The Northern King
Shigenaga's office was lavishly decorated, colored tiles of stone was inlaid into the floor and the walls were lined with crimson tapestry. Red pillars supported the celing and a small staircase lead from the lower part of the room up to a raised platform where a large intricate desk stood on six legs. At this extravagant desk, decorated by engravings of dragons and other mythological creatures sat the King of the North himself, Shigenaga Arma. Among the Four Heavenly Kings, he was perhaps the one who held the most power, and he had poured an immense fortune into assisting in rebuilding the Soul Society following the Quincy invasion, which meant that Shigenaga currently owned a massive portion of the Seireitei. He found the current state of the Soul Society distressing, for this Coven presented major cuts in his business, he'd already lost much by their invasion.
It might come as no surprise then, that the man was in a particularly foul mood today. Yet even so, he at least attempted to maintain a sense of decorum and control, even as his every word dripped with utter contempt for Hein and the failure of the Shinigami to protect his holdings under these trying circumstances. "I have called for you, because I wish to examine my warehouses and the Black Market in the West Rukongai District #80, Kuroari. Important wares are kept there and my business is dependant on the area, as I would encounter hostiles you are to come along as my means of transportation and my bodyguard."
He then rose from his throne, a high-backed chair lined with golden motifs and extravagantly designed. Shigenaga's handsome countenance was one that made most people forget or forgive his irredeemable flaws of character, as mere beauty could not have had this effect on others, it was widely known that Shigenaga ensnared others with mighty enchantments upon his character. Ensnaring the minds and wants of others as they gazed upon him, making them easily suggestible and all the easier to turn to his immediate profit. But his almost angelic features belied a monster that lurked underneath the surface, and only his hazel eyes reflected the truth. Devoid as they were of either mirth, empathy or conscience.
Shafts of light reflected off of the Northern King's gold earrings and rings as he slowly moved down the stairs towards Hein. On his way down he grabbed a hold of his cane, made of a rare species of tree from the Yuanren and topped with a red gemstone. Finally he stood just in front of Hein as he commanded. "Don't move." Before he began to brutally beat the Captain with his cane as a way to punish him for resisting him, proving that despite his fine attire and golden jewellry he was every bit the thug that Hein was.
Between the blows, Shigenaga spoke: "You are not a man, you aren't even a person: you are my property. And the next time you resist me in this manner I will make sure you regret it deeply."
Hein allowed the first blow to land wordlessly. The gemstone of the cane slammed into his shoulder and neck, but his face remained strangely expressionless. The temptation to resist was nearly irresistible, but Hein knew exactly what would happen should he try to fight back. After all, he had already tried.
Yet as Shigenaga began to pummel his abdomen, re-opening Hein's fresh wounds, his hatred for the sorcerer seethed over as fresh blood ran from his nose and mouth. At last he could tolerate the abuse no longer. Hein grabbed the cane as it fell, catching it with one hand.
"Ya're goin' to eat those words, bastard," he spat, red spittle flying into Shigenaga's face. Hein took a step forward as though he were about to throw a punch, but at that moment his fist froze in midair. His entire body seemed to contort with pain, and he threw back his head as if to scream. But no sound came. It felt as though his soul was being torn in two; his skull cracked open and his stomach extricated through his mouth. Hein did not remember collapsing, but suddenly he found himself on the floor, the cool tile pressed against the side of his face as the world spun wildly around him. He remained motionless, focusing all his efforts on trying to breathe.
From somewhere inside himself, he caught the flicker of a sinister smile as the demon within him took pleasure at the pain caused by the curse. Yet the spirit of Hein's Zanpakutō made no move to help him. Hein doubted it could.
The Geas had been inextricably seared into his soul, and now he had fallen under its full effect.
Shigenaga's eyes grew wide with a moments fear as Hein grabbed his cane and showed his hostile intent. However the expression was fleeting as he observed the Captain writhing on the floor in indescribable agony, then he raised his foot to grind Hein's face into the floor during his moment of weakness. "I suppose you haven't been a total dissapointment, you've played your part well over the years as a mole within the Gotei 13." Stepping off of Hein, he noticed that his cane now glistened with Hein's blood, and so he rubbed it off on the other man's clothing before he clapped his hands once. From the shadows stepped a grotesque creature that looked like a half-formed furred mammal with four purple tails, it had stubby legs that looked like they ought to be immobile, spindly arms like those of a child and in an absence of a head, face or neck it had a single large eye upon its rounded torso.
The abomination was known as Uragiri, the Shikigami once born of the mangled soul of his own grandmother, Nimhe. After he'd slain her in a magical duel for her past treatment of him. Shigenaga rarely brought Uragiri along, but as the Soul Society had suffered a takeover by the Coven he surmised he would need it to keep him safe, for while Hein was certainly a mighty piece, he was willfull and stubborn and might be risky to depend on in full. With a gesture of his hands, Shigenaga had Uragiri carry the quivering form of Hein outside to the gates of his palace, a task it fulfilled with ease.
His garden was considered to be one of the great wonders of Soul Society, and as they stepped outside the overwhelming sight of thousands of red roses came into view; growing in trees, on the ground and climbing the walls of Shigenaga's magnificent palace, the large courtyard was usually filled with servants but in this case only two male servants awaited them. Between them they carried a large palanquin made specifically for Shigenaga, and intended to be carried on the back of a man with extraordinary strength.
"Let my servants outfit you with this, I can't be expected to walk can I? You will carry me in this all the way to Kuroari, and if you drop me, I will reshape your spirit into a rat and feed you to a cat. Are we clear, my thrall?"
Hein looked up from where he lay, and grinned, "You're shit at rhymes, ya know that?" After suffering a few more blows from Shigenaga's cane, Hein finally submitted to the command and lifted the heavy palanquin to his shoulders. Considering his injuries, as well as the fact that he was still working to regain his Reiatsu after his battle with Rana, it was actually impressive that he was able to lift the heavy cab along with Shigenaga. More impressive still was that he somehow managed to find his footing and, with much sweating and grunting and complaining, he took to the skies.
"Ya weigh like a ton of bricks," Hein panted under the strain, "Have ya tried cuttin' back?" Shigenaga ignored him.
As the spell-caster had ordered, however, Hein did not drop the palanquin, although he very much wished to do so. For some reason, he seemed to be in a good mood despite having his will snapped like a twig. Perhaps a similarly outrageous experience with the captain of the thirteenth division had prepared him with enough mental fortitude to bear under his current circumstances.
When they had just reached the other side of the Seireitei, skirting around the distant white walls in order to reach the West Rukon districts, Hein revealed what he had hidden up his sleeve. Hein stopped in the air above Kuroari, still several hundred meters above ground.
Then, without warning, the palanquin above him burst into flames.
Desperately, Shigenaga hurled himself out of the Palanquin when it caught fire. He swung down and clung to Hein's chest as best he could, like a koala to a treetrunk. Arms and legs wrapped around him in a most unflattering manner, he reached for his cane instinctively but found that he'd lost it in the fall. Yet even in this disgraceful position, Shigenaga remained virtually unfettered and made the entire ordeal appear like a trite inconvenience, he even took the time to adjust his clothing.
"We haven't been this intimate in a while, Hein. Was our last time together like this before or after you did me the favor of ridding me of Madame Tobunaga?" He appeared slightly amused, but that moment of mirth soon gave way to an icy glare as he spoke coldly to Hein.
"You do realize that if I die because of one of these accidents. that the curse will rip your soul in twain and destroy you, right? Don't think that I haven't taken precautions against such an elementary tactic, especially given your record."
He looked down at the Kuroari district below them. Large luxurious buildings and warehouses stood at its very center, and surrounding them were ramshack hovels and dilapidated buildings in which the poor lived. The immense wealth concentrated at its center seemed to rise up above the poverty like a mocking taunt. Shigenaga found a clearing amidst a group of trees that would make a good spot to land, so that his underlings wouldn't see him in this compromising a position.
Shigenaga directed Hein towards that spot. "Bring me there, Hein, and put an end to these pathetic attempts at tasting freedom. You are mine, that won't ever change, now get going."
Hein scowled deeply, apparently having failed to read the terms and agreements on the condition of his geas.
"Whatever ya say, your royal pain-in-the-ass," he stated with false obsequity, taking advantage of their precarious position to insult Shigenaga. Carrying the sorcerer in an awkward, half-princess style, Hein guessed at the direction that Shigenaga was apparently pointing at... and plummeted from the sky. He made sure to crash through as many of the surrounding trees as possible before coming to land in the clearing. At that point, Shigenaga would have found his precious garments smeared with Hein's own sweat, ash, and blood, and hopefully torn by branches as well. While the small annoyances that he was working to inflict upon his "master" did little to chip away at the anger still smoldering in the pit of his stomach, they at least allowed Hein a small degree of rebellion. Now, more than ever before, he realized that he would have to find a way to break the curse, and soon. Otherwise...
Hein landed with enough of an impact to send a wall of dust and rocks flying into the air, which he assumed would attract a great deal of attention. He had sensed Shigenaga's unease and imagined the man wanted to remain inconspicuous for some reason. What mostly puzzled Hein was the fact that Shigenaga had seemingly not yet allied himself with the Coven. At first he could not imagine why such a powerful spell caster would reject the offer of an organization that was seeking to rule the world through magic itself. But then he recalled what Rana had said to him earlier, and the way she had probed through his mind...
A shiver of cold ran down Hein's spine, and he was reminded once again of why he hated Kidō. At that point, the last thing he wanted was to be caught in the middle of a confrontation between Shigenaga and the other sorcerers.
"Sorry I slipped," he explained lamely, his tone dripping with sarcasm, "Can't see very well from up there." Hein set Shigenaga on the ground. "So unless ya've got anything else, I'll be off," he said as he turned to leave.
"You're not going anywhere, Hein. I thought I informed you of your purpose: be my bodyguard, guard me with your life, even if that means taking a sword to the gut for me. Yes, even if it means dying for me, you will defend me to your last breath. I am your liege, I am your master, and I am the love of your life. With these things in mind you shall fight for me, for I am irreplacable to you."
With each word that the Sorcerer uttered, the Geas would constrict further around Hein's spirit. It'd sink tendrils into his soul, twisting his entire being and yes, his very purpose in accordance with Shigenaga's words. As always his mind and memories would remain his own, but this time it'd sunk its touch into his emotions and force him to feel a sense of affection, adoration and even love for Shigenaga. Powerful emotions meant to spur him into action to defend him even as his entire being rebelled against the notion, the psychological strain of being forced to feel and experience something so far removed from ones true emotions was excruciating. And it would see Hein undone before this day ended, reducing him to a muttering wreckage of a creature.
Unfortunately, it had the after effect of revealing the compromised nature of Hein's soul to anyone sufficiently skilled at magic. To their senses, his spirit would look besieged by countless spectral chains that tightened and gradually suffocated his being. It was therefore a poor way to optimjze his usage of Hein, but Shigenaga only needed a little more from him, because after today, Hein would no longer be important. Besides, he didn't allow his thralls to rebel against him under normal conditions, it was high time that Hein paid the price for his ceaseless resistance.
Love was something foreign to Hein. While it was true that he had once experienced such a depth of emotion, he had not felt such a pull for a long, long time. Now, its presence within his soul was painfully obvious, and Hein understood what Shigenaga was trying to do even as a torrent of conflicting impulses rushed through his mind. Yet how could he love his master when he did not even love himself? Hein was a coward, to that he had freely admitted. But the fuel for his hatred had largely stemmed from his own sense of self-loathing.
As the imposed emotion began to supplant his will, Hein felt as though he were slipping away from himself. Love. Hate. The distance between the two was erased for a moment, becoming intertwined in a white void. The barely perceptible wire around his heart wound tighter, coiling to the breaking point. Hein screamed as he tore at his chest, attempting to rid himself of the Geas. He fell to his knees, at last his arms dropped to his sides. As the spell took control Hein threw back his head... and began to laugh. It was a disquieting effect, for it came without cause and continued in a crazed frenzy. At last the bout subsided. Tears streaming from his eyes, Hein stood, drawing his Zanpakutō.
“You must be shittin’ me,” Hein commented, “If ya think the opposite of hate is love, than ya’re terrible pitiful,” Hein laughed again, although there was a strange poignancy behind his apparently mad banter, “I thought I told ya before, obahan, the opposite of love ain’t hate, those two are twins joined at the hip,” Hein chuckled before continuing. “Leastways, I guess I forgot how lonely ya always were. But don’t worry, I’ll sure as hell love ya. I’ll love ya to death.” Hein’s grin was wide enough to nearly split his jaw, but he spread his feet apart in a prepared stance to defend his master. Hein readied his sword.
“We’ve got company,” he chuckled.
Even though the two had their own problems to solve fate was ruthless as always. Certain powerful people were interested in them, the crime lord especially. So, they had sent a team to pursue Shigenaga and Hein all the way to the wretched hive of scum and villainy that was West Rukongai District #80. A team with specific orders to follow and the capacity to execute them successfully despite the fact that both targets were highly dangerous, each in his own right.
Team of six. All of them clad in robes, mages no doubt. One in particular stood out from the rest. A tall, supple and rather robust woman wearing blue, tight-fitting robes that emphasised her toned muscles. Her head wrapped in headpiece with just a slit left to expose her squinted faded green eyes and a prominent scowl. That, and freckles dotting the visible patch of her fair skin. Her stance bespoke strength, agility, as well as focus and readiness. The perfect example of a seasoned Onmitsukidō member... not, for she was a mage, too. And no ordinary mage at that. She was the most powerful Mage of the Coven, in addition to the prestigious rank of the Vice Kidō Chief. The bane of rogue spellcasters, an exceptional assassin, traitor to the Soul Society. Few people knew the name she was born with — Kazumi Takeda. To those who have heard the rumours of her exploits, however, she was known as Onryō.
The team was standing on a winding path in the middle of a forest on the outskirts of Kuroari. Gleaming symbol of Kakushitsuijaku suspended in front of their leader displayed the current position of their primary target. Soon it vanished, no longer necessary, for they could well sense it themselves. His bodyguard's especially. Naturally, their own spiritual pressure signatures were heavily suppressed so as to avoid premature detection. No introductions. No flashy entrances. After all, even though Kazumi was a masterful spellcaster, her personality and approach to combat were virtually the exact opposite to what one could expect of an average mage.
Soon, her targets would find out, too.
"Target acquired", she spoke in a deep, strong voice. "Commencing first stage of operation."
With hands clasped in front of her chest as if in prayer, she closed her eyes. Afterward, her body attuned itself to the ambient Reishi present in the atmosphere in order to form a conduit. A vessel to channel all of that neutral, nigh-bottomless potential according to her will. Then, two orbs manifested above her shoulders: one shone pure white, and another, pitch black one that seemed to absorb light itself. The medium for the deployment of her own type of magic, a distinct offshoot of the insidious Henkōdō.
The dark energies summoned forth by Takeda enveloped the whole group. An illusion cast, deceptive in its simplicity. From that point onward every enemy who perceived them would find one's senses inaccurate. Not in a blatant manner, though. Every word spoken skewed somewhat, muted or replaced by another. The distance and location off. Their spiritual pressure of different magnitude, nature than normal. Their actions disguised by seeming inaction or something else entirely. In that, the enemy would not know any better with no indication to the contrary. After all, what they would perceive was true, in a manner of speaking - just a part of an alternate reality layered upon the factual core.
"Commence second stage", ordered Kazumi.
The team departed to approach Shigenaga and Hein on their own. In order to fulfil their task. Meanwhile, the Onryō prepared for her own participation in the upcoming battle.
"Ghost of the midnight black, wreathed in a veil of obscurity, fade away into nothingness", she recited quietly. "Bakudō #26, Kyokkō."
Promptly, she vanished without a trace. The invisible trap had been set.
Shigenaga's clothes were torn, and his nerves were frayed. Yet he'd finally managed to put Hein in his place, and he doubted he would rise to fight him until he passed away. He'd have done this sooner if it weren't for the fact that Shigenaga prefered not wasting his resources unless there was no viable alternative to doing so. He'd noticed how wounded Hein was earlier, and with him in such an obedient state he assumed it would be prudent to heal his injuries.
Raising his left arm, he issued a command as four conspicious paper mannequins emerged from his sleep to hover around him for a moment before they moved over to his thrall and attached themselves to his back. The first of the four mannequins then lit up with an iridescent green light as somewhere in the air, Hein might distinctly hear the ghastly sound of a woman uttering the word: "Keikatsu!".
It was a powerful spell of healing, cast with the full complement of the arcane constructs spiritual energy. Thus the majority of injuries sustained by Hein earlier were healed flawlessly, open wounds closing to make way for smooth skin. Following this, the paper mannequin turned to dust as its resserves were expended fully. But the three others remained in place, ready to offer immediate assistance to Hein as it might be required.
And not a moment too soon, for in that moment, they were besieged by a group of masked Shinigami. Shigenaga immediately recognized adepts of the Kidou corps when he saw them, and he was about to open his mouth to speak when the apparent leader of the group, a thin female bearing a purple veiled mask over a more elaborate robe shouted out for the others to open fire.
With perfect synchronization, each robed member of the Corps present conjured a large sphere of red fire inbetween their hands before they hurled them at the two criminals. Each one detonating into a fierce explosion upon contact and sporting considerable concussive force, the cacophony of exploding Shakkahos drowning out most senses with their sheer light, heat and spectacle.
"So, they've got a Division Assistant with them. Troublesome." The Sorcerer spoke mostly to himself and then he quickly conjured a spherical barrier around himself in order to protect against the impending attacks. Six Shikigami emerged from his sleeves to empower the defensive construct, even as Shigenaga channeled his own energy into it. He could tell that they were mostly focusing their attacks upon Hein, having realized that he was the greatest threat, but he was certain that his thrall would manage even as Shigenaga valiantly held his barrier while scanning the area for any traps or things out of the ordinary.
However, it did not initially seem as though Hein had borne the attack well at all. As the team of Shinigami had appeared, he had simply waited for them to attack. As they surrounded him and Shigenaga, the only thing he did was allow his sword to dangle uselessly at his side. And as the attack was executed, Hein stood completely still and was drowned in the explosion of the myriad Shakkahō.
But while the air shook with the force of the Kidō, a bright swathe of flame suddenly became visible through the red-tinged explosions. Hein had surrounded himself with a circular barrier of fire, unleashing it so suddenly that its very heat repelled the concussive force of the blast. As he stood in the center of the spiraling torrent of flame, Hein whistled under his breath.
"From the sounds of it, ya've got quite a fireworks show there," he said as he laughed. "But whadya say we take it up a notch?" Without warning, the flames that had protected Hein spread across the clearing. An omni-directional, solid wall of flame pushed straight towards the Shinigami, threatening to instantly obliterate all five of their attackers simultaneously. Hein hedged himself and Shigenaga in a wide ring of flame. While the fire eventually died down to an uneasy, snapping state, it was ready to leap at Hein's slightest signal in order to attack or defend. He continued to grin, but he made no move to counter.
His senses had largely been thrown into chaos by the imposition of Shigenaga's will upon his own. Inwardly, he continued to struggle with his clash of emotions, at times reaching a stable state before quickly slipping from one side to the other. Through the chaos of the dark void, however, he had still managed to sense that something was amiss. Hein's refined sense of proprioreception extended to form a "penetrating net" around the entire area, rendering the use of cloaking techniques such as Kyokkō largely moot. But while Shintō Jun allowed him to perceive the flow of surrounding energy and those who moved within the amorphous, empty mass, his brain failed to register the rapid influx of signals. At the moment, there was simply too much for him to process all at once. With slow, smooth movements, Hein transferred his Zanpakutō to his mouth, gripping the blade between his teeth as he curled his hands into fists at his sides. Feeling the pressure of their situation, it seemed the small talk was over.
"Bakudō #81, Dankū!", resounded a few voices in almost perfect unison.
Hein's retaliation was a dangerous one no doubt. As such, four of the Adepts worked together to erect a large curved barrier to intercept the fire. A wall of flames crashed against a wall of severed space with a mighty roar. The Dankū quaked noticeably but managed to endure nonetheless. Once the flames dispersed so did the barrier. Immediately, the traitor Kidō Corps members executed a counter strike.
"Sajō Sabaku!", two of them manifested golden chains to constrict the Captain.
"Raikōhō!", another pair quickly cast two potent lightning bolts to blast him with much greater force than before.
There was no indication that Kazumi was about to strike. Just as planned. Concealed with a full-power Kyokkō she expected to be completely invisible to the crime lord. His blind companion could prove troublesome, however. The very reason he was now being assaulted by five skilled Kidō adepts. Meanwhile, Takeda elected that moment to contribute herself.
First, there was a sudden explosion. Not one of fire or light, but purely kinetic forces. An air-burst of sorts. Strong one that was intended to engulf Shigenaga. Then, a semi-transparent projectile of kinetic forces burst forth toward him from another position. Kazumi manoeuvred around Shigenaga with the adroitness of a Hakuda expert. She directed her hand at him to unleash another burst, leapt to the side and fired a projectile on the way, then somersaulted mid-air before the next detonation of concussive energies targeted the crime lord. All the while virtually imperceptible, she kept rapidly changing her position with each and every strike to avoid potential retribution. Her spells were strong. Not overwhelmingly, so, however, for they had a specific purpose: to stun Shigenaga, as well as test, soften, ideally destroy his defences.
To that effect, there was one more spell left.
A current of wind emerged from her palm to envelop Arma. Immediately it exploded into a violent whirlwind that was intended to exert huge pressure upon its target, suppressing, twisting, then crushing them within into a bloody pulp. Soon afterward, the spell would eject the target from within its confines, enfeebled or mutilated, crimson rain showering the surroundings in the aftermath. Regardless, Kazumi predicted he would survive the onslaught, if barely alive. Within the span of a few seconds she had afforded with Beniyoruame she briefly diverted her attention away from him.
Secondary target: Seventh Division Captain, Hein Ueda. Nimble master of martial arts with elemental affinity to fire. Blind, yet possessed of unconventional and highly effective perceptive skills. Objective: eliminate.
Shortly after the assault performed by her team, Takeda swiveled toward his back. She drew her arms to the side and cupped her hands as she quickly accumulated spiritual energy. Then, she fired her spell.
"Kūkidan", was the name of the projectile technique, significantly greater now that it was properly announced.
Advent of the Shikigami
Still encased within a golden field of protective energy, Shigenaga felt the immediate impact of Kazumi's attacks, they hurled him about and left virtually no time for him to respond. Fortunately for him, he rarely relied upon his powers and so it was that even though he could not see her, could not guage her locaton, or even feel her presence. Shigenaga was still far from helpless. From the Sorcerer's sleeves ten more Shikigami poured forth and surrounded the sorcerer within several other layers of defensive shields and barriers.
This bought him valuable time as the assassin's attacks simply wouldn't cease. Shigenaga despised combat, but many were those who'd attacked him foolishly like this, expecting him to be defenseless and fooled by his modest levels of spiritual energy. He supposed his unseen adversary thought he'd simply survived off his money and influence, what an uninformed assassin this was. While it was true that he was no combatant, he'd ensured that he had ample ways to defend himself despite his shortcomings, his Shikigami could do what he couldn't and much more.
One after another, three of the procured Shikigami were made to deal with this threat. Recognizing the effects of Kyokko, he realized that this version of the spell had been made very powerful, stronger than he could hope to break by his own power. Yet therein lied the miscalculation on the part of his opponent, Shigenaga never fought on his own. One hundred Shikigami, that was the total number he kept on his person and each Shikigami had enough spiritual energy to fuel a single spell in the nineties.
Respecting the unusual power of her Kyokko, he dedicated a single Shikigami to cast Noren Mekuri upon the area. Green light emanated from the both of them, and peeled away the shroud of enchanted light that kept Kazumi hidden from his sight. Yet in order to cover the entire area, excess energy had to be spent and therefore the Shikigami promptly disintegrated afterwards. As soon as she was revealed, her position was secured and tracked by another Shikigami within Shigenaga's barrier casting Kakushitsujiaku.
Just in time too as he was enshrouded within a mighty vortex of wind that tore at the multi-layered barrier all around him. It was a ravenous spell that ate away at what protected him from certain death. But a quick analysis of its spiritual composition and power revealed that it wouldn't be sufficient to break through all of his defenses, but to be sure, he arranged for several Shikigami to reinforce them further while he focused upon Kazumi.
A cautious man, Shigenaga always kept Uragiri close by and this was the case now as well. So he summoned the abomination forged from numerous powerful remains. He could tell it would arrive shortly, then he focused upon Kazumi, using the previously erected Kakushitsujiaku to track her movements perfectly alongside his Reikaku. Intelligence proved a valuable boon in these times, for he correctly deduced that she would attack Hein next.
Responding quickly and strategically, he had the Shikigami placed upon Hein's back react towards the impending threat just as Kazumi was about to attack, exploiting an opening caused by her sheer aggression. The earth split open beneath her as purplish vines shot up to encase her, exuding a poisonous clouds in order to paralyze and weaken her. Even as the vines themselves tried to catch her, sinking dangerous thorns into her skin and leaving her wide open for what happened next. But whatever happened, a single golden disk appeared behind Hein to intercept her attack, shattering into a myriad of pieces alongside its Shikigami when the deed was done, a testimony to the power of her Kidou.
Uragiri shimmered into existence behind her mid-movement, it's tails extended like four spear that shot forth and attempted to impale her from back to front in one fell swoop. Followed by a single mighty blow from its spindly fists aimed to dissolve her very existence and put an end to the arrogant assassin. So powerful was the attack that it upturned the earth around it and sent debris flying skywards.
Meanwhile, Shigenaga emerged into view as her magic dissipated, his barrier was largely in shambles by now, but the presence of his Shikigami ensured it could be rebuilt quickly. Several of his Shikigami were gone though, and he'd already lost a tenth of them thus far. His clothes were ruined however, and he bled from various injuries incurred when the sheer force of Kazumi's earlier attacks had hurled him against the walls of his own barrier leading to many bruises.
Hein had transferred his sword to his mouth in order to free his hands for the very purpose of defending himself against the Kidō of the attacking Shinigami. The golden chains of the Sanjō Sabaku shot towards him, and Hein moved to intercept the Bakudō. The Reiryoku imbued within his fingertips vibrated dangerously as he quickly picked out the negative and positive flow of energy imbedded within the spell: the influent and effluent currents running through the Kidō open to his touch via Sekidō. It was a simple matter. Hein reached out and grabbed a hold of the rope that sought to bind him. He snapped it against the ground, and it seemed to thrash about for an instant before dissipating, breaking apart into various pieces of floating, harmless energy that soon vanished.
As for the Raikahō, as the two beams of yellow lightning threatened to impact him from both sides, Hein did not move. He waited, sensing the incoming attack until, when it was almost too late, he leapt into the sky. The Kidō exploded against itself in a brilliant flash of light and pressure, but Hein did not immediately move to counterattack. Still struggling within himself, he felt as his attention was drawn to Shigenaga. He could sense the pull of the Geas, whispering for him to protect its master. The only problem was that Hein had never before fought to protect anyone or anything other than himself. Thus, how he would go about doing so now posed a particular dilemma for the captain. His hesitation cost him dearly, and as he balanced in air he felt a stream of pressure thrust towards his back. While Shigenaga’s Shikigami had blocked most of the powerful attack, its pressure was still great enough to shatter through the barrier and slam into his back at the point between his shoulder blades. Hein skid forward, feeling the air rush from his lungs, but was otherwise unharmed.
“That hurt, damn it,” he muttered around the blade as he prepared to attack the one who had tried to hit him. Shigenaga’s summoned minion would beat him to the punch, however, and Hein stood in somewhat stunned silence as the battle unfolded without him.
A vortex of wind spun around Shigenaga’s barrier, Shikigami were whipping through the air, a grotesque armadillo had appeared, and magical bombs were flying at random. Hein was an individual who tended to thrive on chaos, but the madness of the situation coupled with the madness within his mind was starting to become a bit more than he could handle.
Giving up on the newcomer assassin-mage, Hein focused on the low-level Shinigami that had continued to harry him. More than a danger, the members of the Kidō Corps who had attacked him would be a terrible annoyance.
Well, he could handle them at least.
Hein had struggled to maintain the fire that surrounded the field as the cyclone had been unleashed, the flames being flattened by the wind. Now, however, the trails of movement in the air served to stir the flames into a blazing conflagration. The trees surrounding the clearing caught fire, their branches snapping into balls of light like matchsticks. Taking advantage of the new fuel source, Hein extended his hands and the flames jumped suddenly. Countless streams of fire emerged, tracing through the air like meteors as they surrounded the five adepts. They arced above the Shinigami, one layering after the other as they formed a burning matrix, wide enough to where the Shinigami could not hope to escape via Shunpo.
But he was not quite done.
Appearing in the sky above his targeted prey, Hein began to punch repeatedly at the air beneath him, as though he were a Hollow firing Bala. Concentrated fists of pressure—Projected Shunpo—pelted down on the Shinigami like a veritable hailstorm. Should they fail to somehow evade the attack, they would be torn into shreds by the high-speed, invisible projectiles. But Hein was aiming carefully: he targeted the ground that flanked the Shinigami in order to keep them in one concentric area. Should they step too far outside, they would find themselves in a rain of pressurized bolts.
Once they were surrounded on all sides, Hein directed the flaming meteors to turn in on themselves, which would trap the Shinigami within the net. The bands of fire constricted in an instant, as Hein intended to incinerate them all simultaneously. Without warning, Hein jerked up and seemed to cut off his attack. He slammed his hands together, and he tight-bound mass of flames erupted into an explosion.
Considering the quantity of the flames and their wide radius, the range of the destruction was immense, spreading out across the field and consuming everything in a flash. Even if the adepts had somehow managed to evade the net, they would find themselves in an inferno that rivaled all the power of an Ittō Kasō. The fire roared into the sky, instantly sapping the oxygen from the area and making it difficult to even maneuver in the wavering atmosphere. While Hein had primarily targeted the adepts, concentrating the greatest heat and destructive force on their location, the flames would no doubt even reach Uragiri and the mage herself. Even Shigenaga would be caught within the sea of flames.
To that end, Hein had appeared in front of Shigenaga, and he parted the flames around both him and his master to protect them from the fire that enveloped them. The world around them had been drowned out by a canvas of yellow and orange that danced and hissed, making it nearly impossible to hear anything over the rush of the flames. Hein had somehow sheathed his sword mid-flight as he had rushed to Shigenaga’s side. Unseen energy began to ripple across his shoulders before igniting.
“Shunko,” he growled. In an instant, the flames around him seemed to freeze. Then, they spiraled around him and Shigenaga before, strangely, beginning to disappear. Tasting the risk inherent in such an act, Hein grinned crazedly. It seemed Hein intended to harness the immense fire around him and imbue it within himself: An incredibly dangerous proposition.
Then again, no one had ever really made the argument that he fought like a sane individual.
"... light ten candles for the apocalypse!", one of the Kidō Adepts exclaimed eerily prophetic words. "Hadō #75, Hiirekurasa!"
When his four teammates were occupied fighting the Captain, he was casting the potent destructive spell's full incantation to follow up. He was somewhat late, however. Hein survived unscathed despite their efforts only to unleash a spectacle of fiery devastation not unlike a pocket apocalypse itself in vicious retribution. Light, flames, heat. Consuming everything. Reducing everything to ashes. The Adept shot his spell at the enemy, although it clashed with the volley of extended physical strikes destined to shower the group. For all his exertion the beam of darkness proved capable of stopping that particular aspect of the enemy onslaught. Only that one aspect.
Right afterward, the team once more strove to defend themselves with a joint Dankū spell. The fiery fury of Captain Ueda assailed them from all sides, like hellfire raging in the middle of purgatory that was Soul Society. The semi-translucent barrier, fashioned into the shape of dome, screeched under the incredible pressure. Deformed, melted as the heat around it continued to increase. Soon, the traitor Kidō Corps members, skilful as they were, submitted to the far superior might of a Shinigami Captain. The flames obliterated their hastily erected defences, then engulfed them all. At least, owing to their intensity, their deaths were quick.
Kazumi mentally scolded herself. If she had not miscalculated the energy required to bust her target's defences, she would not have to deal with the abominable Shikigami later on. There was no time to consider her mistake, though. Shigenaga had managed to strip her Kyokkō, much to her surprise, not to mention the fact he offered his bodyguard a means to reduce the damage of her Kūkidan blast aimed at the latter's back. Nevertheless, all those hindrances were insufficient to thwart her plan. She was far too canny, far too experienced to be defeated so easily. In fact, she proceeded just as she had intended before.
She had deliberately not changed her position between the last two spells she cast so that the enemy could discern her current position. With, or without Kyokkō to conceal her. Amusingly, she was not the direct target of the inevitable retaliation anyway. For while her shroud of invisibility was gone, the deceptive illusion of Gaikan she had cast earlier on remained functional. Thus, her distance, location and movements perceived from the moment she had been revealed were not exactly faithful to the actual truth, altered in an inconspicuous yet significant manner. Still, the threat was considerable. So, she closed her eyes. Channeled the dark and light energies of Meiandō in a peculiar, metaphysical take on lucid dreaming: Arukuyume.
Takeda envisioned herself floating, weightless, away from harm's way. So that Shigenaga's spell and the one-eyed Shikigami did hit a target. But what was supposed to result in a rain of viscera instead forced the afterimage of her body to disperse like a cloud of smoke, then fade away completely. Meanwhile, she repositioned herself a few metres behind the crime lord in an astonishing display of supernatural agility. She smirked briefly, the expression safely hidden by the veil that obscured her face.
"Haien", she waved her hand at Arma. "Teiden", a pulse of black, dense energy burst forth from the palm of the other one.
First, the abolishing flames were intended to eradicate the remnants of the Shikigami that protected her target to allow for a clear shot, if briefly, in a single burst of amethyst light. Then, the dark-type Meiandō spell cast promptly to anticipate his reaction, stun him for a few seconds with sudden sensory overload. Immediately afterward, unwilling to wait for the other, hideous Shikigami to pursue her again, Kazumi leapt backward like a professional acrobat.
"Bakudō #79", she recited mid-air. "Kuyō Shibari", she added once she stopped her descent several metres above the ground, her outstretched arm aimed at Shigenaga.
And that was the point when her plan did fall apart.
There was no way she could not notice the inferno that was Hein's doing. Gigantic firestorm that incinerated most of her team in one fell swoop, extended all the way to Shigenaga's current location. Takeda winced, then leapt backward again to escape from the radius of the blaze. She failed, and she was furious. Not because her team did not distract Captain Ueda long enough for her to act unhindered. No, the reason was that she did not manage to secure her target in time to help them. The mistake did have dire consequences, after all. Dire, infuriating consequences.
Originally, she had intended to strengthen her bakudō spell with a spoken-after incantation. But was there any purpose to that at this rate? She glared at the blind Captain and his wretched master. The Shikigami, and the inferno. There were many reasons for her decision to almost always work alone. One of them was holding the sole responsibility for both success and failure. This time around, others had paid for her failure. That was unforgivable. Was she really the type to avenge colleagues? Perhaps, that was the first opportunity in her life to discover that part of her introverted, inscrutable personality.
"Bakudō #26", she seethed as she began manoeuvring further away from the two targets. "Kyokkō."
One second she was over there, in the air, the other she was not. Her physical form and emanations of spiritual pressure rendered invisible. So, she could act unhindered. So, she could recite a full incantation. However, a different incantation than she had originally planned to. One addressed specifically to the valiant criminal-Captain, so loyal to his master that he had killed most of his would-be captors and stood by his side, oh so dutiful.
"Gem of the dragon king, the ebb of tides, upon the rising waves I summon thee. O ye who coils below, answer but my honest plea, in my hand rest three sapphires", was the chant that she had found most appropriate for the occasion. "Hadō #80, Aoikyūtai."
In general, she tended to avoid flashiness, or excessive collateral damage. But that was not the time for personal preferences to impede her performance. Furthermore, she hated the people who her targets were much more than that. A feeling that had suddenly grown quite intense. As such, a flood of immense proportions manifested above them from the abundant ambient spiritual energy particles present in the atmosphere of Soul Society. Enormous mass of water that crashed down upon them, a calamity comparable to if not significantly greater than the one Hein had triggered, yet of the opposite element. Kazumi did not care about the ensuant devastation. After all, that was the perfect opportunity for the Captain to protect his master once more. Definitely, she would not mind him overexerting himself a little in the process.
She was not one to rampage in a fit of fury, albeit she would watch the deluge drowning them all with no small amount of satisfaction. Even though she was in no danger of running out of energy just yet, she was still panting from the considerable effort. Exploiting the respite she had afforded.
The full-incantation Aoikyūtai loomed above Hein. He felt the polarized weight of the spherical mass of water and knew that there was no way for him to salvage control of the battlefield due to the immensity of the deluge. It was, in its own way, as awe-inspiring as his own elemental release, and Hein was again reminded of why he so vehemently detested Kidō. There was altogether too much gain for too little effort. And that was, in his words, “goin’ for nothing.”
As the water crashed down upon him, Hein raised his fist and pushed back against the force of the spell while simultaneously accelerating the rate of his Shunkō. A circle of space spread around him as he quickly pulled the ambient flames into himself before they could be extinguished by the Aoikyūtai. Channeling the tightly coiled fire, Hein was able to resist the force of the spell by feeding his Shunkō with the formerly-extent flames, without drawing upon his own reserve of Reiryoku. At last the wave of Kidō subsided. It had turned the surrounding battleground into a muddy, ash-gray swampland except for the small patch of dirt that Hein stood upon. Once again, he laughed.
“Could ya try for a little creativity there, obahan?” he cried out euphorically. Without warning, Hein exerted a vibrating wave of spiritual pressure. Similar to an Arrancar’s Pesquisa, Hankyōteii was a perceptive technique that allowed Hein to probe at an entire area in order to determine a target’s location, regardless of how still they were or whether they could actually be “felt” or not. The echolation allowed Hein to pin-point where the mage was hidden within her Kyokkō, and he quickly launched himself in her direction. The power granted to him with the use of Shunkō carried him in an instant through the night sky, and with a flash he emerged behind Kazumi. He had re-drawn his sword, and the blade glinted in the darkness before his body became a blur. Using his own torso as a fulcrum, he spun around and delivered a series of circular lines of energy. Condensed and smoldering with the fiery, imbued Kidō, the projected blades threatened to cut through any defense, like smelted iron cutting through metal.
But as if all of that had merely been a distraction, Hein followed the furious attack with a drop kick. His body its own projectile, he crashed down towards the mage’s head and brought his foot around, hammering it down with enough force to instantly shatter her skull.
The impact of the strike carried beyond his target and slammed into the ground, flattening the mud into a wide crater directly beneath them. But had it made contact with the mage herself?
The Crime Lord's features briefly showed pangs of fear as he witnessed Kazumi's afterimage vanish into thin air; proving that his attacks had been negated. But this fleeting emotion was quickly quelled and tossed aside, and didn't resurface even as he used the previously cast Kakushitsujiaku to track her location. But even though he could see where she moved, she phased into existence behind him at speeds which he simply couldn't keep up with, and only the preemptive action of several Shikigami prevented him from being incinerated by the ravenous flames of Haien.
Pink flames washed over and completely enshrouded his cube. He could already see how five Shikigami were simultaneously combusting within his barrier due to the raw exertion of channeling enough power to withstand the extremely destructive flames of Haien. Shigenaga prepared to call out to Uragiri within his mind, but in that moment a sudden darkness settled over all of his perceptions, negating the cry for help and dazing the Sorcerer on the spot, causing him to lower his arms for a moment before his strong mind beat back against Teiden's effects and his composure was regained.
But Kazumi was no fool, and in this brief lapse of his conciousness she'd woven another more powerful spell of binding into existence. Kuyo Shibari; Shigenaga could only watch in horror as the inside of his protective cube was filled with several emerging black holes that each emitted a powerful reiatsu. The final hole then manifested in the man's chest, and he could feel that it sapped his strength and paralyzed his body, it was pointless to try and break it by himself. Shigenaga knew his own spiritual energy was far too weak to accomplish that task, so he set his Shikigami to work on breaking it instead.
Then he heard the assassin's voice utter the full incantation of the spell Aoikyutai. Fear and desperation sprung to life within him as he realized that Hein would not be able to save him this time, having been temporarily rendered immobile by his defense in response to the attack. Even if the spell hadn't succeeded in injuring Hein, it had separated master and servant. "Uragiri, to me!" the sorcerer shouted at his creation, but in the mighty deluge the Shikigami was delayed considerably. Forcing Shigenaga to redirect all of his paper mannequins towards the act of defense rather than undoing Kazumi's earlier spell.
Even so, when the deluge struck his reinforced walls, which shimmered with great power and were made in several layers, the raw destructive force exhibited caused most of them to shatter upon impact like glass. Leaving the Shikigami no other alternative than to continously sacrifice themselves to protect the life of their master as he was hurled about inside his cube and dragged along in a coursing river of reishi-enriched waters.
By the time he was snatched up by Uragiri; which had suffered heavy injuries itself from Hein's flames and this mighty spell, Shigenaga had lost a grand total of twenty-five Shikigami to Kazumi's combination of attacks, and had been deposited far away from the initial point. On the plus side, her magic had demolished several of his rivals warehouses and had caused the area to be evacuated.
Meanwhile, Kazumi was baffled that the Seventh Division Captain had emerged seemingly unscathed from her spell. She did not, or rather could not, dwell on that, however. Soon afterward he was attacking her with the ferocity of a wild animal.
Exactly as she had suspected, her Kyokkō was no hindrance to his heightened senses at all. Fortunately, she had deliberately protected herself with the layer of false reality provided by full-power Gaikan even before the battle began. The spell made no attempt to outright conceal any possible stimuli he could perceive. Instead, each of them was tampered with to some extent. Thus, saving Takeda's life as Ueda assaulted a position a few metres away from her factual one.
Nevertheless, she had to act immediately. Once more, she employed Arukuyume to float away from danger like a person flying freely in the middle of a dream. Then, she noticed that her plan to incapacitate Arma had been almost fully successful. If only she could move past the Captain, finish the crime lord off with a Hakufuku and teleport to a safe location... But the enemy was too vicious, too powerful. How could she...
"THAT'S ENOUGH", a booming voice resounded abruptly across the whole area.
Kazumi shivered. The voice was very familiar to her. Belonged to none other than the eminent Grand Kidō Chief, Fumio Enomoto. Her direct superior and mentor. The identity of the person was not what caused her to feel the cold grasp of fear. The tone of the voice was. Gentlemanly and erudite, a father to his men, so amiable as he conducted another tea ceremony... Undeniably, she heard wrath in his voice and shuddered at the implications of that fact.
"You have fought well, Takeda-kun", she heard through Tenteikūra shortly afterward.
"I apologise. I have failed, Master", she responded mentally. "It's my fault that the team..."
"No, Takeda-kun, that is not your fault. Now, please retreat to a safe distance. I shall complete this... mission, alone."
There he was, a fairly tall if unassuming man with dark blond hair and facial hair styled into the semblance of the Kidō Corps symbol. Clad in a simple Shinigami Shihakushō with a steel blue robe on top. The signature smile upon his somewhat wrinkled face rather stiff. The gaze of his grey eyes surprisingly stern. He walked at a casual pace through a forest glade, not that far away from the current battlefield. He had broadcasted his voice via his spiritual pressure, and continued to do so later on.
"Regardless of your ranks and titles", he began solemnly. "All I can see is a rabid dog held on a leash by a vile coward. I, Fumio Enomoto, an Archmage of the Coven, demand you surrender at once. If you comply, I shall be merciful. If you do not, I shall treat you with all the severity you deserve."
He stopped in the middle of the glade, his arms folded and hidden within the sleeves of his robes. Strong wind began disturbing the blades of grass around him. Soon, a prominent orange-red aura illuminated the area, ethereal glitter spreading in all directions all the while the wind grew ever more powerful. The silhouette of the Archmage flickered incessantly, the strands of hair and the folds of his clothing freezing in the midst of a motion only to repeat it whole afterward.
He was waiting.
Hein scowled as he sensed the newcomer's spiritual pressure. Flinging both hands out to the sides, he dispelled his Shunkō, allowing the remnant Kidō to disincorporate. The result was a massive burst of Reiatsu that rivaled Fumio's wind, setting the motes of glitter in the air ablaze before dying out. Hein tilted his head to the side to crack his neck, then kneaded his fists to pop his knuckles.
"Trust me obahan, the last thing I wanna do right now is go toe-to-toe with a geezer like yerself," he answered the archmage cryptically. "For all I care ya can have your pick of the Seireitei. Leastways not like I ever wanted anything to do with that load of shit," Hein spat to emphasize his point, then drew his sword in a casual fashion, holding the blade at an awkward angle with the tip pointed down. "But for now, I'll be your opponent," he said, and paused before he uttered the release.
The atmosphere around him began to rumble, and black flames burst into existence in an enveloping shroud. The "devil king's flame" scorched the air surrounding the two combatants, licking up the water beneath Hein's feet. There was a shriek as the a wall of steam spread from the nexus of Hein's release, drowning the battlefield in a canvas of billowing gray smoke.
For a moment, pinpricks of crimson light cut through the haze as Reiatsu glowed in Hein's blind eyes. The light shone across his bare chest, rivaling the ultimate release of another "dog" as Hein paced towards Fumio.
"Maō-en," he stated, as though merely giving the name fully explained the nature of his Bankai.
The air grew thick, but not from Reiatsu. Fumio would find that the ground beneath his feet, where the charcoal had been mixed with mud due to the Aoikyūtai, had been sapped of moisture, leaving only white ash. In fact, the entire battlefield was covered in ash. It hung dangerously in the air, burnt particles waiting to be reincorporated into another release.
Hein turned his attention fully upon Fumio. His Zanpakutō seemed to smolder, the blade having turned black as he swung towards his opponent. A pressurized wall of fire cut towards Fumio, threatening to instantly vaporize him in the ink-black inferno.
Then, the pressure spiked.
In an instant, the blanket of smoke and steam that covered the field was converted into black flames. Everywhere the ash had spread, fire suddenly erupted. The sudden conversion was so intense that the ensuing explosion crushed in on itself, forming a crater before pushing up and out into the sky. The roar could be heard all the way from the Seireitei, and made the explosion from earlier seem like mere child's play. Like a sea of flames, the fire spread outwards, consuming everything in its wake and setting the surrounding warehouses on fire due to the sheer heat of the explosion.
Hein was lost somewhere within that black mass, apparently having conveniently forgotten about Shigenaga in his reckless attack on the archmage. While Hein was doing his best to carry out Shigenaga's will in protecting him, his characteristic mode of operation entailed taking out the enemy as quickly as possible. Hein had never been very good at defense. Still, there was a pocket of space within the flames that had failed to detonate. The ash surrounding Shigenaga and Uragiri had formed a thick wall that blocked out the fire of the Maō-en. The pressure and heat within the bubble would have do doubt risen to uncomfortable levels, but Hein had shielded his master from his own attack at least.
Unfortunately, the area that had not been drowned in fire would have been immediately obvious, calling attention to the crime lord's location.
Within this pocket of air amidst a raging inferno stood Shigenaga, surrounded by his other minions; the sixty-five Shikigami that still remained to protect him directly and the hulking deformed body of Uragiri. Even bound and immobilized, the warlock still found it possible to smile at the new arrival. He attempted to meet the man's gaze, charm him into lowering his guard down through means of the very same enchantment that caused others to flock to him time and time again. "Now now, there's no need to make threats. Why don't we come to a mutually beneficial solution, certainly a gentleman your age has wants too. Don't you?"
At the very least the assassin had not robbed him of his ability to speak. And so he continued while his Shikigami gradually undid the bonds that held him in place, weakening the links of reiryoku and making it easier for him to break free whenever he so desired. Without dropping his veneer of weakness he continued talking. "It just so happens that I am simply disgustingly wealthy, I could pay you an exorbitant sum to let me leave. As a show of faith, why don't you take Hein Ueda as well, I am certain he could serve a man like you well in multiple ways. Don't worry, I can make him want it."
A large distance away, the Kidou Corps assistant sat in a tree watching the ensuing battle in the distance. She had thought herself powerful, her skills in Kidou had grown exceptionally over the past nine years. Yet even so she had still not gotten used to the idea of combat, and her magic could scarcely make up for the enormous difference in ability between herself and the foes she had been expected to face.
It was time to face reality, this masked man had seen fit to test her and Kazumi's loyalty by pitting them against a vastly superiour threat. Her comrades had been wiped out by the enthralled Captain's flames; she alone had survived due to her skill with barriers.
Even from this far a distance, she could feel the immense intensity of the flames that radiated from Hein's Bankai. And it dug forth memories of another battle she had once witnessed.
"Well now that'll it be, old wizard?" Shigenaga smiled, confident that no one would stand against him when offered riches and love.
Fumio did not even bat an eye at Ueda's impulsive reaction. The glow of his spiritual pressure intensified noticeably when he lifted both of his arms, outstretched, as if to stop the tidal wave of flames from engulfing him with a mere gesture. Nevertheless, a large translucent dome manifested to protect him. Eye of the firestorm, a single island of safety amongst a sea of pitch black fire. The surroundings were consumed, incinerated in the mighty heat of a Bankai. Be that as it may, the force field held just fine. After all, the flames did not have the weight to crush it, nor was there anything for them to burn through.
"Such tremendous power wasted so recklessly", the Archmage remarked solemnly.
Then, he listened to Shigenaga, whose words were carried through spiritual pressure to become audible over the roar of raging flames that immersed him.
"I beg your pardon, Shigenaga Arma, but I feel obliged to decline your offer", he responded, shaking his head slowly. "Wealth, power, lust... I wish that, in dark times like these, people such as you could finally see beyond the end of their nose", he added, his eyes closed.
He appeared tranquil, sorrowful despite being in the middle of a giant firestorm. He knew that words were not enough to solve this issue appropriately. No words sans one particular kind — Words of Power.
"Kūkanmage", reverberated across the area.
One word, one exertion of will, one impulse of spiritual pressure. And the fabric of space was his to command. The force field about him contorted abruptly, then began spinning at a rapidly increasing pace. The enormous blaze enveloping the area was sucked into the ensuant twister of profound forces in a matter of moments, focused into a single thick stream above the Archmage. Ultimately, expelled high toward the sky until it vanished from sight completely. Meanwhile, the transient vacuum that resulted from the suddenness of Enomoto's spell extinguished the last remnants of that mighty firestorm. The Archmage took a single step forward.
"Jikangire", he said.
Everything stopped at once. Ueda, Arma, Shikigami, smoke, wind, blades of grass, leaves upon the tree branches. But rather than halt the grand wheel of time, Fumio had performed an infinitely easier, yet comparably impressive - and effective - feat. For he himself metaphorically walked out of the current of time, briefly able to act with absolute impunity for what was a literal instant to everyone else. He took another step, then snapped his fingers. A single semi-translucent orb appeared next to the time-frozen Hein. Subsequently, the act was repeated, again and again, until there were six of them surrounding him in a fairly tight formation. Finally, Fumio clapped his hands with considerable force. Following that, two giant ethereal hands joined the spheres, flanking Ueda, composed of the same thing: spatial ripples.
Enomoto lifted one of his legs. The stilled world around him was distorted, the glade, forest, buildings and people reduced to an outstretched, indistinct blur. Suddenly, as his foot descended toward the ground, he was just a few metres from Shigenaga's current location. And that was precisely when Jikangire wore off, returning the caster to the proper flow of time.
First was a short, sharp staccato. Later, a defeaning thunder. When subject to the progress of time once more the spatial spells took effect immediately, in the sequence they had been manifested in, exerting their frightening might in a display of colossal power. The roar of the implosions shattered glass and cracked the walls, the shockwave uprooted nearby trees, chunks of earth and grass propelled into the air by the runaway force. All of that despite the fact the brunt of the onslaught had been focused upon Hein Ueda, the blind beast. Meanwhile, Fumio stood right in front of the former's master, his robes fluttering wildly owing to the strong gusts of wind caused by his spells. Illuminated with an orange-red glow, he glared at the crime lord with a stern expression now devoid of his signature smile whilst lifting his right arm.
"Hassha", he declared as he snapped his fingers again.
The fabric of space in front of Shigenaga's face contorted, only to expand explosively right afterward. Again, and again. Three such explosions burst forth, punching an increasingly large crater into the earth, the buildings, the forest beyond. Directed safely away from Fumio's position as they devastated everything in their radius.
Blind as he was, Hein was instantly aware that something was wrong when he felt the space around him contort, pinching into condensed spheres of deadly force. As his senses constantly tread through the fabric of the invisible world, he could “see” the attack as it took place.
There was no time to think, no time to even ask what it was that was there before him so suddenly or how. The only thing that Hein knew was that something was wrong, and that something prompted him to immediately take measures to ensure he would survive. Crossing his arms in front of his chest, Hein withdrew his ambient Reiatsu with sudden force. Haiken was a technique that he normally used in order to harden his skin and block an opponent’s sword strikes. He had never used it in Bankai before, and now he felt smoldering heat sear across his skin as his spiritual pressure condensed around him, densely laden with potential, reactive energy. It was the only thing he had time to do within the brief gap left by the release of Fumio’s Jinkangire. It had been instantaneous, instinctive.
As space snapped shut around him, Hein’s condensed Bankai-enhanced Reiatsu met the implosion with an explosion of equal and opposite force. Space seemed to crack... and then the hands of an invisible god closed upon Hein.
At first it would appear as though the Shinigami had been crushed like an ant, but as the ripples of space became clear and still once more, Hein could be seen pushing back against the two invisible walls on either side of him. Both his hands and his feet had been devoted to the task as he had pushed back with his own Reiatsu. The end result was rather comical, as he was spread out like a flying squirrel, seemingly straining against the air itself.
“Shit,” he said through gritted teeth as his senses reeled from the sound and pressure of the explosion. Blood began to stream from his nose. “Chicken shit,” he re-emphasized as the first explosion rippled in front of Shigenaga.
But even though the world was careening around him, even though it felt as if his brain was a reverberating tuning fork that had been struck repeatedly, the pull of the Geas was stronger.
Within an instant, Hein had slid down from the sky, falling before Shigenaga with his back turned to Fumio’s attack. The second sphere exploded... and met with a wall of black flames that had apparently materialized from thin air. While Fumio had drawn in the expanse of fire around him, he had failed to perceive the true nature of Hein’s Bankai.
He was, after all, a Captain of the Gotei 13.
The flames bent against the unfolding space, pushed down against Hein, who kept them from so much as touching Shigenaga as he braced himself against the pressure. Fed by the scorched earth beneath him, Hein reformed the dense, protective wall just in time for the third and final explosion, which erupted so violently that Hein was thrown forwards onto his hands and knees. The fire subsided, but Hein was motionless as he knelt before Shigenaga.
His arms were visibly shaking. Partly from the Haiken, as his own Reiatsu had taken its toll against him, but partly from a sudden burst of seething hatred that he felt towards the man before him. Once again, the curse began to stifle that hatred, but Hein relished it for an instant. He was putting his life on the line to protect his "master"—and had been rewarded by being offered up as a sacrifice to placate the enemy. That was something that could never be forgiven. But, in the next instant, those thoughts became blurred and distant, pulled under the current of the Henkodou’s ever constant power.
The warlock raised his hands in an attempt to get started on a spell to bring down his adversary, or so he hoped, but in that moment the Archmage shimmered into existence in front of him, and the very air seemed to contort in front of him. Too late he realized the nature of the spell cast and it exploded in front of his face, only the lingering protections of his Shikigami prevented a terrible deformation of his facial features. He then realized what it felt like to be helpless, forces beyond his control sent him crashing across the ground, ripping up his skin and destroying much of his clothing.
Few people understood his own fragility better than Shigenaga, and as he saw the telltale signs of simiilar spells forming, he already struggled to make peace with his death. But the last two attacks never reached him, and he looked up from the spot where he was wallowing in the dirt and saw Hein, there was something eerie about owing your life to someone you had turned into a puppet to your whims. In his desperate state he remembered that he'd once had a certain fondness for Hein, although that was long ago and in a different life.
Even so, no matter the circumstances; a businessman paid his due and he'd try to at least spare him from what he was about to do next. Paper mannequins surrounded Hein before they shone with a bright green light and teleported him a few yards behind Shigenaga in a brief moment of humanity on the sorcerers part. Uragiri then turned towards Fumio, and a dark aura emerged from the abomination, like a purple miasma as it sought embed itself in the very spirit of Fumio, bringing forth a sudden moment of abject weakness and inability to properly harness his reiryoku as he should. It was a simple if potent curse that the creature wove into being.
As this occured, Shigenaga unleashed his own spiritual energy in full. It was an amount that would be generous for a Lieutenant, but next to Fumio's own, or even next to Uragiri, it was like a tiny mote. But it was not it's volume that was important, it was it's insidious effects, as it emerged not in the form of waves but akin to misty spectral vines that crawled across the ground to ensnare and constrict the Archmage's spiritual power. Merging with Uragiri's enchantment in order to create a fully realized curse, using Fumio's own constricted energy as an alternative to his name. His most powerful combat Shikigami could curse others like his grandmother once could, but its spell was easily broken. Shigenaga hoped that this empowered version might prove beneficial as he planned to make one attempt at wiping out his adversary here and now.
Uragiri's four tails shot up into the air, as they brimmed with purple spiritual energy, that crackled and licked the air even as its spindly legs formed esoteric gestures in the way that Nimhe once had. As its stubbed hands drove circles in the air, a seven-layered barrier was woven into existence around Fumio, tightening with locks of arcane steel and metals of fantasy. Each slipping into place and reinforcing the whole, as dark talismans and incantations were burned unto its surface. To complete the prison, a massive length of black chain tightened around the structure, sealing the Archmage within, or so the warlock hoped. For he had never witnessed Uragiri do something like this before, it would seem that there were spells which Nimhe never shared with him. Yet he didn't let it distract him for long as he began to utter a chant while the barrier was still forming. As all around him his Shikigami minions shone with a purplish black light, while Shigenaga himself was sheathed within a thick smoke-like aura of darkness.
"Seeping crest of turbidity. Arrogant vessel of lunacy! Boil forth and deny! Grow numb and flicker! Disrupt sleep!"
While he spoke, the Shikigami swirled around him, shimmering with dark energies as the spell began to take form in the world. All around them dark shafts descended to the ground, and the ambient gravity increased to tremendous degrees. Nearby buildings turned to dust, trees buckled and were crushed under their own weight, and the ground cracked and pulsated with rivulets of purplish black reiryoku. Shigenaga's aura flared out like ravenous flames in black and indigo, as the sorcerer continued to recite the incantation.
"Crawling queen of iron! Eternally self-destructing doll of mud! Unite! Repulse! Fill with soil and know your own powerlessness!"
All color drained from the surrounding world as the incantation for the mighty spell came complete. All that remained was a monochrome world wherein only shades of white, grey and black existed. For the spell he was about to cast defied the rules and regulations of either time and space when used to its fullest potential. Uragiri's barrier had now turned into a seething black hole, a mighty singularity that was akin to a seed that woud soon grow into a mighty spell of destruction. As Shigenaga spoke the name and number of the spell.
"Hado #90, Kurohitsugi!"
When the name of the spell left his lips, the singularity coursed with overwhelming currents of gravity, fit to reduce Fumio into a being with the stature of a single grain of sand. Like a miniature black hole it sought to reduce all creation to dust around it, debris flew towards the singularity, and the earth shuddered and quaked under the strain of so great a force. Black motes of energy generated large fissures in the ground and drew all debris and destroyed matter into the center of the anomaly. Even as purple wisps of energy began to weave themselves together into a towering black box centered around the Kido Commander's present location. Sealing him in with one of the most destructive forces ever known and hopefully eradicating him before he might trouble the Heavenly King any further. Magic that dealt with space or time would be heavily impaired under the conditions imposed by a Kurohitsugi spell; much akin to trying to attempt to wrestle against a raging current that knew neither form or direction.
To reach the culminating finale, eight black spears of dark reiryoku manifested around the enormous black coffin that now stood at the center of the region. Looming threateningly over the Rukon districts and having many pluses fleeing for their lives as far away from it as conciously possible. Extending a quivering hand, Shigenaga felt the enormous drain on his spiritual power as the last of the Shikigami he'd prepared vanished into motes of dark blue light. It was only his own energy that supported the spell now, proof of how desperate the warlock had become. With force of will he caused each of the eight spears to pierce the black coffin in various places, each made in an attempt to skewer Fumio and kill him quickly. And as this last step of the spell was fulfilled, it dissolved into a pillar of purplish black energy that sought to smother and dissolve Fumio's possible remains as the darkness scattered into rippling sheets of energy in the skies above. Leaving a gaping abyss where the spell had taken place, overcome with exhaustion, Shigenaga fell unconcious immediately afterwards, unable to tell if his spell had hit its mark or not.
First, Fumio gazed upon Hein, the vicious man compelled to protect his master despite his own feelings on the matter. Then, his attention switched to the crime lord himself. One second, ostensibly willing to barter with the Archmage. And the next, virtually within the same breath, already performing a multi-stage attack on him. Enomoto shook his head again with resignation. Such power, such skill, mishandled and exploited to further wicked personal goals. The world was quaking in its foundations but those men were only concerned with their own small patch of existence. Despite the fact they could not, would not, escape the grasp of fate.
The onslaught had commenced. An insidious curse sought to enfeeble Fumio in preparation for the rest of it. He reprimanded himself mentally for such a severe oversight. Truly, he should have erected a proper defence instead of relying on his basic ward to shield him from such arcane spells. Be that as it may, he could not turn back time. Or actually, he could have, but that would have been a rather excessive response. Rather, he elected to let the curse seep into his body as a form of punishment. All the while fully prepared to expel it from his system immediately afterward. Ichiji Teiton. Enomoto visualised his state from before entering battle, then projected that image into reality via the use of Tokikūkandō. For the cost of some of his internal Reiryoku, he succeeded to restore himself to an unaffected condition in order to offer proper resistance to the follow-up.
The second stage involved the construction of a remarkable barrier to immobilise Fumio. He merely observed the spell unfold, condensing his spiritual pressure as well as the ambient energy he had accumulated beforehand, causing his aura to intensify in its brilliance noticeably. Enclosing him was a futile attempt but he would wait. Wait for that. And there it was, the crushing blow to finish him off. Full-power Kurohitsugi, an impressive display of spellcasting ability. In that moment Enomoto acknowledged Shigenaga as a mage at least comparable to his protégé, Takeda-kun, in terms of skill.
Unfortunately, the choice of spell was poor, to say the least. Fumio quickly considered a variety of possible responses. Should he lock the spell in time as it was forming? Stall it just long enough to escape with impunity? Dominate the spatiotemporal coffin through his mastery of Tokikūkandō to turn it against is master? Tear it apart with spatial tears undescribable in terms conceived by mortals? He wanted to make a statement; a particular type of statement. So he waited a little bit longer for the black-purple prism to enclose him completely. Then, spending no small amount of spiritual energy, he finally cast his chosen counter: Kūhaku.
The Kurohitsugi attempted to crush him, smother him. The giant spears skewered the inside one after another to aggravate the damage, mutilate his mangled remains. The spell sought to eradicate him from existence. But he persevered. For a while he was, for all intents and purposes, untouchable. Disconnected from the causality of that world, impossible to affect in any way, shape or form. That was the function of the spell he had designed himself. Certainly, he was very proud of the technique. Whether it was genuinely an instance of absolute defence was debatable. Nevertheless, in that battle, it might have as well been one.
The black coffin vanished without a trace. Yet, the Archmage was still there. He stood tall, a stern expression upon his countenance, drops of perspiration upon his temples and forehead. Unaffected, undefeated. Immovable. The translucent prism of Kūhaku, tinted orange-red, still enveloping him with a gentle hum.
"As you can see now with crystal clarity, Shigenaga Arma, you are but a pawn... oh", he cut his speech short when he noticed the addressee had fallen unconscious beforehand. "Well, that makes you a pawn of a pawn, does it not?", he added in a patronising manner as he glanced at Hein.
Suddenly, Kūhaku contracted into merely a single thick wall. Fumio took a deep breath. Energy poured toward him in visible streams. Once again, he asserted his dominance.
The wall exploded into a veritable hail of large shards that showered both the Captain and the cyclopean Shikigami. The Archmage directed them in such away as to avoid lethal damage as far as the blind man was concerned. The abomination was offered no such luxury, however. Somewhat brutal but necessary. Regardless, that was merely swatting the distractions away. The true objective had yet to be achieved.
"Hakanai Sabishī", said Fumio solemnly, an open palm aimed at Shigenaga.
High-level binding spell of the sophisticated Tokikūkandō branch. The cramped spatial cube would separate its target from the outside world, cut off the supply of air and ambient spiritual energy from the atmosphere. Considerably hinder movements, too, and contain most of the techniques one could potentially employ to break free within the cube. After all, irrespective of his low opinion on them, Enomoto certainly did not underestimate his current opponents.
While Fumio's attack may have been intended to be nonlethal, Hein did not treat it as such. As the archmage pontificated from behind his space barrier, the Captain stood and prepared himself for whatever came next.
A cold sweat had broken across Hein’s skin as Shigenaga had cast the Kurohitsugi. It was nothing like the standard version of the spell that Rana had managed to trap him with earlier, as it distorted gravity itself. For a moment, Hein felt as though he were an ant crawling on the edge of a vice between two colossal forces; space and time balanced precariously in a crushing mass about to descend. In that instant, he was granted a moment of clarity at the recognition of his own weakness. He saw himself in his own pitiful state: bound by an alien sense of servitude and groveling before the powers that served as his fate. Considering his earlier resistance to the Coven’s displays of power, the irony was intensely cruel.
He remained still beneath the crystalline rain, which seemed to be frozen in the night sky, glittering with an orange light.
Then, the broken spell descended like a shower of meteors.
Spheres of flame shot up from the ground to meet the onslaught. The fragments of space seemed to bend as they met the force of the highly-condensed, small black suns, which seared into the surrounding air. Wherever the projectiles contacted each other, there was a brilliant, short burst of energy as matter was rapidly displaced. However, the defense was far from perfect, as many of the shards slipped through, pelting all around Hein. One buried itself into his shoulder, stopping at the clavicle, and Hein lurched back with a pitiful choking sound.
For a moment, it seemed as if he were too stunned to respond in the wake of the storm. But then he turned his attention to Shigenaga. Having appeared before the cube-like prison with a step of Shunpo, he probed carefully at the exterior of the barrier to determine the nature of the spell, ignoring the injury in his shoulder. As energy glowed in his fingertips, Hein attempted to destabilize the bonds of the spell by infusing the external layer with a blast of force of his own making. He felt the surface of the Hakanai Sabishii waver before returning to its original state. Kabe-hōkai was a Sekidō technique which allowed the user to infuse a construct with an opposite form of energy in order to dissolve any given barrier. The problem was that the energy of Fumio’s spell seemed to be layered within space itself. Simply put, its complexity lay beyond the reach of Hein’s abilities. Not to mention, he felt a twinge of delight that Shigenaga should be subject to such conditions.
He could stay there a while for all Hein cared.
As removing Shigenaga from the battlefield was no longer an option, Hein was only left with two choices: to defend or attack. Since he had grown sick of attempting the former, Hein settled his mind on his only available course of action. Once more, a grin spread across his face. It would be all or nothing this time. Either he would destroy the enemy in one fell blow... or he himself would be obliterated. The gravity of his situation sank upon Hein’s mind, but instead of cowering he reveled in the risk. Self-preservation was no longer possible, and indeed such a desire had been long ago driven from his mind. Presumably this had been due to the power of the Geas, but in reality something had changed within Hein in his previous battle with Rana. His Reiatsu continued to build, but it did not waver. The cowardice that had marked Hein’s earlier actions had seemingly disappeared. In its place was a reckless, dangerously destructive sense of abandon.
If the only way to succeed was to drag Fumio to hell with him, then so be it.
He would burn them all to the ground.
As Hein faced his opponent, he was not above one last, vulgar gesture of defiance. He pulled the shard of hardened energy from his trapezoid and threw it to the side before extending his two middle fingers in Fumio’s direction.
"Fuck you," he snarled eloquently.
The ash surrounding Hein stirred, rising from the ground once more. It gathered mass as it pulled from the carbonized trees surrounding the field, and even the particles of disintegrated energy from the air itself. Even though Fumio had accounted for the earlier flames of Hein’s Bankai by siphoning them away, the measure had been largely too late as the damage had already been wrought. Anywhere that had been touched by Hein’s flames was incorporated into the swirling, gray cloud. So long as his flames feasted upon the world around him, converting any substance they touched into ash, the fire would rise again and again like a charred phoenix, only growing stronger and more massive in each incarnation.
That was the true nature of Hein’s Bankai.
With a demonic roar and the sound of cracking embers, the vortex of ash rose to surround Fumio on all sides. Like spun wool, the dense cloud swirled around the archmage, spiraling ever closer as Hein tightened the walls of the attack. The air smelled of sulfur, and it was difficult to breath as it was smothered in the fine soot. Then, there was a snap. A sudden pressure. A burst of dark light.
And the ash ignited into flame.
The tower of ash burst into a tower of fire that kept its cyclical motion, but swirling even faster. However, the vortex of flame was meant to be misleading, as the true attack was contained within Hein’s Zanpakutō. The blade of the sword had turned black, and it smoldered as it made contact with the air, just as it had before. This time, however, Hein had purposefully drawn in the surrounding ash, infusing it within the sword. With speed born of feverish desperation, he disappeared from where he had been standing with a concussive burst of pressure and leapt into the vortex. He reached Fumio just before the ash around him was converted into fire. The heat in the Zanpakutō was condensed, and far greater than that of the inferno raging around them. Capable of burning through nearly any substance, be it steel or spiritual energy, the tip of the blade carved through the air with an atomic shriek as the matter before it was instantly incinerated. Cutting from behind, Hein drove the sword towards Fumio’s heart. Upon contact, the strike would extend past the target in a narrow beam of black, obliterating energy, as such was the scale of its barely constrained force.
He was fully committed. Should he fail, he would no doubt be exterminated. With that knowledge time seemed to slow. Locked within the attack’s momentum, there was no backing out for Hein.
Meanwhile, Fumio had observed the Captain struggle in futility against the binding spell. Of course, he recognised vain attempts to employ Sekidō against the Hakanai Sabishī. That insidious specialised branch of Kidō was indeed very useful. After all, Kazumi Takeda had slain many a rogue mage owing to her proficiency in that art in addition to the even more sinister Meiandō. Right there, however, was a crucial factor to consider: Kazumi Takeda was not only highly talented but also experienced and knowledgeable Kidō master. It was that extensive knowledge that allowed her to successfully counter spells of enemy wizards. From what little Fumio knew and had seen of Hein Ueda, the latter did not seem to compare at all. In the end, even such an ostensibly anti-Kidō ability was completely ineffective against a full-power Tokikūkandō spell cast by none other than the Grand Kidō Chief himself.
Naturally, the Captain realised that rather quickly. Enomoto felt his killing intent spike through disturbances in spiritual pressure. Driven into a corner, he had little choice but perform his last stand in an unwilling defence of a master he despised. How pitiful. Fully expecting that to happen Fumio had prepared to defend from another display of Ueda's devastating fury. The fabric of space around the Archmage was promptly moulded into a dome to protect him from the firestorm that was about to engulf him. But that had already happened once during their relatively short battle. The same defence against the same type of attack. Fumio had little combat experience but he was no doubt a genius. He had expected more than that from a Shinigami Captain, however vile, and there was more indeed.
Flames burst in a giant explosion that immersed Enomoto's safe haven. They were unable to overcome dimensional distortions that simply held them at bay. Regardless, that was only the distraction to draw attention away from the main attack that followed promptly. Supremely condensed fire channeled via Ueda's Zanpakutō, a lethal precision strike so unlike the wild displays of improperly directed fury. Fumio noticed the Captain emerge from the firestorm. His blade shrieked as it was eradicating all matter on its path. Then, it carved into the spatial dome which posed token resistance. The Archmage motioned to the side, one of his legs lifted. Ueda was approaching, ever closer, so fast, yet seemingly sailing through the air languidly like a weightless cloud all at the same time. Blades of grass pointing toward the sky like green spires. Glittering particles of fire suspended in the air like a miniature constellation. Drops of perspiration on Enomoto's temples and forehead flowing down at a glacial pace.
The blade cut into the Archmage. Robes, skin, bone. Black flames engulfed him immediately, incinerating him as a beam of concentrated fire pierced his body. Just a moment later there was no trace of Enomoto left but an area of undulating air. However, his spiritual pressure remained as strong as ever.
At all times, Fumio was protected by a basic ward composed of several layers. Nevertheless, there was no doubt that it would offer little to no resistance to an attack of such magnitude. Fortunately, he had anticipated the final offence. A hastily cast Mukiryoku slightly distorted Hein's perception of time, providing Enomoto with a precious instant to react. Then, he took a small Hen'i step to the side. The spatiotemporal afterimage left behind played the role of a defeated enemy most convincingly. That, in turn, allowed Fumio to perform an immediate counter offence.
"Hassha!", he exclaimed with a snap of his fingers.
He was no martial artist, although he was certainly not defenceless at close range either. The indispensable spatial spell remained forever useful. With his own body as the epicentre, an explosion of primordial forces followed an instantaneous contraction of space to sweep across the area. Then again, and again. A defeaning thunder resounded through the air over the whole district. The inert, broken body of the cyclopean Shikigami lost in the chaos of uprooted trees and floating chunks of earth. The unconscious Shigenaga Arma still contained within the safety of Hakanai Sabishī, undisturbed. For all the power poured into the spell Hassha was a non-lethal technique by function. Of course, when cast as such even a strong Lieutenant would vanish without a trace when caught in its radius. But a Bankai-wielding Captain was no fragile thing.
Nevertheless, there was one more step to perform. Enomoto promptly sought Ueda's spiritual pressure in the aftermath of devastation. Then, he visualised the fabric of space folding about the source of the pressure into the shape of a cube. An open hand clenched into a fist. With that, another instance of Hakanai Sabishī was manifested into existence. Hopefully, to enclose the Captain and finish the battle there and then.
Hein sensed the air distort around him. Recognizing it as the same spell from earlier, he crossed his fists in front of his chest to brace himself against the explosion. If he had been outside the vortex it was likely that the walls of fire would have served as a barrier to cushion the force of the attack. Due to his close proximity to the archmage, however, Hein was afforded no such protection.
The wave of pressure slammed into him full-force.
Hein blurred through the air before crashing into the ground below. The scorched earth embraced him, folding around him as his momentum carried him several hundred meters past the point of initial impact. Fortunately, this spared him from the subsequent folded waves of space that rumbled through the sky, overturning the world itself. Needless to say, Hein’s Bankai was instantly extinguished in the explosion, as everything around Fumio was blown away. The captain himself had only managed to survive by exerting a significant proportion of his reiatsu, and he felt the strain on his reserves of spiritual energy.
At last, still turning through the dirt, Hein managed to find his footing. He dug trenches with his hands and feet as he slid to a stop. Streaks of blood marked the countless minor cuts that crisscrossed his arms and chest, and he was struggling to breathe. While his heart had not stopped, there was clearly no oxygen to be found in his lungs, and the pain in his ribs suggested that more than a few were cracked. Hein slammed his fist into his sternum to jump-start his respiratory system... and then began to sprint towards Fumio.
His pace was ragged and animalistic as he charged past the chunks of earth suspended in the air around him. It was clear that Hein was barely even thinking as he raced towards Fumio, heedless of the stupidity behind such an act of resistance. Time was a curse, creeping mockingly as he failed to find a purchase on the ground’s surface. An indecipherable mass loomed in front of him: an uprooted tree. Hein threw himself on top of the immense piece of thrown debris, and straining against gravity, pushed off. The charred bark cracked as the wood was pulled apart, and Hein barreled into the sky.
Having at last rediscovered his rhythm, Hein reared back his arm. A deformed sphere of flame formed like a glove over his fist as he prepared to strike. But the subdued, orange hue of the fire betrayed the futility of his attack. Still, Hein was compelled to fight: to make one last pathetic attempt to reach the enemy who persisted before him, even though he somehow knew he would never reach him.
Even as his trajectory began to slow, Hein was caught in midair by the Hakanai Sabishī. The walls of the spell materialized around him before rapidly shrinking, and space seemed to waver around the sealed prison. Hein glared at Fumio, his hatred and murderous intent seething in his crimson, unseeing eyes. Then, the spell shut closed like a translucent maw, locking him away from the physical world... and there was stillness.
Fumio stared back at Hein with great focus, his arm still outstretched toward him. He stood on a small patch of undisturbed forest glade in the middle of a quite sizeable crater, dirt, blades of grass and leaves falling upon the area from the sky. There was an ambient heat that remained of the Bankai, and the echo of the spatial explosions lingered for a while. After a short moment, Fumio lowered his arm, then wiped the sweat from his forehead. The orange-red aura that had been enveloping his body until then faded away.
"I can sympathise with you, Hein Ueda-kun", he said eventually. "In spite of our power and rank we are both merely enforcers of somebody else's will. Trust me, neither of us is acting of his own accord. However", he added with emphasis as he aimed his right hand at Shigenaga. "Unlike you, I perceive the big picture. While you wallow in your despair and mindless fury, I act toward a grander purpose."
Suddenly, the cube with its contents simply vanished. For all its perdurability, Hakanai Sabishī would last only a couple of minutes, unlike high-level binding spells of the standard Kidō — one could say, the price it paid for its temporary effectiveness. Nevertheless, transported right into a chamber back in Our Home, occupied by a number of Kidō Adepts ready to receive the esteemed guest of the Coven, that would not be an issue. Hein would be released from his own confinement soon as well.
"Your master is gone", Fumio announced whilst Takeda abruptly appeared beside him, visible to all the senses. "You may use that time to find the means to liberate yourself from his grasp. To fulfil your duty as an officer and fight the enemy. Or, succumb to the monster that dwells within you and perish as the flames of your fury burn you from the inside. The choice is yours."
In the meantime, Kazumi silently produced a long white tape which she began spinning about the pair. When the last word escaped Enomoto's mouth, the tape contracted about them. And, in a flash of light they were gone as well. Although not without considerable difficulty, their mission had been accomplished.