kaijo during my time as the chief of the SRDI. Don't worry, I'll explain everything to Kyoraku-san so you won't get reprimanded."

Urahara stood beside Hisagi, a hand upon his hat.

"And now.... let's do this!"

"Yes!"

Hisagi's spirits rose as he felt Urahara's presence next to him.

"This woman is strong. It is necessary for the two of us to join forces."

"Hisagi-san, as you know, the core concept of Fullbring is based on the idea that all non-living objects have souls just like living beings."

"Your point being?"

Urahara continued speaking about Michibane Aura's abilities.

"By bringing out the soul of the object, a Fullbringer can manipulate the material itself, sometimes even twisting physical laws. And then, if they form a particular attachment to a certain object, they can activate their own unique ability. But that person does not have any attachment to a particular object."

Hisagi frowned.

"She manipulates the soil, the water, and even the air in the atmosphere. Also the cells in her body, her blood and bones. It is normally beyond the scope of Fullbringers to manipulate brain cells or blood cells and move them as if they are alive."

Urahara looked at Hisagi, who was still frowning.

"I'll give you an analogy. Imagine a Shinigami who cannot use a zanpakuto, but has the physical skills comparable to, say, someone on the level of Aizen Sosuke. Now do you understand?"

Hisagi finally comprehended how dangerous the Fullbringer in front of them really was. Urahara, on the other hand, was thinking further ahead.

"But the real problem lies elsewhere. She has around 770,000 followers. The question is, if she's here, then where are those believers right now?"

He seemed to have directed his inquiry towards Aura. Instead of answering the question, Aura smiled confidently. That smile made Hisagi feel cold, cold like the bottom of a frozen lake in winter.

"I need to offer them up as sacrifices in order to sublimate Ubuginu Hikone to the status of a true God. That's why I want your power as well."

Yukio, who had been watching from the virtual space that he had created, let out a small sigh.

"I cannot help you directly. So please do your best, both of you."

And then he prepared to mobilize.

"I have a 'role' to fulfill. It is a duty that I have set for myself, even if it means betraying what must be protected."

--------------------------------------

P.S. That concludes the chapter. I do hope you'll forgive me if i have made any mistake. I would like to thank u/hypnodarkrai for the images.


Part 15

(Officially part 12)

Destruction. It was the aspect of death that they represented. Their very existences were that of slaves, dominated by their constant destructive impulses, which they repeatedly succumbed to, seeking salvation. Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez and Luppi Antennor. These two beings, while completely different on the outside, shared a common core. Their emotions often spilled over like magma. Luppi had once been given the number 6, when Grimmjow had been stripped off his rank among the Espada.

"The form of death you symbolize is the same as Grimmjow's; that's why you were chosen as his successor, over candidates such as Dordonii or Cirucci. In place of a heart, there remains within you, only the urge to destroy. There is only one way to fill up the emptiness in you and your missing heart; and that is by seeking to cause destruction. If you hate Grimmjow, then hate freely. Now that you are a legitimate number 6, you should do what you feel like. Should you end up killing Grimmjow in the process, do not worry, I shall not admonish you, I will preserve his corpse. Therefore, follow your deepest desires. As long as you bear the number on your body, you will embody 'destruction'."

Aizen Sosuke had left Hueco Mundo; but what remained in Luppi's memory were his words and the meaning behind his aspect of death.

"Yes! I won't let anyone get in the way. And now, I shall thoroughly disassemble you to pieces!"

Luppi's vines struck Grimmjow once again, splattering blood. Grimmjow, who now resembled a panther, even after being knocked backwards, fired a Cero using both his hands.

"Tsk.. That didn't hurt at all! If you want to fight me, try making it less boring, would you?"

"Oh, it'll be my pleasure!"

Luppi used four of his vines to strike Grimmjow, while he fired a Cero, having mixed in his blood, using the remaining four. Grimmjow, on the other hand, flew forwards, claws raised. His claws slashed through the Gran Rey Cero.

"So tell me, what was your reason for killing me in the first place?"

Grimmjow's claws plunged right into Luppi's bosom.

"I'll crush anyone who looks at me with those eyes!"

As Grimmjow pulled out his claws from Luppi's chest, he caught sight of Luppi's smirk. This caused him to sink his claws into Luppi's abdomen.

"So you'll crush anyone who looks down on you, eh?"

Luppi had been waiting for this opportunity to wrap his vines tightly around Grimmjow, while the former's claws were still piercing his body.

"Time for pay-back, Grimmjow!"

He shot a point-blank Cero towards Grimmjow. Almost at exactly the same time, Grimmjow let out an explosive shock-wave braided with reiatsu. Furthermore, from the armour that covered his body, a nail-like hook sprung out near his elbow, which was fired towards Luppi. As the two attacks intersected, flames and blood splashes filled the surroundings.

"It's awfully frustrating. Those Arrancars are running amok over there, and those explosions are reducing visibility."

Tsukishima addressed Ginjo, who was standing next to him and observing the battle.

"Do you think it's okay for us to be just watching, Ginjo?"

"Don't be silly. Safety always comes first."

Ginjo continued to exercise utmost vigilance against the Shinigami headed towards the area and the other person whose approach he sensed.

"It's not that we're trying to run away. That guy, he might be confused at the moment, but once he realizes what's going on, he might try attacking again."

"Ah! I thought that the instant of time we're talking about is.... 'now'."

After the dust had cleared, Luppi emerged, coughing up blood from his mouth and smiling wryly.

"You are one tough bastard, aren't you?"

Grimmjow, too, was wounded all over.

"Hey, that's my line!"

Grimmjow laughed, preparing to sharpen his claws by pouring reiatsu into both his hands. However...

"My reiatsu... But I should have been able to do it...."

"My reiatsu... But I should have been able to..."

"..But I should have been able to do it..."

"..I should have been able to..."

"But I..."

"But..."

"But.."

Grimmjow noticed that his reiatsu, which he had wrapped close to his claws, kept getting reset over and over again. Same events kept replaying in his mind; his mind recalled Luppi's words being repeated several times. Then, he felt as if his entire body was suffering paralysis.

"To think that those dubious drugs would come in useful once in a while.."

Luppi knew that Kurotsuchi Mayuri had placed drugs within his blood. This method had proved effective against his battle with a zombie-fied Matsumoto Rangiku. It had been a daring gamble against Grimmjow, but he seemed to have pulled it off.

"It's over, Grimmjow!"

Luppi looked down at Grimmjow, preparing to fire Gran Rey Ceros from the tips of all eight of his vines. But then, something unexpected happened. Grimmjow, who had been nearly paralyzed, slowly managed to stand up.

"That...that.. d-didn't work, Luppi.."

"Impossible! How are you able to stand up? That drug felled even a Shinigami Captain!"

"So that Arrancar has high tolerance towards the drug?"

Mayuri, observing the battle, muttered with interest.

"Higher tolerance than the Captain of the 10th Division?"

Akon, who had remained behind at the SRDI, asked sharply through the communication device. Mayuri explained the situation, while complaining about Luppi at the same time.

"He is completely wrong, that Luppi. Unless a set-point at which the person returns to the past is not pre-determined, the drug won't exert its utmost effect. Well, even if that didn't work, I did put in several other poisonous drugs within his body, so...."

Mayuri's voiced trailed away as he observed Grimmjow's reiatsu with enthusiasm.

"Ah, it seems that he somehow managed to tolerate the dosage of the poisonous drugs."

Grimmjow had once been poisoned by the Sternritter, Askin Nakk Le Vaar and ever since then, his tolerance to poison had increased through experience. He himself was not aware of this fact. Had it been Mayuri administering the poison, he would have 'tuned' the drug, and the tolerance would have been invalidated. Instead, Luppi had used the drug that deprived one of their bodily motor functions.

"If you want to kill me, then do so using your own two hands."

It was not that the influence of the drug was absent; Grimmjow's physical condition was far from good. Yet he craved a fight. Luppi, who had been taken aback by Grimmjow's feat, now regained his composure.

"Ah, yes. You're right. After all, poison is intoxicating, isn't it? That's what Szayelaporro used to say."

Rotating his eight vines, Luppi once again prepared to fire Gran Rey Ceros from each of his vines. Grimmjow laughed, speaking in a tone, different than his usual.

"Yes! That's how I always expected you to fight! Right from the front! Eight Gran Rey Ceros, impressive!"

Grimmjow was prepared to confront it, unleashing his special technique, 'Desgarron', in the hope of countering the eight Gran Rey Ceros. A huge laceration seemed to emanate from his claws, taking on the shape of enormous nail-marks. There was no way to determine which ability was more powerful, but there was no doubt that the surroundings would blow up under the impact of the two attacks.

"It's a bit scary, isn't it?"

"Eh?"

Ginjo was very startled to see a figure standing near Grimmjow and Luppi. The figure seemed to have swooped down onto the battlefield. This person's reiatsu was heavy. Ginjo felt disturbed.

"Who are you?"

Luppi, who was interrupted in his act of shooting the Gran Rey Ceros, inquired, after having noticed the strange reiatsu of the newcomer. Completely oblivious to the fact that his arrival was not welcome at all by the two who were in the midst of battle, the child smiled innocently at Luppi.

"My name is Hikone. Tokinada-sama asked me to come and greet Grimmjow-san."

Luppi looked at Grimmjow, puzzled.

"Acquaintance of yours, Grimmjow?"

"No."

Grimmjow denied it. He addressed Hikone.

"I don't remember telling you my name before. Who told you my name?"

"Tokinada-sama told me that Grimmjow-san held the sixth position among the Espada."

Hearing that, Luppi narrowed his eyes ever so slightly. Grimmjow, on the other hand, responded by stating that he had absolutely no interest in the Espada or his rank.

"This 'Tokinada' person you speak of... Is that the name of the leader of the Shinigami?"

As if replying to his query, another voice was heard behind Grimmjow.

"You idiot, our leader is Kyoraku-san!"

Grimmjow was now looking at a Captain-class Shinigami, wearing a haori. Although his clothes were very different now, grimmjow had no trouble recognizing him.

"You're the bastard who stopped me from killing Kurosaki and that girl in the World of the Living!"

"Oi, do I really look the same?"

"What do you mean?"

"Back then I was different..."

Grimmjow recalled their conversation from a few years back. He spoke delightedly,

"Hahahaha! This is just the best! The ones I'd love to kill are dropping into my lap one after the other. Now, if only Kurosaki were to arrive, my pleasure would know no bounds!"

But Grimmjow's delight was all for naught.

"Ichigo can't come now."

Grimmjow glared at the Shinigami as he continued to speak.

"Ichigo is engaged otherwise in the World of the Living. It is said that someone attacked him and his family. It's terrible out there.."

But before he could complete what he wanted to say, Grimmjow had already moved. With his right hand, he shot a Cero towards the blonde Shinigami, while with his left hand, he shot another one towards Hikone and Luppi.

"Hey, wait, wait, wait! Don't you want to hear more about Ichigo? And besides, your opponent ain't me!"

The Shinigami complained, smoothly avoiding the Cero. Meanwhile, Luppi was staring at Hikone. He, too, had dodged the Cero, but the child had not.

"This kid.... didn't know how to dodge. Then how is he still intact?"

A chill ran down Luppi's spine. Luppi was not the only one who felt this way. Grimmjow, the blonde Shinigami, the faraway Quincies and the Fullbringers all felt a sense of unease.

"Hey, what exactly is this kid?"

Hirako Shinji shook his head at Grimmjow's question.

"I don't really know how to answer that."

Both their eyes fell upon the blade that Hikone had unexpectedly unsheathed. The blade shone abnormally bright. All the way from the tip of the blade to the handle, it shone pure white, like snow. That unusual 'white' invoked a primordial fear within the Shinigami and the Quincy; at the same time, the Arrancars and the Fullbringers felt something familiar from it.

"Luppi, you feel it?'

Grimmjow and Luppi unintentionally presented a united front.

"I've seen this brat's zanpakuto open up a Garganta before."

He told Luppi.

"Oi, Hikone... what's up with that zanpakuto?"

Hirako asked Hikone. Hirako was reminded of a zanpakuto that he had known about a while back. It was a sword that absorbed reiryoku, glowing bright in the process. The name of that zanpakuto was Arazome Shigure*. But this zanpakuto was not quite the same. It felt as if the zanpakuto itself possessed reiryoku. Hikone smiled sweetly at Hirako's question.

"Oh, I haven't introduced you to my sword, have I, Hirako-san? Tokinada-sama gave it to me."

"And why do you sound so happy about it?"

Hirako was extremely shocked to hear an irritable voice coming from the zanpakuto in Hikone's hand. It was a voice that Luppi and Grimmjow thought they recognized.

"Hey, that sounded like Baraggan!"

"Could the kid's voice have suddenly changed?"

"That's not it."

Hirako realized that the sword possessed vast Hollow-like characteristics.

"That voice is coming from the zanpakuto."

"Silence, Shinigami!"

The voice suddenly sounded angry.

"Don't worry, he isn't scary at all."

"Hikone, what does it say to you?"

"Ah, I'm sorry, this katana only recently started to speak to me."

Hikone was apologetic.

"But I was asked by Tokinada-sama to display strength befitting a king. I will do my very best since Tokinada-sama has high expectations of me."

After blurting out these innocently provocative words, Hikone held up the zanpakuto.

"Inscribe the funeral**, Ikomikidomoe!"

Reiatsu sprang up like a tornado, encircling Hikone. However, what drew Grimmjow's attention was not the sharp rise in reiatsu, but rather the fact that the release command used by Hikone in Hueco Mundo was different. It was related to 'stars'. In doing so, the sword had transformed into a Hollow-like figure that drove away the enemies with independent arm movements. It was a Vasto Lorde-class Hollow, very intelligent and thus it required a multitude of higher-class Arrancars to push it out. The difference now lay not only in the release command, but also in reiatsu. The mass of swirling reiatsu had dissipated. What the onlookers now saw, caused all of them to exclaim in unison.

They were all looking at an enormous being, a collection of tens of thousands of Hollows. Considering that it maintained spiritual consolidation of the highest class of humanoid Hollows, that thing was obviously an abnormal existence. An Adjuchas, much larger than an ordinary one, having a virgin white intermediary form. Hikone's shihakusho fluttered in the wind as he rode that thing.

"It's too noisy to keep as a pet."

The Quincies, watching from afar, expressed their doubts as well, upon looking at the huge anomaly.

"The wolf guy that Bambi fought... his bankai was smaller than this thing, right?"

Candice asked Meninas.

"That is indeed something to worry about. And also, why is there..."

"...a Shinigami riding it, yes? Not only that, the Shnigami's reiatsu reeks of Hollow."

Kurotsuchi Mayuri, too, had noticed the commotion. He contacted NaNaNa Najahkoop via the communication device attached to his ear.

"It's time for you to head out. Try using a few of your skills on that thing."

"Weren't the Fullbringers our target?"

"Naturally, analysis of the Fullbringers is also one of our aims. But there has been a slight change of plans. We need to capture it."

After handing out instructions, Mayuri narrowed his eyes.

"Is this a trap? Should I act on it even after knowing that it is a trap?"

Mayuri ridiculed himself.

-----------------------------

T/N: 1. Arazome Shigure-lit. light red late autumn shower. This zanpakuto was used by Nozomi Kujo. I have no idea why Narita decided to tag on the name of this zanpakuto in this story.

Release command of Ikomikidomoe-apparently, this zanpakuto has more than one release command. The one used in Hueco Mundo was 'Orbit/Encircle the stars'. This one literally translates to 'Funeral Record/Document', but it sounded silly, so I went with 'Inscribe the funeral'.

I'll type in the second half later :)


Part 16

(Offically part 12 + connecting chapter)

"So this is where you were, Tsunayashiro Tokinada."

The Visuals Department was located deep underground, beneath the Seireitei. This establishment was a date-collection centre under the direct control of the aristocracy. In recent years, observation data from various events have been gathered and stored here.

"What are you doing here?"

"I would like an explanation."

In front of Tokinada stood a petite Shinigami in a Captain's haori and the uniform of the Onmitsukido.

"Tsunayashiro Tokinada, we received information about an assassination attempt upon your life. That's why I lent you my men so that they could protect you. I want to know why you decided to get rid of them and indulge in 'behind-the-scene' actions."

"Oops, it seems I was found out."

Tokinada smiled unpleasantly.

"I suppose it was Kyoraku who tipped you off? But you, Soi Fon... Does it suit the leader of the Onmitsukido to abandon honorifics when addressing a member of the aristocracy?"

"Honorifics are unnecessary in my line of work."

Soi Fon did not rise to the provocation.

"How interesting! A girl from the lower aristocracy, from a family of assassins, no less, addressing the Head of one of the Four Great Noble Families in such a manner. Your older brothers were trash, it's good that they're dead now. You, on the other hand, are much better than they could ever hope to be."

"I am so flattered."

Soi Fon, keeping her emotions in check, answered in a dead tone of voice. Tokinada curled his lips.

"You said that honorifics are unnecessary. Yet you address Shihoin Yoruichi with an honorific; she, who is no longer the Head of her family."

Soi Fon's expression did not change, but there was a slight fluctuation in her reiatsu.

"Oh, I know! If I were to take Yoruichi as my wife, then would you give me the same respect? My wife was killed and Yoruichi suffered because of Urahara Kisuke. Don't you think this is a perfect match-up?"

Soi Fon's face was stony. A voice suddenly reverberated in the underground room.

"Oho! So you're proposing marriage to me, are you?"

Soi Fon looked around in surprise. There was a person standing there, clothed in black.

"Yoruichi-sama!"

"Ah, so you heard those embarrassing words?"

Tokinada did not sound very ashamed of himself.

"If I were to accept your proposal, then I'd have to accompany you to Hueco Mundo, wouldn't I? I'd rather not. Soul Society's better."

"Oh, Yoruichi-sama..."

Soi Fon's facial expression had changed.

"Thank you so much!"

Yoruichi sighed, then she turned to Soi Fon with a serious look.

"Arresting the current Head of a noble family could be bad for the Onmitsukido, Soi Fon."

Yoruichi then spoke to Tokinada.

"Pardon her. Allow the two of us to protect you should an assassination attempt be made upon your life."

Tokinada was silent for a while. Eventually, he spoke with a bitter smile.

"You don't even have a zanpakuto now, and Soi Fon specializes in assassinations."

"I see. So Kyoraku blabbed about my zanpakuto. That guy, he sure is talkative. I do have a proper zanpakuto. However, it is very strong and prefers hand-to-hand combat. Thanks to that, I can appease my zanpakuto on a regular basis."

Soi Fon continued to remain alert and tense. Tokinada accepted the offer after thinking for a while. He smiled.

"I confess I was quite anxious myself, without my retainer to attend to me."

"Anxious, huh?"

Tokinada got up from the table, and the next instant an explosion rang through the dungeon, a hole forming in the ceiling. Several men and women with black cloth wrapped around their mouths, wearing black outfits, stormed the place. They rushed to where Tokinada was, their swords aloft.

"Assassins? So this is your doing?"

"Did you really think we'd let you get away?"

Soi Fon's usual commanding expression reappeared on her face as she issued out orders to the punishment force.

"Oh my, how scary! Now I have to cross swords with you befitting my status as an aristocrat."

Laughing hysterically, Tokinada's hand touched the handle of the zanpakuto at his waist.

"Venerate, Kuten Kyokoku!"

And thus, the curtain rose upon the hostility amongst the aristocracy. It was also a prelude to the conflict that was to follow soon after.

---------------------------------------------------------

Connecting chapter :-

The month flowed past eventfully, the month after Tosen Kaname swore fealty to Aizen Sosuke. In the beginning, Tosen had his doubts. In fact, he was rather hostile towards Aizen. Aizen was a Shinigami, after all, just like Tsunayashiro Tokinada. Tosen thought that Aizen, too, must have had some ulterior motive behind befriending him, and sooner or later, Aizen would crush his unspoiled self. Rather, Tosen was afraid to believe in anyone. But these thoughts soon vanished. To Tosen, Aizen felt like a monarch. Now he could safely say so, since his doubts were absent. Back then, Aizen had told him,

"If you feel that way, then it is better to cast aside those who make you feel such emotions."

The personality of Aizen Sosuke was unyielding enough to make Tosen feel ashamed of his doubts. The more he got to know Aizen, the more he realized that Aizen was one-of-a-kind. He was already far beyond the rest of the Shinigami. With this realization, the first embraces of hostility faded away. Initially, Tosen harboured a fang in his heart, thinking that he was probably just a pawn, but these thoughts disappeared as well.

For this man named Aizen Sosuke, talent came naturally. In that situation, there was no reason for Aizen to have revealed the powers of Kyoka Suigetsu after saving him. Furthermore, Aizen gained no benefit from rescuing a victim like him. In his unyielding way, Aizen parried Tosen's doubts and told him,

"If you think that I intend to toy with your emotions, then kill if you must, but do not speak words which are non-existent in your heart, you, who is more afraid than anyone else."

-"It is not right to let vengeance fade away without doing anything about it."

-"To entrust this world in the hands of the Shinigami, to turn one's eyes away from the chain of sacrifices that continue eternally, that, in my opinion, is vice."

-"Even if everything is denied to me, I will not change my opinion."

-"If you still wish to condemn me, then keep polishing your blade under my supervision, so that one day, it will reach me."

When Tosen heard these words, he asked Aizen,

"Why would you want to help someone who would one day become your enemy? Why would you want that person by your side?"

Aizen told him,

"You are a man who knows despair and at the same time, you know the taste of fear. I possess no fear. That is why you need to light up my path."

To Aizen Sosuke, both good and evil were equally insignificant. To someone who would become the cornerstone of Aizen's path, that person would see Aizen as a saviour. To those who wished to cherish the world, they would see Aizen as evil. There was no stagnation in the path Aizen trod. And that is why it was unnecessary for him to consider what was good and what was evil.

"It is your own journey in life, that takes on the form of your personal 'justice'. Even killing is justified if it is because of something you strongly believe in."

Aizen described 'justice' as

"Something that could not be evaluated by the duality of what we call right and wrong."

Tosen understood this sentiment and doubted Aizen no more. But it would be a lie if Tosen had said that all his bruises had disappeared. It was just that only his doubts about Aizen had all gone. He was a person with no ambition; he was someone whom most people would easily pass over. Aizen understands this, yet he wants me to open up his path for him.

-So what about me? Is there justification in seeking justice for myself? Is that a just cause?

It was not the case that Tosen Kaname was using a powerful man like Aizen to exact vengeance. This idea would mean that he had strayed from his path.

"I do not yet understand... I cannot seem to be able to decide..."

Tosen spoke about his own fear in front of Aizen.

"I hate the Shinigami. I hate the world that is so cruel to people. But am I a horrible person because I think such things? Immersed in my own grudges, is it justified to condemn the whole world along with my personal hatred?"

"That is not for you or for me to judge."

Aizen neither denied nor affirmed Tosen's fear.

"Because this entire world is established upon a pedestal of sin."

"Sin?"

"But as the forefather of the Quincy once wanted, it will be no good for the world to go back to what it used to be in the beginning. It is crucial that people not lose their significance as a 'person'. Therefore, I shall become the lynchpin of this world, a symbol of all the sins committed by the Shinigami. The Rei-o, who is also a sacrifice, must fall out of heaven."

Tosen's eyes widened. Aizen mentioned a 'sacrificial' Spirit King.

"What did you say? The Shinigami's king is a sacrifice?"

Aizen did not directly answer Tosen's query. Instead of a reply, he asked Tosen another question.

"Have you ever heard of the term 'Fullbringer'?"

"No, sorry, I am from the Rukongai, so..."

"You don't need to apologize, I was the one who brought back painful memories. Anyway, even in the Soul Society, there are very few people who know of their existence."

Aizen narrowed his eyes.

"Because the information is kept a secret by Tsunayashiro Tokinada."

Although Aizen explained the mechanism behind the birth and the abilities of a Fullbringer, Tosen did not understand how it was connected to the Soul Society's sin. Aizen told him that it was only natural for Tosen to be confused. He then asked Tosen,

"Why do you think that the foetus is so heavily affected by the Hollow even though it was inside its mother's body?"

Aizen was silent for a while before he resumed speaking.

"You know that I was shaving off the souls of Rukongai residents to feed my incomplete Hogyoku, right?"

"Yes. What about it?"

"Although it did not satisfy the Hogyoku, it showed a very strong reaction in response to the soul taken from a certain girl. Her soul mixed with the Hogyoku and precisely because of that, it responded to the 'nail'."

In order to reach the throne in the sky, Aizen had long continued his research on the Hogyoku. He had fed it hundreds of souls, but the Hogyoku had shown no signs of completion. That was why Aizen wanted another Hogyoku, the one created by Urahara Kisuke, to add to his own.

"The existence of the 'nail' was found by chance during the course of my research. The girl lost a large chunk of her soul, yet she still became a Shinigami, had all the abilities of a Shinigami. She even lived on, thanks to the existence of the 'nail'. She remained quite unchanged."

"What does that mean?"

Tosen asked. Aizen then spat out an answer that was completely unexpected.

"A very long time ago, the ancestors of the Shinigami gouged out the body of the Rei-o."

And thus, Tosen Kaname heard the full story, the truth behind the origins of the three worlds, including the Soul Society and Hueco Mundo. By the time Aizen had completed the story, Tosen's mind was made up.

-This world must be changed. That is 'justice'.

-In order to do what is 'just', I would not mind throwing my life away.

In front of Tosen, Aizen re-affirms his former words.

"I am prepared to see this through to the end. I am resolved to replace the foundation. I will not be swayed by the desires of others, but will stand in the heavens of my own free will."

He then turned to Tosen and said,

"I would like to thank you for being my greatest loyalist. As a token of my gratitude, I will grant you anything you wish for."

Tosen recalled the small hill from where the stars could be seen. 'I wouldn't mind seeing Aizen's world'; this thought also crossed his mind.

Aizen, too, wondered what Tosen desired, he watched Tosen with interest, waiting to hear the other's words. After a slight silence, Tosen opened his mouth.

"My wish is...."

-------------------------------------

T/N: 1. The 'nail'-It seems like an error, doesn't it? But the story really uses the word 'tsume', which means nail or claw. And Kubo did say that Rangiku's past would be important to the story.

I really loved the connecting chapter. Aizen's characterization was fantastic.


I am inserting the missing parts of Scheneizel's translation, the ones that were posted when I was absent. This is a work in progress - B. Haddrell


Part 17

Chapter 12:

Fullbringer. A being born out of the relationship between human and Hollow since ancient times. Exactly why they were conceived is unknown to most, except a select few Shinigami. The Fullbringers themselves do not know the truth; they liken their powers to 'something unbelievable, something to be loathed', which, in turn, meant that 'the attack on their parent was in vain'. Those who found their powers convenient were drawn to them. Those who did not know the meaning behind their powers kept using them mindlessly, which eventually led to their destruction. Those who drowned in greed because of their powers were forced to remain hidden from the rest of the world because such abilities were not present in other people. Especially, the unique ability of distorting materials by reconstructing them seemed like a power bestowed by God himself.

It can be said that this ability partially warps the root of the 'way of the world', rather than an 'exaggerated legend'. It was as if they could challenge the very system of the world that was decided by others. A privilege, that is to say. Attachment to personal belongings. In other words, this inherent ability of the Fullbringers ironically allowed them to both isolate themselves from the world as well as to connect themselves to the world.

But what about someone who does not have any such attachment? Those who were incapable of embracing fragments of passion towards their own lives or anything around them? Those who rejected even the slightest connections to the world, feelings of love, even hatred? What kind of horizons do those Fullbringers reach? Michibane Aura was the one with the answers to those questions.

Michibane Aura was a rare being, spanning two generations. Her father was a Fullbringer, but her mother was a normal human being. She was born of the union between these two beings, connected by feelings of love, joined by a common struggle, as though by fate. The pregnant human woman was attacked by a Hollow. The father, the Fullbringer, was able to defeat the Hollow by making use of his power. However, Aura's mother was gravely injured at the time. The child was born safely, but the mother lost her life because of the wound. Did the blood of the Fullbringer flowing within the child attract the Hollow? Aura's father thought so. Therefore, after Aura's birth, he kept both Aura's and his powers hidden, all the while looking for ways to destroy Hollows. He was afraid that Aura, too, would be rejected by the world. Ten years later, her father told her one day in a voice filled with delight,

"Rejoice, Aura. Both you and I will finally be released from our curses. There is a Substitute Shinigami named Ginjo Kugo. He seems incredible. He will take all the Hollow powers away from us. We'll be alright now. You will be able to lead a normal life, Aura."

While listening to those words of joy, pleasurable anticipation and a few vestiges of anxiety, Aura wondered.

"What is 'normal'? The Hollow powers are the root of the ability that Father taught me. Why do I have to give it away to a stranger? Does this mean all of my powers will be gone? What does it really mean 'to live normally'? The way I am now is not 'normalcy', Father."

Aura, who was confined in a cellar, with little to do, by her father, suddenly had such thoughts. Aura's father was a broken man, after the death of his wife. Although he kept his daughter in the basement of their house, he was never violent with her, nor did he neglect child-care. To him, Aura was someone whom he had to protect at all costs. She was also an alter-ego that he believed was closest in existence to his beloved wife. She had to be protected; from Hollows, from prying and conniving human eyes, from the world itself that would label them as heretics. For Aura, who grew up in the cellar at the base of their house, the world was a narrow and confined space, with only her father for company. Her father did not provide her with books, nor did he allow her to watch TV, nor leave the room, since he thought that there was no need for Aura to know about the world. He only taught her basic reading and writing and Fullbring techniques as defense against Hollows. Her world was somehow complete, it was not inhibited. Yet, this world was tasteless, odourless, colourless. A world without freedom. In this world, there was no difference between hope and despair. That only thing that made her feel a bit of enjoyment was her father's cooking. She remembered how delicious her father's dishes were. But before these feelings known as 'affection' became the cornerstone of her Fullbring, her father had headed over to this man called Ginjo Kugo. But when her father did not return, Aura, even with her limited knowledge, was able to realize that something abnormal had taken place. Aura did not understand what she ought to do.

Hunger is said to be one of the most painful of human sufferings. For Aura who was kept confined, but with proper meals, suffered for the first time. It was enough to break her young heart. But, it did not completely shatter her. Was it the benefit of the gift of Fullbring handed down by her father? Or was it her own beginning? In any case, she succeeded in getting out of the situation before it became irrevocable.

When hunger reached its limit, when she could bear it no longer, she raised her hand. The wall of the cellar, which was covered on all sides by a glass aquarium, cracked open. She had managed this by drawing out the 'soul' of the glass that confined her. All of the glass turned into sand and left a gaping hole in front of her. A door. The girl walked out towards the world from underground; her footsteps steady. She was yet unaware that although she had left her confined world, she was still inside a part of the mansion. The girl destroyed all seven of the keys of her house using Fullbring and kept on walking. The first things she grasped with her own hands as part of the 'outside world' were the ingredients that existed in the kitchen. Noticing the uncooked meal that her father had abandoned midway, she instinctively spat on it. Ironically, she was now rejecting the only thing in the world that she had grown attached to. She managed the process of 'cooking' using her abilities. Her life as a 'normal' Fullbringer was now over. What remained was either meeting the man named Ginjo Kugo, fighting against Kurosaki Ichigo, or finding a clear salvation. In her world, something she held precious had not yet appeared. Or, it could be that her father, in some complicated way, would have been a connection she held dear, had he not disappeared from her world. Aura 'died' and left her world; upon stepping into the outside world, she faced death in its truest sense.

Her collapsed house was unearthed by the police and traces of confinement were discovered. The public and media made a great fuss about an insane father who had locked up his daughter. Soon, however, the turmoil calmed down, and the girl named Aura faded from people's memories and was forgotten by the world. She gave up her father's last name and took upon the name 'Michibane', her mother's maiden name. She was now 'Michibane Aura'; she lived her life as Michibane Aura after that.

After the passage of a few more years, she started blending in with the ordinary social life. 'Blending in' would not have been strictly accurate. She stayed inconspicuous, as if erasing her presence, like grass growing on the roadside. Originally, her appearance was very beautiful, and as a result, she started drawing in the attention of people from both genders. Her Fullbring abilities may have had some influence on the surroundings as well. She no longer believed in hiding herself away from the world. However, she was not in the least interested in the world around her, so she remained apathetic. Her father had told her that the people around her were all 'bad' and to forget about such topics regarding the outside world. From the knowledge of social life obtained after her escape, it dawned on her that her father most certainly was not right in the head. But it no longer mattered.

Aura's only true world was the narrow, aquarium-laden cellar, but she had formed no attachment there. She initially thought that a new, unseen world would be exciting, but no, she only saw this world as an extension of the aquarium. Although there was no such thing she had grown fond of enough to mature her Fullbring, there was one thing that she needed to figure out for herself.

"For me, what's important is the reconstruction technique that I learned from my father. That's my purpose of living. I don't really care about my father, but the Fullbring that my father passed on to me makes me who I am."

"Indeed."

One day, a man appeared abruptly in front of her. He nodded satisfactorily after hearing her speak aloud her thoughts. Aura looked up to see that this floating man was very different from the surrounding people.

"Your words sure make me smile."

Aura noticed that nobody else could see the man apart from herself. Just like the Hollow which had also appeared to attack. The man, who wore era-old black clothing, looked with interest at the Hollow.

"Heh, it's amusing to see such an enormous Hollow here."

Using only the basic techniques of his trade, the man made a wreck of the Hollow.

"Who are you? Are you not human?"

"Who, me? How rude; have you never heard of the existence of 'Shinigami' from your father?"

She remembered her father talking about such an existence, but they were different from the ones described in literature. Her father was going to meet one such being before he had disappeared.

"Are you Ginjo?"

The man who called himself a Shinigami seemed to enjoy Aura's confusion.

"Hahahaha! I am sorry, so very sorry indeed. I wish I could have said 'yes', both for your sake as well as Ginjo Kugo's.."

"So who are you, then?"

The man answered Aura, still in that same tone of enjoyment from earlier.

"My name is Tsunayashiro Tokinada. You are really impolite in your tone, aren't you? Anyway, I am in the middle of my house-arrest sentence. But lately I had this urge to sneak out and visit this interesting world. Well, this goes to show that the higher-ups in the main house won't be missing me anytime soon."

Aura tilted her head, not understanding the man's self-musings. Tokinada looked down at Aura.

"Ah! Sorry, sorry. I was just talking about the kind of person I am, rather than my name and circumstances."

The man spoke with a friendly smile.

"It's a simple story, really. Your father was killed under orders from the main family."

Aura, for the first time, allowed expression to show on her face. As if that reaction was enjoyable as well, the Shinigami calling himself Tokinada, spoke further.

"Your father was supposed to be reported missing, but... in reality, he is already dead. You have saved me the time and trouble of having to go look for you, so I appreciate that. It's so amusing that it almost makes me cry. You can accuse me of being your parent's murderer and then kill me. Don't you want to see the difference between my kido and your Fullbring abilities?"

"I don't really understand. Why did your family kill my father?"

"You want to know the reason? What if I said that there was no reason, would you then try and defeat me? Do you want an honest answer?"

Tokinada slowly walked around Aura. He could feel no anger or sorrow emanating from her. He gazed at her as though she was some rare animal. Presently, he opened his mouth.

"A collection. A fusion. An agglutination. Which do you think is more important, your father or your soul? Well, regardless of what you choose, do you not bear hatred towards the family that robbed you of your precious world inside the narrow, aquarium-filled room? What will you do if a member of said family is right in front of you?"

Aura's eyes narrowed.

"Do you also know about my past?"

"But of course I know. It seems that the 'factor' was inside your mother, continuing for two generations. Your father, too, was a Fullbringer. You are a very rare case indeed. So, if I asked you to a duel, would you accept it?"

Looking at Aura who easily shook her head, Tokinada laughed.

"Hahaha, of course, of course. You do not have that kind of personality. I met a man who was drowning in the exact opposite sentiment; I had to try an elaborate approach in his case. I can still feel his glare, even now. You don't seem to understand the concept of euphoria in the first place, but no point in talking about something that is not there."

Aura frankly asked Tokinada, without a trace of anger or fear in her voice.

"Are you going to kill me too?"

"Which one do you mean?"

Against a man who had just declared her murder, she did not display too many emotions. She was puzzled, though, at Tokinada's words. But she did not speculate on it. Perhaps, puzzlement was as close an emotion that she could muster. Tokinada told her that he would not lie about his purpose.

"The 'factors present within you' are more interesting and useful than collecting them as a whole."

He spoke as if these words would delight his listener.

"I wonder if you really have no attachment to this world? What if I became such a person for you? If I make a new world, then perhaps you could form an attachment there?"

Those words were like a riddle to Aura. Like a serpent, Tokinada ensnared her, little by little, with his words.

"The 'heart' and the 'left arm' have returned to the Quincies. If you let me have the specific 'factor' that resides within you, I'll try my best to give you something you can grow attached to."

"I have no such thing inside me."

"You can deny it, but I want you to think well upon what I have just said until the right time comes. Someday, you may be capable of deceiving both men and women."

Aura kept asking Tokinada,

"What do I have inside me?"

Tokinada replied with mirth,

"An entity called the 'Rei-o'. Rather, an organ of his, known as the 'chain'."

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T/N: 1. The 'chain'-The term used here is 'Kusari', which means 'chain'. Kubo has used the term 'kusari' when referring to the 'chain of fate' (as seen when Ichigo's was encroached upon, in the Shattered Shaft). However, Shinigami and Arrancars also have a 'chain', but in their case, Kubo has used the term 'Saketsu' or 'soul chain'. Uryuu destroyed Jirobo's Saketsu in the Soul Society arc, causing him to lose his Shinigami powers. Byakuya, too, destroyed Ichigo's Saketsu when he took Rukia away. But in this story, the term used is just 'Kusari', not 'Inga no Kusari' (or 'Chain of Fate' seen in Pluses). Therefore, it seems as if this organ of the Spirit King is neither the Chain of Fate nor the Soul Chain. It seems like an entirely different organ, specific to the Spirit King only. This actually does make sense. The Spirit King doesn't seem to be a Shinigami, so he shouldn't have a soul chain, he is neither a Plus, so he shouldn't have a chain of fate either.

Also, I think Yukio's motives for aligning himself with Aura is slightly clearer. Yukio, too, was kept in confinement by his parents.



P.S. Sorry, I will have to break up part 13 into more than two portions. As you know, part 13 is extremely long. This will take a bit of time, so please don't mind.



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Can't Fear Your Own World II Translations by MissStormcaller (Continued from V. 1)

Part 4, Full translation - part 8 on the app.




Part 5, Full translation - This is about 1/3 of part 9 on the app (chapter 8 continued)



Part 6 Full Translation (This is Part 9 on the app 2/3)



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Can't Fear Your Own World III

translated by Scheneizel first posted in Bleach Reddit

Pages 12 to 24

"That is why people have given this very march a unique, special name."

-Aizen Sosuke

Connecting chapter :-

Ubuginu Hikone had no memory of the moment he gained his own sense of self. There were no memories from his childhood, none from his time as a human being or a Shinigami. Hikone was a being who was distorted; formed by weaving together several fragments from various existences. Within his soul were Hollows, Quincies from a thousand years ago; on top of that there were a collection of stillborn foetus' konpaku, collected by Tsunayashiro Tokinada from the World of the Living. Every kind of konpaku were brought together around the 'fragment of the Rei-o'; but initially, they all seemed to fall apart and lost their form. Everything was miraculously held together, however, because of a 'piece' of the Rei-o, also collected by Tsunayashiro Tokinada.

When he woke up, Hikone, now newly named, could clearly remember a memory from within his consciousness. A recollection from long ago; he recalled a prison and saw himself as a prisoner. Not himself, but his consciousness. Maybe it was an illusion. Or perhaps it was not an illusion at all.

This konpaku was used to give birth to Hikone before the raw materials were disassembled into what it is now. There was a strong possibility that residuals from previous existences had some influence over Hikone. There were thousands of vastly different souls; a chaotic, conflicting swirl just like an aggregate of Hollows. Various emotions floated in and out of Hikone. A fragment of a certain soul yearned for slaughter, denying the existence of certain other fragments as absolutely unacceptable. Another piece of a soul said that evil was the very essence of human beings, while one other piece believed that human beings were good. Although these were individual thoughts, memories and reasons, the differences inscribed within the soul all came together and tried to tear Hikone's soul by sometimes rejecting each other.

Under the tutelage of Tokinada, Hikone learnt a lot and could now take command over his existence. Thus, the individual named Hikone is the same as the remnant of the soul which rampaged around, disturbing and swaying him at times, but Tokinada 'corrected' his thoughts and gave them an outlet, driving them towards a particular direction within his head. The only thing Hikone learned to think of his own will was to become a king who is loved by all his subjects; a king for Tokinada. Tokinada also taught him that slaughter and violence are sometimes necessary in order to become a king. This succeeded in appeasing parts of Hikone which longed for violence.

These feelings began to take root and it will divide his own fate. But to the Hikone of today, who continues to follow Tokinada, this fate is unseen, a story not told.

Not yet.

Chapter 1 :-

"You have not seen the stars yet."

When the wife had learned Tokinada's true nature, she had not been shocked, nor was she disappointed. Her voice was kind, compassionate; she spoke as if she was admonishing a small child; not the voice of someone addressing a member of the upper nobility. Tokinada knew that it was futile to ask her to stop. It was as if Tokinada had learned that he was in a position far, far away from his own self, a position he had given himself after having learned defeat.

Following the instructions from the main branch, Tokinada was asked to take a wife. It was at the Shino Reijutsuin where he had met the woman. It was a mere coincidence at first. She had just passed the entrance examination and was accepted.

At the time, this was considered to be 'training' by the House of Tsunayashiro. Those who carried out this 'training' were subjected to various experiments with the 'fragments' and assigned to give birth to a child to whom the 'accomplishments' of the training would pass on to. The training was complete only when this was carried out successfully. The weak were not tolerated within the family. The woman was taken in by the House of Tsunayashiro for their 'nurturement'. Within the House of Tsunayashiro, the leader of the Four Great Noble Houses, rank among family members clearly mattered.

Perhaps something within this particular woman drew Tokinada towards her, a poor resident from the Rukongai. Tokinada approaching this woman was a coincidence, although under orders from the main family. He did not mind being forced into marriage by the main house but at the same time, he wanted to see the face of a woman who would receive great happiness and then he would steal it all away to let her fall to the very bottom.

"I don't love you or anything. You were just chosen as an experimental subject by our family."

He was curious to see the expression on her face when the truth hit her. Then, with false kindness and his social standing as weapons, he would capture the woman's heart easily. He was convinced that deception would work.

On the evening of the wedding ceremony, Tokinada revealed everything.

"Your high ambitions and avarice will lead to your downfall. Not only yours, but to your close friend from the Rukongai as well. Through no fault of his, he will also suffer."

"No, Kaname will be fine."

Tokinada expected to see despair in her face but instead he was met with bright eyes full of happiness. It was on that day that she had informed Kaname that she was getting married to Tokinada. Tokinada found it ridiculous that she had not guessed that her best friend back in her hometown would feel rejected. He could not fathom her heart, and it frustrated him.

At the Academy, her skills as a Shinigami grew on a daily basis. Before long, it was rumoured that she would soon become a seated officer as both Ukitake and Kyoraku were impressed by her abilities. This resulted in the slow erosion of Tokinada's presence and importance; this made him impatient. But the main family would have none of it, they did not allow him to get rid of her as she was a valuable experimental subject and the laboratory instruments were already prepared.

However, there were those who had accidentally stumbled upon this plan. The man was an ordinary Shinigami and a close comrade of her's or perhaps he even liked her. Perhaps he was trying to rescue her from the House of Tsunayashiro; he called Tokinada out at midnight and confronted him about it. Tokinada told him the truth quite easily, leaving nothing out. He could have pretended to profess his love for his wife and said that he would go against his family. But Tokinada's inner nature did not allow it. He wanted to see the man go all out; he wanted to see the man's expression. The man yelled in desperation,

"As her friend, I swear I'll kill you!"

"Oh, absolutely!"

He drew his sword with a smile. Zanpakutos clashed. It was obvious who would win and who would fall. Tokinada planned to leave and never return. But then something unexpected happened.

His wife, who was out looking for him, stumbled upon the spot when she heard the sound of blades clashing. She tried to stop them by forcing herself between the two of them. Tokinada seized the opportunity to turn his back and push away his opponent; his opponent who was already in a bad condition, fell down. As he tried to get up to help his comrade, Tokinada appeared just behind him and slashed at him without hesitation.

Tokinada was excited. A thin smile played upon his lips.

-Ah, I have finally brought a look of despair upon my wife's face. My wife, who was so full of her naive and hypocritical ideas. Her eyes are swimming with tears of anger and despair.

"Cry, Suzumushi! This murderous intent of yours, direct it towards me instead!"

"So you can burn with rage. You want me to turn my blade towards you? Then curse your sweetness."

As Tokinada looked down at the face of his fallen wife, she stared up at him with her child-like eyes. She tried to smile even during her dying moments. She breathed out her final words, with the same voice that seemed to admonish a child, almost choking out,

"I'm sorry.... I could not sweep away your clouds...."

{t/n: This is a reference to her speech to Tosen in the manga/anime, where she says that she wants justice to shine like the stars in the night sky; she wants to 'sweep away the clouds' which try to smother the tiny shining lights in the sky.}

Her eyes closed forever. For a while, Tokinada kept trembling. It was not out of regret over killing his wife, it was not because he was faced with two dead bodies. It was out of pure anger.

"Till the very end, you looked at me with pity and mercy! You said "I have not yet seen the stars"! You said "you could not sweep away my clouds"! Don't say such stupid things, you fool! From the very beginning, I have been standing on the clouds! No, I were the clouds! You were the one who was wrong! Stars, eh? They make the world beautiful? Kakyo, have you really never noticed the ugliness of stardust shining in the night sky? If you haven't, then it's good that you ended up this way!"

{t/n: Ironically, during the very speech where Kakyo mentions the stars, Tosen wordlessly replies with "I couldn't bring myself to tell her that I liked the clouds". For some odd reason, the anime cut this out.}

Tokinada screamed, his rage spilling over. Eventually, he managed to adjust his breathing and erased the angry expression from his face.

"I'm sorry, Kakyo, I wanted you to know how outrageous this world really was. I wanted to tell you that your heart which values peace is precious, but that wish was meaningless. If I could repaint this world with evil, then it can be said that I have really opened my heart to you. In that sense, I may have loved you."

Tokinada smiled down at her, but now that her life had been lost, no one knew the answer to that, none of those words reached Kakyo.

{t/n: During the scene where Tokinada screams in anger, there's the sketch of him looking deranged.}

Pages 25 to 42

Shortly thereafter, Tokinada arrived at the main house.

"I just could not bear the fact that I was the husband of a poor woman from the Rukongai."

Tokinada told the elders of the family. Although the elders branded him as 'incompetent', he knew that they were not being truthful because it was well-known that it was humiliating for a man from the greater nobility to marry a woman from the Rukongai. That was why Tokinada lied to them. A lie of great magnitude. It didn't matter whom he was lying about, be it his wife, his parents, the four great noble houses or the commoners. To Tokinada, all of them were nothing more than toys meant for him to enjoy life. He used an excuse that was the most natural for someone from a family as notorious as theirs.

"My wife committed infidelity and I happened upon the scene. The man who was with her slashed at Kakyo and tried to kill me too, so I killed him in self-defense."

Tokinada told them, knowing that the Tsunayashiro elders would be easy to convince since they themselves had their own 'skeletons in their closets'. Also, if the Tsunayashiro family was involved, there was the possibility that not even a trial would be held.

However, the circumstances changed when a certain man appeared, seeing through his deception and pointing out detailed evidence against his claim. It was unfortunate for Tokinada that this man happened to be the second son of a high-ranking noble, Kyoraku Shunsui. If it were not for him, Tokinada's life might have been very different.

In front of the palace:-

Kyoraku arrived beneath the aerial castle; his gaze travelled upwards, eyes narrowed.

"My, my! I wonder how the Four Great Noble Families managed to replicate something as huge as the Reiokyu in secrecy... I don't think they hired people to construct this. Has it been done using the same mechanism that keeps the real Reiokyu afloat in the sky?"

"But wasn't that technique confidential?"

Yoruichi asked. Kyoraku shook his head in disbelief. Then he turned his eyes towards the palace just underneath the floating castle. Although its dimensions were quite modest compared to the structure above it, it was large enough to fit in most of the squad barracks of the Gotei.

Kyoraku sharpened his reiatsu as he felt a familiar reiatsu coming from within the palace.

-So he's not hiding himself? Well, I guess I should go say hello.

Kyoraku was the first to go through the gate. He then turned back, looking over at Kenpachi.

"Sorry, Captain Zaraki. This time, I need to go ahead of you. Letting you enter before me would be a serious problem since I need to make him talk first."

"I see. So there are your orders. You want to stealthily ambush the rebel. In that case you run the risk of turning everyone in the Soul Society into our enemy."

Kenpachi answered brutally.

"Tell me something I don't know."

"Yeah, I get it. You asked this of me because of the Captain's haori on my back."

"It is a matter involving opposing the Four Great Noble Houses, after all. Something bothering you, Yoruichi-chan?"

Yoruichi stood there, looking ill-tempered.

"I was wondering how to bring it up, you know?"

"Why, what happened?"

She then mentioned the name of someone who was not with them.

"It's such a shame that Byakuya was there to hold me back. Otherwise, I'd have killed him then and there for his audacity."

"What did he do?"

"He insulted Hisana. Byakuya appeared to look calm, but I could tell that he was boiling with rage inwardly. I suppose he didn't want to start a civil war."

Kyoraku sighed.

"I must thank him for keeping his emotions in check."

-It's a good thing that Captain Kuchiki isn't here with us. I sent him and Captain Hitsugaya to investigate the trouble in the World of the Living. If Captain Kuchiki got to know that the trouble related to Ichigo-kun was a scheme of Tokinada's, then...

While these thoughts whirled around his head, Kyoraku arrived at the centre of the courtyard. A man stood on the balcony, directly facing him.

"You're late, Kyoraku."

"Tokinada..."

"What's this? Is this not the Captain Commander of the Gotei 13 who speaks to me so familiarly, but an old friend? Just like the time when we were together at the Academy."

Kyoraku forced a bitter smile upon his face.

"That's right. We used to be familiar with each other a long time ago."

While speaking, Kyoraku had already unsheathed his swords. The wakizashi was created only to hide the Ise sword Shinken Hakkyoken. Katen and Kyokotsu were a pair of zanpakutos, rather unusual in Soul Society.

{t/n: the Japanese samurai who used the two-sword technique, often carried a long sword paired with a short one. The most common pair was the katana and the wakizashi. The odachi was also paired with the wakizashi, but Katen mentioned in the manga that she was a katana, not an odachi.}

Kyoraku looked up at the floating castle and asked,

"Why do you plan on transferring this structure to the World of the Living? What exactly are you planning to do?"

"Oh, so you noticed that? Of course you did! You did reveal my lies back then and asked for a trial too."

"But ultimately, you were not tried, were you?"

"So, in anger, did you come here to mimic the revolution surrounding yet another noble family? Like the one involving Kuchiki Rukia's rescue? Glad to know your prudence hasn't changed. First, you raise your voice to the Central 46, then you turn against the Four Great Noble Houses... No, you turn against the very history of the Soul Society."

Watching Tokinada enjoying himself, Kyoraku shook his head.

"Going against history? That's your interpretation of my actions?"

"The House of Tsunayashiro is the symbol of this world's history. That is to say, all members of the family continue to remain the cornerstone of the world. So don't you think that defying me is equivalent to going against history?"

"That depends on which version of history you're trying to write. According to Yoruichi-chan, you wish to rule not only the World of the Living, but this world and Hueco Mundo as well."

Tokinada answered sweetly,

"Don't you think that ruling over the current three realms is enough to command respect?"

"Respect?"

"Yes. Why should the inhabitants of Hueco Mundo live through countless nights without ever seeing the light of daybreak? Why should Hueco Mundo always be covered in sand? It was the same during the last war. Only a select few Shinigami know about Kurosaki Ichigo's achievements. Most people were not even aware of the fact that the worlds were collapsing. Should such a thing be permitted, I ask you?"

Neliel interrupted.

"Ichigo doesn't care about such things."

"Miss Arrancar, even if that person does not mind, does that make it fair? Even today, you Hollows and Arrancars continue to chase after human souls endlessly. Is it right to keep existing like this, day after day?"

"Say what you will, but don't use Ichigo as an excuse for your selfish reasons."

Liltotto, who was listening to their conversation, whispered to Grimmjow, who was beside her.

"Hey, is that Arrancar Kurosaki Ichigo's girlfriend?"

"Haaah? Wouldn't Kurosaki prefer a living human woman?"

Grimmjow recalled the girl who had been brought into Hueco Mundo and who had restored his arm.

"He does have a friend who is a living human woman, though."

"Ah."

Liltotto nodded. Meanwhile, Tokinada responded to Neliel's statement with a serious expression upon his face.

"That's a rude thing to say. I do appreciate Kurosaki Ichigo's efforts greatly. If he had not defeated Yhwach, the three worlds would have merged and the souls would no longer circulate. He has maintained Soul Society's history and he is praise-worthy for preventing its history from being stolen."

Kyoraku now opened his mouth and spoke sarcastically,

"My, look how glibly you speak, Tokinada. Why don't you tell them what you really want?"

"Oh, has the Captain Commander seen through me?"

"Oh no. It doesn't take a Captain Commander to see through your ploy. I just happen to be familiar with your rotten nature."

Kyoraku held aloft his two zanpakutos.

"You just want to see a world where common sense has collapsed and is slowly starting to break."

"In the World of the Living, 'religion' and 'science' are deeply rooted within their society. There is no scientific explanation for our existences. Also, those who believed in religion are wrong as well. They need to see proof of this world's evil."

Kyoraku glanced upward towards the aerial castle.

-Embracing the existences of spirits, Shinigami and Hollows.

-Yes, if it is proven that there exists a world beyond death, then 'society' and 'culture' of the World of the Living would certainly be destroyed. Their very foundations would be shaken to the core.

Those humans who know sorrow and suffering in their current lives, would dream of a better existence after death; they might even commit suicide so as to ease their pain.

Crime rates would increase exponentially if people no longer feared death penalties, since there is another world after death.

The foundations of anarchy would be completely uprooted. Human beings will freely use their fearsome military weapons upon each other.

Furthermore, if it is known that Hell exists, chaos will be born from another aspect of society. What are the criteria for falling into Hell? If the range of wrong-doing is known, then is it alright if crimes are committed below that standard? Then, the entire judicial system will undergo drastic changes. Chaos would be brought forth from order. Society may fall into a state from which it might be impossible to recover even after a long time has passed. Endless tragedies will occur all over the world.

Conversely, those who 'prepared in advance' to enter a new world after death, were now facing major existential crisis after arriving at Rukongai, which was seeped in poverty and danger. Those religious newcomers were in a state of confusion and fear.

Kyoraku dared not imagine the end-result, so he turned to Tokinada.

"So both the World of the Living and Hueco Mundo are now in a precarious position."

Tokinada told him,

"When you asked me why I wanted to reform the world, I did not know what I ought to say."

Kyoraku erased the bitter smile off his face and spoke in a menacing tone.

"Because you want to watch people's values start to fall apart, people falling into a chaotic situation, their morals conflicting. You just want to see what happens when you impose a new sense of values by breaking down the unwritten code of honour."

The others who heard all this, were incredulous. They could not accept Kyoraku's words.

-This man is trying to accomplish magnificent feats just so he could look at a chaotic society?

-For such an ambiguous purpose?

Nanao and Yoruichi were the only ones who felt that Kyoraku's guess was probably right.

Tokinada told Kyoraku,

"Well now... You really are a troublesome man, Kyoraku."

He laughed and continued,

"At least you understand my tastes and desires much more than those from our family who despised me."

"Are you saying that you want to break down the way of the world just for your own satisfaction?"

To Halibel's question, Tokinada replied with great amusement,

"I can't believe you're saying something like this, O Queen of Hueco Mundo! Your entire existences are based on chasing after desires, to quench your satisfaction. In order to fulfill your desires, you seek your lost hearts, you drown in destruction, you search for comrades to cure solitude, you pursue everlasting beauty. That's the kind of existence you Arrancars and Hollows have."

Charlotte, who overheard these words, now spoke, striking a pose.

"I certainly pursued beauty. But that desire has been buried because it brought about my end."

Yumichika looked like he was about to warn Charlotte about not saying anything more, but Tokinada went on, still addressing Halibel.

"Can you state with certainty that you have lived a completely blameless life, without having to devour others?"

"Sacrifice is necessary in this world, but that's no reason to make it all fun and games."

"Reason? To me, 'playthings' and 'food' are one and the same. What you're basically saying is that it's correct to kill and devour others for survival as long as you yourself are alive and healthy?"

There was no answer to this. At first, the ones with Kyoraku were rather skeptical about Tokinada's intentions, but now they slowly came to realize that Tokinada's logic was warped.

"Screw this!"

Muguruma spoke in anger. Beside him, Kenpachi seemed uninterested in the discussion; he was itching to fight. Candice and Grimmjow were already sharpening their reiatsu, poised for battle. Ikkaku and Yumichika were whispering to each other,

"Hey, this aristocrat isn't like the ones we know about; Omaeda, Captain Kuchiki and Lady Shihoin.."

"Leaving the bit about Omaeda aside, I tend to agree with you.."

Everyone was looking at Tokinada with expressions of distaste, even Giselle.

"That guy has lost his marbles, hasn't he? Hey, Luppi, maybe you could get along well with him?"

Luppi glared at Cirucci and Dordonii who had uttered this.

"Just a joke, Luppi. Calm down. We, too, are disgusted with his intentions."

Looking at the reactions of those around him, Tokinada shrugged.

"First it was you, Kyoraku, and now I have to explain everything to even the Arrancars and Quincies. Well, it seems like it was pointless from the beginning."

Kyoraku took a step forward.

"Is this the end of your scheme? Now, would you mind coming with me quietly? I will appeal to the Central 46 and the Kinin Noble Assembly to have you tried."

Listening to Kyoraku's words, Nanao, who was behind him, asked urgently,

"What about evidence of his crimes?"

Kyoraku already had the answer to that question. Private usage of the Visuals Department was a privilege of the House of Tsunayashiro. Therefore, Tokinada was currently in charge of it. There remained the possibility of there being a recording of this very situation. Kyoraku thought, if we miss this opportunity and fail to capture Tokinada here, then he might alter the recording in his favour. Besides, the other Captains, like Hirako and Muguruma, might get called in for questioning, labelling this incident as a 'coup d'etat by the military'. Even the Arrancars and the Quincies who had joined the rebellion would be severely punished.

"So, Kyoraku, since I am so sinful, then at least do me the honour of telling me exactly what my crime is."

{t/n: Tokinada is asking this because once someone has been acquitted of a past crime, they cannot be charged with the same crime again.}

"You don't know? For starters, 'creation of Ubuginu Hikone', whom I have not met yet."

The smile disappeared for an instant from Tokinada's face, but then it was replaced by a violent smile, like that of a carnivore.

"So it'll be 'transfer of Shinigami powers' then?"

"I have gathered evidence from the Pharmaceuticals Institute. You have mixed the Saketsu of Shinigami's konpaku with human konpaku."

"Aren't you entering the realms of contradictions here? Is the transfer of Shinigami powers to a dead body a crime? When Kurosaki Ichigo lost his powers, all Captains and Lieutenants, at the behest of Kuchiki Rukia, the adopted child of the House of Kuchiki, transferred powers to him."

"That was an exceptional case allowed by Yama-jii. I don't recall that privilege being extended to you. The act of transferring Shinigami powers is not pardoned even if the person in question is a member of the Four Great Noble Houses just because Rukia-chan made a precedent."

Tokinada laughed.

"It seems that judicial trials for capital offences have been in trend ever since the Aizen incident."

To Nanao, this sounded as if it was meant to be a provocation. She thought to herself, if this story is true, then the child himself could be presented as proof of Tokinada's illegal activities. However, Tokinada spoke once again.

"Can you lot afford to not worry about Hirako Shinji, whom you have left behind?"

Kyoraku lowered his straw hat.

"Some adult you are... using a child..."

As the hours rolled by, the shadow created by Tokinada, as he stood upon the balcony, reached Kyoraku's feet. Kyoraku sank into it, and in the next moment, a blade flickered near Tokinada's feet.

Pages 43 to 53

The Kyogoku stretched endlessly; covered in rocks and sand. At the centre, stood a gigantic bud-like form. Atop the white earth, it slowly bloomed in all its glory, displaying the petals. A man emerged from amidst the corolla and spoke,

"Looks like it's over. Thanks for your hard work, Sakanade."

Hirako stood upon the floral pedestal that so resembled a beautiful Nadeshiko flower.

{t/n: Nadeshiko is a pretty pink flower, from the genus Dianthus. The flower basically protects Shinji; hence the usage of the term 'happoufusagari' in his Bankai's name. It's a bit like Senbonzakura's safe-zone}

"Honestly, it feels like the war with the Quincies never really ended."

His voice echoed in the rocky terrain of the Kyogoku.

"And before you knew it, the Seireitei had been turned into a battleground all of a sudden... And here I am, tidying up the mess.."

Hirako complained.

"The word 'ally' has no meaning in a situation like this. That is why it was necessary for me to isolate myself amidst the enemy. What do you think?"

Hirako looked around. Sprawled around Hirako were heaps and heaps of deformed corpses, like a vast white ocean. Each of the hundreds and thousands of creatures had died in a strange manner. It looked like they had clawed each other's entrails out with their sharp nails, suggesting that the fellowship among them was replaced with violent enmity.

"Sakashima Yokoshima Happoufusagari does not recognize 'ally' from 'enemy'."

Hirako breathed out.

"Sorry, I'd be lying if I said that hypnotism is ineffective against insects."

The Shikai was thought to interfere with the optical and auditory senses, involving illusions, but the Bankai went beyond an 'ordinary internal struggle'. The Bankai involved a form of hypnosis that 'hypnotized the spirit itself'. However, since the power was so brutal, the compensation was also great. Since one cannot distinguish between friend and foe, if there are fellow Shinigami around, they would start fighting among each other. In a one-on-one situation, this ability does not activate since there is nobody else to swap one's recognition of 'ally' and 'enemy' with. In that case, it can be said that the compensation is low. But in such a case, one could always pretend to be friends and then stab the opponent from behind.

"For a moment there, I was hoping that both Tokinada and Hikone would show up together, but of course, two people wouldn't randomly come out side-by-side so conveniently. Well, if we had people like Aizen or Yhwach, this ability would totally be pointless."

Hirako started walking slowly, stepping over the grotesque corpses, sighing as he looked at the inverted katana in his hand.

"For crying out loud; the Shikai being meant for strong opponents but the Bankai has me sweeping out the small fry... you are so uncooperative, Sakanade."

{t/n: Shinji wanted Tokinada and Hikone to come out together because that would mean that he could use his Bankai to make them kill each other. The reason his Bankai wouldn't work on Aizen (or Yhwach) was because this Bankai doesn't operate one-on-one. I mean, if Aizen was his opponent, then he'd obviously consider Shinji as his enemy and vice versa. There's no question of distinguishing between friend and foe. This Bankai basically works best when Shinji is surrounded by enemies only, since the Nadeshiko flower would protect him anyway. A very situation-specific Bankai. Another interesting thing is that unlike most Shinigami, his Shikai and Bankai are inverted as well; the Shikai is more potent than the Bankai.}

"It looks like the group created by Ikomikidomoe has been completely annihilated."

Aura looked towards the far distance.

"Surprising how you have the luxury to look away during a battle."

Aura smiled softly at Ginjo's words.

"No, it's not that."

Although the conversation seemed light, their battle had already begun. Tsukishima swung his blade in her direction, but the Book of the End only slashed at thin air. Ginjo had already swung his sword several times before, but each time her body seemed to scatter like smoke.

"I already told you, physical attacks are useless against me."

-Kido would work, I suppose, but I'm bad at it...

Thought Ginjo to himself. But then he remembered that gathering information was of utmost importance.

"The isolation of Karakura is your work?"

"To be precise, that was both me and her."

Yukio answered Ginjo's question.

"Using my abilities as a booster, she was able to expand her powers to freely manipulate souls, outwards. Together, this performance becomes complete. Remember how I took Ichigo's powers? A Fullbring that is worn outwards."

-So that's how she is able to vapourize her body, using the basics of Fullbring.

Ginjo began to realize just how dangerous she was. Not letting his guard down, he decided to carefully explore his opponent's intentions.

"Ok, so you've got me. But let's hear about you guys. What's your purpose, beautiful miss?"

"You don't have to flatter me. My objective depends upon what you are seeking."

"You said that a while ago. But what possible wish could I have? I'm dead now. I'm just a wandering soul washed ashore upon Soul Society. It's too late for me to start having hopes and expectations."

Aura looked at Ginjo with a grave expression.

"You swore vengeance against the Shinigami, did you not?"

"That has nothing to do with you. Yukio, was it you who told her?"

Yukio shook his head.

"It's the opposite, Kugo. She knew about your past, and she was the one who came to me."

"How did she...?"

Noting Ginjo's confusion, Aura replied.

"'Michibane' was my mother's surname. My father's name was Agata Tenshiyo."

The colour of Ginjo's eyes changed ever so slightly. Tsukishima, who was also familiar with that name, narrowed his eyes as well.

"I see... So you're Old Man Agata's daughter... The second generation Fullbringer child..."

Aura graciously lowered her head, facing Ginjo.

"I thank you for giving my father hope."

"Was that sarcasm? Your father responded to my call and died because he joined me."

-Betrayal by the Shinigami from the Soul Society.

-Aura's father, a member of Ginjo's group, was also attacked, losing his life in the process.

-Reliving the past was the last thing that Ginjo wanted to do.

But Aura shook her head, smiling a little.

"No; for the very first time, I saw light in my father's eyes, the very same eyes that only revealed constant fear and despair."

"Just because I lit up his eyes for a moment; there's no need to thank me for that. And besides, why are you in a place like this and why are you in cahoots with a Shinigami like Tsunayashiro?"

"Tsunayashiro Tokinada-sama is my employer. Needless to say, he wants everyone to rally around his cause."

"But why does it involve you joining forces with the Shinigami?"

Aura answered Ginjo's question with ease.

"But of course. In the new world created by Tokinada-sama, Fullbringers can return to being the 'predators'. Yes, I have heard that story from President Yukio here, because after all, X-CUTION is a gathering of people with the powers to change the world."

"What kind of world is he planning on creating?"

Ginjo, with a serious expression, turned towards his comrades to consult with them. Then,

"Tsukishima..... what are you doing?"

The words Ginjo blurted out, referred to a sudden surprise attack that had just taken place. The blade of the Book of the End was now protruding out of Yukio's chest.

"Ah..."

Yukio let out a small whimper. It came as a complete shock to Yukio, he did not even get time to activate his own ability. But there was not a single drop of blood oozing out from the wound. There was not even a scar left after the blade was pulled out. However, Tsukishima's residual reiatsu lingered around Yukio, as he inserted his existence into Yukio's past.

"This will let me know if you have been brainwashed or not."

As he tried to sift through the truth, he attempted to pull Yukio back to their side as a safety measure. Even if it was some form of hypnotism or intimidation, Tsukishima would prevent it in the past.

Aura, on the other hand, did not seem worried at all. She kept on smiling.

"That was quick. I thank you once again. I am sorry about Yukio-san, though. And as expected, you have just been 'bookmarked'."

"What....?"

Ginjo felt a strange sensation in his abdomen. As he lowered his eyes, he saw the familiar silver sparkle of the Book of the End. Tsukishima had run his blade through Ginjo from behind.

"Tsuki....shima...?"

As Ginjo's consciousness began to cloud over, his mind barely managed to register that Giriko was also slashed by Tsukishima.

"But...why...?"

"Sorry, Ginjo, Kutsuzawa..."

Tsukishima replied, his face devoid of his usual cynical expression. Before he could ask anything further, Ginjo's past was rewritten in an instant by Tsukishima.

{t/n: Apparently, Tsukishima saw or experienced something in Yukio's past that compelled him to rewrite Ginjo's past.}

Pages 54 to 69

Chapter 2

Kyogoku:-

Neither Hisagi Shuhei himself nor Tessai had any idea that he would be arriving here, in this place. When the pile of Tenkai Kecchu were operated as a single unit, then the coordinates are set automatically to the centre of the effective range. So, in other words, the 'centre of the effective range' was-

"......Here in this Kyogoku?"

Hisagi had been transported to a completely different place from the basement of the Urahara Shoten. At the moment of transportation, Hisagi had felt a strange light-headedness but it had seemed like there was hardly any temporal progress.

"No, wait... The flow of time within the Dangai is different... Did the temporal coordinates get shifted somehow?"

Hisagi did not remember penetrating through the darkness of the Garganta. He tried to grasp his current location and take measure of his surroundings.

It looked like he had been transported inside a building whose interior resembled structures from the Soul Society. However, the interior of the building had no windows to let the light stream in. It was uniformly but scantily illuminated by the lighting fixtures just like the ones used in the Department of Research and Development.

"A building like this... here..."

He had considered the possibility that the transfer might have failed and that he might have drifted off somewhere within the Dangai. But, on the other hand, it was also true that the concentration of reishi was different here than in the Soul Society and Hueco Mundo. Also, although he himself had never been to Hueco Mundo, he had learned in a previous interview that there were no Japanese-style buildings in that vast empty desert.

"So then, it's not a mistake, after all? I really am inside a Kyogoku?"

He felt the presence of various reiatsu from down below his current location.

-Am I on higher ground?

Since the concentration of reishi was odd, it was difficult to distinguish between the reiatsu. But one particular reiatsu was extremely distinctive and rough.

-Wait... Is that Captain Zaraki's reiatsu?

-Does this mean that the Gotei is also on the move?

Hisagi did not know about the incidents that had taken place in the Soul Society; so he assumed that the Soul Society had conducted their own independent investigations regarding the blockade of Karakura and that their findings had led them to this Kyogoku.

-I suppose Captain Kurotsuchi has already gotten his hands on one of the samples of the Tenkai Kecchu...

"Well, if Captain Zaraki is here, then I don't have to worry about fighting... But I have to go join them and tell them about Urahara-san."

He checked his Denreishinki, but the communication channels were still cut off. Prior to following the reiatsu of the Shinigami, Hisagi explored his surroundings once more.

"This must be a high tower or something, because Captain Zaraki's reiatsu seems to be considerably far away."

As Hisagi passed through a door, he noticed something at the centre of the room.

"What is that?"

At first, he thought it was a pillar, but as he moved closer, he realized that it was actually a glass case mounted on a device. The case looked like it could hold a single person inside it, but it was now empty. The device beneath it had electrode-like tubes attached to it, but Hisagi could not tell if they were working or not.

"When I interviewed Akon from the Department of Research and Development, I saw something similar to this thing..."

Hisagi inspected it meticulously, but there were no clues that could tell him what it was.

"Should I touch it? But what if it breaks?"

A voice was heard from behind him.

"That's my throne."

"What?"

"I wouldn't want it to get destroyed. You see, I am supposed to rest here when I take up residence at this castle."

It was an innocent voice, yet that voice made Hisagi instinctively flinch. He turned to face a familiar figure; the child he had seen a few weeks ago at the Pharmaceuticals Institute of the aristocrats. But now, he had none of his earlier injuries.

"You're..."

"It's me, Hikone! You helped me a lot back then, Hisagi Shuhei-san!"

Hikone lowered his head. As Hikone came close to Hisagi, he was startled.

-How did I not notice him coming so close to me? Even though the light is very dim, I should have sensed him coming close.

-Of course! It's because the reishi around here is so dense.. His reiatsu had been filling up this room, but I hadn't even noticed until now.

This young Shinigami, neither boy nor girl, looked quizzical.

"But Hisagi-san, why are you here?"

"I..."

"Oh, I get it! So you are Tokinada-sama's guest! If that's the case, then I must show you hospitality."

As he heard that name, a chill ran down Hisagi's spine. Earlier, to him, that name belonged to a nobleman whom he had not yet met. But now that very nobleman was their enemy.

"He's here? Tsunayashiro Tokinada is here?"

"Yes, he is down below."

"Can I see him now?"

"Oh yes!"

Hikone spoke easily. Hisagi, on the other hand, felt empty and drained. His instinct warned him that this situation was too abnormal. However, he could not possibly retreat now. Whether it was sheer coincidence or inevitability, he seemed to have gotten tangled with the enemy much more than he had imagined. It was after this realization had dawned upon him that Hisagi made his choice. At the same time, he also came to the conclusion that the reiatsu of the child in front of him; a reiatsu which comprised of Shinigami, human, Quincy and various other souls, felt different than when he had experienced it at the Pharmaceuticals Institute. Unlike back then, the Hollow reiatsu had been raised; but so were the other kinds of reiatsu along with it, making the imbalance between them more prominent. At that time, he had been worried, but right now, the reiatsu was of a completely different level. Looking at Hikone, Hisagi's long time experience led him to another thought. The one in front of him was still very much a child; much like Kusajishi Yachiru, Hitsugaya Toshiro and perhaps even Sarugaki Hiyori.

Having quickly switched back his mindset, Hisagi addressed Hikone with a very serious expression.

"What is it?"

"Are you aware of what Tokinada is trying to do?"

Hikone looked at Hisagi with a smile.

"I do not understand difficult things all that well. But since Tokinada-sama is doing it, it must be the right thing to do!"

"I think that is an unreasonable thing to say."

"Why is that?"

Hisagi chose his next words very carefully.

"Listen. Think about it, isn't it possible for Tokinada to make a mistake or be wrong at times? Because, you see, nobody in this world is perfect."

"Don't listen to him because he's a very, very bad person."

-Was what Hisagi really wanted to say, but in all likelihood, he probably would not be believed.

-Tosen Kaname, the former editor-in-chief of the Seireitei Communications, despised and rejected evil. And here I am, being unable to say the truth to someone who was being deceived by that very evil, by considering his naivete.

Hisagi was not yet as experienced as Tosen was in such matters.

"What's wrong? What is Tokinada-sama's mistake? Tell me!"

"Well, I..."

"Tell me, wherein lies the mistake when I can see it with my eyes?"

There was no underlying tone in Hikone's question, it was a query of pure doubt. Hisagi did not think that such logic would be uttered by someone so young. This unnerved Hisagi a little.

{t/n: As to why Hikone's statement surprised Hisagi so much; well, it's a bit complicated. This thing that Hikone says about what he's seeing cannot be a mistake.. that's a very common concept among epistemologists. According to their beliefs, 'what is false, cannot be known'. According to this school of thought, X (in our case, Hikone) may know Y (in this case, Tokinada) to be true if and only if X believes in Y or if X is justified in believing in Y. I think that the introduction of this kind of philosophy in the story is very important for both Hikone's and Hisagi's contrasting as well as aligning characterizations.}

"Do you refer to this world, the Soul Society and the World of the Living separately, or do you mean the world from a general viewpoint?"

"Yes, I mean both. So please tell me where the mistake lies."

"What?"

"To me; this world is the only thing that Tokinada-sama has to offer to me."

Hikone went on,

"I do not know about other worlds, and I do not need to know either. But I myself have no problems, so I am satisfied."

"That's...!"

Hisagi could go on no further. At first, Hikone's eyes, although innocent, made Hisagi feel empty deep inside. But now, as Hikone spoke in such a manner, Hisagi saw the light of strong will shining in those eyes.

-Not only does he possess resolve, but he has also learned to persevere and stand firm in this world of his own volition.

But Hisagi felt that something was still missing from Hikone's eyes. As he tried to fathom what it was, Hikone spoke further.

"Even if Tokinada-sama is doing something bad to everyone in the world; to me, it is not a mistake."

"Huh...?"

"Even if everyone else says that Tokinada-sama is a bad person; for me, Tokinada-sama represents 'justice'!"

"Stop!"

The instant he heard that word, Hisagi involuntarily raised his voice. He had not meant to. A little surprised, Hikone lowered his head towards Hisagi.

"I'm sorry. Did I say something to make you angry, Hisagi-san?"

Hisagi felt guilty; looking at Hikone, he apologized.

"No, I'm the one who is sorry for raising my voice."

But then he turned his eyes away from Hikone, as if trying to escape the memory of the blind Shinigami who had also been his mentor. He clenched his fists tighter.

"Justice is....a term that must never be used so lightly."

"Why? The Shinigami fight for justice. Don't the Gotei 13 fight to protect justice? Then why do you say such a thing?"

"It's not so simple... There are several different meanings of justice. The justice that your Tokinada-sama spoke of and the justice of the Shinigami are not necessarily the same..."

Hisagi struggled to explain the concept in simpler terms since such topics were not meant for young children like Hikone. But surprisingly, Hikone gently nodded his head, as though he understood.

"Yes! Tokinada-sama also said so! As a matter of fact, Tokinada-sama and I may have to fight with the Shinigami from now on."

"What was that?"

"Therefore, I'm sorry that I couldn't be more hospitable towards you."

Hikone bowed again and turned away. Hisagi, who was momentarily shocked, now caught hold of Hikone's shoulder.

"Wait! Why should you have to fight? There's no reason for you to fight!"

Hikone looked back at Hisagi with a mysterious look on his face.

"Tokinada-sama told me that the Shinigami are 'enemies'. Is that not a good enough reason for me to fight?"

{t/n: A callback to Haschwalth's words about the Shinigami being the Rei-o's enemies.}

"That's not what I'm saying. Among the opponents you are about to fight, there's Zaraki Kenpachi. He is not the kind of person who holds back when it comes to a child. I don't want to have to say this, but if you fight him, you will probably be killed."

"Is that so?"

"I'm afraid so. And that's why...."

His voice trailed away. Hisagi desperately wanted to stop the child at all costs. However, Hikone gave a sad little smile of gentle acceptance.

"So then I'll just have to die for Tokinada-sama. And in any case, if I can't live up to Tokinada-sama's expectation, then there's no value to my life."

Hikone spoke as though he was innocently making arrangements for tomorrow's trip.

"You idiot! Don't ever say things like 'it's easy to die' and 'my life's worthless'!"

And once again, without meaning to, Hisagi raised his voice.

"I'm sorry.."

Hikone hung his head looking a little sad.

"I seem to make people angry."

"You don't have to apologize..."

Hisagi started chanting the Eishohaki. He spoke in a mortifying voice.

"Forgive me! I hate having to do this! Bakudo 63: Sajo Sabaku!"

A chain of light appeared out of Hisagi's outstretched palm and wound itself around Hikone, binding him. Hisagi was sorry about his actions but said clearly,

"Sorry; I am probably Tsunayashiro Tokinada's enemy, but certainly not yours.."

Hikone opened his mouth and said simply,

"I don't know what you're saying, but I think that's impossible."

The chains of the Kido flew off him. Hisagi half-expected this to happen as Hikone was not someone who could be sealed easily. But the child was still inexperienced in combat. So perhaps his movements could still be blocked.

{t/n: Well, Bakudo 63 was cast by Hachi on Hollowfied Kensei, and he was shocked to see Kensei break free of it because it was a high level kido. Hikone just peels it off like it was no big deal XD}

Before he could start chanting out the incantation for a new Kido, Hikone had already disappeared from sight. Hisagi felt something hit his solar plexus to his astonishment. Widening his pupils in shock, he noticed Hikone's palm pointed towards his chest. The tumultuous reiatsu that flowed through Hisagi at the same time, gave his Saketsu and Hakusui a tremendous jolt. There was no suffering, no pain, just deep, cold darkness, eroding away Hisagi's consciousness.

{t/n: The name of this technique is unnamed here, but it is undoubtedly Senka, the one used by Byakuya to destroy Ichigo's Saketsu and Hakusui. Byakuya destroyed them using his zanpakuto in Ichigo's case, but here, Hikone uses his reiatsu to violate Hisagi's Saketsu and Hakusui.}

"Hisagi Shuhei-san, you cannot win against myself, nor Tokinada-sama, nor Aura-san. Even with your collective powers, it is impossible."

Hikone's voice reverberated as Hisagi's consciousness began to fade away.

-Wait.

-Don't go out there to throw your life away.

-Listen to me. I finally understand what is missing in you.

-Hey, wait.... Please wait....

Hisagi tried to speak, but he could do so no longer. His consciousness fell into complete darkness. Hikone turned his back on him, smiling innocently once again.

"Please do not push yourself and lie at rest here."

{t/n: I love how the novels are completely blurring the lines between black and white. Here, Hikone is the apparent 'big bad', as we call them. And the Gotei are the 'good guys'. In this story, Hisagi, who is himself a member of the Gotei, is desperate to stop Hikone, not because of your usual protagonist vs antagonist cliche, but because he genuinely cares about this innocent child, and doesn't want him to die in the hands of people like Kenpachi or the Captains. Hisagi is trying to stop Hikone because he doesn't want Hikone to die in the hands of the Gotei, the 'good guys'. How ironic. It is incredibly refreshing to have a level-headed, honest, complex and caring protagonist, who is a full-grown adult, who isn't that strong, but can be a real badass when he absolutely has to.}

Pages 70 to 94

The Palace Courtyard directly underneath the aerial castle:-

A dry metallic sound scraped the courtyard; the zanpakuto that appeared out of Tokinada's shadow was blocked by the sword that Tokinada had pulled out.

"Kageoni, was it?"

Tokinada laughed as Kyoraku's entire body emerged out of the shadow.

"How troublesome! Guess I should have known that you were acquainted with this technique.."

"That guy! He jumped in without me!"

In response to Kyoraku's sudden surprise attack, Kenpachi was rather peeved. Kenpachi, who was extremely bored listening to long and never-ending conversations, was clearly upset, having to watch from the side-lines. Ikkaku and Yumichika spoke.

"Captain Commander Kyoraku! Please sir, let our Captain and us go in first! Let us be his opponents."

"I hate sneak attacks. I'm joining in."

"Hikone!"

Continuing to be in tune with Kyoraku's attacks, Tokinada sneered and called out his name. At the same time, an ominous and dense reiatsu seemed to rain down from the castle in the sky. Each and every single one of these warriors gathered here, with the sole exception of Nanao, who were long-accustomed to fighting, moved forward, presenting a united front. Even warriors of their calibre tensed as they felt the reiatsu hurling down towards them. It was the same reiatsu they had felt in the streets of the Rukongai. The quality was the same, but the reiatsu itself felt like it had increased by a great amount within a very short span of time.

-How long has it been since Tokinada had called out that name?

Actually, it was only a few seconds ago; but to the ones below who were overwhelmed by it; it felt like long minutes, even hours.

"What...what is this...?"

Candice could bear it no longer; cold sweat dripping to the ground as 'that person' landed on the battlefield. His reiatsu created a sharp wind, distorting the surrounding space. The one who had just entered the fray, raised his voice joyfully,

"Oh, I finally did it beautifully!"

-It hasn't been that long since I last saw him at Soul Society. And yet...

Grimmjow, upon observing Hikone, felt like he was under the illusion that a few years had passed since they had last met. The facial expression and overall demeanour had not changed a bit, but it was as though; within the intervening time period, Hikone had experienced hundreds of battles. He displayed an abnormal amount of growth.

"Tokinada-sama! Thank you for waiting! What do you want me to do?"

"Slow down, Hikone..."

Tokinada laughed as he kept exchanging sword strikes with Kyoraku.

"Thanks to you lot, it has been perfected at last.. Kyoraku."

Coolly parrying off Katen Kyokotsu's attacks, Tokinada proudly announced,

"Meet Ubuginu Hikone.. The Rei-o of the next era."

Some people sharply drew in their breath, while a few of them expected such an answer, and narrowed their eyes; and the remaining people expressed interest in the topic. Although, judging from past circumstances, the members of this coalition only half-trusted each other, including Ginjo, who was currently not with them; the vibe among the members had changed in light of such a revelation. When the words came out of the mouth of the very leader of the Four Great Noble Houses, the weightage of the fact that Hikone was to be the new Rei-o, had clearly changed completely. However, Kyoraku spoke with a bitter smile, as if disregarding the weightage of the meaning behind that statement,

"Replacement of the Rei-o? This, escaping the lips of a member of the Four Great Noble Houses? Isn't that the height of disrespect?"

"Oh, don't make me laugh, Kyoraku. You ought to know too, right? Don't you think it would be the height of respect if he were to be replaced, knowing the kind of existence he is?"

Tokinada's words were partially drowned by the sound of clashing metal, but Halibel heard them clearly. Looking at Hikone, she murmured to Tokinada, hiding her disgust,

"You are going to offer such a young child as a sacrifice to the Soul Society?"

"....That child... Did he not come here to bail you out of this situation?"

"Oh, but Hikone sees the two of us clashing swords as nothing more or less than a child's game."

Tokinada, distancing himself from Kyoraku, called out,

"Hikone! Hikone! Do you see all the people gathered here?"

"Yes. I have seen some of them before."

"I see. And do you like them?"

"Oh yes! They all fought seriously with me!"

Although the sentiment was hardly mutual, this seemingly innocent declaration from Hikone felt strangely eerie.

"In addition, since they are going to be your subjects in the future, there is no reason to dislike them, don't forget, ok, Hikone?"

"Yes! Thank you, Tokinada-sama!"

"By the way; these people here are my enemies. Would you slaughter them for me, right now?"

In response to that cruel command told with a smile, Hikone nodded; his expression unchanged.

"Yes, Tokinada-sama!"

Without understanding the meaning behind those words, without displaying confusion, he stated,

"I will put my heart into that task!"

"That's... Ubuginu Hikone...?"

Nanao, setting her eyes upon Hikone for the first time, shivered. A child of indeterminable age and gender. But the reiatsu concentration contained within this child is not balanced at all, the overall effect being ghastly. This 'Shinigami-like' child gracefully brandished his zanpakuto.

"Thank you! I was brought up thus far to fight with all of you at last!"

Lowering his head, he releases his zanpakuto. But this time, the release command was a totally different one.

"Hatch the deceased, Ikomikidomoe!"

And thus, 'it' was born.

Accompanied by a tornado of raging reiatsu, the blade of the zanpakuto morphed to form a creature. Although it was much smaller than the previous one, it was still the size of a small house. Its reiatsu was even more condensed than the one before it; as though it had greatly shrunk; the strength of the reiatsu seemed balanced with Hikone's abnormality. A white aberration that gave off an impression of specializing in killing; resembling a beast with an overwhelming presence who could bring about the end of the world by letting no one live.

Hikone looked around, his eyes both blank and innocent; and politely addressed everyone.

"It was a pleasure meeting all of you! I will cherish these memories! Thank you very much!"

Hikone created a bow in the air; strengthening it by employing the Quincy technique: Blut Arterie, and shot an arrow by condensing a Cero.

"What the hell? Is he serious?"

Liltotto was amazed at the combination of two incompatible attributes. If that Quincy arrow with Hollow powers were to strike her directly, then it would lead to a fatal injury since Hollow reiatsu was poisonous to Quincies. The Arrancars leapt forward to face off against the creature born from the zanpakuto. Grimmjow spoke.

"It's strange. Although the size is closer to that of an Adjuchas, the reiatsu is higher than that of a Vasto Lorde, even among Arrancars."

In response to that, Halibel told him the identity of their opponent.

"I had heard that there used to be an ancient Hollow during Baraggan's time. It had lived for a very long time and it was probably far beyond the rest of us."

As to why such a being had turned into a zanpakuto residing within the Soul Society, the reason was unclear. But one thing was certain; it was most definitely not on their side. As opposed to Halibel and Neliel, who were wondering about their opponent, Grimmjow had only one thought in mind; to eat the one standing in front of them.

"Grind, Pantera!"

As Grimmjow entered his Resurreccion state, reiatsu swirled up around him and hit the body of Ikomikidomoe. Grimmjow took advantage of the instantaneous lapse and hurled himself forward. Halibel and Neliel followed suit.

"Hunt, Tiburon!"

"Praise, Gamuza!"

Their reiatsu stormed around the courtyard like a muddy stream.

"Hoh?"

Kenpachi looked delighted as he watched the Arrancars enter their Resurreccion states one after the other.

"I'd like to fight that blue haired bastard!"

"Um, Captain... He's our ally for the time being, you know?"

"Yeah, 'for the time being'..."

Kenpachi replied, his grin becoming more pronounced. Hoisting his sword over his shoulder, he looked at Tokinada, Hikone and Ikomikidomoe and murmured,

"Which one of them is the strongest?"

However, as if interrupting Kenpachi's analysis, there was a change seen in Ikomikidomoe. At first, it seemed to receive the attacks of the Arrancars from all sides without any movement. But gradually, it increased its reiatsu while lowering itself. A gigantic single eye opened up in the centre of its body just like that of Hooleer.

"What the hell is that?"

"I don't know, but I have a really bad feeling about this."

Ikkaku and Yumichika were staring at Ikomikidomoe; wary. Kenpachi frowned at them.

"Oi, what happened to your fighting spirits?"

"Eh?"

"Well... what are you waiting for? Let's go!"

As soon as Kenpachi ordered them to move, they drew out their zanpakutos and rushed after him. At the same time, an enormous amount of reiryoku was released from the body of Ikomikidomoe. A dazzling light enveloped a portion of the Kyogoku. It was no longer a Cero, but an explosion of reiryoku centred on itself. The ground blew up, the tiles of the palace courtyard rose up and flew away due to the force of the blast. The Arrancars close to it were heavily injured, but the damage was somewhat reduced because of the shield of water that Halibel enveloped them in. The explosion was so widespread because the increased reiatsu expanded it outwards. Nanao managed to alleviate the damage partially by casting a barrier; Bakudo Shouheki. The Quincies mitigated the damage by using their Blut Vene to the maximum. When the explosion reached Kenpachi, he scattered it by swinging his zanpakuto, and as a result, both Ikkaku and Yumichika were protected.

"Ah... That was dangerous..I could have ruined my kimono.."

Kyoraku spoke to Tokinada as if nothing had happened. He had been lurking inside Tokinada's shadow. The explosion cast a long shadow behind Tokinada and Kyoraku had stepped into it.

"Oh dear... The palace and the garden are messed up. Well, I have to ask Aura to do something about it later.."

Kyoraku addressed Tokinada with sarcasm,

"Even you have friends?"

"No, no, not a friend, just an employee."

"I don't know who you mean but I feel sorry for whoever it is."

"Hoh? But have you realized?"

Kyoraku looked at Ikomikidomoe and then at Hikone. Living-type zanpakutos were very few in number; and a zanpakuto with the disposition of a Hollow was particularly unheard of. Since the soul is connected to the zanpakuto, the Hollow reiryoku of the zanpakuto is poured into Hikone's body. Under normal circumstances, this would destabilize the soul, causing it to break down. But what keeps the soul intact? Is it the influence of the fragment of the Rei-o that is present within his body? What on earth could make such a thing possible? Whatever the case, Hikone has reached a level of mastery over such power. Kyoraku considered the circumstances of this newborn Shinigami and looked at Tokinada.

"Poor thing... what have you done?"

Tokinada smiled; a cruel smile.

"Now that you feel the reiatsu, you understand it clearly, don't you?"

Kyoraku was silent; his blade shot out towards Tokinada. But Tokinada dodged it by a hair, laughing all the while.

"So you see. He can become the Rei-o, just like Kurosaki Ichigo and Ginjo Kugo."

"I don't know much about Ginjo; but I can tell you're probably lying."

"I guess you don't believe my words, huh, Kyoraku?"

"I've had enough of your words. But I need to know one more thing."

Kyoraku asked Tokinada with a serious expression.

"That thing you made Nanao-chan overhear... that was a lie?"

"Oh that... About her mother, you mean?"

"You really had no hand in her execution?"

"As unfortunate as it is, it really is the truth."

Kyoraku let out a deep sigh.

"I see. I'm sorry to hear that."

"?"

Tokinada did not immediately take in the meaning of those words; but then he cried out in joy,

"....'Yubikiri'... I get it now.... Ha ha ha... That was a close call!"

"I don't think I've ever told anyone about this game before..."

{t/n: 'Yubi' means 'fingers' and 'kiri' means 'to kill'}

Katen Kyokotsu turned children's games such as 'Takaoni' and 'Kageoni' into reality. But children, being so whimsical, could always say 'Let's play again'. 'Yubikiri Genman' was one such game.

{t/n: 'genman' means 'linking pinky fingers together as a promise'}

If you lie to each other, your fingers get paralyzed on the first lie; your whole body feels like it is getting crushed by a fist on the second lie and finally, on the third lie, you feel unimaginable pain as if your viscera were being stabbed from the inside. It was a technique meant to extract information from the kind of opponent who lies during battle, but it worked on people 'other than one's own self'. This game had one single disadvantage. As long as the game is activated, the wielder is not allowed to lie.

"I understand. But shouldn't you have used such a technique right from the start? It's a little too late in the game for you to try something new, isn't it?"

"I had my suspicions. But I couldn't very well draw my sword based on suspicions, now could I? But you're right. I ought to have used this on you a long time ago."

"Ha ha ha! Right?"

Tokinada provoked Kyoraku,

"Honestly, it's so difficult to say the one thing that is completely true, even though it is not involved in the execution of Ise Nanao's mother. However, I do wonder where the Ise sword belonging to the daughter is hidden away.."

Kyoraku's face paled. Tokinada, looking at Kyoraku's ashen face, seemed satisfied.

"To be perfectly honest, I always had this lurking suspicion that you had it."

Tokinada continued, looking gleeful,

"Did you really think that you had the House of Tsunayashiro fooled? You are from the senior nobility, after all. Say, wouldn't it be interesting if the truth came out now, that both you and the daughter are guilty of hiding the sword?"

"....."

"Ha ha ha! Don't make that face, Kyoraku... Relax.. That proposition was already rejected by Kuchiki Ginrei. Honestly, that old-timer! He was austere, but kind-hearted."

Hiding his immense relief, Kyoraku once again slashed out at Tokinada. Tokinada said mockingly,

"What's wrong? Can't use 'Yubikiri' anymore, can you? What about 'Iro oni' or 'Kageokuri'? Does my zanpakuto's ability scare you that much?"

"Ah... it's frightening indeed."

".....?"

Tokinada looked sharply at Kyoraku who had just laughed a little. Kyoraku distanced himself from Tokinada and asked,

"The name of your zanpakuto... what was it, again?"

"Don't you know it already? Surely, I don't need to say it?"

"Ah, that reaction tells me all I need to know."

Kyoraku glanced up at Tokinada from the shade of his straw hat and asked a strange question.

"The name of your zanpakuto... Kuten Kyokoku...is that name a lie?"

This time it was Tokinada's face that was robbed of all colour.

"I'll take your silence as affirmation, since this is a situation where lies are not permitted."

Kyoraku drew in a deep breath and continued in a level voice,

"I had my doubts, you see.. Your zanpakuto has the ability to reflect attacks from another zanpakuto; a truly frightening ability indeed, befitting the House of Tsunayashiro. However, in this case, the number goes down by one."

"....."

"Moreover, I think you seal it under a false name; thus the Shikai is only a half-release. I came to this conclusion because the kanji for 'Kuten Kyokoku' is quite close to that of my 'Katen Kyokotsu'."

There have been only a few rare cases in the past in which a zanpakuto's ability was limited by calling out a fake name. Just like Ayasegawa Yumichika's Ruri'iro Kujaku was sealed under the fake name of 'Fuji Kujaku'.

"There's just something about your personality that made me think of this. So when were you planning to show us the real ability of your zanpakuto by calling out its real name? Was this a part of your strategy or is there a different reason behind this?"

Tokinada sighed a little and looked coldly at Kyoraku.

"You really can't read the atmosphere, can you? Did you think you could trick me?"

"I happened to get too many hints."

"Did you think that Kuten Kyokoku sounding so similar to your zanpakuto was a mere coincidence? You wanted to know, right? Yes, it is indeed a half-release. But the other half is an admonishment. Sometimes I forget just how much I dislike you."

Tokinada's lips curled.

"Sip from the four seas; the heavenly shores entwine ---"

Realizing that this was part of the Shikai, Kyoraku used Shunpo to instantaneously move behind Tokinada. He had been hoping to prevent Tokinada from completing the release command. He was confident that he was better at Shunpo than Tokinada. However, something unexpected occured just then. As Kyoraku advanced, Tokinada, instead of dodging, allowed himself to get stabbed by the blade. Kyoraku realized that Tokinada had been waiting for this very opportunity. This could only mean one thing. Tokinada had not actually halted his chant mid-command. The rest of the command required him to put his own life at risk.

"--- equally duplicate ten thousands; and sharpen ---

Enrakyoten!"

{t/n: Enrakyoten-'law of the bewitching lucid mirror'}

Coughing up blood from his wound, Tokinada called out its true name; laughing. The blade of the zanpakuto changed form right in front of Kyoraku's eyes. Extending out from a guard that combined a square and a cross, the blade shone brilliantly silver like a mirror. The light dazzling off the blade blinded Kyoraku's one eye.

-A zanpakuto that manipulates light?

The blinding flash of light took away his judgmental senses momentarily. But Kyoraku was not the Captain Commander of the Gotei for nothing. He recovered much faster than an ordinary person and tried to twist his sword deeper into Tokinada's body. But Tokinada pulled himself away, kicking Kyoraku aside. Kyoraku's body was caught by someone.

"Are you alright, Captain Commander?"

"Thank you, Nanao-chan."

As his eyesight slowly began to return, Kyoraku turned to look at Tokinada. Tokinada stood there, uninjured. His shihakusho had a rip on it, but there was no trace of blood on the exposed skin; nor was there a scar.

"What's wrong, Kyoraku?"

Tokinada, who had been gravely wounded just a minute ago, now spoke pleasantly to Kyoraku.

"This is what you wanted to see, yes? Behold! This is one of the oldest zanpakutos belonging to the House of Tsunayashiro; Enrakyoten."

The blade and guard were unblemished and smooth; the scratches from the previous sword-fight had all disappeared.


Pages 95 to 107

Electronic space:-

"It seems that both Hikone and Ikomikidomoe have gotten serious. Even Tokinada-sama has called out the true name of his zanpakuto."

"Your reikaku is really a cheat-code."

{t/n: 'reikaku'-reiatsu perception sense}

"It's not really all that omnipotent. I just let a part of myself diffuse and spread across the key points within the Kyogoku."

"Diffusing your body... I'd still call it a cheat code."

This was a subspace created using Yukio's ability. Only Aura and Yukio were visible at the spot where Ginjo and the others had disappeared.

"So, what are you going to do?"

Yukio asked her coldly as he fidgeted with his game console.

"It'd be pretty terrible if your supporter was to be found. Better go check."

"Urahara Kisuke, you mean?"

"Excuse me, but we'll have to talk about that later."

"What's wrong?"

Yukio noticed that Aura's complexion had changed. He paused his game and looked at her. Aura spoke with a thin laugh,

"It appears as though our guest in the Throne Room has woken up. Let's head over there."

Frowning at the idea of a 'trespasser' within the Throne Room, Aura uttered words of phrase,

"To just materialize there, you sure are an interesting one."

Palace Courtyard:-

"It's only been half a day and your reiatsu has risen considerably."

Grimmjow told Hikone as he fought off the Quincies. Hikone answered with a smile,

"Yes! It is all thanks to you! Ikomikidomoe is indebted to you!"

Hikone's personality had not changed but his reiatsu kept rising by several stages. But Grimmjow was not surprised. Even back in the Rukongai, he had almost mistaken Hikone for someone else, because his reiatsu had been very different than when he was in Hueco Mundo. Things could turn unpleasant if he displayed any further evolution. Grimmjow knew another Shinigami who had evolved remarkably within a very short period of time and who continued to grow even during battle.

"...He is like Kurosaki.."

Grimmjow muttered as if in soliloquy.

"That's right! I will become the king, yes!"

Hikone replied brightly.

"Is that so? What a coincidence! I share the same opinion as yours!"

Grimmjow laughed aloud. Hearing Grimmjow's words, Ikomikidomoe, the zanpakuto that had turned into a beast, responded with a cocky laugh.

"Well said, young Arrancar..."

A voice seemed to reverberate from deep within the earth.

"A kid like you ruling over Hueco Mundo! Ha ha ha!"

"Well, what can I say... I don't know why you're a zanpakuto, but you're supposed to be on our side."

"On the same side? The hubris, honestly. Lee la runa. I had to crawl across the desert and travel by bus to reach Baraggan 2 ken* away, and you are 11 ken away."

{t/n: Lee la runa- Spanish for 'read the runes'. You know, as in 'read the signs' spoken in an annoyed tone. It was in Spanish in the text, by the way. This Hollow seems to like foreign and modern words, since he actually uses the word 'bus'; must have picked them up from Ouetsu XD. 'Ken'-Japanese unit of measurement of length}

Grimmjow laughed at those unusual words, baring his teeth.

"Apparently, it seems like I was right in coming here."

He moved towards Ikomikidomoe, his reiatsu boiling over. The reason why he decided to chase after Hikone ever since he had left Hueco Mundo was because of certain words; words that Grimmjow could never forget.

"I don't give a damn about what you want. I'll kill anyone who stands in my way and then devour them."

The memories of his past were what drove his base instinct.

-"Let us go together, Grimmjow."

-"You shall become our king."

Every time Grimmjow stepped in closer, his sinews tightened. Yes, it was evident that this Shinigami in front of him was dangerous. Yes, this child's youthful appearance was misleading and the creature's Adjuchas-like look masked by the reiatsu of a very high class Hollow was unnerving indeed. Grimmjow understood all that. This Shinigami named Hikone emitted reiatsu which was very similar to that of Kurosaki Ichigo but no Hollow hole had opened up for the world to see. It was essentially a living thing. If the soul itself is considered to represent the world, then; it was as if the hole gets punctured the more the world became crowded.

{t/n: The reiatsu of Ichigo that is being compared to here, is the one from when he had transformed into a full Hollow}

Ikomikidomoe, on the other hand, was the complete opposite. It was like the very personification of greed; pounding everything towards its hole. It could be referred to as a monster, the same as Baraggan, the former king of Hueco Mundo.

Sharpening his reiatsu, he walked forward.

-"We have come to the realization that we are not destined to rise above the Adjuchas level."

-"But you are meant for something far greater."

Grimmjow took another step further.

Thoughts of losing faded from his mind. He did understand, however, that this was not an opponent he could easily win against; in fact, if he wasn't careful, he would be the one whose neck would go flying instead.

But Grimmjow would never stop walking.

After all, this was an internal strife among the Shinigami; he would never become their foot soldier. Well, Grimmjow did come here of his own free will. He did not really consider Tokinada's ideas to be ridiculous. He, too, did not mind watching the world break down. He realized that this idea was unusual and that it was unfortunate that Tokinada was the enemy, but he had come all this way from Hueco Mundo because he thought that Tokinada's idea was not too different from his own.

It was because he knew. He knew that a trivial reason was enough for him to turn the world into his enemy, given his way. That was his sole purpose for fighting against Hikone and Ikomikidomoe. To ordinary people, this would sound ludicrous. When he was dominated by the overwhelming personality of Aizen, his desire was still suppressed. But during his battle against Kurosaki Ichigo, the words once spoken by his former comrades were brought to the surface. The very words, if neglected, would lead him to deny his own existence and bloodlust.

-"Devour us, Grimmjow."

The voice of his comrades resounded within his head; his comrades who had called him king and had later given up on their path to evolution. They, who had once become his own flesh and blood, now gave rise to Grimmjow's bestial instincts.

Halibel, the real ruler, who was also aware of Grimmjow's nature, never addressed herself as a ruler precisely because of this. She knew that the moment he called himself that, he would regain his instinct to kill. Even if he lost, he would invariably sink his fangs into his opponent's body.

{t/n: In Grimmjow's flashback as an Adjuchas, it was stated that if one Hollow was bitten by another one, they would regress}

Aizen's words were

"Do not deny your desires."

Condensing his reiatsu on the claws of both his hands, Grimmjow sprang forward, his face predative and ravenous, ready to plunder and bring about destruction.

"I am the king!"

Chapter 3

A persistent jet-black wind rotates the cog-wheels.

A jet black wind scatters the young foliage.

Singing its worth, the same wind that surrounds life and death.

-"Dedicate."

He heard a voice.

Hisagi realized that he was standing atop a large tree. A shower of green leaves fell around him, giving off the illusion of a forest at first glance. Hisagi's feet were touching a thick branch; and through the small gap among the leaves, a clearing was visible little above the ground. The scenery appeared foggy and a gigantic tree came into view. Its proportions were massive enough to call it the Yggdrasil.

{t/n: Yggdrasil-Also known as the World Tree; a mythical tree that connects the nine realms in Norse cosmology. It is interesting to note that this World Tree is quite often depicted as the Tree of Knowledge from the Garden of Eden. And the Biblical 'original sin' was after all heavily connected to the Tree of Knowledge. And in this story, the kanji for the Soul Society's original sin is written in the same way as the Biblical one. Also, the tree symbolism comes from Hisagi's name; the kanji in his surname reads as the Japanese cypress}

"Ah... So you have come?"

Hisagi recalled that this was not the real world.

"....Since I had arrived at the Reiokyu."

Hearing metallic sounds and iron clanging behind him, he looked back and saw a huge windmill standing upon the vast plains visible through the branches. Even though it was a windmill, it resembled a cedar tree to which clung the odour of iron and oil that could be smelled from afar, the description of the scenery matching that of an idyll.

The red, rusty windmill had a cog-wheel with a pulley exposed to the outside; it kept rotating as the chain connecting it to the windmill's rope pulls it.

Hisagi now knew that this was the inner spiritual world of Kazeshini's; one that his heart had inter-woven.

Then, a black wind blew all around him; discolouring the green leaves as they all withered away. The cog-wheel of the windmill started turning vigorously as it violently rotated.

-"Dedicate."

That voice, again.

Hisagi replied to the familiar voice with his usual response.

"Discipline yourself. I will not do as you say. I will not fight to make you suck the enemy's blood."

Ignoring Hisagi's words, the black wind kept on blowing.

The lamp in the wind turbine lit up. It was as if the leaves, the branches and the serenity of the landscape, which had signified 'life', until the red rust-covered windmill withered it away, was on one side; and the fire lighting up the windmill symbolized the advent of 'death'.

"Good grief... I think there is something that I was able to understand."

The black wind now took on the form of a person and appeared behind Hisagi.

"Am I to understand that this is your form, Kazeshini?"

In retrospect, Kazeshini certainly did have a form like this.

"That's right. I am your shadow and the shadow of the world itself that you see around you. Depending on the manner in which the light strikes, this form may change its appearance, way of speech and everything. But, if you talk to me, you may find this form's tone to be very agreeable."

Exasperated with this unusually long conversation with the black shadowy figure, Hisagi spoke in annoyance,

"I see. So if you are capable of changing your nature, then all the chats I've had with you until now were all pointless?"

"Incorrect. You certainly understood one side of me, and that's why you could achieve Shikai by calling out my name. That is why, I..... this world of 'Kazeshini', has invited you in."

The shadowy form changed back into the black wind and passed through Hisagi's body, pouring words craving with desperation into Hisagi's soul.

"Dedicate your blood and life to appease my soul. Hurry."

{t/n: Kazeshini's speech pattern changes in that last sentence. Earlier, when he talks to Hisagi, he uses pronouns like 'ore' and 'omae' which are very informal, but in the last sentence, he uses 'waga' which is very formal. Also, this picturesque and idyllic description of Hisagi's inner world accurately describes Kazeshini. The name of the zanpakuto carries aspects of both life and death. 'Kaze' represents 'life' and then you have 'shini' or 'death'. In the rustic scene, we see the beauty of the scenery first, symbolizing life, and then our attention is turned towards the windmill with the chain and the rope. The leaves withering represents 'death'; literally 'the wind of death'. The fire lighting up in the windmill signifies that focus is now on 'death', not 'life'. A very beautiful depiction. Also, another interesting contrast: Kazeshini talks to Hisagi about the 'manner in which the light strikes'; Tokinada's zanpakuto is a light-type one whereas Kazeshini is Hisagi's shadow}

Happy New Year (in advance)


Pages 107 to 135

The Throne Room:-

Hisagi regained consciousness and gritted his teeth in silent fury.

"Damn you... You're still asking me to kill?"

Ever since he had first heard the name, Kazeshini had kept on asking him to offer up blood and lives several times. Even though he was far removed from Kenpachi and the other Captains, he was still a battle-hardened, veteran soldier. He had slain countless enemies in battle. But the voice of his zanpakuto could never be silenced.

"...Wouldn't it be good to cut down Hikone?"

The voice of his zanpakuto was possibly pointing out his guilelessness.

"Just drop it already. I only swing my sword for the sake of the Gotei."

-I do not consider my actions to be just, because I am not qualified to say so. But I am a Shinigami. A Shinigami does not slash at Hollows out of hatred; it is done for purification.

In his desire to always do what is right as both a Shinigami as well as a warrior, Hisagi did not think that killing Hikone was the right thing to do. Although, even if he had been on board with his zanpakuto's suggestion, it was sort of useless in such a place where the walls and the ceiling were all clammed shut. Hisagi stood up, hoping to seek out an exit, since he could see no way out in his vicinity.

"There's no door. How did Hikone leave this place? I suppose I'll have to smash open the wall."

Hisagi tried to use Kido, but stopped when he heard a voice saying,

"You won't be able to destroy that wall."

A woman's voice. Hisagi turned around. It was the same woman he had seen in Karakura Town.

"Michibane Aura!"

"What an honour to know that the famous, renowned Hisagi Shuhei remembers my name."

"There is no need for sarcasm. I'm no prodigy."

After his time at the Shino Reijutsuin, there had been prodigies in zanjutsu, such as Hitsugaya Toshiro and graduates like Hinamori Momo, well-versed in Kido. Hisagi did not consider himself to be someone who was outstanding. He had obtained his current rank of Lieutenant through sheer perseverance and continuous hard work. He had never stopped training and disciplining himself all this time so that he could proudly say that he was an accomplished Lieutenant.

He recalled Hikone's words from before.

-Yes. I most likely can never win against either Hikone or this woman.

But for Hisagi, this was no reason to stop walking. Drawing out his zanpakuto, he asked,

"Where is Urahara-san?"

"Rest assured. He does not have a single wound on him. Harming him is not my purpose."

"I see. Then let me change the question. Where is the exit? And why on earth are you here?"

Hisagi would have liked to challenge Aura to a duel in order to rescue Urahara, but then he decided to gather information first. Even if, somehow, he managed to defeat Aura, there was no way out anyway.

"This is the Throne Room that is meant to protect Hikone from assailants. Only Hikone and Tokinada-sama can go in and out of this place. But I can easily pass through. The walls are no hindrance to me."

Aura added casually. Hisagi decided to take a shot in the dark and asked cautiously,

"Are you planning to create a Hogyoku and make Hikone the Rei-o?"

"That is Tokinada-sama's wish."

"Aizen wanted the same thing. To use the Hogyoku to overthrow the Rei-o."

Aura blinked and then nodded,

"Ah... my apologies. You, Hisagi-san have no knowledge of the kind of being the Rei-o is."

"No, I don't know. All I know is that Yhwach killed the former Rei-o, and that everyone was saved because of Mimihagi-sama's intervention; the Right Arm of the Rei-o residing within Captain Ukitake."

Hisagi still found it hard to believe that the thing that rose towards the sky from Ukitake's body was actually a part of the Rei-o. He had assumed that Mimihagi-sama was the one who held everything in place after Yhwach's death. But now, listening to Aura, he was no longer sure.

"Is that wrong?"

"So that's what you know. It's not exactly wrong, but it's true that if Hikone becomes the Rei-o, the world will be rock-solid compared to what it is now. So, what will you do?"

Hisagi replied seriously to Aura's question that deviated from the topic at hand.

"....It's no trifling matter. But even if Hikone himself says that he wants to become the Rei-o, first and foremost, I would try and stop him."

"Why is that?"

"It's because he does not know anything, yet."

Hisagi clasped his sword tightly.

"Hikone told me something. This world was the only thing that Tokinada had to offer him. After seeing the wide world, then if he decides upon it based on his own free will, then I won't say anything. I would even prepare myself to face him as a Shinigami should he become an enemy of the Shinigami."

Hisagi continued,

"But he does not know anything about the world; he knows only what Tokinada tells him. Tokinada is manipulating him. That's why I.... have to teach him. If that changes nothing then it'll be like there are different worlds."

For some reason, Tosen's face drifted into Hisagi's mind. He added,

"No, on the contrary, I, too, know the world that he is watching. For better or for worse."

"....."

"And that is why it is necessary for me to meet Tokinada in person."

"As a journalist or as a Shinigami?"

Aura asked with a smile. Hisagi asserted,

"As both."

Hearing those words, Aura spoke after a slight silence.

"Knowing the whole world does not always bring happiness."

"?"

"There are people who live and die without knowing anything about the outside world; confined inside a narrow room with an aquarium. Some people find unhappiness knowing about the outside world."

Aura spoke quietly. Hisagi was momentarily puzzled. Then he asked,

"Are you perhaps referring to yourself?"

Aura neither confirmed nor denied it. She went on, as if testing Hisagi,

"Don't you think Ubuginu Hikone is like that?"

"I also thought so at first. But I've seen for myself that he does have his own will. There is just one thing that is missing in him. I just want to convey that to him."

"....."

"If you wish to kill me, then I'll have to fight you. But you must release Urahara-san in the event that I win."

Aura looked expressionless as she walked away, then she smiled as she walked back.

"What's going on?"

"Please do not misunderstand. I just want you to do me a favour."

"A favour?"

Although Hisagi remained vigilant, he did not sense any hostility. Aura approached and looked at Hisagi's confused face. She murmured something in a low voice that was audible only to Hisagi.

".....What do y-....?"

He did not understand the meaning of what she said. But before he could ask her what it meant, she had already disappeared.

"Hey, where...?"

Hisagi looked around. A door that should never have existed, now appeared on the wall of the room. The door was half-ajar.

The sky above the Palace Courtyard:-

While Ikomikidomoe fought the Arrancars, the Quincies attacked Hikone from the sky. A relentless torrent of arrows rained down. Hikone, using a combination of Hierro and Blut Vene, alleviated the attacks. Liltotto clicked her tongue.

"Though not as much as Kurosaki Ichigo, this one is also quite dangerous."

Giselle repeated casually,

"He really might kill me... So dangerous... I'm scared..."

Candice shot a myriad of lightning arrows towards Hikone.

"Wow! Thunder!"

Saying so, Hikone scattered them with ease. Meninas, with tremendous momentum, brought down her fist upon Hikone's elbow. Hikone's feet gave way.

"That was tough, huh..."

However, Meninas' fist was twisted, bent at an odd angle. The bones of her fingers snapped. Hikone looked up admiringly at her arm strength. But then he noticed a garland of reishi bombs around him. The moment Bambietta touched Hikone, a chain of explosions took place, the area gleaming because of her bombing raid.

As the smoke cleared, Hikone appeared to be slightly ruffled. Whatever Bambietta touched was turned into a bomb. Since she had touched the skin directly, it had exploded. But Hikone's Hollow-like ability of 'instant regeneration' had mended his skin and thus the damage from the explosions was almost prevented.

"Wow! That girl is a zombie! Then she must be unbeatable!"

Liltotto noticed Giselle looking greedily at Hikone.

"Don't forget, Hollow reiatsu is also mixed in, so don't do anything stupid."

She chided. They fell back just in the nick of time because Hikone had retaliated with an arrow made out of condensed Cero. Liltotto had predicted such an attack and thus she had wanted the five of them to fall back and wished to settle this battle as quickly as possible since fatigue was already starting to kick in. However, Hikone, who had remained silent until then, now spoke,

"I have memorized how everyone attacks."

He smiled.

"What?"

The next instant Hikone began to intercept the incoming Heilig Pfeil of the Quincies with his own arrows. He shot five arrows at nearly the same time as his five opponents did, firing rapidly, and tracking down Liltotto using Hirenkyaku.

"Damn!"

Noticing Liltotto's danger, the other Quincies who had spread apart in order to fight against Hikone, now converged at the same spot. Extraordinary reiryoku was being compressed in Hikone's right hand as he prepared to create an arrow. It was impossible to avoid it at such close quarters; given the timing. Liltotto would not even get time to use her own ability.

-Ah... So this is the end. But in any case, if I had used my ability, my stomach would have punctured.

The last image that Liltotto's brain conjured up was Hikone's hand creating a Cero and then she imagined her own body being torn into smithereens.

Just then, a chilling reiatsu rent through the sky of the Kyogoku. Hikone halted in his actions and turned around slowly. And standing there was 'death', taking on a human form.

"I was watching you from down below. You really are the most powerful one here, kid!"

Zaraki Kenpachi grinned at Hikone. More of his colossal reiatsu overflowed from within his body, threatening to collapse his footholds in the air. He had never practiced Shunpo before, nor had he considered solidifying reishi underneath his foot because it was too confusing for him. But somehow he could still manage to remain standing in mid-air. This was probably due to years of cultivating experience in battle.

Instead of replying to Kenpachi's words, Hikone shot a Cero-consolidated arrow towards him. As the pale white flash of light flew through the air, Kenpachi diffused it with the pressure of a single swing of his sword. Streaks of the scattered flash of light fell to the ground like a shower of meteorites. Candice murmured,

"What a savage!"

"Yeah! He's the guy Gremmy couldn't kill."

Liltotto replied, her emotions a little complicated.

Ikkaku and Yumichika appeared behind them.

"Ironic, isn't it? The one you tried to kill is now saving your lives."

"So you want to slash me from behind?"

Liltotto's group had a connection to the 11th Division. Half a year ago, during the war, they had heavily wounded Kenpachi and had killed several members of their division. Giselle had turned many of their soldiers into her zombies.

"It's ugly to stab someone from behind. We aren't like you."

The two of them had not witnessed Liltotto's actions directly, but had learned about it later from the survivors.

"How very kind of you."

"When you joined forces with the Shinigami to kill Yhwach, we could have back-stabbed you, but we didn't."

Kenpachi, Ikkaku and Yumichika had been present during the formation of the 'gate', but they had parted ways with the rebel Quincies after that.

"The Captain may have forgiven you, but we can't ever forgive what you did to our men."

Ikkaku kept his voice to a mild tone, but did not disguise his hostility. Yumichika chimed in,

"You used our men as zombies, your playthings. The Captain Commander may have formed an alliance with you, but that doesn't necessarily mean we agree."

However, it was against their sense of aesthetics to disregard the intentions of their Captain.

Liltotto shrugged her shoulders.

"Don't hold back your grudges... Hey, Lil..."

"Stop that, Gigi!"

"But I haven't even said anything yet!"

Giselle was staring at Yumichika with an odd expression on her face. Liltotto wanted to prevent unnecessary disputes.

"Let's leave it at that, Yumichika. We don't need to waste time talking to them. I, too, do not completely agree with the Captain Commander's decision."

The majority of the members of the 11th Division were battle-addicts. In case of these two, they were proud to fight under Captain Zaraki and die under him. Once, Ikkaku had preached to a delinquent in the World of the Living who had wanted to give up his life for Tsukishima..

-"I'm asking you if he's willing to die for you. Die only for someone who'll do the same for you."

Unlike Captain Komamura, who had dedicated his own life for Yamamoto Genryusai, Ikkaku's sentiments were a little different. Unlike Captain Komamura, Ikkaku was gambling his life on fighting under the commander he greatly admired. Protecting the Seireitei did not take first priority.

Looking at Giselle, Yumichika said,

"You hurt a lot of our comrades with your necromanic tendencies. In all honesty, I wanted to wring your neck."

"But that was su-uch a lo-ong time ago, right?"

"Why you..."

"Don't you ever shut up, bitch?"

Liltotto spoke sharply to Giselle. Listening to that, Ikkaku sighed.

"Regardless of the circumstances, we are at a temporary truce, as unfortunate as that it."

Turning to look at Kenpachi, he grinned and muttered,

"If you get in the way of the Captain's amusement, who knows what might happen.."

Hikone shot several more arrows of Cero but most of them were blocked by Kenpachi's sword. One of them hit him but he did not seem fazed.

"What's wrong? That didn't hurt much."

Kenpachi approached Hikone and suddenly swung his sword. Hikone reacted and the sword hit the tip of his shoulder. The blade sank into his skin, penetrating the Hierro and Blut Vene. Blood spurted out as the blade sank in, but the bleeding stopped instantly.

"Ah.. That happened to Ichigo too.. You two related or somethin'?"

Recalling the battle with Ichigo fondly, he asked, pleased.

"I'm happy that you compared me to such a famous hero. Kurosaki Ichigo-san is like me. It is because of the Quincy blood flowing through our veins. Did you know that he is a Quincy, Kenpachi-san?"

"I don't think I mentioned my name. How do you know who I am?"

"I heard about you from Hisagi-san. He wanted to stop me from fighting you because he thought you would kill me if we fought."

Hikone spoke happily. Before Kenpachi could reply, Ikkaku and Yumichika reacted.

"Hisagi? Wait a minute.. Hisagi's here?"

Hikone turned his head upwards, looking at the castle.

"He's in the Throne Room, unconscious."

Ikkaku and Yumichika were amazed.

"What is that guy doing?"

Ikkaku spoke to Yumichika.

"When he says the 'Throne Room', he means a room inside that floating castle, right?"

"Probably. But how do we get up there?"

But Hikone intercepted them.

"I'm sorry, you cannot do that. I'm supposed to kill everyone right now."

All of a sudden, a gust of wind passed by them. It was the force of the swing of Kenpachi's sword.

"Hey.. You two had better step back, unless you want to end up getting cut."

Kenpachi was behind Hikone.

"Yes, sir!"

As Ikkaku and Yumichika descended, Hikone said,

"Amazing! You got the two of them to leave!"

Kenpachi spoke irritably,

"Those guys got greedy. Can't have them barging in on my fun."

"The first person I must kill is you."

Narrowing his eyes ever so slightly, Hikone moved towards Kenpachi, combining Shunpo, Sonido, Hirenkyaku and Bringer Light. A shock ran through Kenpachi's body. Hikone was currently without a zanpakuto and so with just his bare hands, strengthened with Hierro and Blut Arterie, he had struck Kenpachi. It was even worse than a sword slash. In the blink of an eye, Hikone struck him five to ten more times. Although Kenpachi had swiftly retaliated after the initial strike, Hikone blocked his sword and pummelled in a series of strikes.

However, Kenpachi himself was well-known for his durability. Amidst a wave of reiatsu, he swung his sword, striking Hikone. A wound appeared upon his Hierro-like skin, bleeding. Ikkaku and Yumichika, watching from afar, begrudgingly admitted that Hikone's battle prowess was rather good as he had managed to injure Kenpachi. But then-

"I finally got accustomed to your hardness!"

Ikkaku and Yumichika's admiration turned to one of wonderment.

Kenpachi rushed towards Hikone, drops of blood, dyeing his haori red.

"Yes, just as I thought..."

Stained scarlet, Kenpachi let his eye-patch flutter away in the wind. And as it did so, his reiatsu went through the roof. A skull-like mass of violent reiatsu appeared behind him and opened its mouth.

"I'm having so much fun! You are a most entertaining one!"

The Phoenix Palace; Reiokyu:-

"Oh, so you are here."

Hearing Hyousube Ichibei's voice, Nimaiya Ouetsu looked over his shoulder and stood up. He had been sitting on the cliff behind the Phoenix Palace and had been gazing up at the empty sky.

"What are you doing here, monk? It is rather rare to see you in a place like this, no?"

"Well, there were no signs of your presence in that gaudy bar full of female zanpakutos, so I thought I would find you here."

The monk stood beside Ouetsu and looked up at the sky, stroking his beard.

"Hmm.. Ikomikidomoe is in the Kyogoku?"

"You see everything, don't you, monk? Guess I didn't even need to ask."

"Well, not as much as I would like to see, but you're not entirely wrong."

Sighing a little, the monk spoke again,

"Causality is a strange thing. The monster who was once on the level of a Vasto Lorde class Arrancar among the Menos, and who had contended with them, has accomplished a different evolution."

"They had help, didn't they? Both the Tsunayashiro kid as well as the Fullbringer Princess.."

"Our role is to try and keep the 'bottom world' in its present form. It will not change the foundation of all creation even if those who reign over this court changes."

"There you go again, with your dry sense of humour."

"No, no, I will have no hand in matters related to the ones down below. I am quite satisfied with the way the Kyoraku boy runs things. We have a relationship with the ancestors of the Four Great Noble Houses; but at the same time, there is no reason for us to favour the Tsunayashiro descendent whom I have never met."

He settled himself comfortably behind the Phoenix Palace and peered down. Everything looked serene. He nodded,

"Regardless of whether or not he possesses free will, the lynchpin will always stand in the sky, preserving the current world in its present form. Everything will be fine. The ordinary peace, as we call it."

He turned his head and looked towards the central part of the Reiokyu, flanked by the five floating plates of the Zero Division. The monk laughed and spoke softly, following his line of sight,

"What say you, Revered Rei-o sama, or should I say - Your Majesty, Yhwach?"

Ancient times.

When the spiritual world had still not conpletely taken its current shape; when the Shinigami had no weapons to call their own; Menos Grande prospered within Hueco Mundo. During the dawning era of Hollows, their evolution was in a chaotic state. They evolved to the Adjuchas level. Unable to attain a humanoid form and without strong will, they continued to exist over a long period of time.

One of these spirits of old, which was particularly powerful, fought against Baraggan Louisenbairn and a few others who had reached a new form of evolution; a Vasto Lorde level Arrancar. It did not belong to any group and fought against Baraggan's faction's hegemony amongst the sea of sand in Hueco Mundo.

A creature possessing intelligence that continued to evolve, possessing a torrent of reiryoku. It kept devouring everything in its way, until one day it left Hueco Mundo and spread its influence towards the World of the Living and the reishi-enriched Soul Society; where the Shinigami were impotent. It continued to take in everything inside its own body, breaking down and destroying everything in its path like a hurricane. A grotesque figure with unlimited evolution. This resembled the ability 'Glotoneria' possessed by the Gilian which later came to be known as the Noveno Espada, but that is a different story.

Unlike the aforementioned ability, it could not retain the abilities of those it had devoured but gained a proliferative ability. Instead, the reiatsu of the ones it ate were inexhaustively accumulated within its body. And thus its reiatsu, compressed within the body of an Adjuchas grew until it came to be recognized by Baraggan, who governed 'senescence', as a 'walking disaster with infinite evolution'. The two of them reached an agreement to never interfere with one another.

Then, one day, something happened. At the end of its battle with the Shinigami, including young Yamamoto Shigekuni, it ascended to the sky by devouring the Rei-o, but was defeated by the monk and sealed by Nimaiya Ouetsu.

It was given the name 'Ikomikidomoe'.

-"Be honoured that you were given such an elaborate name."

-"You being nothing more than a lump of Hollows and souls."

-"Remain here for eternity and let those Hollows indulge in cannibalism inside you."

-"Until the one who comes along and tames you; remain there till the end of time, and then devour the soul of your owner."

The monk used 'Ichimonji' to deprive it of its name and rewrote a new name using 'Shin'uchi : Shirafude Ichimonji'. Then, it was forged into a blade by Ouetsu with its reiatsu sealed in as it is.

Its original existence was not erased out of the reincarnation cycle because the eradication of the sheer number of Hollows condensed within it was enough to tip the balance of the world.

And so, until the appearance of a Shinigami who would wield this power properly, it remained sealed by Ouetsu at the very bottom of the Phoenix Palace.

Millennia flew past. The seal was violated and the blade was handed over to a child. A child who had not passed any birthdays.

In the hands of someone who would become the Rei-o, this blade was destined to devour him.


Pages 136 to 151

Kyogoku; Palace Courtyard:-

The courtyard was transformed into a vast waste-land as a result of the ensuing battle. Grimmjow stood facing Ikomikidomoe, his breathing shallow and ragged; yet he was grinning.

"So that's all you got?"

His entire body was covered in scars.

"For small fry, you are quite the wily one."

It was not just him, he who was directly in front; but Halibel, Neliel and the other Arrancars as well. Each of them were wounded to some extent.

Ikomikidomoe was an aberration that encompassed the advantages possessed by each of the three classes of Menos; Gilian, Adjuchas and Vasto Lorde, with the highest and deepest degree of spirit consolidation. Despite its bulky build, it performed Sonido effortlessly, so much so, that the echo felt like the nightmarish cry of the Nue. With such unstoppable speed, it appeared before the eyes; and plunged in its claws with the force of a katana. Even if dodged and attacked back, it consumes reishi from the surroundings and performs instant regeneration so that the wound closes up immediately.

{t/n: Cry of the Nue-often mentioned in old Japanese legends; like the Heike Monogatari; it signifies ill-omen. The Nue is a chimaera-like yokai; depicted in Japanese folklore}

"My, my! This is turning unpleasant. At this rate, we will only end up exhausting our strength."

Halibel agreed with Dordoni's statement.

"This is the kind of opponent who will serve to only rob us of our breath."

"But that is no reason for us to give up."

Looking at Neliel, who had uttered this, Dordoni smiled a little. He squared his shoulders.

"Here I am, fighting alongside the lady who took the rank of 'Tres' away from me... Such is fate... Tastes like liquor mixed in with chocolate."

"I do not understand that analogy very well. But it sounds delicious."

Judging from Neliel's serious expression, it was impossible to discern whether or not she spoke in jest.

"But now's not the time for such talk. We can put aside our differences for the time being."

Dordoni spoke loudly, glancing at Neliel,

"What are you talking about, Neliel? Did I do something to you in the past?"

He had tried to kill her when she was in her child form in order to bring out Ichigo's power.

"Let's just say that a lot has happened between you, me and Ichigo."

"Whatever do you mean? No, wait... That reiatsu...That hair colour.... Could you possibly be.... that little Bebe?"

Dordoni appeared to look more and more dismayed as he pieced together bits of memory fragments. Before Ikomikidomoe's claws could snake around his body, Dordoni yelled,

"It's regrettable that this isn't a one-on-one battle. Haven't had one in such a long time. But let's dance together!"

He then released his ability.

"Whirl, Giralda."

Dordoni was engulfed by two snake-like tornadoes with a bony bird-beak attached to each tip. Because of Szayelaporro's and Mayuri's modifications upon his body, his ability had been enhanced from the time he had fought against Ichigo. The wind velocity had greatly increased, as it gouged out the surrounding soil just by being there.

The twin cyclones raged through, creating a whirlwind of soil and earth. In harmony with Dordoni's tornado, Halibel conjured a stream of muddy water using her own ability. The wind and water swirled together, wrapping themselves around Ikomikidomoe and ensnaring it.

"You... impudent insects!"

The single eye embedded within the body of Ikomikidomoe glowed once more as it shot a Cero outwards, blowing away the whirlwind of water; resulting in a large amount of steam which obstructed vision. But then, the metallic sound of a blade rang out, right past its eye.

"Damn! It's really frustrating; having to put on the appendages that I once discarded. It's all that insane scientist's fault."

The once who had exclaimed was Cirucci. She had entered her Resurreccion, 'Golondrina', which had transformed her into a gigantic swallow-like bird with iron blades for feathers. The blades, whose frequency of vibration had been highly increased due to body-modifications, pierced right through the eye of Ikomikidomoe as it got distracted by a second tornado of wind, water and soil. Ikomikidomoe made an angry noise. Its blindness and subsequent confusion lasted only for a moment. But that small lapse was enough to create an opening for the Arrancars.

Neliel's quiet voice was heard over the raging storm.

"Lanzador Verde."

The fierce lance spun and built up reiryoku while it was thrown straight towards the enemy. This weapon which could even penetrate the Hierro of Nnoitra, the Espada with the greatest degree of impenetrability, lodged itself deeply into the single eye of Ikomikidomoe. It let out a scream of pain. Charlotte struck up a pose.

"Oh? Oh? Oh? Not looking so great now, are you? Sorry to say, but your beauty does not even reach the feet of Baraggan-sama!"

Leaping forward, Charlotte also entered his Resurreccion, 'Reina de Rosas'.

"Rosa Blanca."

Black thorns grew around them and began to envelop the body of Ikomikidomoe. The entirety of Ikomikidomoe's large frame could not be concealed; just half of it. The pitch-black rose bush began to suck out its reiatsu.

"You... You... You bastard!"

Ikomikidomoe did not stop thrashing around. It tried to break free of the rose bush by leaping up into the sky but it could not; as it soon began to get exhausted due to lack of reiatsu.

"I'm sorry, you cannot escape this."

The large body of Ikomikidomoe was hammered into the ground by Meninas, despite her broken fingers. It reflexively created multiple copies of itself in the air but they were consumed by the gaping maw of Liltotto's mouth.

"That tasted awful. See ya! I gotta leave before I get caught up in the midst of those two freaks' battle."

Candice fired a series of lightning bolts from the sky.

"Hah! Let's see you crawl out of this one!"

The glittering lightning bolts illuminated the battle-field.

"Wow! They're like fireworks at a festival! Look, Bambi-chan!"

Giselle continued to shoot her Heilig Pfeil as she spoke pleasantly.

"It's fun, isn't it, Bambi-chan? So work hard, ok?"

In response to Giselle's voice, Bambietta clicked her fingers and the light arrows that fell from the sky as rain turned into explosive flames; striking the body of Ikomikidomoe and lighting up the tornadoes and the rose bush.

"Sorry to interrupt. It's my turn next; to hunt."

Grimmjow pooled in reiatsu into the claws of both his hands, creating five reishi lacerations using each hand. This felt strangely nostalgic and uplifting to Grimmjow. In the past, he had usually been all by himself, but perhaps it was a beast's instinct to hunt in packs. Like his brethren who had called him 'king'. Grimmjow did not linger on those thoughts as he prepared to land his blow upon his enemy. Luppi, who was a little farther behind him, yelled out,

"That's my line, Grimmjow!"

The eight vines of 'Trepadora' began to bathe in reiatsu. The two of them yelled in unison,

"I will destroy you!"

As a massive amount of reiatsu began to accumulate in front of Ikomikidomoe, it tried to create a shield of flesh using its multiplicative ability, but it stopped abruptly. Ikomikidomoe was puzzled by the feeling of being paralyzed. It could not move its limbs, nor could it use its ability. Then, a voice was heard. The voice of someone who had hidden himself until then.

"Although it took me some time to make readjustments; I can now easily alter your reiatsu. You gave me too much time to observe."

"..?.."

"You thought I was some kind of underling, didn't you? And so you underestimated me. If Nakk Le Vaar had been here, he'd probably say-"

Raising his fingers, NaNaNa Najahkoop smiled in pleasant remembrance of his former comrade.

"That's lethal!"

Even the vocal chords of Ikomikidomoe were paralyzed as the 'Underbelly' was used upon it; and therefore it could not even scream out. As the 'U' pattern was lodged upon its body, all resistance it could muster was completely removed.

Grimmjow Jaegerjaques' 'Desgarron' and Luppi Antennor's eightfold 'Gran Rey Cero'. Two attacks coloured with the aspect of death known as 'destruction' were fired at exactly the same time.

Up in the sky:-

"....Ikomikidomoe..."

Hikone murmured.

"Worried about others in the midst of a fight?"

Kenpachi swung his sword.

"Ah...I apologize.."

Dodging Kenpachi's attack, Hikone asked,

"Could you please give me a little time?"

"Huh? What's your intention?"

Hikone smiled innocently.

"Of course, it is in preparation for killing you, yes!"

"Interesting! Bankai, you mean?"

Normally, it is common for a swordsman to strike before the opponent can try something new. But it was different for Kenpachi. He was happy to wait and see what his opponent would come up with. If it were Kyoraku, he would have stabbed Hikone from behind; but he was currently on the ground, facing a different opponent.

"Bankai.... Maybe. I couldn't really say."

"Oh?"

"In case of Ikomikidomoe, 'Resurreccion' is perhaps a better term, don't you think?"

Saying so, Hikone took a sudden nose-dive towards the ground.

On the ground:-

"The bastard's still alive! Damn!"

Grimmjow said, in shock. Ikomikidomoe's body was now mostly fragmented and scattered. Yet it still groaned.

"You... bastards... I... will... get back... my true name..."

"I don't know what it's trying to say, but I'll finish it off."

Grimmjow pierced his palm with his claws and prepared to shoot a Gran Rey Cero with his blood mixed in. But before he could fire it, a voice was heard close by.

"Your name... it is already there."

Upon hearing Hikone's voice, everyone present there became instantly vigilant.

"Ikomikidomoe, you are my own zanpakuto."

Ikomikidomoe's voice trembled as if it was frightened by Hikone's innocent smile.

"That name...call out..."

Ignoring the appeal, Hikone thanked everyone present there.

"Thank you very much! Now let me weaken you, Ikomikidomoe!"

Grimmjow frowned. He did not understand Hikone's words.

Hikone now called out its full name.

"Ikomikidomoe Hououraku Hakkei."

{t/n: Hououraku Hakkei-"Eight picturesque views of the Fenghuang's fall". The Fenghuang is a mythical bird; a very rough translation of such a bird in Western terminology would be a Phoenix. This full name known as 'Ikomikidomoe Hououraku Hakkei' is littered with yin-yang references, signifying harmony and balance. The first name Ikomikidomoe (己己巳己巴) contains the repeated kanji for 'serpent/self' as well as the 'tomoe' symbol. And now with the addition of the kanji for 'Phoenix' in the full name, you have the phoenix-dragon symbolism; signifying harmony, sexual ambiguity, etc. Basically, the first name symbolizes a serpent feeding upon itself; creating a perfect harmony; and now with the addition of the phoenix in the last name, we get a perfect synchronized balance. Sorry for rambling on, but Tite Kubo is well-known for hiding tons of references in a name :p}

The creature's remains began to collapse as it shone white and wind wrapped around Hikone's body. The next instant, the creature had returned to being a pure white katana, held in the hand of Hikone; whose face took on a distinct Hollow-like appearance. Clad in a shihakusho with the shadow of a Hollow creeping into his skin, Hikone's look was akin to that of an Arrancar.

A fusion of Shinigami and Hollow.

A mixture of black and white; yin and yang.

Clasped in Hikone's hand, the pure white zanpakuto developed black splotches on its surface. It was not just the appearance that had changed.

As if all the missing pieces fell into place, Hikone's reiatsu completely evolved to resemble the one above. The reiatsu of Ikomikidomoe was not simply added to Hikone's. This ancient reiatsu became the key to unlock the Gentei Kaijo that was placed upon Hikone's body.

Those who sensed this unique reiatsu, although different from Aizen's, instinctively felt, rather than understood, that this child was indeed suited to be the Rei-o.

"Well, see you all later!"

Even with such tremendous power, his personality and sexual ambiguity did not change. In the blink of an eye, Hikone leapt towards the sky. He covered the huge distance from the ground to the sky with what can only be described as 'godspeed', as though the surrounding movements were somehow delayed for an instant.

He stood in the sky, awaiting to fulfill his duty of cutting down his greatest enemy; the owner of the title 'Kenpachi', the name given to the mightiest Shinigami.

Castle in the sky:-

"What is this reiatsu?"

Running towards the exit of the vast castle turret, Hisagi inadvertently came to a stop. As his entire body was immersed by a cold, eerie feeling, he sensed intermingling reiatsus coming from down below him.

"Is that....Hikone's?"



Scheneizel translated part of the afterword by Tite Kubo and Ryohgo Narita of Can't Fear Your Own World.

I'm just including the bare-bones of the afterword; only the interesting bits:

Tite Kubo's afterword:-

"Shuhei really has a 'main-character' feel to him, huh..."

-This was the discovery I made when we decided on him being the main character in this story.

"Although he is shy and gets teased a lot, he is, in reality, a very adorable person. He was a crybaby as a child, but then continued down the same path as the person who saved his life. Later, he met his mentor, who helped him face his fear. He was then forced to fight against his mentor because he had walked down the wrong path. That was my Shuhei Hisagi."

-But it was only when Narita-sensei proposed we make Shuhei the main character, did I realize that Shuhei had a 'hero-like' aspect to him.

(Then we have some paragraphs about the settings of the story, etc. I am not including that, it's not all that interesting)

(Now comes the really intriguing bit)

"I am really happy that Shuhei's and Shinji's bankai, which could not be shown in the final arc, played active roles. I was pleased at Shuhei's lead role in this story. Good for him!"

(This does suggest that Kubo most likely had plans for both Shuhei and Shinji in the final arc.)

Ryohgo Narita's afterword:-

"I am planning to end BLEACH in a year or two."

-When Kubo-sensei told me so, I laughed and said, "Haha, you're joking!

-But when Kubo-sensei received a formal announcement from the editorial department, stating 'end it in one year', I felt like it was the end of an era. But then the 'Novelization Plan' was launched and Matsubara Makoto and myself were called upon to participate in this very important project.

-Matsubara-san and I spoke to Kubo-sensei directly at a meeting; about the novels.

-What about this character's past?

-What will happen in this part?"

-What's going on in this part?

-What about the remaining mystery in the world of BLEACH?

-When I received the answer from Kubo-sensei's own mouth, it had a tremendous impact on me. And I blurted out, "Why didn't you draw the part about the past of the Rei-o and the nobles?"

(Kubo apparently told Narita that the shift in focus would have had a detrimental effect upon the way the manga was going on towards the end. The last few battles were being drawn at the time in the manga. And Kubo wanted the focus to remain on Ichigo till the end.)

(But apparently, Narita was extremely attracted to whatever revelation Kubo told him about.)

-"Is it ok if I included some of your revelations in the story? You won't get angry, right?"

-"Rather than getting angry, Kubo-sensei delved deeper into the lore, giving advice about the characters we all know about; then introducing the new characters. Thus progressed the story about the malice of the nobles and Shuhei Hisagi was chosen as the protagonist."

(As we know from the JET interview, Kubo apparently had great pleasure designing Shuhei's bankai. Narita says he's the biggest fan of BLEACH. He hopes that the world of BLEACH will continue to expand in some form in the future.)

(You all might like what comes after this)

-When Matsubara-san and I heard the story of Urahara and Yoruichi directly from Kubo-sensei, we immediately told him, "Kubo-sensei must draw this someday!" "We want to read it in manga form!"

(Maybe someday we'll get to see this as well)

So yeah, these are the interesting bits. The rest of the stuff is very 'technical'.

Continued in posting #4
 
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Addition by B. Haddrell

According to latest information VIZ is going to translate "Can't Fear Your Own World" into English. The books will probably be out in 2020. So far other titles have not been mentioned.
Because of copyright reasons we will have to delete all translations of a book that is available to buy.
Please buy the original when it is available - or ask for it as a present, maybe for a Birthday or Christmas present. Good sales figures help to encourage more Bleach!


( I wanted to add the text above but it didn't fit)


*******************************​


Thanks for continuing this thread. I know I've waited longer than I should to check the summaries, but I was quite impressed by some of the information revealed, particularly about Grimmjow and Opie. Naturally, this was something every fan knew instinctively, but it's still nice to get an official confirmation.

This book almost seems to function as a databook of sorts due to the sheer amount of information it has. Of course, some people may not consider it official, but it's still a worthy effort. This is one I would seriously consider buying it once it's translated.
 
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Thanks for the new thread, B. Haddrell. It's great that the thread dedicated to the CFYOW books reached it's 2nd volume back. It shows that people still care about Bleach.

This book almost seems to function as a databook of sorts due to the sheer amount of information it has. Of course, some people may not consider it official, but it's still a worthy effort. This is one I would seriously consider buying it once it's translated.
I agree with you. If not outright canon, these novels at least thread really close to it and so far I enjoyed reading them very much.
 
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CONTINUED FROM POSTING #1

Can't Fear Your Own World II

translated by Scheneizel, first posted in Bleach Reddit

part 18

Chapter 13

Sometime in the not-so-distant past; a certain area within the Soul Society:-

Hisagi Shuhei coughed up blood and groaned in agony. An angry voice was heard and Hisagi was pushed to the ground.

"What's wrong, Shuhei? Did I not just tell you what you have to do?"

Looking down at Hisagi was the Captain of the 9th Division, Muguruma Kensei.

"You keep getting up, talking big, but your words only appear to be tough."

Kuna Mashiro, the self-proclaimed 'super lieutenant', raised her voice petulantly, under her Hollow mask.

"K-e-n-s-e-i! I'm hungry! So hungry! I'll die of hunger!"

This took place during the interlude between the two invasions by the Wandenreich. The Captain Commander, Yamamoto 'Genryusai' Shigekuni had just lost his life at the hands of Yhwach. The shadow of death and terror loomed over the anxious Shinigami and seemed to spread like a plague. Four of the Captains were already deprived of their Bankais. Muguruma Kensei had told Hisagi,

"My Bankai wasn't stolen this time, but who knows what may happen the next time. We need more officers capable of performing Bankai."

The SRDI were currently working on a solution, but nobody knew if they would make it in time for the next invasion. Since the Gotei were in a state of perpetual uncertainty, having more people using Bankai could be the key to winning a big battle. Hisagi was not opposed to the policy itself, but he was up against the fierce attack of Mashiro's Hollowfication. She was a former Visored just like his Captain and Hirako Shinji, and was thus in no way inferior to the other two. Although she was so physically strong, she was not good at handling her strength. The difference in power between her and Hisagi was so great that it became a life-threatening crisis. In short, if Hisagi did not wish to die, he would have to learn Bankai. However, Kensei's method was not like the training regimen applied on Kurosaki Ichigo, which involved drawing out the inner Hollow. This method could not be applied on Hisagi, even though it was effective for Ichigo's Hollowfication. One single mistake and Hisagi's body would give way. Normally, it takes a long period of intense training to acquire Bankai. If one tries to shorten the period, Hisagi would have to compensate for the reduced time as it would take a huge toll on him, probably dying in the process. But Kensei knew that Hisagi possessed the required dexterity. Hisagi had been trained by Tosen Kaname, and that was why Kensei boldly decided to insult Tosen in front of Hisagi.

"Did you think that I wasn't serious about trying to kill you? I'm not so wishy-washy like Tosen."

These words had the desired effect upon Hisagi.

"Please wait a moment, Captain Muguruma. I have always greatly admired you, but that comment about Captain Tosen was simply uncalled for!"

"It's been more than half a day and I still see no results. And was I wrong about Tosen? I just stated the truth about him, that's all."

Every time Kensei insulted Tosen further, Hisagi rose to the provocation. Hisagi's eyes were smoldering, filled with preparedness to challenge the bottom of a deeper hell. He stood up, staggering, and then, surprisingly, bowed to both Kensei and Mashiro

"Captain.... I....would like to thank you."

"Oi, what's gotten into you all of a sudden?"

The first step towards achieving Bankai is by materialization of the zanpakuto spirit. By establishing a dialogue with one's zanpakuto and by forcing it into submission, one can achieve Bankai. During the course of the dialogue with the zanpakuto, it is possible to roughly predict what kind of a Bankai it was going to become. In many cases, one can handle its intricacies the moment they acquire it. However, if the power is brought out too soon, there is a possibility that the Bankai may go awry. Such was the case with Kurotsuchi Mayuri's Konjiki Ashisogi Jizo, which had gone out of control, scattering lethal poison everywhere. Certain Bankais had special abilities which ran the risk of involving the surroundings. there was always the risk of Hisagi not being able to keep his zanpakuto in check. In that case, both Kensei and Mashiro would be in danger. Hisagi thanked the two of them because of this, noticing that they had brought him to a place far away from the Seireitei.

"If you can afford to be appreciative, then channel your efforts into the job at hand."

"I'm sorry I got offended when you were only trying to motivate me. So...uh, as you mentioned before, is Captain Hirako's Bankai really that excessive?"

"You don't have time to worry about other people's Bankais."

Kensei silenced Hisagi, afraid that if they were overheard, there was a possibility that valuable information from their side would be leaked to the enemy. some Shinigami preferred to conceal the natures of their Bankais, while others took pride in them. Certain Shinigami used Bankai as a last resort, displaying their self-discipline. In order to change the subject, Kensei began talking about Hisagi's zanpakuto.

"Your Kazeshini was quite powerful to begin with. But it may not bend to your will so easily. Therefore, I leave Mashiro to deal with you."

Mashiro, who had been listening to their conversation, wide-eyed, now complained loudly.

"How come you get to stand around doing nothing, Kensei?"

"Need I remind you that I was fighting on the front-lines just a little while ago?"

"You're such a gorilla, Kensei. Gorilla, gorilla, g-o-r-i-l-l-a..."

although Kensei was slowly turning blue with rage, he somehow ignored Mashiro. Taking a deep breath, he turned to Hisagi.

"To tell you the truth, I'm surprised that you haven't been able to master Bankai by now. To begin with, it is possible to have a conversation with your zanpakuto, is it not?"

"Yes, it is. Kazeshini did call out to me and I had no problem achieving Shikai."

At that point, it was possible for Hisagi to enter his inner world. All that was left was for the zanpakuto spirit to materialize and then for him to defeat it.

"Honestly, Kazeshini does not want to talk, even when I tried to engage it in conversation. Sometimes, it appeared before me as a black shadow, sometimes as a black tornado. It's a strange one. Although, once, when I got involved in a big incident, it did appear to take on a more tangible form. But I did not understand that form at the time because it felt different."

"Oh, but those little details are important. That may have been the essence of Kazeshini."

"Perhaps it knows that I don't like its shape, and that's why..."

"That's no good. Maybe if you tried telling it that you would 'dedicate your life' to understand it, or something like that...?"

"I'm sorry, but I..."

"Are you afraid, Shuhei? Is it that frightening?"

"...I'd be lying if I said I wasn't afraid.."

Staring at Kazeshini in Hisagi's hand, Kensei muttered, after thinking for a while.

"That sword was not really truthful to you, was it?"

"Eh?"

"Well, anyway, break-time's over."

Kensei approached Hisagi, making a swift movement with his right hand across his face. A white mask appeared out of thin air, the heavy Hollow reiatsu almost choking Hisagi. Another reiatsu appeared, Mashiro had put on her mask. The two of them charged forward with the intent to kill.

"You idiot! Do you want to be made mincemeat of in the next battle? You have to fight differently."

Terrifying scenes flitted across Hisagi's mind: Kanisawa impaled by a Hollow, the time when he was a child and all he could do was cry as he was faced with a Hollow, then he remembered Ayon's brutality, the formidable Quincies. It was Tosen Kaname who helped him get over his fear. Even now he could vividly recall those horrifying images. In front of Hisagi stood Kensei, who was so dangerous that Hisagi's instincts were screaming out to him, warning him that he was standing in the depths of death. Behind the mask, Kensei said,

"Don't be afraid of the killer. I don't know what Tosen taught you, but your fear is the reason why you can't fight."

"I cannot get rid of my fear. I was taught by Captain Tosen that fear is necessary in a battle."

Kensei pointed his sword at Hisagi, his reiatsu enhanced.

"Then prove it to me. Try and convince me that your beliefs are right."

Kensei wanted to ascertain how exactly the man who betrayed him raised his subordinate.

"Let's see whether or not Tosen was right."

Time flows forward. The area is now the Mitsumiya Ward located in the western part of Karakura Town.

The girl with the red jersey had just arrived, carrying the two Shinigami on each of her shoulders.

"So they're fighting..."

At Hiyori's words, Shino and Ryunosuke turned their heads.

"Whoa! What on earth's that?"

They had come to the shop to inquire about the current state of Karakura Town. What met their eyes instead was a strange sight. A row of black-clothed people were sprawled in front of the Urahara Shoten. They also noticed Hisagi and Urahara up in the sky, engaged in battle with 'something never-before-seen'.

"Urahara-san, are you sure it's not a unique ability like that of a Shinigami's Bankai?"

"Yes, I'm sure. It looks like Kido, but most likely it's a basic Fullbring ability generated by mixing in blood and drawing out the soul of the iron within blood. It is a bit different from the Quincy Blut technique."

What Hisagi and Urahara were presently faced with were countless huge reddish-black dragons formed of blood-red smoke. They were not Western-style dragons, but serpentine ones from Oriental folklore. The dragons were silhouetted against a light-grey sky.

"It's unbelievable!"

Hisagi muttered as he saw a huge dragon floating in front of him, like a gigantic fish in a greyish sea. Upon closer inspection, the dragons appeared to have a collection of letters and patterns on their figures. As one of the dragons came close, Urahara raised his zanpakuto.

"Kamisori, Benihime!"

The dragon's neck was chopped off. However, the cut flickered and the neck regenerated as if nothing had happened. Next,

"Shibari, Benihime!"

The dragon was entangled in a blood-red net. Urahara touched the net with his sword.

"Hiasobi, Benihime, Juzutsunagi!"

The net caught fire, dyeing the sky of Karakura red with the explosive flame. The flames covered the clouds, shimmering brightly, like the sun.

"But, Urahara-san, the people of this town..."

Urahara grinned.

"I'm sure President Vorarlberna will manage to prevent that."

"Well, sure, if he has some kind of device to rewrite the memories of everyone in the town. In the past, there have been some pretty destructive battles here, but back then the town was empty, so there was nobody to notice anything unusual going on. But it's different now."

The enemy, Aura, though a Fullbringer, was still a living human being. What if someone saw her from the ground, floating up in the sky? What would they think? Hisagi looked around, but she was nowhere to be seen.

"Where did the girl go? Perhaps she is hiding somewhere.."

"No, she wouldn't need to hide, not when she can already turn her own body into smoke."

"So how are we supposed to defeat her with a zanpakuto?"

"That depends on the zanpakuto. I'd say that the most compatible one in this situation would be Hitsugaya Toshiro's."

"Yes, I suppose so.."

Hitsugaya Toshiro and Kuchiki Rukia both had ice-type zanpakutos which could freeze a wide area. Or perhaps Yamamoto Shigekuni's, capable of burning out a large area. Hisagi's zanpakuto was ill-suited for cases such as these, where the other party could turn into a liquid or a gas, since his zanpakuto relied primarily on physical attacks.

"Well, for the time being, let's try something, shall we?"

Urahara then began chanting,

"Beyond the limit of a thousand arms that cannot reach the darkness; hands that reflect the heavenly archer; the path that basks in light; the wind that fuels the embers; do not be distracted; converge where my fingers point; bullets of light, bodies of eight; sinews of nine; scriptures of ten; diseased treasure, great wheel, grey turret; aim, bend the bow and brightly scatter. Hado number 91: Senju Koten Taiho!"

A group of light beams converged in front of Urahara, became a high-density barrage that flew towards the enemy. It was oddly similar to the Gran Rey Cero which Grimmjow had fired at exactly the same time in Soul Society.

Hisagi stared at the majestic sight in front of him; that of Urahara using a Hado of the 90's level along with the eisho-haki spirit chant. In terms of power, it was much greater than that of a Gran Rey Cero; such was the potency of a high-numbered Kido. But Urahara's breathing was ragged.

"Well, well, well.."

A shadowy figure emerged from the wreckage of the red and black smoke. Aura had on her usual smile.

"I see. So you manipulated the soul of the nitrogen in the air to create a solid barrier."

"It was quite troublesome, to tell you the truth."

Urahara observed Aura.

"So I would be correct in assuming that you received little to no significant damage?"

There were a few small scratches on her body and clothes. Her reiatsu, which was supposed to have been perfectly diluted, could now fall under Hisagi's reiatsu-perception radar. Furthermore, Hisagi could also detect a fluctuation akin to something close to exhaustion in her reiatsu. Hisagi judged that the woman in front of him was no longer how she had been earlier.

"I had to use this Kido in order to deal with someone on the level of Aizen Sosuke."

"It appears as though I had underestimated you Shinigami."

"The Kido did its job."

Urahara spoke lightly.

"That was a lie, wasn't it?"

Aura asked with a smile. Urahara remained silent.

"If you had given the Hogyoku to Kurosaki Ichigo, then things would have been different, right? But that was not the result you desired, was it?"

Hisagi did not follow their conversation. Urahara smiled a little, loneliness behind his eyes.

"Yes, I'm sorry, you got me there. If I had handed it to Kurosaki-san, something different might have been made of the Hogyoku."

"Urahara-san?"

Urahara did not hear Hisagi. He asked Aura,

"So how much do you know?"

"Urahara-san? Are you OK?"

Aura turned to Hisagi, who was standing, looking concerned about Urahara.

"He is a journalist, isn't he? I don't think we ought to talk about such matters in front of him."

"Just what are you talking about?"

Hisagi asked confusedly. Aura gave a thin laugh. Urahara glanced at Hisagi and spoke in a tone most unlike him.

"I believe that Hisagi-san should know everything, especially since Tsunayashiro-san is involved. So I don't mind if Hisagi-san stays."

"Urahara-san, I understand that Tsunayashiro Tokinada is planning something involving the Soul Society and this world as well. So if it is something that I ought to know in order to help the Soul Society, then..."

"That's not the case, Hisagi-san. You are now about to hear a story involving extremely sensitive topics that must not be touched upon..."

Hisagi instinctively gripped Kazeshini, his hands sweating.

"Hisagi-san, can you swear to me that you can continue to walk the path of justice even after I tell you everything? Consider carefully."

Urahara's tone was light, but there was an undercurrent of graveness beneath his voice.

"You can turn back now without asking any questions. Perhaps that option might be preferable for the sake of the Soul Society. Hisagi-san, if you say that you are also a part of the Soul Society, then I would advise you to not delve any further."

Hisagi was torn between hesitation and a desire to remain stagnant. But then he smiled at Urahara in assurance, indicating that it would be alright and that he would not make the mistake of straying from his path.

"Although you are a warrior, you are also a reporter. Yes, Hisagi-san, you have every right to ask questions about the world. However, we'll have to continue our chat some other time."

Urahara terminated the conversation as he turned to Aura. Hisagi noticed something incongruous in Urahara's voice.

-Urahara-san always likes to joke around even in the midst of battle, but he was so serious back then. So why does he want to talk to me later after saying all those things just now?

Urahara was pointing Benihime at Aura.

"It'll be a long conversation, but first we have to survive against Aura-san."

Aura quietly tilted her head.

"I'm sure you must have stocked up on more of your Kido spells while you were talking to the Lieutenant?"

"Weren't you doing the same as well?"

Hisagi, engrossed in their conversation, had not noticed the first droplets of water. He wanted to help Urahara, but he knew that he would not be of much use. However, he did not let such thoughts get him down. He was prepared. But the, suddenly...

Aura had transformed the surrounding air! She had reconstructed the atmosphere all at once. Instead of the grey sky, there was now grey water. The sky above Karakura had been turned into an 'ocean'. The two shinigami looked up to see this extraordinary sight and screamed unexpectedly.

"Shino-san! We'll drown if that water comes down! Let's get away!"

"How is it just present there, covering up the sky?"

The 'sea' eventually passed through undulation with directive and finally appeared to become 'a big river' that flowed across the sky. Upon clapping eyes on this overwhelming scene that was both beautiful and fearsome, Hiyori raised her voice.

"It's like that Espada's ability! And you two, stop yelling! He'll do something about it!"

Hiyori stopped speaking as the next manifestation occurred. Tessai, who had been watching from below, saw another strange sight. Alongside the river, flowed another river of lava stained in vermilion, as if the two were paired together. The magma became a fierce fire dragon, just like the other river rose up to take on the form of a sea dragon, the two undulating together across the sky.

Tessai ran forward, urging Jinta and Ururu to follow.

"We have to hurry!"

Ururu glanced up at the sky.

"Another one..."

"What is it? The thing next to the water and magma?"

"Five other dragons!"

Ururu murmured,

"Those are Kisuke-san's dragons."

Tessai gave assent.

"Yes, he's using Hado number 99: Goryutenmetsu!"

Urahara's Hado cleaved through the sky. The five pillars of light which resembled dragons, were composed of spirit energy. Originally, this Kido was a forbidden one, that swallowed up reiatsu while crushing its surroundings. Urahara's Kido hacked the reiatsu of the soul that Aura drew out from the atmosphere and he used it as a surplus to enhance the Goryutenmetsu. Aura's face displayed slight surprise.

"Finally you are showing your true colours."

The lava and the water dragons danced forward towards Urahara and Hisagi. Three of the white dragons from the Hado covered Hisagi and Urahara, protecting them, while the remaining two caught the two advancing dragons by the neck from the top and the bottom. As the dragons of three colours intersected in the sky, explosive water vapour rose and buried the whole area with newly created white colour.

"What a breath-taking spectacle", thought Hisagi to himself. He had suffered the aftermath of the explosions but he did not back away. Urahara had told him "let's do this, together", after all. Cursing his weakness, Hisagi stood his ground, for it was he himself who began the fight. He was able to keep pace with Urahara, even though it was thought that only Shihoin Yoruichi could do so. even though it was not much, it was a stepping stone, nevertheless.

Hisagi Shuhei was a Shinigami in theory, but he possessed the very fear of death himself. Although he was deemed a remarkable student in his Academy days, capable of doing things most students could not; somewhere in the back of his mind there always remained an irrational desire to 'get away'. However, because of this very trait, he was able to become stronger by treading on the unreasonable fine line that separated life from death. Thus, he willed himself to not move an inch from the battlefield. He did not know if he would be of help, but he decided that he would do whatever he could.

All of a sudden, with a shock, he realized that Urahara's reiatsu was gone.

"Urahara-san! Urahara-san!"

He called out in panic. The steam cleared, but Urahara could not be seen anywhere. A voice was heard as though it was coming from a loudspeaker. It sounded like a signal.

"Situation terminated. Mission cleared. Do you copy, Aura-san?"

"Thank you, President Yukio."

Hisagi's voice trembled.

"Hey! What's going on? What did you do to Urahara-san?"

Looking sideways, Hisagi spotted the odd distortion in the very space where Urahara had stood.

"You kidnapped Urahara-san?"

"Don't be a fool!"

Yukio's voice echoed impatiently.

"I transferred Urahara Kisuke to my dimension, that's all. There's no need to panic."

"Release him, now!"

"Sorry, but you'll have to take it from here. I'm leaving now."

Then Aura called out to Hisagi.

"We will meet again."

She bowed gracefully and then disappeared into the black rectangular space produced by Yukio.

"It was a good interlude."

"Stop..."

Hisagi ran through the air but did not make it in time. He searched around the neighbourhood for a while, frustrated, angered beyond belief.

"Damn it! Damn it! Urahara-san..."

Hisagi was left alone, while Urahara Kisuke was kidnapped right before his eyes, with him being unable to do a single thing to prevent it all.

-----------------------------------------------

P.S.1 We are a little more than halfway through part 13. I will need some more time to translate, so please forgive me. Been very busy. I hope you won't mind.

P.S.2 Aura is using rudimentary chemistry in addition with rudimentary Fullbring, only on a Soul King-level XD

P.S.3 I am a little hazy on the details, but wasn't Senju Koten Taiho the kido in which Kisuke hid the sealing kido when he captured Aizen? Here, Aura seems to be implying that it was a lie. So does that mean, everything that happened after Ichigo used Mugetsu on Aizen, and Aizen getting sealed, was all a farce? Was that why Kisuke repeatedly tried telling Ichigo that he was right in defeating Aizen, as if trying to convince, not Ichigo, but himself? Was that also why he looked sad when Ichigo said that the Hogyoku did not reject Aizen?

P.S.4 And what's with this sudden emphasis on 'eastern dragons'? Burn the Witch? Ok, don't take that suggestion seriously XD


Part 19

Chapter 14

In a battle between Shinigami and Hollow, 'size' mattered; being huge did have some kind of advantage. Naturally, it is common sense even in the world of the living; among human beings as well as among wild animals. However, in the struggle between Shinigami and Hollow, it takes on a different meaning. Unlike humans and beasts, certain Hollows have such magnitude and weight that even if one depends on equipment and technology, they cannot be always easily overcome by Shinigami. But, the vital key-phrase is 'some kind of advantage', indicating that the advantage was not universal. For a Shinigami above a certain level, it is possible to slaughter a Hollow ten times their size, and thus can an enormous Hollow be countered. Even so, limitations are present in case of zanpakutos capable of a Bankai release. For example, the Sternritter with the Schrift 'M', Gerard Valkyrie, the 'Miracle', was large enough to and had sufficient power and durability to counter Bankais.

Hollows grow in size by cannibalism, forming the existence known as a 'Gillian'. But it is normal for their growth to break up from that point, as they evolve from that stage to an Adjuchas and then to a Vasto Lorde. From a lower grade Menos Grande, through an intermediary to the highest class, the body gradually contracts as if condensed. Eventually, the Menos achieves a human-sized body, comprised of tens of thousands of compressed reiatsus. In other words, as it gets enormously large, it is recognized as a stronger Hollow; however, a smaller, but higher grade one is considered to have a stronger and more concentrated reiatsu.

The 'being' that appeared in the streets of the Rukongai defied common logic. Its gigantic body was several times the size of a large Hollow with a reiatsu as dense and heavy as a Menos of the highest class. Every time it let out a roar, the atmosphere resonated, rumbling; instilling fear within each of the combatants present in the area. Such was the 'existence' that Hikone's zanpakuto, Ikomikidomoe had become.

Hikone looked down from his sky-height position at the ones present below. Hirako cried out in a tone of amazement,

"Even I have to admit that the sword is incredible!"

Hikone, the 'owner' of that monstrosity, spoke innocently,

"Ikomikidome is basically moving with my own reiatsu."

Hirako took a step backwards, hesitant to enter battle. All Shinigami officers were under orders from the top brass to 'refrain from killing Arrancars and Hollows and to keep hostilities with them to a bare minimum'. This law was set in motion in order to not disturb the barely stable balance between the worlds; the very balance which had been greatly disrupted by the Quincies. To uphold this rule, Hirako decided to wait and assess the situation for the time being. He stared up at Hikone and said,

"I wonder if you can control that thing..."

Hikone gave a smile.

"Oh, you don't have to worry. Ikomikidomoe is just as strong as I am."

A Garganta opened up. Tier Halibel appeared at the exit and peered out of it and then exclaimed,

"Luppi....? But how...?"

Halibel had followed the traces of Grimmjow's reiatsu, but what she saw was unexpected. Not only did she notice Grimmjow's prominent electric-blue hair, but she also spotted the one at his side. There was a Shinigami present there, as well as Quincies, and another group of people she did not know. And then, there was also that gigantic Hollow.

"What's going on?"

Neliel Tu Odelschvank now arrived at the Garganta's exit, craning her neck to see what was happening down below.

"It's that child. And that familiar reiatsu. Is that really the zanpakuto that had opened up a Garganta back in Hueco Mundo? The shape is quite different from before."

Then, looking a little upset, Neliel said,

"I wanted to see Ichigo again."

Halibel continued to survey the area. But her role as an observer quickly vanished as she thought she recognized the appearance of the monster; which fairly resembled Baraggan. The creature opened its huge mouth and let out a thunderous roar that seemed to encroach deep into Halibel's eardrum, as if digging into her very skull and bones.

"Does it seem familiar?"

"It was after your time."

Neliel looked a little glum.

Hikone, looking concerned, addressed Ikomikidomoe, which had halted its movements for an instant.

"What's wrong, Ikomikidome?"

Ikomikidomoe's words echoed in the surrounding air.

"How craftily you have changed Hueco Mundo, you of lower rank."

This person had been stripped of his status as a king and was forced to turn into Aizen's subordinate. After a momentary silence, there was another roar, the ground shook, dense reiatsu gathered, several tornadoes rose up. It seemed like anger, lamentation and hatred all triggered an immense desire to destroy everybody and everything in the vicinity.

-------------

The underground concealed communication passage was an area that was permitted to only a select few aristocrats. This place had now been turned into a battlefield, the smell of blood everywhere. Blades interlaced, one blade aimed at the back, only to be turned away, the clash of metal with metal; neither side gave way as the fight in the dark between the aristocrat and the assassins continued; a rogue battle. In the midst of such a fierce battle, Soi Fon deftly avoided the crossfires, but a part of her consciousness was always on Tokinada's former actions. 'Tokinada-sama asserts that an assassination attempt is to be made upon his life'. Soi Fon never really believed those words, especially because of Tokinada's bad reputation. It was more likely that Tokinada was trying to stir up trouble. Besides, even if an assassination attempt was indeed made on him, then good riddance. Since the request had come from the main house, it would not have been good to refuse. When Soi Fon had been instructed to mobilize her troops for the ambiguous reason, she was most unwilling and wanted to protest, saying that it probably was something that Tokinada had himself planned.

"Well, we can't really say for sure, so let's make certain that he really is planning something. I have summoned someone beautiful specially for this."

"Your compliment is making me blush."

While speaking these words, Yoruichi entered and Soi Fon immediately bristled.

"Kyoraku, I'll kill you, just you wait.."

Soi Fon was thus made to carry out the job. She kept observing Tokinada during the battle. Tokinada neither tried to escape nor did he try and attack from behind. He seemed to slash away at the assassins quite delightedly. Although she intensely disliked Tokinada, she calmly analyzed his competence. Tokinada was originally a seated officer in the Gotei, but there was more than a century of gap between his days as an officer and now. At first glance, Tokinada's sword strikes appeared to be shallow. Despite him using Shikai, there was no visible change in the shape of his zanpakuto. Soi Fon had heard about Kuten Kyokoku, a sword that had been in the Tsunayashiro family for generations, but it was inconceivable for it to not even change its shape. As far as its ability went, it was as she had heard. One of the assassins swung his zanpakuto, a ball of fire appeared at its tip and was fired towards Tokinada. The heat was of course not nearly as great as Genryusai's Ryujin Jakka, but even so, it was enough to burn a single Shinigami. The blazing fireball seemed to hit an invisible wall and then flipped its trajectory as though it was reflected by a mirror and crashed into the original user. The body of the assassin burned up. Fighting with a zanpakuto was a better option in this situation since this ability involved reflecting intrinsic attacks from a zanpakuto. It was similar to the 'Sogyo no Kotowari' used by Ukitake Jushiro, but in case of that zanpakuto, the attacks were absorbed, not directly reflected back like a mirror. If it merely bounced off attacks, then once the opponent gauged its ability, then they would be able to dodge it. However, doubts began to swirl in Soi Fon's mind.

-Does that zanpakuto just reflect attacks? Is that all?

-Or does it also possess some other unique ability?

It was a strange power, but there were plenty of Shinigami who could get the better of it. For example, there were people like Soi Fon who knew how to fight without a zanpakuto; then there were others like Zaraki Kenpachi who could overwhelm their opponents with just strength alone and Kurotsuchi Mayuri, who could always devise new countermeasures. Kyoraku was the one who had first voiced his doubts when he deployed Soi Fon.

"Tokinada's zanpakuto... I don't think that repelling attacks is all that it does..."

Kyoraku had obtained various information through his connections to the Central 46 as well as by virtue of his position as the Captain Commander. Soi Fon was rather impressed by Kyoraku's information network.

"His own zanpakuto was confiscated years ago. He is now using a zanpakuto that only the Head of the Tsunayashiro clan may possess. The Four Great Noble Families have possessed inherited zanpakutos over the generations, like Muramasa, which could dominate other zanpakutos."

Soi Fon recalled Kyoraku's words while maintaining vigilance against Tokinada. Yoruichi, on the other handm who was treating the wounded, sighed.

"This is presenting a problem.. so many of our men dying..."

In response to that, Tokinada laughed, eliminating soldiers left and right.

"Plenty of Shinigami died in th war against the Quincies, these guys aren't that great in numbers."

"Hoh! So says the aristocrat who comfortably sat back and did not participate."

"Hahaha! Battlefields are so messy!"

Tokinada kept reflecting back the attacks of the assassins as he spoke. In other words, he was moving at lightning-speeds, keeping up with the swiftness that defined the Onmitsukido. Either that, or he was matching his movements and speed with those of his enemies. This was a testimony to his battle prowess. But he announced that he was still not up to the mark.

"And what's this I've been hearing? That the current Kenpachi did not even attend the Spiritual Arts Academy and has risen in ranks by merely stealing an asauchi from a dead Shinigami in the Rukongai?"

----------------

There are several different kinds of streets within the Seireitei, including area where trade flourished, as well as very posh areas meant only for aristocrats. It is said that outside the Seireitei, within the Rukongai, the winding streets had nothing resembling history, culture and entertainment. Criminals roamed the streets, drowning in their own pleasures; the air filled with the smell of blood, liquor and filth. Ayasegawa Yumichika walked through the streets, his appearance most out-of-place in this rough townscape. He stopped for a while and turned to Madarame Ikkaku beside him, who looked like he was familiar with this city air.

"Do you think something's wrong in District 1? I can hear a lot of noise coming from over there."

"Those guys from the Onmitsukido were sent out, or so I heard from Omaeda. But who cares, it's not like we'll get a big catch or anything."

Ikkaku looked bored. As they passed through a gate that led to District 1, the landscape before their eyes had changed. Their skin tingled with the heavy flow of reiatsu, but they did not pay attention to it and advanced on foot. This was the very reason as to why they were a part of the 11th Division's combat unit. Just by being in that area, they were drenched in cold sweat. The two of them were assigned to guard duty in this district.

"I wonder who the owner of this reiatsu is. It's uncanny. And the one who possesses this reiatsu seems not to care about this area's security."

A voice was heard from behind them.

"That's great!"

It was Zaraki Kenpachi.

"Ah, Captain!"

The title of 'Kenpachi symbolized the one most proficient in 'zanjutsu'; this title was marked with a blood-stained legacy. However, his style of zanjutsu was too rough. Nevertheless, his torrent of reiatsu, as if he was a living natural disaster, was enough to make him worthy of that name. The name of 'Kenpachi' meant that the one who bore that title would never fall no matter how many times he was cut. But him without his Captain's haori was a sight that needed getting used to. He was not a man who liked wearing the haori, but only wore it because the former Captain Commander asked him to put it on.

"What are you doing here, Captain?"

"I was just contacted by the Captain Commander. I was often told that the Captain's haori holds special meaning, but unfortunately, mine has been in tatters."

He grinned, then said,

"It's a real pain, but since I had nothing better to do, might as well head over to that place."

--------------

"We have to do something about that Hollow zanpakuto."


Meninas McAllon spoke to Candice Catnipp plaintively.

"Yeah. Maybe I could bring down my thunderbolt on them, but then again, those Fullbringers we were asked to capture alive might get destroyed in the process. We need an opening."

Candice was carefully considering whether or not to let Ginjo out of his sight.

"Leave it to me."

"Okay. Do your thing and leave as soon as possible."

Meninas nodded. She stealthily approached the Hollow and tip-toed to a place that she thought was the creature's blind spot. Then she enlarged the muscles of both her arms. She struck ikomikidomoe's feet, it teetered a bit. Candice rained down arrows upon it, but the Hollow was too immense. She then launched a bolt of lightning upon it, the whole area dazzling with light; with disregard for the ones present in the vicinity.

"That damn Mayuri! He knew I was here!"

Hirako yelled, avoiding the lightning.

"It must be the doing of Mayuri's Quincy subordinates!"

Hirako stepped further away, turning his eyes towards those who were swallowed up by that clap of thunder. The Hollow had folded its feet and had changed to a spheroidal shape; it looked extremely eerie as it just sat there in the streets of the Rukongai. The next instant, numerous winged Hollows emerged from the sphere. Although, compared to Ikomikidomoe, these Hollows were 'small', but actually they appeared to be from the intermediate class. As if taking defensive measures, those Hollows immediately went for Candice and Meninas. As the flock of Hollows advanced, Candice and Meninas attacked them with their Heilig Pfeil.

"There's no end to them!"

The main body of the Hollow was hardly damaged at all. While looking at Ikomikidomoe as it continued to give rise to dozens of Hollows, Hirako corrected his impression of it.

"I was wrong about Hikone, who can handle such a zanpakuto and also about Tokinada, who gave Hikone this zanpakuto."

Hirako muttered to himself,

"Is that really a zanpakuto?"

Candice now launched a Galvano Javelin with both her hands. Originally, Candice was able to use six of them in her Vollstandig form, but ever since she was subjected to the Auswahlen, managing two was all she could do. The problematic part was that those Hollows were attacking as though they were a single entity with coordinated movements. The lightning struck, the Hollows slowed down considerably. Candice, aware of this, shot another barrage of arrows.

"Stop firing!"

A familiar voice reached Candice's ear. That voice! Here? Her confusion soon cleared as she saw an elongated jaw swallow up quite a fair amount of Hollows. The jaw contracted back and the owner of the voice spoke.

"That tasted disgusting! I came here to collect you and I was getting hungry, but instead, these are what I get to eat! Urgh!"

Candice was astonished. It was Liltotto Lamperd.

"It's you, Lil! Why are you here? To help us?"

"That's why I said that I came to collect you. Do listen when people talk, bitch."

"It's just as I suspected. You always had a foul mouth, but you do care."

Candice was overjoyed. Behind Candice, another voice was heard.

"Hey, hey, where's Mayuri?"

Candice turned her head.

"Gigi!"

"Now, Gigi, don't get mad!"

Meninas, also glad of their reunion, brought the conversation down to her usual pace.

"Wait a moment, Minnie! Do try to read the situation!"

"What?"

"Well, if you're all done bickering, I'd like my snack. But I guess that'll have to wait for now."

As the group of Hollows continued to spring forth, Gigi tilted her head and asked Liltotto,

"Hey, can't we escape?"

"But escape is meaningless if we can't rescue Candy and Minnie."

Liltotto approached Candice, spoke not to Candice but through the communication device attached to her hat.


"Kurotsuchi Mayuri, I know you can hear me. I will cooperate with your experiment. In exchange, I want you to release Candice and Meninas."

A bomb exploded.

"There were explosives placed all over our bodies!"

"You bastard!"

"Don't be silly. You Quincies are antiquities. I don't intend on destroying you so easily."

Mayuri's voice was heard through the device. Candice was indignant, but Liltotto continued negotiations calmly. Mayuri, as he kept the conversation going, worked dexterously, as he occasionally activated the bombs, should one of his subordinates go out of hand.

"Freedom for Candice and Meninas is all I want here. You, on the other hand, want the very best fighting power. So I'll help you. Considering everything, I think that this is a fair enough deal."

"It's true that Quincies are a source of interest to me for my research. But I don't think it's good to get too conceited about your worth."

"But if the Quincies are not worth much, as you just said, then surely it wouldn't hurt to set a couple of them free, wouldn't you agree?"

"Well, if it's a case of replacement..."

"But you want us to do something else, don't you?"

It was Gigi who spoke suddenly. Mayuri raised his voice unexpectedly.

"Even you you are all fools compared to me, I don't dislike your negotiation skills at all. That Quincy, Ishida, didn't even realize that I had placed surveillance bacteria inside his body till I informed him about it. Perhaps you could negotiate on my behalf? It would have been better if Hirako hadn't been out there, as his presence hinders me from doing it myself, unnoticed."

"Because there are other Captains out there, you don't want to come out? Wise move on your part."

A huge sigh escaped from the transmitter in Candice's hat.

"Wasn't really looking for a compliment from you.."

Then, Mayuri presented them with a proposal, along with a set of conditions.

"It is possible that the one who stands atop that huge zanpakuto was created somehow. I want to know as much as possible about him. If you help me out with this, then I will upgrade the modifications on your bodies. In addition, if you capture the Fullbringers, you will be provided with special remuneration."

"Don't need it."

"But surely, with all the modifications, beings as powerful such as yourselves can easily knock down that Hollow."

"Tch! Didn't expect this. Is this a negotiable proposition?"

Liltotto complained.

"Do you agree to the terms and conditions?"

Gigi spoke loudly to Liltotto,

"Hey, listen, Lil. I'm not going to help that guy!"

Mayuri's voice was heard again.

"Ah, so your brain finally rotted away, eh, Zombie-girl?"

"I don't want you of all people to talk about zombies."

"Deal's off, then. In the end, you won't be able to win against that behemoth."

Liltotto looked at Ikomikidomoe and then at Gigi.

"Whatever you do, just shut your mouth!"

Gigi was extremely reluctant; then, turning to the shadowy figure lurking behind, she sighed.

"Yeah, Bambi-chan.."

"...I will.. do my best.. For Candy... and Minnie.. and everyone else.."

The battlefield was now wrapped not only in white lightning but also with the red colour of explosions.

"Oh, great, now it's that girl with the bombs! How troublesome!"

Hirako raised his voice as he noticed the girl jump out of Gigi's shadow. Only, this time, her skin appeared to be reddish. The girl took care of the Hollows produced by Ikomikidmoe by means of her explosions.

"They're as irresponsible as ever! Now, I have to think about how to deal with all of this."

Hirako murmured, placing a hand his sword's hilt, indecisive about whether or not to contact Mayuri.

"Maybe I'll ask Momo to send word to Kyoraku-san, informing him about the recent change in the whole situation."

---------------

"Whew! That was close! Good thing we didn't actively participate in the battle."

Ginjo and his friends had avoided the aftermath.

"Do you think we ought to seize this chance and leave this place?"

Tsukishima asked Ginjo.

"That's what I was planning on doing.... but that kid... didn't he say something about a 'king'?"

"Yes, I heard him too."

Giriko nodded. Tsukishima gave his assent as well.

"The new religious sect called X-CUTION also spoke of such a thing."

Ginjo recalled the words spoken by the recent newcomers to the Rukongai, during his quest for gathering information about this emerging cult in the world of the living.

"Judging from the story told to me by those people who recently died, it is more than likely that either a Fullbringer or Shinigami is involved. X-CUTION seems to have thousands of believers. Their doctrines mention the existence of the Shinigami and the Soul Society, the Hollows and Hueco Mundo, as well as Hell. Even the procedure of 'Konso' is documented in their doctrines. Those could only have been written by someone who is well acquainted with the 'world after death'. However, among those records, there was one part that greatly diverged from reality. To be precise, that part of their doctrines talk about the future; a future that has not yet arrived. A prophecy. 'A new king shall be born from the shadows of a war spanning over more than a millennium; this king shall reign over the three worlds'. At first, I thought that this cult had connections to the Quincies and that the 'new king' spoken about in the prophecy referred to Yhwach. But Yhwach's objective was not to rule over the three worlds, but to merge them into one, to turn everything back to the way they originally were."

Ginjo believed that this enigmatic prophecy was the key to grasping the identity of the other party. He had planned to discuss these events with that 'self-proclaimed journalist' he had met a few days ago. Ginjo looked up at the zanpakuto named Ikomikidomoe and the child called Hikone who was controlling it.

"Well, now... I do wonder about this zanpakuto..."

He then noticed one of the Quincies approaching the child.

------------

"Hey, kid! Your name is Hikone, right? I'm one of the Quincies who was present in Hueco Mundo when you arrived there. It's been a while. So, are you going to become the king?"

Liltotto looked at Hikone, who was practically unscathed, when in reality, he should have been burnt by Candice's lightning. Liltotto was rather impressed by this feat; she ventured to extract information from the child by means of holding a dialogue.

"Oh no, rather than me, it's going to be Tokinada-sama who will become the true king."

"Oh? And do you serve him willingly?"

Hikone replied in an innocent tone,

"All I want is to be useful to Tokinada-sama!"

"Is that so? Will he grieve if you were to die for him?"

Liltotto meant her words to sound sarcastic, but sarcasm was lost upon Hikone, who did not understand such things.

"But I will do my best to serve him!"

He's a fanatic, thought Liltotto. No, perhaps from the beginning, he was created like that. She realized that conversation with this child would get her nowhere. However, something was bothering her, nagging at the back of her mind.

"There's something I would like to hear from you."

Gremmy Thomeaux. That was the name of the boy who was known as the strongest member of the Sternritter army. It was said that no one could win against him, with the exception of Yhwach. The body he used was that of a young boy, but the real 'container' had neither age nor gender. That was because he was, in reality, just a brain within a jar. The body of the boy was just something that was 'imagined'. Such was the ability of the one who was given the Schrift 'V', the Visionary. This ability was God-like, to transform mere imagination into reality. Even objects like meteorites could be imagined into existence. In the end, Gremmy had lost to Kenpachi as he had imagined a body for himself that was unable to contain strength matching Kenpachi's; rather, such enormous strength could be contained by no one other than Kenpachi himself. As a result, his body collapsed and he had wished to no longer imagine anything anymore. And thus, the brain stopped functioning. Liltotto had confirmed with her own eyes that the brain's reiatsu had completely stopped. She did not know what happened to the vessel afterwards and she did not dare go look for it. But for the Shinigami in front of her, the story seemed to be different from that which she felt from Gremmy. This Shinigami seemed like the sort of figure that the living Gremmy could have 'imagined'. In fact, Liltotto was contemplating whether or not to ask Hikone about something like this. But, she ended up asking anyway. Upon hearing that name, Hikone's child-like face lit up.

"Yes, I know. I have heard about it from Tokinada-sama!"

Liltotto did not think that she would get a decent reply as she had just thrown out that suggestion casually. What she heard instead from Hikone's own lips was something she never expected to hear. Her eyes widened as she waited with bated breath for Hikone's next sentence.

"Yes, Gremmy-san was used to create me!"

---------------------------------------------

P.S. That concludes part 13. To tell you the truth, that bombshell at the end was extremely shocking. And thrilling. General thoughts on part 13 as a whole: a) pretty revealing chapter with plenty of plot-twists, b) Shuhei is slowly, but surely, turning into a favourite, if not 'the' favourite, character :) Very excited to see how he rescues Kisuke. Also looking forward to a possible partnership between him and Ginjo in the future. Shuhei might use bankai when he tries to rescue Kisuke (let's hope so) d) Every chapter is getting more and more interesting, but keeps raising more and more questions as we move on.

:) :)

​************

Headquarters of the Pharmaceuticals Department of the Aristocrats:-

"Well, well, if it isn't the Captain Commander of the Gotei 13, Kyoraku-dono! To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure? I'm glad we had this rather lavishly decorated room ready to greet you."

Yamada Seinosuke, the one in charge of this medical institution, spoke sarcastically to the guest. Kyoraku Shunsui smiled, bitterness glittering in his uninjured eye.

"You haven't changed a bit, Seinosuke-kun."

"Thank you for taking care of my little brother in my stead."

"The 4th Division is doing well."

Seinosuke narrowed his eyes.

"Isn't it better to say that the 4th Division is doing well even after Unohana-san is gone?"

"Are those words meant to sting, Seinosuke-kun?"

Kyoraku asked, completely understanding the situation. Seinosuke had served under ex-Captain Unohana as her Lieutenant for a long time and had formed a strong and trusting relationship with her. It was because of Kyoraku's proposal that Unohana was no longer around. The decision to sacrifice her in order to bring out the strength of Zaraki Kenpachi was taken by Kyoraku. Kyoraku knew that Seinosuke could absolutely never bring himself to forgive such a decision. However, Kyoraku was fully prepared to face all of the grudges that people had against him. It had been a necessary step to save the three worlds.

"It is me speaking after all. A coward like me can do nothing but complain. I have nothing against Captain Zaraki, nor against you, for that matter, Captain Commander. I know you can afford to be selfish by virtue of your position as a leader."

Kyoraku looked at the person who claimed to be a 'coward'. He smiled bitterly.

"How did you know, though? As far as I know, these facts are not known by many."

"It was Tokinada-dono."

Seinosuke replied sweetly. Kyoraku narrowed one eye.

"He seemed to want to personally see your face when he made fun of you. According to him, merely mentally imagining one's tormented expression is not interesting enough."

"I see. His personality is as terrible as ever."

"It's a fact; I, too, am lacking in various ways, especially in kindness."

"Don't be so humble. If you were not kind, you would not have warned your younger brother."

"Ah, so you've been talking to Hisagi, have you?"

"Why do you think that? I could have heard it from Hanataro-kun, or from Shuhei-kun, or from someone else. Anyway, were you expecting such a tale to reach my ears?"

"I will leave that to your imagination. So why have you come here instead of visiting the Central 46? I presume there is something you want to ask me directly?"

"Yes, I could have visited that place, but I figured that by coming here, I can save a lot of time."

Kyoraku mentioned the name Ubuginu Hikone.

"This child has been following Tokinada around recently, isn't that right?"

"Well, I don't know if I should say anything about that.."

"He was here as a patient, yes?"

Kyoraku eagerly moved closer to Seinosuke.

"Could you please tell me? Where did that child come from?"

"I am a surgeon. I cannot divulge information about my patients, not even to you."

"Oh, I know you stick to medical ethics, but you, first and foremost, are a Shinigami who values and respects the weight of a life more than anything. If you know the circumstances surrounding that child in detail, you may be able to save your patient's life."

Seinosuke's expression did not change. He understood that this was no threat; he knew Kyoraku well; for he, too, was once a member of the Gotei.

"You aren't the Captain Commander for nothing. Only you can say such things against the aristocracy."

Seinosuke shrugged. Kyoraku then spoke of a certain family name.

"How familiar are you with the name 'Ubuginu'? I heard that they were a family that had served the House of Tsunayashiro, but that lineage had ceased a while back. At first, I assumed that the child was a distant relative, but I could find the existence of no such person on the family roster, not even in the Daireishokairo (t/n: Great Spiritual Library)."

"That's right. The Ubuginu bloodline died out long ago. I am not fully aware of Tokinada-dono's exact ideas, but apparently it is not just a rebellion against Soul Society. As I understand it, it is a crime to research taboo phenomenon, as was the case with Urahara Kisuke-dono's false charge."

Seinosuke walked towards Kyoraku.

"I do know that Ukitake-dono, your dearest friend, possessed a fragment of the Rei-o. I'm sure you're beginning to see what I'm getting at?"

"So I take it that Hikone has a fragment too?"

Seinosuke interrupts Kyoraku, denying the statement with a thin smile.

"It is a little different, to be precise. Hikone is the end-product of the culmination of the fragments of the Rei-o that Tokinada-dono has been gathering up until now; with a blend of Shinigami and human konpaku as his nucleus."

"Shinigami and human konpaku...?"

"But we are not talking about one or two. At least ten thousand konpaku were mixed in, including those of the Quincy."

"But I don't think it's possible to compress the konpaku to this extent, while preserving the individual natures of both types of konpaku, Shinigami and human."

Although Kyoraku did think that this feat would be possible for people like Urahara Kisuke, Shutara Senjumaru or Kurotsuchi Mayuri. However, neither of those three had reasons to cooperate with Tokinada. Also, it was unclear to him why Tokinada had required Seinosuke's help. Seinosuke noticed Kyoraku's confusion and spoke mildly.

"Yes, there is no such technology at Urahara Kisuke's, Kurotsuchi Mayuri's or Shutara Senjumaru's disposal. So when Hikone arrived at my place for the first time, his conditionwas unpalatable."

Seinosuke recalled, continuing darkly,

"He could not raise his neck upwards, he could not sit up. The skin barely stretched over his body. I was the one who made him 'alive'. I did as much as I could. Therefore, our current debate about the weight of a life is meaningless. Your former words did not convince me. He is just a body of flesh, with fragments of the Rei-o, but he does have a personality, given whose core Tokinada-dono brought in."

"Whose core?"

Kyoraku wrinkled his brows.

"Gremmy Thomeaux."

"That name appeared in one of the records stored within the Daireishokairo. The Quincy who fought against Kenpachi...."

Kyoraku frowned deeper.

"That's..... just..."

With a reiatsu like a tornado of turbulent consciousness, containing a countless number of souls, enduring the chaotic flow of konpaku; what lay at the core, was the 'brain' of a Quincy; the former owner having already vanished. An empty shell that had fallen into Tokinada's hands. Seinosuke suddenly chuckled.

"Don't you think this is irony at its height, Captain Commander? Zaraki Kenpachi, who killed Unohana-san on your orders, was the one who defeated this very Quincy, and then afterwards, the brain happened to fall right into the hands of your enemy, Tsunayashiro Tokinada. How things turn out!"

Kyoraku did not respond to that. Instead, he asked,

"Seinosuke-kun, did that feel good?"

"Kyoraku-dono, I'm sure you have acted according to what you believe is right and I know you have no regrets. But for the sake of your beliefs and for protecting Soul Society, Unohana-san was sacrificed."

Kyoraku lowered his straw hat, casting a shadow over his face. He gave a lonely smile and spoke with a grimace,

"That was mean, wasn't it?"

Seinosuke also smiled a little. Turning his face away from Kyoraku, he muttered,

"It's just a sentiment.."

Sometime in the past; within the Wandenreich HQ, Silbern:-

While the war with the Shinigami was in full swing, something else was going on within Silbern. There had previously been a cage; heavily sealed by a barrier set up by Yhwach. Now, however, the seal had been unraveled and the existence that should have been locked up was revealed. The body of Gremmy Thomeaux was standing in the passageway. Nobody approached him, nobody even dared to look at him; as if fearful that just by looking into his eyes, they would get killed. But one lone shadow moved closer to Gremmy with unfaltering steps.

"Yo! You look well! I didn't think you would subject yourself to such an appearance."

Liltotto spoke freely. Gremmy smiled coldly at her.

"Out of your imagination, was it? You don't really want to talk to a monster like me, do you?"

"It's not that. I'm out of snacks and I'm really hungry. You have to get me something, 'kay?"

"Ah, it was about time that someone approached me with abusive phrases and selfish desires. You are saying that you want me to help you?"

"Hey, we're all friends here, aren't we? Just like His Majesty so nicely told us. Jeez, you're so stingy, honestly!"

"I'm not..."

While saying so, Gremmy 'imagined' and bags of pastries and sweets swarmed around Liltotto. Liltotto opened a large bag filled with doughnuts and peered inside.

"Hey! Doughnuts aren't that sweet!"

"I did not know what you liked and that you were a sweet-tooth."

"Hey, listen. After you kill the Shinigami and become free, eat a lot, okay? Broaden your imagination."

Gremmy smiled wryly.

"I'll think about it."

Liltotto rewarded him with a smile and bit into a doughnut.


"You saved me. Thank you."

Gremmy then casually asked her to leave.

"A 'thank you' is no good, then? Is there something you want in return?"

"Why would you even want to do something like that? It's unnecessary."

"I just felt like doing something for you. I owe you. Is that really such a bad thing?"

Liltotto then though for a while and spoke to Gremmy.

"Tell you what, if I see anyone who tries to kill you, I'll chase them away."

"If there was indeed someone who could kill me, then I don't think you can defeat that person. I think it would be better if you ran away instead. There is no need to risk your life over some doughnuts."

Gremmy smiled at Liltotto and spoke again,

"The Sternritters are selfish; His Majesty as well; all of them."

"Yes, it is too cruel to be locked up in prison. Say, when the war ends and you become truly free, what do you want to do?"

"I've never really thought about it."

Gremmy thought for a while and then shrugged. Liltotto asked him,

"Would you like to try your hand at cooking? If you can do it properly, then you can taste all kinds of different things."

Gremmy did not understand whether Liltotto was joking or was serious.

"Just imagine the taste of strawberry jam!"

"I'll consider it. You're going to become obese at this rate. Next time I'll imagine something with lesser calories."

Liltotto laughed, taking out yet another doughnut from the bag.

"Ok. Cookies, then."

"I'll do that."

"I'm looking forward to it."

After such a child-like conversation, the two parted. Liltotto joined Bambietta and left, while Gremmy joined Guanael Lee, a being he had 'imagined', and went the other way. Little did they know that it would be the very last time they ever spoke to each other.

Back to the present:-

"Gremmy is a part of you...?"

Hikone nodded at Liltotto's question.

"Yes. Gremmy-san's brain is within my head. Tokinada-sama told me so."

Liltotto consolidated her reiryoku and created a Heilig Bogen and fitted a Heilig Pfeil to the bow.

"Is that right? You're not him, you're a different person with the same reiatsu. That Tokinada bastard!"

Liltotto shot the arrow towards Hikone. Hikone tilted his head and held out his palm, the arrow struck his palm. At the point where the arrow tip had touched, a blood red pattern appeared, the defence mechanism exclusive to the Quincies, Blut Vene. But that was not all. It was something that only those who have fought against Arrancars can recognize; Hierro, the impermeable armour. Hirako noticed it at once.

"So the reiatsu of the Quincy is mixed in with that of the Arrancar."

It was surprising to see the compatibility between the Hollow and Quincy factors, when in reality, they should be extremely incompatible. Reiatsu of the Shinigami, the Hollow, the Quincy all mixed in. What could it all mean? The fusion of the Shinigami and Hollow is a special case all on its own, like Hirako's. However, this fusion should result in the subject in question to no longer be able to keep up the form of a Shinigami; the soul ought to collapse. And if the Hollow factor is intertwined with the Quincy factor, the collapse of the soul would accelerate as the two are not meant to combine in the first place. Hirako thought that the Hogyoku might have been involved. He had a very troubled look on his face. He was started to have a very bad premonition. Hikone noticed Hirako's expression and asked Liltotto, while enduring blows from her arrows,

"Why does that person look so angry? Have I done something bad?"

At the same time when Hikone and Liltotto were having their skirmish, another battle was raging on, as the Arrancars and the Quincies tried to repel the winged Hollows; arrows flew everywhere, swords were brandished.

"Hey, Grimmjow! Mind explaining what's going on?"

Neliel asked Grimmjow.

"Huh? Can't you see I'm trying to kill these things, Neliel?"

A short distance away, Luppi and Halibel were killing off a bunch of Hollows.

"Luppi... you and Grimmjow..."

"Halibel, why have you come here? I think this obstacle must be overcome first before we do something about Grimmjow."

Luppi said without hesitation. Halibel then noticed Hirako.

"Didn't that blonde Shinigami appear in Karakura Town back then? Just what in the world is going on here in the Soul Society?"

As Bambietta's explosions illuminated the surroundings, Liltotto's barrage of Heilig Pfeil continued. Hikone avoided them and then lowered his head.

"If I have done something bad then I will apologize. I am very, very sorry."

To the other party, those words would naturally sound ridiculous, but Hikone was in earnest. Whether Liltotto knew that or not, she spontaneously responded.

"No, you have done nothing bad."

She also added something which normally should sound hostile to her opponent.

"We'll kill your boss, that Tokinada bastard!"

"Eh?"

Hikone was not angry in the least, but he was very shocked.

"But it's impossible to kill Tokinada-sama!"

Hikone stated it in a matter-of-fact manner. His face looked innocent, but behind it was something resembling the look of a child told to crush ants. A look of innocent cruelty. It was impossible to bridge the gap between the child's innocence and ignorance. His emotions were difficult to fathom. But before Liltotto could form coherent thoughts, Hikone had appeared right in front of her. He had completely disappeared from her consciousness just a second ago and was now sanding in front of her. He had used a combination of Shunpo, Sonido and Hirenkyaku to slip past her senses. Before she knew it, her Heilig Bogen was shattered. Then she saw 'it'. Hikone's hands had been distorted to resemble that of a Hollow. Liltotto's body was blown away.

"...That zanpakuto was not the only thing that changed.... this brat himself has become tougher than before..."

"Hey, Lil, Lil, are you okay?"

Liltotto was caught by Meninas.

"Yeah, thanks..."

She looked up and glared at Hikone. Hikone looked down at her, the innocent expression still upon his face.

"I will stop those who are trying to kill Tokinada-sama! And besides, Tokinada-sama is much stronger than I am."

Secret Underground Passageway:-

Tokinada looked upon the mountain of rubble that the Visuals Department had been reduced to. The entrance had splintered, the floor and the walls had caved in.

"What, pray tell, was the reason behind this sudden wolf-like violence, Princess of the House of Shihoin?"

Yoruichi stood upon the rubble, her shoulders enveloped in intense reiatsu. She laughed.

"Wolf-like? That's not very nice. At least, you could use the phrase 'cat-like'."

"Alright, then. What, pray tell, was the reason behind this 'cat-like' violence, Princess?"

"Heh! Didn't really think you would literally re-phrase your question. Anyway, I didn't expect the floor and the walls to get so damaged. You could turn over the repair costs to the Shihoin House."

"I shall certainly do that."

Yoruichi held out her hand, displaying the contents. In her hand, stood a small columnar glass case, containing a human foetus fused with Hollow parts.

"This thing was lined up along with others in the Visuals Department. A bit incongruous for this department, don't you think? I don't recall seeing anything like this down here before. It would be nice if I could take it to the Central 46, but for the time being, I guess Kyoraku will suffice. Children are easier to manipulate as puppets, aren't they?"

Tokinada listened to Yoruichi, a sneer playing upon his lips.

"I don't disagree with the last statement. But is it really okay for you to reject my proposal regarding the Rei-o and the House of Shiba? The chat the three of us had the other day, you, me and Byakuya.."

"I don't know about li'l Byakuya, but I don't want any more trouble for Kukaku."

"Hoh?"

Tokinada smirked, looking interested. Yoruichi folded her arms and looked at Tokinada.

"I could still tolerate the idea of Aizen standing atop the heavens, but you, my friend, are a different story altogether."

"I see, I see. It is such an honour to be treated as a greater rogue than Aizen."

"Did you not hear what I just said? I meant that you're a sleaze-bag."

Yoruichi re-phrased her statement. Tokinada laughed aloud.

"Ahahahaha! Indeed! There is a big difference! But it is strange to hear such words from you of all people. You too belong to the Four Great Noble Families."

"I'll say it again and again. I don't care about my ancestors. I don't care about head-ship. Your family lineage and past deeds are irrelevant to me. I don't give a damn about the will of your family."

"That's right, yes. You don't care about our family, but you do care about Byakuya. Not that I'm envious, mind you. Yes, even the House of Kuchiki that commands the greatest respect. It stands firm like a tall tree, but if you start peeling off the bark from the outside, the core is just like ours. They are just as corrupted as we are. Still, the House of Kuchiki acts as a pillar supporting the Seireitei, unlike the House of Tsunayashiro, which is rotten to the sprouts rather than the trunk."

Soi Fon, who overheard the conversation, was puzzled.

-What are they talking about?

-Yes, the House of Tsunayashiro had an unpleasant reputation, but why are they mentioning the House of Kuchiki and Shihoin? Are they rotten too?

-What on earth did the ancestors of the Four Great Noble Families do?

Soi Fon was concerned and wanted to hear more, but she was conflicted by the fact that she was from a family of lower rank and therefore it was not her place to show curiosity.

-I decided to serve the House of Shihoin, and that's what I'll do.

She turned to Tokinada.

"As the leader of the Onmitsukido, I will have to take you into custody."

"Well, it's more along the lines of 'being an aristocrat's escort'."

Yoruichi had her eyes on Tokinada. She threw out a provocative word or two.

"So, where is this new Rei-o sama? I would like to meet him with my own eyes. And besides, you have some kind of ace in the hole stashed away, don't you? Why don't you use it?"

Tokinada sighed a little.

"Yes. I think it's about time as well."

Yoruichi had disappeared from atop the mountain of rubble and had appeared right behind Tokinada. She twisted his arm behind his back, saying,

"Sorry, but it's too late."

But Tokinada's reiatsu and form were scattering away like smoke. Yoruichi and Soi Fon were astonished.

"No, I am not using the covert techniques employed by the Onmitsukido nor the cloak that shuts down reiatsu. It's called a 'Soul Ticket'. It's a special device that is used to move freely between Soul Society and the World of the Living through the Dangai. Kyoraku had handed some of these to Kurosaki Ichigo's friends. Except for those, the Soul Tickets are supposed to be strictly surveyed by the 1st Division."

"Ah, so you stole their technology and made one for yourself."

Yoruichi spoke sarcastically to the Head of the First of the Four Great Noble Families, who was disappearing.

"Just like you took away your family heirloom, Kuten Kyokoku..."

Yoruichi softly murmured, staring at the empty space where Tokinada had just stood.

".....to such a place where no one can trample over your ancestry's handiwork."

--------------------------------------------------

T/N: The 'tree' metaphor used in case of the House of Kuchiki is a play on the name 'Kuchiki', which roughly means 'rotten wood'.

P.S. This part is very, very long, we are not even halfway through, so this will take a bit of time. So please don't mind.


Part 20

Pharmaceuticals Institution:-

Upon receiving data about Hikone from Seinosuke, Kyoraku let out a prolonged sigh.

"It would seem that the Four Great Noble Families have made use of your techniques to let him 'live'. The method used is a problem, and so is the one who sponsored this, the Tsunayashiro Head. You are in a rather delicate position, so asking you to go against them would be a little unfair."

"Oh my! Surprisingly soft, aren't you, Captain Commander?"

"You could be imprisoned for defying your superiors. Although, it is undeniable that it is because of you that several of the old and the sickly among the nobility, who were supposed to have passed away long ago, are still alive."

Kyoraku touched his straw hat and lowered it.

"It is said that Kyoraku Shunsui rules with fairness, but it appears as though he can also ask for troublesome things."

The 'Captain Commander' look disappeared from Kyoraku's face, to be replaced by a look of resolution.

"I do not know how long it will take for me to re-establish the Court that Yama-jii left behind, but Tokinada must be stopped at all costs."

"If that is so, then you have been a little amiss in your duty, haven't you, Captain Commander?"

"What do you mean?"

"Don't you think it's strange that you were able to contact me at all in this way? Have you considered why Tokinada-dono took no measures to have me silenced?"

Kyoraku began to understand Seinosuke's words.

"If my surmise is correct, he has already taken counter-measures, so even if you anticipate his moves, he will be a step ahead."

"I see.."

Kyoraku allowed no signs of uneasiness to show on his face. Then, he said,

"However, I don't think I am dealing a late hand."

"Your point being?"

"I just received a report from the Onmitsukido regarding a bit of unrest that has occurred."

Kyoraku then delved into the details about the riot. Seinosuke listened and smiled.

"If you do that, it might become a problem later on."

"We are talking about the 'present'. During the last war, I did take....certain...steps...that were deemed problematic."

Kyoraku smiled in self-deprecation.

"I did open the doors to the Muken after all."

------------------------

Hikone stopped moving and fished out something from within his shihakusho. It looked like a card which glowed red. Hikone cried out in a panic-stricken state,

"Ikomikidomoe! Tokinada-sama is calling for us! Let's go!"

The gigantic Hollow shrunk in an instant, turning back to its original shape, into a pure white katana; the winged Hollows disappeared as well. Hikone sheathed the zanpakuto.

"Hey! You running away again?"

Grimmjow yelled at Hikone.

"Yes, I have to go."

As Hikone answered, he looked around, calling out,

"One of you has to be Ginjo Kugo-san!"

Ginjo was completely taken aback when he heard Hikone suddenly utter his name. For a moment, he was unsure about how to respond.

"How do you know my name?"

"Oh, so you are Ginjo-san! Tokinada-sama told me your name. I wanted to fight you, but right now I have to go, so see you later."

"Why me?"

"Tokinada-sama told me that Ginjo-san is also a candidate for the position of Rei-o, just like myself. But I am the one who is supposed to become the king, so I won't lose to you, Ginjo-san. I'm sorry that I have to leave now."

"What are you talking about?"

Ginjo was extremely confused. Hikone bowed to him and turned away. He bowed in the same manner to both the Arrancars and the Quincies.

"I am sorry that I was unable to fight you all seriously. I am now going to Tokinada-sama's 'main shrine'."

A small Garganta opened up and as Hikone made to leave, Luppi's eight vines lashed out; at the same time, a flurry of Heilig Pfeil were fired by the Quincies. Hikone's outstretched palm glowed bright, his eyes innocent, yet emotionless. A Gran Rey Cero was shot with full force. Neliel and Liltotto jumped in, side-by-side; each of them opened their mouths and devoured it. Neliel added her own Cero to the original and fired it back, using her 'Cero Doble' technique. However, by the time the flash faded, the Garganta had closed up.

"You use similar techniques.."

A voice beside Neliel spoke. She turned to find the young Quincy addressing her. Because the Cero she had fired was a bit too strong, blood dripped from the edge of Neliel's mouth. Liltotto was also exhausted, panting, because she had consumed something disagreeable. Liltotto originally bore enmity towards the Arrancars, but now she was analyzing her chances of survival. Neliel spoke to her,

"If you agree to never interfere with Hueco Mundo again, I see no reason for our factions to remain hostile towards each other."

"I disagree."

Neliel was interrupted by Grimmjow.

"What are you saying, Neliel? Do you think you can resolve a long-standing hostility with just that?"

The one behind Grimmjow was in agreement with Neliel, just to spite Grimmjow.

"She's right."

Luppi was glaring at Grimmjow.

"And why don't you keep your mouth shut?"

Luppi and Grimmjow were straining their reiatsu yet again. Hirako sighed.

"Oh, great! These idiots are starting another racket! And what's worse, that girl with the bombs is still here!"

He recalled Hikone's words to Ginjo and wondered.

"This situation is just too murky."

The sense of tranquility that was starting to drift in after the war was now being replaced by one of extreme urgency. Suddenly, a voice penetrated Hirako's consciousness and brought him out of his reverie.

"Please wait!"

A young woman's plea resonated.

"Nanao-chan! What are you doing here? I was indeed hoping to update Kyoraku-san about the current state of affairs, but I wasn't expecting you, the Lieutenant of the 1st Division, to come here personally. I thought the Onmitsukido were on their way."

Nanao was ill-suited for battle. Even though she excelled at Kido, she was only capable of defense and support. Grimmjow glanced at the young woman and said bluntly,

"Who the hell is she? She's just an ordinary Shinigami!"

Nanao, faltering under Grimmjow's reiatsu, steadied herself with a lot of effort. She was currently facing all of the factions who had each, at some point in time, defied the Gotei 13; the Espada, the Sternritters and the Fullbringers. She pushed away all the emotions that were taking root within her, fear, terror, anger, and stood her ground. She spoke squarely, and with authority,

"I am the Lieutenant of the 1st Division of the Gotei 13."

"Oh, really?"

Grimmjow took a step forward, but Halibel held him back.

"Wait, Grimmjow."

"What is it, Halibel?"

"Your target is that Shinigami with the strange zanpakuto, nobody else."

While also restraining Luppi, who was still looking daggers at Grimmjow, Halibel nodded at Nanao, urging her to continue. Nanao looked at Halibel gratefully, an unspoken understanding passing between the two women.

"I have come here with a message from the Captain Commander. There is a story that he would like all of you present here to know about."

----------------

At a certain place within Soul Society:-

"My, oh my! Such niceties are making my eyes water, honestly.."

Mayuri exclaimed, as he observed from afar, apparently bored.

"Looks like the Captain Commander has finally gotten wind of Tsunayashiro Tokinada's activities. If only he had consulted me first, I could have solved this problem much faster."

He heard a voice from behind him.

"You knew from the beginning?"

"It was because I had been monitoring the Zombie girl. That's how I managed to observe the opponent she had fought against in Hueco Mundo. I pitted you Quincies against the Fullbringers since I was sure that it would attract Tsunayashiro Tokinada's attention. But I didn't expect the Arrancar to come barging in. That was a miscalculation."

"So you lied to us?"

"Not at all. I told you before, I need you lot to capture them for my research. But because of the battle that followed, it was possible for you to analyze quite a few things."

NaNaNa Najahkoop answered with confidence,

"Oh yes. It was a little difficult at first because they were fighting, but I gained a general understanding of the reiatsu pattern, but its quality keeps changing constantly."

Mayuri offered neither praise nor disdain.

"My observation instruments are quite good, thank you very much. I could have obtained similar results using them, so you don't have to sound so boastful. Incidentally, I wonder if I should include you in the deal I struck with the girl with the big appetite?"

NaNaNa trembled as he recalled those who had betrayed him in the past.

"You haven't yet rewarded me for my wor....aaaaaaaah!"

His body became numb as he was subjected to an electric shock.

"You're really a fool! You haven't carried out your job yet."

Mayuri turned his attention to the data he had analyzed, ignoring NaNaNa's protests.

"I'm running out of test subjects here. I suppose it's okay to release the thunder girl and the one with the muscles. But it'll be a problem for me if I let you go too. I need you to work, since in a short while, we'll see who comes out on top; the Gotei or the aristocrats."

---------

Chapter 16

A strange area:-

The sky seemed to be of a somewhat darker hue of blue than it was in the Soul Society. The air drifted along differently than it did in Soul Society and in Hueco Mundo, even though it was rich in reishi. Wilderness spread all around, dotted with rocky cliffs and canyons. There were two buildings in that region which did not match with the rough landscape. One was elegant and luxurious, reminiscent of a historical palace. It was gilded with gold and it radiantly shone in that space surrounded only by rock and sand. What sort of emotion would such a scene instill within a viewer, a scenery which looked as if a part of it was replaced with the aristocratic territory of the Seireitei? The other structure was a re-worked version of the Zero Division's Reiokyu, the floating palace, surrounded by floating cities. But they were inhabited by no one; only the empty vessels remained floating in the air. Tokinada stood directly beneath the strange structure and greeted a young woman in the courtyard of the palace.

"Thank you for your hard work. It was splendidly done."

Michibane Aura spoke with her usual smile,

"It was a quick job, but I was able to manage it in the absence of Kurosaki Ichigo. So did everything not go smoothly on your end? Since you came here to the shrine in a hurry..."

Before Tokinada could reply, Hikone panicked,

"It's because I was bad and could not be by Tokinada-sama's side!"

"Ah! Maybe I could have done something if Hikone was with me, but it was I who asked you to go elsewhere, Hikone. So you don't have to worry."

Aura watched them with a nonchalant smile and then said,

"Still, this is an extremely strange place.."

"This is your third time coming to the shrine, yes? This area is a sort of 'pipeline' connecting the Soul Society to the World of the Living. It is a 'cut-off' space known as the 'Dangai', surrounded by black cavities. Pockets of space occasionally emerge like bubbles from within these black cavities, known as the 'Kyogoku' (t/n: Valley of Screams). Shinigami barely set foot in here. In the first place, the very existence of such dimensions inside the black cavities is very interesting. According to one theory, it is said that this region is composed of souls that were ejected from the reincarnation cycle, their memories completely lost. In other words, this is a world made up of souls that were neither subjected to the Konso, nor destined for the empty desert of Hueco Mundo. There are also the souls of dead Shinigami and Rukongai residents who are no longer a part of the Soul Cycle. They all gather here."

"How do you think this dimension was created?"

"There are various speculations. It is possible that when the world was reborn into its current form, the departed souls spilled into this space. The circumstances behind the creation of this space is not important now. What is important is that this is now a fortified stronghold protected by the black cavities."

Tokinada stared at the faraway cliffs, adding,

"The House of Ryuudouji were an ancient aristocratic family who were the first ones to have ventured into the Kyogoku, after their banishment by the ancestors of the Great Noble Houses. They were stripped of their status after they were exiled into the Kyogoku. It must have been unpleasant, having to face their sentence in a completely unknown place. Regrettable."

"The Ryuudouji clan aside, what if it was you who was exiled, would you seek vengeance against the Soul Society?"

"How about you?"

"So many things have happened in a place I don't know much about. It may have been in the past, but at present, I can't help but savour the moment when I see it go all down."

"But before that, will you try and make an enemy out of the Gotei 13?"

Tokinada smiled at Aura. She shook her head.

"No, I have seen how frighteningly powerful Urahara Kisuke is. And there are other top-class warriors like him among the Gotei officers. I couldn't possibly handle the rest of them."

"Yes, he is a person of infinite means. And there is also the probability of there being someone who might be the worst possible match-up for you."

Although they appeared to be words of warning, Aura did not miss the odd gleam in Tokinada's eyes.

-This person can laugh through it all.

-Even though we are quite invincible at the moment, he considers the possibility of getting destroyed, and he teases me with mockery.

"If we were in a new world, would you, who had no attachment to anything, find something you could grow fond of?"

They were Tokinada's words to Aura. Turning to Hikone, Tokinada said,

"It's all great fun, right, Hikone?"

"Yes. If Tokinada-sama finds it enjoyable, then it must be so."

Hikone smiled innocently. Aura's eyes glimmered, but she started talking again as if she misunderstood the flow of her own emotions.

"So, are you not going to meet Urahara Kisuke? My ally managed to capture him."

But Tokinada shook his head.

"Not yet. It is necessary to remain vigilant against him. I have no desire to fight on the front-lines like a commander. I am not fond of suicidal behaviour."

He then smiled, his contorted face reminding Aura of some carnivorous beast, and continued,

"I will go see him after everything he wanted to protect is destroyed. Or perhaps I should take it as a hostage instead of destroying it? But I also wish to see his face when his loved ones are killed."

Tokinada imagined his future treatment of Urahara as though he was trying to choose an interesting book and pondering upon what to read next. Aura thought to herself that this shortcoming of Tokinada was also his greatest strength. She opened her mouth again.

"By the way, when we captured Urahara Kisuke, there was another Shinigami by his side."

"Oh? But I made sure that the Kurosaki family would be nowhere close by. Was someone from the Gotei stationed there?"

"Hisagi Shuhei, Lieutenant of the 9th Division."

"What a coincidence! He was Tosen Kaname's student!"

Tokinada recalled the face of the man whose life he had ruined and spoke in a voice brimming with pleasure.

"Ha ha ha! I was indeed thinking of toying with him slowly, but it seems that now I have to kill him quickly. I was pleasantly surprised at how the acting editor-in-chief of the Seireitei Communications pushed my inauguration ceremony article to the side instead of making it the headline."

"He remains isolated within Karakura Town. Even if he were to return to the Soul Society, he can never make it this far."

Aura spoke casually, but Tokinada did not agree.

"Nobody in Soul Society will be able to come here for another few hours.. No, it may not even take as long as that. They have Kurotsuchi Mayuri on their side. He will soon know about this place as well as my purpose."

"Is that alright with you?"

"If I know Kyoraku Shunsui, he will have taken secretive measures to try and oppose me. That's why I have called for those who are good at handling tasks such as these."

Tokinada strokes Hikone's head.

"Because they can completely exterminate all those who try to disrupt my entertainment and rebellion."

-------------------

After the message from the 1st Division was received by Kenpachi Zaraki, he immediately rushed out, saying,

"I'm off!"

"Wait, Captain!"

Now, Kenpachi, followed by two other men, Ikkaku and Yumichika, were rushing through the streets of the Rukongai.

"By the way, Ikkaku, Hisagi-san told me that he was heading out to the World of the Living.."

"Really? Maybe he'll see Shino over at Karakura Town.."

"Speaking of her, I met her partner once. He seemed unreliable.."

"Ah! But he's the younger brother of that guy from the 6th Division."

"You mean Rikichi? The one who admires Renji and has a tattoo over his eyebrow? He's got guts; he did well during our joint practice session with the 6th Division."

"Well, yeah.. But Karakura has a high spiritual activity rate. So I wonder...."

----------------------

Urahara Shoten; Underground Training Facility:-

"W-w-what s-s-should we do, Shino-san? Urahara-san has been kidnapped! It's the end of the world!"

This underground facility where they had all gathered was created overnight for the sake of Ichigo's training. It even consisted of a fake sky and a couple of dead trees. Shino, annoyed at Ryunosuke's whining, had him in a fierce head-lock from behind.

"Don't be such a pessimist! At a time like this, we need to stay strong!"

"But I can't help it, Shino-san!"

"Your brother is the 3rd seat of the 6th Division, isn't he? You, on the other hand, are acting like a wimp!"

Ryunosuke, choking, blurted out.

"B-but my esteemed brother is not good at looking after the Hell butterflies and he is always being scolded by Lieutenant Abarai!"

"And who said you could argue back, huh?"

Shino grabbed him in a tighter grip.

"But think about it, if it wasn't for Urahara-san, the Soul Society would have been destroyed!"

Hiyori, who was extremely frustrated, yelled out,

"The world itself would have been destroyed in three days if it weren't for baldy Kisuke's support!"

A subdued and broken voice was heard from behind the trio.

"If only... if only I had....."

Hisagi stood there, a grief-stricken look upon his face. He still could not get over the fact that Urahara was taken away right in front of his eyes. As Hiyori shot him a glare, Hisagi turned his eyes away.

"You're Kensei's Lieutenant, aren't you? Why were you with Kisuke?"

"I.....wanted to interview Urahara-san..."

"Don't turn your eyes away. Didn't you realize that you were getting involved with a troublesome guy like him and that you would be dragged into the whole thing as well?"

"No...I didn't realize..."

Hisagi was honest with Hiyori.

"So honest, huh? It's ridiculous how you managed to get entangled in this mess!"

A voice echoed through the underground room.

"So you are unharmed, Lieutenant?"

"Yes, I am alright, but it's only because of that person's aid.."

Tsukabishi Tessai, the former Commander of the Kido Corps, was now a clerk at this sweet shop. He was rumoured to be exceedingly brilliant at Kido, rivaled only by Urahara himself. Faced with such a man, Hisagi bit his lip and lowered his head, ashamed.

"I'm so sorry....about Urahara-san.."

"It's not your fault, the boss' opponent was very powerful. If I were to blame you, then I'm sure that the boss would be hurt as well. I'm just glad that you are safe."

Hisagi wanted to believe in those words, he wanted to escape into the kindness enveloping those words, but his sense of self-loathing was too strong.

"But I couldn't do anything to help him!"

"Don't have such a low opinion of yourself."

"I'm always like this! I can't do a thing! I'm so weak and useless! I can't face either Captain Tosen or Captain Muguruma."

Hisagi murmured the last sentence in a small voice, as though he was talking to himself. But Hiyori overheard it and clenched her fist.

"Why did you address Tosen as 'Captain'?"

Hisagi replied with integrity,

" I appreciate the fact that you hold a grudge against him and I respect your sentiment. But to me, he is still a 'Captain', since he taught me everything I know and showed me my path in life."

"Well, I don't recognize him as a 'Captain'."

To Hiyori, her own past and the current era of officers overlapped. She still held onto the days when she used to be the Lieutenant of the 12th Division. Hisagi had no words of comfort to offer to such a person.

"I'm sorry. I may have been out of line."

Tessai tapped Hisagi's shoulder.

"Don't despair so. You are blaming yourself needlessly. But I can see that your eyes are not dead yet."

"I've faced death and barely survived each time. I've just been lucky every time. I'm no hero, just a coward."

Hisagi's voice was still full of self-detestation.

"You are surely no different from Kurosaki Ichigo.."

"But that's...."

Tessai cut Hisagi off mid-sentence and spoke very seriously.

"Kurosaki Ichigo fights by throwing away fear, whereas in your eyes, I can see constant fear. However, you chose to walk alongside that fear, did you not? Didn't you decide to exist as a Shinigami while holding that fear close to your heart?"

Those words reminded him of Tosen's teachings.

"If you are truly afraid of battle, then you have already gained something irreplaceable as a warrior."

-Everyone possesses fear. I do too. But do I really walk alongside fear?

-I embrace terror. But do I really know the true meaning behind the words 'embracing fear'?

When Hisagi had fought against Tosen, Tosen had told him,

"You haven't changed. I thought I told you that those who do not know fear have no right to enter battle. Even now, your words do not have a shred of fear in them."

-Captain Tosen had seen through the depths of my heart with his blind eyes.

The doubt Hisagi had felt back then was revived once more. As if he could see through this new anxiety, Tessai spoke once more.

"I'm not saying that Kurosaki Ichigo's method is better than yours, nor am I saying that your opinion is the correct one. It's true that Kurosaki Ichigo has saved us many times in the past, but he is after all just a young man who has not even lived twenty years of his life, right?"

"Yes, I know, I'm much older than he is, and yet I..."

"Listen, he is still in the middle of his growth. Therefore, the heart is both strong and fragile. The boss has been watching him for a long time now. When face with Aizen, he despaired. When Kuchiki Rukia was taken away, he cried. When the man named Tsukishima robbed him of his close friends, he cried. But he did not collapse there. First it was Urahara and then it was Kuchiki Rukia; both of them extended their hands and thus Kurosaki Ichigo was able to shake away his fear."

Although it was unknown to Tessai, Ichigo was desperate before the overwhelming power of Yhwach in the last war, but back then, there were people who had also extended their hands to him; people he had saved; and that had given him the courage to stand up and convert despair into his own strength. That was the essence of Ichigo's true strength.

Hisagi understood. Ichigo certainly possessed a lot of exemplary qualities, but the hero that he was known as today, had not been born alone. Ichigo was able to grow strong because he had been broken before.

"Grief, pain, despair, fear.. Instead of shaking all that off, turning them into strength.. that is the role of those who have walked alongside fear."

"Death is one of the root causes of fear. As a Shinigami, it is your duty to protect others from this very cause of fear."

Tessai concluded his remark with a slight cough.

"Ahem! The boss could have explained it better, I'm not very eloquent myself."

The next instant, Hisagi slapped his cheeks with both his palms, as though vigorously waking himself from slumber.

"Hisagi-san?"

"Thank you, thank you, thank you so very much. Thanks to you, I feel better now."

Hisagi bowed deeply to the ex-Commander of the Kido Corps. His expression had changed. Anxiety and hesitation had left his face.

"Whoa! Tessai's lecture brought that Shinigami back to life!"

Jinta was amazed. Ururu hushed him.

"Shh.. I think Tessai sounded really cool!"

Hisagi left the underground room and went upstairs along with the others, in order to look for clues. The barrier around Karakura was still intact and communication with Soul Society was still hindered. Hisagi then noticed a small spherical object on one of the tables in the shop. It had Urahara's face comically drawn upon it. Was it there previously? The instant Hisagi touched it, red liquid splashed all over the floor. It rearranged itself to form a sentence.

"If you're reading this now, then that means I'm probably no longer here. I'm looking for Aura's followers.."

"This is... a message from Urahara-san!"

Perhaps he had arranged for this just before activating the Gentei Kaijo for Hisagi. If so, then Urahara must have considered the possibility of being kidnapped beforehand. Hisagi marvelled at Urahara's foresightedness. Hiyori gave a loud yell when she saw the sentence written in red.

"What the hell? It's like a dying message written in the victim's own blood at the scene of the crime!"

Just then, additional characters appeared beneath the first message.

"P.S. If you think this is some 'dying-message-written-in-the-victim's-own-blood cliche, then you obviously have no sense of humour!"

Hiyori clutched her head.

"Ahhhhh! Baldy Kisuke! I'll kill him!"

She repeatedly stomped on the bloody characters until a crack appeared on the floor. Ichigo had once had a similar reaction to such a message; he had thrown a pillow at it, but Hiyori did not know that.

"What should I do, Shino-san? I also thought that it was a dying message, so does that mean I have no sense of humour?"

"But he didn't have to write it like that!"

Watching Ryunosuke and Shino's banter, and Hiyori's indignation, Hisagi, who had been in a state of unrest and unhappiness, felt his spirits rise tremendously. Tessai shook his head unhappily.

"Sorry about the post script. The boss' sense of humour... is... uh... unique... to say the least.."

------------------------

Shiba Kukaku's residence:-

"I understand. I get the full picture now..."

Kukaku looked at the assembled crowd. Another man's voice echoed nearby. It was Shiba Ganju.

"Why the hell is everyone gathered here at our place?"

Kukaku kicked Ganju and he went flying across the room, knocking down one of the doors of the hall.

"That hurt, Sis!"

"Don't make so much noise in front of your guests!"

"Who're you calling 'guests'...?"

Ganju muttered quietly, so that Kukaku would not hear. Currently, facing them across the hall were around twenty people. The number of people was not the issue, the problem lay in the people themselves. The three freeloaders of the Shiba residence were there as usual; Ginjo, Tsukishima and Giriko. Then there were three Shinigami, Hirako Shinji, Ise Nanao and Shihoin Yoruichi. Followed by three Arrancars, Grimmjow, Neliel and Halibel. The five Quincies were there as well; Candice, Meninas, Liltotto, Giselle and Bambietta. Furthermore, in the far corner of the room stood Dordonii, Cirucci, Luppi and Charlotte. Mayuri and NaNaNa stood on the opposite end. The atmosphere within the hall was far from relaxed.

"Hey, don't glare at us, Najahkoop!"

At Liltotto's words, NaNaNa shrugged his shoulders.

"A bit too self-conscious, aren't you?"

"Yeah, well, it's you we're talking about..."

"You lot joined up with Bazz-B after he struck me from behind, didn't you?"

"It's just like you to bring up ancient topics!"

Liltotto retorted, hiding behind Candice. Another pair were also glaring at each other; Grimmjow and Luppi.

"I don't want to stay in the same room as him, so hurry up and let's get this over with!"

Luppi snapped. Before Grimmjow could retaliate, an electric shock ran through Luppi's body.

"Aaaaaaaah!"

"Can't you read the situation at all?"

Mayuri shook his head in disbelief.

"I'll definitely kill you! Just you wait!"

"Well, at least you've regained your rebellious spirit, if nothing else."

Mayuri increased the voltage and Luppi screamed again. Not just him. Mayuri had electrified all the members of the Kurotsuchi Corpse Unit.

"Aaaaaah! Why us? What did we do?"

Dordonii and Cirucci cried out, agonized. Charlotte and Meninas did not scream as much; perhaps they were more resilient or perhaps they had grown immune to the suffering. Candice sneered.

"Hah! This amount of current is nothing!"

But then, she screamed as well. Mayuri had subjected her to hallucination attacks.

"As you can see, it does not matter whether you are an Arrancar or a Quincy. I make no exceptions when it comes to disciplining my subordinates."

Grimmjow was staring at Luppi with a complicated expression.

"You sure are in a tough situation, aren't you?"

"Hey, don't look at me with those pitiful eyes! I don't need your sympathy..."

Luppi looked murderous.

"I'll find a way to escape...."

As hostilities sky-rocketed, Kukaku raised her voice along with her reiatsu.

"Silence! This is my house! I have no problem if you make noise out of merriment, but any nonsense from you all, and I'll have you thrown out. Is that clear?"

Kukaku's voice held such gravity that Halibel quietly whispered to Neliel,

"That woman is strong.."

Neliel agreed. She had also felt Kukaku's reiatsu.

"Yes, but she doesn't look like a Shinigami. Who is this person?"

Ginjo and his companions, who knew Kukaku well, were quite unfazed, but the rest fell silent.

"Hey, sorry about this, Kukaku. I know this must be inconvenient for you. But please bear with them a little longer, okay?"

Yoruichi lowered her head.

"Hey, hey, Yoruichi..."

"I'm sorry, Kukaku; this time we've gotten you involved in something really unpleasant."

"Ah, don't worry, Yoruichi. I told you before, didn't I, I just love trouble!"

Kukaku answered brightly. Then she suddenly said,

"Where's Soi Fon? Wasn't she with you?"

"She has been asked to investigate certain other matters within the Seireitei."

"I see.."

While such a conversation was going on, several newer reiatsu were felt, coming from the corridor upstairs. Some newcomers were approaching the hall. Grimmjow, from the depths of his memory, recognized one of them.

"This reiatsu belongs to the man who cut down Nnoitra!"

The female Sternritters also became wary. Giriko, who usually wore a serene expression on his face, began sweating profusely. The sliding doors opened. Five Shinigami entered; Kenpachi, Ikkaku, Yumichika, Kensei and Captain Commander Kyoraku.

"What kind of odd gathering is this supposed to be?"

Kenpachi murmured. Upon seeing each other, Yumichika, Charlotte and Giselle simultaneously yelled,

"You!"

Kyoraku then addressed the crowd.

"Everyone seems to have gathered here. Good. And I'm glad to see so many beautiful ladies."

Kyoraku's reiatsu, while not as rough as Kenpachi's, was cold and piercing, making everyone feel as if they were sinking underwater. Kyoraku clapped his hands.

"Let us begin, shall we? Our meeting regarding the Four Great Noble Houses!"

------------------------

T/N: House of Ryuudouji-The aristocratic family mentioned in the film Memories of Nobody. (Thanks, u/nol00, for giving me the wiki link, the name 'Ryuudouji' had completely slipped my mind).

So that's the end of part 14. Whew!


Part 21

Chapter 17

Shiba Residence:-

"Hoh, so the retainer seems to be a big deal!"

Yoruichi grinned as she directed her words at Kyoraku.

"But that name won't be the one that comes up with regards to the sudden revolt against Soul Society. Tsunayashiro Tokinada will be known as the public face of the Four Great Noble Houses."

Kyoraku paused for a while. It was not exactly a rebellion against Soul Society itself. He resumed speaking.

"However, it is impossible for me to openly oppose the Nobility, given their authority, even though their sins are quite great."

"But you did try to save Rukia back then."

"This time it's different. Right now, all we have to go upon are mere suspicions."

Liltotto raised her voice.

"So, in other words, you Shinigami have your hands tied and will instead use us as your soldiers."

"This is essentially a cease-fire, just like the time when you wanted us to take you up to the Reiokyu."

It was Ginjo who spoke after that.

"Even if that is the case, I shall still consider you lot as the enemy."

"We are just tolerating your existence....is what I would like to say, but I suppose it will sound rude under the circumstances."

Kyoraku glanced over at Mayuri who said this. Tsukishima, his eyes flashing, now spoke,

"If you'll excuse me, I would like to use this chance to ask the Director of the Department of Research and Development to consider a somewhat favourable proposition. Ah, don't worry, it will be as easy as grasping millet with wet hands [T/N: 'Nurete de awa wo tsukamitoru'-'Grasping millet with wet hands' is an old Japanese proverb, which means to get a hold of a large fortune without much effort; Tsukishima is a well-read man, so it is quite common for people like him to use fanciful proverbs in their every-day tones].

As Ginjo glared at Mayuri, Tsukishima drew out a bookmark from within the book he held. Mayuri looked at it and said,

"If you are looking for an opportunity to insert yourself within my past, then go ahead. Look, I am practically defenceless against you."

Mayuri spread out his hands. Tsukishima shifted his position slightly, but then shook his head with a faint smile upon his lips.

"There's no point in inserting a bookmark into a book that only has its front and back covers."

"What do you mean by that, Tsukishima?"

Tsukishima replied to Ginjo's surprised question,

"There is no past. He is still infantile."

Ginjo then laughed.

"I see. So you saw the 'thickness' of the past even before using the blade?"

Kyoraku added,

"Ah! So that's not the main body.."

It was just a flesh doll that was manipulated externally, it just resembled Mayuri. There was hardly any past belonging to it, just a few minutes after birth. Tsukishima smiled.

"Such elaborate measures against the Book of the End from the esteemed Director of the Department of Research and Development. I am honoured. Almost like preparing a vaccine beforehand against some pathogen."

Grimmjow interrupted this conversation.

"Remind me once again why we have to all hold hands together?"

Kenpachi agreed with this sentiment.

"From my point of view, there's no reason for us to hold hands when we can just kill whoever's the enemy."

"Hey! You killed Nnoitra, right?"

Upon hearing that name, Kenpachi looked at Grimmjow with interest, and thought to himself,

"Is he stronger than Nnoitra? Hmmm.. Compared to that dead guy, this one isn't much different in strength... Excellent!"

Kenpachi was delighted. As Kenpachi's and Grimmjow's reiatsus rose, a vein started popping in Kukaku's temple. Upon noticing the rising tension, Kyoraku brought both his hands together and got in between Grimmjow and Kenpachi.

"Okay, okay, that's enough..."

Their reiatsus diffused. Kyoraku turned to Ginjo.

"Suppose I apologize?"

He then turned to each of the factions present there. Arrancar, Quincy, Fullbringer.

"Even though we are now at a temporary truce, all of you hate us Shinigami. Me, trying to oppose the Four Great Noble Houses with you lot in tow was a ridiculous idea to begin with. It won't be surprising if my head goes flying in the process. But I am of the opinion that this cease-fire is necessary for the future. You can do what you like to me after all this is over, but I say all this in good faith."

"Well, well.. Perhaps, you, the leader, can convince the other Captains to fall in with your point of view? Even though you have the authority to influence the Director of the Department of Research and Development, perhaps the others might not be so willing..."

Kyoraku smiled a little at Mayuri's words.

"I will try my very best. That said, Captain Kuchiki will probably be the one most difficult to convince."

From his resolution, the people in the room who were unfamiliar with him, began to slowly understand that this man, Kyoraku Shunsui, was in absolute earnest. Grimmjow, still skeptical, said,

"For the future, you say..."

Kyoraku placed his views before them with clarity.

"Is it so unnatural that I would like to get involved in this, even if it meant striking from behind?"

"Captain Commander!"

Nanao's shoulders stiffened. Kyoraku went on.

"Those are not the words of the Captain Commander of the Gotei 13, but of Kyoraku Shunsui, the individual."

Kyoraku's expression was gentle, but judging from the reiatsu emanating from him, Grimmjow realized that the man in front of him possessed unparalleled resolve.

"Is it really that difficult to understand? What more can I say to convince you completely?"

Grimmjow remembered his trade with Urahara Kisuke.

"You let me fight Kurosaki and I won't disturb the rest of you Shinigami. You promise?"

Kyoraku shrugged.

"That is between you and Ichigo-kun. What can I say say in the matter?"

Halibel, who had remained silent until then, now spoke the name of someone who was no longer in this world.

"Can you swear to that on the memory of Stark?"

Kyoraku was startled. Grimmjow did not understand why Halibel brought up Stark's name.

"So even in the midst of all that fierce fighting, you had grasped the entire situation?"

Halibel nodded quietly, her facial expression unchanged. Kyoraku recalled his own words when he had cut down the Primera Espada, Coyote Stark.

-Only underlings can afford to get caught up in the style and lose the battle. We Captains don't have that luxury. Don't try to be good or just. The moment war breaks out, both sides are in the wrong.

Kyoraku nodded at Halibel.

"Yes. However, the battle that Ichigo-kun faces is different from warfare."

Urahara Shoten; underground training facility:-

In front of Hisagi were rows of unconscious people who had been put to sleep using Kido. Although they appeared to be ordinary humans, something felt off.

"I felt disturbances in the reiatsus of hundreds of people in the Mitsumiya Ward alone."

Tessai, Jinta and Ururu had brought them to the underground facility.

"Fullbringers?"

"No, they don't appear to be Fullbringers. Also, it doesn't seem like they are being controlled by Hollows which are of the parasitic type."

"Well then, what is the cause of this anomaly?"

"The cause would be these."

Tessai held out his hand. There were two dozen amulets in his palm; some necklaces, some bracelets, while others were charms people attached to their bags. They all looked like they belonged to people from a common community.

"I take it that these things aren't meant to be objects of fashion, right?"

"Yes, these things have a certain symbol engraved on them, the symbol of a religious sect. But what's even more unique about them is that each one is actually a small circuit giving off spirit energy."

"Circuit? You mean, they're all meant to function as some kind of device?"

Hisagi inquired.

"Yes, this was prohibited technology in the olden days. However, the ban on this was lifted a few years ago as a counter-measure against Aizen."

"Counter-measure against Aizen?"

Suddenly, within Hisagi's mind, lots of pieces of the puzzle fell into their rightful places.

"Wait! So that means...... So that's why that woman knew about my battle with the Arrancar!"

-Why did she and Tsunayashiro Tokinada observe that particular battle?

-There must have been something during that battle that interested Tokinada.

-What was I protecting during that battle?

The amulets possessed by Aura's followers were of a much smaller size, but they certainly resembled 'that'.

"The Tenkai Kecchu!" [T/N: 'World-Shifting Binding Posts']

Shiba Residence:-

"The Tenkai Kecchu!"

Several people responded simultaneously at Mayuri's explanation.

"Those pillars you guarded at Karakura Town!"

Kyoraku nodded assent at Halibel's exclamation.

"Although, to be exact, it was a replica of Karakura Town that we created within Soul Society and then swapped it out with the real city."

While speaking, Kyoraku handed a few of them around. Soi Fon had had passed several of these rod-shaped spiritual tools over to Kyoraku, after seizing them from the Visuals Department that Yoruichi had destroyed. As Mayuri turned them over in his hands, he snorted in derision.

"Miniatures based on the real thing.... Shoddy handiwork... Well beyond the technical skill of Tsunayashiro Tokinada."

Kyoraku spoke again,

"These were mass-produced based on the real prototype. Actually, it was ex-Director Urahara who had created the original a long time ago. But the prototype was confiscated by Yama-jii in the event of it falling into enemy hands. The prototype had been sitting in one of our cabinets all this time."

Hirako opened his mouth.

"So he stole it?"

"Perhaps he brought it out by virtue of his position, or by force.. I suppose the ban on it ought to have been reinforced..."

"No point in crying over spilt milk, is there?"

Hirako touched upon the main topic.

"What does Tsunayashiro Tokinada plan to do with this?"

"The Tenkai Kecchu can swap out a large area when enclosed by a gigantic Senkaimon created by four pillars. But the real problem lies when there are an enormous number of these things. It is necessary to install them on both ends. Soi Fon has confirmed that it has not been activated anywhere within the Seireitei. The range of the area that can be replaced, including the height and the depth, all depend upon the quality of the pillars. The Shakonmaku is unaffected by this swap."

"Okay. So which area is he planning to replace?"

Kyoraku replied,

"Karakura Town."

Grimmjow, who had not been paying attention to the story, now seemed suddenly very interested.

"That's where Kurosaki lives! Is Kurosaki involved in this?"

"We have no means of contacting him."

Hirako, who was unaware of this latest development, seemed alarmed.

"Why? What's wrong?"

"A strange barrier has been stretched all around the area and we are unable to open up a Senkaimon from this end."

"What about the neighbouring town?"

"No good. It's impossible to enter through there."

He also added,

"Lieutenant Hisagi is currently over there, and we lost contact with him at around the same time he requested for the authorization of the Gentei Kaijo."

"What? Shuhei's over there?"

Kensei looked up, concerned. Hirako told him,

"Try contacting Love and Hiyori through the Denreishinki. See if Hacchi can break the barrier using Kido from outside the city."

"I'm trying, I'm trying... It's no good, Shinji."

Hirako turned to Kyoraku,

"Isn't it possible to break through the barrier?"

"I don't think Kido will be of much use in this case. It seems to be a different mechanism altogether."

Ginjo, who had been listening, suddenly fell sick. Tsukishima took him aside.

"You look awful. Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

"It has got to be Yukio's ability."

Giriko seemed doubtful.

"But to isolate an entire city..."

"I don't think it's impossible..."

There arose two possibilities within Ginjo's mind. One was that Yukio had trained over the last six months and had expanded the effective range of his ability to one entire town. Another more sinister possibility was that there was another Fullbringer involved in this. Kyoraku headed over to them and said,

"Well, regardless of whether this was your acquaintance's doing, one end of the Tenkai Kecchu is confirmed to be at Karakura Town."

Mayuri, or rather, the manipulated body of Mayuri, was fingering one of the miniature pillars.

"The other end doesn't seem to be on land... Apparently, the transfer coordinates are set upwards.."

"Upwards..?"

"I don't think the swap will be on land.."

"Wait, you mean the sky? No way! Are they thinking of transferring the Reiokyu?"

But Mayuri shook his head.

"That isn't very likely. Shutara Senjumaru will have made sure that no such things could ever be set around the Reiokyu. Remember, Tokinada's focus is that child, Hikone.."

Mayuri looked at Kyoraku with a curious expression.

"You've figured it out, haven't you?"

"Hey, Mayuri, if you've figured something out, then tell us clearly. It's important that we know!"

Hirako was impatient.

"What's more important is that you are still addressing me by my first name even after a hundred years!"

"You're so annoying!"

Mayuri decided to ignore Hirako as he continued,

"Although I had placed surveillance bacteria within the members of my corpse unit, I made it so that whomever they engaged in battle would automatically get infected as well. As a result, all of you present here have already become carriers."

Several people were annoyed, some panicked.

"Oh, don't worry, I'll remove them later."

"Then the child has been infected as well? Can you tell us his current location?"

At Kyoraku's query, Mayuri said,

"The tracking signal itself has been lost, but I used Bakudo 58: Kakushi Tsuijyaku [T/N: Grasp of the Chasing Sparrow; this kido was used by Isane in order to track Aizen on Sokyoku Hill] which gave me a rough estimate of the subject's coordinates. The subject appears to have disappeared into one of the largest Kyogoku floating within the Garganta."

After informing them of the existence of such a dangerous place with ease, Mayuri took out two small black spheres from his pocket.

"I can connect the path for you if you like."

He threw the spheres towards one corner of the room. They grew in size; the spheres connected and formed a distorted region where no light reached. It slowly grew wider and the space opened up.

"And now..."

Urahara Shoten:-

"So that's where it leads..."

Tessai nodded at Hisagi's words.

"I examined the coordinates of the location of the other end of the Tenkai Kecchu, but the coordinates do not match with any known location within the Seireitei nor Hueco Mundo. Therefore, it stands to reason that it is somewhere within the Garganta surrounding the Dangai; probably inside a Kyogoku. In ancient times, one of these areas was used as a penal colony for a certain family. Those who are not provided with Hell Butterflies are expunged into the Dangai. If I were to make a comparison, it is of a considerably severe category of penalty."

"But why there? Such small devices and yet such a big transit.."

Hisagi then asked Tessai in a voice that shook heavily,

"Tessai-san? How many more of these things are there?"

He recalled the number of followers he had heard Aura mention.

"Tell me, Tessai-san... If, for example, around 700,000 people all received these devices and gathered here at Karakura, what can we expect?"

Tessai roughly calculated in his head.

"Unlike the boss's creation, these miniatures cannot encompass the entirety of the city, but they can achieve something close to that."

Hisagi realized that the ramifications would be unthinkable. He requested Tessai,

"Tessai-san, can't you send me to that location somehow using these pillars?"

"You can't go there alone. There's nothing you can do there."

Hiyori said at once.

"Even if I can't do a thing, I have to go there alone."

"I know you want to rescue Kisuke, but really, there's nothing you can do."

Tessai was silent. He did not deny Hiyori's logic. He remembered a scene from a while back, in this very shop; Urahara telling Ichigo,

"Don't use Rukia as an excuse to go kill yourself."

-What about Hisagi, now? Surely he is stronger than Ichigo had been back when he had first visited this shop...

-But considering the difference in ability between Hisagi and his opponents, it is the same as was in the case of Ichigo, who had been about to rush off to the Soul Society to rescue Rukia.

-Should I allow him to go or not?

As Tessai pondered upon this, Hisagi spoke succinctly.

"I understand that I am inadequate. And I certainly wouldn't dream of using Urahara-san as an excuse to go kill myself. In fact, if necessary, I am even prepared to forsake Urahara-san."

"What did you just say?"

Hiyori was interrupted as Hisagi continued in his clear tone,

"I am a Shinigami. The job of a Shinigami entitles him to maintain balance in the world. My top priority is not Urahara-san's rescue."

"Why are you doing this? Why are you willing to cross this bridge that separates safety from danger? I won't let you go until I have your answer."

Hisagi thought to himself.

-Why am I trying to fight a battle against enemies I can never win against?

-Is it to protect the peace of the people of this world as well as of the Soul Society?

-Is it a hero-complex, to feel a sense of self-importance as a defender of world peace?

-Wrong.

-Is it for the sake of all those who died in the war and Kanizawa who was killed by a Hollow? Is it to ensure that not one of them had died in vain?

-Wrong.

-Is it to ensure a secure future for those who have lives to live ahead of them?

-Wrong.

-Is it to savour the thrill of battle, for meaningless exhilaration at the thought of fighting with everything I've got?

-Wrong.

"Well, which is it?"

Hiyori prompted him.

"Well, honestly speaking, I don't think I can win from the front."

Hisagi could never have defeated his own teacher in a fair fight. He had merely taken advantage of his opponent's blind spot and had then plowed him like a Hollow.

-That battle with Captain Tosen..... Whom was I fighting for, then?

"But even so, I will go."

"Why?"

"I don't know yet.."

"Haaaaah?"

Hiyori's eyes widened. But Hisagi told her not to misunderstand.

"You see, if I stop here, if I try to escape the fear that I hold on to, in order to remain a Shinigami, then, I'd feel as if Captain Tosen's soul has disappeared from within me. My reason is....something like that....I'm sorry, you probably think I'm immature..."

Hisagi apologized to Hiyori, a former Shinigami. But Hiyori was amazed and impressed as she looked into Hisagi's eyes. The silence was broken by someone who spoke timidly.

"I will go with you."

"Ryunosuke?"

Shino's surprised voice was heard. Hisagi turned to look at the young Shinigami who looked frightened. Ryunosuke was hiding behind Shino.

"Ryunosuke, won't you feel scared?"

"Yes! Right now, I'm terribly scared! If possible, I would prefer running away with Shino-san! But I can't. There's a barrier all over town."

"Oi, Ryunosuke! And here I thought you'd sound cool for once! Honestly!"

But Ryunosuke continued to speak, addressing Hisagi.

"I know I'm useless, but even someone like me can do something at least. Maybe I could become a decoy while you escape?"

Hisagi looked at the young boy in front of him. His reiatsu was not strong. Although his brother who was in the 6th Division and was good at Kido, this boy wasn't even skilled at that. But his courage was commendable. Hisagi complimented him.

"So now I have someone to rely on. But make sure you protect your partner too.."

"Eh?"

Hisagi knew that the girl would follow Ryunosuke. She was like a sister to him.

"Ryunosuke, you idiot! If you're going, then I'm coming too!"

-Yes, I see now.. These young 'uns are Shinigami too.

Hisagi smiled a little at the two young Shinigami who stood facing him.

"I am glad to have such brave juniors such as yourselves, Yuki Ryunosuke, Madarame Shino."

"You know our names!"

"I am honoured that you remember our names, Lieutenant Hisagi!"

Ryunosuke and Shino were very surprised to learn that they were known by name by someone as famous as the Lieutenant of the 9th Division. Hisagi told them,

"Your top priority is the security of this town. In the event that I am incapacitated, you two will not hesitate to leave me behind. Is that understood?"

"Yes, sir!"

Hiyori muttered,

"Really! These over-conscientious Shinigami are the type I hate the most. C'est la vie! This makes that guy the second one, after that baldy Kisuke!"

Then she yelled triumphantly,

"Well, you can count me in as well!"

But Tessai stopped her.

"You cannot go."

"Why not?"

"Currently, this town is encased in a barrier that is preventing us from opening up a Senkaimon. If thousands of these miniature pillars are used, then we can activate the Tenkai Kecchu, but that will not be our method of transit, since we are trying to prevent that. This barrier is immune to Kido, but its reaction to Hollow reiatsu may be different. If we were to use Hollow powers to break through..."

Hiyori immediately understood Tessai's intention.

"You want me to get rid of that nuisance, right? So you are making a formal request of me, the Unagiya employee?"

"Yes. Thank you. I will make sure to thank your boss as well."

Hiyori nodded. Turning to Hisagi, she said,

"Don't die!"

"Sarugaki-san... Thank you for everything you've done."

Hisagi lowered his head.

"And now..."

Hiyori held up her right hand over her face and made a smooth, swift gesture. A white Hollow mask appeared and a dense Hollow reiatsu enveloped the room. Jinta and Ururu placed four pillars around Hisagi. Tessai controlled the flow of the Hollow reiatsu using his Kido, letting it pour over the pillars surrounding Hisagi.

"There's a possibility that the temporal coordinates may be shifted by a few minutes, but I'll adjust them so that there's the least amount of shift. I'm counting on you."

As Hisagi's figure started to fade into the Senkaimon, Tessai called out to him.

"Take care of the boss, and...... thank you!"

Tessai bowed to the man who had affirmed that 'he might have to abandon Urahara should his duty as a Shinigami be of greater priority'. The next instant, Hisagi's silhouette melted into the scenery as he vanished from sight.

What sort of grim truth awaited him on the other side?

-----------------------------

P.S. Chapter 18 is now left; I'll type that when I get time. I'm very, very, very, very impressed at Shuhei's characterization, he's amazing! And Tokinada, the Captain Commander's out for your blood (I mean, we've never seen Shunsui this agitated before, have we?), never mess with the user of the Karamatsu Shinjuu. And from the Karakura end, a true Reaper (in the truest sense of the term 'Death God', with a weapon like a death scythe) is coming to reap your life. Nice knowing ya, Tokinada! And by the way, who or what the heck is Mayuri supposed to be?

Part 22

Chapter 18

Most of Michibane Aura's life had been one of apathy, passivity, with nothing changing; a life of inertia, stretching out before her, undulating. She had no attachment to anything, she was not even particularly fond of her lifestyle either. Thus, she had no reason to refuse Tokinada's invitation. She was interested only in perfecting her Fullbring. She had accepted Tokinada's proposal because it provided her with ample opportunities to exercise what she was interested in. But, in the beginning, she did not understand what Tokinada was trying to do.

At first, she was instructed to defeat Hollows. As she continued to defeat Hollow after Hollow like she was told, she felt as if her senses were slowly fading away. She felt that perhaps she had been dead right from the start and that her body was moving on its own due to some mistake. Every day, this feeling grew as she kept on mechanically doing the things she was told. Eventually, she began embracing this very illusion. However, contrary to her lack of enthusiasm, her fundamental ability of Fullbringing grew at a rapid rate. Then one day, Aura became aware that she had become incredibly strong, almost monstrous. With her ingenuity, she could have led a comfortable life, but she was uninterested in both wealth and status; and she had no reason to want them either. So she decided to just go with the flow and follow Tokinada's orders.

Tokinada's ambitious games had changed from mere 'games' to a clear vision from around the time he stole a zanpakuto from its owner, brought it back to the Soul Society and transferred it to his own clan. The zanpakuto controlled the raging torrent of temporal and spatial currents and had discovered a vast Kyogoku in the Garganta. Tokinada then dedicated himself to the analysis of the Tenkai Kecchu created by Urahara Kisuke. Aura stole the prototype from its safe and handed it to Tokinada. It was then mass-produced in thousands. In order to honour the birth of a new king, followers were necessary. And thus, a religious organization had emerged in the World of the Living. Aura gathered hundreds and thousands of followers by showing them various 'miracles' and dedicated the cult to Tokinada to serve as his puppets.

{*T/N: The religious group was a suicide sect; so that's why she was killing them off and sending them to the Soul Society so that they could be the new king's subjects. How ghastly!*}

A throne representing the 'new world' was also necessary. Aura built a huge castle in the sky inside the Kyogoku and offered it to Tokinada. Tokinada had wanted the palace to be up in the sky so that it became a symbol of majesty. It was possible for Aura to control and reconstruct the excessive amount of pure reishi in order to create but, but she did not understand why she was asked to do so. Tokinada had wanted a throne built, but who was it for? He told her that she would get to know soon. During the war between the Shinigami and the Quincies, the Four Great Noble Houses were also attacked by the Soldat and there were a lot of casualties, but Aura had taken care of the Quincies. Tokinada himself was not present in the mansion at the time; he was at the Hooden {*T/N: Phoenix Palace*}, busy stealing a zanpakuto using the power of his own zanpakuto. As soon as the battle ended, Tokinada set his plan into motion.

{*T/N: You may have noticed that the guard on Kuten Kyokoku, as seen on the front cover of book 3, is different from the guard on the zanpakuto carried by Tokinada, as seen in Kubo's sketch in book 1. I may be wrong, but I think that Tokinada has two zanpakutos now, his own, as well as the family heirloom.*}

"I'll have you create the king's body."

"Does that mean I have to give birth to a child?"

Aura asked in complete seriousness. Tokinada rocked with laughter.

"Hahahaha! No, no, of course not! Do I look like the kind of man who views women as objects useful only for giving birth? And besides, I had a wife once; she's deceased now, but I maintain chastity. This is just a toy for you to play with and break as you please. Enjoy as much as you like."

While talking about the lowest of deeds, he also praised the hero of the war, Ichigo.

"You know, his existence is very intriguing indeed. Although Aizen played a big role in the circumstances surrounding his birth, a lot of it was attributed to vague things such as the 'miracle of love'."

Aura realized that both the throne as well as the followers were for the king, undoubtedly. Only, in this case, the order was reversed. Tokinada was going to create a king after preparing a kingdom.

Piles of konpaku were placed in front of her. Corpses, after corpses; of Shinigami, of Quincies, of humans.

"I collected these corpses from the battlefield. This should be plenty. There are also corpses of Fullbringers among this pile. Use them however you see fit."

Another 'component' was provided by Tokinada; it was distinctly different from the others. It was not alive but it seemed to have a will of its own. Aura felt herself resonating with its dense presence. But she did not know its identity, it puzzled her. Tokinada told her,

"Now get to work. It doesn't even have to be in the shape of a person. We don't have to worry about the brain cells since we already have a fine component for it. In any case, as long as the Saketsu {*T/N: Soul Chain*} and Hakusui {*T/N: Soul Sleep*} are functional, the body can be kept alive under any condition."

This was something new to Aura. The creation of a god; giving life to a new king.

{*T/N: So, the original sin was something even more unpleasant than this? Since we know that there were no corpses back then to model a king out of, as death was non-existent.*}

Kyogoku; present time:-

"They're here."

Tokinada smiled as he stood staring up at the castle floating in the sky.

"This reiatsu... Oh my! I didn't think that the Captain Commander would be here in person!"

Judging from the vigorous quality of the reiatsu, Tokinada had never known Kyoraku Shunsui to be so forceful.

"What are you going to do?"

Aura, who stood beside him, asked.

"I'm going to welcome them. Anyway, once they enter this place, they can never return."

Shiba Residence:-

"Aren't you going?"

Shiba Ganju asked Mayuri. Mayuri was given the role of keeping the Garganta open. He found Mayuri's question tiresome.

"I am staying here to secure a way back home."

"Can't you leave your main body here and send your body-double there?"

"When the two are separated by a great distance, controlling it becomes a bit of a problem. Also, it has been designed to self-destruct if those Arrancar or Quincy fools let something accidentally slip to the enemy. Now don't bother me."

Ganju looked worried. Mayuri looked at him with a pitiful glance, then resumed work.

"Hey! Don't ignore me! You think I'm stupid and not worth explaining to, don't you?"

"Not at all. I'm sure you must have some intelligence, even if they're nothing to boast about."

Totally ignoring Ganju's indignant sputter, Mayuri informed them of his own findings.

"There's a trap."

"Trap?"

"Tokinada is the administrator of the Visuals Department after all. He has already figured out that we have gathered here at the Shiba Residence."

"What?"

Kukaku, who had been leaning against the wall, arms folded, now shifted her position. Mayuri told her,

"I did consider the possibility of Tokinada interfering with the opening of the Garganta, but he didn't go through with it. That means that he must've wanted our group to enter the Garganta and walk straight into his trap."

Mayuri checked the reiatsu fluctuations within the Garganta using instruments placed inside his own body and spoke nonchalantly,

"Yes, all evidence points to them having been trapped inside a special barrier."

"Whaaaaat?"

"As soon as they entered the Kyogoku, all transmissions in and out were blocked. Even the return route has been sealed off."

"How can you be so calm about it? Don't you want to go help them?"

Mayuri seemed unconcerned.

"Why should I go help those who willingly walked into the trap?"

"What was that?"

"Ganju, shut up. Didn't you hear what he said earlier? He has a role to play. His job is to secure them a way back here."

"But sis..."

"Old man Kyoraku and Yoruichi are there with them. Let's have faith in them. I'm sure they can break out of the barrier."

Mayuri looked at Kukaku curiously.

"You know, if you had followed Tokinada, then your family would have been reinstated into the Nobility."

Kukaku had heard about the meeting from Yoruichi, but Mayuri had his own sources of information. Kukaku let out a small sigh. But before she could speak, Ganju said loudly,

"I am not interested in returning to the Nobility. I only do what I feel is right, so that I have no regrets. My brother, Shiba Kaien and my uncle, Shiba Isshin, were like that too."

Kukaku smiled at Ganju's words.

-Well, he's carrying on the 'Shiba tradition' well enough.

Kyogoku:-

"It looks like we've been trapped in."

Kyoraku's group had arrived at a sandy region within the Kyogoku. The sand touching the sole of his sandals was dried up. The reishi in the air felt sharp against his body. As soon as they had arrived at such a place, the rift in space that had been open until then now closed up, as if forced shut. Hirako turned to Kyoraku,

"Did you predict that this would happen, Captain Commander?"

"Well.."

Surrounding them were a flock of Hollows of the exact same shape. They were of the same kind as those that were born out of Ikomikidomoe. There were hundreds and thousands of them. The army was divided into the airborne type and the terrestrial type; making the surroundings resemble a white sea; creating a huge cage in the wilderness to enclose it.

"Where's the main body?"

Not seeing Hikone and Ikomikidomoe on the scene, Hirako exclaimed in a tone of awe.

"It's absurd! The monster gave birth!"

"And that's not all, each one has a staggering reiatsu!"

Liltotto analyzed.

"These are Huge Hollows; occasionally their reiatsus spike, resembling those of Gillians and Adjuchas."

"It's possible that these Hollows are the kind that take in reishi from their surroundings to boost their reiatsu."

At Halibel's words, Neliel sighed.

"Then it is a little troubling. The reishi here is far denser than in the Soul Society and Hueco Mundo."

"This is bad..."

Hirako pointed towards the sky. Structures reminiscent of the Reiokyu were floating there.

"Talk about irony! The Reiokyu and Hollows; all in the same area!"

"Yes, but now we have confirmation, right? The answer to what's going to be swapped out by the Tenkai Kecchu?"

Kyoraku's tone was mild, but there was an undercurrent of wariness beneath it. In order to replace that huge mass floating in the sky, it is necessary for the pillars in Karakura to be on the same level as that structure.

{*T/N: They are planning to send the Reiokyu-like structure to the sky above Karakura Town, using the smaller versions of the pillars carried by thousands of Aura's followers*}

"It would have nice if the transition site had been in Rukongai or in Hueco Mundo. But we have to hurry a little since we know now where exactly it will take place in Karakura Town."

Kyoraku pulled out his sword. Ginjo, who was behind him, told him,

"I'm not saying that I won't cooperate. Our purpose is the same, but I would prefer to move individually."

Kyoraku nodded at Ginjo. Ginjo went on,

"But there are a ton of things I would like to hear once this is all over."

"The answer you seek... Tokinada is probably more familiar with it than I am.."

Kyoraku looked at Tsukishima meaningfully. Ginjo then noticed a clock dial embedded upon Giriko's clothes, a crystal clock-face floating behind him, with a combination of numbers and black spheres. He had set a timer.

"We have 20 seconds. The three of us will hide ourselves. As for those Hollows, they cannot attack us within this set period of time. Should they do so, it will be considered a 'breach of contract'."

As the three of them faded into thin air, Hirako muttered,

"That guy with the eye-patch is skillful.."

Kyoraku smiled wryly.

"There's another person with an eye-patch just beside you, so call him by name, otherwise it's confusing. His name is Kutsuzawa Giriko."

Hirako shrugged his shoulders and shook his head, thinking that Kyoraku knew everybody's name.

"You guys talkin' about me?"

Kenpachi broke into their conversation. He looked relaxed, but his reiatsu had been sharpened to match the circumstances. Not just him, everyone else had followed suit.

"These guys are small fry. I think I'll head over there."

Kenpachi looked at the castle in the sky.

"I'll leave the cleaning-up to you all."

"Kenpachi sure gets more and more selfish day by day. Oh well.."

Hirako murmured in disbelief. As Kenpachi rushed towards the castle, the Hollows swarmed in front of him, blocking his way.

"Out of my way!"

Kenpachi swung his sword, grazing the ground, which cracked open, causing lots of Hollows to fall in. Immediately, one of the Hollows dug its limbs into the ground and began to produce creatures of exactly the same shape and size from its back.

"Self-multiplication.."

Nanao gasped. Halibel narrowed her eyes.

"Is this similar to Rudbornn's ability?"

In Rudbornn's case, he transformed himself into a skull-like tree and bore fruit as his subordinates. But these Hollows seemed to reproduce an exact replica from the parent body.

"Absorbing the dense reishi of the Kyogoku and multiplying indefinitely... If this keeps up, we'll all be exhausted before long.."

"These things are quite fast. Even after breaking through, they catch up from behind."

A cascade of Hollows moved towards Kenpachi like an avalanche. He kept swinging his sword, cleaving a path. But the Hollows multiplied almost instantly, tightening the circle around them. The 'white wall' closed up the minute Kenpachi broke free and surrounded them again. Candice said impatiently,

"Look, we don't have time here. I'm going after that Kenpachi guy."

"No, wait!"

Kyoraku tried to stop her, but Grimmjow sprang up as well, attacking fiercely. But the Hollows rapidly multiplied, approaching them from all sides in overwhelming numbers.

"What are we going to do?"

"Let's try getting rid of them in one fell swoop..."

"Don't be stupid! There's no way we can handle hundreds of those things..."

"I'm not getting enough time to observe their reiatsu patterns..."

"Damn.."

Hirako reassured all of them.

"Don't worry. I guess I'll go ahead."

"Are you seriously planning to do this alone?"

Amidst all this chatter, Kyoraku looked at Hirako with a subtle expression.

"I really feel bad, having gotten you involved in all this mess created by the aristocrats.."

"Yep, I'm totally upset. But right now, I don't mind. So don't apologize."

Hirako grinned at Kyoraku. He walked forward, staring up at the Hollows coming closer. Then, he called out the name of his zanpakuto.

"Collapse, Sakanade."

--------

"The hell'd you do, man?"

"This is the ability of the enhanced version of Time Tells No Lies."

Ginjo watched from up in the air, as the sea of Hollows followed Kenpachi.

"What a savage reiatsu. They should have used his reiatsu as a decoy to draw away that herd of beasts."

"Is that anyone who can stand against that Shinigami?"

Giriko kept his eyes averted from Kenpachi's figure down below.

"What's on your mind?"

"It's nothing. One must always be calm before the cruel flow of time."

Ginjo did not press Giriko further. He rubbed his hands.

"Now then, let's get to work."

"Oh, you have a plan?"

Tsukishima asked Ginjo.

"It's not that I wasn't thinking ahead. I'm still not sure whom I should trust. For now, I'll stick to gathering information about that Tsunayashiro bastard."

"But what knowledge do you hope to gain in a place like this? As far as the eye can see, there is only barren wilderness."

Instead of replying to Giriko's question, Ginjo called out,

"Yukio! Answer me! I know you can hear me, Yukio!"

A noise was heard in a space that was never supposed to have existed. A boy's face appeared through the crack in space-time.

"It's been half a year, Kugo. So you noticed me?"

"Since I shared some of my powers with you, I could feel your reiatsu even though you decided to be bashful and hid yourself."

"Do you see that as an advantage or a disadvantage?"

"That depends on your answer, Yukio."

Ginjo transformed the pendant around his neck into a sword and pierced it through the ground, beginning to ask questions.

"What's all this I've been hearing about X-CUTION? Have you allied yourself with them? Is it really a religious sect or is it our X-CUTION?"

"That depends on Kugo's answer."

Yukio answered with a blank expression.

"What are you talking about?"

"All he's saying is that it depends on your wish."

An echo was heard from behind. Ginjo instinctively swung his blade behind him, but he had felt no reiatsu at all. When the sword slashed through the air, a young woman's figure became visible. The sword passed right through her body as if she was made of smoke. Neither a Shinigami, nor a Quincy. A Fullbringer.

"You are.....the religious leader of X-CUTION, I gather?"

The woman replied,

"I did not plan on becoming a religious leader. And besides, X-CUTION is not a religious sect. It was created to turn the world upside-down."

-----------

The white avalanche of Hollows that pushed forward, trying to swallow up everyone in their enclosure, paused for a moment. Then, the group that should have moved in unison, suddenly fell into disarray and scattered. As soon as Hirako called upon the name of his zanpakuto, the sword changed its shape. Looping a finger through the hilt of the sword, which had now turned into a circular ring, Hirako made it swing round and round like a pendulum.

The Hollows, confused, now saw each other as inverted figures; their left, right, front, back switched. Hirako pulled away and faced backwards, but since the directions were reversed, he was able to land a blow.

"This isn't complete hypnosis like Kyoka Suigetsu; optical illusion it may be; but to those who rely primarily on vision, there's no chance against it."

Hirako, who was floating in the air, upside-down, tilted his head a little as he saw the new developments in the group in front of him.

"Hmmm?"

The Hollows began making strange insect-like noises. The sounds echoed for a while. Then, there was a visible change in their movements. The group, that had been in a state of confusion earlier, seemed to gradually overcome the confusion and became unified once more.

"Oi, oi.."

The Hollows had snapped their eyes shut. Then, by releasing the echoing sound, they had confirmed each other's positions and had begun to adjust their locations accordingly, using those strange noises to communicate. They tried to grasp Hirako's position using their reiatsu-perception senses and shot something like an acoustic ripple through the air. As the echo resounded, they could understand Hirako's position. They opened their mouths all at once.

"Are you all stupid?"

As the Hollows attacked all at once, the attack completely missed Hirako. Misreading his position, the Hollows had struck the rocky terrain, destroying a large chunk of their own fellows.

"Some~thing wro~ng?"

Looking at all the destruction, he spoke,

"Even the direction of the echoes and the attack were reversed."

Hirako started walking through the air, coolly strolling through the group of Hollows.

"I'd like to train a little more, so that even 'hot' can become 'cold'. Those rocks over there, though..the damage...oh well.. But look at you lot! Instead of chasing after Kyoraku-san's group, all of you are interested in yours truly.. So simple, isn't it, trying to kill one single person? Seems cowardly, if you ask me. Ah, how I wish I could go home and sleep."

While complaining, Hirako walked through, unimpeded. The Hollows tried to attack, one by one; but as if trying to prevent themselves from breaking their rigid colony, they deviated from their tight-knit formation, bumping into each other, crashing to the rocky ground, their body parts flying everywhere.

The meaning behind Hirako's words now became clear. These Hollows did not possess low intelligence. They were smart enough to maintain a very strong synchronicity and to realize that the Shinigami in front of them was looking down upon them, taking them lightly. They did possess enough intelligence to display anger. Hirako had not just declared the abilities of his zanpakuto. Each of his words are meant to be deceptive and can function as a weapon itself, confounding others. In the past, Aizen had been the only one who could completely overcome the deception. Others required time to try and get used to it. Whenever the other party begins working out the deception, Hirako switches the inversion, confusing them further. If someone figures out that since Hirako had approached from the left, they ought to strike from the right; Hirako notices the opponent getting used to the inversion, he changes it back, leading to the opponent's self-destruction.

The Hollows now stopped their way of thinking and halted in their actions. They pierced their limbs through the ground and began reproducing just as before.

"Yes, Sakanade certainly won't prevent you from reproducing and creating more of your kind.."

Hirako breathed in heavily and let it out. He ran a hand through his forehead, as if sweating.

"I shall have to increase Sakanade's range of attack and keep running away... Let's see how fast I can go.."

He kept watching the situation, his expression slowly turning to one of despair. As if in reverse, contrary to his situation, the Hollows kept increasing their numbers and clamouring around Hirako.

------------

"There numbers are increasing by the second.."

It was Liltotto who spoke. Nanao was of the opinion that reinforcements ought to be sent to back Hirako up. She said as much to Kyoraku.

"It's okay, Nanao-chan."

"But Captain Commander..."

Kyoraku assured her gently,

"Let's believe in Captain Hirako.."

--------------

Hirako suddenly stopped moving. Once he had reached a 'certain distance', ensuring that Kyoraku and the others were far away using his reiatsu-perception, he let out his breath.

"They're safe now."

He wiped the perspiration off his face. He stopped acting like he was in a state of panic and smiled, addressing the swarm of Hollows,

"You know, you're even more idiotic than I initially thought."

------------

The people who were running close to Kyoraku, heard his words and were surprised; sans Muguruma Kensei, who knew the full details about Sakanade's abilities. Kyoraku did not divulge all he knew for fear of being overheard in case there were enemies around. He addressed Nanao,

"You are acquainted with my Bankai, yes?"

Nanao had good intuitions, so she more or less guessed everything from that statement alone.

"So that means he cannot use it frequently?"

"Yes. It's a powerful zanpakuto but it has one glaring fault. It does not distinguish between friend and foe. Everyone in the vicinity of its reiatsu is dragged into it, without exception."

"Like the Konjiki Ashisogi Jizo?"

"It's something like that, yes. But Captain Kurotsuchi has modified it, though. Now it no longer spreads poison everywhere. Anyway, there's something else too. I had a friend a long time ago... He's dead now, but he used to be the 7th generation Kenpachi. His Bankai, Gagaku Kairo {*T/N: Hallway of pleasurable hunger*}, was so dangerous that its usage was prohibited by the Central 46. It, too, affected both enemies as well as comrades."

{*T/N: The 7th Kenpachi was Kenpachi Kuruyashiki; as mentioned in Spirits Are Forever With You; he lost to the 8th Kenpachi, Soya Azashiro, because he didn't use his Bankai, since Shunsui and his squad members were close by. His bankai caused a gigantic jaw with fangs to open up in the ground, crushing and devouring everything in its way; it had a huge area of effect*}

"Why did you let Captain Hirako go all by himself?"

"There are certain aspects about his Bankai that I trust in.."

Kyoraku smiled a little, directing his feet towards the location of the floating castle.

"We have to survive in order to focus on the task at hand.."

---------------

As the Hollows slowly started enveloping Hirako, their silhouettes like skyscrapers against the heavens, he murmured softly,

"If I could reverse even this state of despair, then that would be quite a miracle, wouldn't it?"

These Hollows moved in unison, thought in unison, acted in unison, communicated in unison. Born from Ikomikidomoe, they were a 'single entity'.

-For such a group that was so well in sync with each other, Sakanade confused them.

This Shinigami, who had walked through a world of deception, to whom the word 'lie' was irrelevant, spoke,

"Time for a miracle.."

And as he uttered a phrase, the world turned upside-down again.

"Bankai, Sakashima Yokoshima Happoufusagari."

{*T/N: Wicked inverted blockade from all directions; 'sakashima' means 'inverted/upside-down, 'yokoshima' means 'wicked', 'happoufusagari' means 'all doors closed/blocked from all directions*}

------------------------------

P.S. That concludes this part. About the connecting chapter... Well.. the Shonen Jump App made a mistake. The chapter about Aizen and Tosen that was released with this installment is the same one as the chapter that was released a few weeks ago, about the Hogyoku, the Fullbringers and the 'nail'. Basically, Chapter 18 ends with Shinji calling out the name of his Bankai, followed by the connecting chapter.

P.S.2. I wonder what we'll do about Book 3. Will we get digital releases?

P.S.3. So, about final match-ups:

Shuhei (+Kisuke and Shunsui??) vs Tokinada ?

Ginjo (+Tsukishima??) vs Aura ?

Shinji vs Ikomikidomoe ?

Btw, (this is just a crack theory, though) do you think that Ikomikidomoe was the sword that gave birth to the first Hollows in the world? Before the realms were separated, there was no death, so there couldn't have been Hollows, right?



**************************​


Can't Fear Your Own World III

translated by Scheneizel, first posted in Bleach Reddit

Pages 152 to 175

Inside the Palace:-

Let us rewind time for a little bit. While Grimmjow and the others confronted Ikomikidomoe, Kyoraku and Nanao faced Tokinada, who had just released the Shikai of his zanpakuto. Watching Tokinada's zanpakuto, Nanao felt a sudden chill.

-There's no blade?

-No, that's not it.

-That sinister reiatsu...

-But there is definitely a zanpakuto in front of the guard.

Then why is it that I cannot see it?

There was a flash of light before. So does this zanpakuto manipulate light as well? If that's the case, then perhaps the blade cannot be seen because of the refraction of light. But that still did not explain why the wound on Tokinada's abdomen had disappeared. Voicing Nanao's doubts, Kyoraku asked Tokinada warily,

"Apparently, that zanpakuto is no simple threat. Would you perhaps be kind enough to explain its abilities?"

"You want an explanation? Hmm.."

Tokinada looked at the zanpakuto and smiled.

"Don't worry.. You will understand its ability soon enough."

Grasping the handle of the zanpakuto whose blade could not be seen, Tokinada said,

"In exchange for your life, Kyoraku Shunsui."

"That sounds disturbing. I'd prefer it if you ended it as gently as possible, you know.."

"Have you ended 'Yubikiri'? Then I'd say that I, too, would like to do it as gently as possible."

"Of course. It's better to not have a trial at all rather than having a bad one. I wouldn't mind dying, but the upper nobility makes such a fuss.."

Kyoraku, who himself was from the senior nobility, spoke bitterly. Tokinada spoke,

"Oh, please. You are still a far cry from the House of Tsunayashiro. The family that has guarded Soul Society's history for a million years."

"..."

"We are talking about judgment here, right? But let me assure you; I will reveal the truth behind it all."

"Ah.."

Hearing Kyoraku's soulful tone, Tokinada burst out laughing.

"Hahahaha! You must take me for a fool! Is that how you plan on plucking off my wings with your nonsense? What a joke, Kyoraku!"

"The Four Great Noble Houses already had far too many wings from the time they were born. In exchange for their might, they act as the pillars supporting the three worlds on their own; as the Soul Society's cornerstone."

Kyoraku's voice was dripping with irony. Nanao had often hear Kyoraku mention the 'liabilities of the nobility'. But did Tokinada understand its meaning?

"Are you saying that the descendants are in no position to speak as they themselves did not pollute their own hands?"

"Well, at least there's one thing we both agree on; given your position."

"..?.."

Tokinada sensed something move behind him and reflexively moved aside; thus mitigating the damage from Yoruichi’s kick. But her turning kick caused him to be blown off.

“Sorry, your conversation was too long; I got impatient.”

However, another Shinigami got ahead of Tokinada before he could recover.

“Bankai.. Tekken Tachikaze!”

Muguruma’s knuckle blades made contact with Tokinada’s body and a chain of blasts exploded outwards from his fists; blowing away Tokinada’s internal organs, strewing them in the opposite direction.

“An improvised collaboration. You were quick on the uptake.”

At Yoruichi’s rough tone, Muguruma looked down at Tokinada.

“Is he dead?”

“But don’t let your guard down; although it was overkill on your part.”

“So that blade is invisible, after all?”

He could not imagine what sort of ability it possessed, but it was always feasible to be wary of something that was invisible.

“No. For a moment there, it felt like I could see the blade. But that was only for an instant.”

Yoruichi moved closer, but suddenly stopped short.

“What’s going on?”

Her feet, which had just been slashed by the invisible blade, felt very heavy, all of a sudden. In the few seconds when she stopped her feet with a sense of discomfort, Tokinada stood up; laughing.

“Well, well.. Whoever said I was bad at acting?”

His kimono was torn up, but the gashes upon his body had disappeared.

“You’re unscathed?”

At Muguruma’s question, Tokinada’s smile widened. As the others intensified their vigilance, Tokinada gripped the handle of his zanpakuto tightly; a zanpakuto without a blade.

“I won’t die so quickly, but I wouldn’t want to be suffering in the most ridiculous manner possible when I do happen to die.”

Tokinada spoke, slowly turning the hilt of his zanpakuto. At the same time when Tokinada spoke to Kyoraku and the others, something else was happening up in the sky; Hikone was heading up towards the air, watched by the Quincies and the Arrancars. A cold feeling struck the Shinigami down below. Even Ikkaku and Yumichika, whose gaze was fixed upon Hikone facing Kenpachi; felt it too.

Kyoraku sensed another reiatsu as well; the reiatsu of a beast welling up from the ground. Grabbing Nanao’s hand, he sprang aside, as a bear-sized spherical figure passed by them, He could feel the danger of getting close to it run through his entire body. It was a large sphere, about three metres in diameter, with gigantic fangs protruding from its muzzle. Kyoraku’s eyes widened as he recognized the creature.

“This is...”

The one close to him was not the only one. There were quite a few of them across the courtyard, with their gaping maws. The technique used by Kyoraku’s old friend, Kenpachi Kuruyashiki, the 7th generation Kenpachi.

“...Gagaku Kairo...”

“What’s wrong, Kyoraku? You look like you’ve seen a ghost. Does this look familiar?”

Tokinada asked, spreading his arms wide apart. As the huge jaws approached, Kyoraku pushed Nanao into the shadows.

“Oh, I certainly am familiar with this. This feels like watching a dead man come back to life.”

Kyoraku spoke bitterly as he sank into the shadows with one of the creatures.

“Ho? So even your enemies can get dragged into the shadows of your zanpakuto? I didn’t know that.”

Tokinada laughed pleasantly as he began to gauge where Kyoraku would emerge from.

“Will you first ensure the safety of that woman? Or will you fight me for using the technique of your fallen friend?”

Tokinada provoked. As if in response, Kyoraku answered by letting his blade protrude from beneath Tokinada’s feet. Tokinada jumped back to avoid it, but Yoruichi managed to get close to him. As every cell inside her feet seemed to scream out in agony, she, somehow, unexpectedly, managed to drag her feet towards Tokinada and tried to aim a kick.

But then, a swarm of sakura petals swirled around her leg as blood splashed out. Fortunately, the wounds were not very deep. If she had actually kicked him, the tiny petals would have chopped her leg into fine dust.

“There’s no mistaking it.. It’s..Byakuya’s..”

Yoruichi gasped; the blizzard of blades had already disappeared.

“Oh no.. Don’t tell me..”

Glancing at the fleeting appearance of the blade, Kyoraku realized the true ability of Enrakyoten.

The heaviness in Yoruichi’s feet. Disappearing scratches and gashes. The gorging monster of ‘Gagaku Kairo’. And finally the squall of petals of ‘Senbonzakura’. Upon watching the last two in action, it was becoming undeniably clear.

-The ability to freely imitate the powers of other zanpakuto.

As if to scorn Muguruma who had attacked him, Tokinada decided upon a new tactic.

He suddenly struck one knee to the ground and hit the ground with his fist. In his fist was clasped a disc-shaped blade. As soon as it touched the ground, the earth near his knee shattered. The soil rose up, the shards sped forwards to impale Muguruma as well as the Arrancars and Quincies who had joined in the fray as opponents of the creatures of Gagaku Kairo.

“Hey, this guy’s zanpakuto... Maybe..”

As Muguruma diffused the debris with his zanpakuto and landed next to Kyoraku and Nanao, who had emerged from the shadows; he expressed his doubts. Kyoraku mouthed off the names one after another, as if confirming Muguruma’s doubts.

“Let’s see...’Wabisuke’, ‘Hisagomaru’, ‘Senbonzakura’, ‘Tsuchinamazu’..”

When Kyoraku mentioned the last zanpakuto’s name, Tokinada smiled as though in admiration.

“My.. Do you know the names of the zanpakuto of all the seated officers?”

This zanpakuto belonged to Kurumadani Zennosuke, the Shinigami who had been in charge of Karakura Town.

“Well, I am the Captain Commander of the Gotei, after all. But I didn’t think it was possible for ‘Hisagomaru’ to mitigate such great damage.”

“It depends upon the reiatsu of the wielder. ‘Hisagomaru’ is useful. When Seinosuke’s brother uses it, it may not be that potent, but since I am the one using it, even fatal wounds do not pose a threat to me.”

‘Hisagomaru’, the zanpakuto belonging to Yamada Hanataro was not a sword meant to harm. It healed the injuries of its target. Kyoraku guessed that Tokinada had activated its ability before Muguruma had attacked him by cutting his own body.

-But Hanataro’s zanpakuto could not have healed such immense injuries.

-Is Tokinada really adjusting it with his own reiatsu?

When Nanao realized that Yoruichi failed to hit Tokinada because of ‘Wabisuke’, Kira Izuru’s zanpakuto, she shivered, and told Kyoraku,

“No way... Surely he can’t use them all freely? There has to be some limitations.”

Kyoraku was carefully scrutinizing Tokinada’s face to see if he gave himself away. But Kyoraku did not have the luxury of time as Tokinada utilized the next wave of attacks.

A maelstrom of ash swiftly surrounded him.

“It’s ‘Haineko’!”

Nanao screamed as she recognized it. Kyoraku tried to avoid making contact with the whirlwind of ash, but he was also cornered by the creatures generated from ‘Gagaku Kairo’. There was nowhere to run since the swirling ash hindered the creation of shadows. Tokinada anticipated this and pressured him further,

“Hado 58: Tenran!”

A tornado rolled up; the wind and ash tried to wrap around Kyoraku with great speed. He barely managed to escape the ash using Hoho, but another problem arose. Tokinada’s Kido had scattered the ash over a wide area and the others all fell into its grasp one after the other. But then-

“Cascada!”

A waterfall swept away the wind, the ash and the creatures all together; clearing the air.

“I do not recall this ability belonging to him.”

Halibel spoke, recalling how Hitsugaya’s subordinate had used it against the Tres Bestias in Karakura Town. She turned her attention to Tokinada’s zanpakuto.

“And about those creatures... Is it similar to Aaronierro’s ability, Glotoneria?”

The rest of the Arrancars and the Quincies continued to battle against the creatures of Gagaku Kairo. They realized that their present source of danger was no longer Hikone, but Tokinada. Hikone was currently high up in the sky; at a higher altitude than the floating castle. Down below, in addition to the Quincies and the Arrancars, reinforcements arrived on the side of the Shinigami.

“I got rid of those things. Hey, where did Kenpachi go? I seem to feel Ikomikidomoe’s reiatsu along with Hikone’s coming from high up.”

It was Hirako.

“Captain Hirako! You’re safe!”

Hirako grinned at Kyoraku as he joined them.

“Of course I’m fine! But I suddenly saw Rangiku-chan’s ‘Haineko’ and I was wondering..”

“That was Tokinada’s doing. Listen, I’ll tell you straight away. His zanpakuto can imitate the abilities of other zanpakuto. At least, we’ve seen six of them in action so far.”

“You serious? Damn, more trouble!”

Hirako spoke fervently, with a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.

“If he uses the abilities of ‘Sakanade’, can you flip it back by using your own ‘Sakanade’?”

“The idea is fascinating, no doubt, but it’ll be difficult. But I’ll try somehow. But if it’s the Bankai, we’re finished.”

Hirako looked around; there were quite a lot of people. He had been using Sakanade for a very long time, so it was easy enough for him to understand how the reversal would benefit him the most. But to counter this very ability while he himself was using Sakanade, would be next to impossible, since he would have to completely focus on doing complicated calculations within his head, exposing him to the dangers of the usage of multiple zanpakuto by Tokinada.

“Just thinking about it is frightening, isn’t it?”

Tokinada sneered. As Halibel directed another stream of water towards him, Tokinada countered it.

The surroundings flared up as the ground was set ablaze. The water manipulated by Halibel evaporated instantaneously.

“...Ryujin Jakka...”

Kyoraku gasped, recalling the time when he and Ukitake had confronted Yamamoto in order to prevent Rukia’s execution.

“Feeling nostalgic, Kyoraku?”

“No, I feel relieved. The heat is not as scorching as Yama-ji’s.”

But inwardly, Kyoraku did not think it was alright to relax, because Tokinada’s reiatsu was at par with Kuchiki Byakuya’s and Shihoin Yoruichi’s, the other aristocrats from the Four Great Noble Houses. The members of the Four Great Noble Houses were famous for their immense reiatsu, but it did not mean that they had reached the outskirts of common sense, unlike Yama-ji.

“I wonder how things would have turned out if that zanpakuto were to be wielded by that child?”

There was irony in Kyoraku’s voice.

“Hikone would have been ineffective. Be it ‘Engetsu’ or ‘Hyorinmaru’, he would have had an affability with only one particular kind of zanpakuto.”

Tokinada replied while he manipulated the flames. Kyoraku narrowed his eyes

-This is the family treasure of the House of Tsunayashiro. So it can certainly be said that it was meant to watch over history.

-No wonder it could handle the reiatsu of those who had made history, like Yama-ji and Aizen..

-Wait. What did I just say? Aizen?

-Oh no...

Kyoraku had a premonition of impending doom. It was so fearful that it sent a shock throughout his entire body. As if sensing Kyoraku’s fear and the fluctuation in his reiatsu, Tokinada held out his palms,

“Bakudo 21: Sekienton.”

Red smoke exploded, covering the wasteland that was once the courtyard.

-No, no, no. Everyone, watch out!

Kyoraku feared that ‘it’ was about to be used. To be honest, from the time he had figured out the zanpakuto’s ability, the possibility of ‘it’ was always present within his subconscious, but he was so afraid of that thought, that he had pushed it to the back of his mind.

-Don’t look..

-Close your eyes..

Kyoraku’s brain was screaming out. He wanted to warn the others, but he felt like his throat had stopped working. Almost as if on cue, Tokinada’s voice rang out, loud and clear.

“Da-ru-ma...san..”

-Wait, what?

It was one of the techniques of ‘Katen Kyokotsu’. When the enemy has launched an attack using reiatsu, this technique traces their reiatsu and travels towards them using the shortest distance possible. The fact that the technique was activated meant that if Tokinada was ‘seen’, the opponent ‘wins’ and lands a fatal blow. In other words, if Tokinada is ‘not seen’, then the opponent ‘loses’. The first thing that Kyoraku’s mind registered was Nanao’s fluctuating reiatsu.

-Is she using Kido to try and clear the red smoke? Or was she trying to set up a barrier?

Kyoraku had no choice but to open his uninjured left eye in order to protect Nanao. But what he saw approaching, was not the scimitar of Katen Kyokotsu, but a sword with a spear-head attached to one end of a floral structure, extending out from a whip.

“Eh? Is this Rose-kun’s?”

-From within the smoke?

-Was he bluffing...?

-Has the game not been activated...?

-I can’t close my eyes if it’s indeed ‘Daruma san’. It is a flawless technique.

The blade was approaching Nanao’s blind spot.

-I can’t do anything if my eyes are shut!

Such thoughts rapidly crossed Kyoraku’s mind, finally leading to one deadly conclusion.

-Oh no!

Kyoraku yelled out in panic,

“Close your eyes! Don’t look!”

But he did not make it in time. Before the others could grasp the meaning of the warning, Tokinada had already ensnared them in ‘it’s’ spell.

“Look.”

They had already fallen prey to ‘it’.

To some people, the approaching blade appeared to be the numerous petals of Senbonzakura. To some, it appeared to be the hungry maws of Gagaku Kairo. To some, it was the ash of Haineko. Even Hirako, who had figured it out at around the same time Kyoraku did, saw the extending blade of ‘Shinso’ approaching. He had heard Kyoraku’s warning, but his battle-hardened optical reflexes made it impossible for him to close his eyes.

There was no avoiding ‘it’.

A sound was heard; as if the surroundings shattered like glass. Kyoraku and Hirako expected this. But the rest of the Shinigami and the Arrancars were startled as they finally realized what was going on. The Quincies who were unfamiliar with this, looked confused, sceptical.

As soon as they began to fathom the situation, that was when the Shikai of Aizen Sosuke’s zanpakuto, ‘Kyoka Suigetsu’, shattered.

-----------------

“Whatever is going on down below? And just how big is this damn tower, anyway?”

Hisagi kept running frantically within the palace; seeking a way out. Although it was true that he had left the Throne Room, the exit to the entire Palace was nowhere to be found. However, with every step he took towards a certain direction, he could sense various reiatsu getting closer to him. Earlier, he had sensed Hikone’s swollen reiatsu clashing with Kenpachi’s violent one.

“I just hope I’m not too late!”

As long as the exit eluded him, he could only hope that Hikone and Kenpachi had not begun killing each other.

All of a sudden, Hisagi could sense a few other familiar reiatsu.

-That’s the Captain Commander’s! And Yoruichi-san’s! And Captain Muguruma’s!

But that was not all.

-Wait.. Arrancars? Quincies?

-What on earth are they doing here?

Hisagi ran, his heart beating very fast. Anxiety built up within him as he realized-

“The Captain Commander’s reiatsu is beginning to weaken..”

Terror welled up inside Hisagi.

-If Hikone is fighting against Captain Zaraki, then what is the cause of the Captain Commander’s weakening reiatsu?

-The unfamiliar reiatsu close to the Captain Commander.. It could only belong to Tsunayashiro Tokinada.

Hisagi continued to run; desperately suppressing his frustration. Finally, he came across a pool of light streaming in. He ran towards it.

-A window!

He climbed up on the window-sill and looked outside. A gentle breeze caressed his cheeks.

This was no tower. It was floating in the sky.

“Just like the Reiokyu.”

From his position high up in the air, the scene overhead was truly a sight to behold. There were two faraway shooting stars trying to chase one another. For an instant, Hisagi was bewitched by this sight. He then looked down towards the direction of Kyoraku’s reiatsu, and squinted,

“Oh my goodness!”

He noticed the Arrancars and Quincies on the Shinigami’s side. And one single Shinigami was pressurizing everyone in the battlefield.

Without hesitation, Hisagi jumped from the window-sill; heading for the battlefield spreading beneath him.

He was not aware that the darkness of the Soul Society would soon envelop him in that very battlefield.

----------

https://www.reddit.com/r/bleach/comments/ahv49v/cant_fear_your_own_world_iii_pages_176209/?st=JR4KQOHX&sh=ddcced40

{This bit comes after this part. Sorry I had to split up the thread into two posts. Thank you for understanding.}

Pages 176 to 209

https://www.reddit.com/r/bleach/comments/ahva57/cant_fear_your_own_world_iii_pages_152175/?st=JR4KJKOL&sh=e7fe2c5c

{This comes before chapter 4. Please kindly read the other one before perusing chapter 4. Sorry for the inconvenience. Reddit didn't allow me to post it in one go; the second bit got posted before the first.}

Chapter 4

-So this is the Reiokyu.

-I can understand how you feel, Your Majesty.

-What are you talking about, Haschwalth?

-I do not feel any emotion upon gazing at this decaying grave-stone.

--------------

Palace Courtyard; just under the castle in the sky:-

Hisagi gracefully landed right in the middle of the battlefield.

Kyoraku looked at him in amazement.

“Is that really you... Shuhei-kun?”

In Hisagi’s eyes, Kyoraku looked quite maimed; although none of his injuries seemed fatal. Nanao, too, had a couple of wounds here and there.

There was something wrong with the combatants; each of them seemed to concentrate only on defense. Everyone seemed afraid to move or attack.

Besides, there were an odd assortment of people gathered here in this battlefield. He remembered fighting some of the Quincies six months ago. He also recognized the Espada who had fought against Hitsugaya in Karakura Town. And then there was Mayuri’s Corpse Unit. They were all looking at Hisagi in a strange way, a look he couldn’t fathom.

“Shuhei... Why are you here?”

Muguruma, down on one knee, asked him in surprise. Yumichika raised his voice.

“Lieutenant Hisagi, are you really here?”

Ikkaku spoke up,

“No wait, Yumichika. That can’t really be him.”

Hisagi did not understand what was going on. Everywhere he looked, eyes filled with suspicion were turned towards him.

Hisagi ran towards Kyoraku, hoping to get some answers,

“What’s happening, Captain Commander?”

But he was forced to halt mid-step as he noticed the tip of Katen Kyokotsu being pointed straight at him.

“Captain Commander...?”

“My bad, Shuhei-kun.. No.. Lieutenant Hisagi..”

Wiping blood off his face; Kyoraku had on his usual smile; still pointing his sword at Hisagi.

“There are lots of things I’d like to hear about from you; like the fact that you’re here and were a witness to the event in Karakura Town. But right now, it’s better if we keep our distance from each other.”

“I don’t understand.. What on earth are you...?”

From behind, he heard a voice. It was unfamiliar to him.

“Who are you? How did you get in here?”

“...”

“You were not among those present in Kyoraku’s group. I did not sense you penetrating the barrier..”

Hisagi inquired, still facing away,

“Are you....Tsunayashiro Tokinada?”

“How very rude of you to not use an honorific.”

Tokinada looked as the Lieutenant of the 9th Division turned towards him, but then his expression cleared and he smiled pleasantly,

“Oh, I know who you are. You were in Karakura Town. Did you use the Tenkai Kecchu without permission?”

Tokinada spread out his hands in a welcoming gesture as he continued speaking.

“As you so rightly stated just now, I am indeed Tsunayashiro Tokinada. And I am honoured to meet such a promising Shinigami such as yourself, Lieutenant Hisagi Shuhei.”

“...”

“No, perhaps I should rephrase that. I would be very happy if you would write an article praising me in the Seireitei Communications, Hisagi Shuhei.”

“You...?”

“What’s wrong? I’d say that you have plenty of material here to work with. How about an article stating how Kyoraku Shunsui started a rebellion by joining forces with Arrancars and Quincies? You might want to see to it right away so that it makes the morning news tomorrow.”

Listening to those words, Hisagi came to a very simple conclusion. This man was ‘evil’, and that this kind of ‘evil’ was completely different from how the term was used in case of Aizen and Yhwach. He had learnt from Tosen that there was no clear distinction between right and wrong. ‘Justice’ and ‘evil’ depended on perspective. Unlike some of the criminals he had interviewed in the past, this man was no rogue ruffian either. But Hisagi’s instinct told him that this man was ‘pure evil’. Such black malice dripped from Tokinada’s soul. Such a man was never tried by the Central 46 and was even allowed to become the Head of one of the Four Great Noble Houses. Hisagi now knew that Kyoraku was trying to do the exact thing that the Central 46 had opted to ignore: to oppose this man.

“I would have to disagree. You see, in my opinion, the readers would enjoy an article about your downfall much more than one that sings your praise.”

Hisagi boldly retaliated, sword in hand.

“As a journalist, is it ethical to allow personal grudges to seep into your work? Shouldn’t you always maintain neutrality?’

“Even if I kept up my fairness; from what I know about you, you are most definitely not a good person.”

To Hisagi, Tokinada was a clear ‘enemy’ because he had tried to kill Kyoraku. However, there were a few other issues that needed to be taken care of.

“Tell me what you intend to do with Hikone.”

“Oh, you know Hikone?”

Tokinada shrugged for a moment, but then he seemed to remember something and nodded.

“Oh, right. Hikone did mention meeting a ‘kind Shinigami’ at the Pharmaceuticals Institute.”

“I’m asking you what you stand to gain by turning him into the Rei-o.”

“In order for the Shinigami to dominate over the three worlds, it is necessary to repaint the values of the World of the Living and Hueco Mundo. Hikone was created for this purpose. It’s as simple as that.”

Hisagi’s wrath spilled over as he heard Tokinada’s unconcerned tone of voice.

“He is a person, not a tool!”

“You seem to misunderstand. Hikone is definitely a tool, but I think it’s ridiculous for you to suggest that he has to think, feel, shout, cry, despair like a person. Hikone does not have his own will and leaves all the thinking to me.”

“You bastard!”

“I don’t see what the problem is here. Hikone is not a person and that’s a fact. He is a vessel I created so that I can use him as a figure-head and rule over the three worlds myself from the shadows. I don’t understand why idiots keep talking about things like ‘attachment’.”

Tokinada shrugged his shoulders, without any qualms about his own action. He smiled a little wryly.

“Emotions are way too unimportant. Just like death. Whether someone tortures you by crushing your lungs, or whether you yourself is gladly tearing out your own chest, in the end it’s still death. It’s trivial, really.”

Liltotto, who was afraid to move a muscle because of the ‘complete hypnosis’, recalled a conversation from the past, her mouth dry.

-That bastard Tokinada just mentioned something about ‘suffering and death’, didn’t he?

-...Yes! I will do my best to suffer as much as possible!”

-That wasn’t a metaphor!

“You... Did you really ask Hikone to do the same?”

“And why should I give you my reasons?”

Hisagi’s voice shook as he desperately tried to suppress the anger that was born inside him. Glaring at Tokinada, he said,

“All the options I had other than killing you... Well... Sorry to say, but I am rapidly exhausting each one of them.”

“Oh, you had that option from the onset, did you? But it’s impossible for you.”

Tokinada brushed off Hisagi’s comment. But after a moment, he looked at Hisagi with interest.

“I don’t understand you. You met Hikone only once in the Pharmaceuticals Institute, right? Why do you care so much?”

-No, I met him twice.

But Hisagi answered without correcting that mistake,

“Even if I hadn’t met him before; I wouldn’t have remained silent, knowing that he was being used by a lowlife like you.”

“What’s this? Chivalry? Or compassion? Whatever be the case, just give up.”

Tokinada sounded bored as he continued to speak about Hikone.

“Trying to save Hikone would be a mistake on your part. He does not know how to live other than by working under me. I taught him to live that way; he doesn’t even know any other way. I am never violent with him nor do I reward him. I present myself to him just as I am. He is happy that way. Why do you want to deprive him of his happiness? Are you sure you’re not doing this out of a sense of self-satisfaction?”

Hisagi was able to understand the exact relationship between Hikone and Tokinada. This relationship did not involve domination by fear nor expectation of pleasure. Reversing innocence and ignorance, this man named Tokinada presented himself as the world itself. By turning Hikone into a god, he is trying to raise himself to the same status as the world itself.

-Something like that is...

Hisagi swallowed his anger and released his zanpakuto.

“Reap, Kazeshini."

Just as he released his Shikai, the collar of his clothes was grabbed by Kyoraku, his other hand holding Nanao. Kyoraku jumped to a different position; forcibly dragging Hisagi along with him.

“Wha-?”

The next moment he felt himself falling into pitch-black darkness.

Tokinada glanced behind him, at the raging flames created by his own ‘Ryujin Jakka’. Then he looked at the flickering shadows caused by the fire and smiled.

“You sure are overprotective of your subordinates, aren’t you? But was that a good idea, Kyoraku? Entrusting your last hope to a Shinigami like him?”

--------------

Within the shadows:-

“...Kyoka Suigetsu?”

Hisagi had been dragged into the shadows by Katen Kyokotsu’s ‘Kageoni’.

“All of us here, with the sole exception of yourself have seen the moment of release, not counting Captain Zaraki who is not here in this battlefield. The fellowship is in a state of fear and everyone is afraid to even move. Even the Quincies have realized this. Tokinada can use the abilities of other zanpakuto.”

Upon closer inspection, Hisagi noticed that Kyoraku had burns on his body as well as various wounds. Hisagi did not need any further explanations. The attacks were ‘misidentified’ because of Kyoka Suigetsu’s ‘complete hypnosis’. If you think you have dodged the flames by a wide margin, the flames end up damaging your body, since it was closer than it appeared. If you think you have outmatched the speed at which the flame spreads, it ends up engulfing you. It was Kyoraku’s hypothesis that since most of the reiryoku was being poured into Kyoka Suigetsu’s ability, the performance of the other zanpakuto had fallen somewhat.

“To be honest, I am glad that Captain Zaraki’s hands are full at the moment.. That child is as much of a threat as Kyoka Suigetsu is.”

“Such a dangerous zanpakuto! What are we going to do?”

“Tokinada’s reiatsu is far lesser than Aizen’s. Therefore, I think there is a limit to his ‘complete hypnosis’. Regardless, he is still a formidable foe.”

“He is in charge of the Visuals Department. So it’s possible that he can use only those abilities which he has seen through the recordings.”

Hisagi nodded.

“Yes.. That woman called Aura, who is Tokinada’s subordinate, practically admitted to having observed every single battle that took place in the fake Karakura Town.”

“They seem pretty well-informed. He must have observed Rukia-chan and Ichigo-kun as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if I were told that he had been connected to Aizen behind the scenes.”

Although Kyoraku reluctantly stated such a thing, he knew that the possibility was slim, knowing Aizen’s nature. Aizen’s alliance with Tokinada and the House of Tsunayashiro would have definitely brought about a backlash from Tosen. But then there was also the fact that the Tsunayashiro family members were killed in the exact same manner as the previous Central 46.

“Anyway, we cannot afford to fight thinking that there is a limit to the opponent’s abilities. Knowing him, he might even be faking it before pulling the rug from beneath our feet at the last moment. He thrives on other people’s despair.”

“He’s the worst, isn’t he?”

“Shuhei-kun, it was I who asked you to write the article about his inauguration, it was I who dragged you into this mess. If we do get out of this alive, I’ll lower my head as many times as necessary.”

Kyoraku’s tone was light , but Hisagi could see the depth of his wounds and tension. Perhaps Kyoraku was trying to behave as normally as possible to set Nanao’s mind at ease, but it wasn’t working. Noticing Nanao’s uneasiness, Hisagi immediately responded to Kyoraku’s anxiety.

“I’ll do it, Captain Commander. I will kill him.”

“But... Lieutenant Hisagi...”

Nanao looked worried.

“I know that, given my ability, you have every reason to have doubts. But perhaps I could do something to wrench that zanpakuto off him.”

Kyoraku stared at Hisagi’s eyes.

-It’s obvious you’re really frightened; even though you’re being so adamant and resolute.

Looking at Hisagi, who was willing to head out into a death battle with fear in his heart, Kyoraku let out a sigh and asked him a question.

“During your time at the Shino Reijutsuin, was ‘battle training in the dark’ still taught as a compulsory subject?”

--------------

“Do you hear me, Kyoraku? How about you come out now?”

Tokinada, smiling, was scrutinizing the innumerable shadows around him, created by the flames.

“I don’t mind if you decide to shut yourself within the shadows until everything is over, but your army has gone out of breath.”

Tokinada then turned to Yoruichi.

“Shihoin Princess, I’ve thought of something great. How about I finish you off with ‘Suzumebachi’? The zanpakuto belonging to the girl who loves you so. I’ve already placed the Homonka upon your body. But I won’t use ‘Nigekikessatsu’ right now.”

Yoruichi stood up with fearless laughter, but her wounds were not shallow at all.

“Talk about bad taste. Showing me mercy?”

“I’ll do it right in front of her. I can’t wait to see the kind of face she’ll make. Hahaha!”

“The world is full of irony. My final epitaph will be composed in front of the very person who wanted to kill me with this very power in the first place. Things sure came full circle.”

“Is it really the world’s that full of irony? Or is it because of the man known as Urahara Kisuke?”

Tokinada suddenly sensed reiatsu springing up from the shadow behind him. Standing behind him were Kyoraku, Nanao; and-

Hisagi holding Kazeshini, with both his eyes closed.

When Tokinada saw the three of them, he burst out laughing.

“Hey, don’t make me laugh so much, Kyoraku! Don’t tell me you dragged him into the shadows just for this.”

Looking at Hisagi who stood in front with his eyes shut, it was easy enough to understand what their intention was. He was not under the spell of Kyoka Suigetsu’s ‘complete hypnosis’, so they wanted him to avoid seeing the Shikai release.

“That’s not it. It’s not that simple.”

Tokinada narrowed his eyes a little.

-You want to substitute him for a detector?

Hisagi was a Shinigami who was proficient in long-range combat. As he attacked, he would convey the location of reiatsu to Kyoraku using his voice and attack direction. This would help to confirm the identity of an ally or Tokinada himself.

-Naive of you, Kyoraku.

-I can overwrite his voice, figure and the trajectory of attack with ‘complete hypnosis’.

But in order to reproduce perfectly, it was necessary for Tokinada to closely pay attention to Hisagi’s voice and method of combat. If there was even the slightest incongruity, Kyoraku would recognize it and respond accordingly

-I cannot be careless but I won’t kill him right away either.

When he had had the absolute upper-hand at ‘complete hypnosis’, he had not been on high alert. It might seem like a contradiction , but Tokinada was actually keenly interested in making the enemies slay each other without having to do much himself.

“Your last ray of hope.. I will extinguish it soon.”

With his own field of vision closed, Tokinada’s voice clearly echoed in Hisagi’s ears. He roughly gauged Tokinada’s location from his voice. Hisagi’s reikaku was in agreement with his auditory senses. Sharpening his reikaku, he gradually began to get used to the dark.

At the Shino Reijutsuin, he had learned how to fight in the dead of the night when not even a sliver of the moon shone. It was possible to create light using Kido, but the basic idea was to fight spiritual entities like Hollows by refining the reikaku as much as possible. Of course, it was not possible to determine the precise trajectory of an attack in comparison to fighting with the field of view intact. The theory was to maintain a certain distance from the opponent.

But the opponent facing Hisagi was no lower ranking Hollow, but a Captain-class Shinigami with a most lethal zanpakuto.

He could sense Senbonzakura’s power. Fighting such an ability with eyes closed was indeed terrifying, but Hisagi remained calm.

-Captain Tosen always fought like this..

-No, not quite. I can still feel the light through my shut eyelids. Captain Tosen was completely blind.

Tosen, who had a good sense of hearing and spiritual perception right from childhood, once told him,

“I could feel what my friend saw in the night sky. There were clouds in the sky.”

Tosen perceived and sensed more than a normal person. Hisagi thought that perhaps he would be able to perceive the movements of the clouds in the sky without looking at them. Naturally, he could not. He had none of Tosen’s senses. Hisagi used to believe that there was nothing more frightening than what Tosen used to experience; absolute darkness.

But then he remembered Tosen’s words when he had been stabbed.

-I am afraid.

-I’ve had the same fear for over a hundred years.

-The fear of assimilating and dying as a Shinigami.

That was Tosen’s reply to Hisagi’s question-

-What is it that you fear now, Captain? Where is the fear that guided you?

Hisagi also recalled Tosen’s conversation with Komamura; words that he was able to take in even through his vague and flickering consciousness as he was kicked from a rooftop.

-If someone were to join an organization for the sake of revenge, then lose sight of his true purpose and become complacent in his peaceful new life, wouldn’t you call that depravity?

-What is justice?

-To forgive the one who killed my beloved friend?

-That would certainly be virtuous. Beautiful, even. Sickeningly so.

-But does that make it just?

-No. To live out my life in peace, while the dead goes unavenged..

-This is ‘evil’.

That may have been the very first real tears that the man named Tosen Kaname had ever displayed.

Such bottomless fury, despair and fear in that voice.

Hisagi was able to find the strength to stand up again without losing consciousness precisely because he had heard that voice.

Tosen had continued to live for a long time, harbouring his anger and fear. He never once forgot it, nor did he try to cast it aside. He continued to walk with all that pain and suffering. It must have seemed like hell to him.

Why did he have to suffer so much?

The answer to Hisagi’s question was right in front of him. The man who drove Tosen down the path of destruction, the source of Tosen’s rage. The man who found amusement in terror.

Eyes still closed, Hisagi turned towards the direction from which he felt Tokinada’s reiatsu and opened his mouth.

“Tell me one thing.”

“What? More questions? A commoner interrogating me? What has the world come to... Well, spill it...”

Tokinada asked, sounding uninterested. Hiding his anger and fear, Hisagi asked him,

“You were watching it too, weren’t you? When Captain Komamura and I fought against Captain Tosen?”

“It was a real pain, I’ll have you know, to try and hack into the Technology Department’s surveillance equipment.”

Tokinada’s tone was indifferent. Hisagi was finding it more and more difficult to suppress his anger.

“You must have seen it! You must have seen Captain Tosen’s death!”

Hisagi took a step towards Tokinada, emotions swelling up within his heart, his voice breaking down,

“Y-you must have heard Captain Tosen’s cries!”

Tokinada nodded.

“I saw all of it. You ripping open his head and throat and then Aizen pulverizing him. It’s frustrating that I didn’t have front-row seats.”

Tokinada smiled, the very personification of evil. He narrowed his eyes and added,

“I’ve seen him cry in a better voice a long time ago.. Oh yes.”

It was then that Hisagi completely snapped. The dam inside him broke; anger came flooding out, surpassing all other emotion. Keeping his eyes shut tight, so as to tether Tosen’s teachings close to him, he threw one of Kazeshini’s blades towards Tokinada; his mind no longer listening to reason.

Avoiding the attack, Tokinada cried out,

“His cry resonated with my heart! His tears were so exciting, hilarious, glorious as well as pitiful! Who would have thought that the seeds of entertainment that I planted so long ago would turn out this way. The blade pointed towards me is overflowing with it. I must thank you, young warrior, for getting rid of a rebel!”

“One more word out of your mouth, and I swear I’ll...”

“To put it in another way.. I knew that he always had it in for me. What I didn’t know was that he had been working with Aizen. When Urahara Kisuke was sentenced, I was convinced that one of the real culprits was Tosen. But I didn’t bother telling the Central 46 because it was way too much trouble.”

Upon hearing this, Hirako and Muguruma stared at Tokinada in shock. But ‘Senbonzakura’ and ‘Shinso’ had rendered the two of them immobile, they could barely even stand. But they were afraid to attack for fear of hurting the wrong person. Ignoring them, Tokinada addressed Hisagi,

“I want you to be grateful for what I did. Without him, the 9th Division would have been ruined.”

Hisagi didn’t know what to say. He had certainly been saved by Tosen; but by a Tosen who bore revenge in his heart. Refusing to be side-tracked by Tokinada’s ridiculous logic, Hisagi asked him another question, still seething with rage;

“So why have you raised Hikone this way?”

“Is there a problem?”

“He is innocent. He only knows the narrow world that you presented to him. What if he hits a wall someday? How is he supposed to overcome it other than my running away from it? What a warped way of raising someone. Captain Tosen never did the same to me.”

“Instead of using the values of others, why don’t you tell me what you think in your own words?”

Focusing his reikaku, Hisagi once again confirmed Tokinada’s position, as he rotated one of the blades of Kazeshini using the chain, his eyes shut.

“Oh, I’ll tell you what I think. I think you’re a coward. You are teaching whatever is convenient for you to a child who doesn’t know anything; raising him within a confined world; a world that suits your desires.”

Tokinada widened his eyes and let out a cackle of laughter.

“Not teaching him anything was cowardly? Is that what you’re saying? You, a Shinigami?”

Hisagi told him irritably,

“You’re a Shinigami too.. What the hell are you suggesting?”

“So it’s true that the editor-in-chief of the Seireitei Communications doesn’t know the secret. I see, I see! It’s arrogant of you to believe that knowing about the full length and breadth of this world makes you just!”

Tokinada jumped up on a half-destroyed roof and spoke in a clear voice so that everyone could hear.

“Everyone keeps on existing without even knowing that we all are living on the sins of a single person.”

Tokinada was not loud; in fact, his voice had been rather gentle; but his voice echoed as though it was sweeping across the ears of those who were in the courtyard.

From behind Hisagi, who was rather confused himself, Kyoraku’s voice was heard.

“So now you want to talk about an old wives’ tale that has no basis in history?”

“Believe it or not, but that story has been in the Tsunayashiro archives for ages. You are a sharp man, Kyoraku. Surely you have some inkling of the sins the foundations of the Soul Society are built on?”

“Oh, don’t mind me...”

Hisagi had thrown the chains of Kazeshini straight towards Tokinada the instant he had heard Kyoraku voice the last sentence. Following the chain’s trajectory, Kyoraku used Shunpo and closed the distance between himself and Tokinada in an instant.

“Ah, so that’s what you were aiming for!”

Tokinada laughed. Just then, something completely unexpected attacked Kyoraku.

“What is this...?”

A collection of patterns were floating in the air. They formed a number of tentacles and made a beeline for Kyoraku, But they were blocked by a powerful Kido barrier created by Nanao. The tentacles scattered but reformed themselves. They were brandished like a whip. Kyoraku muttered,

“A zanpakuto? No..Is this.. Fullbring?”

Then; as if to answer Kyoraku’s question, another figure appeared beside Tokinada.

“To instantly realize that this is Fullbring... You must be the Captain Commander of the Gotei, am I right?”

“Is that the voice of Michibane Aura?”

Kyoraku leapt back to Hisagi’s side who had kept his eyes closed and had recognized that voice. Kyoraku sighed,

“That was close!”

Aura bowed to Kyoraku.

“I’m sorry to have gotten in your way.”

She looked at Hisagi and continued,

“However, I would like you to listen to Tokinada-sama’s story till the end. Please forgive me.”

“And what do you mean, Miss?”

Kyoraku asked lightly, trying to look for an opening. Aura smiled a little.

“Someone in Hisagi-san’s profession should make it their duty to inform the world about the truth. He is the correct person to talk to, about the circumstances surrounding Tokinada-sama’s world.”

“Me?”

-What is Aura’s purpose?

-Is she trying to mislead us by asking us to hear Tokinada’s story till the end?

-What kind of ploy is this?

Hisagi swung Kazeshini once more towards Tokinada’s reiatsu, his eyes closed. However, the blade of ‘Shinso’, whose speed exceeded his perception, pierced through Hisagi’s shoulder. Sharp pain shot through his body. His reikaku began to waver, as fear began to creep through the darkness.

“Has it ever occurred to you, Hisagi Shuhei?”

As if to enhance Hisagi’s fear, Tokinada continued,

“That Tosen Kaname; rather, Aizen Sosuke might have been right?”

“What’re you implying?”

“While revenge was certainly a factor, have you never really questioned why Tosen Kaname, who used to be so virtuous, ended up betraying Soul Society itself? Or why Aizen Sosuke hated the existence of the Rei-o?”

Tokinada grasped the handle of Kazeshini and yanked Hisagi along with it. Dragging Hisagi’s body with surprisingly strong hands, Tokinada continued, a hideous smile on his face.

“No, perhaps I should say it like this. Why did Urahara Kisuke create the Hogyoku? Have you ever thought of that?”

He tossed Hisagi aside and spun enigmatic words about the ‘Original Sin’ which lay at the root of the Soul Society.

“...The Hogyoku removes the boundaries between the souls of a Hollow and a Shinigami... It’s meant to exceed the growth limit of spiritual entities...”

Hisagi replied, getting up.

“But for what purpose? Back then, no one was even aware of Aizen’s rebellion. So why was more power necessary for Yamamoto Genryusai Shigekuni? There were no enemies to win against.”

“...The Quincies...”

“Was it really not possible to survive without the Hogyoku? But of course, if the Hogyoku was used, it would have clinched things.”

Hisagi’s mind switched to Urahara and Aura’s conversation.

-It was a lie, wasn’t it? If you had given the Hogyoku to Kurosaki Ichigo, the world would have become more rock-solid. But that was not the result you desired, was it?

-I’m sorry, you got me there. If I had handed it to Kurosaki-san, something different might have been made of the Hogyoku..

At the time, the conversation had not made sense to Hisagi, but now that Hikone’s reiatsu so closely resembled Kurosaki Ichigo’s, a lot of entangled elements fell into their right place within Hisagi’s mind. Coupled with the idea that Hikone was to be turned into the Rei-o using a Hogyoku, Hisagi reached a single inference.

Tokinada went on speaking,

“Then, there’s the Right Arm of the Rei-o that lived inside Ukitake’s body. Don’t you find it strange?”

“...”

“Why do you think that the Rei-o lost his Right Arm? When it fell to the ground, why did the Zero Division not collect it?”

-Mimihagi-sama, the Right Arm of the Rei-o, whom Captain Ukitake had accepted into his body when he was young.

-Pernida Parnkgjas, a Quincy, was the Left Arm of the Rei-o.

-If the Right Arm governed ‘stagnation’ and the Left Arm governed ‘progress’, then why did the Rei-o lose both?

-That means the Rei-o is neither ‘stagnant’, nor is he ‘advancing’. That means he is in between the ‘static’ and the ‘dynamic’.

Hisagi’s mind now turned to the fragment of a speech Aizen had uttered when he had defected from the Soul Society.

Aizen had directed that cryptic statement towards Ukitake.

Thinking about it now, Hisagi realized that the sentence had taken on an entirely different meaning.

-From the very beginning, no one has ever stood at the top.

-Not you, not me, nor the gods.

Why did Aizen bother to use ‘not you’ when addressing Captain Ukitake in particular? As though Captain Ukitake was somehow qualified to stand in the heavens?

Aizen must have known that a part of the Rei-o resided within Captain Ukitake.

When Hisagi recalled Aizen mentioning the two of them as ‘not standing in the heavens’, he initially thought that they were not ‘gods’ in the true sense.

But Hisagi’s brain immediately called forth the next phrase spoken by Aizen; ‘the unbearable vacancy in the throne in the sky’. So then-

“Was the Rei-o already dead from the beginning?”

As Hisagi murmured those words, eyes still shut; Kyoraku’s gaze was fixed upon him. Not a word left his lips. Yoruichi was silent too. After a momentary pause, Tokinada shook his head with a bitter smile.

“You’re not wrong. But you’re not right either. I’m so sorry. The thing known as the Rei-o is certainly not alive, but he isn’t dead either.”

“What does that mean?”

Although puzzled, Hisagi did not stop attacking with his eyes closed. With his left arm, he threw Kazeshini, which was dodged by Tokinada. Instantaneously, he threw the other blade of Kazeshini with his right hand which approached Tokinada from the opposite side. Tokinada blocked it with ‘Gegetsuburi’ and answered Hisagi’s question.

“The Rei-o is a sacrificial lamb.”

“What?”

“The world did not always have its current form. Without a boundary separating life and death; within this chaotic world.... at first, there stood the original guardian; between Hollow and Man. Quincy, Shinigami, Fullbringer... An existence who could be called the progenitor of all three..”

Laughing heartily, Tokinada went on,

“It was a Quincy as well as a Shinigami; also a human. A symbol of hope governing the chaotic world with innumerable abilities like that of Fullbringers.”

Distorting his face with a smile full of pleasure as he revealed the darkness of the Soul Society to Hisagi, he said,

“The three worlds were created by sacrificing a being who was both a devil and a messiah.”

“By five individuals; whom we now know as the ancestors of the Five Great Noble Houses.”

--------------

Pages 209 to 217

Reiokyu:-

"The Tsunayashiro ancestor was a man with power; however, he was more suspicious than anyone else."

Thus spoke the monk; in front of the repeatedly affixed seal. The rest of the members of the Zero Division were gathered around him; silently listening to the story.

They were not the only ones present there, in front of what was both a throne as well as an altar. There were others who had recently joined as soldiers. The previous soldiers who guarded the temple had been killed by Pernida and the other members of Yhwach's Schutzstaffel; so it had been necessary to replace them.

Atop the throne, was 'sealed' the remains of Yhwach.

The new soldiers, who were informed that this was the current Rei-o, were extremely confused. 'Looking at' the riot going on in the Kyogoku, the monk thought that perhaps this was a good opportunity for them to learn the Soul Society's secrets. After discovering that the soldiers guarding the Phoenix Palace had been violated, the monk had asked Oetsu and the others to assemble so that they could all delve into the past.

"During that age, all of creation was in a state of ambiguity. There was neither life nor death; progression and regression flickered to and fro. Swaying and swaying slowly; this waning and waxing world waited for a hundred million years to cool down. Eventually, Hollows became a part of the circulation of souls."

The monk spoke in a matter-of-fact tone; quietly reminiscing about the world that existed before the birth of Hueco Mundo and the World of the Living.

"But before long, Hollows began devouring humans. And so, the circulation ceased. All those souls came together to form a gigantic Hollow, a Menos. The world became completely still. But you know, it's a strange thing. A new life came into being. As if the world itself naturally rejected it, he destroyed it and turned it into sands of reishi; thus, circulation began once again."

"That was the Rei-o of the first era...?"

One of the new recruits involuntarily whispered; but he hurriedly closed his mouth for fear of having said something profane. But the monk nodded and told him not to worry.

"That's right. Others; with special powers, including myself; appeared, but it is fair to say that the Rei-o stood out; his powers very close to omnipotence and omniscience."

The monk paused, recalling the former Rei-o who had already disappeared from this throne.

"As the Rei-o continued to protect the world from the Hollows by annihilating them; to prevent the world from stagnating, the world itself began to slowly sink into chaos."

The monk went on, stroking his beard.

"However, there were those who did not find this state of affairs agreeable. There were five of them. Although not as much as the Rei-o; they were strong. They were the original founders of the Five Great Noble Houses, including the Shiba family."

The monk told them.

Each of them had different motives.

The Tsunayashiro ancestor was afraid that this mighty power would someday be used against them.

The ancestor of the opposing clan said that it was necessary to have a world that would serve as the lid to cover up the 'pit' that would later be known as 'Hell'.

The Kuchiki ancestor believed that a new order was necessary to solidify the world more.

The Shihoin ancestor said that it was necessary to form a larger circulation to advance the stagnant world.

And the Shiba ancestor wanted to explore the path of purification of Hollows rather than destruction; since they too had hearts.

But their widely varying motives strangely led to the same goal in the end; to split the world. A world of order, a world of implementation, also a paradise of sand where Hollows from two sides would end up in.

Perhaps another form of the world would be born, but the essential thing was the clear separation the world of the 'living' from the world of the 'dead'.

In order to turn this division into a reality, what was required was the power of a man who transcended everything.

"Although the Shiba ancestor tried to talk the Tsunayashiro ancestor out of it, it is said that the Rei-o was tied up and sealed within the crystal. The rest of Soul Society's history was witnessed directly by myself."

A man who was later named the Rei-o.

Using his powers of the Almighty as the 'keystone', the five of them created the foundation of a new world. Soul Society, the Material World and Hueco Mundo. Life and death were separated. The Soul Cycle ushered in a new era.

And then, one day, the ones who managed the Soul Society, came to be known as 'Shinigami'.

"Perhaps it was because he could see the far-flung future.... Maybe he could not escape his fear; or maybe he found some hope in the new world.... I don't really understand... But the Rei-o dared not resist it."

The monk lowered his eyes and then repeated his first words.

"But the Tsunayashiro ancestor doubted even this non-resistance. Afraid of the Rei-o escaping from his seal by himself; he neither wanted the Rei-o to live nor did he want to kill him. Continuing this helix of contradictions, the Right Arm of 'stagnation' and the Left Arm of 'Progress' were torn off."

The recruits drew in sharp breaths. The four members of the Zero Division, except for the monk, had unfathomable expressions on their faces; but they remained silent.

The monk then stated a cruel fact in a flat tone as if he was talking about the weather.

"Well; I suppose that still wasn't enough. The ancestors; including Tsunayashiro; gouged out his heart and internal organs; and dismembered both his legs. Doing so, they destroyed his power; creating a king convenient for themselves."

Upon hearing the monk's tale; Shutara Senjumaru, who had remained silent until then, opened her mouth with a smile. But that smile was heavy with traces of insurrection.

"Convenient indeed. He continues to remain the lynchpin without ever having a say in the workings of this world, while the real business is carried out by others."

The others all nodded at her words. But the monk said,

"Oh, he most certainly had a will of his own. It might have faded with the passage of time, but I think he was aware of the general situation and thus guided Kurosaki Ichigo here to the Reiokyu. This shows that he possessed his own will. I could feel it. If the bone is the Oken, then a part of his soul is entrusted to this Reiokyu."

Actually, long ago, the Right Arm and the Left Arm of the Rei-o did find their way back to the Reiokyu along with their respective 'wills'. The Right Arm had been enshrined within the Soul Society as a protector of this world, whereas the Left Arm as a Quincy under Yhwach's influence; was meant to restore this world back.

As if agreeing with the monk's words, Tenjiro Kirinji raised his voice, his toothpick going up and down.

"Bloodline will always tell. The boy from the House of Shiba was supposed to be the next Rei-o. It's interesting."

"The Shiba ancestor did rebel against the Tsunayashiro ancestor for sealing the Rei-o by force. He tried to find a way to sacrifice himself instead of the Rei-o. I had hoped that the sinless would be exempt from the other crimes."

"Ho..! That mentality certainly fits the House of Shiba."

"In a sense, it was a most foolish thing for him to do. If he had not failed to persuade; then he would have had to prepare himself to be the cornerstone of the three worlds. It's ironic, really. The Shiba bloodline was allowed to thrive only because the Tsunayashiro ancestor decided to seal the Rei-o."

Hikifune Kirio shrugged her ample shoulders, thinking about the past.

"I remember Kaien-kun. He was like that too."

"And so, the Shiba ancestor was erased from history by the House of Tsunayashiro."

The monk sighed, staring up at the ceiling.

"But when the descendant, Ichigo appeared, possessing all the qualities that made him fit to replace the Rei-o, I really thought that history was repeating itself. Perhaps the world needs someone like him."

As the monk's story drew to a close, he saw the pale, ashen faces of the newcomers. They were looking at each other nervously. But the Zero Division understood. The monk's words could also be interpreted this way:

That is; the history of the Shinigami is built on far more cruel sins than murder and that the crime is being committed even today.

{t/n: A few notable things. The story of the old world is uncannily close to the Biblical Genesis; verse 1:2. Hollows existed right from the start alongside humans. In the light of this new revelation; Tokinada's words to Shuhei becomes very clear: "At first there stood the original guardian; between Hollow and Man". This man, whose real name we don't know, continued to destroy Hollows to protect humans; but just like the Quincies, he completely obliterated them. The world naturally rejects stagnation. The Hollows are a force of nature existing to oppose the natural order. Also, in this context, Urahara's words about the Hollow factor not being necessary becomes clear. The lynchpin was created by just sealing the Rei-o. His mutilation came after that. The mutilation didn't create the lynchpin. The Rei-o didn't resist the sealing. Also, Hell is not a separate realm because it came into being as the world blended into chaos. That's why Hell is never mentioned as one of the new worlds that were created. And lastly, heavy implication that Ichigo would have willingly allowed himself to be used as the Rei-o. What Aizen hates is the mutilation by the Shinigami ancestors, not the Rei-o himself.}

Pages 217 to 235

Kyogoku:-

"If Yhwach was the originator of the race known as the Quincy, then the Rei-o can be called the source of the very power of the Quincy. Whether the Rei-o had left behind an actual child before he was sealed or whether the 'power' that was stripped off the Rei-o had manifested in the form of a person, I couldn't really say."

Tokinada had finished talking about the Soul Society's past at around the same time the monk did. He enjoyed watching Hisagi letting go of Kazeshini and losing his balance as he chose that moment to aim the flames of Ryujin Jakka to burn Hisagi's body. If Hisagi had not retreated the instant he had sensed the hot air, his body would have been burnt into charcoal. Tokinada wanted to see despair on Hisagi's face, the one opponent who had not yet fallen under the spell of complete hypnosis. Just for that reason, he exposed the past archived by the House of Tsunayashiro.

"Don't you find it hilarious? The Rei-o you all so desperately tried to protect.. the saviour of mankind.. was entrapped by the very ancestors of us Shinigami. Yhwach was trying to save his father from an isolation spanning over a million years; his father who was not even allowed the privilege of either life or death!"

Selecting his words with care, Tokinada continued to brandish his shapeless zanpakuto. Liltotto shot an arrow towards him but it deviated from Tokinada's direction. A cero followed suit, but was met with the same result. Kyoka Suigetsu's ability allowed them to aim for clumps of soil resembling humanoid forms created by Tsuchinamazu. Also, Hisagi, who could accurately judge Tokinada's position, had gradually slowed down. Thus, Tokinada did not need to avoid his attacks as much as before.

"Restoring the world to its former shape or killing his own father and liberating him; which was the better solution, I wonder. Anyway, Yhwach had absorbed the Rei-o and he is currently acting as a substitute for the Rei-o. Such irony! Wouldn't you agree, eh, Kyoraku?"

Kyoraku, who was seriously injured, smiled a little at Tokinada's words, breathing out with difficulty.

"Well... what can I say... I'm in a bit of an unpleasant position to judge whether or not your story is true... In fact, it has nothing to do with this situation."

"Am I supposed to believe that a man in your shoes does not know this when people like Aizen Sosuke and Urahara Kisuke have been gathering information for over a century?"

"You don't have to believe it. The only fact that's certain here is that Soul Society and the World of the Living will both be thrown into chaos if you don't stop. Even Hueco Mundo will be affected."

"What's certain is that you will all die here."

Tokinada laughed cheerfully as he continued to provoke everyone.

"That's right! You Shinigami have no sense of justice! Naturally, I, too, conduct myself in accordance with the legacy left behind by my bastardly ancestors as befitting their descendant. Don't assume that there ever was justice in this world. That was something only Tosen Kaname believed in."

Tokinada now wielded the huge blade of 'Tengen', producing a large amount of ice, using the ability of 'Hyorinmaru'. He shot a barrage of icicles towards them. Each gleam of the icicles was mistaken for a different attack and therefore it became incredibly difficult to avoid. In order to protect Kyoraku, Nanao set up a number of Kido barriers. But creating multiple barriers simultaneously was far more exhausting than usual Kido and so Nanao's reiatsu was wearing out.

"I'm fine, Nanao-chan. Concentrate on protecting yourself instead."

Nanao responded to Kyoraku's words by tightening her expression.

"It's only natural to prioritize the Captain Commander's safety."

"Now is not the time for social service. Aren't we battling against personal grudges?"

"Then there is all the more reason to."

At Nanao's words, Kyoraku gripped his zanpakuto with a complex expression.

"...But there really seems to be nothing... There ought to have been restrictions of some kind..."

Making sure that none of Nanao's barriers were wasted, Kyoraku sharpened his senses, meticulously observing the flow of reishi. Then, he felt a slight incongruity in Tokinada's reiatsu.

"Don't tell me..."

Kyoraku's reikaku picked up on the fact that Tokinada's reiatsu itself was changing. Rather than a transformation, it seemed to be more of a gradual degradation and declination.

"Could it be that Tokinada is shaving off his own life?"

"Ho? So you realized it within such a short period of time, eh? Hahahahaha!"

Tokinada did not hide it; he spoke about it indifferently, as if to claim that such a weakness was negligible.

"This is exactly why the former Head of the family did not want to possess this zanpakuto. The soul lost by the owner never returns. As long as I continue to wield it, my soul will keep on wearing out, similar to the curse of the Ise sword, Hakkyoken."

Kyoraku glanced at Nanao. Stepping protectively in front of her, he moved towards Tokinada and asked him,

"I don't understand. You are willing to bet on your life just for your own pleasure?"

"What's the point in living if I don't gamble on my life for my own pleasure? My wife also died of self-sacrifice; but when stacked up against the world, it seems like a trifling difference. The difference lies merely in the finer points of view, as to whether it is good or not. Just that."

For generations, the Head of the House of Tsunayashiro has been entrusted with 'history' and this 'treasured sword'. However, as soon as they learn the characteristics of this treasured sword, they are reluctant to touch it as they are afraid of death. If mastered, the owner can boast of unrivalled strength that can overwhelm Shinigami, Hollow and Quincy. But nobody willingly wants to cut away their own lives. Because of that, the sword continued to remain sealed in the mansion's secret warehouse, whose location was known only to the Head. That is, until an exception named Tokinada appeared. He was very different from Kenpachi who found pleasure in cutting down lives in battle. This man was an anomalous case, who was willing to cut down his own lifespan just to scorn those who had lived for hundreds of years. And that is why Tokinada did not hesitate to use this accursed sword, Enrakyoten. Thus, this man stood facing Kyoraku, bold, tough and unbroken.

While the others engaged in battle defending themselves, one man gradually regained his composure. Despite the mention of the name 'Tosen Kaname' incurring his wrath, he calmly began to read the reiatsu of Tokinada's attacks and started to evade each one of them by a hair's breadth. Noticing the calmness and accuracy behind his movements, Tokinada addressed this lone challenger, Hisagi Shuhei, who still had his eyes shut tight.

"You seem to be awfully quiet, Hisagi Shuhei. Forgot how to speak after learning about the 'real truth'?"

"....."

Hisagi made no reply to Tokinada's question.

"You're no fun at all. Has your brain not processed all of the reality yet?"

Even so, Hisagi still remained silent and calm as he listened to Tokinada's words. Had he been hearing the current story in his normal state, he would have probably said something like 'shut your mouth'. He might have even roared out, enraged.

"I would have thought you'd be more disturbed. In fact, I expected you to scream out like Tosen Kaname."

But the darkness behind his closed eyes and the fear associated with it, calmed down Hisagi's heart; on the contrary. It was because his current state of blocking visibility by himself and the significance of the existence of the Shinigami as recited by Tokinada, reminded him of the past.

Soul Society; bygone days:-

There was nothing but darkness.

No light, no sound, no smell, no fluctuation of reiatsu, no life; only darkness and silence stretched out infinitely.

He realized that despite him being able to swallow, no sound could escape his throat. He was trembling, his teeth occasionally chattering; but no sound came out; just the tactile sensation was felt.

For Hisagi Shuhei, the entire world was now reduced to just the feel of his zanpakuto clutched tightly in his hand. Hisagi wondered whether the soles of his feet were touching that infamous rumoured location known as the 'Muken'.

Sinners trapped within such a place would surely lose their minds if they remained here for more than a day; they would be crushed by fear, losing their sense of self. Hisagi thought to himself, for how long would this unknown hell of nothingness continue?

He felt like he could hear something from behind. There was nothing there, just silence, but that feeling remained. Hisagi could not shake off the sensation that something was definitely there. A monster. A monster more terrifying than a Hollow was opening its huge mouth right behind him; as the death of a comrade replayed in his head.

The next instant, the face of the corpse was replaced with his own-

Hisagi, shaking, tried to take a wild swing of his sword behind his back. But he was paralyzed.

Thinking that the monster still lurked in the dark, Hisagi broke down; screaming out in terror.

But the darkness was lifted abruptly. His senses returned all at once.

And Hisagi remembered.

It was noon here in the Soul Society; and he himself was in a forest in the Rukongai. There was no one else around, except his superior officer, who stood right in front of him. He recalled that it had been the blade of his Captain. He lowered his zanpakuto.

".....Captain Tosen.."

Hisagi was perspiring profusely; his heart thumping loudly in his chest. It look a little time to get used to the light, the sound, the smell. Mostly, he was overwhelmed by the feeling that he was still alive.

"I decided that it was too dangerous for you. First of all, you should adjust your breathing."

"Forgive me. That was a most unsightly behaviour on my part."

Taking a deep breath, Hisagi lowered his head to Tosen. But Tosen quietly shook his head.

"You don't have to apologize. There is nothing to be ashamed of. When one is suddenly deprived of all their senses, it is only natural to know fear. Even for someone like me who never saw the light of day from birth... if I was robbed of my sense of sound, I would not have been able to move."

"How long was I in the dark?"

"It's been half an hour."

When Hisagi heard that, he immediately regretted his naivete, because he thought that more time had passed. He looked up; the black ellipsoid created in the forest collapsed and converged at the blade held in Tosen's hand.

"So that was your Bankai, Captain..."

"Suzumushi Tsuishiki: Enma Korogi... That is the name of my Bankai."

Hisagi, who had just been appointed as the Lieutenant, was the very first person to see Tosen's Bankai. Usually, a Bankai is not something that is easily revealed to others. It is considered prudent to not flaunt it no matter how powerful it is, except in battle. Tosen decided on showing his Bankai to Hisagi because he wanted to teach the 'essence of fear' to Hisagi.

While he felt bad that the Bankai had to be shown only for that reason, Hisagi clung to the expectation than perhaps the Captain trusted him enough to reveal it to him. But Tosen's next words made him feel ashamed.

"There is certainly fear within you. But I still cannot sense that fear emanating from your sword and your words."

"...."

Hisagi hung his head at Tosen's clear statement. He understood how immature he had been. He had blindly swung his sword because he had been afraid of the dark. All he tried to do was extinguish fear by force; to shake off fear. It was a far cry from Tosen's method of fighting whilst allowing fear to dwell within himself.

To Hisagi, who had remained silent, Tosen spoke slowly,

"Fear takes on various forms.."

Tosen sheathed his zanpakuto and turned his head towards the sky. It was as if he was counting the number of clouds floating in the sky with his unseeing eyes.

"Being afraid of that black world you witnessed for yourself is universal. When one is born, they are acquainted with neither light nor sound. When you are faced with a world that is completely unknown to you, you fear it. If there is someone who is not afraid of something like that, then they are neither human, nor Shinigami, nor Hollow. Someone like that can only be called a 'demon'."

{t/n: in the manga, Tosen had called Kenpachi a demon because he was fearless}

"A demon?"

"Those who do not know fear, will eventually turn into demons in due course. The same goes for you and me. The more we try to cast away fear, the more our hearts will approach such a change. Don't forget that."

"I don't think that you will ever become like that, Captain Tosen."

To Hisagi, Tosen was an exemplary warrior and a Shinigami. Even if he did abandon fear, it would mean that he had overcome it. Hisagi, who was still not mature enough, believed that such a change would never lead Tosen down the path of nagativity.

"I have never known what light is. And the colours that are spread across the world."

Tosen spoke to Hisagi, as if he was warning both him and his own self.

"If there ever comes a time when I get to know about them and I forget my fear as I begin to see only hope and happiness in the repainted world, then, at that time, I will no longer remain a warrior."

{t/n: The last sentence spoken by Tosen was exactly what happened to him in the future. After Hisagi and Komamura comforted Tosen after his defeat, he began crying and wanted Hisagi to lean in closer so that he could remember his face forever. Tosen did see hope and happiness. And immediately after that, Aizen vapourized him because then that would mean that Tosen would face an existential crisis. I was watching that episode a few days ago; the anime nailed that scene with the OST. Made me all teary}

"Captain...?"

Tosen turned his blind eyes straight towards Hisagi, as if he could see through his soul.

"As you walk down your path; with your pride as Shinigami; as you protect the world itself; you must keep embracing fear."

"There will come a time when you will not know the way yet; when you will not understand what pride is yet, when you will be faced with a world you know nothing about yet; then, you will find yourself in a place where you will not always be safe."

Kyogoku; present time:-

Tosen Kaname had declared that the world of the Shinigami was vile. Hisagi had not been completely convinced back then. He had often asked himself,

-Why did Captain Tosen hate the Shinigami to that extent?

-Rather than hating the individual named Tsunayashiro Tokinada, he seemed to hate the very existence of the 'Shinigami'.

Finally understanding that the answer to that question lay in the 'sin' spoken about by Tokinada, Hisagi murmured to himself,

"I did not fear anything... I did not realize anything..."

"...? What are you talking about?"

Tokinada asked curiously, as Hisagi finally managed to get words out. Rather than answering Tokinada's question, Hisagi continued to speak in a low voice, angrily chiding himself,

"....And there I was, thinking I was always righteous..."

Tosen's voice rang out within his mind, the same words he had spoken as Aizen's subordinate, when Hisagi had challenged him to battle.

-"You haven't changed a bit."

-"Even now, your words don't have a shred of fear in them."

Hisagi had recalled these exact words when he had spoken to Tessai in Karakura Town. However, now it took on a whole new meaning and hit Hisagi's heart painfully.

-I was so wrong. My sense of justice and righteousness about the world I stand in were wrong.

-I never even considered that I could have been so wrong. I always used to believe that Captain Tosen was being manipulated by Aizen.

He who does not fear his own blade has no right to hold it at all.

Captain Tosen always said so.

That 'blade' did not merely refer to the zanpakuto. It was a metaphor for 'justice' and Tosen was the blade itself.

The words Tokinada told him were probably true. There was no point in lying in this situation. Besides, his story was consistent with Aizen's own words. And above all, it supported Tosen's declaration that Soul Society was evil.

The existence of a single Shinigami like Tokinada did not make Soul Society itself evil. What made Soul Society evil was that its history was a betrayal of the wish of Tosen's beloved friend, a wish she did not live long enough to see granted.

It would not have necessarily been an exaggeration to say that Tosen was an enemy of the 'justice' of the Soul Society; the very thing that continued to give false hope that it was possible to sweep away the clouds that covered the world.

-To think that I used to believe in the 'justice of the Shinigami'....

-To think that I did not fear the 'justice of the Shinigami'....

-But Captain Tosen had always lived with than fear.

"If I truly feared battle.... then why... did I.... tell you such a thing, Captain Tosen? I had actually thrown out the phrase 'to open your eyes' towards you in my ignorance, Captain! What a joke!"

Upon hearing Hisagi's mortifying tone of repentance, Tokinada was finally released from his boredom. His expression was dyed with utter joy.

"...Ah! I see. Do you regret it? You didn't even know Tosen's true feelings when you stabbed him, believing yourself to be a champion of justice! What do you feel like doing now? Do you want to turn back time? To go back in time to stop Tosen's tears from falling and preventing his death? Or to go back and be reunited with Tosen by allying yourself with Aizen?"

Slowly mulling over Tokinada's words, Hisagi spoke as if he was trying to brush off insects crawling over his body. Tokinada's words sounded almost wishfully appealing to Hisagi.

".....Even so... I'm not going to say that Captain Tosen was right.... Even if what you say is correct... I still would have stood up to Captain Tosen..."

"Oh? If so, then shall I recreate it for you?"

Tokinada drew out a new power from Enrakyoten.

"But tell me this... What would you have done then? You know better than anyone else that the justice held by Tosen was not really flimsy like the pages of a textbook, don't you? It was pure, absolute."

Hisagi was about to be hit by hundreds of needle-like blades.

'Suzumushi Nishiki: Benihiko'.

Tokinada used this technique without hesitation solely to provoke Hisagi. Although used by Tosen, this formerly belonged to Kakyo, Tokinada's wife.

But then-

The black chain that connected the two swords of Kazeshini accurately countered each of the numerous blades.

"What.....?"

Looking at Hisagi's flawlessly swift manoeuvre of the chain, a movement so fast that it was nearly impossible to see; the smile was wiped off Tokinada's face to be replaced by one of pure shock.

{t/n: Sorry for barging in while you're all reading, but that technique with Kazeshini reminded me of what Ichigo did to Senbonzakura's petals! And here, Shuhei's eyes were closed! What a badass! Excuse the term XD}

With a distinct hostility that no one had ever seen before in Hisagi's disposition, he spoke with chilling ferocity,

"I don't think I gave you permission to talk about justice."

Was Hisagi chiding himself or Tokinada?

Accepting the fact that he needed to walk hand-in-hand with fear, Hisagi challenged Tokinada by gambling on his own fate.

"You're not even afraid of dying, are you, bastard...? But you'll be sorry you ever messed with Captain Tosen."

{t/n: this section makes every one of Tosen's actions clear. He shed tears before hurting Uryuu because he was a Quincy, a race born to oppose the evil of the Shinigami. But he had to stop Uryuu because Uryuu was the first one to reach Rukia's cell. Tosen hated Kenpachi and Grimmjow because of their mindless violence. Mindless violence was exactly what the five ancestors did to the Rei-o. I love how the sides of right and wrong are getting flipped in this novel. And Shuhei's characterization is absolutely fantastic. And Tosen's too}

Pages 236 to 243

Chapter 5

"Hahahaha! I see, I see! The sharpness of your slashes has increased remarkably! How interesting!"

Not just the speed.

Tokinada smirked as the attacks of Kazeshini continued, the accuracy of the throws increasing dramatically. The angle, power and movement of the chains also grew in precision, corresponding to the blades, responding well with their timing, flow and shape.

However, the speed of Kazeshini continued to rise further.

Tokinada found himself being captured within the narrow area of a single tatami mat. Taking a step forward would narrow down the slashing area more. The rotating scythe was manipulated in such a way by the chain, so that Tokinada's body could be confined without being bound. It seemed like Tokinada was completely entrapped by the two blades.

Tokinada tried to double their weights by using 'Wabisuke', in order to halt their movements.

But Kazeshini, like a living creature with will, avoided contact with Wabisuke as soon as it was manifested.

-Did you actually see it?

To confirm his suspicions, Tokinada created a wall of flame, using Ryujin Jakka, between himself and Hisagi and attemped another test slash with Wabisuke.

But the result was the same as before.

Looking at the blades of Kazeshini which broke through the wall of flame, Tokinada realized-

Hisagi could practically perceive everything with just his reikaku alone.

At the same time, he came to the conclusion that his own reiatsu was far below Yamamoto Shigekuni's.

-My reiatsu is not enough to melt his zanpakuto. Even if I use all of my reiatsu, the heat won't rise to that extent.

If it had been the original 'Ryujin Jakka' wielded by Genryusai, then he would not have had to rely on 'complete hypnosis', its heat would have been enough to end all of this swiftly.

-It doesn't matter; I'd have to get rid of them sooner or later anyway...

If too much reiatsu is expended on Ryujin Jakka, thought Tokinada, then the effect of 'complete hypnosis' would have to be reduced. But that may cause trouble.

Tokinada began to ponder on what to do.

Should I slay all of them as it is, or should I let Kyoraku fall into despair by killing around eighty percent of his allies first?

It would be good if I could get the job done here. One can't be too careful.

If Hikone is at a disadvantage with regard to Kenpachi, then there is always Aura on whom physical attacks have no effect.

There is only one thing to do here.

And so, Tokinada chose the option involving the swift annihilation of all present here, even if it meant the abandonment of his distorted pleasures and desires.

Now was not the time for carelessness.

As Hisagi's attacks became more and more intense, the Quincies and Arrancars around him began to follow his lead and started attacking with renewed energy. Tokinada dodged them by using the abilities of various suitable zanpakuto. Some of the attacks were even bounced back.

-I see.

-He should have been at the level of a Lieutenant. So why... why...

He realized that Hisagi's manoeuvre of Kazeshini was much different and faster than what he had seen in the past via the recordings. Tokinada tried to formulate plans.

However, before he could bring out the ability of a different zanpakuto-

-....?

-He's still speeding up?

When Tokinada realized that Hisagi was not an opponent to be taken lightly, he relaxed his tautness as he imagined the pleasure of bringing the strong to his knees as he scattered 'Senbonzakura' in the air-

Everyone witnessed what happened in the next instant.

The blizzard of petals scraped Kazeshini, but every single one of them was deflected by the force of the extraordinary rotation of one of Kazeshini's scythes.

At the same time, the second scythe of Kazeshini approached Tokinada from high up through the gap and loped off the right arm that held Enrakyoten.

"Gah....!"

"Tokinada-sama....?"

Hearing his cry of pain, Aura turned towards Tokinada.

"Impossible... I never imagined that he could penetrate the wall of Senbonzakura...!"

As soon as they heard the screech and saw the disappearing sakura petals enveloping an injured Tokinada and Aura, those who were watching, seized this opportunity and moved all at once as if it was a chance of a lifetime.

"Ha! Let's destroy that zanpakuto along with his arm!"

Candice was the first to fire one of her 'Galvano Javelin' Heilig Pfeil towards Tokinada, followed by a Cero from Grimmjow.

"And that's that..."

As Tokinada fell to the ground, Ikkaku looked at him, the long spear of 'Hozukimaru' hoisted upon his shoulder.

"Well, even if it was Kyoka Suigetsu, it'll obviously be different from Aizen's."

Yumichika muttered. But they did not relax their fighting posture, neither did they lower their guard. Although Tokinada had fallen, the mysterious Fullbringer woman was still alive.

The Shinigami surrounded Aura.

Hisagi, on the other hand, was breathing in painfully. Perhaps it was because he had continued to swing Kazeshini at incredible speeds which even exceeded his own limits. He desperately tried to catch his breath and calm himself down. He felt his own reiatsu rippling through his body violently, as though every single cell within his entire body was being torn off.

"D-Did...I...do...it?"

Hisagi's shoulders slumped in relief as he sensed Tokinada's reiatsu disappear.

However, a dark shadow took shape within his heart.

-I did fall into the vortex of vengeance too, didn't I?

Hisagi wondered whether it was hatred that caused him to slash the one who had brought despair into Tosen's life, who had robbed Tosen of his future.

-There is no time to think... Aura and Hikone are still left to deal with...

- "What you bear is not hatred."

All of a sudden; words heard in the past; were repeated in his mind.

- "It is merely a sentiment left behind by the fading footprints of Tosen Kaname."

Whose words were they?

- "Remember this."

- "No matter how strong the determination one holds-"

Perhaps this was a memory that Hisagi's mind had accumulated; based on his long experience as a Shinigami.

The words heard in his head felt like a warning.

Then, a loud voice jolted him back to reality.

Muguruma's voice reached Hisagi's ears.

"Shuhei! Watch out!

That woman is right there!"

"What?"

Aura's reiatsu could not be detected by reikaku.

In a moment of panic, Hisagi's eyes snapped open, to stop his opponent's actions.

He finally remembered the last part of the sentence.

- "-it is not possible to slaughter a warrior with sentiment alone."

Yes, recalled Hisagi, those were Aizen's words.

In front of his slowly uncovering eyelids, he saw the blade shattering almost simultaneously.

"Hmm!?"

The landscape around Hisagi shattered; his open eyes now perceived the truth exposed by Kyoka Suigetsu.

Tokinada's figure, on the ground, was actually Aura's; whereas Aura's figure in front of Hisagi, was actually Tokinada's.

Tokinada had on a strange cloak.

Yoruichi gasped.

"It's the mantle that shuts off reiatsu...!"


Continued in posting #11

**********************************​


You are very welcome! :) I keep looking but so far there is no listing for the second book at Amazon.jp. I wonder how long we will have to wait.

So far it seems that my impression about the newer novels has been confirmed. It is about building a stage. We are finding out how things are after the war, what position the players are taking but this stage is not including the main actors of the play. Also this is interesting and it will help a lot when the time comes to move Bleach forward in a really meaningful way.

What Hisagi is discovering and is going on connected with it feels to me as the preparation for the continuation of the anime. I think the live action movie will already start bringing Bleach together the way it is intended to be, also reflecting lessons learned from the beginnings and the building of this series. Things will be dropped. Others will be added. And a lot of the last arc needs to be reorganized.

The novels are focusing on the here and now and nebulous past secrets without giving really meaningful answers. The main characters are supporting characters but even characters who could make a difference, like Urahara and Shunsui, are basically inactive and it feels as if they are waiting and watching. The threat hanging over the Soul Society because of THE LIE (the identity of the Soul King) is paralyzing any real progress. Yes, this is peace but this peace is just skin deep.

Frankly, I am starting to get tired of it. I really have enough about Mayuri, his crimes that are often packaged in jokes that are predictable and not funny at all. I never liked the idea of zombification from the start and I feel that we are supposed to get used to this, maybe even accept it. I never will. I can - just - accept Kira as an exception. Having Mayuri being surrounded by enslaved Arrancars and Quincies is already bad enough. No, it seems nobody cares. Because nobody can convince me that people of power don't know. And that includes Shunsui.

My interest in this second and latest novel dropped considerably during the so far newest published parts. Nevertheless, I also hope that we will be able to read more in the not too distant future.
 
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Ankoholic v2.0

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I feel you on that. Originally I was under the false hope that this series was establishing a plot point that would have to reach a resolution and be fixed down the line (in regards to both Mayuri and Giselle's zombifying individuals) but it's starting to become feel as if the light novels' narrative is not presenting that. No, it feels more like this is a status quo we're simply meant to accept... and appreciate. To offer praise and tribute to the twin necromancers. If that's the case, I have to admit the last vestiges of interest I have in this story are pretty much becoming null and void.
 

Tom2rules

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Eh, personally I'm not having that much of an issue regarding the current focus on the Zombies and Mayuri situation, if merely because of the main issue I've had with the novels so far. The fact that its going far too slow for my liking. It actually feels like we're getting new chapters of Bleach again, but at a much slower pace, which is a problem.

Complain all you want about how slow Bleach was at times, but it was still a weekly series, so we never had to wait too long to see what came next. But with the rate these new releases come out with the novel, its really making things drag. When I talked about how Bleach would make for a good monthly series, this isn't exactly what I meant.

The story is interesting, with new concepts and ideas being brought in that I WANT to see explored. But we've been on the Zombie matters for so long now (and hell, it really hasn't been THAT long, just the rate we're getting new stuff is so slow that it feels like it) that its starting to get dull.

I know once we're able to read the whole thing at once, this won't be an issue. Its like reading the manga in volume form compared to just one chapter a week. Heh, there I go talking about the manga again. It really does feel like its back somewhat, just with normal chapters and a more...sparse release window.

Personally, this is still a very interesting continuation in my eyes, we just need to get back to the intriguing stuff. While I do like all these old and new characters being shown again, especially ones we haven't seen in a while or didn't get much screentime themselves, its saying something that this is the least interesting part of the novel so far.

Not much can be done about the release schedule I'm sure, but still the zombie stuff is the least interesting part of a compelling story so far, and I'm sure plenty of us are ready to get past it. Again, makes me miss the old weekly schedule, with meh translations and all.
 
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The length is just an illusion. We are currently only at the second chapter of the second novel. Narita's illness caused productions to slow down a lot. We are currently around the half-way mark of the novel. So basically only one chapter has been spent with the zombies. Personally I like the zombies, since it allows some of the Sternritter to come back and get more screen. And this clearly will built up the restoration of the Sternritter order, as Liltotto, Bambietta and Giselle still want to invade Squad 12 and get them back. My only complaint would be that NaNaNa, Candice and Meninas aren't exactly among the all stars of the Sternritter. If it were someone like Askin or Bazz-B, I would be more interested. Hopefully that still happens. And outside of Kira, every zombies prefers being a zombie to being dead. Since it allows them a second chance at life.
 

Ankoholic v2.0

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Like I said, the narrative is on the side of the whole zombie plot point. Between the above and treating Mayuri's constant blasting of his horde as comic relief, as well seemingly being in support of abusive relationships on the other side of the ended conflict, that just seems to be the case. Though at least the latter can possibly receive comeuppance in this light novel series (though I doubt that will ever happen). We know Mayuri can't, since this still has to fit in with the endpoint that was apparently established in the final chapter.

Besides, I doubt the Soul Society would do anything about Mayuri in the end even if they weren't confined to that narrative conclusion. They seem to reward evil. All the more reason Central Forty-Six, Squad Zero and the Thirteen Court Guard Squads need to be removed from power faster than you can say 'Lelouch of the Rebellion'. But they're the de facto good guys so they win by default... even though they were apparently plotting to backstab Ichigo in a truly despicable manner. And it just makes Rukia's statement in the Fullbringer arc about Ichigo being the one to change the Soul Society all the more heartbreaking since it's nothing more than the product of a Soul Reaper's nativity.
 
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You know that Soul Society did many reforms and improvements, right? It was already said in the novels that things will change. I don't know why you are so cynic, but things have been already changed for the better. And even Mayuri became a better person. And besides, you know that Soul Society can improve things in areas that don't involve Mayuri, right? Mayuri is simply a showcase of nessecary evil. Things like this happen in real life too. How many Nazi scientist do you think did America welcome after the war, so that they can apply their knowledge into american projects?
 

Tom2rules

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The length is just an illusion. We are currently only at the second chapter of the second novel. Narita's illness caused productions to slow down a lot. We are currently around the half-way mark of the novel.
Oh, I know. Thats why I said nothing can be done about the release schedule as it is. The guy is sick, that can't be helped. Besides, thats why I made that comparison to reading the manga in a weekly format and volume format. When we have the whole thing in our hands, the slowness will be non existent.

Its just something we'll have to bear with for the time being.
 
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