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A massive spiked plume of sand exploded outward from the settled mass that had overtaken the area in wake of the destruction of Las Noches. Roshan Bamshad emerged from its confines, wiping away at easy to reach areas with one hand and tugging on his clothes to remove trapped sand with the other. His eyes raised away from his body to focus on finding the Quincy stronghold in the Hollow homeland, but he was left with little more than buried spires and fragments of shattered walls.
"This... Might suck a little bit", he remarked to himself with bemusement, a lopsided smile starting to frame his face with an emphasis towards his left side. He turned his back on the ruined white fortress for but a moment.
Then, he heard a quiet sound from behind - a footstep. Unfamiliar Reiatsu signature made itself manifest on his radar, oddly feeble and unassuming in such a place.
"I beg your pardon", said a deep, yet mild voice.
Bamshad turned around to face the unexpected guest. Not that far from him, amongst the ruins of once immense Las Noches, stood an extremely tall, lean young man with muscles as if chiseled in granite and spiky, medium-length jet black hair. His attire consisted of white baggy trousers, red sash and yellow hard-cuffed boots, and nothing but a set of golden jewellery with sapphire gems adorned his upper body. For all his ostensible benignity, he was armed with two rather intimidating hook swords strapped at the height of his hips.
The languid gaze of the man's glazed dark brown eyes seemed directed at the Quincy. He smiled meekly.
"I am Mamoru Nakatani, Marshal of the South", the man introduced himself with a formal bow. "It seems I have caused substantial damage to your fortress, sir. Please, accept my sincere apologies", he added with another polite bow. As he did so the two Arrancar Roshan had called out to emerged from the sands, both of them had marked expressions of annoyance on their faces but neither of them had sustained any injuries.
"Just because you had trouble with the sand doesn't mean that we did, Bamshad-sama.", Cielo said, brushing the excess sand off his uniform while his partner violently shook out the sand in his long hair.
"Tch, this bastard knows how to piss a man off.", Redención growled, he sharply drew his Zanpakutū, resting it on his shoulder as he made his way next to the Quincy Regent, Cielo, while much calmer than his comrade, followed suit.
"Its fine, its fine", said the golden haired Quincy, his hand waving in light dismissal of Mamoru's apology. He had been taken aback by how tame this so-called Marshal appeared to be though it was only faintly hinted upon the mask that was his face.
"We were only occupyin' it, y'see, but you might have pissed off the locals just a smidge, they don't like it when you knock over their sand castles", he continued on, his hands once passing over the direction of his Arrancar cohort to emphasize who he was referring to.
Nakatani's eyes followed his gesture and an expression of mild surprise appeared on his face once he set his sight on the two Arrancar. He turned to them after a moment's hesitation and bowed deeply.
"I apologise, but this had to be done", he said in a sombre manner.
"Y'better be!", Redención shouted in anger towards the man, however his rage fueled shouting was silenced by Cielo's piercing glare.
"I heard you say you was the marshal of the south, which is obviously a rank of some kind, so, just what organisation are you a part of?", Cielo asked, his inquisitive gaze lines with a crazed look in his eye, his partner huffed at him, still in a rage at his interference.
"He's right, who do you work for then ya dickhead!?", Redención brashly shouted.
Mamoru glanced indifferently at the vociferous Arrancar and turned to his colleague.
"I am the Marshal of South, the commander of the Detention Corps of the Balancers of Souls", he explained.
Then, his head lowered slightly as an expression of deep sorrow appeared on his face.
"The balance of Souls has been disrupted. The existence itself is in grave danger, and it is my sacred duty to restore the equilibrium. By any means necessary", he said gloomily.
"We were hoping to solve a similiar issue", Roshan remarked casually. His hand had raised and specks of blue light formed from the area to swarm it, coming together to form a metallic bow with winged arms.
"I don't suppose we could work together, eh?", in an instant his free hand shot back passed the body of the newly formed weapon, a single bolt of light firing from its center in response to the motion, it flew immediately, aimed at the throat of the Marshal of the South.
But he was not there, and the arrow simply flew forward.
"I'm afraid not", Roshan heard a sombre whisper unexpectedly.
Nakatani had somehow materialised right beside him, and whilst uttering his grim words his left hand shot upward in a powerful uppercut punch. His clenched fist struck the Quincy's abdomen and sank into it with a thunderous thud, emitting a small shockwave on impact.
"Shit!", the two Arrancar cursed in unison as they readied themselves, swiftly going into a solid stance in the presence of the Balancer.
A cloud of sand blasted into the air with the collision followed by rising trails of dust as the Quincy Regent slid across the burned yellow surface of Hueco Mundo. His stance remained firm, even though he appeared to be lazily lugging himself around.
"That's too bad, a guy like you would be great for morale", a coarsing of blue faint light emanated from beneath his clothes, only barely distinguishable amongst the white of the uniform. His hand drew back once more and a volley of arrows numbering in the hundreds flew forth.
Nakatani looked at the impending attack with unnatural torpidity. Then, he literally vanished without a trace once the volley of destructive light reached him. He was unexpectedly right behind the two Arrancar watching the scuffle, slipping unnoticed despite the fact they were on guard. Without wasting a single moment he grabbed their heads and smashed them into one another with a rapid motion.
Before he could do any more than that, the Balancer Marshal was tossed off his feet, flung backwards by a new arrows drilling into his chest, its form covered by a second larger covering. As soon as it had pushed the man a fair distance away from his Arrancar victims the arrow ignited and then exploded.
Roshan grinned in the distance, his visage clear through a small gap between his comrades that he'd exploited. The two Arrancar, however, lacked Roshan's high spirits.
"That hurt you twat!", Cielo exclaimed, his anger getting the better of him as Redención chuckled at his partner's frustration, turning to the cloud of dust Bamshad's arrow left behind.
"Y'gonna have to do a lot better than that to properly hurt us ya bozo, all you're doin' is pissin' us off!", Redención shouted, using his right hand, he swiped up a handful of white sand, he discarded his sword as he placed his other hand on top of his sand filled one, charging the granules with a red energy, shortly after, Redención positioned himself, his arm pointing at Mamoru's vague direction.
"Bala Fragmentos.", Redención hissed.
In a split second, countless, tiny red bullets shot forth from the Arrancar's right hand, speeding towards the settling dust cloud that was Mamoru. The barrage quickly perforated and dispersed the shroud of dust, only to reveal that there was nothing behind it.
"It seems I have underestimated your durability", remarked a gloomy voice.
Nakatani was standing a moderate distance from both the Arrancars and the Quincy. Apart from the fact that his spiritual pressure had grown from negligible to average in the course of the confrontation, he appeared unaffacted by what had transpired so far.
"I promise this shall not happen again", he added apologetically with a slight bow.
He spread his bent legs whilst still leaning forward and flexed his arms. His face became stiff in an expression of profound concentration, as if he was pondering about something of great importance.
Suddenly, a strong gust of wind emanated from his body with the release of a wave of Reiatsu. Shortly afterward there was another one. This time much stronger, it was nearly enough to throw the Wandenreich's members off balance. White sand poured upon them.
Then, they were momentarily defeaned as an incredibly potent shockwave burst from Mamoru's body and rampaged across the desert of Hueco Mundo with devastating might, punching a crater in its surface and striking Bamshad and the two Arrancars with a blinding sandstorm.
Before the shroud of dust even began to settle, a sharp, golden shape had emerged from the cloud of sand to Roshan's left side, descending rapidly upon him. The blade cut across air and dust instead of its intended target.
Not one to remain in a position to his disadvantage, the Quincy regent had begun moving as soon as he was engulfed in the dust cloud. Shooting up through it, a plume of it following behind him. From the air a second bow formed in his free hand, each firing a flurry of arrows that detonated in mid-air to become even more. Like shrapnel from an ignited grenade, they scattered all across the field, exploding on contact with whatever they found below.
"I think I got ya beat Red", Roshan chimmed over the sound of his attack. The aggressive Arrancar merely snorted in response while Cielo approached his two accomplices.
"You think he was affected by that?", Cielo asked the two of them, his eyes fixed at the massive cloud of scorched sand ahead of them.
The shroud was dispersing slowly. It did not had the chance to settle on its own, though, for it was suddenly blown away with a surge of Reiatsu, revealing Mamoru's silhouette. The Balancer was standing firmly; his right hand, holding one of his golden hook swords, was lowered to the side, and the left one was lifted and outstretched, aimed at the Quincy regent and his subordinates. The tips of its fingers were glowing red.
Then, black and orange beams of energy in the shape of ethereal snakes burst forth toward Bamshad, one from each finger.
The Quincy's belt jangled slightly when gripped, two of the thin metal objects on its back coming loose and descending to the soft sands below.
"Test somethin' for me would ya, guys?", the regent asked of his comrades before making use of Hirenkyaku. His body weaved through the snakes of black and orange, moving with the nimble motions of a dancer whilst seemingly skating through the air towards his shirtless destination. Occassionally his body would blur, appearing still for a second before appearing somewhere else entirely.
Though his motions avoided an initial encounter, the snake-shaped flames were still on his tail once he'd closed the gap with Mamoru Nakatani.
There was a glint of shining metal in front of the Balancer's eyes, its shape becoming clear as a small silver tube in the moon light.
"O Lord, smite those before you with great force and holy fire! Rückstoss!", Roshan encanted his spell as the last vestige of distance between himself and his target evaporated. The man had motioned himself into an arrow of sorts, no longer skating across the empty sky upon invisible particles of Reishi, he had instead taking to a literal descent, feet first towards his opponent.
His boots had become illuminated in a film of blue light, which transformed into flames as he made contact, and smashed, the small Gintō tube between himself and Mamoru. He made contact again, this time with Nakatani's face, the blue flames removing themselves from Roshan's boots and engulfing Mamoru's body.
For a while it seemed the Balancer had been consumed by the blue fire. However, he promtply emerged from the attack seemingly unscathed. His now enormous Reiatsu had become so dense it was enveloping his body with a clearly visible, gleaming lime aura. Nakatani lifted his head lazily and absent-mindedly glanced at the Quincy.
Bamshad suddenly realised that Mamoru had somehow grabbed his leg with his free hand, even though he did not notice the movement required to do so. Caught in a crushing grip, he had been unable to escape before the Balancer threw him aside with terrible force. Launching him into the surface of the white desert with such impetus quaked the entire area and caused a column of sand to erupt upward.
In the meantime, Mamoru drew his second hook sword and abruptly charged forward, straight in the direction of the two Arrancars. Cielo and Redención, while startled at the Balancer's speed, both immediately got into action, Redención, picking up his Zanpakutō swiftly, used Sonido in order to intercept the powerful opponent while Cielo kept his distance, charging a spherical orb of red energy.
"Cero Fuerte!", Cielo exclaimed, an extremely thin, Cero like beam came forth from Cielo's hand, speeding it's way towards the Balancer just as Redención appeared in front of him, his blade raised high, crying for blood.
Seeing that, Mamoru immediately turned to the closer Hollow and swung both of his swords in a simultaneous, broad shearing motion. The left one struck Redención at his right armpit, and the other at the left side of his waist, and thanks to the large hooks on their tips locked him in an uncomfortable position. Then, the Balancer quickly held the incapacitated Arrancar in the path of the incoming Cero.
Despite the seriousness of his predicament Redención merely smirked at Mamoru as he braced himself, the Cero hit the Arrancar on the right side of his torso, piercing through him and hitting the Balancer he was shielding.
Expression of mild surprise flickered on Nakatani's otherwise nigh-melancholic face as the concetrated beam hit him, leaving a circular, scorched mark on his exposed torso. However, the superficial wound was all that the attack had managed to achieve.
The Balancer rapidly lifted his left leg and struck Redención with a lightning fast kick, aimed right into the hole left by Cero Fuerte. As the Arrancar was simultaneously pulled closer to him, Mamoru instantly followed with an abrupt headbutt. Then, he moved his twin blades to the sides, freeing the opponent, and finished with a powerful side kick that sent the Hollow flying.
Nakatani crouched and rebounded, launching himself toward Cielo like a bullet. The Arrancar swiftly shot a Bala at the sand below his feet, causing the dune he was standing on to explode, Cielo immoderately then used Sonido to regroup with Redención, who was in the middle of brushing some sand off his coat and rubbing his head.
"Bastard's tough, y'think we need ta use em'?", Redención mumbled.
"Not yet, he's not doing enough damage to warrant it.", Cielo quietly replied, his eyes focused and ready to spot any signs of movement.
There was a potent gust of wind, and sand crashed down upon them like a tidal wave when Nakatani swung one of his blades in their direction. Then, he made a vague gesture with his other hand and his aura of lime Reiatsu gleamed brighter.
A large spike formed, hovering in the air beside him, made from the omnipresent sand and reinforced with his own energy. With a light tap, he sent it shooting forward with lethal speed, right through the wall of sand and into Redención behind it. The obelisk like structure hit Redención square in the chest, sending him flying backwards, being propelled by the monstrous momentum of the Balancer's spell.
Wincing, Redención placed his spare hand on the spinning spike, he gathered a large amount of red energy in his hands, firing a point blank Cero at the hazard, destroying it. The Arrancar traveled a fair distance before coming to a halt, he straightened up, panting slightly as he inspected his wound, which consisted of a small hole with blood dripping down, as if the spike bored into the Arrancar.
"Tch.", Cielo spat out, he used Sonido, charging towards the still motionless Balancer, pointing the tip of his Zanpakutō at the Balancer, Cielo began to deliver a flurry of jabs and quick swipes at him.
Mamoru quickly responded to the ferocious attack, erecting an impenetrable wall of defence with his whirring twin blades. After several seconds of an intense exachange of sword strikes, he deflected the Arrancar's sword to the side and instantly followed with a swift Agitowari.
The Arrancar quickly moved backwards with Sonido, reappearing a few metres away, despite him seemingly dodging Momoru's attack, a quick inspection showed a rather neat, relatively shallow horizontal cut on Cielo's chest, along with a similar kind of cut on his right forearm.
"You fucking bastard, Cero Fuerte!", Cielo growled, immediately firing a thin beam of red energy at the Balancar's direction, just as Cielo did so, he found himself next to a storm of tiny red bullets, all of them rushing past him, heading towards Mamoru. Cielo turned to see his ally walking towards him, one hand covering the new hole he had gained while the other carried his sword, which he was dragging slightly on the ground.
"Get ready Cielo, I may be a dumbass for falling for his tricks but I know he's not gonna be hurt much by that.", Redención shouted, Cielo quietly nodded in response, turning back to the point the Balancer stood.
"Can't let 'em weasel around forever, I guess", mused Roshan to himself, half his body caked with sand and a large portion of his face marred by grazed flesh from the previous impact.
His eyes followed the battle from afar before turning back to the Seele Schneiders embedded in the desert around him. With a single drop from a Gintō, the area around him erupted into an intense blue flame that rose into the Heavens, casting a great shadow of blue over the current combatants.
Emerging from the pillars confines was an arrow, one much larger than anything Roshan had thus far shot. Its body was metallic rather than pure Reishi; it was Seele Wyrger.
Nakatani indeed was not significantly damaged by the attacks of the Arrancars. Even though some light burn marks had appeared on his exposed chest, he did not seem to notice them at all. What he did notice, however, was the peculiar projectile fired by Bamshad. Enveloped with his own gleaming Reiatsu, Mamoru flexed the muscles of his right arm, swelling them and forcing the blood vessels to bulge out visibly. Then, he quickly aimed the hook sword it held at the arrow and made a near-instantaneous vertical slash.
"Hah!", he uttered a short grunt.
While one-handed, the strike unleashed a devastating wave of spiritual force that split the desert in front of the man and shook the area perceptibly.
The sword-like arrow shot through the oncoming shockwave, first it pierced through the spiritual energy at the forefront, but its body shook in response to the kinetic energy caught up in its wake. That quickly stopped though, Seele Wyrger continued its flight towards Mamoru as if it had never been resisted.
From a distance Roshan moved, a simple hop to the side, a motion unbecoming of a man of his station, though it was all he needed to escape the oncoming spiritual wave.
Meanwhile, his projectile flew virtually undeterred and pierced cleanly through the Balancer's body before he could react... but he was suddenly elsewhere, unharmed and charging at Redención. His left hook sword was held in a defensive position, whereas the right one stuck out, pointed to the side in preparation for attack.
"The pitfalls of linearity, eh?", the blonde Quincy muttered as his blade changed course, immediately following to intercept the newly moving target.
Nakatani continued his advance, quickening the pace with the use of Shunpo. Then, as he was about to approach Redención, the Balancer vanished for an instant only to reappear several metres behind the Arrancar, now speeding toward the elderly Quincy.
"Tch, not so fast!", Redención stated, swinging around on his heel as he pulled back his fist, launching a Bala at the Balancer's back. Cielo on the other hand, used Sonido in an attempt to intercept the Balancer before he reached Roshan.
Again the gargantuan arrow changed its path, now poised to strike the back of the Balancer, it flew by Redención with an audible hum that made the spiritual particles in his shoulder rumble with unease.
Up in front Roshan had begun firing his bow once more, lazily raising it into position, a hail of light flung outward in Mamoru's direction, but seemingly every shot missed bar the occassional arrow, the rest impacted around him, exploding violently.
The Balancer was caught up in a series of small explosions. Shortly afterward he emerged from the flames, sliding on the white sand with trails of smoke following him. He rapidly leant forward, letting the Bala shot by Redención pass an inch above his bent back and fly toward Bamshad. Then, he turned around with an abrupt motion and faced Cielo, swinging both of his swords at the Arrancar in the meantime.
The first strike deflected Cielo's own blade. The other hit him hard on the left side with a loud thud, launching him at the rapidly approaching Seele Wyrger.
The blonde Quincy had moved in unison with his prey, not content to simply let him walk away, he had entirely bypassed the oncoming Bala before it could become a threat, himself appearing behind the Balancer as he engaged Cielo. Seele Wyrger's thinner counterpart, Seele Schneider, buzzing in hand. Roshan drew it downward in an attempt to sever the limbs of the taller spiritual being.
Seele Wyrger's blade cut out as it flew, becoming little more than a silvery-steel shell that clocked the back of Cielo's skull with a ringing thud.
Meanwhile, Nakatani detected Bamshad's manoeuvre and rotated rapidly to respond. For a while it appeared he had proven too slow to block the gleaming blade of the Quincy weapon. However, after a moment Roshan realised the Seele Schneider had actually somehow passed beside the Balancer, who was now swinging his blade at him from the right side.
Roshan didn't even attempt to look surprised, his attack had simply readjusted from a swing into a thrust at the close target before him. The Balancer's blade, moving unhindered hit nothing. Instead of the expected outcome, it had been halted a short distance from cleaving through the blonde Quincy's body by an almost invisible force, a small blue barrier giving it away at present.
With no other options left, Mamoru could do nothing but take the hit as the Seele Schneider stabbed him in the abdomen, his own sword hanging useless just an inch above its target. The Balancer appeared surprised, at least as far as his nearly stiff face expression allowed to be expressed. He lifted his head and looked at Roshan with a faint, ominous flicker in his otherwise calm, glassy stare.
Even though technically it should have cut through the body like a hot knife through butter, the gleaming blade of the Quincy weapon was somehow stuck in Nakatani's side. Lime aura of the Balancer's Reiatsu enveloped both combatants with a quiet hum.
"I apologise", said Mamoru. "It seems that I still haven't adjusted myself to your level."
The aura of visible spiritual pressure shone brightly, illuminating the two like a solar flare. Within a couple of moments Nakatani's body swelled, covered with an intricate network of bulged out veins. The vibrating noise produced by the outburst of energy was defeaning at such a short distance, and the pressure exerted by his raw power was overwhelming. The Seele Schneider's blade flickered and dissipated, and its wielder himself was pushed back, as was Cielo.
The display of power was short-lived, however, and Mamoru quickly emerged from the contained chaos of immense energy. Now he appeared a bit larger, his skin tone darker and his hair slightly raised upward, as if due to an electric shock. The aura of lime Reiatsu remained clearly visible, engulfing his body like a wild flame.
"Fuck this.", Redención muttered, letting his Zanpakutō drag behind him as he rushed towards the Balancer, passing his comrades in an instant, as he approached the enemy he charged a small Cero beam, firing it haphazardly at the Balancer, just as he did he swung horizontally at him, a wild glint in his eye as he did so.
Mamoru turned around to repel the abrupt charge, and dispersed the Cero beam with a rapid swing of his right sword. Then, as Redención's strike was approaching him, he parried it effortlessly with the other blade. Despite his sword quaking due to the impetus of the two combatants' strength, Redención spared no time in countering against the Balancer's parry, he slid his sword out of the bearing grip of Mamoru's Hook Sword, swiftly clashing once again with the Jiūkǔndao in a more straightforward position, as he did so he poised his free arm, charging a more potent Cero, directed at the Balancer's face, Redención grimaced as his Zanpakutō shook violently, gritting his teeth he released his Cero.
Nakatani reacted fast, placing one of his blades in the beam's path to split it in halves. Whereas unable to completely redirect the energy away from himself, he managed to render a potentially dangerous technique nearly harmless. Then, he sallied forward and caught the Arrancar's sword in his blade's hook, pulling it aside. In the meantime the second sword slashed toward Redención's exposed torso, its crooked tip aimed at the wound left by Cielo's Cero Fuerte.
"Shit.", Redención breathed, he discarded his sword and fired a Bala at their feet, encasing them in a plume of white sand, Redención flew out of the sand, clutching his arm, while the hook sword missed it's intended mark, it managed to slash Redención's left arm, rendering it useless.
"Now that is just plain unfair", said the Quincy looking over his inactive Seel Schneider before he returned it to the confines of his belt. He passed a glance over a pouch on his side, taking a mental note of how many precious Gintō he'd used thus far.
"Time to try, try again, eh?", he sighed to himself, before summoning his bow and moving across the desert sands with Hirenkyaku. He started up a rhythm, he'd stop, fire a series of shots and then move again, providing the Arrancar with supporting fire.
Mamoru, unaffected by the Bala, began a series of evasive manoeuvres. For a while he did nothing but dodge and leap to another position with the use of Shunpo, observing Bamshad's movements. Then, suddenly, rather than avoid yet another volley of arrows, he simply stood firm and dispersed them with one swoop of his left hook sword. Without a warning, a shockwave emanated from his body and quickly caught up all of his opponents within its range, but did no damage to them.
At least not physical damage.
The monochromatic world of Hueco Mundo became blurred, and the noise of heated battle was almost completely drowned out. Nakatani rebounded from the white sand with nary a sound, and his Wandenreich enemies watched the outburst of white dust lifting off into the air, grain by grain, with the occasional glint of dim, reflected light of the inverted moon. They observed his muscles flex as he was leaning forward, inch by inch, flying lazily in the direction of Redención. He was floating gently in the air, like a small, fluffy cloud sailing majestically on the midnight sky.
Redención was gazing at him attentively, at the ominous glow in the otherwise glassy eyes, the lime flame of spiritual pressure, the twin blades slicing the air as he was approaching him, slowly yet inevitably. There was some sense of danger, the urge to react to a threat, but it was distant and unimportant. Everything was so sluggish, so tranquil, and the Arrancar's sword remained low, stuck in his unmoving, numb hand. He was watching the reflexions in sapphires adorning the Balancer's jewellery, and the curves of the bent tips of his blades.
Suddenly, he realised that Mamoru was about to cut him to ribbons with two simultaneous slashes.
In a frenzied effort to dodge Mamoru's oncoming attack, Redención leaped backwards, however, despite his legs pushing with all their might, it felt as if he was in a body of water and sluggishly moving backwards as Nakatani's swords came down onto his chest.
Despite his best efforts, Redención fell backwards onto the sand, sliding back a few feet as he did so. Coming to a halt, Cielo saw two, neat, relatively deep cuts painted on Redención's chest. His face contorting angrily, he fired a powerful Cero blast at Mamoru as he charged towards the Balancer manically.
Detecting an abrupt surge in the other Arrancar's Reiatsu, Nakatani quickly turned to confront him. As the beam of energy was closing in, he crossed his arms, with the swords pointed to the sides. Right before the impact, he swung both blades at the same time with a short exclamation of effort, and dissipated the Cero. Then, he plunged at the charging Cielo, his hook swords preparing to strike en route.
A sluggish step on the ground followed by another instance of Hirenkyaku, and another, and another. The Quincy archer had taken a diamond trail around the fight, seemingly to line up his perfect shot. He loosed an arrow, that shot straight past the glowing hulk of a Balancer that was his opponent.
The arrow exploded in the air creating a massive shockwave that appeared to summon a gargantuan Quincy bow in its place. It loosed an arrow of equally gigantic proportion, though with a design more reminiscent of a flag-bearer's spear.
Seeing the enormous projectile approaching him rapidly, Mamoru reacted immediately. He swung one of his blades and dug it into the sand below whilst still on the move. Whereas on its own that action was insufficient to lose the considerable momentum, Nakatani used the sudden resistance to swing his lower body downward. Then, as the arrow was nearly at him, his legs crashed on the surface of the desert and he rebounded backward in a cascade of white dust.
The arrow impacted against the sands, far from hitting its supposed target, creating a large crater of flowing dust particles at its landing point. In an instant Roshan had shifted over and plucked the spear from the ground, twirling it around freely in his hand. The free hand worked its way into the pockets of his uniform as the spinning stopped, the spear's point raised behind the blonde sharpshooter, a flag bearing the cross of the Quincy flowing proudly to the tune of invisible wind flows.
"I'm sorry," the Quincy gave a slanted nod apologetically to the transformed Balancer. "I've been a little lax, I'll take this serious from now on", his words were followed by the faintest hint of a shockwave, the smallest granules of sand fluttering into the air as it passed by.
Mamoru, crouching on the ground, had been observing the aftermath of the explosion until Bamshad addressed him. Then, he turned to the man casually, his face expression completely neutral, and straightened up. Streaks of gleaming energy were still writhing around his body, humming quietly and enveloping him with a shroud of lime Reiatsu. His muscles were somewhat swollen, as if they were all incessantly flexed, and webs of veins were covering them with pulsating networks.
With an absent-minded smile slowly blooming on his face, the Balancer strapped both of his swords at his waist.
"I am afraid it is too late, Roshan Bamshad-dono", he stated with a calm near-whisper.
All of a sudden he performed an incredibly fast sequence of gestures with both of his hands, which he subsequently slammed to the ground. The earth quaked perceptibly and a vibrating roar swept across the area as a pillar of dark flames erupted from the white sand a couple dozen metres from the two. Then, another pillar of fire emerged from a different place, and the next one after it. Shortly there were five immense columns of jet black flames encircling all of the combatants in a pentagon-shaped formation, drowning the area with dim light and undulating heat.
"Hametsu no Honō", declared Nakatani, gazing at Roshan with an ominous smile.
Despite the ominous nature of Nakatani's spell Cielo was unfazed by it, he recovered from the quakes that shook though the ground immediately, positioning himself near Roshan.
"Any plans Bamshad-dono?", Cielo asked Roshan, his face fixated on Mamoru and his newly formed spell.
"Yeah," He replied, rustling a hand through his hair with a disapproving look on his face. "It may or may not blow us all up though".
With that said, the man removed his hand from his hair and made a showing of snapping his fingers. The sound reverberated far louder and longer than it should have before four Seele-type weapons ignited with spiritual energy, following that a massive fortress of Reishi was constructed with all of the current combatants inside. A massive Quincy cross forming as a tower and acting as a seal to prevent escape.
"You're right big guy, it might be too late, but there's always the after party", the blonde Quincy mused.
Nakatani was silently observing the Quincy's technique take effect as he was slowly straightening up. He looked around with economic movements of the head; the unnerving smile had vanished. Soon he felt his immense Kadō spell wither and fade away, starving to non-existence once the constant influx of his spiritual power required to sustain it was disconnected by Bamshad's spell. Then, he gazed at the man and his Arrancar companion, drawing both of his swords with abrupt, swift motions. His face contorted briefly and moulded into a fixed form, as if chiseled in granite. Ultimately dropping all pretense of torpidity or gentleness, all its expression virtually emanated was tranquil fury.
Without a warning he leapt forward with a Shunpo-powered movement. Within moments he approached the two Wandenreich members, almost devouring the distance between them, taking rapid Flash Steps only to seemingly "skip" a few metres now and then. Suddenly, he was dangerously close to his opponents, both of his twin swords raised in preparation to strike.
Strike to kill.
Cielo drew back his fist instinctively, firing a abrupt Bala directly at the Balancer, causing him to be clouded in a plume of smoke. Despite the assurance that his attack connected, the Arrancar haphazardly raised his blade in an effort to block Mamoru's oncoming attack. The Balancer plunged at him unimpeded, followed by a trail of smoke, and began whirring both of the hook swords in a deadly flurry of incredibly fast slashes.
"Should'a just brought a cardboard box", the blonde man sighed to himself at the revelation. There was a feeling, like a ping in the back of his skull, that alerted him to the movements of the Balancer, he couldn't have followed the speed on his own, but he needed little time to adjust to his destination.
He loosed his usual flurry of arrows at the target though without the usual ferocity, though visually identical, the bolts of spiritual energy seemed weaker. Protected by the barrier of whirring blades, Mamoru continued to move onward and it was impossible to tell if any of the projectiles managed to get past that offence-turned-defence. The Balancer changed his direction with a slight motion and passed right beside Cielo. Only then did he stop the flurry of an attack and landed behind the Arrancar.
Cielo instinctively leaped foward, spinning around on his heel and charging a hastily prepared Cero Fuerte in an attempt to break through Mamoru's blades. As he did so he also poised his blade at the same time, it's tip ready to be thrust at the Balancer at a moments notice.
"Eat this!", Cielo shouted, launching his attacks at Nakatani aggressively, his face glistening with sweat as he did so.
Meanwhile, Nakatani had quickly rotated around his axis and leapt toward the enemy, his twin blades wreathed in Reiatsu swinging in a shearing motion to violently clash with Cielo's own attacks.
A cloak of reishi covered each of the combatants in a dim blue coat of light.
"Looks like God is upset", said the Quincy with some hint of sarcasm. He focused his sights on Cielo and Mamoru before Kirchenlied's interior was swallowed up by light, blinding his vision with a flood of white.
The Reishi within the fortress, that saturated Hueco Mundo's air and formed its sands, concentrated on those trapped within its confines, latching onto them like swarming parasites. They pressed down, a crushing gravity on each of the beings present before they ignited the Reiatsu of those same individuals to create a devastating wave of destruction, the fortress, Kirchenlied: Sankt Zwinger, collapsed in a massive implosion, leaving only ruin in the initial aftermath.
Within the resultant massive cloud of smoke, there stood a lonely figure. With his clothing tattered and his exposed flesh singed, Mamoru nonetheless remained outwardly unperturbed. Whereas his gleaming aura of lime Reiatsu was gone, his upright hair and ominous eyes maintained the distinct greenish tint. With streaks of steam rising directly from his body, the Balancer moved unhurriedly, and began looking around in search of the Quincy.
Around the Balancer was a smouldering expanse, the Quincy spell, touted as the "Wrath of God", had incinerated much of the surrounding sand leaving the lone figure within a massive crater with slight falls of shuffling sand trying to refill the great gap. The Arrancar and the Quincy had seemingly vanished, their bodies were not in the crater with Nakatani nor could their presences be felt in the vicinity, in fact almost nothing could be felt within the crater as if it had become a deadspot for spiritual energy in a realm comprised almost entirely of it.
Mamoru kept searching, but to no avail. Once he deemed that the enemies surely must have fled, he at last relaxed. His eyelids drooped when his face assumed the typical, languid expression. His hair fell loose and his body shrunk slightly as he let out a protracted sigh of relief, and the lime tint of his Reiatsu vanished as well. Then, he strapped both of his swords at his waist.
He had higher priorities. His unexpected return meant that the balance of the worlds was in grave danger, and radical measures had to be taken as soon as possible. Nakatani proceeded to draw a very complex, shining mark suspended in the air. When he finished the sign, he put one of his hands through it to unlock an ethereal gate. Shortly afterward he was consumed by the light emanated from within, and disappeared completely.
The mysterious perpetrators had escaped, but the Balancer swore to himself they shall finish the engagement another time.
The halls of the Mitteilungteil, the former barracks of the Twelfth Division and the SRDI, were abuzz with activity. Quincy were rushing around through out every corner of the building, those that weren't were glued to seats within a large room dominated largely by monitoring equipment, an odd fusion of organisms and technology. One particular monitoring station, its screen filled with red dots and pulses of activity had drawn the attention of Quincy through out.
"Sir, we've got signs of extreme levels of spiritual activity across the globe, a lot of them right where our own happen to be stationed", spoke an officer with a tone that was clearly forcing itself to remain calm. His words were directed at a man of diminutive stature and elderly visage, who rocked lightly back and forth while leaning against a fine wooden cane.
"You know the appropriate response", the man replied, with an exaggerated bow of his head. He turned to leave whilst the Quincy officer began processing through orders to have Soldat and members of the Sternritter directed to the Gate of the Sun.
Amala Kshatriya was crossing the bridge towards the Gate of the Sun, her hands outstretched on either side, swaying as she balanced on the small raised wall on the edge. A heavy, rumbling stomp, shook her of her balance leading to her nearly fall over to a rather embarassing fall. Instead, Reishi had gathered beneath her feet enabling her to stand in the air.
"Who the He-", she started with a seething expression which quickly shifted into understanding once she noticed the hulking form of HK-105 marching across the bridge, "They're sending you out too, ya big lug?", she questioned in rhetoric, bringing herself back onto the bridge and safely onto firm ground with a light skip from the wall.
"Affirmative", it replied mechanically, a single blue glowing eye looking over the woman before returning to the fore.
"Wait for me, dammit!", suddenly yelled a grumpy voice.
There was a stout man approaching the two, limping visibly. The man was a dark-skinned, middle-aged Quincy with a rather solid stature and unkempt black beard. It was impossible to tell the colour of his eyes, for they had been permanently replaced by a set of faintly gleaming goggles fused to the man's face. In fact, his left hand was also replaced by an intricate mechanical prosthetic, and the way he was walking and the sounds he was making in the process indicated that the cybernetic augments did not end there.
"Next time ya run away from me I'll reprogam ya to do my laundry", snarled Timothy Jones as he finally stood beside HK.
"Having trouble with your contraption again?"
From another direction there was coming a relatively tall and well-built man of Korean descent, also wearing a Sternritter uniform. His dark eyes were half-closed, and he smiled in a wry manner as he looked at Timothy.
"You've got a problem with that, eh?", asked the stout Quincy angrily.
"I couldn't care less", replied Ho-jin Kwon, waving his hand dismissively. "Just stop making such noise."
"Oh, I'm going to..."
"Please, friends, do not bicker", interrupted a soft, female voice.
With no warning whatsoever, out of thin air there appeared yet another Sternritter. This time it was a short, young woman of clearly Hispanic heritage, with long dark brown hair: Catalina Vargas. She walked between Timothy and Ho-jin and smiled in a friendly manner.
HK's head moved with a slight hiss, its singular eye shining down on its creator.
"Apologies", it responded flatly.
Amala bounced out from the hulking cybernetic Quincy's side to get a full view of the assembled group.
"Man, why am I stuck with you losers?", she gave a disapproving glare at the lot of them at the same time rustling a hand through her blue-dyed hair. Her body was jerked out of its comfort zone into a surprise hug from Carmen Abandonato who had seemingly shown up out of nowhere.
"Oh come now, Amala, there's no need to be so rude", she chimed.
Ignoring the gathered Sternritter was a large group of Soldat, crossing the bridge and giving the Quincy Elite a wide berth. They walked in formation, all dressed up in typical dystopian fantasy equipment befitting the stereotypical "gasmask shocktrooper". Their outfits were weathered and dyed the usual Quincy white.
There was a burst of dust grains followed by Vitor Zeferino's arrival in front of the Gate of the Sun, his cane tapping the ground to generate an impressive echo in the open air that eventually attracted the attention of the assembled Quincy.
"I'm sure you all wish to get down to the meat of the matter, so I will be brief", the old man began, his voice felt weak but carried itself on the winds without issue, lending the elderly figure some sense of theatric mystery, or so he imagined.
"We have recently become aware of a large amount of spiritual activity, one that does not belong to Shinigami or Hollow, and it just so happens to have shown up where our brethren have been active", Vitor stopped for a moment, slouching forward slightly to beat on his back with a balled fist before wheezing out a heavy sigh.
"We have been unable to contact those Quincy currently in the field, and so we are sending you all out to investigate. You will be divided into groups, a Sternritter and a squad of Soldat to each region, I want you to find out just what has happened, but prioritize the lives of our missing fellows, find them and return them to us."
He looked them over a moment, squinting down on his weathered eyes to get a better view, in the back of his mind he was cursing the late day Sun and its perpetual glare.
"Kwon, to Inaba. Kshatriya, to Vienna. Vargas, Abandonato, to Glasgow. Timothy, you and your mechanical friend, are left with Las Noches in Hueco Mundo", he spoke as if going over a list his aged rasp making his words seem detached.
Behind him the Gate of the Sun came into life, creating the visage of numerous locations within its center with which to take its users.
"Hmph", muttered Ho-jin, clearly annoyed. "Just as I thought everything has settled down, this happens...", he complained, shaking his head.
Aside from the sounds of the Gate, the area fell into silence, the assorted Sternritter and their newly appointed teams of Soldat making use of its power to transition from the Soul Society to the Human World, or Hueco Mundo.
Inaba City, Japan. Night.
Kwon looked around the area, standing high above the buildings on a platform of solid Reishi. With his eyes narrowed more due to his irritation rather than the wind blowing, he quickly noticed that a miniature disaster must have occurred in Inaba not long ago. He turned to the squad leader of the Soldaten accompanying him.
"The faster we act the sooner we get this over with", he said. "Divide into teams of six and search the city for traces of enemy presence. I'll go grab the kids", he commanded shortly afterward.
The group had dispersed in no time at all once the order had been given, clearly having experience with this sort type of dispatch. They broke out in different directions across the city, searching the areas that had sustained otherworldly damage before moving on to search the less obvious locations.
Ho-jin observed them briefly with typical aloofness. A few seconds later he leapt forward with the use of Hirenkyaku. Thanks to his enhanced spiritual senses, he quickly pinpointed the location of the two young Quincies assigned to this place. It did not take him long to travel there. Once he arrived at the hill, he noticed the ruins of a building and two semi-familiar figures.
"My my", he commented whilst landing softly next to Kaede Kiseki. "What sort of trouble have you two got yourselves into?"
Kaede didn't answer, she was sitting next to an unconscious Haiiro, who had been roughly patched up and had stopped coughing, instead his breather sounded extremely raspy, as if he was struggling to breathe properly. The young Quincy woman was quietly sitting beside him, her head in her lap, her skin was unnaturally pale and her arms were wrapped around her legs. She started shaking and trembling, even after Ho-jin made himself known, completely ignoring her fellow Quincy's comment.
"Tsk", uttered Kwon as he approached the two.
He looked at Hoshi with overt disdain. Then, he began rummaging through the pouches strapped to his belt. After several seconds of angry muttering he found a small silver tube of Gintō. He glanced at the label and reached out toward Kaede.
"Make him drink this", he said, holding the tube right in front of the young woman's face. After a few second of blankly staring at the tube, she weakly took the capsule of Gintō and poured it into Haiiro's gaping mouth, Kaede's skin getting slightly paler due to her accidentally glancing at the crimson red blood still seeping slightly from Haiiro's wound. As soon as the entire capsule was empty she retreated back into her shell, shaking once more.
With the medicine poured inside Haiiro's wounded body, the gash at his chest closed completely in a matter of seconds. The blood ceased flowing, and all that remained was what had been already spilt. Ho-jin had been watching the process tapping his foot impatiently.
"See, he's better now", he said to Kaede, pointing at the fallen Quincy with his left hand. "Why don't you pull yourself together and tell me a nice bedtime story now?", he demanded.
Kaede still failed to respond, she drew herself in tighter, due to the still remaining blood around her. However, the sound of weak coughing brought her head up slightly.
"Watch your...words Ho-jin.", Haiiro weakly uttered, his voice, while still raspy due to his opponent's abilities, was full of anger and annoyance due to his fellow quincy's loss of patience and eloquence.
"I'll tell you what happ-", Haiiro started before he befallen on another coughing fit, he leaned forward, as if he was still in pain before his cough finally calmed down.
"Ho-jin-seonbae", corrected him the older Quincy, seemingly ignoring the warning. "Or "-senpai" if you wish. Now, tell me who could surprise and defeat two Sternrittern like that?"
"As you wish Ho-jin.", Haiiro dismissed the aloof Quincy's interjection angrily, coughing slightly afterwards. "The enemy we faced didn't introduce himself, I myself...", he paused to cough slightly, "Didn't hear much, just the name and title Zhong-taisho, so he must be part of a enemy organisation.", he once again paused to violently cough before looking back up towards Ho-jin.
The Korean Quincy crossed his arms across his chest and narrowed his eyes, fixing his intense glare on Hoshi.
"It's an incised wound", he stated with fake composure. "Was that a Shinigami?"
"Not a Shinigami....but definitely something of a similar description, he used spells similar to them and he had a blade that was uncannily similar to a Zanpakutō....that's what got me, he managed to infect me with his blade's ability and strike me down.", Haiiro explained, his cough simmering down slightly, he paused to regain his breath before continuing.
"However his attire was different, and none of the spells he used are ones that we're aware of...so we can assume we're not up against a Shinigami.", Haiiro finished.
Kwon turned his head slightly to the side, and glanced at the oddly motionless Kaede.
"I see", he replied to Hoshi's report. "What's with her? Was she hit by a spell or what?", he asked after a short pause.
"Hemophobia.", Haiiro quietly murmured, his head lowered slightly, he turned to face Kaede, who while still pale, had stopped shivering, and was seemingly getting over her fit.
Ho-jin raised his eyebrows briefly.
"That's... inconvenient for a soldier", he said.
Then, he looked around again before gazing back at Haiiro.
"Judging by your miserable state and the whereabouts, I assume the enemy's run away", he concluded. "Any ideas where to?"
"None sadly, I couldn't pinpoint them before falling unconscious and I doubt Kaede was able to do the same.", Haiiro said in a matter of fact tone.
"Excellent", snarled Ho-jin. "I'm amazed that you've managed to survive despite such incompetence... if barely", he added with a sneer.
"I apologise for our incredible incompetence Ho-jin-chan.", Haiiro jested, his pale face painted with a audacious smirk as he slowly picked himself up turning his attention away from his colleague and towards Kaede.
Kwon's eyes narrowed into ominous slits. He turned directly to the younger Quincy and slowly straightened his hands, holding them slightly to the sides.
"Get out of my sight", he seethed.
One by one the squads of Soldat returned from their searches, forming up into a platoon of sorts behind the senior Quincy.
"Sir, we've combed the entire area, aside from residual spiritual energies, from something strong, we've been unable to pinpoint anything of actual use", one of the men had stepped forward and spouted their findings to the open air as useless as they were.
Kaede, her colour starting to return, had slowly climbed out of hugging her knees into a more dignified position. It took all of her restraint to not whip out Batsu-san and slap Haiiro for his hijinks. Instead she simply let out a heavy sigh.
"Ho-jin-san, how widespread is this?", she inquired, knowing that the situation had to be larger than just themselves if an entire team of Soldat was at the back of a Sternritter.
Kwon's glare alternated between the troopers and his fellow Sternrittern before he settled on Kaede. His stance remained tense.
"There've been two incidents in Europe and one in Hueco Mundo", he replied after a short period of silence.
"Is there any word on those attacks?", she continued to question the more experienced Quincy, a part of her wanted him to say that the others had fared just as well, that their relative inexperience in the field wasn't the fault, but more than that she wanted some clue as to what the Hell was going on.
Even though he had been about to reach the boiling point, Ho-jin was able to calm down thanks to the interruption of his conversation with Haiiro. The entire situation itself was annoying to him, however, so he did not regain complete composure.
"No casualties as far as I know", he drawled after taking a deep breath. "But the others didn't fare much better than you. Why don't we come back to the HQ so you can find out?", he asked, irritation apparent in his voice.
"Okay... let us move then.", Haiiro, who had also simmered down from his bickering with Ho-jin, agreed. He straightened up, picking up the discarded Seele Schneider he dropped when he lost against Zhong.
Looking over herself, her hands were still visibly shaking under her vision, a moment of gritted teeth and fist clenching ensued whilst the nearby squads of Soldat threw out the exit carpet in the form of Schatten. The squads existed through the shadowy portal, their superiors not long behind them.
"Sir, we've been unable to locate either of our operatives in this area, and, aside from the residual presence given off by this stone, we have little information on any possible threats", reported a Soldat to the increasingly irate Sternritter.
She huffed repeatedly, puffing up her cheeks lightly before blasting air from her nose. When that proved fruitless she began tapping the concrete beneath her with her foot, though she was quick to find that useless as well. She eventually exploded with a roar towards the Heavens, heat emitting from the shout and her hands at either side. Small crevices of melted earth formed around her.
"Where are these idiots!?", she demanded, though there was little in the way of a response. Before repeating the process again, she decided to get some answers, maybe that old git was taking her for a fool.
A finger raised to her ear, pressing against the small device attached. There was a hiss of a connection before a frail "Yes?," resounded through.
"Old man, are you sure they're here? I can't find a damn thing", she spoke.
"Hm? They should b- Ah, I see the issue", standing in front of the Gate of the Sun, Vitor was greeted to the newly arrived site of Anders and Karl. "It would appear they returned home on their own initiative", he responded as if everything was fine and dandy, though he was quick to remove his radio device from his ear before she could respond.
"I'm going to kill the lot of them!", she growled, the once beautiful, though somewhat marred park was slowly becoming a series of unusual potholes under the woman's immensely short temper.
Aileen opened her eyes suddenly.
"Shit!", she shouted, jerking rapidly. "What the hell happened?"
The brothers had taken their charge and fled the battlefield, arriving in a small alleyway of the busy Glasgow streets. The majority had fretted over Aileen and Henri-Ragon, nursing the injuries on either person as best they could in this condition. When the red haired woman had awoken with a start, the brothers jumped with equal amounts of surprise.
"Madame McFarlane, you're awake, do you feel alright?", asked one of the siblings.
A fair distance away, the Gate of the Sun had transported the groups of Soldat and the two female Sternritters that were at their head.
"Would you like to take the lead, Catalina-chan?", Carmen spoke with a voice that oozed enough sweetness to make someone's teeth quake.
The petite woman of clearly Hispanic origin nodded with a friendly smile.
"This won't take long", she said and closed her eyes.
A single wrinkle of concentration appeared on her otherwise smooth forehead. A faint aura of golden Reiatsu enveloped her body with a gleaming outline.
"I sense... a disturbance", she stated after a few seconds of silence. "Shock... fear... something ancient recently awoken from millennia-long slumber... and... frustration", she added with surprise. "I've found McFarlane-san, and the Bonheur brothers", she told Carmen once she opened her dark eyes.
"Your senses are as fantastic as always Catalina-chan", praised Abandonato whilst twirling on her heel to face the gathered Soldat behind them.
"Whichever of you has medical expertise, follow us, please, the rest of you head to the assumed point of origin and report anything unusual", she spoke straightforwardly though her sugary manner never dissipated, creating a jarring mix of protocol and sweetness.
"Let's go find our friends shall we?", the Soldat had fanned out, leaving a single man with the two Sternritter to seek out their allies.
"Yes", agreed Vargas with an energetic nod. "There's no point in waiting."
With those words she leapt in the direction of the other Sternrittern, using Hirenkyaku to traverse the distance quickly.
Carmen and the Soldat medic followed right behind transitioning across the cityscape in blurs of static motion. It wasn't long before they had all arrived at the dank little alley that the group had taken to.
"Hm! Looks like everyone's present and accounted for", said the Spanish Quincy, a finger outstretched and counting over the assembled Quincy that they'd been sent to find.
"That bitch has broken my MP3 player!", the two female Sternrittern heard the yell of Aileen as they were approaching her and the Bonheurs.
Even though clearly wounded and with her jacket in tatters, the red-headed Quincy seemed more concerned about her destroyed gadget rather than her own health.
"I'm sure a new one won't be hard to procure", one of the brothers attempted to assuage the red-haired woman's anger over her lost item.
"Give it to me for a while, please", said Catalina as she was closing in to the group with a friendly smile.
Aileen looked at her somewhat confused, but seemed to recognise the other female Quincy. Once Vargas stood next to her, she passed the broken device with some hesitation. Catalina regarded it closely, and then hid it between her clasped palms.
"Here, it should work again", she stated after a moment, reaching toward McFarlane.
The red-headed woman widened her eyes when she took the item, now shiny and in perfect condition.
"Neat!", she exclaimed. "Uhm, thanks, I suppose", she added hesitantly.
Once she put the MP3 player in the pocket of her jeans skirt, she glanced at the newcomers with a now gloomy expression.
"I think I know why you are here", she said grimly.
"Now, now, there's no need to be so gloomy", started Carmen, wiggling her way through the mass of bodies in the alleyway to get to a point where she could be more easily seen. "Now that we've found you, and everyone seems to be safe and sound, we just need to know what happened and then we can all go home", she spoke in a chipper manner.
The brothers regarded each other, grim eyes under their sharp brimmed hats. "There was a woman, wielding a sword like a Shinigami and yet, not".
"That's true", confirmed Aileen. "She looked and fought kind of like a Shinigami, but she explicitely denied being one. She said she's a "Balancer of Souls", a predecessor of sorts to the Gotei 13", she continued, her spirits still ostensibly low.
The medic had scurried through the group, fussing over Henri-Ragon and Aileen after distributing whatever was necessary for the lighter wounds of the less injured brothers.
"I'm sure we'll be able to turn up something from this, as little information as it might seem at the moment", Carmen responded with reassurance to the group. "You aren't the only ones this has happened to, so getting you back to HQ where we can all knock our heads together is the new priority".
With that, the woman was quick to turn on her heel and exit the alley to await the return of the scattered Soldat.
Hueco Mundo, North of the Las Noches ruins.
HK-105 examined its surroundings, catching little more than sand and the occassional wrecked spire jutting from the bronze ocean. Its monoeye buzzed around in its helmet before looking down upon its creator.
"I detect no signs of spiritual pressure", it spoke flatly.
"Spooky", replied Timothy.
He kept slowly swinging his bionic hand around, a small, rotating dish extending from its metallic plating.
"Initial analysis suggests recent usage of Kirchenlied: Sankt Zwinger with a 87.8% probability", he added after a while. "Whatever attacked the Boss, it must've been tough. It's likely evaporated by now, though. Widen the spectrum in search for any life sings", he addressed the robot accompanying him.
Its monoeye shrunk as if squinting before shifting backwards, growing in size. It flashed as to indicate something before returning to its regular size.
"Fifteen feet below estimated ground level, Arrancar detected", HK replied flatly.
The robust Quincy turned toward the direction his contraption was facing, pointing the mechanical arm right at the surface of the white desert. His metal palm unfolded into a dish of sorts. Then, suddenly the sand began rising and glowing, converted into raw spiritual particles and absorbed by the device. Soon, the hole reached the Hollow covered beneath the dust, exposing his wounded body.
"Hey, you alive down there?", asked Timothy, his mechanic palm back to its more human-like shape.
"Uh...", Cielo moaned as he started stirring, after a short while he finally awoke in a hurry.
"Redención!", he shouted, before realising he was sitting in a pit of sand, looking up, he saw Timothy and HK looking down on him. After standing up he used sonido to escape the hole.
"You're one of those Stern Ritter aren't you? You found Redención and Bamshad-sama yet?", Cielo asked, rubbing his head in a pained manner.
"Yup", replied the cyborg Quincy, staring at the Arrancar with his soulless optics. "I'm Stern Ritter E. I haven't found the others yet, though, you're the first."
Cielo merely glanced at Timothy before turning to HK, who was busy silently scanning the immediate vicinity for his comrade and leader, before turning back to the other Quincy.
"I'll take a hunch and say that we're not the only ones that were beaten into the ground, right?", Cielo finally replied to Timothy.
"Frankly, I've got no clue who or what you fought", replied Jones with a shrug. "The concentration of spiritual particles in the area is 96.1% lower than average. It's like the void of space. What the heck happened here?"
"Eh?", Cielo muttered in response to Timothy's convoluted explanation of events, "Well anyway, we were confronted by some guy proclaiming himself as Marshal of the South, whatever that means, his name way Mamoru Nakatani, I think.", Cielo finished, looking around slightly for any signs of his fallen allies.
Ignoring the conversation between the organic beings present, HK continued its search for the others they had been sent to find with very little success. Though it was able to find depressions in the sand not unlike the one created by Timothy.
"Unable to identify additional lifesigns," it spoke out in monotone. "Additional pits suggest they have left the area."
"Darn it", replied Jones, turning rapidly toward the automaton. "That ain't good. We were s'pposed to bring the Boss back, not turn up with only one of his troops... no offense", he added with a brief glance at the Arrancar.
A short while had passed since Vitor had sent the relief efforts off to their various destinations and now he stood there, hunched up and resting on his cane, alone. He closed his eyes, accepting the quiet that ushered into the area. His ears perked at the sound of foot steps crossing the bridge, his eyes remained closed and instead his mouth opened to draw breath and spill out words.
"Miss Byrne, its good that you're here", he spoke with a grandfatherly tone, almost as if he was falling asleep on the spot.
"Please, watch over the gate in my stead would you? The cold is getting at these old bones", he chuckled, a hand sliding to his back to pat on his spine for emphasis. He hadn't waited for a response from the younger Quincy, already making his way towards Silbern's doors.
Half way across, his ears perked up once again. The Gate had spurred into life. "So soon?" he thought, casting his gaze upon the massive contraption. First to arrive was Ho-jin and his quarry, Haiiro and Kaede, the young woman helping Haiiro keep pace in his weakened state. Then it was Anders and Karl, without Amala who'd been sent to find them, though he didn't have to make any guesses as to why when she began raving across the communication device sitting in his ear. Which reminded him that he'd even been wearing it.
Next were the duo sent to Glasgow, returning with Aileen and the Bonheur octuplets. All that remained were those in Hueco Mundo, Vitor observed, and the gate continued to bring others through as if in answer.
A ragged looking Human appeared through the gate, walking with one arm absently floating around in front of him as the other clung to a white-clad person over his shoulder.
"Cielo's gonna be jealous, us playin' favourites", Roshan remarked to his passenger as they walked, not at all plussed about the massive gathering of Sternritter in front of him.
"You kids celebratin' somethin' without us?", he asked.
"Bamshad-sama welcome back.", Kerri said as the Quincy Regent approached the other Stern Ritter, "We have medical personnel to tend to you and the unconscious Soldat you are carrying sir.", Kerri stated, beckoning forth a small team of medical personnel towards Roshan.
"Great", commented Ho-jin, glaring at the others. "It's getting better and better."
Just as the aloof Quincy finished muttering another group of individuals started coming through the gate, one of them obviously marching at a faster pace than the others.
"I swear to god Bamshad if you pull that shit ever again I'll...", Cielo stopped just as he saw a sea of Stern Ritter facing him, he stopped his raging with an annoyed tut and moved next to the conscious but groggy Redención and Roshan with a death glare on his face.
"Watch your tongue, Arrancar", snarled Anders, standing tall despite his injuries. "Unless you want it removed."
"He means it", commented Karl.
Cielo, while wary of Anders' ire, still turned towards Karl with an annoyed look on his face.
"I know.", he coldly replied.
Roshan offloaded his passenger into the hands of the Quincy medical team, stretching his taxed muscles as Cielo was reprimanded by Anders, one of the more veteran members of the Sternritter.
"You're just gonna take that Cielo?" Roshan poked lightly at the Arrancar in an attempt to provoke a larger reaction. At the same time the temperature in the area exponentially increased, becoming a virtual sauna even in the open air.
"Schäfer!", yelled Amala as she exploded onto the scene through the Gate of the Sun, her heatsoaked Soldat not far behind. "When you get your ass beat into the ground, stay there next time, so as not to waste my damn time!", she complained with some form of roundabout logic that only really worked in her own head. Which was the only validation she needed.
Whilst the clashing heads of the older, or downright alien, members of the Wandenreich went on, Kaede attempted to keep her cool, first with a sigh, then by pinching at the bridge of her nose, when nothing worked she became irritable very quickly. A vein popped in the back of her head, hidden beneath her hair and then she exploded.
"Would you idiots shut the Hell up!?", her voice echoed across the entire area drawing a silence and numerous gazes upon herself, Ho-jin, and Haiiro. Under those piercing eyes she became a little shy, raising a hand to cover her mouth she coughed then slapped Haiiro on the back in an attempt to get him to step in too, her cheeks had gone a little rosy in the mean time.
"She's right", stated Aileen, completely unabashed when the attention turned to her in the ensuing silence. "Rather than bicker like a bunch of schoolchildren, we should be planning how to kick the arse of our new old enemies", she continued with an intimidating grin.
Haiiro rather ironically gave Kaede and Aileen an annoyed glance before turning to the still seething Stern Ritter. "Kaede and Aileen-san have a point.", Haiiro spluttered out, his condition wasn't helping him cover up, "So instead of arguing, why don't we go over the matter at hand and share the information we have.", he finished quietly, while certainly not as embarrassed as his partner, he was feeling rather uneasy due to the glares they were receiving.
"We know that the enemy is strong, similar to Shinigami, and that there are at least several of them", started Anders, unfazed by Amala's tantrum. "We should begin with reinforcing the security of our headquarters, as it is possible that they might launch an attack on us. Should that not happen, we might organise a few elite teams in order to attempt to find them."
"On top of that, they seem to have some intel on us", Roshan stated his hand ruffling through his hair as usual. "They knew about Las Noches, Hell just one of 'em blew it up", the man didn't show much in the way of immediate concern for the situation, like it was business as usual.
"You're right though, let's make this place a little more impregnable then we'll worry about returnin' the favour".
"This is never going to end, is it...", murmured Ho-jin, his arms folded across his chest.
"No", replied Karl.
The Korean Quincy delivered him a death glare, to which Schwarzwald responded with a smirk.
Kerri, in an attempt to stop the bickering quickly, enthusiastically straightened up and turned towards Roshan.
"I'll will start making preparations then Lord Bamshad.", Kerri said quickly, she turned on her heel and walked away, leaving the now quiet group of Stern Ritter in her wake.
"Yeah, let's get to business then shall we?", Haiiro quietly suggested, breaking the tension that was enveloping the room.
Roshan's face contorted into a lopsided smile for a second, the appelation of lord still not running well with him.
"Alright, Vitor, have the Mitteilungteil look for our new found friends, try not to leave the stones unturned, yeah?", he started all the while messing with his arm, forcing the thing back into place with a sickening crack and a pained grunt.
Kaede had given a slight shudder when the sound ran past her ears, but refrained from any other reaction.
"Schäfer, I'll leave the defenses here in your capable hands, someone should go bother the Insicht and see if they've got anything for us, the rest of you can do what you want for now", Roshan continued, dolling out a quick few orders in the meantime.
Vitor gave a quick nod before slowly making his way off the bridge.
"I shall do as you ask", replied Anders.
He promptly marched out of the room, still completely unmindful of his ostensibly heavy injuries. Once the commotion inherent to meetings that had just ended set in, Karl looked around quickly.
"Well, I suppose I could walk around the place and check the shady corners", he stated before walking out.
"At last", uttered Ho-jin with dramatic relief, leaving the room as well.
Dan Tai Sin sat atop one of the many stone water lilies that dotted the landscape of Hell's second level. His knees were folded beneath him and his hands rested against the thighs. His eyes closed and all that escaped him were the shallow breaths he took. In front of him rested a large stone marker, the only thing that made this particular water lily stand out from the rest. It was roughly carved, and not a natural part of the larger stone mass surrounding it as evidenced by the presence of cracked earth and the slight fringes of a gap that the marker rested in. Its front was engraved with several names, many of them having been dulled with age or marred by disrespectful prisoners of Hell. This was a Yüshítou, the graves left behind for the Balancers of Souls after their decimation. But it was more than that.
As moments passed, the large stone began to let out an eery hum, its tone was human, giving off the impression that someone was creating the sound personally. Following that it began to glow attracting Dan Tai Sin's attention. He raised from his position, drawing out one of the small knuckle-covering blades that he carried before slicing through the stone effortlessly.
The glow expanded from the damaged rock, becoming a pillar that shone through to the sky and beyond Tai Sin's gaze. He paced back from the ruined stone, drawing his hands up and pressing them together in front of himself as his body bowed to a series of materializing presences.
"Whew, that Quincy girl and those other Quincies kinda got me there for a couple minutes.", Naoko said in a relaxed manner, walking slowly towards Dai Tai Sin, scratching her head as she did so.
"It seems that our successors have been displaced by a newer faction", uttered Mamoru in a melancholic tone, unhurriedly approaching the other two.
His trousers and sash were somewhat tattered and a small, fresh scar marked his abdomen, but nothing else spoke of the intense battle he had fought not that long ago.
"The entire existence is in grave danger, and our efforts to maintain the balance are now more vital than ever before", he continued.
"They are of no consequence", said Sun Zhong with a dismissive tone, his voice echoing somewhat as his body materialized like the others.
"Y-yeah, t-they couldn't beat us, right, right? Yeah", Hyo added, seeming unsure of himself as he rasped on.
"This is your domain Nakatani-taishō, where would the best place to leave one such as our leader be?", ignoring the stuttering Marshal, Zhong quickly got to the point of their presence in Hell.
"I have a theory", replied the Sōzōshin, looking around attentively. "Our successors accused us of many things, hubris chief amongst them. I surmise that the Force-Marshal was imprisoned in the lowest depths of Hell, where reside the Togabito punished for the gravest of crimes."
"It seems logical, so I guess that's our best bet at this point.", Naoko said lazily, yawning as she did so, she stretched before turning her head towards her fellow Marshals.
"Shall we get moving then?", she asked.
"L-lead on then N-n-nakatani-dono", said Hyo. Beside him, Zhong dismissed his subordinate who made use of the grave marker as a way to leave the realm they had entered.
"Yes", said Mamoru with a polite nod.
Then, he turned back to the other Marshals and lifted both of his hands, outstretched slightly to the sides. The gems embedded in his jewellery shone brightly as he began a series of rapid, yet swift gestures, leaving ethereal symbols suspended in the air. Once he finished, he put his right hand through the centre of the large mark. After a blinding flash of light a portal appeared in front of the Balancer, leading straight to the lowermost abyss of Hell.
"Please, follow me", uttered Nakatani, glancing briefly at his comrades.
Subsequently, he simply walked into the dimensional gate and vanished.
"I forgot how much power Nakatani-san had over Hell.", Naoko said, a genuine look of surprise on her face, after looking at Mamoru's portal for a few seconds she started to follow her colleague through it.
"Yeah, he's such a p-powerful guy for seeming s-so m-mellow," Hyo replied, following behind, though he abruptly stopped for a moment.
"We s-should gut him before he turns o-on us", he continued with a surprising turn. He entered the portal behind Naoko like nothing should have been meant by it however.
Zhong looked on, his head tilting forward slightly. "These are my equals?", he questioned rhetorically, air fumed from his nostrils to show his discontent before he too followed.
Soon, they were all drowned in the pitch blackness and paralysing cold of the lowermost realm of Hell. An eternal blizzard raged across the rocky highlands and immense mountain ranges, lashing the Balancers with oddly stinging snowflakes. High above that sombre land of despair and solitude hung an inverted sun, faint white outline enveloping the dark sphere being the only source of light.
Mamoru stood not far from the rest, unaffected by the harsh conditions of the realm. Suddenly he seemed tense, atypical alertness present on his usually languid face.
"Something is wrong", he stated grimly, turning to his comrades.
"What is it?", Naoko asked, snapping out of her almost trance-like state quickly, she placed her hand on her Jiūkǔndao, ready to draw it immediately at the sight or sound of anything approaching. Hyo on the other hand, anxiously moved next to the female Balancer, cowering slightly.
"W-will they kill us, kill us and mutilate us and-and-and...", he whimpered, he then suddenly changed notes, "Will we kill them? W-will we mutilate them?", he carried on.
"Cold? I guess even Hell can subvert expectation", said Zhong flatly, caring little for the supposed wrongness that had afflicted the deepest level of the dimension.
"I recognise the ambient Reiatsu of Yōkai and Togabito", explained Nakatani, slowly placing his right hand on the hilt of his hook sword. "But there is also residual spiritual pressure of something which is... neither", he finished ominously.
"Not very subtle on my part, is it?", uttered a deep voice all of a sudden.
Then, a single cloaked figure literally emerged from the perpetual storm of snow with no other forewarning whatsoever, and halted a few metres from the group of Marshals.
"Something new born in this wasteland of a world? Interesting", said Zhong, his ears having perked up at the looming voice whilst his eyes scanned the physical presence that had approached from nowhere.
"What are you and what are you out to gain from confronting us.", Naoko said sharply, drawing her Dao and holding it out at arms length towards the figure while Hyo jumped back in terror, scared stiff of both Naoko's sudden change in temperament and the figure standing opposite to them.
"Believe it or not", said the stranger, his hooded head tilting toward the female Balancer. "But that's one of the warmest welcomes I've had in a while."
Subsequently, the man spread out his long black cape and reached toward the hood with both hands to uncover his head. A pair of scarlet eyes shone in the semi-darkness of the realm, and medium-length jet black hair fluttered on the strong wind. An arrogant smirk outstretched on the stranger's face, which could be deemed handsome if not for the two hideous scars crossing it.
"I am Hikari Maebure", he introduced himself shortly. "I'm a resident of this place."
"Your chain...", murmured Mamoru, an intimidating frown slowly forming on his face.
Maebure put the thumb of his left hand beneath the aforementioned chain, which was wrapped around his waist like a belt, and yanked it a couple of times.
"Stylish, isn't it?", he asked with a sardonic smile.
"Mamoru, we waste time, do you know where she is?", Zhong's interest in the creature had faded for the time being and he was quick to remind his fellows of their reason for being in such a dreary place to begin with.
Naoko, while still wary of their new occupant, lowered her sword slightly while nodding.
"You're right, this isn't our objective, we need to find her.", Naoko agreed with Zhong's suggestion, realising that they shouldn't be wasting time and instead making haste with their objective.
Hyo had also calmed down somewhat, although he was still standing behind Naoko, he straightened up, his face looking less strained.
"Y-yeah, you're right, we need to hurry.", Hyo said, regaining his composure.
"The valley between the highest two mountains", replied Mamoru, pointing into the direction with his free hand, right over the motionless Hikari. "That is the place reserved for the greatest of villains. I presume that the Force Marshal is there."
"You know", started Maebure suddenly, his voice noticeably lower than before. "I've grown accustomed to the horrific conditions, the wailing of Togabito and the pestering of the Yōkai. What I can't get over with, though, is the inability to talk with anyone. I could count all the relatively normal conversations I've had during the last two millennia on the fingers of one hand."
His stance did not change even slightly, but there was something tense about him that could be felt by the Balancers. Then, the man tilted his head a bit, as if pointing at the aforementioned valley, twin peaks and the inverted sun directly above.
"But, I digress", he continued with ostensible lightheartedness. "It seems you're looking for someone important. As the visitors of my realm, could you please introduce yourselves and explain what are your goals?", he said, gazing at the group with his faintly gleaming eyes.
The elderly Balancer had begun to leave when the uppity being began uttering words again. He stopped, listened, and returned to face him.
"If you desire conversation so, then I advise you pick up a shovel and dig, if not, then return to the hole you crawled out from, creature", he responded with pure disdain, each syllable emphasized with disgust.
He turned again and started walking, caring not if he offended or sparked retaliation in Maebure, though he wasn't so displeased as to let down his guard. He passed the other Marshals, moving towards the hinted destination of their imprisoned master.
At first, Hikari stared at him with his eyes widened in overt astonishment. Although, soon his face outstretched in an uncanny smile.
"I'll dig a hole", he declared whilst placing the right palm on the hilt of his sheathed blade. "For you."
Immediately afterward he drew the sabre with a lightning-fast motion. There was an ominous hum when what seemed like a wave of liquid darkness burst forth, following the arch of the curved edge's swing. Within a fraction of a second the blackness expanded so explosively, that the Balancers were literally flooded by a tidal wave of dark energy that swept across the entire area.
Naoko, while affected by the crushing sea of reiatsu, managed to quickly react to Maebure's advance, she swung her blade at him, sending a current of electricity flying at him.
Hyo also, without hesitation, abruptly made himself known, his Jiūkǔndao already drawn and descending down towards Mabure's just as Naoko's lightning bolt had reached him.
The ground rose suddenly on the path that had been engulfed by Maebure's flames, numerous walls of crude muck and dried stone hastily formed only to be eradicated in an instant. It was enough to buy Zhong a few short moments to form another Kadō of a greater strength. A disk of stone spurred in motion, flames of black pouring out of little insets to create a rotating shield that absorbed the brunt of the attack before it too collapsed. It went on to consume Zhong though by that time the damage he suffered was negligible beyond light burns.
"Good", the old man spoke with enthusiasm.
"Show me what makes you special, abomination!", he yelled with surprising vim before a massive poisonous bog emerged from an instantly revealed short sword, a tunnel of disease flying right at Hikari.
The black-clad man did not move a single step from his position. Instead, a semi-translucent bubble of murky energy formed around him instantaneously. Naoko's lightning struck it hard, shaking the ground and forming cracks on its otherwise immaculate surface. Hyo's sword strike collided with it shortly afterward, leaving another network of fractures. Then, the gaseous poison emitted by Zhong enveloped the spherical barrier and decomposed its weakened structure, shattering it.
Mamoru was suddenly right behind Maebure, preparing a powerful swing strong enough to bifurcate the enemy in one fell swoop. Even though Hikari appeared oblivious to the maneouvre for a split second, he somehow managed to barely deflect the lethal strike with his gently curved black sabre, striking a shower of sparks as the blades clashed. The giant Balancer followed up with a swift jab, but his weapon stabbed only a cloud of black smoke when Hikari simply vanished in an instant.
"He's a Tsumikami!", shouted Nakatani, lifting his head as he was rapidly turning around.
Maebure reappeared over a couple dozen metres above the ground, both his cape and hair fluttering wildly due to his pace and the strong wind. Then, he pointed his blade at the group of Marshals.
A purple circular barrier emerged from the tip of the sabre, only to spew dozens of whizzing bolts of energy into the direction of the Balancers with an alarming rate of fire.
Naoko attempted to dodge the attack by using Shunpo, however she wasn't able to react fast enough, the spell hitting her arm and sending her crashing into the ground. Getting up, the left sleeve of her uniform destroyed and a large burn mark left on her arm, she raised her sword above her head.
"Shǎndiàn!", she cried out, a bolt of lightning came crashing down onto the Tsumukami, creating a massive bang as it seemingly collided with the entity.
Zhong had taken to swinging at the beams as they approached, his blade moving with such precision as to quickly dissuade any notion that his age was affecting his ability. The process continued until one of the beams managed to breach his flurry of blade slashes, consuming him in an explosion.
Across the way Hyo was making use of his litheness to escape the beams, like a snake coiling through the forest.
Nakatani stood his ground against the barrage in a way similar to Zhong. However, even though his twin blades allowed him to slice apart the numerous blasts more easily, he too proved unable to completely nullify the assault as one of the beams left a shallow wound on his left shoulder and subsequently exploded on the ground behind him.
"He's an "Unbalancer"!", he shouted, emerging from the ensuing cloud of smoke mostly unscathed. "The very antithesis of our kin!"
"Correct", replied Hikari in a low voice, looking down condescendingly at the group confronting him.
His Reiatsu burst violently around him like black flames, enveloping him with a wild aura of dark energy that quickly assumed a giant humanoid form, the upper body of a wraith-like entity with long, clawed arms and skeletal wings. The being spread out its elongated limbs and opened its sole gleaming eye.
"You'll make fine residents of this place", stated Maebure with a chilling smirk.
Naoko drew her arms vertically parallel towards her chest before bringing them in front of her with a horizontal slash, a cluster of electricity forming in the large gap that was between her hands.
"Denki Tetsudō!", the female Balancer shouted, firing a wide and powerful beam of electricity directly towards Maebure.
Zhong had moved under the cover of the energy that had hit him, bursting out of the smoke cloud suddenly, he was able to nick the still forming body of Maebure's partner, moving back quickly so as to avoid attack.
Hyo kneeled close to the ground, slinking almost, before his body simply melted away into nothing, vanishing without a trace.
Meanwhile, Mamoru finished a series of rapid gestures, and with the use of Kadō launched a large block of smouldering rock intersected with shining cracks.
The giant wraith summoned by Hikari outstretched one of its hands, placing a Dankū barrier in the path of Naoko's attack. The lightning, as strong as it was, was fully intercepted by the shield, which disappeared right afterward. Seconds later the spell fired by Nakatani approached the Tsumikami, who made the shadowy being swat it aside with its arm. However, the block exploded on contact, and rather than burst into flames, it emitted a dense cloud of hot ashes that enveloped Maebure with a thick shroud. The dark monstrosity he had summoned quickly attempted to get rid off the obstruction, only for its palm to unexpectedly dissipate.
Hikari widened his eyes.
Taking advantage of Hikari's lack of defence, Hyo reappeared out of the ground, his sword already poised for trusting at the Tsumukami.
"Die!", he shouted out, thrusting his blade at Maebure's face.
Naoko on the other hand once again directed a fierce bolt of lightning at the dark entity in hopes of aiding it's destruction.
"Take this!", she shouted as the bolt seared towards it.
Zhong spun on his heel from his positiong, a large flowing trail of smog following behind his blade before being swung out in front of it like a snake towards Hikari.
"Court death and disease, abomination", he spoke whilst the unnaturally dark smoke intercepted Murakami's lightning blast, somehow melding the two together into a shadowy storm cloud. It continued on the path towards Maebure in an attempt to consume and damage him once again.
Whereas the Tsumikami blocked Hyo's frontal charge with a rapid swing of his blade, he was unable to escape the composite attack of the other two Balancers, that seemingly hit him at full force. Struck down, he fell limply to the ground, trailed by dense, black smoke. He managed to support himself on his hands once he impacted on the rocky surface, and looked up, his face covered with bulged out, pulsating purple veins.
"Intriguing", he uttered with obvious difficulty. "Hidō #5, Jōzai."
Suddenly, his body shone bright in a momentary flash. Then, the veins protruding from his face disappeared, and the streaks of dense smoke emanating from his body rapidly reformed the one-eyed skeletal entity.
"Shit.", Naoko uttered, she used Shunpo to move back out of the being's range before stabbing the icy ground beneath her with her electricity imbued blade. As the current traveled towards Hikari massive chunks of the ground exploded forth, creating a path of destruction that was aimed at the Tsumikami.
"Hyo," said Zhong as his hands danced through the air, a large sphere of flames manifesting in front of him. The other Marshal took heed of his name and vanished back into the air, becoming invisible as he seemingly melded with it. Zhong through his Jiūkǔndao at the expanding orb, causing it to rock it towards Maebure below.
Behind that he made the motions necessary for Zunōka Akudō, the snake-like trails of flame following not far behind the orb.
The dark spirit summoned by Maebure stretched out its right hand, and a Dankū sprang up on Naoko's attack's path yet again. The Tsumikami himself stood up quickly and lifted his head, gazing at the fireball approaching him. He smirked.
"That brings back memories", muttered Hikari. "As nostalgic as those spells are, you'd better refrain from this approach. Magic is my domain", he commented whilst Jamansim aimed at the incoming projectile.
"Hidō #1, Shōhi."
Circular waves of white energy burst forth from the spirit's palm, immersing the fireball in a storm of severely disruptive energy.
The fireball eroded, fading away to reveal a sudden flash of blinding light. The entire area became illuminated in a white flash of energy, when it faded the ball of flame was gone leaving an empty space in the air where it used to be.
Nonetheless the snaking flames continued on their way unaffected, closing in on the unmoved Tsumikami.
As the flames sped towards Maebure, Hyo once again emerged unexpectedly from the now dissapated fireball, wielding both his own Jiūkǔndao and Zhong's Jiūkǔndao, he charged directly at Maebure before using Shunpo to maneuver to his side, poised to attack with both blades.
As he did so, Naoko also moved towards the Tsumikami, coating her Dao in a sheath of electricity before using shunpo to move into striking distance, she reappeared above Hikari, her sword raised high up before being brought down onto him.
Revitalised, Jamansim was quick to react. Its elongated arm jerked upward to intercept Naoko. Her electrically-enhanced blade sliced into the wraith's palm, but the entity outright ignored it and clutched its clawed fingers around her body, locking her in a deathly grasp. The Balancer did not feel physical pressure exerted on her; instead, she felt undescribable cold seeping into her organism within moments.
Everything turned black.
The cold reached her mind quickly, invading it and reaching deep within in an instant. She could sense something ransacking her thoughts. Suddenly, she felt something being pulled outward and then a mental explosion rampaged across her psyche.
Wrath, lust, hunger, pride, envy, apathy, avarice, spite, hostility, contempt, despair, sorrow, fear. Every single hidden desire unfulfilled, every single scathing word unspoken, each and every situation that caused her pain, physical or mental, everything was brutally extracted, tainting and flooding her consciousness. And as each fraction of a second turned into a century, she could feel the ecstatic wail of her unshackled id drown out any rational thought.
In the meantime, Jamansim's other hand followed the movement of Hikari's own arm, their palms aiming at the fiery Kadō launched by Zhong.
Hadō #58, Tenran.
"Hadō #58, Tenran", said Maebure, his face frozen in a serious expression.
Two rapidly growing whirlwinds burst forth from the hands of the Tsumikami and his shadowy companion, converging on the way before clashing with the elderly Balancer's own spell.
With Hikari having been caught up in reacting to Naoko and Zhong, he'd left himself open to Hyo's attack, the twin swords he wielded cutting across his back with furious power.
"Enjoy!", Hyo said with a mix of excitement and malice before once again using Shunpo to escape the immediate vicinity of the Tsumikami.
Zhong smirked from the air, watching the flaring snakes collide with the raging wind.
"Let me explain something, creature, my blade cannot be stopped, if you find a way to overcome the sickness, purge it, become immune, it matters not", in the midst of his explanation the fire had begun to grow from the swirling air faning it before it was abruptly stamped out, though it quickly remanifested this time twice in number.
"Once re-administered it will simply find a new way to apply the sickness, the cure will come, but only if I allow it".
"Thank you for the explanation", replied Hikari grimly.
Surprisingly, he seemed unaffacted by Hyo's sneaky manoeuvre; an orange barrier flickered erratically just a couple of centimetres behind his back before fading away.
Jamansim swung his hand without a warning, tossing the temporarily paralysed Naoko in the direction of Mamoru, who had until then been largely unnoticed. Even though busy with preparing a complex ritual, the giant Balancer stopped the moment he saw his peer in danger, and jumped to intercept and catch her during her uncontrolled flight.
"It hurts.", she sniffled, acting like a small child who had just hurt themselves.
"Murakami-dono?", he uttered nervously, afraid of his colleague's odd behaviour.
In the meantime, Maebure was at last able to devote all of his attention to Zhong's peculiar spell. Intrigued by the fact he could not recognise it at all, Hikari, and by extension Jamansim, aimed both their hands at the rapidly approaching snakes of fire. Reiatsu emanated by both rose abruptly, appearing as black flames with scarlet outline.
Just as the Balancer's attack was mere metres from hitting the Tsumikami, it was unexpectedly intercepted by a dazzling storm of extremely thin beams, striking it innumerable times from all directions in order to utterly dissolve its ethereal form.
The snakes flew at the beams continuously, they were cut, split, and reconstituted as two more snakes. There was a veritable army of them, closing in, encroaching on mere millimetres at a time. However as they drew closer, their size invariably drew the attention of more of the beams that opposed them. They were continually broken and reformed but too slow to keep up with the attack that encroached on them. They fizzled out.
The air was clear, soaked with heat from the presence of such a flame before it died off, it was silent, almost stale. Zhong looked on, unperturbed by the event that had just unfolded, save a freshly placed grin on his face.
"Aren't they beautiful, my flames?", he asked, his voice loud enough to have poised the question to everyone in the area. As he did, there was a spark where the last of the red and black serpents had disolved and the army returned from it in full force, much too close for anyone to have fled, in such a number that the result would be felt across a sizable distance.
Some distance away, within a small crevice of the two mountains overlooked by the blackened sun, a small tomb rested. Its doors long since broken into by overly curious Togabito. Its traps had been broken and triggered. But age old seals lay across the stone walls, still pulsing with activity. A single, simple stone coffin sat in the center of the tomb, its top slightly ajar to reveal the decomposed skeleton of a long deceased being. A set of armour, somehow still pristine adorned the body. There was the sound of metal ringing, writhing in place. A short distance from the coffin rested a sword, held up by a decorative statue, it was trying to get free, it wriggled harder when the corpse began to hum with energy.
In the meantime, both Hikari and Jamansim were caught in the replicating fire spell and subsequently vanished in a storm of fire. However, as soon as the potent flames receded, they revealed the flickering form of the Karadawaru spirit and its master standing below. Maebure glared at Zhong, his eye sockets empty and strands of charred skin stuck to the blackened bone of his skull.
Soon, his body began regenerating and his tattered and scorched robes returned to normal in a matter of seconds. The Tsumikami swayed slightly, after which he once again looked up at the Balancer.
"What a splendid spell", he uttered in an ominously cheerful tone. "So... ingenious. So ingenious I can't help but clap!", he continued, beginning to do just that.
With a disturbing unsmile on his face he clasped his hands several times in a protracted ovation. Suddenly, several light green sparks were struck when he clasped his hands for the fifth time. The Tsumikami then thrusted his palms forward, with the thumbs and index fingers touching each other to form a diamond shape.
"Hadō #95, Kami no Nageku", he declared happily.
An unspeakable noise erupted from between his palms right afterward, wildly rippling waves of celadon-tinted sonic energy emanating in an extremely wide arc and filling the entire area with a truly devastating clamour.
Zhong did not avoid the oncoming attack. No, instead he charged at it, letting the pulse of sonic waves rip through him. His hands danced as his body seemed to shift and fizzle like a bad transmission on a television screen. Blood spurted from his mouth but his motions remained unimpeded. A white hot beam burst forth from his palm towards the creature below, the heat exuding from it melting the ground several feet below before it had even reached its target.
As the old Balancer was directing his power towards Maebure, Naoko was still slumped hopelessly on the floor, she had since stopped crying, however, her behaviour hadn't improved at all.
"I'm hungry, I want food.", she moaned, her eyes giving off a dull glaze, she started to gnaw on her own hand, causing it to bleed slightly before suddenly stopping her eating. She gave off a heavy yawn before beginning to close her eyes.
"Sleep...", she quietly uttered, she began to lay down, however she stopped half way through doing so, a look of shock on her face.
"I'm...in a...battle...can't...sleepy...", before she could resist any more she fell to the ground, breaking off her sentence before sleeping as if she was in a bed.
Meanwhile, Zhong's attack was approaching Hikari fast despite having to bust through the world-shattering current of Hadō #95. Seeing that, the Tsumikami immediately ceased the attack and pushed his palms even further forward, with all his fingers outstretched, and Jamansim followed the motion. Right afterward several concentric rings emanated from their hands to form expanding circular barriers whilst the superheated blast drew close, dissipating it gradually at every step. And as it was about to finally reach Maebure, the spell was no more than a gust of hot air.
Then, Jamansim's ethereal form flickered and swirled, and the wraith was sucked into its master's body. Subsequently, Hikari swung his right hand to the side, still lifted parallel to the ground. Shortly, his Karadawaru, which he had dropped when struck by Naoko and Zhong's composite attack earlier during the battle, flew upward and then straight into his palm, hilt first. Without wasting a single moment, the Tsumikami raised his sword arm high, pointing the tip of his sabre at the black sky above.
"Fall, Ja-", he began as the blade started descending with ominous finality.
All of a sudden the motion was interrupted, however, when a thick, rusty chain shot toward his arm, wrapped itself around it and pulled him violently, momentarily throwing him off balance. Shocked, Maebure looked at the man responsible for this: Mamoru Nakatani, shining like a beacon with his enlarged body enveloped with lime aura of Reiatsu. Once he had been able to finish his sneaky ritual, the Balancer summoned a number of Hell's Chains, wrapped around his torso and right arm and reaching toward Hikari like writhing tentacles. In the left hand, he held his Jiūkǔndao, the gem in its pommel glowing faintly.
"How... how dare you?", asked Maebure with such dramatic bafflement that it would be simply comical in any other situation.
Seeing the events below, the elderly Balancer wiped a hand across his blood stained chin, flicking the small droplets of crimson into the air as his hand made continuous motions. When the small tear drops of blood landed on the ground, the earth began to shift. Large columns of Obsidian erupted from beneath Hikari aimed at skewering or entrapping his limbs.
Meanwhile, Naoko was lying on the ground, snoring loudly, with a jolt she woke up, springing from her previous position into a more active one.
"I can't sleep now, I need to win!", she said vigorously, she stood up quickly before grabbing her sword, however as she did so she tripped and fell once again, tears once again welling in his eyes, she shook them out.
"I shouldn't be crying at a little mess up like that.", she reassured herself, picking herself up once more, she ran off towards the battle a fair distance away.
Zhong's technique caught the distracted Maebure off-guard, trapping him and impaling his left arm in the process. In the meantime, the Hell's Chains summoned by Mamoru proceeded to wrap themselves around the Tsumikami's already immobilised body, pinning him on the spot.
"We shall restore you to your place of perdition...", seethed Mamoru before suddenly widening his eyes.
Eye. There was an eye on the top of his right palm. An eye with a split crimson iris staring at him intently. The Balancer opened his mouth in shock.
"What...!?", he faltered.
Without a warning the eye imploded with a sickening sound, oozing ichor and blood on his palm. Then, his arm began twisting and swelling into horrific shapes, and Mamoru jerked violently, suddenly frightened.
"Surprise", he heard a raspy whisper from behind.
Then, there was a brief hissing sound before something brutally slashed the giant Balancer's back, cutting some of the Hell's Chains in the process. Nakatani swayed and turned his head to the side to glance backward. For a moment he saw a tall, black-clad figure with a white mask and a gleaming eye.
Black, serrated blade exploded from his abdomen in a shower of blood. Nakatani managed to utter a single grunt before spouting blood. Then, the man standing behind him placed his foot on the Balancer's back and pushed him forward, prompting him to fall limply to the ground. The stranger proceeded to swing his large, nightmarish scythe, splattering blood everywhere.
And when Mamoru's hold on the Hell's Chains was weakened, Hikari attempted to free himself. The area around him literally exploded in a violent outburst of electrified Reiatsu, and both the obsidian pillars and chains were gone.
"Usuguraiboshi-kun", Maebure said grimly, glancing at his masked saviour of sorts.
"We are not the flames you see...", a voice spoke suddenly. Not carried by the air, but through thought. An echo that formed into sound and words rang inside the heads of all present, barring its most recent entree.
"But we are the Sun...", it echoed a second time. There was a moment, a single split moment where those who were aware could steel themselves. The battle had frozen then as the cause made its presence known.
It was like a wind. A great and powerful storm of air and pressure. It shot out from the center of the gathered combatants, an immense and powerful wave of Reiatsu. It swallowed up everything in its path, the presences of the Balancers became mere blips even the power of the Tsumikami was stamped out and made insignificant as it was passed over by the gale. Everything was drowned out under its severity, not a single spiritual particle moved without its consent. Light, sound, feeling, everything drew to a halt, all that remained was an all-consuming black.