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This article, Balance of Souls: Deterioration, is property of LordGalvatron, Stylx, and, Hellion.
Bleach: Equilibrium
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Part 1

"Why hello there", echoed the voice of Xiang Yu as if in greeting to the two Sternritter that had just appeared out of the Silbern's main gates.

"I didn't think we'd be getting carolers in the middle of Spring", replied Roshan rather nonchalantly. Vitor couldn't help but let out a sigh in exasperation at his superior's response.

"A multi-layered defensive line", the woman had continued unperturbed. "It might have worked, but Mamoru here is a tad indestructible, as your friend here quickly found out", her hand waved out over Anders' body lying slumped before the pair of Balancers.

"S'alright, I think we're ready now", Roshan stated, cutting out his typical need for vague analogues. His hands removed themselves from his pockets, with one of them reaching for the sheath that held his favoured weapon over his shoulder.

"I'm leaving this in your capable hands, Mamoru", said Yu before a burst of Shunpo flighted her away to a location where she could better observe the clash that was about to take place.

The giant man gazed at her for a while with his head turned slightly to the back, his face expression arcane. Then, he faced the two Sternrittern directly.

"Mamoru Nakatani, the Marshal of South", he introduced himself to Vitor with a polite bow.

As he straightened up, his sight moved to the Quincy Regent.

"We meet again, Roshan Bamshad-dono", he said. "I owe you an explanation for my poor performance during our first encounter."

"Poor performance? Last I checked, we all went kaboom", the man shrugged using only his shoulders. "I gave it a rather weak showin' m'self, so maybe we'll both put on a better show for the kids this time", he continued, his body drawing into an exaggerated but serious stance, only for it to fall apart in the next moment.

"Oh yeah!", he called out rather loudly. "This is Vitor, a friend a' mine", he stated, his free hand pointing to the diminutive figure that Mamoru had previously bowed to.

"Vitor Zeferino, Sternritter L", his hoarse voice rung with indignation.

"Pleased to meet you", replied Nakatani. "The jewellery I wear", he said abruptly, once again staring at Roshan.

He lifted his right hand to show a golden bracelet with an embedded sapphire. Numerous other pieces with dark blue gemstones were adorning his body.

"An ornament, a family heirloom and insignia of my rank", he continued, rotating his forearm to glance at the bracelet himself. "Little more than a disguise for its function."

He made a brief pause to let the meaning of those words be processed. Since there was no response, he resumed shortly afterward.

"Every single member of the Detention Corps is equipped with such a set of "jewellery". The device, designed by my Father, serves to seal off foreign Reiatsu and protect my subordinates from the adverse effects of Hell's Miasma. A welcome side effect is that the field created by the device hampers most Reiatsu-based forms of attack, yet it is far from a reliable means of defence in that regard. However, the set I wear is different."

With that being said he finally lowered his hand and looked at the two Sternrittern who faced him. His stance changed slightly, his legs positioned slightly wider and arms hanging to the sides. Suddenly, there was a mild gust of wind. The air around Mamoru began undulating as he was enveloped by a lime aura of energy.

"My device was specifically altered...", he said.

Although his face expression remained listless, melancholic even, the shroud of spiritual pressure was expanding slowly but surely, now emanating an audible hum.

"... to seal off my Reiatsu", he finished.

At last, his face contorted in a frown of strenuous effort. His body tensed and its imposing muscles bulged out as he flexed them. While still contained to a very limited area, his spiritual pressure was growing ever more intense. The faint glow of the aura changed into a bedazzling light and currents of electrified spiritual energy began wrapping themselves around his giant body.

All sapphires embedded in his jewellery shone brightly. And then, as they all cracked and shattered into dust, an explosion-like shockwave burst forth from Nakatani's body and swept up the unconscious Anders, casting him somewhere into the distance.

The two men instinctively threw up a hand in order to protect themselves from the ensuing shockwave, though their hands remained open enough to allow them to percieve their opponent through it. In spite of the power that the Balancer had been presented, both of them remained unhindered by the presence of Mamoru's Reiatsu.

"I guess we're lucky you never showed this off 'n the Human World, pal", Roshan started rather amused by the whole thing. "There wouldn't be enough Reishi for miles to help us stand up to you", for once he hadn't been exaggerating for effect, the power radiating from the Balancer was clear to Roshan, and he, of all people, knew how limited Reishi was in the World of the Living.

"Kinda funny, huh? How your home turf benefits us best", he went on as his body began to project a similar aura, his own a deep Persian shade of green. On either of his flanks, a pillar of ice fractured and crumbled, broken down into spiritual atoms that the regent's body quickly absorbed.

"But, as thanks for that tidbit, big guy, lemme tell you one a' mine", Roshan had shrugged once again, this time drawing his free arm into the mix. A small sigh escaped him and his eyes closed as if he was dredging up old memories. Once he had finished collecting himself, his eyes opened to regard Mamoru once again.

"Y'see, I'm technically Ritter M, but its purely symbolic, I don't have any fancy powers like the rest of 'em, maybe Yhwach was being poetic, I dunno, but it left me with... we'll call it, a degree of variability", surprisingly his words clung to the air clearly despite his drawing of Seele Wyrger, the powerful humming of the saw-like spiritual sword sitting just low enough that the man's speech remained hearable.

Vitor then tapped his cane repeatedly against the stone floor beneath them.

"Right, go ahead", Roshan answered his unspoken question to the tune of a pair of glinting blue lights visible on the ears of both men.

"Warriors of the Wandenreich, we are faced with a most trying battle, forced to fight long dead relics while the very fabric of our world falls apart", a grin formed on the old man's face as he spoke, readily aware of how ironic it would seem to fellow Humans to be calling anything a relic.

"At the front stands our regent, Roshan Bamshad. We know him to be crude, unkempt, and oft times, a downright bastard of a man", the elderly figure's words caused Roshan's demeanour to falter for a second, reacting rather hurt by the short analysis of his personality.

"But, he fights for all of us, so I ask that you help him, just this once, to eke out a victory worthy of those who carried us to the Seireitei. Let him be among those to carry us to the Reiōkyū, I ask that you cheer him on now, in this fight!", the hoarseness of Vitor's voice broke somewhat, becoming clearer with each moment that he continued on, though his voice remained deep it came across as more active than its usual aged tone.

"Roshan, last of the Bamshad line, I bestow upon you the Holy Letter S", he chanted, his body bathed in its own lime-green aura that passed over Roshan for a moment, just in time for him to utter the words forming on his lips. "The Superstar!"

There was no reaction, no dramatic change. Instead everything became still, with beads of sweat visible on both men's faces making it clear that it was not the intended effect.

Then it started, a faint murmur in the background that quickly grew like wildfire into a repeating chant echoing from the halls of the ice palace behind them. The chants of the Quincy reaching to them, a more localized call also broadcasting in the ears of both Sternritter through their earpieces.

Roshan's body suddenly bulked up, the top parts of his uniform almost exploding off of him as they shredded away. He was on Mamoru immediately, Seele Wyrger lazily held in his right hand whilst his muscular fist tore through the wind with incredible strength and speed aimed at the Balancer's face. The punch appeared to connect - the inhuman impetus it carried caused the pavement to virtually explode and a potent gust of wind to sweep across the area like a hurricane.

However, the Marshal was not there.

Bamshad did not notice that Nakatani had moved mere moments before he leapt at him, just as he did not notice the Balancer placing one hand on the pommel of his Jiūkǔndao during the peculiar ceremony which had preceded the manoeuvre. For even though Mamoru Nakatani seemed to be a listless, dull brute, those traits were but a mask, and his outward composure extended far, far deeper than the qualities concealing his true nature.

The Marshal had suspected that simply removing his restraints would not be enough to secure a victory against the enemy leader. Consequently, he had Mugilyeog prepared for just such an occasion. Its illusion-type ability not only let him evade a potentially crippling blow, but also move beside the elderly Quincy with a single Shunpo step that would not have had the chance to occur otherwise.

There was no time to analyse the strange transformation Bamshad had undergone just yet. For now, Mamoru knew that the Sternritter L had orchestrated that very transformation, and whilst he did not appear to present any other immediate threat, he knew far too well how deceiving looks could be. Thus, within the split second that Roshan was thinking that he had scored a hit, Nakatani drew one of his hook swords and swung it at Vitor from behind.

The old man was unable to react in time, his head hadn't even moved in Mamoru's direction, making it unclear if he had even registered the Marshal's movement. It mattered little though as the blades cut through him cleanly. Blood exploded from out of a wound encompassing his body before the top half of the man slid forward, sloughing off of the lower half to collapse on the floor.

At the same time, Mamoru became surrounded by several levitating axes that had begun descending on them and just out of sight, Roshan had caught up, Seele Wyrger lapping up Reishi as it sawed through them on its way to slice at the Balancer.

Part 2

45th Eastern Rukongai, Kanekane

Redención Mandíbula and Cielo Nocturno observed the two attacks that were heading towards them, glancing at each other the two Arrancar maneouvred into the air with Sonído to avoid the sweeping whip and hammer attacks.

"Get goin' if you want to fight the strongest.", Cielo said to Redención, his eyes affixed on the two Balancers.

"Gotcha!", Redención replied energetically, motioning himself to move towards the stronger opponent of the three main Balancers.

Since their attack had missed, Majors Wú Lanfên and Máo Yǒng began retreating their weapons with swiftness implying respectable proficiency. Lanfên pulled the head of her meteor hammer with great strength, whilst Yǒng continued the swing of his chain whip with a fluid motion that saw its end return safely to his free hand.

In the meantime, Colonel Ren Nakatani cut a bloody swath through the disorganised ranks of Quincy still protecting the ravaged first line of defence. When she noticed the joint attack of her subordinates and the subsequent evasive manoeuvre of the enemy commanders, she jumped into the air with her twin chicken sickles held to the sides. Suddenly, the world started spiraling madly as Redención lost all sense of direction.

As the attack had seemingly been blunted by her comrades, Carmen saw no need to move, or even react in a hurry. Slowly, she formed an extremely detailed gauntlet over her hand, constructed from the Reishi in the air simply flowing around it. There was a large crash resounding behind her, a quick glance revealing it to be a rather large contraption of some sort, made from the same quick-forming soul-synthesized metals of stronger Quincy weapons. A hook on this contraption easily latched on to Carmen's gauntlet allowing her to hoist it up with a dramatic swing until the object rested over her shoulder.

Arms, like that of a bow, launched out at either side turning the slab into a cannon, an Arbalest. A massive Heilig Pfeil formed atop it, clearly more of a spear than an arrow, causing a spiritual thread to pull back across the weapon's length. Pulling a mental trigger caused the thread to retread its path to the front of the weapon, though at a much greater pace. The Heilig Pfeil launched with amazing force, the very air round it being swept up in its path, creating shearing waves across the ground.

The gigantic bolt flew straight for Máo Yǒng, missing him by a hair's breadth where it instead impacted into a building right behind him. The spiritual structure didn't explode, rather, it seemingly popped like a balloon.

Course correction: 0.25, the woman thought to herself, making the slightest nudge in movement before the process repeated and another spear was fired.

Redención stopped in his tracks, the opponent that he was before able to easily track had just been lost in the sea of disorientation that faed him. The Arrancar landed on a relatively unpopulated space of land, supporting himself with on of his hands, despite his apparent stability, all Redención felt was the feeling of being thrown off his feet at any time.

"Fucking coward.", he grumbled in an annoyed fashion, swiping the hand he planted on the ground, collecting a number of rocks and dust that were the rubble made from the battle, charging it in a red glow.

"Bala Fragmentos!", Redención shouted, throwing the rubble he collected in an arc, causing what looked like a barrage of red bullets to go flying outwards in a multitude of directions, made to as to hit anything in it's range.

Cielo, rather than charge into battle like his now disorientated ally, instead opted to land right in front of Wú Lanfên, his Zanpakutō already drawn. He looked at the Balancer for a couple of seconds before starting to speak.

"Cielo Nocturno, Arrancar #19.", he said in a calm fashion.

The peculiar Balancer woman halted and turned her oddly delicate face toward the Arrancar. Some could say she was beautiful in a way, though her body looked as if she was able to snap a grown man's spine like a twig.

Because she could.

"Wú Lanfên, Major of the Detention Corps", she replied in a deep, yet feminine voice.

With those words she lifted both sides of the chain wrapped multiple times around her waist, one end in each hand. Then, she began spinning them, the spherical heads rotating so fast they became a single blurred, humming circle each. Their sheer velocity caused ash to rise from the ground. Suddenly, the Balancer changed her stance slightly and one of the heads burst forth like a cannon ball.

Máo Yǒng narrowly evaded the follow-up shot with a Shunpo leap to the side. Acknowledging the terrible force each bolt must have carried, he began a series of erratic Flash Steps as he was closing the distance between him and Carmen.

Meanwhile, even though Redención's attack did not hit any enemy, the nauseating vertigo faded away. Soon afterward Ren Nakatani landed nearby graciously and looked at him in a condescending manner.

"It is a warrior's way to employ every single ability at their disposal to destroy the enemy", she stated solemnly. "Cowardice has nothing to do with this, Hollow."

She did not make any move, however, apparently waiting for him to pull himself together beforehand.

Bolt after bolt, Carmen continued firing at Máo as he moved. Her shots were precise to an extreme, dead on the spot and seemingly beginning to outpace the Balancer's movements as if she was could see them before they were made. Her latest shot fired, as he transitioned from one step into another, essentially intercepting him. Each of her previous shots, having missed were still intense displays of force on Carmen's part, the sheer power they exhibited instantly disintegrating the Reishi constructs in their path.

Yǒng did not expect to be tracked down so easily. However, there was no time for disbelief or hesitation; he had to face the facts and the lethal projectile speeding his way. Knowing he would be unable to dodge this time, he held the bundled chain of his Jiūkǔndao with both hands in front of his chest. The impromptu means of defence was definitely better than nothing, after all. Then, the bolt struck him with great force and sent him crashing into a small building a few dozen metres behind.

Redención staggered to his feet, his face, while contorted with anger from the Balancer's attack, slowly calmed down as he rose to face her.

"Warrior's not the word I would call yeh...but I admit you're right on the using everything at your disposal part!", Redención said, shouting the last of his words as he dashed towards Ren, his Zanpakutō trailing behind him as he reached the Colonel and raised his sword to bring it down on the Balancer.

Cielo, only just noticing the quick attack in time, raised his blade to just barely deflect the almost bolt like attack, however, despite successfully blocking it, the weapon only slightly changed it's course from hitting the Arrancar in the face to hitting his shoulder, causing Cielo to fly backwards at an angle, some smoke coming from his uniform due to the friction of the attack. He flipped around and landed on one knee, his shoulder still emitting smoke from the attack, which had only damaged the Arrancar moderately due to his Hierro.

Not deterred by the Balancer's advantageous start, he rushed her with Sonído, his sword ready to pierce her as soon as he reappeared.

"Perhaps I got a little bit ahead of myself", Carmen spoke sounding almost disappointed that she'd taken the lead in her battle so early. Though not enough to waste time, she utilized Hirenkyaku to move from her position on the ground to a heightened one on a nearby roof, taking the time presented by her fallen foe to observe the others.

As their spiritual presences were larger than anyone else in the current conflict zone, it was easy for her to pin them down. And take aim. Course correction 8.25, the thought raced across her mind, and her body ajusted into a better firing position immediately. A spear loosed like artillery had been aimed for Wú Lanfên. Take out the lessers so that we might swarm and devour the head, she mused to herself watching the Heilig Pfeil tear through the sky.

Lanfên, who was in the process of retreating the left head of her meteor hammer when Cielo plunged at her, managed to continue spinning the right one in an impressive display of ambidexterity. As such, when the Arrancar moved in to slash her, she rotated her upper body to intercept his Zanpakutō with her Jiūkǔndao. In a fraction of a second the chain wrapped around its edge with the head resting near its guard with impetus. Thus, thrown off balance, Cielo was easy to simply throw aside with a strong pull of the meteor hammer.

However, mere moments afterward the bolt that had been shot by Carmen approached the Balancer. Wú had little time to react, particularly in such an inconvenient stance, so she took the brunt of the hit to her chest. With its respectable power, the projectile hit her and crushed her into the ground, punching a fairly sizeable crater as a result.

In the meantime, Máo Yǒng pulled himself out of the rubble, still shaking slightly after the attack he had barely defended from. With his Shunpo virtually nullified, he was at a distinct disadvantage against the Quincy warrior. Mid-range weapon versus a long-range weapon were not good odds for the former, and with his ability to reduce the distance rendered futile he was in quite a pinch. At least he was tough, so that the damage he had sustained required several seconds of pulling himself together rather than treating lethal wounds.

The weapon the enemy was using was probably an unwieldy one. Now that she had just attacked Lanfên and was turned into a different direction, Yǒng saw his opportunity to strike. Shaking off the headache he leapt into the air toward the Sternritter. On his way he lashed his Jiūkǔndao, Bēngdài, at her, finally making use of its special ability: the chain with bladed links gleamed briefly before several fairly wide metal tapes were spawned from it. Then, the chain and tapes descended upon Carmen, covering a sizeable area in their attempt to catch the Quincy woman.

Ren blocked Redención's strike with a diagonal swipe of her right chicken sickle, forcing it to the side thanks to its hook intercepting the blade. She was aware that her subordinates had serious trouble with the arbalest-wielding Quincy, and she wanted to help them. As such, she plunged the pointy end of her left chicken sickle at the Arrancar's face, intending to impale his eye.

Redención, being unable to dodge Ren's strike due to her other sickle essentially pinning him to the spot he was standing, swung his head to the side so that instead of the Jiūkǔndao hitting it's intended target, it smashed into Redención's mask, casing the sickle to bounce off, taking a small piece of the Arrancar's mask off and causing a surprisingly small cut, in spite of the strong attack. Not wasting time, Redención managed to slide his sword out of the grip of Ren's sickle and launch a weak Bala at the Balancer before using Sonido to retreat a short distance away, clutching the masked portion of his face in great pain.

Cielo, due to the impetus of Carmen's attack along with the chain that was wrapped around his Zanpakutō, was also flung into the crater made by Lanfên hitting the ground. Due to him not being directly hit by the spear-like arrow, the Arrancar managed to recover quickly and get up, quickly plunging his sword into the ground like an anchor, looking at the Balancer just after and charging a Cero so as to try and incinerate her before she could recover herself.

Course correction 2.1-, Carmen's mental calculation stopped dead as her instincts suddenly went haywire. It donned on her immediately that she had wrongly estimated the Balancer a second time. Her spiritual senses had picked up his movements, but there was now way for her to intercept him as she was currently. Instead, she held fast and continued as she was, acting almost oblivious to the incoming attacker. She loosed another spear, aimed to fire right over Cielo's shoulder, the slightest twitch in the wrong way would have it hit him instead of its intended target, but that kind of risk was important in combat.

With that last shot she had let out a heavy breath and steeled herself for what was to come. A great many lashing swings, slapped across her body, cutting through clothing and untempered flesh, though none were so deep as to be immediately lethal, they all left a bloody mark on Carmen's form. The only saving grace in the situation was that her Spirit Weapon, given its great size, prevented the entirety of the weapon from cutting her into ribbons. It was that same idea that led to her next move.

Her arm, slung under the weapon moved in a somewhat jangling motion, causing the soul-synthesized glove to come free. The arbalest immediately lost its balance and fell from her shoulder, slamming onto the roof below. In its path were several of the tapes formed by her opponents weapon which were invariably caught in its fall and pulled down with it. Even further when the weapon's great weight proved enough to collapse the roof Carmen had appropriated as her vantage point. The woman fell, knowingly, and could only hope that her foe would be dragged down with her.

Unfortunately for her, it did not happen. After centuries of dealing with the most powerful and devious criminals of the ancient times, the officers of the Detention Corps were specialists at what many modern warriors would consider "unconventional combat". Feints, tricks, erratic approach and underhanded tactics were all par the course. Thus, Yǒng hesitated only for a second before he simply let go of his Jiūkǔndao, which was immediately pulled together with Carmen and her weapon inside the collapsing building. He knew that the destruction of a spiritual weapon of this calibre would require either drastically superior power or extended and strenuous effort, so he could hope to retrieve the whip later.

For now, the eradication of the enemy was top priority.

Meanwhile, even though Ren did not manage to gouge her opponent's eye, she did succeed to force him out of her way. The energy projectile shot at her abdomen made her sway slightly, but it obviously was little more than a hasty potshot. Seeing that one of her Majors was in great danger, she acted hurriedly. When Cielo aimed his arm at Wú and began charging a Cero, Nakatani fired a small Fire Kadō at him. It was rather small and weak, but sufficient to push the Arrancar's arm to the side and prevent him from launching his attack.

Nevertheless, she could do nothing to stop the bolt fired by Carmen, and Lanfên was struck ere she was able to stand up. The projectile pinned her and punched her even further into the ground. She disappeared, buried under the rubble.

Cielo, rather perplexed at the sudden interjection of Ren, turned to the Balancer with an inquisitive, but angered look in his eye.

"And you are?", he asked, trying to keep the semblance of restraint and calmness that resided in him from extinguishing.

Carmen hit the ground with a rather unceremonious thud, her fall broken only by her opponent's weapon and several pieces of the broken roof, though her Blut Vene had been activated this time as a precaution for her opponent on the assumption that they would have fell with their weapon, it doubly served to protect her from the landing as well. She was left sitting within for a moment, rather surprised that the Balancer had abandoned their weapon so easily. Her own Spirit Weapon dissipating into easily absorbed Reishi nearby, she was quick to take up the whip in hand in order to better examine it.

Yǒng descended upon the ground quickly to avoid being shot, as suspended high in the air he was a perfect target practice for ranged attacks. He landed nearby the ruined building which had swallowed Abandonato in its downfall. There was no doubt she had survived, so he scanned her Reiatsu merely to verify what he had already known. However, it seemed she was there to stay for a while, and he intended to exploit that.

The Major formed a cross in the air with his hand four times. With each repetition he started from a different point on the cross. Afterward, his palm ignited in flames momentarily before they dispersed and then concentrated into a small dot at the centre of his palm. Then, he released an intensely powerful torrent of fire, scorching the debris with Kaentō.

At another side of the battlefield Ren began walking toward Cielo, ostensibly ignoring Redención. Her gait was rhythmical, she held her chicken sickles pointed downward to the sides, and her face was frozen in a stern expression.

"I am Ren Nakatani, Colonel of the Detention Corps", she replied to the Arrancar's question. "I have hoped for a good fight, but you are just like the criminals I used to pacify back in my era. I am going to treat you appropriately, then", she stated grimly.

In the meantime, Lanfên was getting out of the rubble. Her body was covered in ash, her uniform somewhat ragged and a streak of blood flowing from her mouth. She wiped it with the back of her forearm once she stood up. Her gaze was drawn to the ruins of the several-storey building not far in the distance, which was now being set ablaze by her partner.

"Wú!", Nakatani exclaimed in a commanding tone.

The expression of growing fury was instantly replaced with surprise, and then focus as the Major turned to her superior and Cielo.

Suddenly, Ren unleashed the special ability of her Jiūkǔndao, Hyeongi. The disrupting pulse of Reiatsu targeted both Arrancars in her vicinity, but omitted Lanfên, and deprived them of sense of direction for a few seconds. That was sufficient, though, for the Balancers were quick to act. Wú swung the left head of her meteor hammer in a broad motion aimed to sweep up Cielo, while at the same time Ren made a Shunpo-powered plunge at Redención with both of her sickles poised to impale him.

Redención staggered as he tried to react to the Balancers attack, raising his sword diagonally, he managed to successfully block one of Ren's blades, however, the other cleanly sank into his skin, easily slicing through the tough Hierro that made up the Arrancar's exterior organ, the impetus of the attack causing Redención's sword to slide away from the Chicken Sickle that he previously blocked. In a desperate attempt to pin Ren for a short while Redención lunged out with his free hand, luckily grabbing the end of the Sickle, its bladed edge causing him to draw a small amount of blood as he gripped tightly.

"I'm sorry...but I find ya little introduction to my partner...a little...what d'ya call it....bullshit.", Redención spluttered, the nausea caused from Ren's ability making it hard for the Arrancar to speak, "It is a warrior's...way to employ every...single ability at their disposal to...destroy the enemy. We're resortin' to our dirty tricks to kill yeh...what makes us different?", he asked, his voice finally stabilised as the short time effects of Ren's blade had worn off for him. Yanking the embedded Sickle out of his shoulder, causing a small blood shower in the process, Redención wasted no time in preparing to slash Nakatani at point blank range.

Cielo, unable to shake off the effect of Ren's Jiūkǔndao was ensnared and winded by the powerful Meteor Hammer as he was flung to the ground, being buried into a new crater formed by Wū's attack.

Carmen's examination of her opponent's weapon was cut short by his follow up attack, as she had been made distinctly aware by the wall of the building suddenly shifting colour as it was consumed in an intense and concentrated blaze. It wasn't long before the wall crumbled under the intensity and the whole building found itself burning to ashes. But the short delay in this, in which Carmen remained physically obscured from view, was ample time to make a move.

A blue light shot through the ceiling, A Seele Schneider thrown with the intent to draw her opponents attention. It flew with precision and a lot of power behind it as Carmen's physical power happened to be deceptively mighty. That same strength allowed to blast down the weakening walls on the side of the house in order to lash out at Máo with his own weapon.

A trickle of saliva glinted in an unnatural fashion on a part of the whip's blade, and the wounds she had previously taken had all scabbed over in a rather metallic recovery. In truth they hadn't recovered at all, instead they had become a launch pad for a new trick. Each of the numerous wounds across her body launched sharp-edged tapes from their form, tendrils aimed at Máo in an attempt to skewer the Balancer.

Carmen's spiritual presence disappeared, becoming indistinguishable from that of Máo Yǒng.

Ren wrestled with Redención briefly. Her position was inconvenient to say the least, and whilst she was able to block the Arrancar's attack, her awkward stance allowed the tip of his blade to rest on her shoulder, cutting the material of her uniform and spilling a small amount of blood. Still, she was able to maintain that state despite defending herself with just one hand.

"It is a warrior's way to employ every single ability at one's disposal to destroy the enemy", she repeated her earlier statement with a slight, yet important correction. "Doing everything to win a duel is perfectly normal. However, ganging up on someone is just what lowly cowards would do", she continued, effort apparent on her stiff face. "I was willing to fight you one-on-one, but your friend discouraged me from holding back our worst", she finished, a predatory smile outstretching gradually on her lips.

With a loud hum there was a spherical object rapidly approaching Redención's head in a wide arc: a head of Wú Lanfên's meteor hammer.

Meanwhile, Máo Yǒng stood his ground. The distraction Seele Schneider fired by Carmen had drawn his attention, but only momentarily. He was composed. He was cold. He was professional. When she at last emerged from the now burnt ruins of the building he was ready to react to the attack, but not to perceive what he had seen. Metal tapes just like those of his own Bēngdài burst forth toward him with the intent to kill.

He did not evade, neither did he block. His reaction was limited to a swift change of stance a split second before the tapes approached him. The bands of extremely sharp steel shred his body and wrapped around his limbs and torso. However, with the simple shift in stance he had been able to reduce the damage from fatal to heavy. In fact, it was noticeably less severe than one could reasonably expect, though still obviously serious.

His face emanated calm and concentration. It stiffened due to the extreme pain, but there was no twich or any other involuntary move of a muscle. Blood flowing from his body, he quickly caught some of the tapes with both of his hands, ignorant of the damage that caused to his palms. He was bound.

"Jiūkǔndao", he said in a tense voice approaching a whisper, "is a weapon bound to its wielder by fate. It is my weapon. A part of me. You cannot hope to surmount such a bond with a paltry ability."

All of a sudden Bēngdài itself burst from Abandonato's hand. With its hilt high above the ground and its chain and metal bands moving quickly like appendages of a bizarre spider of sorts, it sped forward and leapt at its master, wrapping around his body as well.

The instructions were clear: eradicate the enemy at all costs.

"Shìfàng", he uttered gravely, engulfed in a gleaming aura of maroon Reiatsu.

He was in a dark cave, several flickering torches the only source of light. The air was sultry and humid. The smell of blood, sweat and excrements was unbearable. His vision was tinted red and blurred, and the slightest move began a symphony of pain worthy of a standing ovation.

He was a mercenary, an assassin, a murderer. People hired his talents to eliminate those they did not want to live. He was efficient and professional. He did not care about who his target was. Man, woman, elderly, child, he did his job and got his payment. However, this time he killed a man too important to get away with it. He was pursued, cornered and captured. They inflicted every torture imaginable on him to punish him for his deed. His body was bound, shred, impaled and broken, but his mind did not yield. With the last ounces of his strength he laughed at his captors, seeing their frustration and disbelief. Hanging suspended on bladed chains, laughter was the last thing left to him as his life was fading away.

Then, he died.

Máo Yǒng's spiritual pressure was rising rapidly, quaking the ground perceptibly. The maroon aura illuminated him and Carmen with ominous glow, the two caught together in the intricate web of chains and metal bands. His Jiūkǔndao was fusing to his body, the tapes plugging his wounds and forming a makeshift armour, the chains wrapping around his limbs and torso like live snakes. The metal tapes she had launched at the Balancer were fusing to his Jiūkǔndao too, and then he began pulling her toward him. His Reiatsu was oppressive. Chains rose into the air, swaying like vicious serpents waiting to lash at their prey.

And his gaze, cold and unrelenting, fixed at Abandonato's eyes. A gaze which emanated death.

Part 3

Hell, Second Level.

A miniature bone spike was speeding toward Timothy Jones's head. The Quincy was fairly confident, yet through sheer reflex he slanted his head to the side. A minor move which had likely saved his life, for the projectile thrust through his force field and passed by with considerable velocity, leaving a long cut on his cheek.

Force field penetrated. Readjustment of energy output required.

"Hmph", the man uttered, stopping the flow of blood with Blut Vene. "You really are a curious bunch of weirdoes."

Analysis of total combat capacity at estimated 23%. Analysis of evasive maneuvers at estimated 48%. Calibrating combat protocols in accordance with the collected data.

The Sternritter jumped to the side with the use of Hirenkyaku, and then he leapt in a different direction. After a short series of rapid movements, he aimed Arc, currently in a miniature gatling gun form, and fired a burst of spiritual energy projectiles with a rate of fire so fast it appeared almost like a continuous beam.

Daisuke, rather preemptively, began trying to dodge the attack, using Shunpo in an attempt to avoid the attack before it was too late, however, despite his evasive maneuvers he found himself in the line of fire of a part of Timothy's barrage. Swiping his Jiūkǔndao upwards he formed a body sized shield of bone to protect himself long enough for him to move out of the attack's way again, with the energy projectiles causing the bone to crumble after only a few seconds of being in contact. He landed at a safer and more distant spot before turn towards Timothy.

"We could say the same for you guys, you know?", Daisuke replied, a bit of unnatural strain was apparent in his voice as he finished his sentence.

As if in response to that HK-105's mono-eye shone in Daisuke's direction, its arm raised and the shafts of its gatling gun clicked before they began to spin. Immediately it was followed by a hail of Heilig Pfeil attempting to silence the Balancer.

From one of the stone lillies across the water, Dan Tai Sin had removed himself from the rubble that had crumpled around him after the previous attack. His body had been singed, a particularly strong mark of burns and sears visible on his chest.

"Range is superior then?", he asked himself, his head caught up in the previous speeches that had passed him by.

"Then all I need is a longer sword!", he threw a punch from his broken perch, a thin black line shooting off of the deer horn knife in his grip. It trailed across the water in no time at all and pierced through HK-105's shoulder with the same ease.

Timothy observed HK attacking Daisuke. However, when Dan Tai Sin emerged at last from the debris and struck his mechanical creation, he retaliated quickly with automatic fire from his wrist-gun. Nothing major, but something that ought to force some kind of defensive action from the Balancer and prompt him to leave the android be.

Daisuke, in order to protect him self from the attack, plunged his sword into the ground yet again and dragged it back a number of metres, creating a thick wall of bone which intercepted the energy just in time. With the bone taking the brunt of the force of HK's attack, Daisuke turned his sights to Timothy who was in the process of attacking Tai Sin. Without hesitation the Balancer flew his hand over the blunt side of his blade, a large number of small bones that looked eerily crystalline forming on the blade, with one swift horizontal slash all the bones flew off the blade in Timothy's direction, the small and sharp shards flying towards him like a shower of bullets.

Dan Tai Sin's attack disappeared when he moved his arm, severing the great length of the void-black line that he had conjured. He'd leapt away from his perch to avoid the incoming fire, and only stopped when he was sure he was out of the firing line. He crouched down, shrinking his frame down before he became a blur of movement with Shunpo attempting to cross the watery gap between the islands with the least amount of interruption.

HK, free of the attack that pierced its shoulder, stepped in front of his creator, intercepting the bone shards with its body. In places they simply plinked against the dense metal plates and fell to the ground lifelessly while elsewhere they pierced through the exterior shell. The android Quincy responded with a hail of missiles aimed for the Balancer.

Protected by HK, Timothy was able to focus on scanning the area for Tai Sin. Even though Daisuke seemed to be his primary opponent, he had little trouble switching to another one for a short while, unlike the Balancers. Furthermore, they seemed to be two warriors merely fighting on the same side rather than a team like he and the robot. Jones was sure that winning the battle was just a matter of time.

Daisuke responded to the counter attack by dodging, knowing his shields of bone wouldn't help him against the myriad of rockets, he kept using Shunpo to avoid the seeking rockets, causing them to explode on the ground as he made his way behind HK and in the sights of Timothy, Daisuke stuck his blade into the ground before looking up at Timothy after doing so.

"Apologies for Dan Tai Sin, he's more of a reactive kind of guy. Oh well, this should help him and me for a small while.", Daisuke said, as he finished, a number of thick bones erupted from the ground around Timothy and HK, the bones bending in a fashion of a small cage so as to trap the two Quincies and stop them from moving or using their bulkier spirit weapons.

The hulking machine turned around, its arms shifting in a flash of blue back into large gauntlets. Its body cloaked around Timothy's in such a way as to become a protective barrier, a dual layer on top of the shield that the other Quincy had already been generating, warping the shape of Daisuke's cage into a less restrictive form. The bone spines, while sturdy, were feeble, too feeble pierce through the bottom of HK's armour, though he took on a visage akin to a pin cushion regardless as numerous other spears ripped through his cloak, raising it up to some degree like a tent. It wasn't a random act, HK had purposefully become a shield to cloak its master, all the same, obscuring him from view so that he might attack without being noticed immediately.

Across the lake Dan Tai Sin had begun to move. Three Flash Steps, three explosive bursts cracking against the waves. He was a blur moving across the tide.

Analysis of evasive maneuvers at estimated 59%. Analysis of defensive capacity at estimated 70%. Initiating Stage 2 combat protocols. Updating primary weapons system...

Once Daisuke appeared in his line of sight, Jones ignored the other Balancer and focussed on his main opponent. Protected by his force field and HK, he was more than eager to exploit the enemy's courtesy. The gatling gun of his left arm began transforming rapidly, emitting mechanic whirrs and electronic clicks of shifting energy relays. One of its barrels moved into the middle, now surrounded by the other five slowly rotating around it. The central barrel shone with charging energy.

Thus, in a matter of moments he had morphed the Arc into a weapon tailor-made for Takeda. Without further ado he fired: a red, sizzling beam of super-condensed energy burst forth in the Balancer's direction from the middle barrel. The bones, despite being built for hardiness, started to crumble mere seconds after the concentrated beam was targeted on them, only holding out for the shortest of whiles before breaking and letting the beam go free, the surrounding bones also succumbing to the same fate.

Daisuke, ready to react to this, used the small window of time given by his cage to move himself out of be beam's way as he drew his sword back, a sharp, large blade of bone was coating itself over his actual blade, making it look ridiculously oversized, after gaining his poise he thrust the sword directly at the two Quincies, hoping to either hit them or get them to move and split up.

A whizzing sound frantically passed over Timothy's head, the glowing eye of his gargantuan automaton movings its monoeye to regard the incoming attack and the bone-crafted ceiling above them. HK's grasp over its creator closed in tighter whilst its left leg grinded into the earth.

"Prepare to lift", it spoke with apparent disinterest before it raised itself with sudden force into a frighteningly high leap. It slipped through the fragmented roof of the skeletal cage, breaking through the edges that might've hindered the Quincies ascension in the process. Once they had gone a fair distance into the air, HK let go of Timothy's form whilst a barrage of missiles deployed once again from the pods on its shoulders. Each caused enough pushback to send HK away from the cage, allowing it to land outside of it with the booming thunder of its mass crushing rock underfoot.

The cracking roar of the earth was dulled down however by an explosion of water as Dan Tai Sin finally returned to the conflict zone. His arrival immediately met by HK's reforming gatling gun, but Sin had avoided him. Whirling past him like a snake coiling around its prey. Latched onto the metal behemoth's back, Dan Tai Sin threw a sweeping kick towards the air, a black thin line forming from the blade of his boot to cut through the sky, clearly aiming for Timothy.

Alert! Impending attack...

The cyborg Sternritter slanted and began aiming his wrist-gun at the fast Balancer. Whilst his extensive bionic implants greatly augmented his body's strength and durability, he was far from a swift warrior himself, so Tai Sin's kick had reached him before he was able to intercept. The black blade emerging from the latter's foot cut through Jones's force field and moved onward, slashing his shoulder. Injured, Timothy slid backward with the use of Hirenkyaku, all the while firing potshots at the Balancer.

Force field penetrated. Recalculating... Recalculating... Energy required to sustain the force field surpasses the optimal combat efficiency threshold. Disengaging the force field and redirecting the energy output to offensive systems.

Thus, as Jones was finishing his evasive action, the semi-transparent force field bubble protecting his body vanished. The faintly gleaming lines of energy transmitters outlining his mechanical body started shining brighter, and the bullets escaping the twin barrels of his wrist-gun intensified, the last few crackling with crimson currents of electrified energy.

Daisuke, being freed from the constant attention the Quincies were giving him, took his opportunity to strike Timothy due to the shield that one protected him fading, using his own speed, he flew up to the Quincy with Shunpo and prepared to attack him, the Balancer's blade being brought down on Timothy as Daisuke reappeared.

Latched onto HK's body as he was, Dan Tai Sin made a motion comparable to a simple flick of the wrist as he moved to avoid Timothy's shots. But he quickly found himself unable to move following the sound of pneumatic whirr and the painful clamping of something on his foot.

HK's arm had shot around at an angle impossible for Humans without snapping their bones in order to intercept the Balancer's movement. From there he was struck repeatedly with the Arc's Heilig Pfeil. With all of the shots hitting their mark, HK dropped the Balancer to the ground and re-adjusted itself, turning to face him, gatling gun barrels rotating at great speed.

"Total assessment at 50%", it called out before engulfing the ground in front of it in a blue storm of arrows.

Intercepting...

Timothy noticed Daisuke plunging at him even though he appeared to be focussed on shooting at Dai Tai Sin. When the last projectiles were escaping from his wrist-gun's barrels, the former Balancer was already on his way. Without his shield but with the other combat systems empowered, Jones merely swung his left arm and pointed its laser gun on the descending enemy, just in time to fire moments before the blade was able to reach him.

Despite still having what seemed like the advantage, Daisuke disappeared well before the shot managed to reach him, reappearing at a safe distance away from Timothy, a stressed but otherwise fairly unmoving look painted on Daisuke's face as he drew his arms to his chest before stretching them out and then bringing them back in front of himself, soon after an electrical charge began to fizzle where Daisuke's hands were before a beam started to form.

"Denki Tetsudō!", Daisuke shouted, the now fully formed beam of lightning firing at Timothy forcefully.

From within the flurry of exploding spiritual energy there was a resounding clang of steel. HK's eye glanced downward to see Dan Tai Sin's fist striking its chest, the odd shaped knuckleblades scratching lightly across the white-coated metal.

"Shōgen!", the man roared before his other arm struck out at a point just below. The force of the strike resounded tremendously, a shockwave rippling through the air with its impact. HK was shot backwards at great speed, its feet creating long trails in the earth as it tried to hold itself down. It ran through the still standing bone cage with such an impetus that it easily broke them apart. When the mechanical being finally stopped being pushed back, it was to the realization of its chest cracking and parts falling out.

"Damage sustained", it remarked nonchalantly while observing its opponent in the distance. Dan Tai Sin stood tall, his body littered with bloody scars whilst his clothes had become ragged with tears, burns, and various dirt stains. A large crack formed across his mask.

Alert! Impending at-*WZZT*HGA<%J#$sMI@(-Rebooting systems...

The current of lightning fired by Takeda hit Timothy, temporarily enveloping him with a web of electric currents and cracking the ground around him. The Quincy slanted in the aftermath, his silver armour singed, streaks of smoke raising from numerous places and sizzling sparks emerging from the joints.

"Gaah! Son of a...!", he exclaimed and shook his head. "HK, keep that masked dude away from me! I've got a little something for Mr. We-Ain't-So-Different!", he added toward the android shortly afterward.

Analysis of evasive maneuvers inadequate. Additional data required for reassessment. Activating secondary weapons system... Target locked."

"You and me, boy", said Timothy with an unfriendly smile.

Then, he fired his shoulder-mounted missile racks for the first time since they had appeared with his Vollständig's release. One after another, four miniature missiles burst forth toward Daisuke, homing onto his Reiatsu signature.

Once again Daisuke hurriedly rushed away from the attack, in a desperate hope to dodge the missiles, however despite his efforts the rockets kept themselves locked onto him as he kept evading them. After keeping up the chase for a small while Daisuke found the notion of dodging futile and instead plunged his Jiūkǔndao in the ground, forming a near spherical shield of bone around his as the missiles connected and subsequently erupted in explosion around the Balancer, leaving a cloud of smoke as he reemerged, his skin heavily burnt and a few relatively light cuts from the bone that had cut him when it shattered, despite the serverity of the injuries that took him, it was clear that Daisuke's protection had saved him from the full brunt of the attack, however, the Balancer's actions betrayed the truth around him, as he collapsed onto one hand, his face getting whiter as he did so, painful memories of his past flooding back as he stared into the ground.

Dan Tai Sin's attention drifted from the mechanical hulk a fair distance in front of him to see the tide continually shift in favour of the Quincy. He returned his vision to HK with an intensified gaze, dropping down into a posture akin to a runner at the start of a race and propelled himself forward with Shunpo. His swing was blocked by the machine's sweeping arm, and his second caused little to no reaction. But it set up well enough for a third as he swept around his opponent, snaking through the opening's HK displayed.

"Unagikotsu!", he yelled from atop HK's frame before kicking off into the air with an acrobatic flip. His arms had set up into an odd posture that unfurled to a display that looked like he was performing an elbow bash from a distance. At range, the strike itself produced on effect, but Dan Tai Sin's body was suddenly enveloped in electrical energy that leapt forth fram that motion, blasting HK's metallic frame that caused it to slam into the earth.

It was the perfect spot for another follow up attack, and Dan Tai Sin was quick to make use of Shunpo... To appear behind Daisuke instead.

His earlier observation had made it clear to him that they were losing, and what he could see of Takeda's form were injuries, but nothing so dangerous as to allow him to use that. The hooded Balancer sought to change this, his blade-adorned fist cutting deeply into the nape of Daisuke's neck.

"Use it!", he demanded of his comrade before the two of them were suddenly overcast by a massive shadow. Nary able to turn in time, Tai Sin caught only a glimpse of a glowing blue eye before his body was shot back down to the ground like a bullet.

"Commencing suppression", HK-105 called with some degree of hostility. Its body steaming with heat as gravity took over and dropped it back to the earth to continue its fight.

Jones kept observing those events from his position without any further action. He did not need to make any, as everything important was taking place within his computer-augmented mind. He smirked when HK intercepted one of the Balancers, but there was a twich on his cheek caused by the lightning spell he had been hit with not that long ago.

Additional data acquired. Recalculating... Preliminary combat analysis complete. Processing... Armament pattern match found. Initiating Stage 3 combat protocols. Updating primary and secondary weapons systems..."

The twin missile racks on his shoulders, the wrist-gun of the right arm and the gatling gun of his left began whirring, clicking and shifting again. The former changed little, for most of the upgrades were done to its ammunition: regular miniature missiles were replaced with steel-tipped demolishing projectiles with delayed directed blast warheads. The automatic weapons, on the other hand, sprouted longer barrels adorned with gleaming lines of energy transmitters, a result of their conversion into projectile accelerators with built-in electromagnetic coils that were intended to accelerate steel bullets calibre 4.6mm to hypersonic velocity. Whereas the wrist-gun remained a compact twin-barreled automatic weapon, the gatling gun changed into an intimidating, long-barreled rail gun.

A versatile array of arsenal designed to penetrate the strongest defences.

"Time's up", said Timothy as he fired the imposing rail gun at Daisuke with a thunderous sound.

Daisuke, who was further paralysed by Tai Sin's unexpected attack, fought back the unpleasent thoughts in his head as the Quincy powered up Daisuke's mouth moving before the modifications finished

"Sh-Shi-Shìfàng!", Daisuke cried out, an explosion of Reiatsu and dust clouded the Balancer as he disappeared before Timothy could fire the extremely fast projectile, however the Balancer was caught in the subsequent explosion it caused, but was surprisingly not affected by the blast of the explosion, the reason why showing itself as the dust cleared.

Bone, Daisuke was completely covered in the strong material he was generating from his sword not long ago, his body coated in it like an armour.

Part 4

45th Northern Rukongai, Kyōkai; Warehouse

The mysterious Arrancar into whose trap fell Ksenija Gregorovich lifted a wooden crate and tossed it at the Balancer. Ksenija, unable to properly sense the attack due to the lack of a reiatsu spike and the low visibility was hit by the crate, however despite the strength of the Arrancar throwing the crate causing her to stumble, she wasn't visibly affected by the attack.

Ksenija sighed as she readied her blade, after being hounded from the shadows for this length of time the Balancer concluded that her opponent prefers to keep themselves concealed, so instead of allowing them to hit her, she instead opted for a more failsafe approach, as she stepped forward, her sword glowed slightly insects beginning to flow out of the rings that were on her blade. The sword eventually released all of the insects, surrounding Ksenija, obscuring her from sight.

The Arrancar, already in another part of the warehouse, was observing her silently. The attempts to finish the enemy off quickly failed, and the power she was emanating was considerable. As such, he had to be cautious. Cautious and patient. He was trying to test her, check out her reflexes and reaction types. Now her blade released a cloud of insects, a surprising and oddly suitable development. He lowered himself to hide completely behind a large container, his twin swords kept in the X-shaped sheath on his back. They were not needed, not yet. Just a moment...

The defensive capability of the Balancer woman was impressive, and it seemed that she was not going to provide him any opening. No matter. All he needed to do was to create one himself.

The Arrancar crouched and slid his hands beneath the container. Even though it must have weighed several tonnes, he lifted it with little effort and with an abrupt motion he hurled it at the insect-enveloped enemy.

Ksenija needed not react to the large container, as soon as the object approached the Balancer the insects she has released swarmed it and began consuming it at a rapid pace, their orange lights flickering as it soon became little more than dust, due to her protection being occupied, Ksenija became alert attempting to either spy out her enemy or sense them before their move was made.

But, the Arrancar had not technically made a move. Somewhat shocked by the result of his ploy, he nonetheless remained calm at his position. Whilst the container was being dissipated by the insects, he lifted both of his arms outstretched and held them to the front, parallel to each other. After a few moments a crackling orb of mantis green colour formed in-between his palms, and when the container vanished at last, he was ready.

"Cero", he stated simply.

Then, the sphere exploded into a column of gleaming energy, right onto Gregorovich.

Ksenija sensed the attack and prepared to dodge, the insects moving away to also avoid the attack, letting the half eaten container fall to the floor with a thud, as the Cero reached her, Ksenija managed to dodge the attack with a quick burst of Shunpo, however, due to the power of the attack and the fragility of their arena, the floor crumbled, taking both the container and Ksenija down to a lower level of the building.

After a single glance at the destruction he had brought about, the Arrancar reached to his back with both of his stilt-like arms and drew his twin katana with abrupt motions. Then, he ran toward the hole in the floor and jumped down. He landed softly on the lower level, his legs bent slightly in the knees and his upper body leaning forward. He was holding his swords rather high, diagonally to the sides, and kept looking around in the search of the Balancer.

"Jō Sakana.", a voice echoed out from the dust and darkness.

As it said so, a blast of icy wind flew into the building, shortly followed by a diamond shaped spear made out of ice, the projectile flying at the Arrancar at a quickening pace. But when the spear was about to pierce its target, the Arrancar virtually coiled around it with his sickeningly flexible, lean body.

He had been faking a purely visual search for the enemy, all the while scanning the area with his heightened senses and fully expecting to be abruptly attacked. It appeared as if she had tried to use his own approach against him, which was a very bad idea. He could clearly sense her considerable Reiatsu, so she was like a shining beacon amongst the purely visual darkness of the room, which in fact he could pentrate with his sight just as well. As such, the moment he narrowly evaded the technique he turned around and leapt toward the source of it, preparing to strike en route. The left arm swung its blade in a high, horizontal slash intended do intercept a potential sword strike, whereas the right arm thrust forward with a very slight delay, the katana it held aimed at Gregorovich's heart.

"Finally", Ksenija murmured.

As she whispered those words the swarm of bugs that were previously eating the container swarmed at the now visible Arrancar, attempting to overwhelm him while Ksenija took her chance and retreated so as to avoid his attack. Seeing her reaction, the Arrancar widened his eyes slightly. Then, he halted hastily and swung both of his blades at the swarm, trying to push them away. Right afterward he made a backward leap with the use of Sonído. He landed on the floor a moderate distance from the Balancer.

"Stupid bitch", he muttered in a fairly casual tone.

He was quite dumbfounded by the extremely defence-oriented method of fighting displayed by his opponent. Curious, he assumed a seemingly relaxed stance and remained stationary, gazing at her from behind his shades.

Ksenija didn't move from her position, the bugs that managed to evade the Arrancar's swipes once again circling around the Balancer.

"I wonder how long the battle will last until one of us becomes too tired to continue on.", Ksenija mused once again, putting another message in her words aimed at the Arrancar.

To be honest, he had not used up too much energy so far, his Cero being the only attack that required some sort of effort. On the other hand the Balancer woman did not seem to be willing to seize the initiative and merely kept responding to his manoeuvres with little follow-up. This way their fight could take forever.

He did not like protracted combat. His preferred way of fighting was swift and efficient − strike from the shadows to kill the enemy in one blow. Or at least after a brief scuffle. The current duel was slowly wearing down his patience. Even his attempt to shift to a more direct approach was met with yet another "block or dodge" reaction. He had to maintain his composure, though, for he could not afford a lapse in concentration.

He kept staring at the Balancer and her insect-producing spiritual weapon for a while. Then, he sheathed both of his swords and aimed both arms at her, all fingers pointed forward. Semi-liquid threads of Reishi web burst forth abruptly from the fingertips, forming an expanding net as they were approaching and descending upon the swarm.

Ksenija looked on with a look of mild shock as she saw the vast majority of her defence get caught in a net, the bugs struggled desperately, and began to eat through the web, however due to it's structure, their progress was slower than normal.

"Oh fine then, let's play by your rules for a little while.", Ksenija said, her words rang out for a merely second before she charged towards the Arrancar, changing her battle style from defensive to offensive so as to elicit more of a fight than a waiting game.

A disturbing smile outstretched on the Arrancar's face when he ensnared the insects. Of course, they started struggling to escape quickly, but as long as they were entangled in his web whilst he was holding it he could syphon their spiritual energy. He began the absorption immediately, but Gregorovich's reaction was fast. Unwilling to let go just yet, he detached only one set of threads from the left hand and swiftly drew a katana to defend himself.

Ksenija could feel an energy loss from her insects as they ate their way through the web, but for some odd reason, she was unable to recall them, so her only option was to challenge the odd Arrancar first and then help the insects.

She began by responding to the Arrancar's drawing of his weapon by attempting the push it out of the way by flipping around and using the sole of her boot to kick the side of the katana away from her while she attempted to slice off the other hand of the spider-like Arrancar, aware that touching the silk that made up the web may cause more energy to be drained from her.

Thanks to his enhanced reflex and heightened awareness bordering on precognition the Arrancar knew what was coming. That was not to say he was able to foil the manoeuvre, however, for he needed to be physically able to do so after all. The Balancer succeeded to deflect his sword arm, though he had been able to move his other one just enough to avoid amputation, her blade slicing cleanly through the threads growing from his fingertips instead. Disconnected from his web, he jumped back with the help of Sonído.

He had not absorbed much energy from the insects, but the slight boost and temporary incapacitation of the swarm offered him an opportunity to strike. As a result, he drew his other katana and promptly leapt at Gregorovich, swinging both of his arms with speed sufficient to render his blades into swishing blurs.

Though thrown off somewhat by the Arrancar's reactions to her move, Ksenija managed to position her sword in a way that deflected the katanas so that she wasn't majorly harmed, however due to her awkward position, one of the blades managed to slash her shoulder, causing a small spray of blood to erupt from the wound. Retreating a small distance, Ksenija examined the cut, which while a solid hit on her, wasn't incredibly debilitating for her, shaking it a couple times, she turned back to the Arrancar as her insects, now free from the energy sapping qualities of the web, ate their way through it and started swarming around her, ready to pounce as she was.

Her opponent assumed a peculiar fighting stance, leaning forward with both of his swords held rather high. He had aimed to cut off the Balancer's tendons, but she managed to avoid that. To make matters worse, her insects had escaped from the Reishi webs and were ready to aid their master. The stealthy approach had not worked, and to have any hope to win in direct combat he had to use every asset at his disposal.

Suddenly, he swung both of his katana upward, small blobs of green energy travelling the length of their blades before erupting toward the ceiling. The Bala blasts caused two small explosions that cracked the concrete. Dust and debris fell upon the two fighters, concealing the Arrancar's next movement. He jumped quickly, and with a swift rotation he "landed" on the ceiling above him, sticking to it as if it were floor. Then, he ran around the hole punched in the surface and toward the Balancer. En route, using his height and the impressive reach of his stilt-like arms, he made a sweeping rotating motion with both of his swords, attempting to decapitate his opponent with this unusual manoeuvre.

In response to the clouding of the Arrancar's movements, Ksenija stated to rush out of the debris filled area, however, as she started to move, she just barely saw the glint of the Arrancar's swords coming towards her. Raising her sword, the Balancer purposefully started falling so she could slide under the attack, her sword deflecting one of the cold blades while the other managed to cause a small cut on her forehead, but nothing else. Now out of the dust and danger, Ksenija used her free hand to spin herself around and get into a kneeling position, which she quickly got out of and into a standing position, commanding her swarm of bugs to swarm the ceiling area so as to flush out the Arrancar.

"Tsk-tsk", he uttered as the insects were approaching him.

The Arrancar covered himself instinctively as they swarmed him. The voracious bugs began biting him, inflicting tens of miniature wounds. His Hierro was able to limit the damage, but a prolonged exposure could prove highly dangerous. Thus, he started swinging madly with both of his swords and then swatted some of the insects from his body before retreating with the use of Sonído. When he landed he was panting slightly, his uniform torn in many places.

The Balancer was strong, no doubt about that, but her fighting prowess seemed somewhat lacking. The Arrancar could not shake off the impression that it was not a mere opportunity to boost his power – it was the opportunity. He could not let it slip out of his grasp. In that case, he had to make use of every asset at his disposal.

"Quodrak Verros, Soldat of the Wandenreich", he at last introduced himself to the enemy.

He raised his arms crossed across his chest and held the twin katana upward. An unnerving grin outstretched on his already peculiar countenance.

"Ensnare, Araña", he stated calmly, suddenly enveloped by a light green aura of rising Reiatsu.

Part 5

45th Southern Rukongai, Kōon

The stone-cobbled building was easily obliterated by the luminous arrows of the Quincy, numerous holes bursting punching through each point like a digital eraser wiping away mistakes instantaneously. There was one flaw, the targets meant to suffer the true force of that volley were not present. Purple and blue blurs shot out from either side as the twin balancers moved, cutting into the outer most ranks of Ho-jin's subordinates.

Two white-clad soldiers plummeted to the ground, blood flowing like a river in reverse behind them, cut down by the lengthy swords either woman wielded.

"Not bad for a first move, Sister", said Hán Zhāng with a stern air. "Hey, I try", Hán Fāng replied, her face almost beaming under that light compliment.

Ho-jin Kwon frowned when he saw the death of two of his men. Then, he gazed at the two female Balancers responsible and there was an intimidating glint in his dark eyes.

"Of course they'd come for me", he grumbled at first. "Men, split up, maintain distance and fire at will!", he shouted toward the troops shortly afterward.

The Soldaten did not need any further instructions. With the use of rudimentary Hirenkyaku skills they were able to slide away on miniature platforms made from solidified Reishi, quickly increasing distance from the two dangerous opponents. Kwon himself followed his order, though with visibly greater proficiency. After mere moments later a barrage of Heilige Pfeile rained upon the Balancer twins from various directions.

The sisters drew close to each other, back-to-back when surrounded by their Human opponents. They glanced at either momentarily before each motioned with their swords in specific ways. Fāng rotated hers forty five degrees whilst in her grip causing a sudden invisible pressure to erupt around the area inevitably throwing the Quincy spirit arrows off course as they suddenly began to descend. Zhāng waved her sword in front of her as if weaving with a wand, the motion seemed innocuous at first but the arrow originally headed straight for her found itself broken, dispersing back into the air as degrading scraps of Reishi whilst the Quincy who fired it crumpled to the earth, his legs suddenly severed from his upper body.

"I'll clear out the trash, get him", Zhāng commanded rather flatly before she dashed off towards the other Soldat with Shunpo.

"W-wha- aw, damnit", Fāng complained to herself before doing the same, lunging through the air at Ho-jin, intent on cutting him down with diagonal sweep of her blade.

The remaining Soldaten kept manoeuvring and firing at Zhāng. However, they were fully aware that the enemy of such rank was far out of their depth, and the most they could do was to provide a temporary distraction. In the meantime, their commander had his own opponent to confront. Fāng closed in on the Sternritter and her blade swung toward him in a potential killing blow.

Surprisingly, it somehow missed by several centimetres even though Kwon did not seem to make any move. He did not stay immobile any longer, though, using Hirenkyaku to circle around the Balancer all the while showering her with regular Heilige Pfeile.

She moved in the opposite direction, her sword flowing freely through the air in an attempt to intercept the Quincy, all the while the Heilig Pfeil pelted against her, immersing her in a cloud of explosions and searing pain.

Zhāng kept moving, a continuous flurry of flash steps in order to prevent the Soldat from getting a bead on her in fear that she be shot out of the sky for having stopped for even a moment. Her hands moved, taking up a different pattern each time a step finished.

"Hyō, Kai, Jin, Retsu, Zen - Shōshaju", her words hung on the air with ethereal prominence before a mass of ink-blank arms started assaulting the assembled Quincy, their own shadows having given form to the appendages that grappled onto them in anyway they could and began pulling them to the earth.

Screams of shock, fear and pain resounded in the area. Some of the Soldaten attempted to shoot at the ancient spell, but to no avail. Soon, all of them were in the Kadō's grasp, incapacitated, and for a Quincy incapacitation meant death.

Fāng's sword reached Ho-jin. Although its blade mysteriously veered off course yet again, this time the change of trajectory was much less significant, and the tip managed to slash the Sternritter across his left arm. There was a spray of blood and the man frowned due to pain, but he quickly used Blut Vene to plug the wound. Then, he slid backward, employing Hirenkyaku to gain some distance, maintaining suppressive fire to discourage the Balancer from following him.

The Balancer's sword was forced to become a shield, its sleek metal surface cutting down those suppressive arrows that got close enough to harm her, the focus of her swings entirely with her left arm to ease up on her other injured appendage.

A distance away, Zhāng pounced on the bound Soldat, as distracted as they were by their ink black trappings. Without them to intervene it was more than simple to enact an execution. Two heads had been lopped off, and only a short few remained.

"Shit!"

"Shoot her! Shoot, dammit!"

The several Soldaten ceased struggling with their shackles and instead once again aimed their bows at the Balancer. Whilst they re-opened fire, one of them kept rummaging through the small containers attached to his belt. Then, he pulled out the object he had been looking for and lifted the arm high.

"Take this, bitch!", he screamed with a mixture of satisfaction and panic.

With those words he threw the item at the ground: a small, silver Gintō tube. The moment it reached the pavement, the liquid spiritual energy contained within unleashed a fairly sizeable explosion that consumed the remaining troopers in a desperate attempt to harm the enemy officer.

In the meantime, Ho-jin exploited the opportunity to disengage the Balancers and find a hiding spot to calm down and think. The local Wandenreich forces had been standing their ground so far, but with two powerful enemy commanders and only him to counter them they were going to be in a lot of trouble. He cursed silently and shook his head.

Suddenly, he spotted a Seele Schneider embedded in the ground mere couple of metres away from him. Surprised, he began looking around and soon he noticed another one, located a medium distance away in a narrow alley. He had not set them up, so who could have that been?

Had the Soldat not declared his intentions as he did, Zhāng was sure she would be in some manner of pain. But she wasn't stupid, the moment the Quincy soldier had voiced his vile quip her body acted reflexively and her mastery of Shunpo fled from the immediate area. She stood on the outskirts of the blue flame, the heat brushing against her form, its luminosity glowing in her eye whilst her face scrunched up in contempt.

"Disgraceful", she spat the word out with complete disgust for their actions before moving on. She swept her sword to the side with a forceful flicker, removing the blood that had stained it from her previous kills before it could dry in, there would be many more iterations of that today, she was sure.

In the distance Fāng was left to her own devices. She wasn't an active combatant in her own eyes, she didn't want to be murdering anyone, really. She would when pressed of course, but when the Quincy ran away and began hiding? Well that counted as a win all the same right?

Kwon was shocked that his opponent had not followed him. Anyway, now that his squad was gone he had to stay vigilant all the same, for the other Balancer officer might not have been so generous. He lowered the amount of spiritual pressure emanated by his body and began searching through the area, holding his Quincy bow, Byeonlyugi, at the ready. After a few moments he spotted a peculiar event: yet another Seele Schneider literally appeared out of thin air and fell to the ground gleaming blade first.

Somebody or something was setting up a Sprenger. Needless to say, Ho-jin was rather puzzled by this, but was willing to accept the unusual help. He allowed a slightly larger amount of Reiatsu to emit from his body, not enough to be suspicious, but hopefully sufficient to pose as a lapse to attract attention. Once again he looked at the Seele Schneider which had been already set up, triangulating the would-be centre of the formation. Then, he walked into the open and grabbed a single Seele Schneider himself, putting it in his bow.

A single drop of sweat flowed on his temple.

Zhāng arrived at her sister's side with the flickering of Shunpo echoing lightly in the air. Whilst Fāng had simply taken to relaxing her blade on her shoulder still precariously held at an odd angle from the previous uses of her abilities.

"Where is that Quincy?", Zhāng asked with a tone that clearly expected an earnest and favourable answer, though she doubted that she would get so much from her sibling.

"Eh... Behind that house up ahead?", she'd replied in the form of a question, a lackadaisical smile on her face.

"We don't have time for this, he'll be here soon", Zhāng stressed only for the sound of conflict in the distance to be replaced by that of constant screaming. The expressions of the two women became rather dire after that and they quickly fell into combat stances once again.

"We're driving him out", Zhāng stated, waving her sword in front of her. "Yes, sister", Fāng replied with a wholehearted seriousness. With the previous motion complete, both of them burst into motion, flash steps blinking across several points as they covered the distance.

There was a rippling creak as Zhāng's sword wave cut through the wall of the building, it kept flying, aiming for the next wall and the being on the other side of it. To make matters worse, both women emerged on either side of the building, ready to pounce on their foe once again.

Ho-jin had been prepared for this, however. The moment the two women began moving he fired the Seele Schneider at the base of the building in front of him, the weapon piercing the pavement and embedding itself in the perfect spot. He widened his eyes when he saw the Balancers and some sort of attack busting through the building all coming at him, yet all he needed to do was to proceed with his hasty, precarious plan. As such, he immediately started sliding backward with the use of Hirenkyaku, his body now gleaming faintly with the outlines of activated Blut Vene.

That invisible blade pierced through the second wall, and covered the distance rapidly encroaching on the Quincy who had now become illuminated by his own abilities. The blade was little more than an impression on the air, a force that couldn't be seen by normal means, but it could surely be felt. The Quincy's senses would flare, alerting him to the presence of an immediate danger, it would be down to his reactions whether or not it harmed him.

But having flanked their opponent, if only briefly, the Balancer twins weaved their bodies for another spell. Their hands drew close to their chest, drawn in side by side before striking out in a simultaneous striking motion which generated twin beams of lightning to fire on Ho-jin.

The Korean Sternritter propelled himself into the air, still moving away from his enemies. The barely perceptible blade and now two lightning currents were converging upon him quickly, and he had little time to evade them. However, with his Blut Vene already prepared to reduce the inevitable damage, he employed yet another ability to withstand the joint attack. But unlike Blut Vene, it was a unique ability bestowed specifically upon him.

His Schrift, the Vector. By sending subtle yet potent ripples through his Reiatsu, he could change the vectors of impending spiritual techniques and objects, no matter their exact nature. Thus, he focussed the Vector upon the impending strikes, throwing off the invisible blade of air and lightning bolts so that they all veered toward a single point... a metre in front of him.

The resultant explosion launched him backward, with the added impetus of his Hirenkyaku manoeuvre plunging him at and then through the wall of a nearby building. Although he sustained damage, he had succeeded with his plan: in the end he escaped the pentagon-shaped formation created by the Seele Schneider, whereas the two Balancer women were about to reach its centre.

The Seele Schneider lit up suddenly, glowing lines of light slate grey energy shooting toward a single point in the middle of the formation, beneath the Balancer officers.

"Zhāng!", called her sister as she became aware of the activated Sprenger technique. Zhāng merely spat under her breath at their collective carelessness. It didn't stop her from planning ahead however. Her body kicked into gear and she moved towards her sibling, not even a single flash step had been made before the formation had fully awoken, engulfing the duo in an explosion of silvery luster.

When the dust settled, the two remained standing. Their bodies had taken on a minutia of damage during this short conflict, but had now become riddled in searing scars, Reishi-developed fire nipping at the skin, corroding and melting their attire. Regardless they were still in fighting shape.

Zhāng swung her blade in that signature pattern as she had done several times before, repeating it again immediately after, Fāng watched with intent this time, an unexpected focus from the purple-clad sister.

In the meantime, Ho-jin had partially got out of the rubble from the demolished building he was in. He supported himself with both hands in a half-sitting position, a single pebble falling and bouncing off his head as he gazed in the direction of the Sprenger and the two Balancers. The front of his uniform was tattered, and his body was singed and covered in ash. Fortunately, the combination of Blut Vene and the Vector had managed to limit the damage, so whilst he felt a bit dizzy, he could still...

"Hey, are you all right?"

"Ah!", Kwon screamed in response to the mysterious voice, taken by surprise.

Suddenly a man appeared next to him out of the blue. A short, bespectacled and unassuming middle-aged man whom you could pass by on a walk and not even notice. An unassuming man in a distinct white uniform, a full-fledged Sternritter emanating spiritual pressure comparable to a Shinigami Captain.

"Sorry", he said, lending Ho-jin his hand and helping him stand up. "I keep scaring people like this."

The Korean Quincy kept staring at him, brushing off his uniform at the same time.

"It's you", he mused. "Donovan... Joseph Donovan-ssi?"

The aforementioned Sternritter raised his eyebrows in genuine surprise.

"Yeah, that's right", he answered.

Kwon was about to say something, but then he turned around rapidly toward the enemies and summoned back the Beyonlugi.

"We've got them, but they're still up for more", he stated in a tense voice, lifting the bow higher.

"Right", confirmed the other Sternitter whilst reaching to an exterior pocket of his uniform's jacket.

Suddenly, the Quincy cross he drew morphed into an intimidating sniper rifle. Ho-jin goggled at the weapon, dumbfounded, but before he was able to comment Donovan turned it toward the two Balancer officers and fired. The charged energy projectile burst forth from the long barrel with a thunderous noise and busted through the remains of the building's outer wall, speeding toward the enemies.

The tremendous roar of the spiritual arrow found itself cut short with Zhāng's prior launched attacks reaching the speeding projectile. The first collided and the arrow split in twain, triggering the natural effect of a Heilig Pfeil, a spiritually charged explosion which gave away the second invisible blade as it carved a swathe through the cloud to continue on the empty trail between itself and the target which had suddenly doubled, becoming two beings.

"How the heck did we miss a second guy?", Fāng questioned rather loudly with obvious disbelief. Her twin feigned composure, but her annoyance was clear as her teeth bit into her lower lip, a trickle of blood emerging from the pressure.

"There's more to these Quincy than paltry tricks", Zhāng answered though it seemed more directed to herself than her sister.

"Dodge!", shouted Kwon whilst doing just that.

He swayed to the side, but the fringe of the air blade still cut his right arm as it was passing by. Still, it was better than being split in half. When he quickly moved farther into the damaged building Ho-jin noticed that Donovan had disappeared without a trace. No body, no Reiatsu, no anything.

He remembered the man because he was the one who never bothered him. If he recalled correctly, his Schrift was called "the Nobody". Even though he had not seen it in action until now, given the recent events it was easy to guess that it allowed Joseph to make himself invisible. No, not invisible, imperceptible.

About two seconds after Zhāng's attack had reached the building a crackling Heilig Pfeil shot toward her from the alley next to it. No flash, no sound, just a charged energy projectile appearing out of thin air.

There, though she took the time to evade the oncoming projectile, Zhāng wasted none on ensuring she had retaliated, drawing her sword into the right position she launched it at the point of origin for the sudden Heilig Pfeil, the long blade becoming something of a javelin in flight.

Her attack flew onward and pierced the wall of the other building standing next to the alley. It did not seem to be blocked or redirected in any manner, but it was impossible to tell whether it hit its intended target, and if it indeed had dealt any damage to the mysterious Quincy, what was it extent.

Meanwhile, Ho-jin exited the demolished building through the back door. He ran for a short while, gaining some distance and putting a couple more buildings in between him and the two Balancer women. He was glad that Donovan had come to join the battle and would provide him with much needed support. However, the enemies had survived the surprise Sprenger and appeared to be more than willing to continue fighting.

What a troublesome pair...

He stopped, leaning on a wall with his back. Then, he lifted his bow to the sky and began firing a sustained barrage of Heilige Pfeile. Rather than fly straight upward, the gleaming arrows were turning parallel to the ground after achieving a certain altitude and subsequently speeding toward the enemy officers, their Reiatsu acting as a signal beacon for the heightened senses of the Sternritter.

Zhāng outstretched her hand in front of herself whilst her blade, embedded in that far wall began to wriggle itself free, shooting across the distance to return itself to her hand. It was a strange bond that these weapons shared with their wielders, one that couldn't easily be summed up as simply symbiotic, or one and the same.

Fāng had closed in on her sister, acting as a protective shield as her own blade countered the unnaturally moving arrows that sought them out, it was a feat of both speed and precision given the girl's need to make out each individual arrow as she swept them away.

Zhāng had become focused on their surroundings, the Quincy were clearly capable of bringing more to bare than those simple arrows, and she greatly disliked being on the defensive, but striking out before they could find that other Quincy would have been nothing but folly on their part.

Ho-jin cursed yet again. His defensive capabilities were remarkable, but he had little to show off in terms of offence. With such a flaw the engagement was doomed to become protracted and strenuous, something which he would much rather avoid. He could not really just come out of hiding and blast the enemies to smithereens with a single attack. He had to think.

The Sprenger had not killed the Balancers, but definitely dealt damage. Simple Heilige Pfeile were insufficient to harm the opponents, but Seele Schneider were a different story. He still had five left in the containers strapped to his belt. He quickly drew one and put it in his bow. Then, he waited for a while. He could not communicate with Donovan, but he hoped the Sternritter was smart enough to attack and distract the enemies anytime soon.

All of a sudden, a number of charged Heilige Pfeile burst forth toward the Han twins from the rooftop of a fairly distant building. Once again there was no warning, just several gleaming projectiles suddenly speeding in their direction with high speed, apparently shot in a semi-automatic mode of fire. Kwon himself could not hear, or given his position even see, the attack, but he was able to sense its energy signature. Thus, he fired his Seele Schneider and led it the same way as the Heilige Pfeile before, toward the Reiatsu of his opponents.

"Fāng", stated the commanding sister, "already on it", the more submissive of the two replied. The purple-clad woman repeated the same process as before, carving through the stream of spiritual arrows like they were nothing. At the same time Zhāng pulled back her arm and threw her sword towards the source with remarkable precision, the blade flew forth through the air like a bullet, right through the storm of arrows without brushing against any of them. It was that same perceptive quality that allowed Zhāng to pick out the glint of silver among the arrows of clumped together Reishi and Reiryoku.

It was too late to plan around and so her body moved before she could think; it simply reacted. She rammed her sibling out of the way, allowing herself to be blasted by the remaining Heilig Pfeil, the damage from them was minimal, superficial burns and bruises at worst. Then the sword-like arrow struck.

Her eyes shot wide as they followed her right arm, lopped off right in front of her. "Wha-", all she could illicit was half-hearted confussion amidst the shock overtaking her mind.

"Zhāng? Zhāng!", Fāng became frantic with worry, but her twin could scarcely hear the words over the pounding of her own heartbeat as it reverberated within her skull. The sound was eventually overwhelmed by an increasing anger, everything swirled around in her head. Inadequate, weak, shallow was all the woman could hear before her body finally forced her to scream in pain.

She clasped her free hand around the remaining stub of her upper arm. It had been cleanly severed, the properties of the Seele Schneider having annihilated the bonds between the partles that had made up her arm. There was no blood, not even a torn scrap of clothing. That part of her arm had just... stopped existing. Whatever had been below it was now a lifeless mass on the ground.

"Serves you right", stated a raised voice from a distance.

Kwon emerged from one of the alleys over a dozen metres from the twin Balancers. He was holding his bow high, another Seele Schneider resting within it ready to be fired.

"We've almost had everything fixed", he said sternly, a hostile expression on his face. "But you absolutely had to ruin that and make a horrible mess."

He halted, still a moderate distance away from the enemies, constantly aiming his bow at them. He had sensed the severe disturbance in the Balancer's Reiatsu when the Seele Schneider struck her. That was the only reason he had come out of hiding. That, and he felt it appropriate to confront them directly before finishing them off.

"I can't show you mercy", he said, frowning, another streak of sweat flowing on his temple. "The best way to deal with a serious problem is to make sure it will never bother you again", he added, drawing the bow.

"Fixed?", Zhāng responded in disbelief, "We've already heard, you fools caused this mess, if the balance breaks its on your head", her words dripped with venom, clearly angered by the current events if her expression didn't make it clear.

"But as a Balancer, responsible for the protection of souls, this is just what I need", her lips formed into a wide grin, exposing her gritted teeth. Combined with her widened, rage-lidded eyes, the once composed Balancer looked positively maniacal.

Her hand raised, caring not if it had struck that elusive Quincy lurking around the area. The blade returned to her just in time for her Reiatsu to swell up. "Shìfàng", she spoke and the bubble that her Reiatsu had become burst in a powerful shockwave that radiated across the area. Her Jiūkǔndao melted into the grasp of her hand, the metal disolving into her flesh. Her head jerked upwards, her right eye twitching as four large spindly appendages ripped their way out of her bag. They drew up in front of her whilst steam piled up behind her, closing the newly formed wounds.

But by then, it was already too late.

Part 6

He had led a solitary march across the Rukongai district, his subordinates clashed in the street freely, though they were sure to stay out of his way. It was a road fraught with enemies, which had been perfect for that elderly Balancer. He cared not for casualties on his side, but he would loathe the cause to have been by his own blade, as such it was best that he have no allies at his side for then the miasma he released could move freely.

And so it had.

A massive cloud of purple rose up from Kōon's streets, masses of screams raged across the Rukongai as each Quincy were rendered little more than writhing messes before him. The truest display of suffering took place around him as his blade unleashed its power, those who were lucky died quickly, but most could not even vocalize such a mercy.

He marched on free of distraction, until those all too familiar pin danced across his mind. Powerful presences clashing drew him towards them, and soon enough he happened upon the disgraceful scene of his subordinates losing to this sub-Human trash. Made steps, moving under a flash though he was completely silent. He plunged his dagger towards the back of the Korean descended Quincy, a billowing fog peering out from the corner's of his eyes hinting at Zhōng's arrival.

Ho-jin had been taken by surprise. Distracted by the strange transformation of the supposedly nigh-dead enemy, he could do little but wince as the Marshal's blade sank in his back. He swayed, leant forward and then leapt high into the air with the use of Hirenkyaku, instinctually trying to get away from the unexpected threat as fast as possible.

Meanwhile, the ever elusive Joseph Donovan had been able to avoid the invisible counter attack launched at him by one of the female Balancers, unlike the previous one, thanks to the considerable distance. With a fairly sizeable hole in his abdomen he was now laying on yet another building, prepared to fire. Unfortunately, he had been confused by the strange transformation as well, thus he had not managed to prevent the new enemy from attacking Kwon. Be that as it may, now that Sternritter V moved away from the line of fire, Donovan at last fired the Cypher. Charged with Blut Arterie, the Heilig Pfeil assumed the form of an electrified beam of energy which erupted toward the new opponent out of the blue.

Only able to view it clearly with one eye as he was, Zhōng took it as an eyesore. A gaudy, all too bright beam of light headed right for him. His body moved as a blur, making an unimagineably quick step to the side, allowing the beam to pass him and cut a swathe through the miasmic cloud that had been behind him, though the gaseous air quickly filled in the space left in the energized wake of the attack.

The elderly man began weaving his hands through some intricate motions before slamming them down on the earth causing a singular pulse to illuminate the dirt around him briefly. It began to transform, spiralling outwards in a continuous wave of spikes, caring not whether he harmed his subordinates in his attack. "How dare you besmirch my path", he stated inwardly with disgust.

His spell stopped not long after, the man forced to raise his blade in defense at the arrival of another surprising presence. A steel boot ground itself into the dagger he wielded in front of his chest before vanishing from view. There was an explosion on the roofs nearby Ho-jin and the Hán twins. The slatted roof had been caved in by the force of a landing, this armour-clad being standing clear on the internal foundation of the building's ceiling.

"That's strike one!", cheered Kaede Kiseki.

——— A Short Time Earlier ———

The two young Sternritter stood in the darkened hall of the Mitteilungteil, numerous large monitors being the only source of light for them and the numerous Wandenreich officers doing their jobs through out. They had their eyes set on one particular station manned by a Soldat as it scanned across various maps of Soul Society. There were blips on these mapsi n various sizes, their identities differentiated by several colours. Blue denoted those illustrious soldiers of the Wandenreich, while white was for those Pluses fleeing the conflict zones and red marked those Balancers of Souls as the enemy that must be destroyed.

Soon enough the monitor illuminated a map of the 45th Southern Rukongai and with it they were able to get an image of one particular individual.

"He's there, Haiiro", said Kaede in a fiery tone, seemingly excited by the idea of fighting that individual again, though her teeth clicked under the weight of the memories of that painful scene.

"I see him.", Haiiro called out, sharing his partner's excitement of finding the man that had so easily beat him in their previous fight, he wore a grin on his face as he viewed the little blip on the screen, confident that this time he was ready to fight and win.

"Is that all, sir?", asked the Soldat, who had turned in his seat to regard the two Sternritter that had been ordering him around.

"Yeah, thanks!", Kaede replied, turning on her heel before walking towards the exit of the hall, the tails of her scarf trailing behind her. Haiiro followed suit as he ran out of the room, eager to fight the Balancer they had fought back in Inaba, drawing one of his Seele Schneider's in anticipation.

Once in the hallway, Kaede stopped, once again turning on her heel in order to face her partner. The sleek rubber of her boot on the cold ice floor caused a slick squeak in the process whilst she turned on a graceful pivot.

"Y'know, I've been working on a little somethin' recently, I think this is the perfect time to try it out!", still excited but a tad bashful now, the young woman stared Haiiro in the face, before forcing herself to clear her throat. She'd become a little fidgety in the moment, removing her hat, ruffling at her hair and then placing it back atop those perfectly set silken locks. Haiiro, despite being slightly confused at the sudden change in Kaede's behaviour, ignored her odd behaviour and turned to face her.

"What is it? A new gintō? A new kind of weapon? A new form for your Polymorph ability?", Haiiro asked, adding a more curious tone to his voice for every guess he made. as he did so, he started to once again wonder why Kaede became more fidgity while mentioning her new project, becoming a little worried after thinking about it for a little while.

"Heh, damn, I was hoping you wouldn't be able to guess", Kaede's smile faded as she became serious. Closing her eyes and taking a deep breath, her chest puffing out and then pressing back down. "Just watch, alright?"

It was a few moments before anything began to occur. The air suddenly filled with scraps of manipulated Reishi, pulling themselves towards Kaede in a storm of shapeless petals. They stuck to her skin, gradually covering it up and then the girl herself seem to pop out of existence, leaving behind a much greater swarm of the same fragments. Their colour shifted, the typical blue becoming a strong shade of red-violet before they assaulted Haiiro, repeating the same process, each one latching onto his skin like the outer folds of a papier-mâché project.

Soon enough the boy was entirely wrapped up in its confines, his breath tightened and his vision became resricted by an all-consuming black. The feeling then dissipated, slowly, though his vision did not return, he could feel that he was encased in something different, something... solid.

"Wait what the hell!?", Haiiro cried out in shock, using his hands to try and feel what he was encased in, however to his surprise he was unable to feel anything per se, all that happened was the clang of metal, which then made it click for him.

"You became armour!", he finally realised, excitied at his partner's new trick, however as he tried moving about he realised he couldn't breathe, stopping before trying to inform Kaede.

"Hey Kaede... can't, breathe well...", he wheezed, surprised of how little air there was to breathe inside the airtight armour.

"Oh, sorry, sorry, I forgot about that", a flickering eye-like flame appeared on the front of the armoured form's faceplate, radiating each time Kaede vocalized a word. A series of previously inert lines of the suit began to glow with Reishi and the sides of the neck suddenly became breezy, the suit was airtight, and it remained so, but Kaede began manipulating the Reishi around them, turning the neck plate into oxygen and back constantly.

"The suit's a little airtight, it was something I was working on fixing, but this'd be perfect for that guy, don'cha think?", her voice became excited again as she pointed out the apparent genius of her new form. Haiiro started to gasp as he finally got the oxygen his brain had been crying for the past minute of so, he straigented up and a wide smile because painted on his face.

"Yeah! this is great, whole suffocating thing may need work but this should put that guy in his place!", Haiiro joyously called out, joking on the small oversight Kaede made with her new form, "Oh yeah, I also have a new trick up my sleeve too! Might be a bit difficult pulling it off with this armour on though, but oh well, I guess I need the practice.", Haiiro mentioned, summoning his bow as his words came out of his mouth.

"Its time for some revenge then, lets go!", she cheered as if leading a marching band. The interior of the armour began forming invisible threads that latched onto Haiiro's entire body, a weaved net of Ransōtengai that would make moving far easier.

"Hey wait a sec, I wanna show you my trick too.", Haiiro noted, a smirk on his face as he started forming a normal Heilig Pfeil arrow in his metallic silver star of a bow, as it was fully formed, it turned black in colouration a couple seconds before it once again started changing, the arrow contorting and thickening, making links in itself before it's new form completed itself, instead of an arrow, Haiiro's Heilig Pfeil was now a relatively long and thick chain which was still drawn back in the bow. Haiiro then proceeded to let go of the Reishi string that made the bowstring, firing the chain at the nearby wall, crushing it as it hit the wall.

"See, I can pin enemies even better now!", Haiiro chimed excitedly, before straightening up, a thought occuring in his head, "Wait, I can't see! How will I be able to fight!?", he asked the suit of armour that was Kaede.

"Hm? Oh!", replying with sounds rather than words, her reaction finished with a metallic opening shift, a quick jamming noise as the face plate opened up slightly, two rectangular slates, previously covering Haiiro's eyes rose up, resting above like a pair of blocky eyebrows. His eyes were assaulted by the light of the outside world, and his left was stuck peering into a red-esque overlay with Kaede's own ethereal eye resting above his.

"Nice, this should help! Let's go then!", Haiiro shouted out, a vigour in his voice that said that the young Quincy was eager to move and meet the Balancer who defeated both of them previously. He turned, carrying the weight of his new armour flawlessly, before propelling himself out of the nearby window. The descent was brief as they disappeared under an invisible platform created by Hirenkyaku.

———

The pseudo-fused pair leaped from their perch once more covering the distance in order to deliver a powerful kick to Zhōng who repelled it the same way as before, though this time, the force they carried was enough to push him across the alley.

"Strike two!", the radiating flame-like eye pulsed as Kaede spoke. "The geezer is ours, alright?!", she spoke to her fellow Sternritter, though the body of the suit didn't so much as turn in their direction allowing Haiiro to focus on the fight. With that said, they too disappeared into the alley to continue the fight.

"Hmph! I should have eradicated you both in that worthless city", spat Zhōng in annoyance. In front of him a massive spear of earth formed and fired forth across the ground, attempting to skewer the duo.

"That's your mistake then!", Haiiro shouted, his voice echoing in the helmet of the armour, amplifying it as he raised his bow, a black coloured arrow already drawn back, the arrow then started to contort and form a thick chain which Haiiro released, shooting it at the rocky spear, the chain managing to destroy both the spear's tip and momentum as it crashed into it. With the immediate threat out of way, the pair of Quincies rushed towards Zhong with the use of Haiiro's Hirenkyaku.

"You're right, so allow me to rectify that error", stood still, Zhōng placed one hand over the other, his hands outstretched before bending inwards. On his left, a pillar of rock emerged while on his right a pillar of fire burst out of the ground. He began moving into a stance resembling those used in Judo before thrusting a flat palm forward, directed at the oncoming Quincy. From his hand emerged a mighty wave of force followed by a ball of flame that quickly turned black as it flew with tremendous speed.

Haiiro skidded to a halt, impeded only slightly by the suit of armour that was Kaede thanks to the Rasotengai that was cast on it before leaping up into the air to avoid the attack, drawing his bow as soon as he felt he was properly out of the way of the blackened ball of hellfire.

"We gotta get close, and keep the gap closed", advised Kaede the red-violet eye radiating with life as her voice echoed outward.

On the ground Zhōng cast another ball of flame, the same process as before causing it to blast at them at lightning speeds. Haiiro has no time to react as the fireball exploded violently as it hit him and Kaede, causing a cloud of smoke to fill the alleyway, blocking the two from sight. As the dust settled, the suit of armour that was Haiiro and Kaede started to become more visible, it's form struggling itself into a kneeling position, one hand propping it up as the other clung onto Haiiro's bow.

"Ow, ow, ow, God that burns!", Kaede cried feeling the searing heat across what had become of her body. "Haiiro, please watch what your doing!"

Zhōng had not let up on his offense, the settling dust becoming a miasma of dark purple as he leapt into the alley, sweeping his blade in front. Haiiro, ignoring Kaede's warning for the time being, wasted no time in leaping up out of the alley so as to try and avoid the miasma and Zhong, the armour not allowing the harmful cloud to infect him as he plunged into fresh air, steam still billowing from the armour as it cooked the Quincy inside.

"Note...taken...never...get hit...by that again.", he panted, despite Kaede taking the brunt of the attack, Haiiro was affected more by it due to the still steaming armour burning him. Once Kaede was sure they were free of the miasma she forced the armour to open up, causing the heat to be expunged in jets of cooling stream. It was then sealed back up just in time for the elderly Balancer to launch a jet black spear at them. With the steam clearing up in time for him to observe the spear rocketing towards him, Haiiro managed to avoid the black spear with a hurried use of Hirenkyaku, barely dodging the powerful attack by soaring into the air, not wanting to wasting time the Quincy drew back the Reishi string on his bow and started firing a constant barrage of Heilig Pfleil's at the Marshal.

The signature sound of a flash step resounded beneath the explosions of the erupting Heilig Pfeil around Zhōng, culminating in a massive cloud of grey and purple appearing in front of the Quincy duo. Zhōng tore the clouds apart as he swung his blade at them, revealing the extent of damage he'd taken in the process. Much of the top half of his uniform had been destroyed and what little remained was quietly blown off by the wind. His body was muscular and well built though riddled with horrificly dense burn scars.

Seeing no time to dodge in the incoming swing Kaede began tugging at Haiiro's arms with the Ransōtengai strings that were attached to him throughout the suit whilst calling out, "Haiiro, block now!"

"Gotcha!", Haiiro shouted in reply, moving his arms in the direction Kaede was motioning it, positioning it in a way where the armour that was Kaede would block the fast approaching attack that Zhong has set in motion.

There was a loud scrape as metal rapped against metal, the armour preventing Zhōng from cutting through either of his opponents. His attack continued however as his hand grasped that same arm used to repel him while his dagger thrusted forward anew, aimed right for the neck joints of the armour.

The violin-shaped knife made a loud clanging sound as the armour unexpectadly blocked the attack, the neck joints sealed up so as to block the strike completely. Haiiro, taking the chance that was presented to him, motioned his leg so as the kick the Balancer away while also resummoning his bow in his free hand.

Zhōng's arm slipped from Haiiro's arm, descending in such a way as to prevent the incoming sweep of the boy's leg by fully catching it in his hand once again. His grip was loose, almost obviously so, but the deftness with which he countered his opponent could not be denied. In the next instance, his blade sweeped out to flush away the gathering Reishi in the Quincy's other hand before Zhōng retreated a small distance, a metre at most, and then charged right at the armour-borne duo. Clearly attempting to ram them.

Haiiro, using the seconds of time he'd gotten due to Zhōng's retreat, attempted to move out of the way of the charge that the old Marshal was doing, however he ended up getting partially hit, sending him careening away from him, the majority of the impact however was reduced, allowing the young Quincy to correct and stop himself before hitting the ground. After righting himself Haiiro attempted to grab one of his Seele Schneider's, only to hear a small clank of metal as he realised he was unable to actually equip himself with them.

"Uh, little help Kaede.", Haiiro asked sheepishly. As he spoke, the armour opened up and a Seele Schneider was spat out of the space before instantly sealed back up. The silver tube-like blade flew out into the open air leaving Haiiro needing to catch it. A short distance away Zhōng had begun moving his hands through a series of familiar motions falling short of the last one.

"I'm going to have you endure some of what I have faced in my time", he told the pair as three points of light emerged on the armour that was Kaede's current form whilst Zhōng performed the last motion causing them to be consumed in the rhythym of three powerful and intense explosions of flame.

The explosions and fire both burnt and caused the Quincy inside to stagger, however he managed to recover from the concussive force of the explosions while jets of steam were emitted from vents in the armour, in an attempt to not get caught by another Kadō spell, Haiiro decided to charge at Zhōng with his Seele, steam trailing behind him as the suit of armour ventilated itself, closing just in time for Haiiro to strike the Balancer.

The gleaming blue beam was stopped by Zhōng's own blade, the violin-shaped tool taking on damage from the maneuver made to stop the Seele Schneider.

"A Jiūkǔndao is not something you can best with those simple Quincy toys, boy!", Zhōng chastised whilst his arm drew back only to strike the Seele Schneider. Again and again, until his dagger eventually obliterated the gathering saw-like blade of Reishi. Haiiro quickly threw away the broken form that was the Seele Schneider as he used Hirenkyaku to retreat a fair distance, summoning his bow once again before replying to the old Balancer.

"I don't have access to my preferred weapon so they're all I have.", Haiiro explained, his voice ringing out from the suit of armour, it's tone sounding as if the Quincy was having a certain amount of fun fighting Zhōng as he unleashed a flurry of arrows towards him.

Part 7

Back in the Hakumei district, Amala was left with an ill-timed evasion as she caught wind of the screeching electrical attack coming her way, far too late to escape it. She appeared a short distance away, a billowing smoke cloud giving away her position. It wasn't all bad for the Quincy though as she took controlled of the massing heat, weaving it around herself in order to use in the continued fighting.

Tōru Yōshanai gazed at her from a fairly small distance.

Formerly a Togabito, he had been freed from his chains several decades ago. However, he was defeated by Captain Tarō Kinzoku in a vicious duel shortly afterward. As such, with his Soul no longer bound to Hell, he entered the circulation of spirits and was reborn as a Human in the World of the Living. He received new body and a blank mind, although his Soul remained stained forever.

He lived in Japan, just as broken and insane as before despite technically being a new entity. His ferocious nature doomed him to a short life with a violent end, so that he ultimately returned to Hell. Hikari Maebure had been waiting for him, and as soon as the newly damned Soul appeared in the Fifth Circle, he captured the fresh Togabito. With a Kidō-empowered ritual the venerable Tsumikami restored the true Tōru Yōshanai, only to turn him into a Tsumikami as well.

The appearance of the Balancers of Souls catching them somewhat by surprise, Yōshanai was not present in the Ninth Circle at the time of the confrontation between Maebure and the Marshals. Nevertheless, he was taken by him and Zetsubō Usuguraiboshi on their way out of Hell. He did not "attend" the Sternritter meeting with the other two Tsumikami, Maebure preferring to keep him and his violent nature away from the inevitable negotiations. Now that both parties agreed to cooperate and the grand battle began, Yōshanai was let loose to support the ranks of Quincy with his devastating might.

"Oi!", he exclaimed, pointing at Amala accusingly. "Watch it! I'm supposed to help you out, you know!?"

Any other words from Tōru or any potential response from Amala was drowned out in the large explosion like bang that occured as Naoko sent a bolt of electricity at Tōru, its presence making itself known before shooting down towards Tōru at an incredibly fast pace. Yōshanai did not move from his position. Instead, he grabbed the hilt of his Karadawaru with both hands and performed a sweeping motion, the superheated blade wreathed in flames.

"Orrrah!", he exclaimed.

The outburst of dark crimson flames clashed with the lightning bolt in a ground-shaking explosion. The techniques cancelled each other out, the resultant shockwave tousling his hair with a strong gust of hot air.

"Hmph. You two ain't fun at all", said Tōru with obvious disappointment.

Amala looked back at the fire-wielding Tsumikami with a half cocked look of annoyance and confusion. On one hand she'd been thinking that she wasn't there for his entertainment, on the other she had similiar thoughts about him and those were the ones that won out in the end.

"Look in the damn mirror, pal, you're a walkin' cliche! I bet you got some morbid lil' backstory to go along with that dirty mug a' yours!", she ranted at Tōru with clear, if sudden, dislike.

Yōshanai goggled at her at first, only for his face expression to change into a narrowed-eyes frown shortly afterward.

"Oh? You bet I do! How do you think I've ended up a Sinning God?", he replied with a grin outstretching on his pale face. "I am Tōru Yōshanai no Ishirō, the son of Tamotsu Yōshanai and Leiko Yamamoto."

With those words he abruptly leapt forward with the use of Shunpo, speeding toward Murakami followed by the trail of flames and heat emanated by his sword. Naoko raised her sword, ready to defend against the Tsumikami's strike and counter it, electricity exploding from her blade as he approached her.

"And all I wanted to do was chat.", Naoko whispered to herself, looking at the man charging towards her, she relaxed slightly, steadying herself before Tōru's blade hit hers.

"You don't mean that Yamamoto?", Amala said aloud with something akin to surprise though it quickly became clear that it was falsified as she began to smirk. "That supposed to make me quake in my little booties? That you're the uglier brother to that old fart?", she hadn't moved at the time, simply continuing with the act of building up a proper reserve of Reishi, converting it into the near-invisible shimmer that was her trademark.

"We crushed 'im under foot too!", she remarked as she unleashed an attack at last. Her fist reeled back and then she motioned a forward jab, a sightless blast of Reishi-formed heat rocketing across the battlefield towards Naoko's flank. Though the attack itself was hidden, its trail was obvious as the earth beneath it sunk in and liquified into a stone-like goop.

Yōshanai and Murakami clashed, fire against lightning. He pressed her with a couple of rapid swings, but then jumped back as he sensed the heat of Kshatriya's incoming technique.

"What? Grandpa died in this world too?", he asked first with genuine surprise, however his face expression soon changed into a focused frown.

"Wait, Yamamoto died?", Naoko asked, shocked, having completely forgotten about the death of the old Shinigami, she stared at Tōru before turning to Amala, "When did he die?", she asked in a state of genuine intrigue. Before she could get an answer, she felt a sharp heat coming from Amala's direction, finally remembering about Amala's attack on her, hurriedly, Naoko attempted to retreat to dodge the super heated air, however as she used Shunpō her arm still got caught in the wave, causing her sleeve to crumple up and burn away as her arm started cooking, forcing the Marshal to once again use Shunpō to get out of the proximity of the air, leaving her arm heavily burnt and smoldering.

"Hah! How outta the loop can ya get!?", Amala mocked, apparently the rumour mill in the World of the Living was far more pervasive than in the realm of the dead, not that she cared much. She ruffled a hand through her striking green feathered hair as the griping task of remembering dates took hold.

"Agh, its been... two months? Give or take a week or so", it hadn't been long since the fateful confrontation between the Captain-Commander and the Emperor of the Wandenreich, when all had been said and done, Yhwach left not even a scrap that could be mourned of the elderly Shinigami.

"But lets not get int'a that, we' got yer death to think about!", cold glimmering blue became the colour of Amala's veins, rushing across an intricate pattern across her dark skin whilst she jammed a fist into the earth, causing it to break and crumble with the simplest of ease. The earth began to do the same below Naoko, a fissure of corrosive air melting through the resistance of the cold, dry stone in order to leap at her as a pillar of melting destruction.

Tōru remained oddly calm and thoughtful throughout most of the conversation between the two women, gazing into the distance. The recent exchange had awoken old memories, cast light on the long-buried foundation that supported the unstable, burning furnace of his twisted mind. Old memories of past events that had veered his course from the path of noble warrior to the vast, uncharted plains of insanity.

"Y'know, my Father was a great warrior", he began seemingly without addressing anyone in particular. "He rarely was home, but whenever he came we would sit at a bonfire and listen to the stories. Then, he died in a battle", he continued as Amala was attacking Naoko, apparently not bothered that likely neither of them was paying much attention to his words.

Naoko, still wary due to the last attack Amala threw at her, took note of the crumbling ground and used Shunpō to speed out of the way of the immediate death zone that was the corrosive air pillar, saving her from being melted, however the Balancer could still feel a searing heat despite her relative safety from the attack, deciding to ignore the nigh unbearable heat, Naoko charged and sent a fast, power electric bolt at the ground that was weakened from Amala's attack, the shockwave from the lightning causing a large dome of the weakened earth to crumble and collapse in on itself. After shooting the bolt of electricity, Naoko retreated from the area that was now a pile of rubble, hoping that some corrosive air had lingered in the ground so as to affect Amala.

Amala had avoided the attack in advance, ripping her arm from the ground and propelling herself into the air with a powerful leap of her legs. Several acrobatic flips ended in her landing on the air, a bright blue platform of solid light forming beneath her. Her veins continued to glow with the flow of Reishi running through her system, the obvious explanation for such an inhuman feat.

"Are ya gonna spill yer whole life story here? Nobody cares!", Amala yelled, turning her attention back to Tōru.

"I wanted to be a great warrior like him", said Yōshanai with no indication that he had even heard her.

Instead, he grabbed the hilt of his Karadawaru with both hands and swung it quickly, unleashing a torrent of dark crimson flames... at the ground beside him. Then, he turned slightly. He shifted his stance, lifted the katana and made a sweeping motion with its heated blade, launching another wave of fire somewhere into the distance.

"I wanted to protect my Little Sister, so Mom taught me the basics of combat", he continued unabated as an arc of flames burst forth from his blade yet again, still not directed at any of the other fighters. Naoko looked at him in a confused manner, before turning to Amala, once again forgetting that the Quincy was supposed to be her enemy instead of her chatting buddy.

"Should we go and help him? He looks like he's having a crisis.", Naoko asked Amala, once again turning to look at the confusing antics of the Tsumikami who was meant to kill her.

"Haaaaaa?", Amala vocalized a tone of confusion, exaggerated and dragged out as it caught her somewhat by surprise. She looked over the lightning-wielding Balancer and then the flame-wielding loon nearby who'd been casting off attacks in every direction except those that mattered. A grin formed as she watched, though her typically enraged disposition made her look drastically more vicious as a result.

"Fine, on the count a' three!", she commanded whilst dropping into a familiar stance. Heat pooled around her body, swirling unnaturally as her body locked into a posture, all of her muscles tensing, an empty moat forming around her as the ground surrounding Amala began to erode under the density of those invisible waves. A tower of heat cloaked her such that it distorted the air wildly. It was only now, under stress that would kill most normal men, that Amala broke out into a visible sweat. Trickles of water drops emerging from her pores only to sizzle out into the tiniest plumes of steam.

"I wanted to be a worthy successor of my late Father", Yōshanai carried on in atypically pensive tone, launching the next wave of fire in the meantime.

His body was still there, acting on its own, but his mind had travelled back in time, one thousand years and beyond. Balancers, Wandenreich, Silbern, everything vanished when his psyche focused on the distant turning point of his life.

"But his enemies were not satisfied with his death. No, they wanted more, so they targeted his family", he added with a single twitch of the left eye, his voice growing slightly raspy.

Then, he spread and lifted his arms, the gesture and his uncanny face expression reminescent of some sort of twisted enlightenment. Suddenly, all of the abundant flames he had spread throughout the battlefield ever since his spectacular arrival exploded violently into whirlwinds of roaring fire. Dull glow of blood red was cast on the combatants, the air torrid and undulating. Violent gusts of hot air swept across the area.

Naoko had been observing the actions of the other two individuals in her company, more so at the Tsumikami who had just made the area they were in a representation of hell. Sighing lightly she too started to charge up her reiatsu in the form of an electrical current, her blade glowing as the air around started to crackle with electricity. She faced Tōru, her sword ready to strike at him at a moments notice while keeping an eye on Amala, who while not as volatile as the seemingly mad Tsumikami, was still an enemy, she wiped the sweat of her brow, readying herself.

"3...", the growing heat in the area served to further bolster Amala's already considerable gathering of firepower. Though one could not see it, the goings on between strands of Reishi was that of a feast for those manipulated by the Indian Quincy. Swathes of the spiritual atoms were woven around, crashing into the immense heat spooling out into the area through Tōru's flames. The Reishi there would be cannibalized and forced into the massive clump under her control but to the naked eye it was little more than hot air pulling itself towards her.

"2...", Amala's eye flashed away from Tōru to Naoko for a moment, observing the brilliant light that danced around her in the form of electricity. It too could be used as a source to further empower her attack as lightning generated heat just as well. This fight was really more of a battle buffet, Amala thought. "1..."

Naoko looked at Amala, while she could barely see it she felt the growing power from the air surrounding the Quincy, after observing the Quincy's charged attack Naoko herself drew the electrical current that had been created around her into her Jiūkǔndao, causing the sword to make a loud, brief screeching sound before going to a low humming buzz, after all the electricity flowed inside the blade Naoko aimed and fired it at Tōru, the powerful bolt of electrcity making a booming noise as it shot forth from the Marshal's blade.

Alongside the Balancer Marshal, Amala launched her attack. Thrusting her closed in arms outward in a set of simultaneous punches. All of the heat, the energy, swirling around her became a vortex of precision. The heat flowed with the motion, condensing into a pair extremely dense funnels of destruction, melting the ground beneath them as they travelled and distorting the air around them. "Blazing Double Barrel!", yelled the Quincy.

Though she'd fired her attack at the same time, her target had differed, the two blasts of heat coalesced into one as they closed in on their true target: Naoko Murakami.

"Of course, they were afraid of Mom's power. So, they sent assassins to eliminate her under the guise of night", continued Yōshanai until the bolt of lightning cast by the Balancer Marshal struck him.

Potent explosion quaked the area, seemingly consuming the Tsumikami in a flash of blinding light. A shroud of ash followed, swirling and expanding due to all of the forces exerted on the battlefield. After a few moments twin silver lights shone from beneath the cloak of dust, the ash-coloured eyes of Tōru gleaming like grim miniature stars.

His clothing was tattered, his flesh singed, burnt, with sizzling muscles and charred bone exposed in some places. However, the absent-minded grin on his face remained, merely widened by the torn skin on his left cheek, even his stance barely changed in spite of the attack's power. Heedless of the severe damage, his mind stayed somewhere else whilst the body began regenerating at a fast pace on its own.

"They took out the guards, then gathered to kill Mom in her sleep with a common effort. But the weaklings struggled, so the noise awakened my Little Sister", said Yōshanai still unperturbed, his eye now twitching constantly and a vein bulged out on his temple.

The blaze surrounding the three combatants, momentarily weakened when its instigator was hit, immediately returned to full power with a deafening roar. Within a single second the fires and whirlwinds converged to trap all of them within a sizeable dome of dark fire. Smaller spots of flames remained inside, scattered across the now enclosed area.

Naoko had reacted to the attack quickly, her precautions on keeping an eye on Amala paying off, she managed to get out of the epicentre of the attack with the use of Shunpo, however she still got seared by the residual heat energy from the attack that both she and the Tsumikami helped make. From the constant attacks and close calls, Naoko looked like she had been roasted, and was getting progressively worn down due to the unbearable heat only she had to truly endure, however, she still wasn't so worn down as to use her ultimate technique, so instead the Balancer raised her sword to the sky before shooting a small bolt of electricity into the clouds, releasing the powerful lightning bolts that had been stored in the clouds, the bolts hitting numerous places inside the fiery dome as they rained down upon all of the combatants at once.

So far, this fiery dome had only constituted an unexpected boon on Amala's part. The heat surrounding the flames gave her unlimited resources to work with, so long as she made sure to siphon the heat as needed. On top of that, as Naoko's bolts of lightning needed to penetrate the dome before they could even think of perforating her, the Quincy was afforded leeway in predicting and avoiding the seemingly random lightning strikes. As one such blast hit the outer shell of the burning shell right above her, she was given the cue to move and did so in a manner similiar to her previous evasive measures. An acrobatic flip ended with the formation of a glowing blue platform. Her old perch crumpled with ease when the blast of golden energy broke through and hit its intended target, leaving nothing but disolving scraps of Reishi in its wake.

Yōshanai, with his body nearly completely healed from the previous attack by then, at last moved from his position. He did not use Shunpo, though, but merely ran toward Naoko as the weakened lightning currents were striking the ground nearby, concealing his manoeuvre with flashes of light and clouds of ash.

"Her screams woke me up. I immediately grabbed my Asauchi and stormed into the bedroom", he said with raised voice, his grey eyes still glassy with a blank stare. "Just in time to see an assassin slice her throat."

With those words he jumped high into the air, then swung his hot-white blade. What seemed to be a single crimson spark burst forth into a veritable wall of flames that exploded toward the Balancer Marshal. Naoko, tutting in an slightly annoyed fashion, using Shunpo to both move out of the way of Tōru's flames and retreat slightly so as the fire didn't hit her unexpectedly, as she reappeared the Marshal scrunched up her face in concentration as she once again disappeared, however instead of only one Naoko Murakami reappearing, numerous copies of her had emerged, clones caused by the speed of her Shunpo, all seemingly darting out at Tōru, the smoke that was raised by her previous attack obscuring their movements and making it nigh impossible for anyone to spot out the real deal as they converged on the Tsumikami.

Having spent most of the corroding waves on her previous attack, Amala resigned herself to watching the current spat between her tentative ally and the opposing Balancer, all the while manipulating the Reishi within the dome to egenerate and pull together much of the heat coming from the massive blazing dome of fire and its counterparts scattered around the battlefield. It wasn't long before the Quincy found herself enveloped in a vortex of heat that distorted the air and turned the stones on the ground into soup.

"I didn't hesitate for a single second!", shouted Tōru as he began swinging his superheated blade, drowning the afterimage copies of Naoko in dark crimson flames, wave after wave. "I plunged at them and began the slaughter! One, two, three...!", he continued all the while launching the torrents of fire, time and again.

The dome of flames started swirling, at first slowly, but the gradual increase of pace was noticeable. The air around Yōshanai was roaring and undulating, wild fire enveloping him whilst he was unleashing his fury at the Balancer Marshal with each sweeping motion of the Karadawaru.

The real Naoko, hidden behind debris and under the protection of her numerous, but declining clones, managed to dash behind the slowly growing ball of fire that was Tōru, charging her blade with a torrent of electricity before slamming it in the ground, causing the earth around both the Balancer and the Tsumikami to explode in an electric frenzy, plumes of lightning shot out from the ground and the floor flew into the air, reduced to boulders and rocks from the Marshal's attacks. Naoko, despite being blasted back and stunned by her own attack's impetus, managed to recover and shoot a small, but fast bolt at lightning at the location that Tōru was last at.

The Tsumikami, even though suspended in the air, swayed when the ground exploded around him. However, the shroud of dark flames significantly reduced the power of the lightning currents, including the potshot Naoko had taken at him in the aftermath of the more elaborate technique. Nevertheless, the onslaught was too strong to defend from completely, so he still sustained light damage. Bolts of lighting and torrents of blood red fire swirled madly in the hot, undulating air.

"They fought me, but I slaughtered them!", Tōru yelled as he was turning to the Balancer. "They tried to run, but I slaughtered them! EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM!"

Barely visible from between the intensifying streaks of raging flames he outstretched his left arm toward Murakami, as if trying to seize her despite the distance. Violent blaze burst in the area, surrounding the Balancer from all sides when torrents of fire started converging upon her with defeaning roar.

As forgotten by the other combatants as she was, Amala hadn't left ear shot and could still hear the Tsumikami drone on and on about events that didn't matter and people she didn't care about. Possessing as short a fuse as she did, it was quite simple for even that to eventually set her off. The stopped siphoning heat from the walls of the dome once she felt she'd obtained enough, it was a maelstrom of Reishi particles all codified into heat of a density that could make stars blush.

"Arterie? Check. Enough Reishi to blow up mah arm an' then some? Check. A bad mood? Aw Hell yeah!", she listed off details in her head which served as the impetus for her vanishing from the blinding blue platform atop which she had been standing. Shinigami moved in steps, intense bursts of speed that carried them a great distance with only one step that could be continued as long as they had the skill and the energy. Quincy, they forged a path, a distinct line buried under the Reishi that made up the spiritual world, it was a step of its own, but to the naked eye it looked more like teleportation. It meant they appeared without warning.

Part of the flames ballooned out at random before it was quashed by an immense pressure, swirling waves of hot air blew out the blood-streaked fire like a meek candle under the touch of damp, clasping fingers. Amala emerged in a two-fold attack, her whirlwind of corrosive air exploded outward, as the Reishi under her control met the particles formed by Tōru's Reiryoku, she took control of that too. The heat, like a grip that could not be escaped opened the flames that weaved around him giving the woman the perfect venue for a simpler approach: percussive maintenance.

"Stop daydreamin' already, ya damn moron!", she bellowed as her arm, its veins radiating with so much Reishi that it illuminated an X-ray-esque schematic of her arms innards, flew towards Tōru's face.

Yōshanai turned his head toward the belligerent Quincy. Then, her technique blew away his cloak of flames in an instant. The Tsumikami himself seemed to be consumed by the unholy heat which propelled him uncontrollably somewhere into the fiery tempest he had summoned. Naoko, who was just far enough away to not be melted thanks to the inadvertent knockback of her last big attack, merely looked at Amala in a bemused awe as the now less lethal dispersed air rushed past her, still managing to burn her already cooked skin.

"Nice hit I guess?", she said to herself, confused on whether to laugh or actually take pity on the Quincy's "teammate", she stood there for a second before shaking her head and turning to face Amala, sighing slightly.

"Guess this will have to do.", Naoko murmured, she raised her blade horizontally at chin level before starting to make small circles with the tip of the sword, creating a growing circling of electricity, before long Naoko had made a relatively large and dense ball of electrcity in the hopes of it not succumbing to the intense heats around her like her previous attacks had, with the ball hovering above the tip of her Jiukūndaō, Naoko raised her sword and "threw the ball at Amala, with the speed of the projectile being rather underwhelming, but still quick enough to start approaching the Quincy at a fairly quick pace. After throwing the ball lightning, Naoko used Shunpo to move to another relatively out of reach location, her blade crackling as she charged more electricity in it.

A punch, even one so imbued with power, was not a hindering action. And so, with Naoko's need to comment and the screech of the conjured lightning, Amala had all she needed to evade. Like before, her presence still registered as being where the lightning had been aimed only for the dark skinned woman, and her flamboyant crest of hair, to appear right in front of the Balancer Marshal.

"Oh... You have no idea, bitch!", she yelled as her foot swept towards Naoko's stomach, her lower leg and her boot distorting in a strange pattern that gave away that she wasn't without the melting heat she needed. Naoko, having gathered from her observation of the Quincy, anticipated the unorthodox move, using her own high-speed movement technique in anticipation of Amala's attack, however despite the great speed of her Shunpō, the Balancer still had to release the stored electricity in the form of an impromptu shield so that the reishi particles would absorb the majority of the attack's brunt, only forcing Naoko away a small distance, with the Marshal forcing herself to stop, pausing for a second before charging back at Amala, using her Shunpō to not only reach the Quincy faster, but also to create a number of speed clones. The clones and Naoko rushed at Amala, mixing and matching so as to conceal the identities of the real Naoko and the clones as they all converged upon Amala, their blades raised high.

Amala's foot stomped the air as it reclined from its harmless clash with Naoko's barrier. Her hands immediately formed in front of her, held up as a cross. Her entire body tensed violently as the blue veins of Blut Arterie flared up once again. She swung her arms outward and immediately before her a wall of heat was created. Haphazardly made with what little heat she could grasp on such short notice, it was thin and completely invisible, though its power was bolstered thanks to her offensive Reishi network.

Her teeth clicked and her arm raised again, lunging forward as her Spirit Weapon manifested. It was invisible to the naked eye and for all intents and purposes it looked like Amala had just thrown a punch.

The two women were fighting uninterrupted. In the meantime, the dome of fire that had confined them quietened and subsided somewhat. The roar of flames became silent hum whilst the dark crimson glow gradually shifted to a warm white shine. Somewhere in a local blaze, one of the few scattered across the enclosed area, a blurred, black silhouette emerged from the blinding light of white fire.

"I brought the bodies to the square of the family estate, cast them on a heap and ignited them. Mom and Little Sister were watching the fire with me. Father wasn't there with us, but I still felt at ease", Tōru murmured in an oddly pensive tone. "I knew the culprit! Grandpa knew too!", he added suddenly, grabbing his head with the left hand.

As he was walking unharmed through the bright flames he swayed as if drunk. The Quincy and Balancer were far away, occupied with the fight, although he kept talking. The combination of stimuli, including the relatively recent retrieval of his old memories, prompted him to recount those tragic events in spite of the situation.

""We cannot do anything", he said. "They are one of the Five Noble Houses", he said. "This could cause an open war", he said!", Tōru blurted, squeezing his head and wavering.

The fire around him intensified, very slowly.

"Son of a bitch would not avenge his own family!", Yōshanai. "So I pretended to yield. I pretended to get better. I joined the Shinō Academy to become a good little Shinigami."

Then he stopped, lowering both of his arms. He stared in the distance, looking at something only he could see.

"I was "promising". Yes, they said I was "promising". But when the Black Autumn came and I had my way with them, there were only Four Noble Houses left, ha!", he said with a wide grin. "I killed all of them, men and women, children and the elderly, warriors and nobles. Because why not?"

He turned toward the fighting women in the distance in an abrupt display of awareness of what was actually transpiring on the current battlefield. The white flames around him receded rapidly, enveloping his body with a gleaming outline.

"Why would I care who was responsible and who was innocent? Did they care? Did anyone care? No. In this world nothing is sacred, nothing is safe, nothing is as it should be. Nothing!", he spread out his arms. "In this world, great warriors die in battles and end up on heaps of nameless bodies. In this world, their entire families are murdered by assassins. In this world, status and politics are more important than the family. I do not want to live in such a world. I hate this world. This world does not deserve to exist... it deserves to burn...", he finished in a brooding tone.

With no warning the scattered blaze consuming the area burst into former intensity and beyond. The temperature skyrocketed so much that the air could barely be distinguished from the fire anymore. The flames themselves raged violently.

"BUUUUUUUURN!", yelled Yōshanai at the top of his lungs, his voice like thunder.

The visible aura of his Reiatsu was expanding. Streaks of fire were suddenly swirling toward the Tsumikami from all over the battlefield. The ground beneath his feet turned black like charcoal. Then, it changed to glass. The glass shattered and turned to ashes. Tōru stood firm in the middle of this madness, once again a blurred black silhouette immersed in eye-searing white fury of his flames.

He lifted his arms, grabbing the hilt of his Karadawaru two-handed. Holding both arms at a ninety degrees angle, he raised the superheated blade high.

"ERADICATE, IKARI!"

With those words two streams of flames erupted from the blade, completing the "火" kanji: fire. The dome of fire vanished, sucked in by its creator. The torrents emitted by the Karadawaru began circling around him, consuming him in an incinerating tempest that shot toward the sky in the form of a devastating column of swirling flames. A shockwave of torrid spiritual pressure swept across the battlefield.

Naoko was still locked in combat with Amala, her clones had all but perished from the weaker heated air blast while Naoko managed to withstand the attack, despite it beginning to sear her left arm, which was exposed to the wind as she shielded her face and torso, leaving it burnt and useless, Naoko, despite yelping in pain at her arm, took notice of Amala's punch and proceeded to pivot herself backwards, throwing her body back in order to avoid it while swinging her arm in a straight, horizontal arc, her blade aimed at the inside of the elbow joint of Amala's extending arm, the Marshal threw her body the opposite way in order to speed up her attack in the hopes of disabling the Quincy before she reacted.

Meanwhile, the pillar of white fire not that far in the distance began receding. It was gradually becoming narrower and narrower, its bright shine less brilliant and its roar not defeaning anymore. Within moments the whirlwind subsided gradually so that only a relatively small, silently humming white fire was left of its infernal fury.

Single black silhouette could be discerned within.

Part 8

Deep within the Silbern, Seireitei, Soul Society.

Hikari Maebure was walking the deserted corridors of the great Quincy palace, or maybe fortress. Its occupants were busy fighting outside, so the ancient Tsumikami could move freely. He was curious, and the urge to sneak around the Silbern was strong, but he had some unexpected guests to take care of first.

Without changing his pace even the slightest, Hikari walked toward the wall of a T-shaped crossroad as it suddenly disintegrated, leaving a man-sized hole with gleaming, sizzling edges. Then, he stepped through it and continued the march unabated. With such a high concentration of Reishi particles in the air it was difficult to sense the heavily suppressed spiritual pressure of the intruders, though he was certain they were somewhere here.

"Hello?", he asked with a faint smile.

He received no response to his question, merely a tiny spike in the spiritual pressures that signified the intruder who heard him, the barely noticeable spike traveling through the area as the intruder kept his identity and location a relative secret, not trying to reveal himself at the present time.

Maebure waited for a while with his arms folded across his chest. Eventually, he sighed histrionically.

"A timid bunch, aren't you?", he asked as he lowered his arms. "Okay then, let there be...", he continued whilst lifting the right hand.

All of a sudden there was a reverberating noise when scarlet ripples exploded from behind the Tsumikami. Someone had tried to silently stab him in the back, although the Kidō barrier he had a habit of placing there foiled the strike. Hikari immediately unsheathed his Karadawaru and turned around rapidly, transitioning smoothly to a fast horizontal slash.

His blade sliced only air.

There!, he thought as he was turning around again, just in time to witness the tip of a blade speeding toward his face. However, yet again the weapon was stopped by a formerly invisible energy barrier, mere inches from the Tsumikami's face. He swung his Karadawaru with audible whizz, but the mysterious individual evaded the counter strike with a swift Shunpo leap to the back.

"You aren't a Quincy", stated the black-clad man with a raspy voice.

The assailant stood a few metres in front of Maebure. He appeared to be an adult male wearing ragged Shihakushō. He was holding a wakizashi in his left hand which, judging from the empty right sleeve, was his only remaining one.

"How observative of you", said Hikari with his eyes narrowed slightly. "I'm sorry to disappoint you. I am Hikari Daikōki Maebure, a Tsumikami. And you are...?"

He lowered his sabre, assuming an oddly relaxed stance. Meanwhile, the mysterious attacker stayed in a tense, somewhat slanted combat stance.

"Get out of the way", replied the man, lifting his wakizashi that Hikari could not help but notice was a Zanpakutō.

"Why would I?", he asked, raising his eyebrows.

As the two individuals faced each other, a third man finally made his appearance known, his previously suppressed Reiatsu exploded almost furiously as he used Shunpo to appear above and behind Hikari, positively slamming his slightly worn katana's blade against the barrier Hikari had around him, which apart from causing a large booming sound from the heavy impact of the attack, did little but reveal the man's presence fully.

"Tch", uttered Hikari squinting his eyes in annoyance.

All of a sudden, the barrier protecting him so far from the unexpected strikes burst abruptly. The man in front of him made a quick motion as if preparing to dodge, but the resultant shockwave was not really something that could be evaded with a simple leap. Thus, the first attacker ended up thrown forcibly against the wall, the hood concealing his face falling off as he descended limply to the floor. The other attacker was blasted back a fair distance, but somehow was able to resist the shockwave as the reason as to why was made clear in the form of a Kido Barrier of the individual's own, however unlike Hikari's defensive barrier, which managed to take a beating before violently unleashing a counter attack, the intruder's barrier merely turned an opaque orange before disintegrating into the air calmly, with the intruder safe but still winded slightly from the blast, his head hanging low as he started to regain his composure.

"Kidō?", asked Hikari intrigued, one of his eyebrows raised.

Meanwhile, the first assailant stood up quickly. Now that his countenace was exposed, it was possible to discern that he was a young half-Asian man. He had unkempt, medium length hair of jet black colour, fair complexion and piercing blue eyes. Or rather eye, for the left one was forever shut by a long, deep scar marking the side of his face at the height of the temple.

"Quincy, Quincy...", he muttered. "You aren't a Quincy, but you'll pay, you'll pay just like them", he continued when assuming a combat stance. "I'll tear off your face", he added abruptly with a noticeably deeper voice, his healthy eye twitching.

"Oh", replied Maebure when he turned to face him. "I've hoped you were someone else... but it seems close enough. Aren't you Captain Ikiryō Kuragari-san perchance?"

The man appeared to be surprised, but his battle-ready position did not change the slightest.

"I'm Shiryō Kuragari", he replied with a raspy voice. "And you're dead...", he whispered before an ominous grin outstretched on his scarred face.

Hikari ignored the threat. He turned to the other Shinigami with a faint smile.

"This means you are...", he said, the individual that the Tsumikami had turned his attention to has since recovered from the counterattack and was standing straight and perfect, his suppressed anger seething out in his voice slightly.

"Kurosawa...Tadayoshi.", the hooded figure said, his voice sounded gravely but not as bad as his accomplice's, he reached up as he raised his hood, revealing his ashen and slightly aged face, a frayed bandage, covering the left eye of the man as his other, lone eye sharpened at the sight of Maebure.

"Excellent!", exclaimed Hikari with both of his arms lifted in a gesture of exaggerated joy. "So you're the local incarnations of those two troublesome youngsters... Of course, not in the same league as the Balancer Marshals, but you should suffice for the time being."

"I'm not sure what you're talking about, Hikari Maebure", snarled Shiryō. "Where are the Quincy?", he demanded.

Maebure tilted his head and smiled the way an adult would to a rowdy child.

"They're rather busy at the moment. Allow me to receive you appropriately in their absence", he said, raising the ebony blade of his Karadawaru.

"Shut up", grumbled Kuragari.

Then, he vanished. With the use of Shunpo he plunged at the Tsumikami frontally. Hikari swung his blade one-handed, seemingly bifurcating the grim Shinigami, though it was a mere Speed Clone. The real Shiryō manoeuvred to the side with his Zanpakutō poised to impale Maebure's abdomen. However, a fraction of a second after the broad slash Maebure fired a beam of Kidō with his free hand, intercepting him.

Only that was not the real Shiryō either. In fact, the Shinigami had moved to yet another place thanks to his mastery of Hohō. Now, he was speeding toward the Tsumikami's exposed back with a one-hit kill prepared to strike him down... but even that was not enough. Much to his surprise, another beam of scarlet energy erupted straight from Hikari's back to score a direct hit. The ensuing explosion was not big, but sufficient to propel Kuragari backward.

Kurosawa observed the scuffle between Kuragari and Maebure before spinning around on his axis and walking away from the two combatants, he wasn't sure he knew this Maebure individual, despite the feeling of deja vu that permeated Kurosawa's mind, he put it out of his main thought process as he focused on his only want, to get to the Quincy, one single solitary Quincy that he was almost certain he would meet. Despite most of the rugged Shinigami's memory being muddled at best the event that drove him remained in his head as clear as day, becoming his one and only major drive. The Visored's only indication of any hesitance was the slight turning of his head as he walked away, however his head quickly swiveled back to its natural position.

Just in time to witness a translucent barrier slide in front of him.

The barrier seemed to be a Dankū, though it sported a rather distinct scarlet tint. The colour was not the only difference, however. There was more than meets the eyes to this ostensibly simple shield of spiritual energy, something that only a Kidō Master could perceive. Although, there was no time to examine that peculiar barrier.

"Leaving already, Tadayoshi-san?", asked Hikari in a somewhat spiteful manner. "Ignore me at your peril", he added with a much more intimidating tone.

Without further ado the Tsumikami launched a beam of reddish energy at the Shinigami. No number, no incantation. It did not seem to be any specific spell, resembling a Cero more than Kidō. The enemy clearly was not a Hollow, though, so what could that technique be? The fallen Shinigami didn't take the time to note the odd technique, as he responded immediately by spinning on his axis and aiming his arm at the technique that Hikari had fired.

"Hisame Akaihi!", Kurosawa bellowed, his voiced managing to still reverberate around the room as the plume of fire, which while keeping its usual red colour had orange and black hues mixed into it, roared and shot toward the beam of energy that Hikari fired, the beams destined to clash, the flames howling for some substance to fuel its fury.

Hikari smirked as the two techniques collided. Then, he vanished with the faint sound of Shunpo as the ensuing explosion erupted toward him due to the difference in the power of the beams.

"What a strong response!", he remarked when he reappeared a moderate distance from the tumult.

Shiryō leapt at him from the darkness behind. However, the Tsumikami blocked his sudden attack with his own blade. Kuragari scraped the short edge of his Zanpakutō against the ebony Karadawaru, then shifted his stance and thrust forward. Maebure deflected the jab to the side only to immediately follow up with a kick to the opponent's chin. Shiryō used his impressive agility to slant backward, narrowly dodging the strike. Subsequently, both combatants moved away from one another with a single Flash Step each.

"Magnificent!", exclaimed Maebure, again in an oddly relaxed stance. "Seems you two are as strong as the incarnations I've met in my home dimension."

With those words he gazed upon the sabre he kept holding with only his right hand, now poised somewhat to the side with its tip pointing downward.

"You're not the kind of enemies with whom I can afford to fool around. As such, I won't be needing this", he stated with an arcane face expression.

All of a sudden his Karadawaru began deteriorating until only streaks of dense, gaseous black energy remained. Subsequently, the streaks swirled around his arm and vanished without a trace. Kurosawa's facial expression darkened, he may have wanted to leave this opponent be but he wasn't so far gone as to notice that leaving wasn't an option with someone who could oppose his power, he instead opted to try and end the fight as soon as possible.

"Shakkahō! Sōkatsui! Raikōhō!", the Shinigami shouted, each spell taking effect as he called them out, the first projectile being a soaring red orb of flame which shot towards the Tsumikami, the second being a wave of blue fire which crashed down over the distance to reach it's target and the last spell caused a yellow bolt of lightning to strike right over the opponent's head, causing the entire vicinity to quake slightly in response.

Hikari stood firm on his position. When the first spell approached him, he swatted it away with a wave of his hand. The same fate befell the second Hadō blast, which dispersed to the side with a casual motion of his left hand. Then, as the current of lightning followed, Maebure outstretched his right arm toward it. The Raikōhō changed its trajectory with the exertion of invisible force. While the change was slight, it proved just enough to direct the lightning right over the Tsumikami's head and into the hall behind him, its explosion causing little more than considerable property damage.

"You'll need more than that", deemed Hikari in an instructive tone. "Look."

Afterward, he clenched his left hand in a fist that glowed briefly with scarlet light. Maebure swung the arm abruptly and opened the hand to unleash a bunch of gleaming energy spheres that quickly scattered across the room, drowning it in a shower of small explosions. Despite being engulfed by the explosions Kurosawa rocketed out of them, smoke streaming from his body as his cloak was gone and his body was damaged slightly by the attack due to him thankfully being on the weaker end of the attack, he tensed his muscles as he raised them up.

"Hadō #86! Shinsei NAMIDA!", Kurosawa cried out, practically screaming the last part of the spell as a gigantic blue bullet of energy formed instantly, taking up the vast majority of the room and then some before slamming down on Maebure, the Shinigami who cast it retreated so as to get out of the massive explosion his powerful Kidō spell had created.

Hikari lifted his head to gaze upon the powerful Hadō, then raised both of his arms spread out. Mere moments before the oval blast crashed down upon him it stopped, colliding with some sort of barrier. Scarlet ripples began emerging in expanding circles from the point of contact. After a brief stalemate the Shinsei Namida spell degenerated into a formless blob of glowing energy. Numerous currents of electrified spiritual power scattered across the spacious hall. Then, the Hadō broke apart into several small parts that ultimately faded away into nothing.

"Better", stated Maebure when he looked at Tadayoshi. "But you need to maintain control of the spell. Like this."

With those words he cast two cylindrical energy projectiles, one from each hand. The bullets immediately started swirling around the room with impressive speed. Suddenly, they converged upon Kurosawa from opposite directions.

In the meantime, Shiryō had been observing the exchange from a relatively safe distance. He had noticed the subtle, yet significant spike in the alleged Tsumikami's performance; the first time he had ambushed him, he clearly managed to surprise and outpace the mysterious entity. The second time Maebure not only nonchalantly blocked his supposedly unexpected strike, but promptly followed up with a swift counter strike. For some reason he was still unable to gauge the level of his spiritual pressure, although judging from the way he countered Tadayoshi's spells this was not the type of enemy that could be quickly defeated with basic abilities.

A Hollow mask slid upon Kuragari's face out of the blue.

Maebure turned to him right after launching the two unidentified spells. Shiryō leapt at him in a Shunpo-empowered thrust. However, the attack was yet again blocked by a previously invisible Kidō barrier. Relentless, the Shinigami began impaling and slashing at the Tsumikami, each time striking what seemed to be miniature energy shields with a soft ringing sound. Hikari took a single step backward.

"Such ferocity", he commented. "And Hollowfication...", he added whilst he was taking another step to the back.

Shiryō interruped his onslaught to strike with a broad roundhouse kick. The manoeuvre shattered the barrier in its way as if it was made from scarlet-hued glass. Maebure retreated with a single Flash Step, fake anxiety on his ominous face.

"Ay!", he uttered.

Kurosawa observed the spells before clasping his hands together, using Shunpo to buy some time against the converging Kidō spells.

"Shōheki.", he stated quickly as a green force field surrounded him, the same one he had used at the start of the fight, he sped towards Maebure's location, the spells catching up to him as his shield absorbed the majority of the massive explosions that were caused by the projectiles, forcing Kurosawa forward as he staggered and landed, not caring for his newly found impact injuries and his now disintegrating shield, he recovered from the blast and then charged at Hikari, his Zanpakutō drawn and ready to strike the Tsumikami.

Hikari turned to him with his eyes widened slightly. He reached with his hand toward the incoming blade, the tip of Kurosawa's Zanpakutō suddenly stuck in an energy shield. Shiryō attacked from another side, although he too was intercepted with a similar technique. Thus, the Tsumikami ended up between the two Shinigami in a peculiar lock.

"Custom Kidō? Good", he said. "But still a few steps behind me."

All of a sudden he turned solid black. Then, he vanished with a quiet, odd sound. The miniature shields disappeared as well and freed the blades of the two Shinigami.

"Do not hold back!", exclaimed Maebure from deep within the hallway. "I will not let you go until you prove yourselves worthy."

There was no indication of a transitional movement to his current position. However, whatever technique he had used to do that, it was not Shunpo.

"You'll be just another dead body on the pile", uttered Shiryō gravely.

Then, the Visored swung his blade vertically, the tip of the Zanpakutō leaving a yellow bar of energy in the air.

"Hadō #32, Ōkasen!"

The bar erupted into a wide stream of spiritual energy.

"Adorable", commented Hikari with a smirk as the spell was rapidly approaching him.

He merely waved with his right hand to dispell the technique, yellow gleaming streaks dispersing into the air before they disappeared. However, there was movement right beside the ancient Tsumikami as he was nonchalantly cancelling off the Hadō blast.

Kuragari's blade descended with an audible whizz, seperating Maebure's right hand from the rest of the arm. The latter goggled at the bleeding stub in almost comical disbelief. Kurosawa, taking the opportunity that the other Shinigami gave him, swiped on a perfectly white ivory mask with orange markings adorning it before raising his arm at the area he knew both Hikari and Kuragari were at.

"Hadō #88, Hiryū Gekizoku Shinten Raihō!", he shouted casting the powerful spell as it shot towards the Tsumikami and Shinigami, it's trajectory and speed were still being finely tuned by Tadayoshi as it rapidly approached its target, the ashen Shinigami seemingly taking in Maebure's arrogant advice and calming down somewhat to focus on his attack's power and control.

Shiryō had performed the manoeuvre specifically to provide an opening, so it did not take him long to escape from the range of the spell with the use of Shunpo. The somewhat confused Hikari raised his left arm in a halting gesture. Then, the roaring wave of tempestuous energy immersed him completely as it raged throughout the hallway. The spell continued onward for a short while, then a ground shaking explosion was set off in the distance. The massive building quaked perceptibly, dust falling from the ceiling. Kuragari appeared beside Kurosawa still in a fighting stance.

For a moment, there was only the hum of smoke and heat.

"How hypocritical of me", they eventually heard a voice coming from the shroud of ash. "Telling you not to hold back whilst doing that myself."

The cloud subsided enough to reveal the Tsumikami still standing. Nevertheless, the etirety of the arm he had lifted to stall Tadayoshi's spell was now little more than charred bones held in place by what could have been only sheer willpower. A severe frown marked Maebure's face.

"Proper etiquette requires me to respond with appropriate force", he continued, the grimace changing to an ominous smile.

The air around Hikari undulated. Eerily white bone sprouted from the stub of his right arm, quickly covering itself in muscle tissue and then the ashen skin. Ash fell from the meagre remains of his left arm that soon regenerated as well.

"So here it is!", he shouted all of a sudden, lifting both of the restored arms high into the air.

His spiritual pressure burst into existence in the form of a scarlet sphere of glowing energy. The sphere expanded explosively from the size of a man to one that filled the entire spacious hallway. The shockwave unleashed as a byproduct immediately blew away the remaining dust, the walls trembled in their foundations with cracks opening in their vibrating surfaces to form intricate webs.

"Let the true battle begin!", screamed Hikari with dark joy, his body now enveloped by currents of electrified spiritual energy. Kurosawa, who had managed to withstand the power of Hikari's Reiatsu, increased his own spiritual power, his now flame like, black and orange Reiatsu licking at the air as he raised his arm, his fist clenching as he started to talk in his reverberating voice.

"Tamashī no Setsuzoku!", Tadayoshi proclaimed, from his outstretched fist, a narrow beam of fire, not unlike the fire like Reiatsu of it's caster, shot out towards Hikari akin to that of a grappling hook, the spell still oddly connected to Kurosawa's hand as the other end of it rocketed towards the newly reformed Tsumikami, aiming to hit him square in the chest.

"Cero", stated Shiryō simply, outlined with a shimmering aura of violet-blue spiritual pressure.

The beam of energy of the same colour erupted from his left hand to join the much more complex spell fired by his acquiantance. Maebure gazed upon them with a condescending smile. Suddenly, he clasped both of his hands in front of his chest, his arms outstretched. An orb of furiously sizzling energy spawned in-between his palms, then promptly burst forth in a wide beam. All techniques clashed en route in yet another potent explosion, contributing to the already drastic property damage.

And in the midst of that destruction Hikari swung both of his arms to the sides, unleashing volleys of miniature energy projectiles upon his two opponents.

Kurokawa, noting the orb that had been formed to block their techniques, drew back his arm forcefully, which caused the up till that point straight beam of fiery energy to suddenly bend and contort like a rope as it was suddenly reeled back into a medium sized fire ball surrounding the Shinigami's hand, as it snapped back into its ball-like form Tadayoshi used Shunpo to dodge the energy projectiles that were headed for him, firing non-verbal, but still powerful Hadō #4's at the projectiles, aiming a little further ahead so as the beams of electricity hit the projectiles despite their small size and speed giving them an edge in mobility.

In the meantime Kuragari was making good use of his respectable agility, manoeuvring between the orbs of energy with the incredible swiftness of well-trained Shunpo. With each Flash Step he was decreasing the distance to the Tsumikami, preparing for a counter attack. One, two more leaps to the side, jump upward, then move forward... only for what seemed to be energy bolas to intercept his legs mid-movement. Abruptly thrown off balance Shiryō flew onward with little control. Maebure was gazing at him from below with his head lifted and a smile outstretched on his ghastly face.

The Tsumikami performed a motion with his right arm as if throwing a quick punch. A projectile of spiritual energy escaped from the fist as he did so, expanding quickly on its way before it hit the Shinigami mid-air. Kuragari was propelled upward until he crashed into the ceiling with considerable force. Then, Hikari bent his left arm, the index and middle finger of its hand outstretched together. Electrified energy appeared on their tips as he swung the arm at Tadayoshi, launching an arc of sizzling energy with great speed.

Kurosawa dived downwards using Shunpo, landing on he free hand and cartwheeling into a kneeling position in order to dodge the reality straight firing arc of electric energy, only just barely missing the attack despite his Hollow enhanced Shunpo, as he stabilized his footing as the fireball surrounding his fist once again morphed into a fiery rope as he swung it in a large arc at Hikari.

Maebure remained at his position, apparently unwilling to move a single step ever since the release of his Reiatsu. As such, he aimed both arms at Tadayoshi with his fingers spread wide. Before the Kidō rope was able to reach him, he launched a tempestuous wave of energy that ramapaged toward Kurosawa with the intention to consume him in its volatile fury. Kurokawa mirrored Hikari and didn't bother moving and instead opted to throw his body weight into making his swing faster, with it practically being around Hikari as he was slammed into by the energy wave, sending him flying back uncontrollably, however despite being dazed visibly by the attack, Kurosawa managed to regain consciousness quick enough to yank the custom Kidō that was around Hikari, causing it to contract around the Tsumikami and retract back to the Shinigami.

The rope wrapped around Maebure, binding both of his arms to his torso. A vein bulged out on his temple when the air around him undulated severely. Mere moment later Hikari used his own body as a catalyst for Kidō that exploded with him in the epicentre, removing the constraint. Meanwhile, Shiryō plummeted toward him in the wake of the release Zanpakutō first. The blade collided with a shield that slid in its path just in time, though the impetus of the strike shattered it quickly. Regardless, Kuragari himself was forced to rebound off the barrier and with a backward somersault he landed on the cracked and burnt pavement nearby.

Subsequently, he plunged at the Tsumikami... who caught the blade of his wakizashi with his bare hand, then jerked it to the side. Shiryō did not hesitate, however, and quickly transitioned into a sudden Kazaguruma. The kick connected with Hikari's chin, throwing his head and then upper body backward. Kuragari somersaulted swiftly again, ready to continue. However, he unexpectedly faced Maebure's hand mere inches from the surface of his Hollow mask.

Blast of energy propelled him toward a distant wall, then punched a crater with his body. Whilst Maebure was turning to confront Tadayoshi, Shiryō stood up fast and shook off the mild concussion. Just as he had thought, basic abilities were simply inadequate.

"Sink into oblivion, Shi no Kurushimi!", he exclaimed.

Then, his Zanpakutō morphed from its base wakizashi form into an elaborate armoured gauntlet with hooked talons and a curved blade attached to the outer side of his forearm. Shimmering outline of his violet-blue spiritual pressure once again enveloped his body. Kurosawa sharply turned his head towards Kuragari, who was releasing his blade, the ashen Shinigami decided to up the ante as well, sheathing his sword he clasped his hands together as he started murmuring an incantation.

"The earth, the sky, the body and the soul, I beseech thee, heed my call. I ask of the earth, the everlasting land, to grant me the stability you wield.", Kurosawa started of, his body beginning to glow a soft orange light, Tadayoshi tensed himself before continuing on.

"The sky, the expansive abyss, I ask of you to give me your open space. The body, the vessel of life, I ask of you to give me outer strength.", the Shinigami continued, his body now swathed in the energy that was the incomplete spell, Kurosawa took a deep breath before continuing on.

"The soul, core of life, I ask of thee, give me the strength to call upon the eternal wrath of the underworld, and destroy my enemies with it's utmost might! Kaizo Kidō, Mukei Taihō!", Kurosawa shouted, as he did so, a large beam of near transparent energy was fired at Hikari, the barely visible beam rocketing towards the Tsumikami at an alarming rate.

Hikari had been observing Tadayoshi with a smile of genuine elation on his face. He was glad that he had come across such strong enemies. He was glad he could test his most advanced techniques against them. He was glad that after the humiliating near-defeat at the hands of the Balancer Marshals, he had the opportunity to crush two powerful opponents who could offer resistance.

Thus, he spoke but a word when the custom spell was rapidly approaching him.

"Protect."

End of Chapter
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