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The War of Four: Recovery Act I

Catching up with the Gang, Bonding of Mortal and Immortals

"Attention! To all operators of the D.C.O. and the Gotei 13!" Hachiro's voice would be loud and clear over the loudspeaker that connected to just about every other speaker within the base, catching the ear of just about everyone within. "All enemy forces have been routed and are retreating from the base. I repeat, the enemy has been pushed back. Great work, everyone!"

They were the words that brought a fresh wave of relief over the exhausted troops and personnel, who had been fighting heavily and taking hard hits for their trouble. With the enemy presence gone, they could now tend to the wounded, properly dispose of the dead and clean up the mess left behind. Soldiers fortunate enough to have gotten through it relatively uninjured resumed their patrols if their work of medical assistance was over with. It was a rather slow transition, and dealing with the damage done seemed to be more work than the defense of the base. Nevertheless, no one complained. The fact that they could do it at all was the sign that they still had control and that the Inner Circle's attempt to push them off what little foothold they had was thwarted. It brought about at least a small boost in morale for the Gotei 13 forces.

The majority of the V-14, who were gathered at some undisclosed location within the hangar, had mixed reactions to it.

Oliver and Angelika, who had returned to her old garments prior to the trip to Aether, had been walking down a hallway leading to the hangar when they heard the announcement. They slowed their footsteps, their eyes directing upwards at the source of the voice. The German seemed to take it with a grain of salt, her time spent in the healing waters having calmed what had been a mind under stress. But the American, even after what he had just gone through, seemed to be very displeased with the fact that the V-14 had not a chance to participate in the fight this time. He was quick to express it.

"The fight's over and done with?!" He exclaimed, throwing his hands up in the air. "You've got to be fucking kidding me!"

"It seems that the defense wasn't so worthless after all..." Angelika commented, sliding her hands into her coat pockets. "I can safely predict that the majority of the V-14 were staying within the medical spa area during the entirety of the invasion. After what we've took, it was most likely needed. I almost feel a bit guilty that we were the only ones not to have lifted a finger to help."

Oliver let out a groan, swinging his hands back down and hanging his head a little as they resumed walking. "You'd think that there be at least some of them who would think, "Oh, maybe we should keep them from getting back up as quickly" and attack the medical areas first before moving on to the main area. I was really hoping to kick some ass with my sword and get at least a little bit of practice in."

Briefly, Angelika closed her eye tightly as she spoke the next words. "And end the hunt? For them and especially someone like Yashin, they'll continue squeezing every bit of fun out of this before deciding to finally do away with us. Even if they say they're being serious, you can't take them by their word. There'll be plenty of more opportunities for confrontation..." Once her eye opened again, her expression lightened up a little enough for a small chuckle to escape her lips. "So you won't have to worry, Holmes. Besides..." Her gaze drifted towards him. "You're not regretting what happened back there, are you?"

Oliver smirked, moving over and giving her a peck on the neck. "Are you kidding me? I'd die before I regret anything I'd done."

"Good..." Angelika's smile briefly faded, and she turned her head completely to look at him. "I'm still your boss. Don't expect me to be any easier on you just because of this..."

"Wouldn't have it any other way, boss..."

With that being said, they reached the entrance to the hangar - or more specifically, one of the many entrances to the hangar doors. Angelika was the first one to reach it, pushing it open and stepping inside.

"Took the long way here, boss?" Hyōryū called out from the midst of the hangar, as most of V-14 gathered within it along with the entirety of the Dragonbird squadron, being maintained by Avaron Setsuko. She smiled as she leaned next to Anton, as they all were huddled near Rika's Dragonbird, ready to greet their leader and comrade.

"W-wait a minute!" Although both Angelika and Oliver were quick to direct suspecting looks at Asuka, Oliver was the first one to speak out. "Did you--"

"I'm sorry!" Asuka blurted out, a slight flush on her cheeks marking her embarrassment. The tips of her fingers were covering her lips, though not enough to muffle her voice. "I really didn't mean to say anything about it, but it just slipped out! I only mentioned what Captain Shiba and I saw, nothing else! But--"

"Hyōryū and I heard things beforehand." Anton finished, grinning in amusement. One of his arms were slung around Hyōryū's shoulders, while his free hand was in his pocket. "I have to admit, Oliver, that was quite a heartfelt moment. I almost was tempted to shed a tear or two, but I didn't want Hyōryū thinking I was some sort of wuss. Didn't keep us from mentioning it prior to you two getting here, though--"

"My life is ruined!!" Oliver wailed, collapsing on his knees and falling on his hands in a bout of comical depression.

"Oi! I don't get it! Why is his life over?!" Zaii blinked in perplexion as he looked side to side at his comrades for an explanation. 

Shinshin himself, sitting atop Rika's Dragonbird casually while being next to her, sweatdropped in sync with Shadō, as they both spoke out flatly, "I don't...get it either..."

Contrary to popular belief, Rika's Dragonbird had been recovered from the area at the time of the evacuation. Everyone, especially Rika, had assumed that it had gotten killed or captured within the attack on the Soul Society. But when its owner had found out that it had been rescued, she had nearly broke down in tears and would've probably hugged the creature to death if she had that much strength. So Shinshin, Rika, Yusuke and even Shinji (who was actively staying out of the discussion) all had the privilege of sitting on its back and watching it all take place.

"...quite..." Although a bit irritated at the new development, Angelika decided to ignore Oliver and her colleagues for the time being to focus on Asuka. "How is everyone doing?"

Asuka quickly broke out of her demeanor to settle into a more casual and conversational one. She put a finger to her chin thoughtfully. "Well, I suppose everyone's here and doing well after resting up. Ever since the attack on the Soul Society, we've had yet to hear from Shou or his subordinate Genesis." Her expression turned a bit wistful. "Mōka hasn't contacted us, either, ever since she had been incapacitated--"

"Incapacitated?" The slight alarm in Angelika's voice shocked Asuka a bit.

"Yes, she had been subdued by this strange spell Daigomi had used on her! But I had carelessly assumed it was no big deal and neglected to have one of the others see to her!" With each and every word spoken, Asuka felt more and more ashamed. "Forgive me, Angelika. I shouldn't have been quick to judge conditions--"

"No." Angelika was quick to cut her off, waving a hand dismissively. "The arrival of the D.C.O. was too unexpected. I doubt anyone would've had time to do anything about it. Where is she now?"

That was when the most unexpected scene would occur.

WHAM!

The entrance nearest to them would abruptly open, and the sound of the door banging against the wall would bring the attention of almost everyone there. The first two figures would be that of the two Daitenshi that had assisted them throughout their endeavour - Shou and Genesis. They came through the door as if breaching something, with the girl having her gun out and aimed to scan the room. Their prepared state of alertness quickly dissipated once they saw that this particular room was filled with allies and not enemies. Genesis lowered her gun, looking over her shoulder.

"All clear!"

The third and last figure stepped out, her crimson eyes looking around the room in a relaxed and serene manner. In her arms, she carried the aforementioned and currently unconscious Mōka Komori within her arms. After looking around, her eyes finally rested on the V-14 as she started her approach towards them. "Sorry to pop in your little conversation," She said plainly. "But I happened to hear you were looking for someone?"

ZOOM!

"You found her!" Karitori exclaimed within a heartbeat, as her body warped from one place in the hangar before reappearing before the Punisher. An emotionally distraught expression crosses her face as she reached out to caress Mōka's face, as tears streaked mascera down her cheeks, even as the rest of her squad came around to see their normally fearless and powerful leader unconscious, "is she okay?"

Yajū chuckled as he crossed his arms in thought, looking over at Karitori with confidence, "She'll be fine. She's just taking a nap after being zapped by that lunatic Dragon-guy or whatever..."

"She's never been kept down for long, you know that right, Kari-chan?" Shito asked his comrade, but didn't dare to lay a hand on her for fear of losing it to the volatile woman. 

"The spell used on her was a sort of seal to suppress half-deities like the Hankami." The Punisher explained, looking down at the woman she carried. "She's suffered the most minimal effects, which I can probably guess because whoever cast the spell didn't use its full power." This prompted Asuka to raise her eyebrows as she regarded the Hankami with surprise and slight apprehension.

"Minimal, you said?"

The Punisher smiled grimly. "She always was such a lightweight when it comes to the likes of pain--" However, she abruptly stopped herself, cocking a slight eyebrow at the one directly in front of her. "And who exactly would you happen to be, miss Mohawk?" She asked in a casual, yet not-nice tone.

"I'm her lover, bitch!" Karitori quickly retracted her worried tone for a nasty tone of her own, which she didn't bother trying to hide her disdain as she looked at the Punisher, "you must be her bitched up mom. Can't say I can be surprised where she got her looks from, but from your stuck-up attitude, I can see why she can't stand being around you...!" 

"E-E-Easy Kari," Shito raised his hands insistantly towards the volatile, butch-looking woman as she began crackling with chaotic Dark Force energies as she glared at Sakura heatedly, "she saved her, remember? You can cut her some slack after all for saving our boss..."

The Punisher scoffed, rolling her eyes before making her way towards the Dragonbird in order to set Mōka down. "Faggots, both of you."

This garnered mixed reaction from the V-14.

Those who had more of an empathetic side tended to wince and flinch at the Hankami's choice of words. After all, by now they understood Karitori had a very volatile temper. Not only was the Punisher insulting her, but she was also insulting her object of affection. The leaders were sensible enough to understand that another fight, especially between allies, was unneeded and detrimental. Shou, in particular, was slightly alarmed upon hearing the words, and he was quick to raise a protesting hand up. "My Lady--!"

"It's okay!" The Punisher waved him off, not even sparing him a glance. "I enjoy men, they enjoy women! You are what you eat!"

And then, there was those who were less sympathetic.

Genesis, who had been watching the whole scene in slight boredom, had doubled over and burst out laughing at the Punisher's statement. She clutched her stomach, trying to keep herself from falling to the floor. At the sound of it, Shou was quick to round on her with an annoyed glare. "Genesis!" He hissed. But the female Daitenshi continued to laugh without abandon, eventually falling on her back. Her stomach was starting to hurt from it.

"Y-you are what you eat, huh?! I can't b-believe she just said that!"

And despite being the most nearer to Karitori...

"PAHAHAHAHA~!!!" Oliver, after getting over his own drama, had started laughing loud and hard. He had his head tilted up to the sky, his palms over his face as his own shoulders heaved with each and every "ha" emitted. "I ca... I can't breathe...!!" Eventually, he fell over on his back, the black hilarity too much for him. "Oh, God...!!"

Anton had to pull away from Hyōryū and clasp both hands to his mouth in order to ensure that Karitori wouldn't give him an early grave. Angelika was the most composed of them, but that didn't keep her from having to turn away herself in order to keep the upward corner of her mouth from showing. At the very least, they were trying to be considerate...

"T-That's rich, hahahahaha!" Hyōryū herself couldn't contain her laughter, gafawing with the rest of the crowd who were unlucky to fall prey to Genesis' instigation of the mockery to the Punisher's joke. 

THUD!

Yusuke had fallen off of the Dragonbird in his own fit of laughter, much to Rika's chagrin. "I-I'm so sorry..!!" He stammered, trying to stop himself. But the more he attempted to, the more he continued to laugh. "Th-that was just so funny!!" The display made the V-14 pilot place hands to her face in order to cover the embarrassed blush that had crossed her face.

"Y-Yusuke-san..."

Even the police officers and Avaron, who had been busy tending to the rest of the Dragonbirds within the hangar, had to fight in order to stifle their chuckles, lest they wanted the Dark Energy user to approach them.

Shinshin, obviously didn't seen the humor in it, but he did sense something else. His eyes suddenly drew towards the most vicious, unforgiving glare come off of the dark blue-black-violet fire-like aura on Karitori. He knew the sensation well enough during his battle with Kunō: Killing Intent

Shito stepped a few steps back in sync with Yajū, as Karitori began to cause the entirety of the chamber to bend and twist, the air seemed to siphon around her, as if it was sucking the oxygen out of it. Crackles bore through the atmosphere of the hangar, and the expansive chamber seemed a lot smaller than it used to be...

"Take...that...back...you...incestual...bitch!" Karitori growled out, loud enough that everyone in the hangar could hear her voice echo. If seen clearly, her body crackling as violently as if one was consumed by dark blue-black hellfire, her teeth ground across the molars, and her canines baring in a carnal way.

The laughter stopped immediately once the dark energy began seeping in.

Avaron's eyes in particular widened in shock as the aura washed over. The encounters with the Monitor hadn't been so quick to leave her mind, and thus it wasn't unnatural for multiple beads of sweat to form and fall down her face at an incredible rate. It wasn't unnatural for her breathing to slow, or her heart to begin accelerating. Then again, the squad that was with her were also suffering from similar effects. Some of them even began to take a few steps back, trying to keep their balance even as the chamber around them seemed to surrender under the effects of the energy released. She was almost tempted to grip her sidearm and fire it straight into the woman's head just to make it stop. But even she knew that was a foolish move.

"Damn it... Miss Nihilist is going to get us all killed if she keeps this up...!!" She growled under her breath, knowing that she was powerless to stop any feud from taking place.

Only the Punisher herself seemed to be unaffected. She had to stop in her tracks, as the Dragonbird itself was getting restless. Rika, who was suffering just about the same effects under the energy as the police squad were, had switched her attitude from embarrassed to panicked slowly but surely. She gripped the feathers tightly as it abruptly stood up, flaring its wings up without warning and moving its legs up and down in stomping motions. "Oh, no, no, no..." She said, her voice fearful. "Karitori, please, calm down! It doesn't do well when it's near dark energy! You have to calm down!"

The Punisher only looked over her shoulder, remaining silent. But the smile and the malice in her eyes made it very clear that she didn't regret her words and she was daring Karitori to attack her.

"I guess you need your ass kicked, don't ya?! Fair enough!-"

SHFT-SHFT-SHINK-SHINK!

"Don't do it, Karitori-san," Shadō spoke in a low, yet empathetic tone as he held his blade close to her spine, its Shikai properties already absorbing the radiating Dark Energies as if it was honey, as well as his own body's proximity, "she's not worth your anger..."

"The Inner Circle is to blame for Mōka-san's condition, not her mother's," Shinshin spoke in a stoic tone, as he stared with unquivering resolve as he stood in the face of her anger and soaked it like a sponge. His natural affinites with the Tamajutsu Arts allowed him to do so with little consequence, and slowly but surely, allowed Shadō to absorb what was left of her exuding power and himself to calm her down by proximate presence, "we should all be grateful that this many of us have lived through this treacherous assault. It isn't the time to clash," Shinshin then turned his eye to stoically glare sideways at the Punisher's malicious visage, "even if some people deserve it more than others..."

"Tch!" Karitori finally huffed as she relaxed her muscles and let go of her power, allowing the room to return back to normalcy, "I get it, okay? I'll settle this when we're not all in mortal peril..."

Sheathing their blades in sync, Shadō and Shinshin nodded to each other with rapt agreement that she was stable, before turning to walk back to their original positions, leaving Karitori to roll her eyes and walk to the far side of the hangar, causing a good dozen of the Dragonbird forces to part ways to let the volatile woman pass. 

However, Shinshin apparently wasn't done, as stopped just beside the Punisher before he returned to his original spot, "I know you're an intimate partner to a good ally of our organization, and you're on peaceful terms with the Soul Societies. But threaten my comrades again, I assure you, that no amount of power and age will be enough to save you from me should you purposely rouse a confrontation again, especially in the midst of so many non-deities," continuing his walk, he additionally noted, "just thought to let you know, Senkuko of Izanami..."

If the Punisher had been within an earlier mindset, she would've not hesitated on incinerating him right where he stood.

But Shin'en's words had still struck a chord within her. She had to keep in mind that it was her fault that the mortals acted like they did towards her. She had to remind herself that if she wanted to be revered, as the Hankami had been before, she would have to change herself. The worst she allowed herself to do was send a glare to Shinshin's back and curl her fingers slightly, having to fight to keep herself from wrapping around Shinshin's throat and tearing his vocal cords out. But she bit her lip and remained silent, refusing to fall victim to her temper like Karitori had just done.She sucked in breath through her nose and exhaled through her mouth in a sigh before moving over to place her daughter beside the calming Dragonbird and the three who were on it.

As she left the presence of the group in general, Angelika let out a breath she had not realized that she was holding. "Well..." She remarked. "Fresh out of recovery and we're already at each other's throats. It's good to see that everyone is spry and alert..."

"My sincerest apologies, kachō." Shou said solemnly, placing a hand over his heart and giving a humble bow to Angelika. "My Lady's tongue is sharp and severe to all that she crosses, even her own allies. Some of my subordinates--" He passed another glare to Genesis. "--find that a bit too amusing for their own good."

"I see that now." The German chuckled, looking over the corner of her eye as Oliver and Genesis finally got up off of the floor. She glanced over at the Punisher, who was kneeling before Mōka and trying to rouse her from her slumber. "It just makes me wonder how exactly the Soul Society managed to get on good terms with her."

"They're much more disciplined than we are, even if we're professionals to an extent..." Asuka muttered, having calmed her alarm now that the tension had ceased. "It's natural that they would respond to whatever jeers she throws at them in a controlled manner..." She placed a hand to her heart, shaking her head. "Not exactly the best feeling to be near a situation like that, and I'm hoping I don't have to face many more." The last thing she wanted was the wrath of a deity to fall on them just because of petty words...

"It could be that they have sharp tongued individuals of their own. I mean, before they fought each other for whatever reason, some of those Captains seemed to have a great disdain towards each other, if not mostly directed at us. I guess her type isn't a new thing for them to deal with," Zaii inquired aloud, scratching his head as he leaned against one of the Dragonbirds nearest to them, "after all, after several thousand year generations of Captains coming and going, is it any real change to have bastards and bitches moaning and insulting each other?"

This would be where another surprise would come to them - particularly, the Punisher herself.

"I leave you alone for only a brief moment, and you nearly cause a fight. Do I have to hold your hand every step you make, Senkuko?"

Abruptly, the Punisher's head snapped in the direction of the voice that spoke to her. Following afterwards was the form of the Slayer, garbed in his usual attire and missing his blade. He had his hands clapped together at chest level as he approached, his eyes twinkling in amusement. She was quick to let out a scoff at his statement. "Fancy meeting you here, Slayer." She said casually, directing her gaze back to her unconscious daughter. "What, was everything on your end too boring?"

"That familiar aura," Shinshin whispered as he looked over from Rika's Dragonbird's location, his widening as he found focus upon what he felt was unmistakably one of the Hankami, "the Slayer?! Why are other Hankami suddenly appearing?!" 

"That's a normal thing to expect," Shadō spoke aloud, his gaze coming upon the area where the Hankami were, crossing his arms as he solemnly took in the rare sight, "they are probably acknowledging the brief calm before the ultimate storm as a monumentous occasion. From what I understand about Red Sun Lore, they usually observe events of great tragedy or occasion, mostly due to how it would impact their world..."

"You make it sound like we are merely toys for their amusement," Shinshin hissed lowly as he glared at the Punisher and Slayer's forms, gripping one of his hands into a tight fist, "like we're nothing but bugs in the sight of their age-old accumulated, long-lived lives..."

"Until recently, that was the case," Shito stepped up to Shinshin's side, his own hands were stuffed in pockets but as he stared into Shinshin's eyes, he muttered lowly to escape being heard by the said half-gods, "but everything changed when that day came. It was only because of the strong, beating heart and compassion of one Soul Reaper, that the fates of the universe changed, as well as the loss of their own immortality. The only thing they have left is their control over the nigh untamable sentient energy, Shinsei."

"So...they can...d-"

"Don't even think that, Samurai," Yajū growled out, his eyes glaring at Shinshin in more of a chastising way than an angry one, "they're tough sons of bitches and they don't crack like Soul Reapers do. Especially not our boss! She's the toughest of them all!"

"I'm glad your confidence in our leader is still solid, despite her being blindsided by a sealing spell," Shito spoke with an admiring tone, with a hint of a teasing quip at mentioning what happened.

"That was a dirty trick and you know it!" 

"It doesn't deny it happened to her! Aren't gods supposed to be all-knowing?!" 

"They're only half god, so naturally she didn't see it coming! No one saw it coming!"

"That just makes her more mortal than all-god-powerful!" 

"SHUT YOUR TRAP, YOU!"

Within a mere minute of arguing, the two began a comical cloud of flying fists and bodies, as they began fighting out their disagreement with their fists and flesh rather than through continued verbatum. This only caused Shinshin to stare blankly at the scene, before taking a grain of salt with what they said. Despite being reduced to a state capable of death or incapacitation, they were still a force to be reckoned with. The Hankami. Could they possibly tip the balance of this war to their favor? He could only wonder...

What happened next, however, made Shinshin's eyes widen with shock and pale in embarassment...

"HOLY CRAP! You're the Slayer!" Zaii shouted out, as his bare feet skidded nearly into the said Hankami himself, his eyes filled with stars of admiration that were nearly seen as borderline disturbing. Clasping his hands to a begging position, Zaii shouted aloud, "please, I want you to annoint one, no, ALL of my swords in the collective blood that you have spilled in your eons of existance! I want you to give me a BADASS sword like yours, or make mine even better! PLEASE hear my please, Overseer of all Mayhem, Conflict, and War!" 

Both the Punisher and the Slayer - especially the Slayer himself - was regarding the man with dumbfounded and surprised looks. They looked at one another for a brief moment, then back to the man, then back to each other. The female Hankami merely shrugged, turning back to Mōka and gently slapping the girl on the face to get a response. It was clear that he wasn't going to get much help from her.

So he regarded the man with a deadpan stare, cocking a slight eyebrow. "You're certain I'm capable of doing that?" He asked. "Are you really feeling that?"

"I'm feeling it, Slayer!!" The voice of another Hankami would come to their ears. Nearby heads turned to see the figure of the Melody standing perfectly balanced on Anton's head, though Anton himself wouldn't actually feel the weight. In fact, no one would've probably noticed him if he hadn't spoke.

"Melody, that's not a ride!!" The Punisher called back over her shoulder.

"Get off me!!" Anton growled, trying to glare upwards (although he couldn't actually see the Hankami from where he was).

"YESSSSS!" Zaii nodded his head in a violent way, dropping to his hands and knees as he began bowing before the Hankami, "grant me immense power! Give me badass blades! Annoint me! Do something spectacular that only the infamous Slayer of the Hankami would do!"

"Hey, you little bugger!" Hyōryū withdrew her two Jackal handguns and pointed them at the dancing Melody above Anton's head, cocking the safeties back as she glared comically at him, "get off my boyfriend's head or suffer the wrath of modern weaponry!" 

Within the slap, Mōka's eyes blinked a few times before she looked over at Sakura's face. She remembered the last thing was being struck by a sealing spell before being driven to unconsciousness from the pain. "You...carried me here...mother?" Not even acknowledging the fact she got slapped awake, Mōka was surprised her own mother whom she abhorred as much as she resented her, went to such lengths to keep her safe, "why?"

"Good question."

Despite her thought, the Punisher didn't let it be expressed through her face. She rolled her eyes, allowing herself to stand back up and fold her arms across her chest. "A thank you would've done wonders before my interrogation." She said sarcastically. "I mean, I did just done keeping your sorry ass from getting captured by those cannon fodder out there. The least you could do is give me some appreciation... for once."

"What do I look like, a prostitute?" The Slayer sniffed, deadpan glaring at the bowing man. "No freebees."

Whumpf!

For emphasis, he stepped on the back of the man's head to pin his face to the floor, albeit in a more humorous show more than rude and hurtful. Truth be told, he didn't mind his own personal fans. But it didn't mean that he would resort to giving them special benefits just because someone walked up to him and asked him to.

Even at the sight of the guns, the Melody didn't flinch. Instead, he contorted his lips into a pout as he looked down at her, ignoring the annoyed Anton. "But I don't want to..." He said, almost as if he was being told by his mother that he needed to get a shot or his hair cut. The way he sounded as well as the his face gave off the innocence only a child could.

"MFF?!" Zaii felt his head faceplant into the hangar's floor by the effortless stomp by the bland-caring Slayer. After his body spasmed from pain and the comical need for oxygen, one of his arms instinctively grasped for the Slayer's heel. The other one swept out in a powerful arc to hit the base of the Slayer's heel, intending on sending the man's foot off his head and propel him onto his backside.

"Forgive my rudeness, Lord Slayer!" Zaii spoke aloud in enthusiasm, as his face would face the Slayer's relatively unaffected by the show of brutality, before grinning in a feral expression, "I forgot that you don't appreciate heartfelt fawning...but the expression of force itself!" 

"I don't care if you're wanting to or not, but you're gonna move whether or not you like it, brat!" Hyōryū shook her guns at the boy in emphasis, hoping to get the point across as the scene was irritating her as much as it was for Anton. 

"Appreciation for what?! By bearing the pain and agony of you and my father?! You have to be idiotic to believe that any parents would expect their child to be grateful after condemning them with such a terrible burden!" Mōka snarled out to her face, fixating with a cold stare of dispassion to anything she had done for her, "I will not instinctively be grateful to anyone but my friends. They never wished me to bear anything they can bear on their own. The deliverance of personal pain and anguish to another's back...is the act of a coward than someone of authority!" 

Mōka was going to make it very hard for the Punisher to have a civil conversation.

Briefly, the Punisher's fingers tightened on her arms. She hung her head down, her bangs overshadowed by her eyes. She remained silent for a short yet agonizing moment, saying nothing and continuing to choose her words carefully. She knew that if she said the wrong thing, an argument would ensue once again. This time, she would have to keep her temper in check as well as her daughter's. But Mōka's hostility towards her was going to be quite the obstacle.

She took in a deep breath, knelt down to her daughter's and began.

"The Hankami... they were considered to be Mother's greatest creations and gifts." She said softly. "When Izanami died and was sent to the dimension known as "Limbo", her appearance spawned our kind from the very dirt and air of the realm itself. After we, the deities of the Red Sun, were separated from her flesh, she gathered all of us and used her power to give us our respective "roles" in order to maintain sovereignty within different parts of the universe. Each of them were made to take up the position of leadership, having their respective responsibility. That influence would spread down to generation to generation, until it became natural tradition for our people."

Despite the display of force, all it really did was lift the Slayer's leg off - a mild gesture to him. However, he couldn't help but be a little surprised at the sudden change of expression as well as the fact that he had dared to even lay hands on the deity. He took a few steps back, his hands in his pockets as he looked on. "You're very persistent, I'll give you that..." He said coolly, setting his foot back down. "And I'm flattered that you remembered just how I operate. But I'm still--"

His statement would be cut off as he picked up the words the Punisher was speaking, his ears perking up and his eyes directing themselves over his shoulder. "--huh..?"

"I still don't want to--" The Melody began, but abruptly stopped himself as he too picked up what was being said by his sister. He and Anton shared looks directed at the Hankami as she continued to speak to her daughter, uncaring of who was watching them at the time. "Wait, is she...?" This prompted Anton's irritation at him to fade, surprised curiosity overtaking him.

"You felt it, didn't you?" The Punisher asked rhetorically. "There was something in the back of your mind that let you know of your own role. To ensure that there was always dominance over submission, a greater over the lesser, whatever. Whatever troubles you suffered, whatever feelings triggered by reactions within yourself along the way wasn't because I was pushing something on you that was too much. It was because you were simply too weak or didn't know how to cope. I gave advice, tried to push you in the right direction so you could understand. But you began to choose self-gratification over your duty, trying to seek comfort within the presence of the very beings we were supposed to govern. At the height of the tensions between the Hankami and the Korai, you disappeared. No warning, no "good-bye"... you just left both me and your father the moment the slaughter began."

Although her words were still calm and composed, the bitterness was clear. "I had never seen the Nihilist so upset before. He was the one who had at least tried to give you the life you wanted, even as his own duties got in the way. He fought a war in which he was forced to help participate in the slaughter of his own kind. He had to see Hankami, even ones who didn't want to participate in the war, get murdered all because of the Reaper and his followers. In the end, he came out of it only to find that his seed had turned on him and his family. He went out of his way to defend both me and you against the Reaper in that fight. You tried to kill him then left us to fend for ourselves. You might as well have sided with the one who wanted the sole destruction of the world if it meant some measly form of compensation for what you weren't given."

She leaned in a bit closer, her gaze and tone growing a bit hard. "Where's the fucking justice in any of that, Komori?! Tell me why I shouldn't call you out as a turncoat who'd willingly turn on even these bunch of friends," She motioned towards the V-14. "If it meant doing something beneficial to her!! Give me one reason, just one!!"

"W-Wait, you got it all wrong...uh..." Shito tried to speak up, but could feel the ire within the atmosphere, emanating from the woman's core. He bowed his head in shame, having not known about her in the least as far as her past went. Had Mōka really condemned all of humanity, both material and spiritual, just so she would escape her duties? 

Yajū grinded his molars as he glared at the Punisher for speaking bad about his boss. Despite the revelations, he never really cared where she came from. He just knew she laughed and cried with the rest of them, and even appeared to be on their plane of existance as the rest of them. So what if they condemned her of running away from a life of total domination, Yajū couldn't imagine how boring it would be to be born with power to never have it tested in a truer way...

Hyōryū lowered her guns and felt a knot in her stomach build. She had never met someone so bent on destroying her family when they were just doing what came naturally. Was she even worthy of being a member of the organization, if all she was capable was running away from duty and fate? Would she turn on them within time?

Shadō stayed stoically silent, but chose not to speak, both out of respect of a familial matter and not one to pry into other people's lives and how they made their decisions. 

Shinshin could only turn his face away, finding himself balling his fists instinctively, as he almost felt like it was a situation he could identify with. He had desperately wanted acceptance and maternal love from his mentor and surrogate mother, but she ran away without a word or sound. No explanation but simple disappearance. Could she blame the Hankami for resenting her choice? 

Mōka bowed her own head, her eyes filling up with tears as she recalled what had transpired. She knew of the bloody war her race, no, her family had went through against both the Korai and themselves. She had been too withdrawn and in denial to accept the responsibilities that were laid out before her, and what little comforts given by her father during his work, never satisfied her. Had she been entirely wrong in leaving them? Wouldn't the world not have suffered so much if she just swallowed her sadness into the void that her heart belonged? "I...I can't..."

"You've got a lot of guts, talking shit to her like that!" A voice suddenly penetrated the air, as Mōka's overshadowed expression widened in shock and lifted up from where she kneeled. Karitori made a path, but not out of fear of her Dark Energy being unleashed, but out of the tear-stained angry expression she bore. With teeth bared and barely controlled grief held in check, Karitori snarled out at Sakura as she reached her within several strides, "what kind of precipice do you think you're standing on, sister?! Don't you remember what you, and your fucking brothers and sisters almost committed?! You were about to do the exact thing you wanted her to do: Unasked Fucking Control over Every Fucking thing!

While I believe running away is something that shouldn't ever be done, under any circumstance, I know for a fact what she went through. She poured her heart and soul to me...just as I did with her! I was within the darkest corner of existance, as my childhood was robbed from me and dominated by entities wearing faces of humanity when they were no better than demons! She...she rescued me...from my isolation and madness! She took upon that pain and cried with me! You have no right to speak shit about her!" 

"That's enough, Kari-chan!" Mōka spoke aloud, as tears began rolling down her own face, as she stood up with effort. Walking past her mother without touching her, she limped over and wrapped her arms around Karitori as she began to cry. Turning her face back to the Punisher, without a hint of malice, as she spoke as sincerely as she could, "I admit I was wrong to run away, mother. I was acting out of needless cowardice and selfishness when I didn't come to help fight with you, or help fulfill my duties. But...it was the most stupid, fucking, concieted role that Izanami has ever damned me with! I would've done you a favor of trying to rip away all freedoms and priviledges that all mortals are deemed to hold close to them, and detachedly control everything at my finger tips as if I'm some god with no request or need to exist other than to show how powerless others are!"

Turning her head around, she smiled through her tears as she rubbed Karitori's back and head, locking acknowledging gazes with Shito and the like, "So I swallowed my guilt and started over. I bonded with mortals around me, and purposely kept my origins and true power a secret. With only certain things known about me, I lived life through the eyes of a mortal and I saw what we all had missed. If being a god means losing one's self and heart in the process, then I have never been a true Hankami to begin with! I wouldn't have deserved this power of Domination if I never knew what I was controlling felt about it, nor would I have known the ramifications of reckless overcomposing pressure in moving living beings like pieces of a game board!"

Locking an angry gaze back at the Punisher, she gritted her teeth as she let go of Karitori and stood to fully face her, with only a few square meters of distance in between them, "I'm not like you, mother! I don't have a detached sense of apathy towards the world of mortals. I could simply flick my wrist and bend them to my whim, but that's not what being a deity is really about, is it?! Being true gods, is becoming beings that are looked up to, and those with power to protect and stretch their strength over those who don't have any. Only someone as weak and pathetic wouldn't admit this and would squash anyone who doesn't agree. Accepting what is right and wrong, no matter how bitter it tastes, is what being righteous is all about!" 

There was a thick silence.

Rika and Yusuke had been paralyzed by the tension that permeated the area, regarding all involved with nervous and alarmed eyes. The heat of the situation was beginning to take its toll on them, and they began to fear if there really would be a fight breaking out between either god-tier entity at this point. The unreadable gaze from the mother Hankami did not do well to help either of their fears. The only one sitting on the Dragonbird and was unaffected was Shinji (who had apparently paid no attention to the scene what so ever).

Angelika had put on a face of apathy as she listened. She herself really didn't have much of an opinion on the matter. Everyone had their own personal problems, some of which probably had gotten stronger in the course of conflicts such as this. Emotions coming out to the surface was natural and needed to happen from time to time. Her own fight with Ryūketsu had spoken that much.

Anton himself was someone who regarded the entire situation with his own brand of apathy. Because it wasn't a personal matter, it really didn't affect him as much as it probably would have anyone else. However, he did understand the severity of the situation. Mōka had probably lost credit as a leader with the Punisher's statements, even with any rebuttal. After all, she had been willing to keep her status as a Hankami secret. What else could she have been hiding from them?

Shou and Asuka, having freshly made apparent friends with Mōka, could not help but flinch in empathy and disappointment. On one hand, they sympathized with her due to her unwillingness to suppress the will of mortals. On the other hand, she had ultimately betrayed her family and essentially left them to die. It was really difficult in trying to choose a side under the circumstances, and they certainly didn't plan on it considering they both were supposed to be leaders as well.

Oliver and Genesis, however, each sported looks of slight disdain. Neither of them liked drama very much, and the scene in front of them was enough to bring out the disgust on their faces. The former was immediate to voice that, although under his breath as not to antagonize anyone. "Sheesh, just like a couple of fucking broads... all you need is some popcorn and a chair, and this would be a good soap opera..."

It was at that moment the Punisher did something that the majority of them probably would have never expected them to do.

She chuckled.

It wasn't the malicious, taunting chuckle that she would've given an enemy or an ally she hated. It wasn't bitter or bittersweet. Instead, it was the laughter emitted when someone had said something of positive confirmation and reinforcement. "Irony..." She said casually. "I just got done learning that little fact a while back."

"Then why act so hypocritical and call me out for past sins?! I know what I've done is wrong, but for all my power I can't take back what has been set in stone! What do you want from me if I have already failed my one sole duty as a Hankami! What is it?!" Mōka growled out with frustration, as her eyes were mixed with both perplexion and anger at her mother's response.

The next action would be shocking.

The Punisher wiped away her smile, regarded Mōka for a minute more, took in a deep breath in mental preparation...

...and fell onto her hands and knees, earning an amount of gasps from the audience. Her head was bowed, and her eyes were closed. This was an action what no one would've thought the prideful and arrogant woman would think of doing; bowing to someone out of humility.

"What has been written in stone cannot be taken back." She said softly. "What actions that have befallen the world cannot be reversed. I had been so concerned in seeing you grow into a fine and strong leader for the Hankami, that I had failed to recognize what you had personally felt on the matter. Mōka Komori, leader of Omega and subordinate of Angelika Hartmann... can you forgive me?"

Within the shadows would be another observer. Two sets of eyes could be seen from the darkness, watching and observing with silent curiosity.

Mōka's, along with everyone around her, widened her eyes at the show of such humility. It didn't sound like a facade, like she used to play on the hearts of mortals alike. It sounded morose, and...sad...genuinely sad. Mōka closed her eyes shut, as tears rolled down her cheeks as she began to understand her mother a bit more. Despite all of her vices and tendencies to violence, she really did love her blood and kin. 

With shaking legs, Mōka dropped to her knees and wrapped her arms around the bending form of Sakura, pulling her close into a loving embrace. Whispering within a shaking voice, she spoke lowly, "I am the one who also needs forgiveness, mom. Your little Sayū has done a terrible thing by running away, and leaving her mommy and daddy all alone, hiding and never speaking to you. Will you forgive this unworthy vessel from which you bore from your womb, mom?"

"!"

Now, it was Punisher's turn to be surprised.

Her eyes widened as she felt the arms of Mōka wrap around her form and pull her close. But it wasn't long before that surprise faded away. She smiled, sliding one arm out of the hug in order to return it. "Yeah. I forgive you." She replied readily. "Just make sure you talk to Nihilist, too, whenever you get the chance, and we'll be all set." She fell into silence for a minute, closing her eyes and basking in the warmth of her daughter's hug.

However, it only took a few seconds before she added in one last comment.

"You're still a faggot, though."

"MOM!" Mōka immediately pulled away, a disapproving and angry pouting face made as she huffed, "we were having a moment!"

"If she has a problem with it, Mōka," Karitori smiled, having wiped her eyes as she cracked her knuckles together in a beckoning visage, "I don't mind decking her a few times for you...!"

"Oh hush, Kari-chan," Mōka stuck her tongue out at Karitori, discouraging her from invoking a battle of large magnitude within an enclosed, occupied space, "besides, as much as you don't like it, I still like men. You just happen to be an exception, gorgeous."

"D-Don't say stuff like that so blatantly!" Karitori shouted out in a comical scene of bashfulness and frustration. Much to her chagrin, nearly everybody began to laugh once more, causing her to shrink down into a chibi size and try to ineffectively hide from the laughter. 

"Well, what do you know...?"

Avaron, having watched the entire thing from afar, couldn't help but chuckle at the scene as she folded her arms across her chest. "Some of them do have a heart, after all." She commented to her squadmates, earning slight chuckles from some of them. "I was almost certain that we'd have to deal with yet another fight between deities right in our own base."

"Yeah, like there's not enough going around already..." One of them muttered, starting to walk away from the group in general. Idly, he took a peek around the Dragonbird they were closest to. "With all of these suped-up bastards, I'm surprised we aren't dead ye-- OH WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT?!"

Abruptly, his tone took on a more panicked one, and he immediately pointed his gun at something behind and beside the Dragonbird. His shout would draw the attention of nearly every one of his colleagues, reaching to the V-14's range of hearing. The police officers swiftly ran over to his side, fearing another possible threat.

"What? What is it?" Avaron demanded.

The officer that had shouted motioned with his pistol at what he saw. "Th-that! That... thing laying there beside the Dragonbirds!! It's staring right at--!!"

When it spoke with an almost ethereal and haunting feminine voice, all of them froze.

"The reactions you dear mortals show casting eyes upon our form is most amusing. Are there not humans you have seen that display the same visages as we do?"

That was when the figure, disregarding the weapons the police held at it, made its way past the shocked officers and approaching the V-14 group in order for all to see it. It was a pair of torsos conjoined at the waist, walking with all four hands. The torso nearest to them had white hair and blue eyes, while the one that would have been still looking at the police had white hair and red eyes. That was more than enough reason to regard this particular being as a freak of nature, a monster.

Some of the Hankami would recognize it immediately. Others, and especially the V-14, most likely would not.

"...Asuka-dono." Angelika deadpanned.

"Yes, Angel-chan?"

"Do you see what I see?"

"If you see an extreme case of conjoined twins, then yes."

"I thought so. Get me my cigars."

"W-What is it?! Should I shoot it?!" Hyrōyū's eyes suddenly bulged out comically as she raised her guns to point at the crab-walking freak of nature. Seeing them both look around in humor just made her sweatdrop in fear, as if they would suddenly shoot flames or lazers out of their faces without warning. She stepped into Anton's shadow, just to be safe, in case her boyfriend would be able to protect where she couldn't. 

Others has a series of ranging extreme expressions: While those of Omega Team raised brows and eyes bulged, others looked on in nervous wonder and apathetic indifference. All in all, it was quite the spectacle to see such a bizarre form being taken upon by a Hankami. 

"Can you really blame them?" Mōka asked in a rhetorical tone, as her eyes blankly stared upon the returned appearance of the Oracle. Having not seen her since she was a child, Mōka felt herself do a doubletake in seeing the bizarre appearing figure of the non-legged Hankami crab-walk over to the three of them, "I mean...with all honestly during my time among mortals, material and spiritual, I haven't seen anything quite like you, Oracle."

"O...Oracle?" Anton repeated, staring in his own shock at the bizarre and disturbing visage of the creature. "You mean... that thing is supposed to be a Hankami?!"

"You are quite correct, child of Stalin." The red-eyed torso, the one who had made the initial remark, replied to him. It tilted its head to the side as it maneuvered itself so that it would have full view of those in front of it, smirking. "We have served as witnesses to time as it has passed by. We have laid eyes on many events of great magnitude, whether within the fabric of the Material World, Spiritual World, or otherwise. In this time, we have wished to reunite with you and participate in the reunion of family, niece Sayū."

"We initially feared that sister Punisher would attempt a confrontation with her offspring." The blue-eyed one added, her voice having a more calm and serene edge compared to the other's confident and stronger one. "So we permitted the Slayer and Melody in order to ensure that she would not do anything detrimental for her allies in this war the shadows of the Four Horsemen wage against existence."

This made the Punisher scoff, folding her arms across her chest and looking away. "Really? You sent them to make sure I didn't get into trouble? I'm not that stupid, Ora."

"Your recent choice in men says otherwise..." The Slayer muttered, prompting his sister to glare at him with a twitching eye and the Melody to giggle in amusement.

"Exactly how she got it on with the Reaper, I have no idea," Mōka spoke with a shiver, as she sideglanced blankly at her mother, "the guy's a freaking asshole and gives me the creeps..."

Only one other person didn't get affected by the Oracle's appearance...

"Whoa! How does that work?!" Zaii asked with a bewildered fascination as he bent down to look at the smooth backside of both overturned torsos, leaning to look at one face and then the other as he asked, "do you both take turns eating, or breathing, or is that something that doesn't matter to a Hankami? If your name is Oracle, can you see my future?! Am I as amazing as I am now and will be later?!"

"...I've got a question." Genesis deadpanned. "How do you function? Is it a case of a hamster scurrying on a wheel or mice dancing on piano keys?" If the Hankami decided to vaporize him right then and there for approaching them in such a manner, she wouldn't have been surprised. Fortunately for Zaii, they seemed to regard him with a mixture of surprise and curiosity, looking from one to the other and then back at him.

The red-eyed one smiled. "You wish to know the possible fruits and thorns of your upcoming future, shadow of Ares? Come closer, and lend me your face..." Her voice would sound sincere and genuine. But unbeknownst to the rest of them, there was mischief coursing through her mind. The other Hankami, and especially the blue-eyed half, had varying degrees of skepticism and curiosity on their faces as they watched.

Feeling mesmerized, if not slightly naive, as his eyes were drawn to the pair of red ones locking onto him. Zaii bent down so that the red-eyed half of the Hankami could reach out to him, and his eyes were aligned with hers, with genuinely interested eyes filled with desire to know his own future.

Everyone held their breath, with mixed skeptism and alarm at once, as they would wait to see what this bizarrely shaped child of Izanami would do to Zaii, rather than do for him. 

With a slow hand, the red-eyed half reached out and pressed a palm to his forehead, closing her crimson eyes in pondering. There was no feel of energy emitted, passive or aggressive. There was no sensation that Zaii would feel coursing through his mind or body. It was only a few seconds before the red-eyed half hummed to herself. "Ah, yes..." She purred. "I sense that war flows within your nerves, aligned with the blood that courses so quickly through your veins. I see a very capable soldier with potential like no other..." She opened her eyes, tilting her head to the side. "Yes, I can see it now. Your sword will become your arm as you slay armies upon armies of your enemy. You will be regarded as a nightmare to all opposition and the highest pedestal upon your fellow man, idolized by both male and female alike. If you continue this path, even your very leaders shall find the humility of bowing to you..."

Angelika froze up immediately in the midst of blowing out smoke from a cigar.

"...what."

"The hell is she smoking?" Hyōryū blurted out, as her mind tried to comprehend what was just said. Either the Hankami was lying, acting crazy, or she was blurting out prophetic text yet to be written onto stone. Looking over at Zaii, she elbowed Anton as she asked incredulously, "you're really going to be stood up like that, huh?! How can Anton be ousted by a woman-bashful, two-bit sword for hire?!" 

"He technically was known as a myth back within Tendan," Shinshin spoke out truthfully, his arms crossed over as he stared impassively, if not interested in the words of what is supposed to be sacred and unheard, "but slaying an armies is nothing to be entirely impressed about when they are composed by thugs, criminals, and nasty scum dug up from the earth. After all, I think we all lost count of his kill count after it exceeded fifty thousand..."

"That sounds a bit much, even for that man," Shadō muttered aloud, but didn't looked all that interested in the revelation. Looking over at Mōka, he could tell she didn't put too much credit, but none-the-less did a similar double-take that her fellow V-14 leader had, "and I don't think our bosses agree so much either..."

"I-Idolized?" Shito blinked a few times in disbelief at a star-struck Zaii, as he stood up tall and proud, "that...man...idolized?! Now that just-"

"-isn't right!" Yajū growled out, as his form stalked forward, having well recovered since his time being humiliated by the Fullbringer in his last battle. With glaring eyes, Yajū came face-to-face to Zaii, causing the other to smile challenginly back at him, "how can this idiot be so damned famous when I've obviously initiated more carnage than he could ever stomach?!"

"If you're so anxious to get your little peek under the wrappings, why don't you go for it, tough guy?!" Karitori asked out in a goading tone, though obviously with a mocking expression as she smiled tauntingly at him, "because obviously you're so much more of a man than he is, aren't you? Or did I forget who faced off against that Paladin and actually got back up off his ass? Oh yeah, it was him!" 

"If that's the way you're going to be, fine!" Yajū growled out, pushing Zaii to the side and squatting on his haunches as he glared fully upon the red-eyed Oracle, holding his hands out expectantly, "go ahead and tell me my fortune! Show me that I'm a terror in the future that I should be!" 

"This oughta be good," Mōka whispered to the Punisher, as she smiled in a preconcieved notion that the poor subordinate of hers wouldn't get what he asked for. 

"I almost feel sorry for them." The other Hankami murmured back, looking on at Yajū as he stepped up to the Oracle next. "They'd better hope she's in a serious mood delivering those prophecies..."

"Ow!" Anton complained, passing a slight glare to Hyōryū. "What do you want from me, woman?! So it looks like things are going to go his way from here on out! It's not like--"

However, he stopped himself to take a glance over at Zaii and the smirk on his face as he had regarded Yajū. His content expression was instantly wiped away, replaced by a deadpan glare and an insincere smile. "...yeah, you know what? I think I'm going up there." Abruptly, he walked away to the direction of the Oracle. "Hey, Yajū! I'm up after you!"

"Looks like someone doesn't have a big enough sword, huh, sis?" Oliver snickered, looking on in amusement as he folded his arms across his chest. He looked on patiently as the red-eyed half reached out to touch palms with one of his own, wondering just what exactly was going to come out of it. "Going to spoil it for themselves if they get handed their future just like--"

However, he abruptly silenced himself once he saw Angelika walk briskly past them towards the line, his eyes widened in shock and surprise. "Hey, wait a minute. Nazi--?!"

"If it's my future to bow to the likes of him," Angelika readily cut off, her tone expressing annoyance. "I will kill myself immediately!"

Once again, the red-eyed half hummed to herself before speaking the words. "This one... I sense the desire of blood and the need for war burning just as brightly within you just as it does for your comrade. But your blood... seems far too... tainted, impure. Your future as it is does not hold promises of wealth and well-being, but despair and demise. While in the midst of fighting your enemy, you will be subdued and captured by the most vengeful of your opposition. Your body will be ravaged in every way deemed possible, your soul will be extinguished in the most torturous of ways, and your corpse will be consumed by the crows. Because of your brutality, your death will and shall be mourned by no one. In time, you will be nothing more than a forgotten memory..."

While whistling to himself, Zaii could only look slightly taken aback how horrible a fate was dealt out to his comrade. Before anyone could touch him, Yajū bowed his head and his body comically paled over. Crawling away, he found a nearby wall and curled up to it, muttering to himself, "I...gues I should've seen that coming..."

"That's what you get, loser!" Karitori taunted the depressed man, laughing as she stuck her tongue out childishly to him while placing her right hand out in a L stance to further add insult to injury, "don't mess with stuff you're not supposed to know, unless you're damned prepared for the consequences!" 

"Took the words out of my mouth," Mōka whispered aloud as she locked surprised eyes at Angelika as she stepped up right after the broken man while Zaii kept puffing up his chest and reveled in his moment of inflated ego silently, "wonder why she's going through with this? To humor herself, or dare Aunt Orie to do something?"

"Huh?" Anton looked over his shoulder to see his boss standing behind him. "You're going, too?" He asked rhetorically, immediately stepping aside in order to allow Angelika to pass him. "Well, if you are, then I can wait to go last."

With a curt nod, Angelika allowed herself to step forward to the Oracle, both of which were sporting slightly surprised looks. She knelt downwards so that her forehead would be within reach. "The future can be changed at any time." She said smoothly and with confidence, although keeping her tone respectful. "So I will not fear whatever you show me, nor will I allow my vision to sway me in any way."

"Very well, spearhead of V-14." The red-eyed half said, reaching out to grasp the woman's forehead. The mischief was still within her, however, although the woman's seriousness lessened it to some degree. "I do not mind passing knowledge to those who have endured as much as you and your colleagues have. The responsibility, however, will rest entirely on your shoulders."

But all would change once her palm touched the German's forehead.

All of it happened within the blink of an eye.

One moment, everything was calm as it could have been. But within that one second, the quiet was replaced by a loud static noise that would've rendered sensitive ears deaf. The lights around them had blinked on and off without warning, accompanied by the static noise every time they turned on. Throughout it all, a power and presence filled the room. Even the Hankami, those with vast power and mental resistance, would feel the overwhelming sensation of otherworldly terror.

Then, after that second passed, silence. Everything was consumed in darkness. Everyone had lost all sensation and feeling, spiritual or otherwise. All they could do was listen to the inhuman voice as it spoke out for all to hear.

"THE NIGHTMARE BEGINS..."

"THE BANSHEE SCREAMS..."

"THE BEAST AWAKENS..."

"THE DEMON IS SET FREE..."

"ALL THAT IS HUMAN SHALL DIE UNDER HIS RULE..."

"AND HIS HEAVEN SHALL BE YOUR ETERNAL HELL."

Then, normalcy returned.

BOOM!

Angelika let out a short yell as her body was thrown away, her back smashing into the nearby wall. Upon collision, smoke and dust was kicked up enough for her visage to be masked from view. It was a rather violent reaction to what had been an unexpected turn of events.

But nothing would've compared to the looks of horror the Melody, Slayer, Punisher and both parts of all sported as it ended. It hadn't been just some supernatural scare. Everyone would feel as if their minds and souls had been ripped apart and reconstructed several times over, despite only several seconds having passed. Even the strongest of their kind would not have been able to withstand the brief yet torturous onslaught.

"Wh... what the fuck...?" The Punisher whimpered. "W-what was--?!"

"...that...was new...and that's saying something!" Mōka rubbed her head briefly, as if she had been assailed by the worst hangover, mixed in with the pain of the sealing power that had held sway over her not too long ago, and then magnified her worst nightmares at an undiscernable speed. When she locked her eyes upon where Angelika had flown, her eyes widened with horror and she leaped over to her side within a ear-popping Haya movement, grasping a hold of the German's shoulders with concern in her voice, "Angie! Angelika, are you alright?!" 

"Is the boss alright? What did that Oracle just do?" Hyōryū asked groggily, as she had been knocked onto her backside from the traumatic experience, and saw that even the avian mounts were cascaded around the room with groaning soldiers atop them, "did everyone get the number of that mind fuck that just hit me?!" 

"That force...isn't anything like I've felt before," Shinshin gasped aloud, as he turned to find Shadō on his knees, bending down to pick his brother-in-arms up to his feet, "what force was that?"

"It felt similar to the void I wander to and from, but I've never felt this entity before," Shadō muttered lowly, as sweat beaded down his forehead from the premonition that had been cascaded upon them all, "but it felt nothing but foreboding, I'm sure..."

"Owwww...," Zaii felt himself rubbing his head before looking over at Yajū with a set of bewildered eyes. Unlike the majority of them, he didn't look as affected as the rest of them but definitely showed a look of bewilderment or shock cross his face, "you okay, Yajū?!" 

"Yeah, fine...just...felt eerily familiar," Yajū spoke aloud, as shivers ran up and down his spine, briefly giving him unexplained ecstacy and fear within his bones. His eyes crossed to Angelika, and could only look on in curiosity, "is the boss lady dead?"

"She wouldn't die from a freaking siezure, dipshit!" Karitori got to her own feet after rubbing her own head in protest to what had happened, jerking her arms away from the comforting hands of Shito, sending the man to wander over to his own boss's side to see what had happened.

Only a few of the Hankami would have understood what had happened, and the most prominent of them would be the Oracle.

Both halves now sported a look of terror on their face, their stomach on the ground and their hands holding both of their heads. Multiple beads of sweat could be seen on their skin, a signal of just how much they had been affected. The red-eyed half was the first one to speak, her voice shaking. "K-Kuritsu... was that--"

"It was..." After finally gaining breath to speak, Kuritsu lowered her hands from her head and managed to turn her head around to see the scene. Shou and Genesis were approaching their boss's side, though they did not move as quickly. There was a reason for this, for at the distance they were at, they could see what Mōka had probably missed. "We had known the Monitor had used such means to punish a particular individual until their penance and atonement for their sins had been fulfilled. How could we not have sensed it until it made its very presence known to us...?"

At the sound of Mōka's voice, Angelika raised her head up.

There were now two black pits where her eyes had used to be, with a black liquid seemingly dripping out of the sockets. The same liquid effect seemed to be happening from her slightly open mouth. If Mōka had backed up a little more, she would see that the German's arms had been oblierated. In their place, multiple shadow-like tentacles had formed, hovering over the Hankami menacingly. A continuous hissing could be heard as they moved and slithered about, almost as if they were sentient. Throughout it all, the ones nearest to them would feel an almost overwhelming presence, as if something was trying to swallow them hole.

"How had we not known that this was the mortal whose screams were louder than the millions within that river...?"

Angelika's bleeding mouth formed into a insane, malicous smile.

"Oh god...!"

With a sudden dawning of what had transpired and what had overcome her friend, she had a momentary visage of horror cross her face at seeing what had happened to her partner. With the black blood oozing out of sockets and orifices, she looked more like a creature out of a nightmare-inducing bedtime story than an actual entity. Even the Oracle had appeared more normal than this monstrocity that birthed itself from Angelika's body. 

But it didn't stop her from acting. 

VRRRROAAAAR!!!

With a sudden rise of her own Shinsei, she reared back her hands before slamming them into the entity's face and slammed Angelika's head back into the wall, as she began invoking her Gugen's power: Domination. As her body became emblazoned in a wrathful aura of her own, she began projecting her force into Angelika's body and subduing the presence back into Angelika's form. 

"You have no power here, Depraved One! Seal back into this one's form, for it is not your time to rise from your prison yet! It is by my Command that this be done!" Mōka shouted out in a hallowed voice, sounding as divine as it was terrifying, her hair flaring out and shining a brilliant crimson and her body blazing in flames that enraptured her fair skin and clothes without burning it. While this all happened, her Shinsei forced its way around the presence and into Angelika's body, surging into the core of the event and began pulling it back into the cursed woman, while also undoing the physical damage done to her body. 

The creature within, needless to say, wasn't very happy.

"EEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGUH!!!!!"

A piercing and blood-curdling scream could be heard from the possessed Angelika's mouth as the Shinsei energy invaded the body. Its tentacles flailed wildly and recklessly, struggling violently against the power that was suppressing it. Unlike the Paladins that she had subdued in Aether, this would be the equivalent of a human trying to ride a bull. It put up a vicious fight against the goddess, the energies clashing against one another for what seemed like an eternity. All the while, it was screaming at Mōka with what seemed like angry gibberish, although certain phrases could be heard.

"YASHIN..."

"ANNIHILATION...."

"WHY?!"

"MAKE IT STOP! MAKE THE PAIN STOP! MAKE IT ALL STOP!!"

"I HATE YOU, I HATE YOU, I HATE YOU!!"

But eventually, one side won.

The demon was forced back into Angelika's form, the tentacles disappearing and its aura vanishing once her arms had been restored. What had been left behind was a wide-eyed, gasping German with her co-leader's hand pressing her against the wall. The lone eye looked around in a brief moment of panic, as if its owner had just come out of something terrible. But after seeing where she was, the body finally began to relax. Mōka would feel the sweat against Angelika's face as she kept her palm pressed against the head, indicating her own terror.

Silence.

Then...

"...I'm assuming this is where an explanation comes in...?" She asked hoarsely, in an attempt to make a joke.

"Boss!" Hyōryū shouted out in fear of the worst for her comrade-in-arms and employer, limping over from the exposure of so much psychological and empathic energy flooding her body. As she stopped a few feet to see that she was alright, she allowed room for the likes of Oliver, Asuka, and Mōka respectively, looking at the cracks that had indented into the wall from the struggle the entity had, "what the fuck was that?!" 

"Mōka! Karitori passed out," Shito spoke out, as he held onto the limp, butch-clothed woman as he looked at her shivering form with concern. 

"She'll be fine," Mōka spoke out with a shakey voice, as her body was covered in a thin sheen of sweat from the effort of subduing the ethreal creature. Prying her hands away from Angelika's face, she sighed with relief as she concluded she successfully subdued the entity without harming Angelika. Looking back at the series of paled complexions, nervous soldiers, and bewildered expressions sent by various comrades, she turned around to face Angelika with a somber face, asking her a peculiar question, "do you remember having a terrible nightmare, the night after you committed the atrocity of the Mourning War? The Oracle can explain better if you tell me exactly what transpired after you completed your mission for the Inner Circle..."

"Terrible... nightmare?" Angelika repeated, slowly sitting herself up against the wall.

"The fuck out of the way!" Oliver was quick to snarl, pushing his way past the ones who had chosen to stand there and watch from a distance. Asuka, Anton and Shou were quick to follow him, quickly kneeling down to the woman's level and regarding their boss with heightened concern. His heart was pounding within his chest, and sweat was all too clear on his skin "Boss, what just happened?! What was that thing?!"

Angelika reached up to grasp her face, her palm covering the patched eye. "There... was no nightmare... that time..." She breathed. "But... after the Plinian Movement--"

"They plagued you constantly, didn't they?" The voice of the blue-eyed half of the Oracle finished, approaching the group that had amassed. She also spoke in a solemn tone, knowing just how severe the situation was at this point. "Before the destruction of your world had been resolved and existence was given a second chance, your soul was one of millions that permeated the Void. There were many voices in your head and millions of lights that were not your own. These voices caused you great pain, and it became too much for you to bear. Your screams of agony were heard amongst the angels of the Flow, and their hearts were moved to see to what had happened."

"They, under the Monitor's service, offered you a chance of freedom from that pain..." The red-eyed half continued. "That freedom was paid for with the sealing of the Shadow within your being. Ever since, you were plagued with nightmares every time you fell asleep. It is the Shadow's function to punish those it is sealed within until it deems the victim to feel true atonement or penance. Then and only then would the nightmares end..."

"But..." Shou began to say, regarding the Hankami with shock and confusion. "Wasn't it about to attack?! The tentacles--"

"Were merely a sign of it tasting its first signs of the outside." The red-eyed one was quick to cut him off with an additional wave of the hand. "It would not have laid violent hands on anyone before receding back on its own. The Dominator would not have needed to suppress it, for it is already under the complete control of the Monitor."

"I know the danger it possessed and the damage it was doing to everyone," Mōka spoke unrepentantly as she looked at the Oracle, trading glances with both sides of its personalities and entities, "what the Monitor has created here is something that shouldn't have done. You've indefinitely extended Angelika's suffering ten fold to the guilt that had already had a hold of her! What the Hell is wrong with you people?!" She finished with an angry snarl at the Oracle, and simmered slightly at the Punisher, knowing that even she probably didn't know about it. The only time Mōka had knew of this particular entity was during the time of the Hankami's prime, and the Monitor had been condemning a particular, unsavory soul to eternal suffering, "do you even know what the thing is capable of?!" 

In response, the red-eyed half gave a slight cock of the eyebrow as if the question was a stupid one. "Of course we do." She said bluntly. "The Shadow is a creature born from the depths of the Void itself. It is mindless, driven by the instinct to kill and consume. Whatever intellect it has shown thus far is due to the Monitor's control over it or what unfortunate souls it has assimilated into itself during its time released. Its hunger is endless, and it will not stop until everything within existence is devoured. We had personally witnessed its surrender to the will of our brother, and from experience, we understand with great knowledge what it is capable of."

"Niece Sayū..." The blue-eyed half said softly. "Please do not lay blame upon us for what the Monitor's choice in the utilization of the Shadow. He believed that Angelika, by initiating what you refer to as the "Mourning War', nearly disrupted the balance of existence. If the Soul Society was destroyed, there would be no shields against the lives of passing souls, no one to see them through to this afterlife. The balance would tip, and it would not have been long before existence's destruction began." As she spoke these words, Angelika closed her lone eye tightly. "Doing so is one of the most horrendous crimes one can ever commit within the afterlife. We could not argue with his decision even if we tried."

"Yeah..." The Slayer said, slowly raising his hands up in defense. "If you want to blame someone, take it up with him. None of us, not even the Oracle, knew that he sealed that thing within her, of all people."

The Melody remained silent, a worried and apprehensive expression on his face as he regarded Mōka.

"Maybe after this is over, she will have properly paid this penance," Shinshin walked forward, speaking aloud for those who had chosen to stay silent. With an impassionate face, he locked his gaze to Mōka's fiery one, and then to Angelika, "while I have no room to speak on the acts of selflessness of others, I believe that Angelika's heart far outweighs the darkness of her past. I know not how many restless nights she's experienced since that night, but I do believe that is a fate only deserved for those who would willingly place the world out of balance, not one only devoted out of duty under the orders of the ones who should truly be punished. The ones who instigated the nightmare, and the ones who created it. As far as I am concerned, Angelika Hartmann, was just an unfortunate person caught in between maddened ambitions of the Inner Circle and was given a command she couldn't refuse."

"Sometimes allowing something to happen, and concieving it, are weighed differently," Mōka spoke aloud, leaning against the wall, but allowed a ghost of a smile to linger on her face, "but thanks. Its good to know you think of your sister student so fondly. V-14 is proof that even within the ruins of darkness and death, there can still be so much light found within all of your hearts." 

"Your manliness is showing, Shin-chan..." Asuka said teasingly, a slight hand over her mouth as she spoke. "I'm almost blushing out of pride!"

"You make it sound as if I'm some victim of circumstance." Angelika said in annoyance, attempting to bring herself to stand. Immediately, Shou and Oliver moved in order to support her in the event that she was too exhausted to get up on her own, moving their arms around her midsection and helping her up to her feet. She didn't resist, although she felt she didn't really need it. After they parted ways from her, she dusted herself off and looked over at Mōka. "This hasn't been a problem for me thus far. The creature sealed within me is nothing more than a nuisance, as far as I'm concerned. It won't stop me from seeing this through to the very end..."

"M-Mother, please..." Shinshin blushed slightly as he looked away from his mother's admonishing, trying to hide his embarassment, "no need to speak so loudly..."

"I admire your endurance, Angie, but this thing has only been haunting your nightmares. If that thing were to awaken once more, it would be harder for anyone to stop it, and there's no telling what kind of havoc it could wreak if it felt threatened," Mōka spoke aloud with caution. But, after sighing with submission, she clasped Angelika's shoulder with a free hand as she smiled knowingly, "but I know you wouldn't say that you could handle it if you weren't being serious. I trust you completely, and I will always be only a moment away should something go wrong..."

"As will I, kachō." Shou said immediately afterwards, stepping away to give a curt bow. "As long as there is breath in me, my sword and my will shall be yours so long as you wish it."

"Don't forget about me, Nazi!" Oliver added in, smirking and motioning to the rest of the V-14. "After all, who here has the balls to face another god of war in the event that we come across one and threaten to punch it in the face? Be honest. None of these assholes are going to do it, and someone has to."

After briefly wrapping an arm around his shoulder to pull him into a brief and playful hug, Asuka released him to place a hand on the German's opposite shoulder. "Our teacher and student days may be over, Angel-chan. But it doesn't mean I'll stop guiding you in the moments that I can. I'm not someone to turn my back on one of my closest, after all..."

"Ugh..." Angelika couldn't help the slightly uncomfortable look that was on her face as she looked at them. "Look, it's nice to know that I have such dependable allies with me. But is this really ne--"

"Um... Angelika-sama... if I might say something..." Rika, who had remained silent up until this point, made her own way over to her with Yusuke following close behind. She had her hands clasped in front of her, a shy smile on her face. "I might not be able to fight for you directly... but I'll still do whatever it takes to ensure that you and the rest of our friends are safe."

"I think it's time for a hug!"

Angelika's eyes widened when she heard Yusuke's voice behind her, dread welling up even more when she saw even Rika's expression light up. She attempted to raise her hands up in an attempt to stop them.

"No, if you so much as touch me, I'll--"

But before she could do anything, Yusuke had wrapped his arms around her torso in a tight and affectionate embrace. Rika followed soon after, and the result were the two sandwiching Angelika in a hug. Her visible eye twitched as she saw Oliver and Anton snicker at the display. "...it burns." She deadpanned, looking at Mōka and Asuka with a hint of pleading. "Please. Make it stop."

"You heard the lady," Mōka looked over at Asuka with a mischievious glint as she nodded her head over to Angelika, "she wants the pain to go away. So why don't we all pitch in, and make it better?!" 

"Sounds like a good idea!" Shito fist palms with a bright look in his eyes, genuinely taking his boss seriously. However, as he turned to look at the glare emanating from Angelika's eye, he paled in complexion before bowing his head in apologies, "I am sure you can manage on your own, boss..."

"Well, who wants to pitch in?" Mōka called out, wrapping her arms around Yusuke and Rika's bodies, hence squeezing Angelika just a fraction more. But even through the comedic mass of antics and irritation, Mōka looked sympathetically into Angelika's eye, projecting of what she believed to be an empathetic understanding. 

"No one deserves to suffer like you have. Not even the guilt you had to endure could be weighed by most entities in existance. And these last few years...must have been horrible for you. You have a strong will, Angie, but even the strongest of hearts will eventually fall prey to despair that this creature inflicts upon its host. Now that it has awakened from its slumber...it will be much more difficult to have it fall asleep once again, whether willingly or not. Just...be careful and don't tempt it, Angie..."

"C'mere, you four!"

The last one to come into the group hug was Asuka, taking up the final opening and wrapping her arms around them. No one else followed suit, clearly not into such public displays of affection and camaraderie. This was enough to elicit a groan from the German, but she didn't say anything more. But as she caught the glimpse within Mōka's eye, she found herself reading that message sent to her. A ghost of a smile crossed her face, and the most discreet of nods was sent her way.

She would get through this. All of them would.

Imminent Deployment, Three Days till the War Drums Beat!

"Well...that went better than expected," Hana spoke aloud with a smile, as she overlooked all of the attending Captains (D.C.O. and Gotei alike), and the rest of the assorted allies of high ranking and authority. Looking at the damage scales throughout each level of the large base, she swiveled her fingers as she brought up the cameras to zoom in on each major battlefield, "nearly 89% of personnel were able to hold their own and repel the enemy intruders. The result left most of the base intact and only superficial damage. However, nearly 19% of the base has incredible structural damage, as some of the fights were probably the most serious that high ranking officials and allies alike dealt with accordingly. Thankfully, that wasn't raised to 50% because the Thunder Room absorbed the worse of the...Cataclysm-grade...forces being exerted..."

"It seemed strange, though. If they knew a blind raid into enemy headquarters wouldn't benefit them at all, why bother initiate such a grand scale of an assault?" Renji spoke in a direct manner, as he looked around at the others for explanation. 

"It was a message, rather than an executive blow," Kukkyōna spoke solemnly, locking his eyes with no one in particular as he emphasized with no gestures but a narrowing of his already hardened glare into empty space, "they were trying to have us forced into a state of despair or reckless abandon. While this may work for lesser factions or soldiers, this will only serve to fuel our resolve to win this war. Never-the-less, they did manage to inflict some substantial damage to our headquarters, and also declared that they have access to our personal whereabouts. We should try to find a way to block continued travel to and from this base until we are ready to invade the Soul Society once more..."

"I just want to get this damned war over with," Shūhei spoke aloud, his arms crossed and an irritated scowl crossed his own hardened features as he spoke lowly, "I'm tired of finding out that the Inner Circle keeps getting the upperhand and is one step ahead of us!" 

"Let's kick their asses first before they humiliate us any further!" Ikkaku spoke aloud with a jubilious, if not slightly sadistic, tone as he clenched a fist upwards. While Yumichika looked on with a smile, he kept his voice to himself, knowing that it woud be foolish to encourage the thought.

"Take it easy, Ikkaku," Renji spoke first, his eyes meeting slightly irritated ones of Ikkaku's, as he continued on, "if we charge in recklessly, like Captain Hayate said, we're going to be the ones with our asses kicked. We should at least give ourselves a window of time to gather resources, submit battle plans, and train for the upcoming conflict, rather than charge into a seemingly less exhausted force that outnumbers our own."

"Tch! You've become so sickeningly uptight, Renji," Ikkaku grumbled aloud, but turned away and halted his voice from futher antics. He knew that his fellow Lancer and former Gotei comrade was right.

"And you've become so bald!" Yachiru decided to add her two cents in, appearing on the man's shoulders and slapping at his head for emphasis of his lack of hair. "All this time and you still haven't gotten any hair, Baldy!"

After snickering at the display, Avaron turned to face the leaders of the Gotei 13 and the Deep Cover Ops. "Most of the pilots got out of there. We only received a few casualties, but nothing major." She reported. "The Dragonbirds are safe and sound. So we still have air support on our side for assistance in the counter-attack. As far as the V-14 is concerned," She said this with a noticeable grimace. "They seem to all be in one piece... at least, physically."

"Physically?" Hachiro inquired, cocking an eyebrow.

"It's--" Avaron paused for a moment, with the outburst of Karitori still fresh in her head. She closed her eyes and shook her head, raising her hands up. "It's nothing. Never mind that last part, the point is that they're still kicking. More notably, though, the Hankami had decided to drop in on them and the Dragonbird pilots in the hangar for an apparent visit..."

"Why don't you get off my back before I make you bald, you pink-parrot-woman-child?!" Ikkaku growled out in annoyance, but tried to keep his voice to a minimum volume, even as his fist rose up with a clenched, protruding vein from the back of it. 

"I think we all felt that," Renji spoke blankly as he turned his eyes to Avaron, regarding her with an inquiring look, "what the hell happened, exactly? I mean, did they puff up their muscles and wanted to have everyone inside be reminded who's strongest or what?"

"If Captain Setsuko says there isn't anything wrong, then we shouldn't pry," Hana intervened on her behalf, as she redirected the focus on what was to come next. Looking to the Lancers, Casilda and her two Espada aides, and to her fellow Captains, she spoke solemnly, "I'm not going to lie to you, this is a pretty grim situation. With most of our citizens hidden away, and even more non-combatant Arrancars hidden within a temporary home-away-from-home, there won't be many of us to push for the final battle. Even still, as a Soul Reaper, I've known that the odds are always stacked in the enemy's favor, and yet, there will always be a way for us to survive. That is why we're standing today, because we have beaten the odds time and again! It is for this reason, that I will make one last ditch effort to extract any allies within our reach and take them here, to reinforce our numbers, and allow us three days preparation for the invasion."

"Thee days," Kukkyōna spoke out in a quiet voice, looking down and his gaze traveled out in thought, "will that be enough? Or is that too much time to let our own enemies prepare for our invasion?"

Noriko allowed herself to scoff lightly at this. "They're letting us do this, noble." She said bluntly, looking over at him. "If this was nothing more than a message, then they must have not bothered to put full effort into this attack. If anyone had to guess, they're probably well-prepared and just waiting for the chance to fight back. Up to this very point, they've been playing games with us. You even heard that much right out of Tsukishima's mouth."

"And that will be a mistake they'd wish never to make." Bernabe, who was standing beside Casilda along with Senkaku, allowed himself to say. There was nothing but venom within his words - something shared by his colleagues. "Once we've got our feet on enemy soil and those forces converge on our forces' location, it'll be like rats throwing themselves into a fire. They'll see just how much of a game this is to them once the Espada Afilado has its hands around their throats!"

"Yeah, why don't you come over here and say that to my face, tough guy?" Yachiru retorted, bending herself over so that her face would be inches from her own, albeit his view of her would be upside-down due to her position. Her eyes were contorted in a mock glare at her former subordinate, comical in nature.

"You are in my face you little-!" 

SNATCH!

"Alright, Yachiru, that's enough playing with your friends," Kaien spoke lowly to Yachiru, as he grasped her by the back of the collar of her uniform, and pulled her off Ikkaku's person deftly. Placing her on a firm perch of his own shoulders, smiling in an encouraging way as he looked up at her, "time to pay attention to the debriefing, soldier."

"May I remind you that the Inner Circle is still using nearly half of our citizens as their personal denizens of their newly established society," Kukkyōna spoke aloud in a stoic, firm tone to the Espada across from him, "any enemy who engages us has forfeited their lives, but anyone who doesn't is a designated non-combatant and possible citizen of the Soul Society. I will not stand for needless manslaughter!" 

Yachiru pouted. "Sorry, Kaien..." She murmured apologetically, looking down at the floor like a freshly scolded child.

"Chin up, Yachiru! If you have something useful to add to the discussion, please don't hold back," Kaien encouraged her further, bouncing her in emphasis of her participation, "while some may view you as a child, I know you're as sharp as the rest of us here. Please help us solve dilemmas and add tactical advice when you see fit, Lancer Yachiru."

Bernabe sneered, regarding the noble with disdain at his choice of words. "Needless manslaughter? This is war, Shinigami. Civilians or not, lives will be put at stake no matter what we do. The Inner Circle has proven that they are not above playing dirty and feeding on your need for morale and ethics. If any citizens get in the way of the fighting, they would be the only ones to blame. If you're unable to take a little bloody nose, then you obviously are too weak and naive to even contribute to this war!"

"Bernabe--!" Senkaku hissed in alarm, but was silenced when the Segunda turned a wrathful gaze to him.

"Don't you dare, Tercera! You know this as well as I do. And I guarantee that everyone here understands the same..." He turned around so that his eyes were staring into Hana's. His eyes peered into hers intensely, and he said the next words with a bit of mocking. "Right... Head Captain?"

"Chin up, Yachiru! If you have something useful to add to the discussion, please don't hold back," Kaien encouraged her further, bouncing her in emphasis of her participation, "while some may view you as a child, I know you're as sharp as the rest of us here. Please help us solve dilemmas and add tactical advice when you see fit, Lancer Yachiru."

Hana held her tongue, but narrowed her eyes a fraction at the heated response by the Espada. While there was a grain of truth in what he said, she knew that if she admitted the cold tactics of war aloud, it would diminish the accomplishment of winning against tyrants and scum. If they used the same means to win back their people, they would ultimately fail. So she allowed things to sink in, and waited for a clear opening to respond.

"Then I guess you're no better than the ones we're fighting, you-!" Kukkyōna began to growl out, his hand even twitching to grasp one of his Zanpakutō to issue his point to the heartless Espada. But then, he was interrupted...

"What Captain Hayate is meaning to say, Bernabe-san," Daisuke intervened timely before his father could rear his head to the hot-tempered Arrancar, stepping up before the Espada with an empathetic gesture and gaze as he spoke, "because we went out of our way to make sure all of your citizens made it safe, as well as your warriors, that shouldn't you give the same courteousy to our people? While it would've been simpler to have taken the easy way out, and only have transported your people that could fight and benefit us in the long run, I wanted to save everybody because it was the right thing to do. I doubt any of us could have a clean conscience knowing we would leave any of you behind after what happened to you," bowing his head, Daisuke apologized forthrightly, "that is all my father, and the rest of us meant when we wish you to stay your hand if possible, to our beloved people of the Seireitei! For I love them, as I would love every soul of the Living world as well as your own people, Segundo Espada Bernabe!"

Bernabe regarded the Lieutenant for a moment, his hard stare boring into the eyes of the one who addressed him for a moment. Then, he scoffed. "That is all we will promise you, boy. We will make sure not to purposefully target any of your civilian populace. But as the distraction, we cannot ensure their direct protection or safety. Therefore, any rescues will have to be performed by either the Deep Cover Ops or the Gotei 13." He clenched his teeth together, looking away. "As much as I would enjoy killing off a few--"

WHUMPF!

He was cut off as an elbow was driven into his side. His head spun to see the Primera glowering at him, silencing him immediately.

It was here that Yachiru would take Kaien's words to heart. As she sat on her boss's shoulders, she placed a pondering finger to her lip. "Excuse me, Hana-chan..." She said curiously. "But what about the V-14? Why isn't their boss here to discuss things with us? What will they be doing?"

Using that as her oppotunity to change subjects, Hana answered the Lancer with a smile, "I will be personally in a private debrief with her as to what personal targets of interest I want her organization to acquire. Their Covert Ops experience makes them perfect for the hit-&-run objectives and assassinations to induce chaos among the Inner Circle's ranks." 

Avaron's lip curled slightly at this. "...experience, huh? Didn't keep them from getting their asses kicked, did it?" She muttered, almost tempted to smile at their misfortune. She had intended for this to be under her breath. But there were those that would pick up the words quite easily.

"Oi! They put their lives on the line against enemies they've never faced before! A war of attrition isn't their style, but they got points in my book!" Renji spoke aloud in a terse tone to Avaron, as he noted her unconcealed words to their allies' misfortune.

"Well it was their fault for needing us to pull their asses out of the fire! If they were weak in battle, then its their fault!" Ikkaku spoke in kind, as he met a challenging stare with Renji, as they both glared at each other.

"Enough! The fact we're not fighting them is a blessing, not a hinderance!" Kaien snarled at the two Lancers, quieting their dispute within an instant, "we should thank Lieutenant Daisuke for overcoming his desire for revenge and forging a pact with valuable assets. Their preformance, is none of our concern, unless our own lives are on the line. Understand?!" 

"Well put, Captain Shiba," Hana nodded curtly to Kaien, turning her gaze next to Casilda, swiftly changing subjects once more, "I understand that one of the Inner Circle troops failed to be transported back. Wasn't it that Arrancar you fought with, Casilda-san?"

"More or less." Casilda said smoothly, opening her eyes after keeping them closed throughout the entirety of the talk. "Although right now, I wouldn't really refer to her as a soldier under their banner more so than I would refer to as an "unfortunate victim". I'm sure that Hana knew this already..." She looked around the room to the rest of the occupants. "During the initial stages of our duel, she had been forcefully possessed by Yashin, who then proceeded to fight me himself using her body. Naturally, I managed to overcome and defeat the vessel, and Yashin left soon afterwards. Currently, she's in medical custody."

"P-Possessed?!" Renji's eyes widened incredulously, almost disbelieving of what he heard, "what the hell does that mean?! How can someone possess another soul?!" 

"I don't like the sound of this," Yumichika spoke lowly, his eyes narrowed a fraction with disgust as he hissed, "its utterly distasteful when one trades one's personal beauty by stealing the handsomeness or majesty of another being. Utterly distasteful..."

"Creepy is more like it. Do we even know the limitations to this, or can this Yashin possess people at will?" Ikkaku asked aloud, believing it to be a good question of merit. 

Hana cleared her throat as she turned her attention to the assembled group as a whole, "Yashin Shiyōnin is a confirmed Lieutenant underneath the Four Horsemen, holding the title of Dragon. From what we have known, only he and a select few others have went out of their way to hunt and pressure various factions, such as V-14, and were the cause of many events that led us all to this war. But from what I, and most of you have probably felt for a moment, is that Yashin is far more powerful and cunning than what we were led to believe," taking her gaze away from the crowd, Hana locked her eyes upon the Primera, speaking solemnly, "please tell us how the battle went. How strong is this Yashin, in comparison to his superiors and comrades?"

"I was forced to use my Resurrecion." Casilda explained. "Doing such a thing is something I try to make use of under only rare circumstance. But when I did, he was able to compete on even footing with me. This was also true when I faced Sōsuke Aizen, and I'm pretty sure I don't need to give an explanation on how powerful he is, do I?"

"But we know Sōsuke is strong, as his display in beating Furuidenshō-sama, was evidence enough," Hana cringed at the admitance, but continued none-the-less, "but at least we know this Yashin isn't immortal. If his hosts have particular strengths and weaknesses he has to adhere by, then we can come up with a way to defeat him in certain circumstances..."

"His hosts must be strained if he fights at such a height. This is probably how the Primera was able to beat Yashin after all," Kukkyōna cupped his chin in thought, his mind reeling with possibilities, "but why did he willingly leave his host behind, instead of killing her? Does he still have control, or does she have knowledge that we seek?"

"In any case, I think Captain Hando should be able to decript any information stored within her mind since joining the Inner Circle. We might gain a few clues as to their weaknesses and their troop placement without the need of sacrificing scouts or probes to scan the area further," Hana concluded, looking over at the crowd of commanders and lieutenants alike, "any further matters that should be addressed, please speak now. I wish to deploy some of our teams on their respective missions..."

"I've got one..."

This was where Qilin spoke up, his arms folded across his chest and and expression of casual thought on his face. "Tsukishima had said that there was more "evil" within our shadows, didn't he?" He questioned, cocking an eyebrow. "It'd be terrible if we worked so hard to prepare, commenced the counter-attack and then have more sleeper agents stab us in the back. I think we should start focusing on rooting out any potential traitors we have within our midst before we get too far into anything else..."

Silence swept the debriefing room. 

With a series of gestures of disdain, discomfort, fear, and anger flaring in each and every visage across the room, not even Daisuke was able to speak up to break the tension. 

"That's already being handled," Hana spoke aloud, waving her hand in a dismissive gesture, as her eyes locked onto Qilin's in an eerily knowing manner, "I have already compiled a series of possibilities of what the Horsemen could be referred to. Until I have verified it, consider this a simple attempt of causing distrust to be sowed into our ranks. I rather not have everyone try to murder each other in their sleep because of needless accusations and distrust towards each other. Rest assured, Captain, I'll make sure that this is on top of my priority list..." 

Meanwhile, Meikurai made it a point to avert his immediate gaze from Hana's, even though he was quite visually concealed within the mass of commanders and co-leaders alike. He couldn't help but direct a glare of ire nature towards Qilin, for having willingly brought it up something that would make any of their real work become that much more complicated.

"Damn you, Qilin! Do you want me to be compromised to keep your cover?! A lowly Dog like you has no place compromising your superiors, that is for certain! Here I believed Yashin's stare was worse, but your mouth is going to get us both in trouble...

"Now, with that out of the way, I believe this debriefing is over. If any of you have further issues or things that should be acted upon, seek me out immediately. That is all," Hana spoke with absolution, shutting off the projecting table of the base, and allowing the lights to brighten a fraction, as well as the doors to open for those who were to make necessary preparations. Even as Hana watched them all go in various directions, her eyes never drawn to one particular individual any longer than the other.

It unnerved Meikurai as he left amidst the crowd, how cool and collected this Hana was in comparison to the young girl in training he knew of.

For once, Starrk was trying to stay awake during this debriefing.

Having been in the corner once again, with Lilynette sitting on the floor listening in, Starrk made it a goal of his to try and take more initiative in these meetings, though doing so was tiring him out immensely. Lilynette, on the other hand, had been paying close attention to the entire meeting, and based on some of the expressions they made, she couldn't help but be slightly worried.

She looked back at Starrk, before speaking to him with telepathy. "Starrk, did you see all of that?"

"Yeah...I saw it." Starrk murmmered inwardly for her to hear, looking at the group with an equally serious glare.

"That Meikurai guy seemed awfully nervous when Hana mentioned undercover agents..." she replied, looking at the person of interest's leaving form with squinted eyes. "I'm gonna talk to Lady Primera about it..."

"Go for it-wait." he began with a cocked eyebrow at Lilynette's last statement. "Did you just call her Lady Primera?"

"Yeah?" she questioned with a raised eyebrow as well. "So?"

"Well, it's just that...you've never really referred to anyone besides Aizen with an honorific like that." he questioned casually.

To this, the girl grinned. "Oh come on, don't act like you don't know. Obviously, you respect her and...well, you know. So if you feel that way about her, then I do too!!"

"Good point..." he replied, resting his head back. "Well, wait for her to finish whatever she's doing first before you go..."

As the group dispersed, Bernabe couldn't help but chuckle a little. "It seems like the security of the Shinigami isn't so impenetrable as it is glorified..." He said to his two Espada colleagues. "With the amount of suspicion and distrust, I'm surprised that they aren't trying to kill each other as of this minute." He looked over to Senkaku. "But enough debate about their problems. Tercera, three days will be plenty of time to prepare ourselves for the upcoming struggle. Come!"

"Yes, sir..." Senkaku murmured, giving a respectful bow to Bernabe before looking over at Casilda. "I bid you farewell, my Lady. May a thousand lights of the Red Sun smile upon us."

"And deliver a thousand curses upon our enemy!" Casilda answered readily, turning her head to look at each of them as she spoke the words. "Por voluntad de Dios!"

"Nos asaltar a la victoria!" The two Espada responded back with a bit of zeal and a clear display of the patriotism they held towards her and Hueco Mundo. With that finishing line, the two parted ways from her. The Primera simply watched them walk away, an expression of thought and pondering on her face as she did so.

"A word with you, if I may, Selestino-san," Hana inquired aloud, her form walking purposely and gracefully towards Casilda's back, her Haori flourishing in sync with her hair, "I need to ask a favor of you, if its alright. It concerns with a potential ally stranded within Hueco Mundo...mentioned to me by Coyote Starrk, no less."

"Ulquiorra Cifer, the former 4th Espada under Aizen's rule." Casilda said immediately, slowly shifting herself to face Hana. Her eyebrows were furrowed slightly. "The last time I was told about him, he was nearby a white tree not too far from Empresa, as Starrk himself was so gracious enough to tell me. What about him?"

"While I trust in Starrk's abilities completely, he doesn't have the tact nor direction that you do. Nor do I believe Daisuke has enough experience in which to deal with forces stronger than what his power may allow. I wish for you to accompany them both into Hueco Mundo, and help locate Ulquiorra Cifer," Hana spoke in a neutral tone, glancing briefly over at the leaning form of Starrk from a distance, and Daisuke's, before redirecting her gaze back to the Primera, "you're the only one I trust to complete such a delicate mission. I'd go myself, but I have a few...moles...to uproot from their holes, and I wish to do it quietly and without chaos being ensued forth."

It was a heavy risk.

Casilda knew that sending forces within the area of Empresa at this period in time would be expected by enemy defense. Confrontation at this point was unavoidable. Inwardly, she was highly reluctant to do so for the sake of one single ally - one that seemed as if he didn't want to leave in the first place. But she wasn't one to doubt the intuition of her predecessor. After all, he knew the former Cuatro better than she ever would. Logic said no, but pride and respect for the former Primera said to comply with Hana's wish.

So she let out a heavy sigh, scratching the back of her forehead. "I know that this just might bite me in the ass later on..." She muttered. "But okay. I'll make sure to keep them in line if I have to."

"Thank you, for this," Hana nodded respectively, smiling towards Casilda in acknowledgement in aiding her. Looking over to the three in question, she whistled out and snapped her fingers, "Coyote! Lily! Daisuke! Your mission is going to start and Casilda will be in charge. She'll debrief you," saluting the three as she snapped off orders, "cha!" 

"W-Wait, Ha-"

SHFT!

"-na?!" Daisuke reached out for Hana, not entirely certain why the Primera and the former Primera were now his partners in the recruitment/extraction mission. Looking between the two Arrancars, he scratched his head and asked aloud, "so...what changed that I need two Primeras for this mission?"

"Because!" Lilynette appeared on top of Daisuke's shoulders, popping him on the back of the head with her head. "You honestly think you would be able to go there and find Ulquiorra-san with just one of us?? Especially with all of the baddies around there??"

"What she means is..." Starrk began with a scratch of the back of his head. "...it's likely that Ulquiorra would listen to someone that he knew a long time ago, in this case, Lilynette and I. And yeah, since it's close to enemy territory, we have no clue what to expect."

"There were also enemies that were capable of contending with and even taking down my Espada with varying degrees of difficulty." Casilda added. "Someone like you, no offense, wouldn't be able to take on all of them." She closed her eyes for a moment, her eyebrows furrowing. "Even moreso considering that there are rather excellent minds within their ranks..."

"Good point. So I guess this is just a field trip to mark down for my experience, huh?" Daisuke winced, trying to ignore the petite tween perched on his shoulders as he looked side to side at the two Primeras, smiling in a enthusiastic way, "at least I get to see what guys of your level are capable of against the enemy. Maybe I'll even see Ulquiorra fight, when he agrees to join our fight...!" 

"If he agrees to join our fight."

Casilda did not dare let this thought slip past her mind and to the outside, instead putting on a small smile of her own. "That makes two of us. C'mon, I doubt even he's going to wait forever..."

Descent into Chaos, The Pale Sand Wanderer

"Alright," Daisuke muttered aloud, as within a brief flash of light, they all traveled into the Hueco Mundo's world with a sudden landing onto the pale sands. Looking around, Daisuke could feel the unsettling emptiness and silence that Hueco Mundo's aura should witholds, but felt even more empty than usual. Like a vast void of lonliness, it lacked the usual population centered around where the Empresa's borders usually held. Even though they were a few kilometers away from the overrun city, they were only a mere kilometer away from the location of which Ulquiorra should be located. "nice to be back!" 

Had Casilda not been paying more attention to her surroundings, she would have assumed that to be a joke.

She looked outwards to the landscape that surrounded them, stuffing her hands into her pockets. The wind caused her hair to billow slightly as she swept the area with her eyes, visually picking up nothing. As her mind drifted to Empresa and the enemies the Espada had confronted, she closed her eyes in slight bitterness. She still was unable to get her head over the fact that her very own mentor had joined the likes of a mass murderer, unable to understand why he would support the destruction of civilization even after she had fought so hard to save it.

"I hope you're happy, sensei..." She thought. "Had it not been for the intervention of the Soul Society, you would have played a part in a massacre. I wonder just how exactly you're feeling right now, knowing what is on your conscience..."

She looked over towards the two. "Keep your spiritual signatures and energies in check and out of detection." She said firmly. "We're only here to retrieve Ulquiorra, not start another battle. Once he's retrieved, we're leaving. Understand?"

"No problem!" Lilynette cheered. "Starrk and I do that all of the time anyways, no worries from either of us!"

Starrk simply sighed. "What she said."

"Thankfully my overcoat keeps me from being detected naturally anyways. So no problem from me," Daisuke said with a smile, tucking on the high collar to cover his lower jaw, a bright look came into his eyes as he looked forward to seeing this legendary Arrancar, "let us go recruit an Ex-Espada!"

"Starrk." Casilda looked over to the man in question. "Can you pick out his spiritual energy and lead? You know his signature the best, I'm assuming..."

Without speaking, merely sparing a glance in Casilda's direction, Starrk briefly closed his eyes and then opened them. In place of his normally silver eyes, were a pair of glowing blue eyes that only shown briefly, his use of Pesquisa, to those who could recognize.

"Yeah, I know where he is." he said, looking over at them. "but I also feel a few more Arrancar around him. Doesn't look like he's alone after all..."

He looked down at Lilynette, whom nodded in acknowledgment, moving ahead of the group a little faster than the others. "Lilynette'll show you."

"We shouldn't waste any time then!" Daisuke soke aloud exuberantly, as he sprinted after Lilynette in order to keep up with her. Despite her size, Daisuke had to admit that she moved with a experienced rythym, and swift steps in comparison to her size. When it came to being the will of the two beings, Daisuke knew she had a lot more spunk and energy than Coyote would allow to show. 

"Who--" Casilda abruptly stopped herself before she finished the question, huffing slightly. "Okay, never mind that question. I'll just let it be a self-surprise..."

She continued to survey her surroundings as she moved with the two for any enemy ambush. Her senses were on full alert, knowing that any opposition could just be as close as potential allies were. As she did so, she raised two fingers on one hand and placed them on her temples, looking down for a moment. This might have been a meaningless gesture on the outside, but those who understood her abilities knew that this was the indication of her mental telepathy. She was getting in contact with the leaders of the neighboring cities of Empresa.

Everyone needed to be aware of just how severe the threat was, after all...

As she and Daisuke made their way ahead of the group, Lilynette turned her head around to face the young Soul Reaper with a raised eyebrow. "So, why are you so interested in finding Ulquiorra-sama? I haven't seen anyone this eager to meet him...ever."

"Well, from what I can remember, he was the strongest Arrancar to have served under Sōsuke Aizen, besides Starrk, I mean. He was a personified obstacle for the legendary Substitute Soul Reaper, Ichigo Kurosaki, in his path to becoming the true embodiment of heroism and relentless courage. I guess I'm curious to see if he's anything like I've been told about in the historical texts, or if he's someone I can learn from is all," Daisuke spoke at first with exuberance and awe, before drifting to a curious shrug as he looked off into the horizon of the endless, pale sands, "I never had a real defining nemesis or rival of my own. I've just fought for the ones I love or for the duty and honor I am bound to. No one has actually openly challenged me for a prolonged period. I guess if I meet an iconic rival of someone I've heard tales about, maybe I can get a glimpse of who my own rival and nemesis really is..."

It was here that Casilda cocked an eyebrow, raising her eyes up to look at him. "You're telling me that you'd actually look forward to someone else putting forth their very mind and soul into ending your existence?" She questioned. "I'd be careful what I'd wish for if I were you, Lieutenant..."

"I don't mean that!" Daisuke flailed his arms in emphasis, comically scrunching his face together into inverted squints, "I just want someone who I'd be able to fight my ideals against without having it just be another long list of bad guys I've had to put down!" 

Casilda rolled her eyes. "You Shinigami are hard to read, sometimes..."

"Lily, are we almost there?" Daisuke asked with a sweatdrop crawling comically down his brow, hating to sound juvenile in front of those he wished to impress. The sooner he met this Ulquiorra, the better in his opinion, "I think we should be close to where this guy is held up, right?"

To this, Lilynette blushed wildly and her eyes dialated as she looked back at Daisuke. "D-Did you just call me Lily?!!" she said aloud, clearly embarresed by the nickname. "Erm...yeah, we should be close to them....should be right over this ridge..."

Boosh!!!!

However, a Bala had found its way right in front of her and exploded, causing her to stop dead in her tracks. "Wh-What was that?!!!"

"That was a Bala, dear. Don't stand in front of those."

With that bland, deadpan and clearly sarcastic statement, Casilda pulled her hands from her pockets and tensed up slightly. She was immediately tempted to fire back immediately out of the presumption that this was an attack. But if it was, then wouldn't the one who had fired it hit dead-on? As fast as Lilynette was running, it was nothing that one couldn't solve by simply tracking the target.

"It was a warning shot! They're probably testing us to see if we're hostile," Daisuke realized after calming down from the initial shock of seeing the projectile explode near him. Holding up his hands and waving them towards the distance, of which he could tell a few outlining figures near a lone, bare tree, "we are not enemies! We're here to request the assistance of a comrade and wish to not cause any violence towards you! Please lower your weapons and allow us to approach!" 

At the top of the hill, the source of the attack could be seen.

It was an armored woman with a white cloak over her shoulders, her hand smoking from the Bala that she had fired. From behind her emerged two other females dressed in the same sort of garmet, with varying armor pieces on them as well.

"You've got three seconds to tell us who the hell you are, Shinigami!!" the first woman snarled as her still open palm began to glow red, as if she was preparing another Bala. "Or else, we'll blow you straight to hell!"

"Shinigami? Can she even see us from where she is?"

It was here that Casilda took the opportunity to speak out. She moved to step in front of the trio, her eyes settling on the three above her. "For Hollow who've fought in the Winter War, I'm surprised that you don't recognize at least the one you just shot at..." She commented coolly. "But, oh well. I'm Cortez Selestino, the current Primera and the leader of Empresa." She nodded towards each of her company. "These are my associates, Coyote Starrk and Lilynette Gingerback of the former Espada and Daisuke Hayate of the Gotei 13. Now, if you would be so kind as to not try and kill us, that'd be great..."

"I told you that I should have taken the lead here..." the dark skinned female of the Arrancar sighed, shoving her blue haired, trigger happy friend aside onto the ground. "Ever since your eye went blind, you've been shooting at practically everything that we told you not to shoot at. Idiot..."

"Hey!!!" the blue haired one shot back after promptly landing on her bottom on the sand. "I can't help that I can't see that good! Who were we shooting at anyways? I thought I heard someone speaking..."

The dark skinned woman ignored her associate and used Sonido to quickly appear before the group, briefly bowing before the Primera and speaking respectfully. "Lady Primera, please forgive my associate's incompetance. Her recent blindness has been causing her to go more insane than usual..."

"Mila-Rose?" Lilynette inquired with a raised eyebrow. "I didn't think we'd see you guys around here for a while. I thought you'd left to you guy's older hideout."

Seeing the small Arrancar speak caused the woman's sight to at first gaze down upon her, but then back to the man that had accompanied her. Seeing his form caused her eyes to widen, and she bowed before him as well. "S-Starrk-sama...? I didn't know you and Lilynette were still alive?"

"Yeah, we are..." Starrk replied in his usual drowsy tone. "And don't ask how. I don't feel like reciting it..."

"Sorry if we're intruding on your grounds." Casilda said. "But we're only here to see to another one of you. Once we do, then we'll be on our way and out of your hair..." She shifted her hands into her pockets, looking at Mila-Rose for a moment more before switching her gaze over to the blue-haired Caucasian still on the hilltop.

"His name is Ulquiorra Schiffer," Daisuke said with a polite tone, bowing in a humble attitude as he regarded Mila-Rose with respect and neutrality, "we were told that he resided here near that dead tree over there. From I know, he's a well respected Arrancar, and having been one of the strongest Espada. Is he willing to talk to us?"

Here, Mila Rose's eyes widened once again, and Appachi slid down the hill to come right alongside her. Cyan Sung-Sun appeared next to them, her mouth covered by her clothed hand as always. All three of them looked at the group with uncertainty and confusion.

"H-How do you know about her-I mean, Ulquiorra-sama?" Appachi questioned, her mean spirited persona disappearing in favor of a worried one.

"Starrk and I could have sworn that we felt his Spiritual Pressure out here some time ago before we left with the resistance." Lilynette replied with a raised eyebrow, not knowing why her former Fraccion companions were acting so nervous all of a sudden.

This time, the Tres Bestias all looked at each other, as if they didn't know what to say at first. Mila-Rose then looked back at Daisuke with a relaxed expression, though her voice still carried uncertainty. "Why do you wish to see Ulquiorra-sama, Shinigami?"

"Do you see those soldiers, foreign beings and the like, burning and raiding across Hueco Mundo? Your land isn't the only one to suffer," Daisuke waved his hand out to the direction of Empresa, still smoldering from the battle waged not but a day or so ago, "in fact, the whole world is on its knees to the invaders and their allies who took it upon themselves to become the new gods of this universe. We need every ally, every comrade, and every warrior who's willing and able, to help fight the enemy's leaders who are based in the Soul Society. We can't seclude and isolate ourselves from conflict any longer. And we need Ulquiorra's power to help end this conflict as well! If he's unwilling to listen to reason, maybe he should be told what's really going on!" 

"Wait a minute."

Casilda's eyes swerved in the direction of Empresa and the ruins it had been reduced to. A pensive frown came across her face as she observed closely, using both visual and spiritual sense in order to analyze. "I would have assumed there would have been troops rebuilding defenses in the event of a counter-attack." Her eyes wavered slightly. "I guess that the attack didn't just appear to Empresa, after all. The Sennin Butai must have left to go assist in other attacks..."

"Mila-Rose." Cyan Sung-Sun said to her comrade calmly. "We might as well go ahead and show them. There isn't much point in stalling any longer."

"Fine, I-" the dark skinned Arrancar began, as she turned to face the hill however, she stopped herself after seeing something she wasn't expecting. Up on the top of the hill was the individual that they had been referring to this entire time. It looked down on them with the same kind of uninterested, dismissive glare that anyone who knew Ulquiorra could recognize, with it's hands in i'ts pockets, and it's rather long black hair flowing calmly in the air. From appearances alone, it looked just like Ulquiorra...

Only, it was a girl.

"Lady Cifer!" all three of the women bowed before the Arrancar above them.

"Wh-What the?!" Lilynette said aloud in disbelief, she and Starrk both looking up at the newcomer with looks of sheer dumbfoundedness. Was this really the Ulquiorra that they remembered???

"Okay, I'll bite..." Casilda had resumed her trademark bored look, slowly turning her head in order to look at what they were looking. She even cocked an eyebrow at first. "What's going o--"

Then, her eyes fell upon the form of Ulquiorra. They abruptly widened, her pupils dilating and her mouth nearly falling open at the sight. She fell silent, freezing up as her mind took in what was in plain sight of them. She had gotten clear reports and details within her archives that Ulquiorra Cifer was male. Here this individual was with the same traits and visage. Had they not knew who she was, Casilda would have assumed this Arrancar to be a twin.

She could only get three words out.

"...what the fuck?"

"I wonder how that happened...." Starrk commented with a couple of blinks as he too looked at the female that he once could have sworn was a male, the former Cuarta Espada.

"W-Wow," Daisuke felt a tad bit of color warm his cheeks, feeling embarassed that he became somehow attracted to the stoic, pale complexioned female Arrancar. He cleared his throat as he adjusted his eyes back to Ulquiorra, or what he could confirm was as what she is, and bowed his head respectfully, "its a pleasure to make your aquaintence, Lady Ulquiorra. I'm Daisuke Hayate, Lieutenant of the 6th Division within the Gotei 13. I'm here as an emissary of the Soul Society, along with our allies, Coyote Starrk, Lilynette Gingerback, and Casilda Selestino, to request your assistance in the fight we are about to have with the enemies that ransacked this land and many other worlds."

"Her name is Kiorra, you dope-ow!" Appachi began to speak to Daisuke lowly while she continued to bow to her apparent master, only for Mila-Rose to pop her on the back of the head. "Be quiet, you idiot!" she whispered harshly.

Kiorra, in generally, turned her gaze over to Daisuke. There wasn't a shred of change in her expression, her features might as well have been permanately glued to her face, but one who was good at reading other people very well would see that the woman had taken an interest in him. Calmly, and stoic-like, the Arrancar walked down the hill as if there were stairs there already in place for her feet to tread on. With her subordinates moving aside, she walked up closer to Daisuke until she was at least a couple of feet away from him.

Her emerald eyes gave no form of feeling, it would feel as if one were staring into an empty vessel of a girl, ran by instinct alone. She stared at him for several seconds longer than what some would consider comfortable.

Lilynette felt like trying to get her attention, but she and Starrk knew better than to try anything. If there was one thing they remembered about Ulquiorra, it was that one could almost never predict what he, in this case, she would do.

Then, after nearly twenty seconds, the Arrancar girl reached up with her right hand, and placed it softly on Daisuke's chest, where his heart was, specifically. This time, her eyes became just a little bit more open than usual, as if she had an inquiry, and she spoke in a low, soft whisper.

"...Heart?"

"Well, at least she seems to let my little outburst slide..."

Casilda was quick to regress back to an expression of calm observation, looking on as the ex-Cuatro focused solely on the boy. She, like her predecessor, remained silent. She had no idea what the woman was trying to do. After all, Lilynette had given off the impression that Ulquiorra (or Kiorra, apparently) would've attempted to kill Daisuke rather than anything else. That alone made it even more necessary to not interrupt. After all, if this was her way of expressing interest, then there was no use getting in the way.

"My heart?" Daisuke felt himself blush hotly, and sweat coldly at the same time the woman stared at him. Despite this eery presence of emptiness about her visage and her pressure she exerted, he could tell there was something beyond the thick, ink-layered veil of dispassion that he could see. Like sensing the scared little girl within Sakura, he could see Ulquiorra, now referred to as the feminite name Kiorra, was curious about him. As if she wanted to know if he truly had a strong heart. 

"You want to feel it?" As if guiding a child, Daisuke gently grasped Kiorra's hand and shuffled his overcoat aside, as well as his uniform, so he could allow Kiorra to place her cold, soft hand upon the place where his heart beat steadily, if not slightly quicker than usual. Smiling in a reassuring way, Daisuke whispered back, "that's my heart."

Here, the Arrancar girl's expression changed not one bit, save for a couple of blinks after he moved her hand. At first glance, this seemed like a heartwarming connection between the two of them. One would normally assume that, by this point, Kiorra would possibly understand the concept of one's heart, something that her old, male self had been left yearning for before his departure. Perhaps she would even give her aid to them in their plight.

But as she slowly moved her hand off of his chest, things would take an unexpected turn.

Her hand quickly snatched onto Daisuke's coat collar with a nigh unbreakable grip, and within that same motion, she twirled around and threw him right towards the white tree that she had been around before. While the force of the throw would be great enough for him to slam into the sands with great force, it was just enough for him to land next to the tree.

The Tres Besitas moved aside respectfully, as their leader calmly walked towards the tree where the orange haired boy had just been flung. They all three knew that Kiorra had something in store for their Shinigami friend.

Starrk and Lilynette typically were a bit clueless as to what just happened, but again, Ulquiorra was always known for his unpredictable nature...

If not for the lack of extreme reaction from the audience, Casilda would have been quick to assume that this was something unexpected and stepped in.

"...I'm missing something here, aren't I?" She questioned, raising a slight eyebrow at Starrk and Lilynette. "First the "he" turns out to be a "she". Then this. Tell me, was this normal when you were Espada?"

"I honestly can't remember..." Starrk said, rubbing the back of his neck as he glanced back at Casilda. "I never really paid attention to the things the other guys did. All I know is that Ulquiorra, or Kiorra, whatever her name is, was the weirdest of the bunch, from what I saw, anyways..."

"Ulquiorra was always pretty weird..." Lilynette commented as she watched the Arrancar leave them to supposedly fight her prey.

BWHOOSH!

Within the moment that Daisuke was held at a strangle point and then tossed over to the pale tree with impressive force, the air briefly leaving his lungs as he shook his dazed head it came to him. He was mistaken when she was asking about his physical heart. She was looking for his heart within confrontation! It made sense, considering most Arrancars are battle-driven by nature, and Kiorra would be no different in her own mysterious way...

Within a single blast of fiery Spiritual Power, Daisuke blew back all the sand and broken tree limbs that had buried him before. With glass fragments floating around him in a g-force display, Daisuke began treading towards Kiorra as he saw her approach him in a similar manner. Grasping his overcoat and Zanpakutō, he flourished off his attire within a single flourishing motion to reveal his sleeveless Shikhakushō and brandished a instaneously, fire-enraptured Zanpakutō. 

"So, this is the heart you're seeking?! Well then," Daisuke raised his blade in acknowledgement, a brief roar of flames billowed into the air, before condensing them into a sphere and then throwing it towards her, "Jigoku Dangan!" 

A pressurized ball of pyrotechnic energy flew towards Kiorra with high velocity, uncanny speed, and incredible power, intending on detonating with incredible fury and explosive force, billowing a good shockwave of sand in excess of the attack. 

A swift motion was all that followed. No expression change, no sign of hesitation, just a simple grasp of her green handled weapon was all she began with. With a single bright reflection from the moon, the silver blade came unsheathed with a graceful, flawless motion. The razor sharp weapon cleaved throught he ball of fire like butter, sending two halves of it flying behind her to explode in the distance.

There, she stopped a few meters away from him. Bringing her sword down to point directly at him in a challenging pose, her intentions were made clear without a word. If his heart was truly as strong as he made it out to be, she would uncover how much it helped him in an actual battle.

Only then, would she lend him her arm in alliance.

Now, Casilda could see a serious complication that had just formed.

The energy released by Daisuke would be sure to alert any potential enemy forces nearby the area to come running to their location. It was the reason why she had wanted them to remain underneath the radar, lest they wanted to get ambushed. By doing this, the two were jeopardizing their element of cover and surprise if they needed to take out any nosy enemies. Now, she couldn't be sure if that safety was still assured or at risk.

Still, she didn't bother to make any movements to stop either combatant. If this was what had to happen in order to see through to her comrades' desires, she would see it out. But she knew she had to keep on her guard now.

Daisuke charged. With his blade in hand, covered in powerful flames, the Lieutenant moved with speed and precision, appearing directly in front of Kiorra as he swung his blade towards her front. As he discharged a stream of flames, he used them only as a distraction. Swinging out his left hand around in a arc, gathering a blue torrent of Spiritual Energy, he pushed it out with a powerful thrust, shouting out...

"SŌKATSUI!"

SSSSRK-VROOAR!!!

...releasing a powerful, destructive blast of blue flames towards Kiorra's occupied front, intent on taking advantage of the smokescreen of searing flames of his Shikai to land a solid blow by his own Kidō.

It was within the small space of time of hesitancy, that the true Alpha Predators took shape and form. 

A spectral nightmare flew through an empty space, unseen and unheard by all, flowing forth from one pocket door to another, until it found the one it found suitable. Rising from the shadows, like a statue from tar, a being draped in refined clothes and a metalic mask, covering the entirety of his jawiline. And he appeared within the midst of the Tres Bestia and the two Primeras. 

"You all look...so bored," he spoke out in a refined, eloquent tone as he looked to all of them with a cool, stoic visage, grating out, "perhaps we can keep you occupied, while your two friends settle things out?

"Great..."

Starrk twitched slightly in annoyance as the masked entity came between them and the three other Arrancar. Of all the times that he didn't need to have a fight with anything, it had to be this instant. "Actually," he began, regarding the entity with a half-lidded glare. "we're doing pretty good just standing around, if you don't care..."

"!"

Casilda's eyes widened, and she found her attention locking on to the one who had appeared to them. But it wasn't because she was being affected by the spiritual signature he was giving off or the rather creepy visage he gave off. It was out of recognition, for he had been one of the enemies the Espada Afilado had confronted. He had been one of the people who had participated in Empresa's fall, nearly responsible for a genocide. He was one of the soldiers who served under the faux god's rule, and now he had the audacity to stand in front of her once again. Needless to say, she wasn't pleased.

Her eyes narrowed in a glare as cold as ice, the scowl becoming more prominent on her face. Slowly, a bit of her spiritual pressure began to leave her body and enter the atmosphere, causing a bit of distortion to the air. "I don't know why exactly it is that you are here..." She said lowly. "But if you value your life, you would be wise to get out of my sight right now!"

"Actually," Shukun's eyes shifted a abysmal black-red coloration, as his head tilted to the side in acknowledgement to her threat, "I would appreciate if you would all come with me. I rather not distract our friends here with your shouting..."

What happened would be unexpected and without warning. Within mere seconds, the shadows themselves stretching out from the gathered entities consumed them, causing the Arrancars to be sunk into blackness into an abyss no one would wish to visit. But they would not stay there for long. For Shukun and his allies...had much more entertaining plans for them all...

An Eye for an Eye, True Reckoning at Hand! 

"Ah~!"

Being pulled into darkness was one thing she hadn't expected to happen to her.

Getting plopped into a different location was another.

WHUMPF!

She fell on what she could immediately tell were the sands of Hueco Mundo, but collapsed due to the sudden landing and fell onto her stomach. A grunt escaped her lips, and she quickly raised herself up onto her feet again. "Of course this would happen..." She grumbled, dusting her front off. "They just had to do the "test-by-fight" thing on me. Now I've been suddenly warped to wherever that guy sent me. I'm going to strangle the life out of him once I get back." She breathed out a sigh, placing her hands on her hips and looking around. "At least let this have some sort of--"

Then, her eyes fell upon the area.

"...oh, Izanami..."

What she had been taken to was a village just outside the borders of established areas, freshly having been destroyed. Buildings were in ruins, their foundations either partially or fully laying in pieces on the ground. Only a few, heavily damaged and on the verge of falling, were left in place. But that wasn't what caught Casilda's attention. What she was looking at were bodies, charred and bloodied, laying around her feet. This village did not have a strong security because they had been protected by the hardy territory itself.

With shaking legs and a stricken expression, she made her way over to one particular pair of Arrancar. It was a female "adult", with her body on top of that of a "child"'s. It appeared as if the parent had attempted to protect the child with her body from an assumed attack. But both of them were as dead as the environment around them. With each and every step taken towards them, her heart cracked a little a little more.

When she was directly beside the fallen pair, she fell on one knee and reached out to touch the woman's back. Slowly, she bowed her head and closed her eyes out of the need to keep herself composed. To her credit, she didn't shed a single tear... even though she really wanted to. This was the fate shared by Empresa, and was probably being distributed to other locations, as well. It was just a reminder of her failure to protect them.

She took in a deep breath to calm herself, keeping her eyes closed as she spoke.

"Por la misericordia de Dios..."

Slowly, she stood back up on her feet, opening her eyes looking at the pair with a solemn expression. She trapped two fingers on her forehead, then on the center of her chest, and finally both her shoulders.

"Que descanses en la pieza."

She turned away, walking a few steps away from their spot. She stopped at a particular location where the sands dominated the ground, far away from the bodies. Slowly, she raised her hands up, closing her eyes once again in concentration. Then, she thrust her palms at the ground, unleashing a pulse of her spiritual pressure. This caused the sands to blow away from her in a mild wave, enveloping the bodies. This would also cause the ones that didn't get covered fully to sink completely into the ground.

"I hope that you can forgive me for not being there..." She said softly. "May you find peace as someone else..."

A voice would break the somber mood, and announce the person responsible for the tragedy and carnage that was befelled of these Arrancars and Hollows alike. 

"Welcome! I've been expecting you, Queen of Empresa!" Rey Dorado's voice broke across the sandy graveyard, his golden armored form draped in a red cape, and an elaborate untouched golden throne. With thick red velvet cushions fit for a king and an elaborate craftsmanship placed into the seat itself, Rey himself appeared to be drinking what looked like exquisite red wine, made from the finest vineyards of Aether and befitting his noble status. However, his crimson eyes befitted that of a predator and a cruel being, plainly claiming full responsibility for the morbid scene surrounding him and the Primera. After taking a sip of his wine, he smiled toothily, "I've been anxious to meet the Queen of this dreaded wasteland, before I take her down as her Segundo was before her." 

For a moment, Casilda was deathly silent.

She let her arms fall back to her sides, her head lowered a little. But her eyes were locked on Rey's form, an unreadable expression having come across her shadowed face. She slowly balled her hands into fists, taking only a few steps towards Rey before stopping once more. She took in a deep breath and shook her head from side to side slowly, mentally preparing herself for what was to come. All the meanwhile, she allowed the silence to settle for a few moments more, just for the sake of increasing tension.

Then she spoke two words.

"Get up."

"No," Rey spoke back defiantly, keeping his gallant visage as he smiled towards her direction. Raising his left hand out in emphasis as he swiveled his golden goblet, "I don't know how Arrancars can have a semblence of emotion other than hunger, lust, and despicable carnage, but I know this must be painful for you to see. I want to see that pain projected in raw, potent anger, as I cut you down and watch as your body joins the thousands that have joined the dust this wretched world has to offer. I don't need to even move from this seat," twitching his left gauntlet's fingers, he spoke with lethal emphasis, "cause I was waiting for you already..."

Within the space just underneath Casilda, a powerful explosion would erupt beneath her. Its gale would consume the entirety of bodies surrounding her and blow back what ruins were left in the wake of the most recent attack. Its pillar was constructed of lightning, stemming from the high tier technique of Hiryūgekizokushintenraihō. Rey sipped his wine as he watched the explosion burst before him, his left hand tapping the throne as he awaited to see what reaction the Primera would have. 

There was nothing but the light of the attack, Casilda's form entirely being consumed by the pillar set up prior to her arrival. It was a trap prepared specifically in the event that she would stick to her honor and pride, wanting to bury the dead before confrontation. It was possibly one of the coldest and most sadistic tactical maneuver employed on the battlefield. Surely, if it had been anyone else, the fight would have been over before any blade could have been drawn.

Yet, even as the pillar started to fade, it was clear that was not the case.

BOOM!

All it took was a single Sonido, and Casilda had made her move. Her hand clasped onto Rey's face, forcefully hauling him with her as she threw herself with immense speed from the area. Her eyes had narrowed into slits, her pupils and irises having moderately dilated. A single tear slid down her face, collapsing onto the sands they passed under. Even as her mind was focused on her new objective, it momentarily drifted back to her Segundo.

"Bernabe... I hope that where you are now, you have been looking forward to this moment. I can feel your rage, your hatred for this man. I'm going to take every bit of it, combine it with mine, and use it to destroy this creature I hold in my hands. Please, give me your strength and your will..."

When she was certain that she was far enough away, she threw him.

The immense force that she put behind would cause him to skid through the sands, leaving behind a massive ditch and kicking up a wide fissure of sand into the air. The brief winds resonating from the pressure unleashed hit her were strong enough to throw anyone else off of their feet, but only made her hair and clothing billow. She looked at the spot where Rey would land.

"I was kind enough to give you a warning, fool." She said coldly, grasping the hilt of one of her blades and drawing it out. "Now, unless you want to really take a dirt nap, I'm going to tell you again. Get. Up."

"Tch!" Rey found himself climbing out of the crater of which Casilda had formed from her violent throw. Having not expected such an enraged responsed so soon, Rey mentally slapped himself for not errecting a barrier in preemptive measure to protect himself from a sudden attack. Walking out with barely a mark upon him, thanks to his armor, he stared at her with a wicked grin plastered onto his visage. 

"Well now, if you insist," Rey grasped the hilt of his own Zanpakutō, unsheathing it from its sparkling, golden and diamond enamored scabbard and revelaed the beautifully crafted blade. Holding it before his opponent, his eyes glistened with a hunger for battle and a projection of pride within his own power, "I will just have to make a throne out of your mangled corpse, you decrepit piece of Hollow filth!" 

SHFT-SHIIIIINK!

Within a single instant, Rey employed a swift Flash Step, being as swift as what Casilda managed as he closed the gap between the two of them within a moment's notice. Swinging his blade towards her neck, he created a rift of masterfully initiated cutting force and precision, being nearly precise enough to cut rifts within the airspace and into thick dunes behind her. All of this, while keeping his pleased face in reveling this challenge. 

CLANG!

Once the blade clashed with Casilda's, she battered it away and began her assault. Her movements were aggressive, aiming to displace Rey's counter-attacks and use them against him. Every strike made was not wasted, and her movements easily flowed into one another to allow for a constant and rhythmic assault. She did not allow herself to be pushed back by even an inch as she fought, intent on forcing Rey on the defensive.

Rey did his best to meet her, clash for clash, but the intensity of her aggressiveness made it difficult. Just like Bernabe, she had a raw animalistic nature within her attacks, but they were much more precise and skilled. He knew he was facing a formidable warrior, and an angry one at that. Despite losing footing, Rey began to see the blindness caused by her attacks. 

With a fraction of a widening to his already wide smile, Rey swung his blade around in an eliptical arc in mid counter to send a thrust her way, intending on clashing his sword back against her own. While a pressurized wave was released by the force of formidable physical and spiritual powers, Rey focused his gaze into her glare, before discharging a bright light out of it, sending a shocking spell to disorient her senses. 

Within this movement, he swung his blade to knock her blade off balance while thrusting his left golden gauntlet towards her face...

BLAAAAM!

...while discharging a golden-red blast variant of Haien, intent on sending the intensely incinerative spell loose upon her durable exterior, intending for the spell to burn away at her facial features for further disorientation. This would allow an opening for another powerful diagonal slash, releasing a powerful blast of precise pressurized cutting force towards her body, intending on sending her body spiraling away while dealing formidable damage upon her person. 

"!!"

The sudden burst of light hit Casilda's eyes, and she was forced to shut them as she was blinded. But it wasn't enough to keep her from feeling his fist being swung his way. In response, she swung her hand up and caught the oncoming fist as well as the incineration spell that would've hit her otherwise. She could feel the heat of the attack pick at her Hierro, but it wasn't enough to do any major damage to her.

She followed this movement with what appeared to be a professional style of close-quarters combat. As she used her forearm to parry his sword arm away from her, she quickly let go of the fist and thrust her palm towards his abdomen. The blow, open-palmed, would not affect his armor. But the concussive force would rattle his insides. She followed this up with a fluid pull-back of the palm and thrust of it to his face, packing enough power behind the blow to shatter the bones within his jaw. Finally, she followed that movement with a thrust of her blade towards his abdomen, aiming to rip through the armor protecting his body. The power and focus behind the strike would ensure that much.

It was here that he saw the naievete within the Arrancar before her as Bernabe had. 

As the fist went towards the armor, she would find a powerful reflective force recoil her fist, fluctuating the powerful kinetic force directly back at her. Even with the follow-up force, Rey was able to regain his bearings and stop the blade from connecting to his breastplate and catching her own blade with his protected gauntlet. With a mighty heave, he swung his blade down towards her shoulder with incredible force, following up with a activation of a molded Nenshō spell, melding with the cutting properties while adding a consuming pillar of flames, filled with the properties of Haien's neverending burning basis. 

To finish, Rey demonstrated his prowess of Kidō with a snap kick towards her abdomen...

BOOOM!

...while projecting the most powerful employment of the Kidō spell, Shō, sending a kinetic wave that would disassimilate the airwaves and the sand around her in sync with the propulsion energy from the kick itself, hopefully sending her head over heels away from himself. 

"What?!"

Casilda's eyes briefly widened in shock as she felt her hand being repelled away, feeling the force of her own attack shoving her hand away. This was enough to make her pause in her attack, even as Rey's attacks came forth. Normally, she would have gladly moved to counter the strikes made against her, for she had the power to do so. But now, her mind was kicking into contemplation of what had happened. If she was too caught up in the attack, she would only fall into the same trap again. So, much to her chagrin and Rey's fortune, she decided to pull away from her assault.

Boom!

She vanished from the path of the attacks, re-appearing and skidding away. She had fallen to one knee, her free hand partially buried in the sands. Slowly, she pulled it out and flexed her fingers, working the sand off of her skin and popping the bones. She looked at that hand, listening to the bones pop and crack with a frown of distaste. After a moment or two, she directed her gaze up to Rey again.

"I see..." She noted, bringing herself to stand on her feet. "I was mistaken to assume that armor only had the advantage of being extremely durable. Kidō Armor, designed to reflect any physical or projectile attack made towards its wearer back at the assailant. Now, I understand why Bernabe had so much trouble fighting you..."

"Unlike that lovely skin you call Hierro, my Kidō armor is made of the finest materials and composited with the most refined of Spirit Energy composites. If one has to be King, he must be enraptured with the most beautiful and stunning of armors," Rey flaunted out verbally, his eyes glaring out in a mocking tone as he waved a hand to her direction, "tell me, Queen of Empresa: Why have you not conquered all of Hueco Mundo at this time? Your military force was far less than I was lead to believe. If you had subjugated all of the surrounding colonies and military regimes, you would've had a dominating force that would've given even Lord Aizen's army pause. So why...why didn't you act like any ruler should, and declare dominance over your own kind, huh?!"

"...how any ruler should, huh?"

Seeing that Rey wouldn't attack just yet, Casilda decided to humor him for the time being. "Well, for one..." She said, a corner of her mouth curling upward in a small smirk. "I don't need to kill and slaughter hapless villages in order to prove my dick's bigger, do I? I'm not the one playing third flute to Sōsuke Aizen and Jigen while claiming that I'm going to be King. I find that actually to be kind of funny, too, and I can't help but wonder what candy Aizen gave you to make you follow him just like a newborn...."

"I sworn allegiance with Aizen because I recognized strength when I saw it. I'm not his servant nor a puppet. None of the Sennin Butai, those who've gathered together to help wage this war, are here to do anything less but attaining our own desires: Jigen's just a bored man who has too much time on his hands; Jinsoku's a crazy thing I have no comprehension of what it wants; Magatta just wants recognition and another war won under her slutty whore belt; Murasaki is just a lost puppy who wants a father-like mentor to give her a purpose; Senkenteki just wants vengeance against the Hankami for the genocide of his weak race; Ariana wants to start a new order of Paladins that isn't warped by corruption; Kugyō is just a egotistical brat who has too much time to think of new things to plot; and Tenshi just likes to murder people. Me on the other hand, I get vengeance, the wealth of a province, and total dominion over the Land of Aether," reaching out with his hand, his smile widened, "and I can kill and maim whomever I wish while being ontop of the world. Tis a lovely boon, don't you agree, Primera? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!" 

He would not be the only one laughing.

Casilda slowly tilted her head back down, her bangs covering her eyes. She started chuckling, quietly at first but gaining a bit of volume as the seconds passed. It wasn't long until she had started laughing along with him. It was easy to assume that for whatever reason, she really was in agreement with him. But that theory would be quickly disproven once she spoke again, quieting down after a few moments of laughter.

"I'm sorry..." She muttered, placing a hand to cover half of her face. "It's just that you sound so... adorable right now. It's almost as if you want me to take you seriously with those claims..."

A brief, comical lapse of silence was brought upon Casilda's laughter and her statement.

Rey's eyes widened a fraction and dialated to a madenning degree as veins protruded from his glistening forehead. His body shook and his armor creaked from the trembling of building rage within his body as he spoke out volumiously "You mock me...and my glorious aims...Primera?!"

VVVVVRRRRROAAAAR!

What felt like a significant rise of Spiritual Power, even to someone of Casilda's caliber, rose to incredible heights as a golden light emanated and effected the atmosphere to a point where even the sands itself began to decompose into golden particles that flourished into Rey's armor and thus, into his body.

Raising his overshadowed, enraged visage, Rey's eyes glared out with incredible fury and pent-up frustration as he spoke out venomously, "I shall make sure you never smile or laugh again, even if it takes wiping out every disgusting Hollow within Hueco Mundo and skinning your flesh from the bones of your wicked body, Hellspawn! I'll make sure everyone you care and love cries out in agony, cursing your name for ever trusting your power to protect them! I will hunt down what's left of your precious Empresa citizens and murder them all! Male, Female, and Children! I will enjoy hearing their wails of agony as I crush them under my heels, like ants before a god!" 

Raising his Zanpakutō in the air, he let it rise into what seemed like a golden ripple within space, speaking aloud the release command, "Release thy Treasures..."

VMMMMM!

"Jōten Taiyō!" Rey spoke aloud, as the entirety of the battlefield warped in and out visually, sending an eery and ominous sensation within the atmosphere. Despite crackling with golden Spiritual Power that seemed to have a drastic affect with the naturally dense Spirit Energy composites of Hueco Mundo, Rey's emotions were at a boiling point. His wrath was now wholly focused upon the Primera and aimed to crush her absolutely beneath his heels. 

"Hm...?"

The smile faded from Casilda's face once she felt the energy escape into the atmosphere. Her hair blew back, but her body stood like a stone wall in the face of the pressure that was being exerted. She once again graced Rey's form with a bitter expression, the glare once again returning to her eyes. Slowly, she leveled her blade in a challenging manner at Rey's form, slipping her free hand into her pocket.

"It's a shame that such a powerful soldier has such a condescending and pretentious view...oh, well. I guess it just can't be helped..."

Just then, a golden ripple opened right next to Rey's right flank, "unsheathing" to what would appear to be an elaborate crafted sword. With a double-edged blade and a series of runes enamored upon its face, it looked to be of royal make. Grasping the weapon with his right hand, Rey gritted his teeth as he focused his power through his newly acquired weapon...

SHINK!

BOOM!

...and swung it towards Casilda's form, sending a shockwave of sonic pressure force that had a near instaneous release towards her and the landscape behind her. Blowing back a great gap of pale sand, it would send powerful internally damaging vibrations through the atmosphere would aiming to propel her across the dreaded landscape from which had bore scars of their brief bout. 

A pull back of her sword arm and a thrust was Casilda's response to the oncoming attack, once it came close enough to her.

PWOOM!

Once the two forces connected, the sonic pressure dispersed in nearly every direction. Sand formed into waves and then into tsunamis as it surrendered to the force that Rey exerted, blown away and scattered into the winds. A mild sandstorm formed, enveloping both combatants within the dusty fog. Even as the winds generated pushed against Casilda, she stood her ground and kept the sword pointed at Rey.

VWOOM!

A crimson-colored Cero, instantaneous and wide as an apartment building, was unleashed from the tip of her weapon.

Stabbing the sword into the ripple of space from whence it came, Rey pulled another weapon out from the space to his left. Looking like a Nodachi, with glistening obsidian minerals interweaved with a rich ruby, Rey swung the blade forth towards the immense and swift pyre of destructive spirit energy. Once it came into contact with the pillar, it became snuffed out...

SHHHOOOP!

...leaving a fiery red aura of Cero energy enraptured around the blade. Rey glared as he raised the blade over his head with both hands, charging forth with blinding speed to close the gap between him and his opponent. When he reached a good three meter gap, he swung a wide horizontal arc, discharging a cutting rift composited with the energy that she just released, intending on severing her in half along with burning her alive. 

Casilda almost let herself block with the blade.

However, she thought about it as she saw that her own energy had been used against her. Her eyes narrowed slightly at this, and she resisted the reflex of batting away the blade. Instead, she let her free hand do the talking, swinging it upwards to meet the blade palm-first. When it connected, all that energy released was once again dispersed in nearly all directions. Neither of the combatants would be within the paths in which it took as it separated.

As the crimson light spread out, Casilda would be seen with her free hand grasping the blade that threatened to end her life. She met Rey's gaze directly as she prepared her blade and gripped his in order to ensure that he would not get away immediately. When she swung...

TSEW!

...she unleashed the arcs of the Tornado Alley attack on him at point-blank range.

As Rey had bare moments to notice the eruptions of immense energy burst forth from the blade, Rey took a moment to acknowledge the swiftness and precision of which she would deploy the technique. Then, he smiled, as he released the blade within her hand, taking enough time to step back before the rivulets of energy would form. What would be a collosal size of destructive energy that would decimate the landscape and the man before her, would not come to pass, but rather...

SSSSSSSHFT!

...the energy that had been released, swallowed up into oblivion, seemingly disappearing from all form of sensation and sight, and leaving an untouched Rey, with only his blood crimson cape flourishing in sync with his immaculate armor and sharp features. A smile of haughtiness struck his visage, and his cold, merciless red eyes fastened onto a prideful glare upon Casilda's own irises, taking only the time to tap his finger against his armor, speaking aloud, "Bitch..."

BOOM!

...sending a mental command to convert the sword held in her possession with violent force, intending on scalding her and tearing apart her flesh with the impressive transformation into raw, potent, explosive Spiritual Power. 

"You shouldn't underestimate me, nor my heavenly armory, Primera," Rey spoke smoothly, regaining his confidence and pride as stared her down unmoved by her impressive attempt in obliterate his person, "I have fought entities just as powerful as you and not recieved a single scar. Its things like this that cause formidable warriors, such as your simpleminded Segundo, fail to realize this before you are overwhelmed by the formidable power of the modern era."

The silence was brief.

When Casilda's voice spoke out, it did not have an ounce of pain or indication that she had gotten injured by the attack.

"And now I know why exactly he nearly got killed..."

When the spoke cleared, Casilda's form could be standing with her sword lowered and her free hand's wrist bent in front of her. Smoke was drifting from the palm - the only sign that she had gotten hit. She was looking at it for a few moments. "An entire attack swallowed up within a sort of "storage" you possess. When the target's long forgotten about it, you let it back out and release it upon him in order to destroy him. Bernabe would have been too caught up in the midst of his fighting to see his own attack coming for him like that. Clever, demoralizing, and humiliating for any enemy to be felled by it."

That was when her gaze switched back to him, cold and piercing. She spread her arms out challengingly. "Hit me with it. I'm going to show you right here and now just how far you've dug your grave."

"You're not lacking in confidence if not outright stupidity," Rey twitched slightly in irritation at how insistant the Arrancar was in outmatching him. Uncrossing his arms, he raised them both into the air as if to call upon the heavens before clasping them together, "just remember, it was your grave that you dug yourself in!" 

What would happen wouldn't be the ordinary opening of a golden ripple of spacial fabric. Golden ripples appeared around Casilda, spaced out from her just a mere spacing of ten meters. Even the space underneath and above her would collesce into a dimensional prison, creating what would appear on the outside as a sphere of rippling golden water, trapping her within. 

It was here that Casilda would realize the tremendous erorr of judgement in Rey's abilities. 

Within each of the ripples, the familiar sensations of her Tornado Alley's pressure would be felt simultaneously gathering behind each of the dimensional portals. As a brilliant, blinding crimson-white light shined brilliantly within her confines, the Tornado Alleys would fire five times from all directions, forcing what would be considered a swirling vortext of destructive energies that would be incapable of leaving while continuing to flowing in and out of the vortex of dimensional space in between space. 

"Tenrai Jukei, Rengoku! An inescapable prison forged by a dimensional rift, carved by my Jōten Taiyō, you will suffer your most powerful attack from all directions, again and again, until your body is reduced to dust! No matter what kind of Spiritual Power you exert, you cannot escape its confines, nor the continuous onslaught of your own weapon, fashioned by your own design!" Rey shouted out in a dark, jubilious tone as he watched the golden water-like sphere oscilate and spin, its "waters" unable to reveal the force constantly exerted upon the target within. He smiled as he felt a surge of victory rise from his chest and through his eyes, flashing a toothy smile, "had enough, Primera?!" 

There was only one lone answer. Physical force would have no effect against such a trap - a reminder of just how lucky Bernabe had been to have survived. Thus, Casilda would have to show her more intellectual side and the fruits of her own veteran's status over the years that she had been. That much was exemplified that the abrupt transition from anger to shock and horror as she regarded the prison around her shortly before the attack commenced. It would leave the impression that Rey had succeeded in killing the Queen of Empresa.

BWOOM!

A Garganta opened up a moderate distance behind Rey, the results of the attack shooting straight into the sky like a bullet. The crimson light that had made up the attack would illuminate the entire area, bathing it within frightening illumination. Within the shadow of that illumination, a lone silhouette of Casilda could be seen leaping out and descending towards the ground, landing on the soles of her feet. The Garganta she had came out of closed off, leaving the prison to continue working without its prisoner.

What was remarkable wasn't the fact that she had escaped the trap Rey had set up. It was the fact that she had jumped out of the path of the energies' virtually unscathed, although faint traces of smoke could be seen rising up from her person. The fire in her eyes had not faded one bit, glowering at her enemy as she spoke out. "That was your one and only chance, Dorado..." She said venemously, raising up to a standing position. "So the moment you fall, don't whine about your enemy not showing kindness to you."

Boom!

Once again, she moved up to attack him. Her blade descended upon his form, aiming to cut through the armor. But this time, there would be the most subtle of shifts. There would be energy stored within the blade she would connect with, just enough to cancel out the protective field that his Kidō armor produced.

Rey couldn't help but smile as his enemy employed the commonly overlooked ability all higher evolved Hollows shared: the technique tearing space itself, Garganta

As he saw his opponent descend towards him, gloating over her victor, he immediately planned out a defensive measure as he spoke back, "Well played, Primera. You truly are worthy of your title as most powerful Arrancar since Starrk. But the fight is nearly not over..."

As she rushed towards him, swinging her blade, she would find that she would only be slicing into a ripple within space, created by his Zanpakutō. It was within this space, that he released the immense Dual Ceros that the Segundo had been exposed to and had been swiftly defeated by...

BLAAAAAAAAAAAM!!!

Within a magnanimous showering of powerful, searing energies towards the Primera, Rey backpedaled away and unsheathed a large obsidian scythe with a golden tuff attached to its pommel. Swinging the blade around, he prepared to renew the confrontation against his worthy opponent, as he readied his senses to detect her incoming presence upon her recovery from his attack. 

"...not nearly over yet!" 

"HRAH~!!"

SLICE!

Casilda let out a yell as she swung the blade again, slicing through both of the Cero with a natural effort that would've only come from her. Their halves plowed through the sands beside and behind her, leaving large ditches that were quickly consumed as the sand collapsed in on itself. She stepped through the smoke, a snarl etched on her face as she glared at the smiling face of her enemy. Without hesitation, she grasped and swiftly drew the other blade from her hilt from its sheath.

If she wanted a chance of killing this man - no, this monster - in front of her, she would have to put forth everything now.

BOOM!

His scythe would meet her blades as she renewed the assault. Both blades moved in swift, fluid and precise motions as she struck, battering at his defenses relentlessly and aggressively once more.

Rey moved with both precision and skill as he maneuvered his scythe with deft skill to appropiately fight against the dual wielding Casilda. Swinging his pole appropiately to block the initial thrusts, Rey pivoted his arms and feet appropiately so the powered lunges of his scythe would take hold and move close to her weak spots. Their dance sported not only powerful shockwaves, a testament of their physical power, but also an array of spiritual pressurized spakrs that blasted the landscape with the ferocity of their spiritual energy's natural output. 

It was within the blocking of her next series of attacks, that he changed tactics. 

Within a brief gesture of his hand, golden rods would slam into Casilda's body...

SHINK-SHINK-SHINK-SHINK-SHINK-SHINK!

...calling forth the power of the binding spell, Rikujōkōrō, then following up with a swift manifestation of golden chains, wrapping around her body even further, rooted by Sajō Sabaku. To finish, Rey swung his scythe in a clockwise manner, manifesting eight violet-black holes to surround Casilda's body, with the last one forming within her chest, stemming from the Bakudo spell of Kuyō Shibari

Not wasting a moment, hoping the three fully-empowered Kidō would hold her long enough, Rey threw out his hand towards her face, uttering aloud his chosen form of aggression...

"KUROHITSUGI!" 

VOOOOOOM!

Manifesting a large, violet-black coffin that would enrapture her being, surprisingly reaching full power by the time it forms what would be assumed the size of a skyscraper, a testament to Rey's skill and prowess within the arts of Kidō. Rey's eyes glared towards the point of execution, aiming for the destructive force to rip her apart or deal some form of feasible damage upon her durable person. 

"!!!"

Casilda's eyes quickly shifted downwards to the bindings that held her in place. As he performed binding spell by binding spell in order to keep her where she was, she couldn't help but sneer. Her hands tightened around the blades as she attempted to free herself. By the time the Black Coffin spell had materialized, it seemed as if Rey had her once again.

SLICE-SLICE-SLICE-SLICE!

But, a second after the coffin around her fully manifested, flashes of a blade could be seen slicing through the walls of the black box. Within a millisecond after that, the prison around her shattered to reveal her freed form. The remnants of the binding spells were shown disintegrating and falling in her wake as she walked ominously towards him, her blades lowered but kept in a threatening position.

"Don't you get it, Dorado?" She allowed herself to growl. "Your prisons can't hold me. Your petty tricks and the use of what you've stolen from your victims won't kill me. That armor of yours you wear won't stop my blade from reaching your heart. The lost souls of this land cry out for your blood, and I will not fail to deliver this time!"

VRRRROAAAR!

"Shut your mouth, heathen! You stand in the presence of a god!" Rey shouted out, his body once again flared up with frightening golden Spiritual Power, absorbing the material of the sands and the atmosphere to bolster his already substantial power. In emphasis, his hands stretched out in both directions, causing a massive rift of the golden "water" to unsheathe hundreds to thousands of independant weapons. His eyes widened to a maddening degree, his snarl visible upon his features, as his hands were held upraised as the armory stood poised to strike at Casilda's form, "I'm like no one you've ever faced! The Inner Circle, Aizen, they are nothing in comparison to my vast arsenal!" 

SWISH-SWISH!

"Feel the wrath of my Divine Armory, scum of the Earth!" 

Within a few flicks of his hands, all of the independant weapons of all natures, discharged like homing missiles and sharp projectiles. Each of them had considerable concussive force behind them, and each one caused a different form of destructive potential. These thousands of weapons hailed within a wide gait, all of them poised to destroy Casilda within an instant, as he even threw his scythe within a powerful arcing throw at her body.

A thousand weapons to destroy a single individual seemed like very insurmountable odds. 

Boom!

Casilda used her Sonido, vanishing in between the baths of the weapons that rained down upon her. It was like trying to dodge the raindrops in a storm, and she found herself in a few close calls with several of the artillery pieces that were hurled in her direction. But it was only with a few Sonido movements that she seemingly found herself caught. Her eyes widened, and she found herself skidding to a stop as the weapons crashed down around her. Dust and smoke was kicked up, and the last thing that could be seen was her sliding and falling back as the maw of the rain swallowed her.

Boom!

But, she had not fallen prey to the storm.

With another Sonido movement, she re-appeared behind Rey and thrust her blade towards his back, imbuing the same energy within her sword that she had done prior to the exchange and the second attempt at trapping her.

Throughout it all, Rey's eyes never left her rapidly shifting form. Despite the convincing tumble she took by taking some of the force of his discharging weapons, he could immediately feel the familiar fluxuation of Sonido being employed. Turning around to face his enemy, he acted with haste, as he gathered a pair of obsidian-violet orbs of destructively condensed Spirit energy into his palms. Twisting them around in opposite arcs, he clasped his armor-bound wrists together while folding his fingers and extending his forefingers, as the blade of the weapon came within mere inches of connecting. 

"Matenrō!" 

VRRRRROAAAAR!

The force of the immense, destructive blast would make a Cero Oscuras abysmal in comparison. The violet-black flames of disintegrative energy pressed against the epicenter of the blade's edge, and encompass Casilda within darkness and agonizing pain. Rey focused an immense force of destructive force into this Kidō, reinforcing it through after-speak incantation, vocally strengthening the already powerful spell being unleashed upon Casilda,

"Thy marriage created in heaven. Blessings of the heavens and earth, creation of the eight. Birth the Lord of blood and flesh, with the jeweled spear-tip, the unmovable bridge, create with both hands, an everlasting tower!"

VOOOM!

Within the extra addition of the incantation, the force extended in reach and projected in a magnanimous shockwave, furthering its destructive properties upon the oncoming woman and the blade she held within her possession. 

"Nngh...!!"

Casilda was forced to pull her blades back as the blast was unleashed on her, her blades forming a cross as they connected with the energy of the attack. She was forced to summon her own energy, her pressure billowing against the energy that threatened to consume her. When she heard the chant, she shifted her blades so that only the tips would be blocking the energy blast. The tips of a Cero formed before launching themselves to counteract the attack.

But it would only be enough to cause a disruption.

BOOM!

The disruption would cause a bright explosion to envelop their area, briefly illuminating the ground underneath their feet. Casilda had to shut her eyes against the intensity of the light produced. But it didn't keep her senses from detecting and locking onto her target. With another Sonido movement, she re-appeared before him again and swung a blade at his face. She was showing nothing but a fierce relentlessness, refusing to back down against her enemy until he was dead.

Rey couldn't deny her tenacity, but her ruthless nature would undoubtedly blind her to the danger.

Using exceeding prowess within the Hohō Arts, his body blurred out of line with the path of her blade, and reappeared beside her extending arm. Grasping her by the wrist, he deftly spun on his heels and simultaneously projected a powerfully condensed hybrid of three Kidō spells into his gauntlet-covered fist: Shō, Raikōhō, and Tenran

Melding the destructive force into a concentrated area and projecting it out, Rey would have a higher potency with Shō than he displayed with a simple snap kick. Complimenting this would be the thundercrack force of the immensely pressurized lightning bolt that would emanate simultaneously along with the kinetic burst, causing the Raikōhō to not only sear through the target, but perhaps add into the concussive blast that would set off the latter merging technique. Using Tenran, at a hyper microburst level, instead of widening into a voluminious twister vortext, it would explode with high prejudice when the other two simultaneous energies detonate, and send a sonic airwave that would be concentrated into the point of contact which Rey would strike.

That point of contact, would be Casilda's right side, directly into her ribcage. 

Having already establisehd another tact for if this one would fail, Rey intended to deal some real damage to his enemy, as he had fought harder against her than he ever had against the Segundo or any opponent within recent skirmishes. 

With this movement, Casilda found herself unable to move in order to utilize an effective counter-attack.

BOOM!

The attack slammed into her ribcage full force, her body bending moderately under the force. There was another explosion, brief but certainly powerful considering the prowess of the Kidō user. It seemed like a move that stemmed straight from the art of physical combat. That, combined with his physical strength, would have been enough to do in anyone that was unfortunate enough to get caught in such in attack.

Yet, as the smoke cleared, Casilda's voice spoke out again with clarity.

"Get your hands off me!"

WHAM!

Pulling him in, the Arrancar slammed the back of her head into his face in order to free herself from his grasp. She twirled around to face him, using his possible disorientation as an opportunity for an opening. One of her blades were thrust towards his chest, her eyes narrowed and the scowl clear on her face. The power unleashed upon her, strong as it was, had not done anything to pierce her thick hide. One could only wonder if this was simply the work of her Hierro, or there was something else at play...

"NGH!" Barely pulling his head back to avoid the full brunt of the strike smashing into his face, Rey employed an instinctive Flash Step as he rubbed the blood coming away from his nose and lips, matching the ire within his crimson irises. Seeing as he had been left no choice to dispose of her, Rey swung his left hand towards her direction...

"Ban-"

It would be within this space and time, that something unexpected would occur. 

To Rey's eyes, time would literally stop. His body wouldn't move, and neither would Casilda's. Everything, down to the smallest airborne grain of sand, to the vibrations coming from the Primera's Zanpakutō. It was within this time, that he would see a figure, draped in black and exerting a white, almost holy aura of Spiritual Power, too unknowable to the likes of Rey. 

"k...ai...Aizen?!" 

"This is a pointless contest, Rey-san," Sōsuke walked forward, his body glowing and his eyes meeting both Rey's and Casilda's, "the Primera standing in front of you is above your league. Even if you tried any form of attack or defense, she would find a way to overcome it. She isn't like the warriors of Aether, nor is she like her subordinates. She is pure...and powerful. A true example of the next step of evolution within her species," Sōsuke looked over at Casilda, smiling with a gentle, yet cruelly underlined visage. His body directly in front of her, he reached out and placed a hand on her face, his power keeping them both in place and unable to move, "isn't that right, Casilda-chan?"

"What...the...?!"

Casilda would've widened her eyes in shock at the sudden appearance of the familiar nemesis, if she still had the ability to move them. Her face showed that constant expression of surprise even as she felt his hand slide across her cheek. But it wasn't enough to keep her from feeling a wave of disgust coursing through her still body. However, she still had some control over her mouth, and her bitter words were quick to escape it.

"Damn you...!"

"Still delighted to be in my presence, daughter of the Immortals?" Sōsuke asked rhetorically, as he caressed her face in a sinister, tender moment. The next he hissed lowly as he leaned his discolored eyes to meet hers, "you should be. I am entertaining myself by witnessing your last fleeting moments of freedom. Soon, this universe will know true Order and I will subjugate them into the embodiment of my will. I hope you've enjoyed the excercise, hahaha!" He let out a low chuckle, releasing her as he stepped up and looked over to Rey, sideglancing him as he spoke aloud, "leave them be. I've already notified the others that they shall not be interfered."

"W-Why?!"

"First, one of you may die fighting a Primera-class Arrancar. Secondly, because they're no threat to the entirety of our alliance, even with additional aid. Lastly," Sōsuke spoke in a darker tone, as his body's glow began to shift the entire atmosphere into a pitch blackness, that blotted out everything but his own bright aura, signifiying his deified power over the two of them, "its because I command it!" 

After widening his eyes, Rey's complexion paled as he could do nothing but bask in the contrasting aura of light and darkness, crushing his will and his spirit without ever feeling an ounce of his power. Once he spoke aloud a brief, unintelligible response of acknowledgement, Sōsuke dispelled his hold over the space around himself, and allowed time to resume, causing Rey and Casilda to drop from the exposure of such enormity of power. 

"I will have Shukun return your precious Arrancar allies. I care not whether they live nor die, but at least you will know I had no qualm with your little recruitment mission," Sōsuke turned his gaze to fixate upon Casilda, as Rey began to slowly get to his feet, and sheathe his now sealed Zanpakutō, speaking with a haughty smile, "its not like one empty shell of an Arrancar will increase your chances in finding victory, little princess of the empty desert."

"Nnngh..."

From the knee that she had collapsed onto, Casilda forced herself back up on her feet. Beads of sweat had fallen down her face, and her posture was slightly hunched - a clear indication of just how much the demonstration of power had affected her. Her wavering her eyes glared daggers at both Aizen and his mercenary. "Careful what you say, Sōsuke." She said venomously, though keeping her swords lowered. "They may come back to ruin you once more..."

"Your power is no lesser than what any of the Hankami are capable of, and you can't even grasp the limits of my own strength," Sōsuke turned around, his voice echoing across the sandy wastes, as within a bright flash, both he and Rey disappeared into the oblivion of space he created, "that should allow you to realize, just what your chances are of defeating me...hahahahahahahahahahaha!

And then, there was silence.

Casilda slowly sheathed her swords, taking in a deep breath and closing her eyes in thought. That certainly wasn't anything that had been displayed in their previous fight. Had he been capable of stopping the very fabric of time like that? Had he been capable of suppressing both her and Rey without so much as a bead of sweat? She knew that whatever he had been doing had certainly proven to be effective. It was just another sign that their forces would have to get themselves together if they wanted any chance of victory.

She sighed, scratching the back of her head. "Hana's certainly not going to like this..."

Boom!

A Sonido, and she disappeared from the area herself.

Remembrance of Loyalty, Awakeninng of the Lone Wolf! 

Starrk didn't have it any better in terms of landing.

Falling flat on his back with a groan, his insides felt as if they were all mixed together and had lost function. Of course, this was only brief, as he was able to re-adjust himself shortly afterwords. His female companion, Lilynette on the other hand, was falling above him, threatening to land right on his face. However, he quickly moved his head left, causing her bottom to land on the sand next to him.

"Ouch..." she complained quietly, before looking over at him. "At least you're learning how to avoid that..."

"Not letting it happen again." he groaned, standing up straight and looking at her with a slightly annoyed look with a nerve vein on his head. "It's annoying and gross at the same time. It's almost like you're trying to make it happen each time we go somewhere."

"Sometimes it's the only thing that wakes you up!" she replied back with a comical hiss.

"Whatever..." he sighed as he rested his hand on the end of his katana, lazily glancing around the area for a few seconds before his expression and his tone relaxed more. This time, as he continued to look around, he almost looked rather...sad to see where they were.

"What's wrong, Starrk?" Lilynette questioned with a raised eyebrow.

"I remember this place..." he said calmly, a hinge of sadness in his voice. "This is where I created you for the first time.....and it's where Aizen first found us, all those years ago."

"Oh..." she replied, her expression lowering as she too remembered the layout of this land. She remembered it all too well as the memories came back to her. "This place...you said you never wanted to come back to it. Why?"

"Because..." he sighed, rubbing his forehead briefly. "I didn't like the feeling it gave off was all."

"I think I know all too well," the voice of their attacker spoke aloud, disembodied and eerily, keeping the suave smooth texture his particular tone projected, "you're afraid your identity as a being would be felt incompatible and empty. You'd be even worse than Ulquiorra Schiffer, a fake created to fill the emptiness within your devoid heart. Both of you were created by a Apex being that couldn't handle the pain of his own lonliness. Until you acknowledge this, you can never become your true self. But it is that very embodiment is what makes you strong and more individualistic than any of your comrades that were chosen before you..."

Coming from the shadows laced within their backsides, Shukun reappeared, his eyes taking them both into account dispassionately as he stared them down, "Coyote Starrk, Lilynette Gingerback...you were chosen and heralded as Lord Aizen's favored and most elite warrior of his army. He never lied to you nor cast you aside. He thinks fondly of both of you. Instead of casting you into the Void, I was told to give you the chance to join him in the fight once more," with an extension of his right hand, Shukun sincerely came out and asked softly, "will you be Lord Aizen's right hand once more, Coyote Starrk & Lilynette Gingerback?"

"Oh great, more shadows...."

Starrk turned himself around calmly to see the masked entity once more, but what really got his attention hooked was the offer that he extended to him. Aizen was asking for his help...again? It wasn't in his nature to get angry right off the bat, but the thought that one of his enemies was extending an offer of assistance, after all this time, and after all that he had seen Aizen do...annoyed him.

"So..." he began, turning to face the figure fully. "Aizen still doesn't want to fight his own battles, eh?"

"He doesn't intend to fight you, Coyote Starrk. But he knows your longing for strong comrades to fight with. Our alliance, the Sennin Butai, was formed by Lord Aizen in order to grant you your desire for strong comrades once more," keeping his hand extended, Shukun continued to speak smoothly as he kept his gaze upon him, "your strength is valued to him, as your heart's desire. He aims to fulfill all our desires within the completion of this war and the annihilation of all those weaker than people of your plane of existance. You will not be alone, anymore, Primera Starrk."

It was tempting, at first.

Any form of companionship would have done him good at that point, but there was one problem with Shukun's offer.

"Sorry," Starrk readily replied, his expression now becoming more serious in comparison to relaxed. "but the moment that he and his new gang attacked Empresa, the moment I first saw all of the dead Arrancar in their wake, and the moment I saw him raise his blade to the Primera, I knew that he hadn't changed a bit. Besides..."

"We've already found the companions that we need!" Lilynette snarled at the man with a hiss. "Unlike Aizen, they really do care about us, and we care about them. So you can tell Aizen to take his offer and shove it up his ass!!!"

"...what she said." Starrk commented with a sweat drop, but in agreement nonetheless.

"So you reject an extended hand of kindness in favor for these meager, weak entities you call your comrades?" Shukun spoke aloud in a slightly incredulous tone, but did not break the smooth stare that shifted into a red-eyed glare towards Starrk and Lilynette. Raising his extended hand, a sinister aura wrapped around him as he spoke his next words, "then I guess you don't care what happens to those petty Arrancars you call the Tres Bestia, do you, as I let the Void swallow them up for an eternity of madness and suffering?"

What happened next would be instant, and unexpected.

Starrk didn't move a muscle, his eyes just barely narrowed themselves being his only form of reaction. However, unfortunatley for Shukun, what Starrk was doing would be unnoticeable until it was too late.

From between them, an incredibly dense, high-powered pressure wave was released from Starrk's stationary form. It was instant, sudden, and powerful, so much to where even Lilynette was taken aback by it's sudden activation. The blast was so great, the ground beneath it sunk into a fairly average crater, and blew the smaller Arrancar back slightly by it's force. As for Shukun, he would be lucky if he wasn't thrown at least a kilometer from his current position, as well as have all of his bones in tact.

"Sorry about that." Starrk said as he slowly drew his blade from his sheathe, his expression not changing. "I'm not the type for these sort of things, but I know that it's going to happen no matter what, so there's no point in stalling it. If you're gonna leave, you'd best do it now; I won't stop you. But if you plan on fighting, then you'd best be ready to fight at your all."

Shukun didn't have time to react. Gone was the lazy and slow-going Alpha Male of the predating Espada. This display of precise and powerful kinetic force was just the answer Shukun needed to believe he was an enemy. 

As his body careened across the landscape, his form crashed through several sand dunes, causing powerful uproars of sand particles to blow into the air and cause rifts of sand to part, like a missile soaring through the surface of the ocean. When he finally stopped, his form caused a powerful shockwave that billowed winds far and wide for Starrk to witness. 

Within a small time, however, Shukun's form would reappear. His body oozed out of the shadows of the crater of initial pressure release, and his eyes glowed of a heated venom towards him. His black attire showed signs of wear and tear, but his body showed it to be far more durable than anyone would be left to believe. Dusting his sleeves, Shukun straightened his vest before approaching the Primera duo...

"I guess you're not the kind of person to care about hostages. I would've offered them to you as prizes should you best me, but I guess they'll just dangle within the empty space of madness and terror for eternity," Shukun spoke smoothly, as his feet "walked" across the space towards Starrk, his eyes vividly glowed a bright crimson red as show of his hostility towards the two of them, "I guess I'll show you their fate once I'm done destroying your bodies, Primera Starrk and Gingerback..."

Well, I'm sorry to dissapoint again..." Starrk said, slightly raising his blade to the man, knowing that there would be quite a battle waiting for him up ahead. "...but avenging the dead isn't my thing either, so don't go into this fight thinking that's going to give you an edge."

It was within this moment that Shukun became the aggressor. 

WHOOSH-CRACK!

Moving straight for the kill, Shukun's hand formed an invincible fist of pressurized force, striking towards Lilynette's skull and aimed to smash a fraction of her mask and send her careening across the desert air, before turning around to face Starrk. Swinging out his hands in either direction, black-veined ethreal hands stretched out of the shadows laced within the dunes and flew towards Starrk's form, using an eery and unholy magic to negate the use of spirit energy and feed on his life force. Should they take hold of him, they would strangle and consume him in abysmal darkness before retracting into the Void from which they were summoned. 

Shukun would find the Arrancar faster than anticipated.

Lilynette's current location was just enough to where the fist wouldn't directly hit her skull, but rather, the pressurized wind that it generated was enough to make her body be flung for quite the distance. Bouncing along the ground seemingly endlessly, she went almost entirely out of view.

Starrk on the otherhand, was more focused.

As the fists all came for him, a sudden bout of Sonido was used to avoid the brunt of their attacks. So flawless was this executed move, that it looked nigh effortless. He appeared a ways to the left of Shukun, sword arm in hand and swung at the man's left shoulder with great force. Following this, however, was another high powered pressure-waved that moved in sync with the sword slash. Just like the previous wave, this one would be impossible to detect until it was released. So even if Shukun blocked the sword, or dodged it one, he'd face the full brunt of Starrk's power.

Or in this case, a taste of it.

"He uses shadows too..." Starrk thought to himself while doing this. "Though, he keeps mentioning this 'void' of his. Better not jump to conclusions. I'll have to wait and see more of it before I can counter it properly..."

CLANG-WHOOSH!

Within the contact of both the blade and the pressurized blast, a shadow manifested into a solid veil that mimicked Shukun's visage, absorbing the damage effortlessly and dispelling it. As the shadows riveluated through the air, they changed form as they glowed brightly of energy...

BLAAAAAM!

...and discharged into an abysmal force of destructive power, aiming to engulf Starrk's entire person as well as eat away any energy that he would project to protect himself upon instinct. 

"Your physical prowess is admirable, Coyote Starrk," Shukun spoke smoothly, as his eyes met Starrk's visage, standing firm in the wake of the powerful ex-Primera, "not many are able to project such power with the mere flick of a sword hand. You might be as strong as Casilda Selestino is, if not possibly stronger, within martial might..."

Starrk's reaction timing saved him yet again. Once he saw his pressure wave be dispelled so clearly, he knew that no good would come of the next attack. Sonido was deployed once again to avoid his foe's oncoming strike. As he appeared to Shukun's exposed front, several powerful, one handed slashes would be delivered unto the being's form.

"Don't rub it in." he said as he began his effortlessly exerted onslaught.

SWISH-SWISH-SWISH-SWISH!

With each and every slash, Shukun moved in and out of the reach of the powerful blade strokes, his body a mere blur before the experienced Arrancar's eyes and senses. The billowing sands released from each pressure wave would create a natural fog of war affect, and eventually conceal Shukun's presence entirely. It was within this spare moment that Shukun struck...

SNATCH-SNATCH!

...as tendrils of black veined shadow bindings crawled up Starrk's legs, immobilizing him, and threatening to pull him down into the abyss of his own shadow. It was also within this moment, Shukun propelled himself into the sky, raising his right hand into a finger gun stance. With a subtle gathering of silver energy at the tip of his index finger, he discharged a stream of energy...

SHEEEEEEOOOOOW!!!

...in the form of a deafening, crackling silver-black dragon, with blazing red eyes that locked onto its desginated target. When it would strike the ground from which Starrk would attempt to escape from, the energy released would cause an immense explosion, creating a large crater within the pale sandy sea, and send tidal waves of white grain in all directions in excess of the silver-black flames. 

"Crap!"

These shadows were certainly more intriquite than Starrk had anticipated, far more deadly than the ones that his old Captain enemy had used hundreds of years ago. Without warning, he felt his legs sink into the ground, almost as if he were falling into an endless pit beneath him. It was only due to sheer will power that he managed to keep himself from falling further down into this void.

And then there was the massive energy attack coming from above him.

Here, he initially thought that he just might be done for. But thankfully, he wasn't this hopeless. His foe hadn't anticipated how crafty he was with his own power. From inside the void that his feet were in, a massive blue Cero was fired upwards, blowing enough of the ground away to let the shadow be destroyed, thus freeing his feet. Even more effective was the effect of the Cero on his foe's attack. With a collision of mighty proportions, the blue Cero struck the silver-black blast, and their collision created a massive white sphere in the air that furthered the small crater that Starrk's Cero created when it was fired.

Starrk now realized that fighting in range of his shadow wouldn't be a good idea. Even if his shadows could reach him in the air, they wouldn't be fast enough to catch him off guard again. Leaping back into the air and remaining there, he waited for his foe's next plan of attack.

"You're more shrewd than I believed you to be capable of," Shukun breathed out, his mask exhaling a thin mist as his eyes resumed back to a normal blue color. With his hands back into their pockets, Shukun's body began to radiate a black aura with an immense Spiritual Pressure boiling from within, "I guess I'll have to try a little harder in crushing your body and spirit, Arrancar-"

Then, a breathtaking moment occured within their space. Shukun saw that time had stopped, as the projection of spiritual energy was caught within mid-stance and he himself couldn't move. Some greater power extended to the far reaches of the desert, and had halted all phenomena. With a twitch of his brow, and realizing what it signified, as soon as the sensation came it left. 

Shukun sighed with resignation, bending his head to the side which caused the Tres Bestia's immobile forms to erupt from the shadows below, showing them to be unharmed relatively. 

"Lord Aizen has deigned your adventure to be as fruitless as our intervention is pointless. Take what little kindness your former master has shown you, Coyote Starrk, for the next time you cross us or our allies, you will not be shown such mercy again," Shukun hissed, as his body descended into the shadows below, disappearing from them all within a heartbeat, as quickly as he had shown himself. 

"...I guess fate's being a little too kind to me." Starrk said lowly as his foe slinked away. Aizen's display of power was probably a godsend, from where he stood. The less he had to fight, the better. Of course, this was the third time he'd had to fight in a situation and then let off easy. If he could help it, he'd wish it could be this way each time...

The Will of Fire, The Undying Flame of Resolve!

Things were going as one would expect...

BOOSH!

...as Daisuke felt his sleeveless uniformed person slam into another dune of sand, causing it to be obliterated in every sense of the word, and cause him to go dizzy from the sheer impact. Comically, he removed his head and torso from the pale grains, and proceeded to spit out wads of grimy soil from his lips and tongue, rubbing his eyes and face as he looked over towards Kiorra's direction. 

He smiled with anticipation, however, as he still had his hand upon his Zanpakutō and the area around their battlefield had begun to be riddled with flames and smoke. The perfect setting for his element-based combat against his chosen opponent. 

"Guess that makes it the twelfth time you threw me into a dune. I guess you like throwing things, huh?!" Daisuke shouted out in retort, as he smiled with a reveling aura about him. Even now, his flames burned brightly off his long nodachi blade, around the curved spikes protruding from either edge of the weapon, and the tongues that danced around their landscape, "well I'm going to show you the true power my resolve will take me! Kiorra!" 

His opponent was fairing far better than he was.

Kiorra stood in place, with one hand in her pocket while her sword arm was extended outwards to the side from having slammed Daisuke's own blade with enough force to send him careening away from her. Her face, that straightforward, non-expressive, and frankly bored appearing expression hadn't changed at all. Whether or not boredom was what she was actually feeling would be impossible to tell. Despite this, she still allowed herself to speak to Daisuke, albeit in a similar sounding voice that matched her expressions.

"Why do you fight, Shinigami?" she asked quietly, but even with such silence in chaos, one would be able to hear her like a dark voice in their head.

"What kind of question is that? I've told you already!" Daisuke felt slightly frustrated, having heard her ask this question near the beginning of their battle, as he held his vividly fire-enraptured blade towards her direction, "I fight for the sincere freedom for all souls, material and spiritual, from the unrighteous oppression that this new collaboration of tyrants and villains have errected! If I am standing, then I can fight! If I am breahting, I can still fight! If I can throw my weak carcass in the way as a shield for those who are unable to protect themselves...THEN I CAN STILL FIGHT!" 

VMMMMM!

With punctual emphasis to his words, his Spiritual Power bolstered his strength once more, causing the flames surrounding them to form a spherical dome of fiery tongues over them. Raising his blade, the flames flew around to the tip of his Zanpakutō, as he sprinted towards Kiorra, swinging his weapon around in emphasis. As if all the culminated, bright flames had collesced within the edge of his weapon, he stopped just before Kiorra, with a pair of bright crimson eyes flashing towards her emerald, empty ones. 

"Jigoku...HASHIRA!"

VRRRRROAAAR!

Within a swift thrusting motion, the flames condensed into a swirling sphere before unleashing in a voluminous pillar of searing hot flames. Roaring out in emphasis of the sheer power of his attack, the fire would spread in a instaneous fifteen meter gait as it would flow through the sand dune she stood upon and blast away all the sand for a good hundred meters behind her, sending large waves that crystallized upon contact of the fiercesome flames sent its direction. 

Kiorra wasn't a fool. She wouldn't stand still midst of his charge and let him attack her full force. With a single Sonido bout, she appeared to the left of the massive blast. Her blade now coated with a slight emerald colored energy, she slashed the weapon into the inferno blast. As it was cutting the wave of fire into two large pyres, she spoke in the same tone. "Allow me to rephrase that question...."

With a burst of energy from her sword, the wave of fire was dissipated, leaving crystalized spikes all over the ground behind them, and spots of flames dotting other areas as well.

"What does your heart tell you, in the face of the odds that you and your allies are against?" she asked him, her tone, pose, and expression unchanged.

After he saw with a widened gaze of shock just how easily his Jigoku Hashira was dispelled, he felt his eyes drawn down and his visage overshadowed. He began to remember all of the people who depended upon him to bring back a worthy ally, to increase their chances that much more. But, what were their chances, really? Their enemies bordered upon physical gods, their leader and comrades captured, their home ransacked, the world taken over in a single day...what hope did they have?

Then, he remembered the comrades that entrusted their wills and faith into him, every time the situation became dire. His fight with Harbinger, Sakura, and other terrifying forces. He never truly overcame them, but rather, changed their hearts. How? Its because he believed...

"I believe...in the faith placed onto me by comrades," Daisuke began muttering aloud, as he recalled his own mentor and best friend, "I can't go back and look them in the eye if I couldn't say I've tried hardest in overcoming the insurmountable odds. I've had friends die in front of me, shielding me, so that I could fight in their place, because I was too weak to do it alone. My heart tells me...I fight with the strength of ten thousand...because...even in my darkest hour, I am never alone!" 

VVVVMMMMM!!!!

"My heart says to fight for what's right! Even at the cost of my soul! I will burn this body away and become reborn to fight again! That is what my heart tells me to do!" Daisuke shouted out, his body becoming emblazoned in flames and his Spiritiual Power pressurized and blew away the sand underneath his feet, and the air became ignited itself. 

Raising his blade into the air, his eyes fully encompassed into a bright vivid red-orange flame of their own, as he growled out...

"BAN-KAI!

VVVRRRRRROOOOAAAARRRR!!!!

Within a single, awesome release of Spiritually Empowered flames that stretched up to the height and width of a skyscraper, Daisuke's body assumed his truest and most powerful form. Within the vivid and searing flames that heated the atmosphere around him, and his own body became wrapped within a coat of flames, and a blood red katana held within his red hand, continuously projecting its tongues of red hot fire. 

While standing amidst the pyre of flames, Daisuke stared stoically and full of emotion, as he growled out towards Kiorra with conviction and certainty, "Gyakushū Kyōi Abatā! This is the truest form of my heart's conviction to fight! Are you satisfied now, Kiorra?!" 

She wouldnt deny that this new transformation of Daisuke's was powerful, as any Bankai of his calibur should be. But in using this transformation already, with her having only used half of her current, sealed power, she realized that she could pressure his drive more if she desired.

"So, your heart tells you to do what you believe is right." she surmised, her sword now raised to point directly at him, her statue like composure remaining un-briddled. "But does your heart consider what the hearts of others desire? Is the heart capable of feeling and reading the emotions of other hearts? Most Shinigami see evil in the Hollow race simply because they are Hollows. Do you see evil in your enemies simply because they have killed your allies?" she questioned him further.

"My friend, Sōsuke Kurama, wanted me to do nothing more than help support others so that they could reach their dreams and aspirations. His dream helped uplift mine, so I could share my mutual love for all races and beings, and uplift them. When he died...I felt no mourning that I had ever felt in my entire life. And people kill, no matter the cause, so how can I hate people who kill when I've done the same? No, my heart doesn't tell me that my friends and other hearts want me to kill in their name. They want me to fight...because they want to extinguish our dreams and drown us in darkness!"

SHINK-VRRRRRROAAAR!!!

Daisuke swung his blade down upon Kiorra's person, sending the enormous pillar of superheated flames to thrust into the shape of a large fist, aiming to smash into her being and pulverize the desert before him, even as he exerted the enormous volumes of flames upon Kiorra herself, holding nothing back. 

"There is no greater evil than self personification by sacrificing others' happiness, dreams, and hearts to gain it. That is why my heart yearns to fight for others, and I know for a fact, that is their hearts' mutual desire! To burn the darkness away with a holy flame of aspiration and dreams! And I will crush anyone who will tell me otherwise!" 

Kiorra raised her blade up, and Daisuke's collided with it in great force. Even with blocking it like she did, she found herself being pushed back constantly by such power that was being invoked. This had caused her eyes to open just a little bit more, but her tone wouldn't change.

"So you would stand in the way of the dreams held by others, simply for your own visions?" she continued, not being able to stop Daisuke at this point. "Have you considered that maybe your enemies have the same goals as you do? That they fight not for their own ambitions, but their friends and loved ones too? You seek to crush these enemies of yours because they stand in the way of your vision. What if you were to look at an enemy soldier in the eye, a soldier who had just said the same things that you have told me, and you still killed him because he stood in the way of your goals? What would your heart tell you then?"

Her eyes narrowed as she managed to skid to a stop, and quickly twist herself around. Using the momentum from the constant skidding, her blade grinding against Daisuke's would send him away from her for a few feet, or meters, depending on how quickly he stopped himself. "Doesn't that make you the same sort of enemy that you had described to me?"

"She certainly talks alot for a statuesque woman, doesn't she?"

Daisuke thought ironically as he felt himself pushed away from the substantially powerful Arrancar. Even as she continued to spew out verbatum against him, he wouldn't let up. He hoped not having to say the name in front of her, but she left him with no other option.

"Tell me...what do you think a soldier under Aizen's command would believe? Do you think he'd think he's fighting for the same reasons I would? That's right, Sōsuke Aizen is one of the leaders of this interdimensional war, and he's intending on crucifying every one of the Arrancars who don't sway loyalty to him, and burn the lesser Hollows to ashes, just because he wants to! If there is anything more evil than those who fight for the wrong reasons...its fighting for a man who's no worse than a Devil!" 

SHINK!

"Jigoku Kangoku!"

With a mighty shout that followed a stabbing motion into the sandy soil, the flames that stood behind him flourished magnanimously around them both, creating a wide radius of nearly fifteen meters behind them where the pillar of flames rose up into the sky. Towering up to the height of a skyscraper once more, and sealing at the top, there was no real escape from the flames unscathed. With a firm grip on his katana, Daisuke's eyes burned with heated resolve, "I do not condone the actions of someone as evil as he is. I may have to shed blood of those who fight for noble reasons and intent, but its all paved on the road of evil. I cannot stand by and be conflicted while darkness sweeps the land. I WILL NOT STAND FOR IT!" 

Taking his blade from the pale sand, he caused the flames to collapse upon their location. Filling up with hot searing flames, what came next would be considered a volatile explosion of super-heated quantified proportions. Sending out a shockwave that would send tidal waves of fiery sand, glass, and what would appear to be an oval shaped bladed that would spread to far reaches of space in every direction. Everything within its confines would be turned into dust and obliterated into nothingness. Anyone, except Daisuke, whom bathed in flames and wouldn't be harmed by them.

From the smoke and ashes left behind, Kiorra lept back from her previous position. This time, her attire was burned and bruised, in some places exposing more of her body, of which had strange green markings running down it in intriquite ways. However, despite this, her face held no expression of pain or stress. It was as if she wasn't even able to feel the affects of pain...

"This heart of yours is complicated...unecessarily so." she surmised, closing her eyes briefly. "I can't understand why other Hollow brethren would desire one of their own...perhaps I'll never know. What I do want to know however..."

She was standing on the top of a large dune, above Daisuke, looking down at him. He blade was pointed down at him once more. "...is how your heart stands against despair. Tell me, Shinigami; what is the greatest fear that you have ever encountered?"

"Isn't that getting a little personal?" Daisuke thought as he glared upon Kiorra. Now donning his own, rawest emotions, it began to become harder and harder to reign in his patience. He wanted her to stop with the questions and just join them already. Its not like he's out to kill her, after all...

"My fear...why would you want to know something like that? What does despair have to do with the heart?" Daisuke inquired, hoping to get an answer to what truly motivated the reincarnated Kiorra, hoping to understand what he had to say in order for her to understand. 

Her expression didn't change. "Because fear is a power far greater than any form of compassion or love that you Shinigami could ever show. Unlike those petty feelings, fear is a natural occuring force that dwells within any sentient being. It isn't an emotion, it is an instinct."

Her hair began to flourish with the wind, not of grace or beauty, but of an ever present feeling of dread. It was as if the Arrancar's words were conjuring a storm. "Even your heart cannot contend with your base instincts. If you truly wish for my arm in your war, you're going to show me how strong the heart is in the face of true terror. If you live, then I will join you. Otherwise, you will die, and your efforts will have been for naught. Thus confirming how I feel about this heart I've heard so much of."

Her hair bristled, and she spoke without emotion. "Bind...Murciélago."

What would follow would be considered impossible.

A truly massive torrent of black and green Spiritual Pressure exploded from where Kiorra stood, completely covering the surrounding area in darkness for at least a mile. Any flames that were remaining from Daisuke's Bankai would be blown away, and dust was scattered everywhere. Night was seemingly descending upon the already darkened Hueco Mundo, and terror loomed in the skies.

Daisuke's eyes shut as he held a arm to protect his eyes from the oncoming black rain, and the overwhelming flux of enormous Spiritual Pressure sweeping the sands. He could feel an overpowering empathic force, much like the Hankami would project with their Shinsei pressure. It wasn't sinister or bloodthirsty as he would expect. Instead, it felt cold...empty...and hollow. 

Gazing towards the pyre of black-emerlad energy, he could only imagine what form she could assume, as he held his flaming katana with both hands in front of himself. 

"I can win this...I've faced despair and overwhelming odds before. I'll win this!

The darkness faded, revealing the newly empowered foe that Daisuke would lay his eyes upon.

Two large, demon like wings would be immediately visible to him, with a sleek, slightly curved figure at their source. She had two large horns on the top of her head, and her hair seemed to be longer without that helmet to obscure it all. From her neck down to her chest, he sleek white skin would be seen, a large lace of fur covering her frontal chest. Her body from there down was covered in black, animal like fur that extended down to her thighs, ending in black strings. Part of her upper thighs were visible, but from them down to her feet was also black fur, ending in claw like toes. On her bottom was a long, whip like tail with a spear-tipped ending. Finally, her soulless eyes were green with black sclaera.

"Prepare yourself, Shinigami." she said quietly, slowly raising a claw-like hand up to him. "I will show you what real despair is."

And before would be able to reply...

She was in front of him, her hand thrusting towards his chest with lethal and brutal force. If he tried to block it, her hand would tear through his arm and fly through his chest. If he tried to dodge it, the sheer force of this thrust would feel like a freight train hitting him at high speeds.

All of this, with just one movement.

"NGH?!" Daisuke barely had any time to react. Only thanks to his battles fought against such high tier beings, and his battle with the Hankami, no matter how much they "held back", he could see her movements heading towards his direction. Deciding to defend with a counter-force, Daisuke swung his blade around to meet the incoming spear-hand thrust horizontally, taking a large curtain of flames to explode upon impact, dampening the force of her attack.

BOOM!

While it did as he hoped, his body felt thrust back by a force he couldn't hope to block. Flipping head over heels, Daisuke barely grasped upon the sand below, causing a large force of grains to fly behind him and into the air, crystalizing around his super-heated aura. 

Gritting his teeth, he pressed forward, swinging his blade around and slashing out a number of times, sending highly-pressurized firebals towards his enemy. Each of them swift and hard to dodge, as they were compacted with enormous compressed pyrotechnic energy, and would explode in a violent napalm affect.

"Jigoku Dangan!

When Daisuke moved, Kiorra's wings flapped once. A single flap made her propel herself towards Daisuke at immense levels of speed, causing the sand dune behind her to be blown away instantly. She continued to fly towards him, even as the balls of fire were coming straight for her. However, when they connected and exploded with tremendous force, she kept going, appearing to be unscathed as she blew past the fire and smoke without a bit of change to her speed.

Slamming her hand into Daisuke's face, she drove him into the ground and drug him for several long meters, creating a large trench in the sand. After going for a few seconds, her hand released, causing him to go up just slightly...and just enough for her to twist around and slam her leg into his back with such force, he would fly up towards the skies at tremendous speeds.

It was clear now that she wasn't going to hold back in this battle.

"GAK!" Daisuke felt pain shoot up and down his backside, feeling the wind forced out of his lungs, and saliva discharge from his mouth, as his body was flung helplessly into the air. He felt the edge of his vision begin to recede into the darkness, and unconsciousness began to creep up. 

"I-Is this the end, for me...?!" Daisuke muttered aloud, as he felt him ascend higher and higher, his fiery form begin to dwindle in sight from Kiorra. 

"F***ING IDIOT! Wake up!

"K-Kyōi Abatā?!" Daisuke's senses snapped and his eyes opened widely. With a forceful exertion of Spiritual Pressure from his front, Daisuke halted his ascent and skidded to a halt, high above his enemy. As he turned around to look down, he spoke within his mind, "sorry...I got a little distracted-"

"Don't go off forgetting you're the only one fighting here, ass! I thought we solved this awhile back? We're a team, remember?!"

"R-Right...sorry about that. Fighting someone so curious and yet, so dreadful is a little distracting. I was hoping to reach out to her, like I did with Sakura, but..."

"You're not perfect, Daisuke. Its obvious she could read your imperfections, like the stains on a piece of paper. But if your heart is strong enough, you can burn away those shortcomings and show what you're best at!"

"Which is what?"

"Passion. You may not be the smartest nor the strongest, but out of any Soul Reaper I've encountered at your side, you are by far the most passionate. In whatever you do, you believe it is right and wholeheartedly. This is why I believe you can succeed, and together, we can overcome any obstacle! Keep that faith, and you'll always be number one in my book!

"Th-Thanks...Kyōi Abatā-"

"ITS Gyakushū Kyōi Abatā! G-Y-A-K-U-S-H-Ū, K-Y-Ō-I, A-B-Ā-T-A! REMEMBER IT!"

"Geeze, okay! No need to shout so much!

"Now let's kick her ass, okay?!

"Right!

VRRRRRROOOAAAR!!!

Within an instant, Daisuke's Spiritual Power flowed out and began to burn away the receding "darkness" Kiorra's Spiritual Pressure had overlayed the land and air. Daisuke's body burned brighter than before, crafting draconic wings of solid pyrotechnic energy, and large pillars of flames began to form on either flank of Daisuke's body. With a passionate gaze projecting towards Kiorra below, he rocketed himself downwards, his body accelerating as it descended down towards her as his power reached to heights Daisuke wasn't aware of reaching before. 

"Kami Kizu Shawā Moyashi!" Swinging one of the pillars of flames on his left, he sent a large barrage of human-sized fireballs, carpet-bombing the entire area of which Kiorra laid in wait. The total eruption would set the entire landscape aflame and create powerful shockwaves within its outlying perimeter. But this was merely a smokescreen for Daisuke's next attack...

Within the escape or movement Kiorra would make from the fireball shower, he hurtled the other pillar of flames, expanding it and causing it to grow into an enormous draconic hand, aiming to slam her fully into her front and push her into the wide, fire-engulfed sands below and bury her into the tops of the Menos Forest canopy. Standing atop, Daisuke's eyes burned as brightly as the flames that would scorch the horizon and around his body. With gritting teeth, he focused on using all of his strength in combatting her. 

The first pillar of flames was certainly impressive, but it wasn't impossible to destroy or counter. Simply folding her massive black wings in front of her like a shell, the fire harmlessly slammed against the powerful limbs and created the explosion that they would see later.

However, she wasn't expecting the second pillar.

Her wings opened just enough to see the oncoming blast, and by that time, it was too late to properly counter. The blast hit her shielded form with great force, plowing her into the sands below and seemingly freezing her in the glass produced afterwords.

However, with a mighty shatter of the glass, Kiorra was up in front of Daisuke yet again, her wings slightly burned from the blast, but she showed no signs of pain afterwords. "I see now...you and your Zanpakuto work in harmony to achieve greater power....Interesting."

"I was wrong before," Daisuke spoke in an admiting tone, as he raised his katana to point levelly at her direction, "this is the power of my heart. By achieving Bankai, I've forged a bond with someone who understands my pains, my despair, and my agony better than anyone can...and help me burn it all away...like a cancer exposed to the power of the Sun!" 

Within a slight twitch of his sword hand, thousands of fragments of fiery projectiles fired from the still burning avatar-crafted arm, directly towards Kiorra's body. Like a swarm of insects, they moved in harmony and swarmed around her, aiming to pummel her with relentless tenacity and penetrative, searing force, and drive at her until she relents or breaks a pattern of movement. 

However, this time, her wings wouldn't be her shield.

The space around her briefly sparkled with green energy, and then stopped for some reason. This would normally seem confusing, but when the attacks would connect with her, supposedly, the true purpose of this move would be revealed.

The fire fragments all detonated before Kiorra, as if there were something in between the sparks and herself. This was an exertion of her advanced Hierro, something that her former male counterpart had once used many years ago against Ichigo.

"Allow me to block this sun of yours out." she said quietly, pointing her finger at him. From the tip of her nail was a black sphere of energy, surrounded by electricity with a light green outline. It hummed and echoed, as if screams were heard from it's charging. Then, it shrunk down to where one could barely see it.

"Cero Oscuras."

And then the true nightmare began.

A massive black wave of energy was released from the sphere, moving at insane speeds and power radiating from it constantly. If Daisuke had seen a Cero before, they would be nothing compared to this attack, and if he had seen a Cero Oscuras before, this one would be worlds different. This blast was what one would call a "true" Cero Oscuras, the true form of the attack. It would feel empty, cold, remorseless....

And it carried the wrath of 1'000 Hollows, all of it, heading straight for Daisuke.

For Daisuke, time seemed to crawl as the Cero primed itself. As if he suddenly had control over his own perception and could plan ahead. Of course, this was only thanks to his Zanpakutō being so in sync with his consciousness and soul. 

"That Cero Oscuras looks a bit more powerful than what we're used to..."

"You need to think outside of the box. After all...what happens to a Cero once it hits its designated target anyways?"

"It...explodes!"

"Bingo! You just have to make sure it explodes where you want it to, instead of where the enemy does..."

"But how?! If I strike it directly or block, not only will I suffer, she'll attack me when I'm busy with it. She's remorseless like that..."

"Aha! But what if she isn't looking at you?"

"What are you...ohhhh!

"Right, now...let the fireworks begin!

Within a dialation change in Daisuke's eyes, as the words Cero Oscuras was released, the energy pillar of abysmal proportions and concentration would strike at him directly...

CRRRRK-BOOM!

...and explode directly in front Kiorra's eyes, the concussive force alone splitting the air pressure for a good distance around, flattening the sand and glassed over surface that was created by the other forces exerted beforehand. 

However, the black-emerald flames twist and bent, exuded at a higher degree than thought possible. What seemed like a demonic face projecting from the flames themselves, two pyrotechnic focused blades, as finite as lasers, slashed out horizontally towards Kiorra's front, intending on sporting some actual damage while manipulating the new potent flames. 

Far below, Daisuke held out his left hand towards the emerald and black flames, following up the first slashes with a billowing, black-emerald rendition of his favored and powerful attack: A Black-Emerald Jigoku Hashira, stemmed from the explosive energies that Kiorra herself created. 

It was only thanks to Nenshō Burēzu Bijutsu, Form 7, Nan Suteppu Meimetsu, that he was able to falsely imprint his form with an advanced Flash Step by substituting a pocket of flames he had managed to keep on the ground, far below their aerial battlefield. 

"Impossible!!"

This time, Kiorra's eyes opened wide with shock. She couldn't believe what she was seeing, it was as if her black Cero was turning against her before her eyes!

Crossing her arms, her Hierro blocked the two fire like beams, but she found herself being pushed back from the force that they exerted. And even worse were the massive green flames flying right towards her...

And it was all just enough to break past her Hierro.

A light grunt fell from her mouth, along with drops of saliva as she slammed into a set of dunes with incredible force. When the smoke cleared, she was at first struggling to pick herself up from the ground, her body burned and cut in several places as she breathed through her nose heavily.

"I...underestimated just how...strong that bond...really is....." she muttered past her breath.

SHFT!

"This battle is over, Kiorra," Daisuke spoke stoically, now bathed in black-emerald flames he assimilated into his own projecting aura. His eyes now shared a similar hue of black-&-green as he stared at her, taking upon the characteristics of the flame he wielded, "I've wielded the flames of Hell itself. This emptiness and despair you cast upon others...is nothing more than an excuse for someone who longs for companionship but clings to solitude. At least you don't suffer to exist, as those embroidered with flames of the underworld. As long as you have hope, your soul and mind will always reunite with your heart."

He would find his sentance cut short.

Her whip like tail quickly snapped around his throat and lifted him high into the air, her burned form standing up and regaining it's posture as she shrugged off her previous weary composure. This grasp was bone-crushingly strong, extremely hard to escape from. "You are a fool, Hayate Daisuke." she said calmly, surprisingly addressing him by name rather than by race. "The power you refer to as "hell" is nothing more than corrupted flames of your own bliss. Your idealogy is flawed and clouded, you could not even begin to grasp the suffering that we Hollows go through of a day. Do not ever assume that you could possibly understand our pain."

Here is where the difference between Kiorra and Ulquiorra would surface. Unlike Ulquiorra, who appeared to be uncaring of virtually everything around him, Kiorra seemed more passionate of her fellow Hollow and Arrancar, almost as if she held them closer to what one would percieve as a heart than most.

"Urk!" Daisuke felt himself narrowly grasping a small portion of the tail before it became taut, leaving only his sword arm free, as he was held nearly a foot off the sandy earth as Kiorra reprimanded him in a accusatory manner. Her physical strength was great, even with the most assumed irrelevent prehensile limbs, Daisuke was surprised his head didn't pop off. But then again, the same flames that scalded and cut through her defenses. 

Despite the pain of the crushing, winding tail around his hand and neck, he couldn't help but find it laughable that Kiorra was the one speaking passionately while he held a stoic stare. But her final words drove a nail into his mind and heart. 

"I...don't...know?!

Images flashed within Daisuke's mind. Showing how lonely he had become ever since the death of his peer, mentor, and best friend...the many sibblings he lost in the war...his mother...and witnessing the pain and agony that had been caloused for thousands of years within the Hankami, especially Sakura. Clenching his jaw, he could only feel incredulous anger building within his chest and out of his body, causing the black emerald flames to transform...

VRRRROAAR!

...into pure red flames of anger and passion, showing his true reckoning force. With blazing orange eyes, piercing through the red pillar of flames that began searing and burning away the tail that held him, he suddenly initiated a bodily-Jigoku Hashira...

SSSHEEEOOOW-BOOM!

...catching Kiorra within the powerful and even more potent blast, as he held onto her tail with a vice grip as the Jigoku Hashira consumed her with himself at its epicenter, sending tidal waves of sand in all directions and the flames skyrocketing into the heavens. In its wake, a mighty draconic roar could be heard throughout the shockwave that was delivered and emanated for kilometers around. 

"HOW NAIVE OF YOU! I HAVE FELT...NO...EMPATHIZED PAIN FAR GREATER THAN SIMPLE LONLINESS!" Daisuke would snarl out, as within the wake of the flames, a skyscraper sized demon of flames would take a mountainous step forward, holding a flaming sword of its own, and witholding immensely sized draconic wings, while sprouting gnarled, draconic-demon horns from a flaming helm, with blazing eyes out of its center. Speaking in unison, a booming voice shook the foundation of the atmosphere, as Daisuke hovered within its mass of flames, directly within the solarplex, "YOU'RE SO SELFISH TO SPEAK ON BEHALF OF YOUR WHOLE RACE! YOUR PAIN DOES NOT OUTWEIGH ANY OTHERS! I WILL SHOW YOU TRUE POWER BEFITTED FROM THE PASSION OF MY HEART, AND NOT ENRAPTURED IN DARKNESS AND DESPAIR! THEN, YOU WILL SHOW ME THIS PAIN YOU WITHOLD AND HIDE WITHIN YOUR BLACKENED SHELL!

This time, Kiorra wouldn't have the strength to stand.

The flames would dissipate to show a more badly burned form of hers, though it wasn't anything that horribly disfigured her, but rather, burns and bruise marks all along her form, with most of the fur stripped away revealing that pale white skin of hers. Her mouth was slightly open, and her eyes were closed, and she fell back onto the sands on her back. Her breathing was now more desperate and raspy, her chest moved more with each breath. One would normally think that Daisuke had won this fight.

In actuality, his rage had nearly killed her.

It was within seeing her form beyond the veil of anger-induced flames that he saw his opponent's true state. 

"Oh gods, no...!" 

Within a single moment, the flames dispersed and his body flew down towards Kiorra's inert form. Caught up in the moment, she hit a trigger within his mind that released power he didn't know he had. In doing so, he almost killed her with long-buried rage. Tears welled up in his eyes, as his form plummeted into the sand with a loud clap, coughing from the impact and began to claw his way to Kiorra. 

"K-Kiorra...I'm so sorry!" Daisuke began to speak in an apologetic, sincere tone, as tears streaked down his face as he wrapped his arms around her weak frame, "please don't die! I didn't want this...please, don't go to sleep! Stay with me!" 

"...he cares...?"

Deep within her barely awakened mind, Kiorra was having trouble processing what he had just said to her. One second ago, he was in a blind rage, hell bent on destroying her. But now, he was guilty and remorse filled over what he had just done, begging her to stay alive. Was this really what a heart could do to someone?

Barely opening her eyes, her vision blurry, she looked up at him with her usual, stoic expression, though her breathing had lessened, it was still a bad sign. "...You...Shinigami are....strange..." she rasped, coughing slightly. "Perhaps I shouldn't...have pressed you...like that....Hayate Dai...Daisuke..."

"No, you were right to hesitate! Blind trust is as bad as blind obedience! Please don't speak anymore," Daisuke held onto Kiorra, trying to apologize even as his tears streaked down his face and onto Kiorra's scarred one. Looking around, he began to shout out at the top of his lungs, hoping that his comrades would hear him, "HELP ME! SOMEONE, ANYONE! I NEED HELP! KIORRA'S HURT! I NEED HELP!" 

"I suppose this is how I am to die..." Kiorra inwardly murmmered as she felt her vision become darker and darker. "Suffering in the arms of a Shinigami...how degrading...."

And thus, help would arrive at his call.

But not the kind that he would expect.

Daisuke would find a powerful kick connecting with his ribcage, sudden, powerful, and sharp, and it would fling him a few feet from Kiorra's virtually broken form. The source of the kick would reveal to be a man wearing a Quincy esque uniform along with a gas mask that covered virtually all of his face and expression, along with an officer's hat.

As he aimed what appeared to be a bow of sorts at Daisuke, three other troopers appearing just like the other one appeared around Kiorra, with one speaking over it's head piece. "Sir! We've found the Arrancar, along with a Shinigami!" he spoke in a masked voice.

"Good." a stoic sounding voice said aloud from behind them, coming from the top of a dune while wearing a long hooded cloak, it's ends billowing softly in the wind.

"Our first war asset has been found." he spoke with a cold gaze and tone.

Suddenly feeling his ribs feel a shocking pain, Daisuke tumbled in a pinwheel motion, until skidding to a halt on the sand. Feeling the wave of Spiritual exhaustion as he winced, opening one eye to see who snuck up on him, as he could barely move.

"Quincies? So...they must be...Juha's...men...and...that guy," He thought as he vividly glared at Asumu, his teeth baring even while struggling to stand, "must be their leader...I'll...get him...!" 

A fiery aura began to glow faintly around him, even as he was on the verge of collapse, his fury glowed a bright golden hue as he faced the Quincies. Picking up his Zanpakutō, Daisuke reignited his Shikai, even as he kept his left wincing eye shut and the other glaring at the leader in particular. 

"Let...her...go!" 

Here, Asumu's gaze turned towards Daisuke, raising an eyebrow as the Shinigami stood before him and dared to order him. His eyes then looked away, a sign that he was dismissing Daisuke as a threat entirely. "Corporal, dispose of this boy."

The trooper in question then used a Hirenkyaku burst that was masterfully executed, appearing to Daisuke's side and slamming his bow's broad end into Daisuke's face in an attempt to incapacitate him.

"What is it's condition?" he asked one of his four troopers, referring to Kiorra.

The corporal knelt down and placed his hand just above Kiorra's head, feeling her spiritual energy. He then shook his head. "Not good, sir. She's barely hanging in there. I doubt we'll be able to bring her to HQ in time."

"Damn..." Asumu cursed under his breath, removing his hood and showing his short, stark white hair. "Bring it anyway. We might be able to salvage something useful from it's corpse."

"NGH!" Daisuke's eyes widened as the bow's shaft slammed into his face. The only thing that saved him from recieving a blunt trauma to his skull was the headband wrapped tightly around his head, the metal surface absorbing the blow and creating a slight indentation from the man's surprising strength. His head snapped back violently and his feet skid back a foot. After his body spasmed a few times, Daisuke let out a chuckle...

WHIZ-SHINK!

...as he came back up suddenly, swinging his flaming blade across the exposed torso of the Quincy that dared to come within Daisuke's reach. A small dribble of blood leaked out of the nasal cavity the Quincy bruised from the impact, but didn't halt an angry smile on his face, his eyes glowed with inhuman rage towards his enemies. 

"I don't think you heard me!" Daisuke's Resolve kicked into high gear, and his body billowed with fiery Spiritual Power, exuding in a menacing manner and rattled the atmosphere with its presence. Raising his fiery blade, he growled out with a snarl on his face, "I said...Let. Her. GO!" 

The Quincy's Blut allowed him to absorb the brunt of the blow, but he was still shocked to see Daisuke have this much energy after taking such a heavy strike from before. Stopping himself, he quickly raised his bow and fired several Heilig Pfeil out at his Shinigami foe, aiming to turn him into swiss cheese quickly. Two of the other troopers also set into firing several blasts at Daisuke as well, meaning that he would be overwhelmed with their combined efforts if it persisted.

Asumu didn't regard the Shinigami any, as his sole interest was in Kiorra's nigh lifeless form.

Daisuke raised his blade to parry, even though he knew he would most likely take the brunt of the incoming attacks. Wheezing through his mouth, his body radiated with raw power, the only thing that could dampen incoming force of the enemy's attacks. 

"Is this...the end...for me...?"

His answer came into existance with the blurring shape of a white-cloaked figure.

WHOOSH!

A blurring figure, vibrating at high speeds, pushed Daisuke out of the path of the incoming Heilig Pfeil and slashed out at the incoming volley of arrows sent by the two troopers. The force produced by the sword swing sent a shockwave of sheer cutting power, with a high enough degree to cut through the aligned Quincies in neat sections if they didn't avoid entirely, as well as rush to hit Asumu head-on as well. 

Daisuke's eyes widened with shock as he felt himself thrown off his feet once again. Yet, the hands weren't intimidating or flowed with Killing Intent. They were...warm? He could think of this as he felt himself slam into a nearby sand dune...for what would feel like the hundreth time! 

"I hate this damn place now...!

While one of the troopers was easily bifuricated, the other three had their Blut up at maximum, making it to where it was merely the force that sent them skidding into a sand dune.

Asumu would be more fortunate, as it seemed the closer the shockwave got, the weaker it became. As it came within inches of the Quincy, it seemed to vanish entirely, only making his cloak billow back slightly. As he saw the new Arrancar, his eyes seemed to narrow down in annoyance as he acknowledged her. "Another Arrancar? An Espada, no less." he said quietly. "Have you come to seek your death, Arrancar? If so, you've certainly found it."

Wearing a stark white cloak, wrapping over a voluptuous and slender figure, the confirmed Arrancar grabbed the hood covering her face and unveiled her visage. With a smooth visage and a long silky veil of turqouise hair, crowned by a scarred ram's skull, and her eyes were a smooth, vivid grey and a red painted nose over the bridge of her nose and over her cheek bones. 

"I suggest you hand her over, Quincies, or suffer a fate worse than a quick death I gave your comrade!" Nelliel spoke in a firm, commanding tone, but held no wavering from her tranquil and stoic stare she gave Asumu from afar. Not even projecting an ounce of Spiritual Pressure, she managed to move with such grace and power, just showing the tip of her powers before them. 

"Nonsense." Asumu quickly discarded her words, not changing his tone or expression in the slightest. "You are in no position to make demands of me, or my troopers, Arrancar. You, as well as the rest of your kind need to learn your place in the face of the Quincy."

With that, the three Quincy from before began to glow with bright blue aura's, symbolizing that they were absorbing the Reishi that made up this world, and then they all aimed their bows at Neliel. Within that same second, each of them released a massive amount of Heilig Pfeil out at her, all three of them combined making nearly a thousand of the powerful blasts.

Kiorra's breathing became more stable, thanks to her regeneration, but the burns were causing it to be slower than normal. She was still on the verge of certain death.

Here, Nelliel showed the gap of power between the foot soldiers, and herself.

While for the Quincies, she would like a nigh invisible wraith, to somone as skilled as Asumu, she would appear like a graceful dancer. Every movement was never wasted. Precise, poised, and powerful, Nelliel's movements weaved in and out of every projectile that was fired, never once raising her blade to parry the attacks. What would be assumed as a wall of projectiles was now a obstacle course that the Arrancar surpassed with ease. 

And her speed didn't halt there.

As she approached one Quincy after another, she would thrust a palm-heel thrust to send a shocking force into the central nervous point of the Quincy's Spiritual network and their nervous system, simultaneously sending a spasm of bodily malfunction similar to a cardiac arrest. The next, she swiftly decapitated one's head from the body, moving too fast for the soldier's Blut to activate properly, and the last, she thrust with enough force to funnel a hole of shredding power that would encompass his entire torso area.

Here, her speed halted, as she waited for all of the actions of her attacks to be seen and shown with a series of spasms of pain, a geyser of blood, and dismemberment when applied. As they would all fall down to be greeted by death's door, her eyes would stare impassively and stoically at Asumu's own cool eyes. She would then speak once more in a cool tone, "I think it is you who needs to learn his own place, Human."

"If you truly wish to stop me from completing this objective," he stated calmly, seemingly disregarding the lives of his troopers who were just mercilessly slaughtered. "then you should come and try to bring me down to your level."

Nelliel held her blade up and slid her heels to perpindularly aligned. The stance of a fencer and professional swordsman. Holding her blade close to her lips, she briefly closed her eyes, whispering something inaudible. As she did so, she shifted ever slowly, pulling her arm back and her elbow aligned to be parallel to shoulder, allowing the blade to be directly illuminating her right cheek. Using her left hand to lightly touch the back end of the blade, as if to aim it, she was fully entranced into her technique.

Her eyes finally opened into a narrow-eyed stare, impassively gazing at her enemy's eyes, whispering, "Dance among the starless sky, Quincy..."

Then, she moved...

SHHHHHHHIIIIIIIIIIINK!!!

...and as she moved, her blade moved with blinding thrust power, that would be nigh invisible to the outside viewer as her muscles propelled the force of her attack forward, warping space for a great gait both visually and physically. Within this space, a tunneling affect would take place, as all matter within a good twenty meter radius would fold within the air and be completely shredded, reduced to fractions of the size it once it would be, and barrel forward, cutting a massive rift through the pale sands. 

Nelliel had also made sure that the rifting force would be within a safe distance above the fallen Kiorra's body, so it would merely toss her away a good few feet from the exertion, rather than shred her as she intended for the Quincy she aimed for. 

"Dios Axiales!" 

Nel's display of power would be quite impressive, but the time it took for her to use the technique would be a serious back fire for her.

Asumu had vanished once she thrusted her blade forward, the attack having blown away most all of the dune that he was standing upon. Where he would appear would be a mystery at first, but it became apparent as he appeared to her left within that very instant. His trademark blue desert eagle like spirit gun was extended, and he released an incredibly fast and deadly bullet into her left shoulder area, before vanishing again with Hirenkyaku and appearing several meters to her right, and firing another bullet towards her head area.

BZZT!

Nelliel would use Sonido for the first time since arriving, and it would appear as if her body had been wrended asunder by the powerful firearm, falling limply to the ground. The afterimage even appeared to the outside observer as if it left blood and kicked up the sand. 

But Nelliel would resurface, directly in the same area as the Quincy would, holding onto her blade and keeping a fencing stance, having kept up with his speed with ease. 

"Dios de la Tormenta!" She muttered out, thrusting out in a simultaneous manner, sending out what would be witnessed as dozens of propelling forces towards the wide gait in which Asumu was landing. While smaller drilling thrusts, the combined force would rip a far greater gait of the landscape and air, making high-speed movement a risky gesture as to upset the fluidity and smooth transition of movement. If he would be suffering several glancing blows, he would be torn to pieces at the worst of clashing against the forces she conjured. 

What happened next would be impossible to describe.

Her first strike would come for him at undeniable speeds, any normal human would consider themselves as dead as one could be with just that strike alone. But it was here, that Asumu would demonstrate that he was no ordinary human, or Quincy.

Her first strike would cut through the very edge of his cloak, but she would find him twisting around in the mere blink of an eye. He left hand then grabbed hold of her blade, and stopped it firmly as if his hand was glued to it. His hand didn't bleed, his arm didn't shudder, and he showed no signs of pain. He, a Quincy, had stopped an Espada's blade barehanded.

And what happened next wouldn't bode well for her either. Without warning, he whipped his gun out and fired a well placed, point blank slug into the Arrancar woman's stomach area, intending to take her down quickly. As soon as he discharged the bolt, his Hirenkyaku was used once again to bring him away from Nel tu and near Kiorra, though his weapon was pointed at the former in case she tried to resist further.

"!!!!" Nelliel's form fell to her knees, as she felt the well-placed slug penetrate through her abdomen and exit her backside, knocking the wind and the fight out of her. Coughing up blood, she placed her left hand up to her mouth, as her twitching narrowed gaze followed the retreating Quincy, no doubt going back to scoop up his prey. 

But what he'd find, wouldn't be the welcome sight of the inert Arrancar. 

"JIGOKU HASHIRA!

VRRRRROOOAAAAR!!!

But a large pillar of flames discharging directly within the point of which he'd stop upon. There, he'd see a fully rejuvenated Daisuke Hayate, with a menacing snarl on his visage as he glared heatedly upon the Quincy who aimed to take Kiorra away to be probed. He was crouching, and in the middle of placing a Healing Pill, courteousy of the DCO issues that are given to all agents, that would rapidly regenerate lost tissue, blood, cartilidge, and bone necessary for any sentient spiritual and material body. Daisuke himself, took the Spiritual Pill, restoring and bolstering his supply of Spiritual Power. 

"Now then, Quincy," Daisuke's body overflowed with flames and his eyes glowed red with a heated, vengeful hatred that would frighten even the most stoic of entities, "if you're done harming women...how about you and me have a fight, man-to-man?! Or is your arrogance betraying you for cowardice?!" 

Asumu wouldn't deny that this...boy held great potential, certainly moreso than any other Shinigami of his age that he had seen. This flame was searing and potent in nature, but it wasn't the most powerful that he had ever seen.

"Do not mock me, Shinigami." he said cooly, dismissing Daisuke's threat as he cocked the hammer of his long barrelled spirit gun and aimed it directly at the Shinigami's forehead. "You are in no position to threaten me. In fact, I could end your life with this one bullet..."

But then, something caused his eyes to widen. He felt three large Spiritual Signatures coming from behind him.

Sure enough, it was the rejuvinated Tres Bestias, all of them with expressions of pure rage and growling loudly. Each of them were in their released forms, weapons at the ready as they were all preparing to lay down a massive level of destruction and revenge upon the Quincy.

However, with a simple movement of Hirenkyaku, the three Arrancar all slammed into the ground where he once was and thus created a massive explosion of dirt and debris.

Reappearing a few meteres away from them, he spoke to the group casually, as if he had no concerns about them trying to attack him. "So you all three have squandered the chance of life that I gave you. It's disheartening. After seeing what your old master was like, I'd assume you would all wise up and take the chance to flee. But it seems I was wrong..."

"SHUT UP!!!!" Appachi yelled out to him in pure rage, her eyes practically glowing red in the sheer amount of anger and hatred that she felt for this Quincy.

"We're not going to let you walk away with your life, not after what you did to Harribel-sama!!!" Mila Rose snarled to him as well.

"DON'T SCREW WITH US!" Daisuke's body became enveloped with flames as he shouted loudly, his voice penetrating the air. His Spiritual Power rose higher as he raised his blade in sync with his rising Spiritual Pressure, "may it be Hollows or Soul Reapers, Humans or Spirits, we will crush those who threaten our freedom and our lives! And if you don't relent..."

BOOOM!

Within an instant, Daisuke's body became enveloped within his vibrant Bankai, sending searing flames into the atmosphere, immediately heatening the pale desert around him. Opening his eyes, he balled his left hand, causing a fiery apparition of large proportions to show a fiery, draconic hand clench in sync with his own movements as he glared upon him. 

"...we'll wipe your existance from the face of our worlds!" He snarled out, his eyes as fiery as one who would contain demon blood within. 

Asumu's eyes narrowed down in annoyance. Now their behavior was just becoming a nuiscance, and they were interfering with his assignment. This was a crime that was punishable by death, something he was more than happy to deliver to them.

"Very well then." he said lowly, his gun lowered at his side and thus giving an impression that he was open. "I will just kill you all."

And with that, Asumu would demonstrate another impossible feat.

Within the flash of an eye, his gun was raised, and within that mere second, three rounds were discharged from the desert eagle style weapon. The Tres Bestia's eyes all widened as the bullets went through each of their stomachs. The shock was so much, they couldn't even reply or react in time. This man, this...human had just defeated all three of them, Released Arrancar warriors, with a mere gun. All three of them reeled backwards and fell over to the ground. Blood was spreading quickly, and it seemed all three of them would not last long at all.

"Now, with them out of the way..." he said, cocking his gun and aiming it directly at Daisuke. "...I'll make it quicker for you, Shinigami..."

"No!" Daisuke shouted out, his body reeling back and his eyes filled with tears as he saw the others gunned down so helplessly. His eyes widened with rage, as he grasped his sword with both hands, manifesting two large draconic flame-manifested hands that grasped an even larger blade of flames just above him, "I will not let you win, you bastard!"

Before he could move to swing his blade down, something would disturb the move that would flatten the entirety of Asumu's area of standing. 

SSSSSSSHINK-BOOM!

Within the sand, just underneath Asumu's feet, a cutting wave of terrifying power seared open the desert sea and up from the Menos Forest Canopy itself. The force alone was unpredictable and hidden, aiming to unintentionally send the Quincy into the air or away from his original stance. 

Leaping out of the desert sea, Nelliel's form sped out like a whizzing rocket, her Sonido matching onto Asumu's speed and halted directly within the path of his choosing. Within this moment, she launched a kick, enraptured with a powerful spherical blast of a Cero...

BLAAAAAM!

...and launched the kick in sync with the powerful geyser of energy, aiming to send him down into the gap of the desert and away from those who were caught within the merciless Quincy's aim. All of this, while Nelliel's eyes were narrowed and a blood-stained gritting look on her mouth, spatting out, "Don't let your power get to your head, human!" 

Asumu had felt something odd coming from beneath him, and this game him some layaway to move back before damage could be done. However, Nel's Cero enhanced kick was something he was ill prepared for. As he was leaping back, the most he could do to compensate for the oncoming blast was cross his arms and let his Blut do what it could. The result was himself being pushed back greatly, and parts of his attire having burns on it.

But it was a quick sensation, one that he quickly shrugged off. Aiming his weapon at the Arrancar, he scowled in annoyance. "Your kind are far too stubborn for your own good, Arrancar..."

And a voice - neither Daisuke or Nelliel's - would respond to him.

"You lice just don't know when to get out of my scalp, do you?"

A spiritual pressure, smothering and filled with nothing but an undeniable malevolence, would permeate the entire area. The air around all of the combatants would distort violently, warping their sense of vision and touch like gangrene crawling up the flesh. The source of this commanding energy was steadily approaching with a composed gait, her hands within her pockets. Her mouth was curled into a scowl that expressed her fury, her eyes glowing with a bright crimson light as she glared at the Quincy.

It was Casilda.

"I'm going to give you one chance, Quincy." She said coldly. "Either you can leave now and abandon your efforts of retrieving the ex-Espada with your dignity intact, or I can bring you to your last thread of life and have the Menos Grande do what they please with your corpse. I am certainly not in the mood to deal with your kind right now."

Her presence was something that caused Asumu's entire form to tighten.

Glancing over at her with a raised eyebrow, he realized just how much harder his assignment would be to complete. The Shinigami and Nel Tu would be a much easier challenge, but something of Casilda's calibur would be a force that not even he would be able to survive against. "Primera Espada, it surprises me that you would come here to aid those so far beneath your calibur..."

But then another force arrived before he could finish.

Just next to Casilda was Coyote Starrk and Lilynette Gingerbuck, both with cold expressions of their own as they didn't even need to say anything to Asumu, as Casilda had basically explained what would happen to him either way. Now, with yet another force of Casilda's calibur on the field, Asumu's objective would be nigh impossible.

It looked like he was trapped.

"I forgot to mention," Daisuke spoke with a smile, as he leveled his blade towards him, his fiery aura maintaining the towering blade of flames, held by the fiery apparition arms that were projected from Daisuke's Bankai, "they're my allies. So if you want to compare our chances of failure again, I'll be more than willing to wait as you contemplate your position, Quincy." 

Nelliel was surprised to see two familiar faces.

Immediately, Nelliel smiled with elation, despite the contesting Spiritual Pressures sent by both generations of Primeras. Waving out with a giddy tone in her voice, she called out to the two of them, "Hey there, Cassie-chan! Starrk-kun! Lilynette-chan!" 

"Nel-chan!!!" Lilynette squeeled and waved at her old, green haired comrade in rejoice that she was alive.

Starrk's reception was about as expected as his could get. He glanced over to her and with just that stare, she would be able to see that he was glad to see her.

"Huh...?"

Although Casilda made sure not to take the majority of her sight off of Asumu, she was quick to spare a glance over at what had been assumed to be a familiar face. When she took in the appearance of the woman, her mind clicked and recognized who it was. It was the former Tercera Espada Nelliel, the predecessor of Tia Harribel. A ghost of a smile would come across her face at the sound of her voice, just enough so that the other female Arrancar could recognize it. It lasted only a brief moment before she focused back on Asumu.

"He doesn't seem like he's willing to move. Here's hoping we're quick enough to pull Kiorra and the Tres Bestia out of here before he tires anything funny..."

"A nice sentiment, Shinigami." Asumu sighed as he now had all of these powerful entities surrounding him, and certain to kill him if he made a move on them. Regardless, failure was not a term he took kindly too. "But regardless of your numbers and strength, all of you are in the way of my objective. And as such..."

His cloak began to billow with the large amount of Spiritual energy that he was radiating, far higher than any human they'd encountered before as his eyes narrowed down with pure killing intent. "...I must destroy all of you."

"Come now, Asumu..."

But then, he stopped. His eyes widened as he felt a power that was unimaginable coming from above all of them. As he realized what it was, he almost shivered as he saw that black cloaked figure floating above them. With such a power, one might think he was Aizen.

"...Even one a skilled as yourself would not be able to survive against these vermin." the figure spoke with a grin, his long black hair moving in unison with his large black cloak.

It was Juhabach.

The flames within Daisuke's Bankai felt as if they were being smothered by the newcomer's appearance. As if his mere presence caused an unnatural force of pressure to push the flames downwards, so too was Daisuke's fiery aura billowed downwards around his body. Lifting up his gaze to see the man hovering in the sky, he knew precisely who he was: He was the Quincy partner of Sōsuke Aizen, Juhabach. 

"Why...is...he...here?" He whispered aloud rhetorically, knowing no one would bother to answer his question. Gritting his teeth, he knew this being was outside the scope of his power. He knew if someone like the Quincy he barely touched with his Shikai's flames, would be completely laughable in the presence of such a veteran warrior such as him. 

Nelliel narrowed her gaze and held a stoic visage at Asumu, but ultimately felt pressured by the arrival of the Quincy leader. From what Juhabach stated, he was eager to leave their presence...or anticipating a battle against him, for which he'd enjoy. What to do now...could be completely up in the air, given their current situation. 

"So you've decided to make an appearance too...?"

Casilda's gaze had not lessened in terms of intensity. But the subtlety of her cold glare was increased a little as she looked at the man who had appeared before them. "First Sōsuke decides to show himself, and now you make your own big and dramatic entrance." She remarked, smirking a little at the next words she was about to say. "Don't you have any consideration for other people's spotlight?"

"Do not mock me, beast." Juhabach dismissed Casilda's remark, putting emphasis on his last word for her to know just how lowly he thought of her. "Our presences here are purely for observational purposes. We have been watching you since you all first arrived. The fact that you all have dedicated such resources to fine one mere animal, spells leagues of how desperate you all have become."

His eyes narrowed, and his grin became slightly wider. "No matter how many sticks you pull out of the ground, your world is ours."

"Funny." Casilda answered readily, meeting his gaze with her own as she spoke. "Unless this particular mutt isn't with you for whatever reason, you seem to be putting forth just as much effort as we are in retrieving a so-called "animal". What's the matter? Even after all this time, do you still need our hand in helping you maintain your superiority?" There was a fire burning within her, one that desperately wanted to be let out against the men who stood before her. But she kept her calm, kept her cool. The last thing she wanted was for the bastard to come out on top here...

"You've spent far too much time from your homeland, Arrancar." Juhabach spoke in the same voice and expression, holding his hand out towards her. "You truly believe that I would dedicate my resources to find one animal? How naive...."

Casilda would then feel something in her shadow, hopefully meaning that she would turn to see it. And what she would see would be horrifying for any Arrancar.

She would see a massive group of bruised, beaten, and bloodied Arrancar all being shoved into what appeared to be a large concentration camp of sorts by Quincy soldiers, like the ones seen accompanying Asumu before. Some who refused to walk in sync with the group were mercilessly assaulted with Reishi rifle butts, kicked and stomped into the ground until they stopped moving, and the others weren't even allowed to stop and see their fallen comrade. What happened inside of these camps wouldn't be seen, but what could be seen would be disheartening all the while.

"It's a shame you abandoned your kingdom in such perilous times." Juhabach spoke wryly. "Quite a few of your remaining troops and citizens were left to our mercy. A mercy granted to the now deceased. As for the living, however...."

It made Casilda wish she hadn't turned around.

Her pupils shrank as she looked upon the scene, her mouth opening slightly at the situation that her people were in. She took a few steps back, a hand grasping at the spot where her heart would've been. It did not help that prior to her confrontation, she had fallen victim to seeing an entire village slaughtered by the monster known as Rey Dorado. She blinked once, tears streaming down her face as she watched. It was almost too painful to watch.

She took in a sharp breath inwards, steadying herself.

"Remember who your people are. Remember what they have been through. Remember that you and they are not dead yet."

She looked over her shoulder at Juhabach. "You think that these images will break me, or any of us for that matter?" She asked rhetorically. "We have built this civilization within war, lived within war, and accepted it as part of us. Your forces may have managed to take a few prisoners, but there is still an entire world out there for them. My people will fight to the very death if it means keeping your grubby paws off our land. You might ask yourself. How do I say this so confidently?"

Her eyes narrowed, her dilated eyes expressing the fullness of her anger. Her tremendous spiritual pressure began to permate the area once more. "This is my realm. It has always been and always will be mine. Even if your presence is dominant, it will bend and answer only to me. I will tell you as I have told that white plague masquerading as God; I would choose my words carefully concerning victory and failure, if I were you..."

Nelliel's eyes widened as she saw Casilda permeate such deafening Spiritiual Power. Having witnessed things of horrible nature within the short time the Quincies and the unknown invaders have occupied, she could only sympathize with her tears, and empathized with her anger.

However, what happened near them wouldn't be something she would've expected, of all people...

Daisuke's eyes drew to what was shown within Casilda's shadow. What he saw made his eyes widen and his mouth gasp. It was one thing to see unconditional slaughter, but enslavement and brutalization while they still drew breath was far enough. He saw truly what the cruelty of these humans possessed. Since the Inner Circle softened up every form of resistance, nothing stopped these...monsters...from ransacking and pillaging everything within their path. 

Seeing the grief that Casilda had held felt as painful as being struck by Sakura physically. He couldn't help tears roll down his eyes, as Arrancars were gunned down like dogs, and Hollows exterminated just for existing, with consolation of cleansing them for rebirth into the next life. This was pure genocide, and this being...showed no more care for life than Aizen did! 

A slow, venomous rise of volatile Spiritual Power began to build within Daisuke's body, that would shift notice even to the most powerful beings around him. With an overshadowed visage over his eyes, his mouth bared what would almost be assumed as fangs and his eyes glowed heatedly beyond their sight. Raising his gaze to Asumu before looking straight up at Juhabach, he snarled out, 

"Does this entertain you, Quincy?! Unwarranted manslaughterenslavement of sentient beings, and cruelty upon those with staunch honor and pride within themselves?! Its not right to call you, or any of your men, humans anymore. I see more humanity in the basest of Hollowity...than anything your Quincy race boasts of! And to think, you're bragging about such sickening acts?! You cowards...are nothing but thugs...cowards...who hide behind the power of energy that belongs to everyone else but yourself! I'm going to...utterly...and...painfully..."

VRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!

"BURN YOU INTO ASH!!!!!

Daisuke's voice roared out in sync with a billowing, skyscraper avatar of flames. Manifesting into a draconic, armored warrior, clad in flames and with draconic flames stretched out for an untold distance, the construct of flames itself seem to roar out with such force, that the sand and air became superheated and blasted back a good distance. At this point, Daisuke's rage peaked as much as his Spiritual Power was, and his body permeated a menacing Killing Intent, solely directed at Juhabach and Asumu's direction. 

Despite the inhuman, glowing red-white eyes, tears came down his cheeks to show his grief and empathy for Hollowity. He'd make the Quincies, the Inner Circle, the Horseman, Aizen...and most intently...Juhabach, writhe in agony for their crimes. 

Kiorra could see the entire display.

Her regeneration had just barely kept her alive earlier, but now, she was healed enough to where she could see and hear everything that was happening before her. Daisuke's current condition provoked her thoughts heavily, finding herself and her outlook on the questionable Shinigami becoming more and more clear. This level of caring for her kind, the Hollows, from a Shinigami at that was practically unheard of for her. Realizing just how much he really did care about her and her kind...gave her a slight smile.

"You really are a strange one...Hayate Daisuke..."

Asumu was in more shock than Juhabach was. Such devotion and passion welled up into a mere Shinigami, a being that he had been taught all of his life was nothing more than the height of evil...was displaying an unheard of level of caring for these Hollowed shells of existance. Was it possible that the Shinigami...weren't so evil after all?

Juhabach, despite feeling the power of both this boy and the Primera, simply sneered in humor, his red eyes glowing slightly as a demonstration of his true malevolance towards them. "If such things cause you to go to this state...then you will burn yourself alive when you see what we will do to the Soul Society....but I won't waste time with petty words and descriptions. I will grace you all with the chance to see it first hand!"

With that, his shadow and Asumu's molded into one, and formed into a large black cross that went upwards, as if it wasn't on the ground at all. This was a portal of sorts for them both.

"Prepare yourselves, ants." Juha spoke as he turned to enter the shadow, his red eyes glancing back at them. "Your worlds will fall under the boot of the Quincy...once again."

As he entered the portal, Asumu turned to follow him, but he too glanced back at Daisuke. His glance wasn't of malevolance...but rather, uncertainty, almost as if he were having difficulty comprehending Daisuke's motivations. But, he quickly entered the portal and left them to their devices.

For now, they had acquired a moment of peace.

And just like that, Casilda's aura of malevolence faded.

After a moment of silence, she allowed herself to take in a deep breath in order to push herself back towards her calmer attitude. She looked over towards the two Arrancar halves, giving a slight nod to each of them. "Good timing..." She remarked. "And I see you managed to keep yourselves in one piece. Figured you would..."

She walked away from them, approaching the fallen Kiorra with a brisk and steady pace. She bent down to a kneeling position, checking her over with her senses. She blew out a breath through her slightly parted lips. The Arrancar was going to live, but she was clearly weak. "You know, all of this really could have been avoided if you had just given a simple answer. But at the very least, I should be grateful that our objective went right..."

She looked over her shoulder at Daisuke and Nelliel, waving to the Arrancar first. "Hey, Nel! You mind checking out the status of the other three? This one's going to make it, but I'm not so sure about them." Although mostly directed at the former Tercera, the status of condition was also partially directed at Daisuke.

Kiorra wearily glanced up at the Primera with no signs of emotion once again, before looking back at Daisuke. "Blind trust...is as bad as blind obedience...Primera Espada..."

Daisuke couldn't hear the Primera of the present. His eyes were still following the shadows that were coiling in on themselves, as Asumu gave him a glance that he couldn't discern to be any different than that horrible, monsterous man that led these men. Clenching his hand on the hilt, just as the tiniest fragment of shadow from the portal was left, he snapped...

"DON'T YOU DARE RUN AWAY, YOU BASTARDS!!!!" With a vicious roar that bellowed the air once more, Daisuke swung his blade, and in turn, sent the towering collosal avatar of fire's blade onto the landscape, imbuing a fraction of the flames into the darkness that the Quincies fled to. The result would send a searing streak of fire, nigh equivalent to the force of a laser, as its transparency vaporized the nigh unbreakable fragments of sand and cut a rift into the Menos Forest Canopy, sending fragments of flames down into the abyss below. 

Even as his Bankai would defuse in the aftermath of the attack, he would drop to his knees, tears running down his face as the glare vanished from his eyes. Stabbing his nodachi into the ground, he reared back his head and gave a grieving, and wrathful yell, piercing the air once more. In finality, he rested his head on the guard, and whispered aloud, "I won't forgive them for this...none of them..."

Even in the wake of the attack, Nelliel blinked a few times at the fierceness within the young man's passion. She couldn't help but feel a tinge of pink rush to her face, feeling amazed that such a Soul Reaper could feel so much for a race supposedly targeted by his own kind. Slapping herself out of her stupor, she nodded to the Primera wordlessly before rushing to the three Tres Bestia, intending on applying her own form of healing upon them and keep them alive for however long as she could. 

As soon as Nelliel left, Daisuke sighed, picking himself up and dragging his blade through the sand, still hissing from the immense heat emanating from its edge. He walked over to Kiorra's side, finally falling to his knees, looking up at her face with a sheepish grin on his face, "Are you alright...Kiorra Schiffer?"

Had it not been for the intervention of Daisuke, Casilda would have answered Kiorra with a remark towards her response.

She scooted over to give Daisuke room, regarding Kiorra with a more serious gaze. "Well, I can safely assume that you two have had plenty of time to come to an agreement." She said. "What's your answer?"

Kiorra at first glanced over at Casilda and surprisingly, seemed to disregard her at first. But then Casilda's last question began to ring in her ears as her emerald eyes stared into Daisuke's own for what seemed like forever. At any other point, she would have left all of them alone to their war, and let her live in solitude as she wished. But here before her was a Shinigami, the first that she had ever seen defending her and her race as if they were brother and sister. It was something she hadn't felt before...an attachment to this man.

"My answer..." she began with an exhale, relaxing her stoic expression. "...is yes. I will join you, Hayate Daisuke."

With a relieved smile, Daisuke closed his eyes as he breathed a sigh of thanks, "I thank you, Kiorra Schiffer. Now..."

PLUMP!

"...I take a nap," Daisuke muttered as his face fell directly in front of Kiorra's lap, sideways planting his face onto the sand and beginning to fall unconscious. The stress from fighting Kiorra as well as using the Spirit Energy pill pushed him to the point of immediate exhaustion. 

If there had ever been a time for Kiorra to feel warmth in her cheeks, it was now.

Sure enough, a light pink shade popped up on her face as he landed right straight into her lap. She didn't really even know why at first, but then she realized, maybe this was what having a heart felt like?

"This will take getting used to..." she murmered.

The War of Four: Recovery Act II

The Fugitives, Life on the Run!

Anxiety.

That could describe the current atmosphere around the usually collected, calm, professionals that were high ranking military officers within the Gotei 13. Because of their involvement of being part of the defenders of the Gotei 13 and being left behind by the rest of their retreating allies, the Lieutenants: Seishuku Yabun, Masahiro Sugiyama, and Tamiko Okayama. Having been on the run from a special police force, instigated by the Inner Circle after the remaining populace had been secured and properly "educated" upon their takeover of the Seireitei. 

"This way, friends!" Enrico whispered aloud to his current fugitive comrades, as he was one of the sole reasons that the Lieutenants stayed one step ahead of the Inner Circle's Pacifying Corps. Having found them during one of their initial chases, Enrico befriended them and began smuggling them along the many smuggling routes hidden beneath the Soul Society within its sewer systems. 

Currently, Enrico led them through a series of demolished buildings that had been left deserted on the outskirts of the Soul Society, mostly due to the ransacking of IC forces that occured when the Head Captain began counterattacking them. Leading them to what was to believed a old communication post for Enrico's operations, he made sure that the three Lieutenants were to get into contact with the remnants of the SS's forces and mount an effective attack upon the currently controlled Soul Society. 

As he followed Enrico to their desired location, Masahiro clenched the teeth within his mouth. The patrols they passed by seemed to be lightly detaining civilians; a small group was patting down a particular citizen for any weapons, and yet another group was escorting several more arrested individuals presumably to a detainment center. He observed with pensive eyes. "They're already taking prisoners. Can't believe how quickly and efficiently they're adjusting to things..."

Tamiko's eyes followed a rather peculiar scene. As she noted one group near a destroyed building, she could see a child trapped within the wreckage courtesy of the flashlights being shone upon the position. She couldn't make out what they were saying, but judging from the actions and movements of the police officers, they were attempting to rescue the child. "I thought they would be much more aggressive towards the civilian populace..." She muttered. "But it seems like they're at least not completely interested in power and domination..."

"They probably trained a separate department within the organization to handle policing and enforcing their laws and rules, rather than engage in military operations. By winning the people over with an organized, fluid government, the society will eventually accept their new world and forget about the way things were beforehand. It would only be a matter of time," Seishuku spoke lowly, as he looked on at the scene Tamiko had been witnessing, knowing full well what their superiors were intending, "unless we do something to stop their brief occupation..."

"I...I can't believe that this happened..." Tamiko sighed, bitterness and sorrow within her. "How could we have not seen this coming? Not only was security compromised, but our allies were turned against each other so easily. A matter of hours and the Seireitei has become the territory of the enemy... just where exactly did we go wrong...?"

"Don't give yourself a hard time, Señora," Enrico spoke in an encouraging tone, beckoning the two to follow him into the ramshackled house overlooking most of the Rukonagi Districts from its elevation, "they've been plotting for decades, maybe centuries! I have only known of them through my best partners, the V-14 organization, so it was best a myth for the last century due to their subtlety. They probably were very cautious to plan this one, worldwide invasion and waited until now..."

"Centuries or days, it is the matter that our pride as stalwart warriors have been tarnished due to how easily and swiftly they defeated us," Seishuku snarled lowly, his eyes briefly glaring at the hispanic man, before turning to see the Soul Society being restructured and disciplined into their image, "this is defeat at its worst. Even Aizen, someone who should've been forogtten in the annals of our history, has returned to add insult to injury to our efforts. Errecting a statue of himself and the Four Horsemen within a courtyard before our Captains' Meeting Hall, scoffing and laughing as he finally won..."

"But, don't you guys have a backup plan? I mean...doesn't that infamous Division, that Royal Guard or something do stuff when shit hits the fan like this, as it were?" Enrico asked the Lieutenants, his head turning left and right as they entered the cobwebbed, dust-filled air of the messy communique post of his. 

At the mention of the Royal Guard, Masahiro couldn't help but snort. "Hah! Even if the entirety of the Soul Society was being destroyed, I doubt they would lift so much as a finger to help us." He answered readily. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Tamiko briefly turn around in order to check to see if anyone was following them in before turning back to shut the door behind her. "Only in the event that the Soul King himself is in danger that the Royal Guard would dare step in to our affairs. Even in that case, I doubt any of us would be able to perceive such..."

"It makes me question the chain of command at times of how the Soul Society is run. A King shouldn't reside silently within the heavens overlooking his subjects, but should take a course of action. But then again, we wouldn't have been able to transgress through our lives as individuals and warriors, if the Soul King has protected us over and over. Which means the fight is yet to be won for either side," Seishuku spoke with a hint of hope, despite his stoic tone. 

"In that case let me help you guys out then," Enrico implored as the began setting up a table and collecting an array of parts, putting them together to adjust his communique device, "its the least I could do, seeing as I've always been on the sidelines in these scales of conflicts. Hope this little favor of mine can help you all out in the long run..."

"You know, Enrico..." Tamiko tilted her head to the side as she approached. "I have a question of my own to ask you. Why haven't you turned us out? I would have figured one of the first things you'd do would be to trade us in to the Inner Circle for a potential pardon..."

"You ask me now of all times?!" Enrico asked rhetorically as he got busy wiring and patching up the complex system, sighing as he continued, "I'm doing this cause you're allies of my business partners and clients of V-14. All I know is that the Inner Circle has been making legitimate businessmen regret ever working within their environment. They're bad for business and want to monopolize anything they touch. Trust me, Señora Tamiko, that it wouldn't benefit me in the least if I traded off the only protection and support I have left in this society now!" 

"Tactfully you are wise to keep us nearby," Seishuku spoke solemnly as he looked out a window, keeping an eye on any suspicious activity or movement within the area, "there isn't any guaruntee why they should spare you from the same fate as any of their enemies. Either you'd be indoctrinated into a system that would only benefit them, or you'd be tortured and executed publically for standing in their way. Smart move on your part..."

"You're not doing me any service of reminding me of the consequences, bastard!" Enrico huffed as he attached a few boxes together before getting to work on what looked like a stationary microphone of sorts, taking a screwdriver to fasten it to the table and align the wires correctly. 

Tamiko couldn't help but huff a little at Seishuku as well. "You're not doing any of us any good by reminding us what's going to happen if we're caught..." She added, walking over to a nearby chair and sitting herself down. She folded her hands within her lap, shifting one leg over the other. "At the very least..." Her expression changed from chiding to nervous as she continued speaking. "I hope we can get the word out of what our situation is..."

Masahiro himself leaned against a wall, folding his arms across his chest and looking over at her. "Agreed. By now, the Captains would probably assume we've been either captured or killed already..."

"Well, with this system up, I should be able to connect you to your friends for a few minutes without detection," Enrico patted the box with confidence, smiling toothily at the Lieutenants surrounding him, "this is such an outdated, cryptic code, that it'd take a good few hours of listening in from those IC bastards before they realize its older than what their crack boxes can handle!"

"A few minutes is plenty of time to get a simple message out." Masahiro looked over to Enricho and eyed the machine he was patting. "We're not concocting some speech or anything like that, are we?"

"Relay only what we know of the current situation and where the Captains may be held, along with various captured Soul Reapers," Seishuku spoke aloud without drawing his gaze from the window, his eyes peering vigilantly for any disturbances, "we don't need to give them resolve they may already have to get this done. After all, we are defenders of the Soul Society. We don't need words of encouragement from those left behind when we are already determined to get their comrades back, and our fallen bretheren avenged!" 

"Well spoken! Now let's see if I can get this thing running, amigos!" Enrico spoke with enthusiasm, as he began turning flips on the device and began tuning its frequency. After a few low drone, high pitch switches, eventually a clear channel had been found, causing the man to raise his hands in a sign of victory, "YES! Now, which of you knows the backup channel your friends would be using? Like I said, you should act fast cause this will only be silent for a few minutes before people realize what we're up to..."

"I suppose this would be my field, then." Masahiro spoke up readily. "If you would..."

The 11th Division Lieutenant briskly walked over towards the desk where the machine was placed. He reached over, turning the dial clockwise and counter-clockwise in a code to secure access to the channel. It only took several seconds for him to complete the code, and when he did so, he leaned over to the microphone. "Client name Razor Wire. Give me a secure line to access junction Blade Runner."

Almost immediately, a familiar voice came on - one Noriko Nagasaki.

"Well, well... and here I thought you had gotten captured. Glad to see you're still alive, Sugiyama..."

Masahiro smiled proudly for a brief moment. "Of course, sir. As much as I'd like to talk things over, I don't have long. Inner Circle security will triangulate on this position if this is on for an extended period of time."

"I'm listening."

"As I said before, the Inner Circle are already deploying internal security in order to deal with any resisting remnants of the Gotei 13. We've been trying to find out where exactly they may be holding the Captains that fell under the hypnosis. So far, there hasn't been any solid proof. But if I had to take an educated guess at this point, I would have to say that they're being held somewhere within the barracks of the Kidō Corps. I wouldn't be surprised if that were the case, considering the secrecy of their operations..."

"Understood. I'll inform the others of this new development. I'm sure they'll be more than happy to hear it."

"I can't make any promises, Captain. But we'll try and keep you updated on the situation as it unfolds. Razor Wire out."

With that, Masahiro cut the connection and raised himself up from the desk, looking over at his two compatriots. Tamiko was regarding him with a subtle curiosity. "All right, then. I'm putting this in good faith, ladies and gentlemen, and hope that our allies pull through for us. In time, we need to ensure that we don't end up under the grasp of our enemy beforehand..."

"Then we should get moving then," Seishuku spoke aloud with a sense of urgency, though keeping his calm visage, as he turned to the others, speaking aloud, "they have scouts heading this way. We should leave before they get any ideas..."

"Then allow me," Enrico began to say, as he grasped the edge of the table, before flipping it over, smashing the equipment with a sudden crash, proceeding to rip and tear wires and connections he had effortlessly patched together, "to make sure they can't trace the connection! The less they know about whom we contact, the better!"

Tamiko couldn't help but flinch at the loud noise. "Couldn't you have done that in a manner that produces, I donno, less noise?" She complained, quickly standing up from her seat and looking in the direction of Seishuku. "That probably just tipped them off even further!"

"What's your escape route?" Masahiro asked, pushing himself off of the wall and curling his fingers a little in anticipation of a confrontation.

"You're standing on it," Enrico spoke aloud, as he walked over to Masahiro's direction, his hands smoothing out the dust and debris near the Lieutenant's feet, before revealing a subtle outline for a trap door. After touching a pressure valve, too subtle to see, the trap door began opening before Masahiro, and showed a ladder leading down into the dark abyss of the sewer system once again, "quickly! We must climb dowm before they reach this place! We can lose them down there!" 

"Ladies first~!"

Before Masahiro could begin climbing down, Tamiko moved ahead of him and slid down the ladder before he could take a step. He could only shake his head a little as he followed suit, making sure he didn't accidentally land on her if she was under him the moment he began sliding. "At least we know who's still got plenty of spirit within them..." He thought to himself, smirking a little.

After a brief push by Seishuku, insisting on covering their escape route, Enrico followed Masahiro before the Lieutenant followed suite promptly. Pressing on a latch within the tight, tubular ladder, the door slid back up over their heads, sealing them within a dimly lit vertical tunnel that would lead them back to the sewer system. As they would travel downwards, the faint sounds of inspected scouts of the Pacifying Corps could be soon tuned out and the sound of rushing water greeted their senses. That, and the pungent odor accompanying any sewer system...

"I pray I can forget the smells rushing through my nostrils after this is all over," Seishuku grumbled lowly under his breath as he climbed down with the three others, issuing one of his first and only complaints since the crisis has erupted within their lives. 

"You get used to it after awhile, amigo. As a boy, I knew I had to get used to it, for it was the only way I could avoid the authorities of...well...your military," Enrico shed a little light about his childhood, despite how vaguely told, of the hard times he faced.

"It was your choice. We are seemingly forced down these passageways everytime we come across these occupying police forces. I wish we could just hide in the shadows above ground, then stay within the annals of our Seireitei," Seishuku growled lowly, though dared not alter the movement of his steps down the ladder, for fear of causing a domino falling affect none of them needed. 

Needless to say, this didn't suit well for Tamiko.

"Urk--!" She abruptly covered her nose and mouth with one hand in an attempt to protect her nostrils from the stink of the place. "Oh, Go-- why did I do--ugh!" She coughed a few times, the smell having hit her a bit harder due to her not seeing it coming. The disgust was clear on her face. "Okay... not my best choice to make... ever in my life. Ngh, this stinks!"

Chuckles escaped Masahiro, and he couldn't help the grin that crossed his face. Although it was clear that he disapproved of the stench of the new environment they were walking through, the humor at Tamiko's distaste for it got to him first."Well, at least we abided by the norms, hm? Ladies first?" He teased.

"Okay, I learned my lesson now. Next time we absolutely positively have to go somewhere unsanitary, I'm going to have someone like you guys go first. Jee-zus..."

"What did you expect, Señora? We were on the outskirts of the Rukon Districts, not a friendly place, and we were going underground. Where did you expect I'd take you, a lavishly designed bunker?! A candy making tunnel? An amusement park?"

"Just shut up and keep climbing so I can get on solid ground again," Seishuku groaned, his firm visage was becoming more and more strained from the environment and the dialogue grating through his ears, "I can't wait to get back to the surface..."

"And I can't wait to meet back up with the rest of our forces..." Masahiro's grin faded away. He looked upwards at the two still climbing, folding his arms across his chest and standing back to allow them room to step past the ladder. "Though, I'm sure that sentiment can be shared by all of us, right?"

"...Gina..."

Tamiko's sullen tone had caused the 11th Division Lieutenant to turn his head towards her. She had a fist against the wall, her back facing away from them and her head hung slightly. "I can't believe she, of all of them, is now their prisoner..." She said bitterly. "Is there really nothing we can do to save at least the ones who got captured? Who knows what they could be doing to her and the rest of them..."

"I'm sorry, Tamiko..." Masahiro said, frowning and walking over to her. He gently placed a hand on her shoulder. "But on our own, we wouldn't stand a chance against what they would have. We're not even sure if our location given was correct. We risk any rescue attempt, and all we'll end up doing is making ourselves easy prey. There's no other choice..."

As Enrico got down off the ladder, Seishuku dropped deftly, turning his attention to the conversation at hand. After a brief silence, he stepped forward and began speaking his mind...

"Its the best thing to do. For both our superiors and your own, to keep alive and out of enemy hands. We're vital pieces in a game of strategy that could use all of our respective abilities. We need to focus on just keeping safe," Seishuku spoke solemnly, looking to Tamiko, and then Masahiro respectively, "if we are to rescue your Captain, we must be available for the opportunity to strike."

Tamiko breathed out a heavy sigh, not bothering to look at them. But she did nod her head to show that she acknowledgement. "Yeah, you guys are right. This is best for all of us. We're doing the right thing..."

Masahiro nodded, smiling in appreciation. "Indeed we are. Now, let's keep--" However, he stopped himself once he saw Enrico's mouth shift out of the corner of his eye, as if he was about to say something. Curiously, he looked over his shoulder. "Enrico? I'm sorry, were you about to say something?"

With a paled complexion come over Enrico's usually tanned one, the man looked over at the Lieutenants with widened shock-filled eyes as he could hear something over the conversation of his protectors, "They're here...!" 

CLICK-CLICK-CLICK-WHIIIIIINE!

"Hold it right there!" A lead officer of nearly two dozen officers, facing them from one particular direction, as they readied their weapons onto the four fugitives. Readying the likes of Kidō guns, shock batons, and swords, they looked almost under prepared and startled than lurking in wait for them, "put your hands on your heads and surrender quietly! We will not ask again!"

Immediately, heads spun in the direction of the group that had massed upon them. Tamiko had a look of surprise on her face as she laid eyes on the lead officer and his men, almost throwing her hands up just out of reflex. Masahiro however, only needed a brief moment before putting on a clear and amused smile. He allowed himself to turn his body towards the men, placing one hand in his pocket and leaving the other out.

"Oh, I assure you that you won't."

All he had to do was twitch his fingers.

SLICE!

Without warning and within a millisecond, all of the officers aside from the lead one had been sliced to pieces, with the only sign of attack being the blood that burst from the remnants of their bodies. The pieces fell into the sewer rivers, the blood staining the already contaminated water as well as the walls of the passage. Masahiro's eyes seemed to gleam with a subtle and yet fearsome menace as he looked upon the one who had challenged them vocally.

"Run along, little boy..." He said lowly. "This isn't the time and place for children to be playing..."

Looking on in horror, the officer looked to his left and right, his mouth opening to let out a choked yell of disgust and shock. As sweat crawled down his face, he looked on at the Lieutenant, his hands shaking as he brought the gun to bear, "Y-You're a monster! You're all monsters-!" 

SHFT!

"Wrong," Seishuku spoke aloud, his body shimmering into place just behind the officer, his hand just now sheathing his blade as he finished his attack, "the real monsters are the people you call your leaders. There isn't mercy for those that follow under their banners..."

SPLUUURCH!

"...none shall be found for any of you," Seishuku spoke coldly, as he looked back with a glaring sideglance at the perfectly bisected, blood spurting halves of the officer whom had been momentarily spared by the gruesome shredding of Masahiro's precision. 

"They're all dead? Th-That was so fast!" Enrico spoke aloud, his eyes not once shying away from the bloodbath but dialating in wonder of how swiftly and precisely they slaughtered their enemies, "no wonder the Inner Circle wants you three so bad!" 

A bead of sweat ran down Tamiko's face as she observed without hesitation. SHe never was one to like violence, no matter how much she had gotten used to seeing such scenes. She exhaled a breath after Seishuku finished off the last one. "Yeah... for what, I'd prefer not to think about..." She murmured, shaking her head in an attempt to relieve herself of the disturbed feeling.

"Sorry about that..." Masahiro commented, his smile turning a little sheepish. "But I was afraid Okayama-san would have gotten a bit nervous about killing all of these underequipped and poorly prepared enforcers, and I didn't want to give you two more work than you had to put in..."

"I can't speak for Tamiko, but I was more than prepared to put those mongrels in their place," Seishuku spoke coldly, his glare only interrupted as he spat into the blood soaked sewer water, as he treaded back to glare back at Masahiro challengingly, "and here I thought it would be a waste to show off your talents best suited for truly dangerous soldiers, Masahiro."

"Point being, you both have big man-sacks, and you want to be as rapido in dealing with the bad guys as possible, I get it! Let's go, go, go!" Enrico spoke aloud in an attempt to defuse a possible argument, walking around the two Lieutenants while motioning to Tamiko to follow him as he waded indifferently through the contaminated, flowing water up to his shins. 

Out of knowledge of the situation and respect for Enrico, Masahiro only allowed himself to chuckle in response to Seishuku. Then, after waiting for the man to pass by, he promptly stepped into the fluids in order to follow right after the Spaniard. The sludge feeling that enveloped his legs up to the shins made him grimace briefly in disgust, but he made no complaint about it. Such conditions wasn't anything he couldn't get used to.

Tamiko, however, didn't seem too eager to join them. "W-wait a minute, you're actually walking through the water?" She questioned, looking on in disbelief. "Look, I know we're in a sewer and all, but seriously. We can just walk on the side paths and make it a little more easier on ourselves..."

"If you don't like it friend, you can always use the ladder from which you came from. This is the best way to get through this part of the sewer system, as there was no walkways installed out this far," Enrico spoke aloud, obviously uncaring how Tamiko felt about the path they had to take. 

Seishuku then did something unexpected. With a simple exertion of spirit energy within the soles of his sandles, Seishuku raised himself out of the dryest area of the sewer, and levitated himself above the water, nodding to Tamiko to do the same as he spoke tersely as he followed him from above their messy trail, "I rather not, thank you, Enrico. I'll keep what pride and dignity I have as a warrior rather than a street urchin..."

Tamiko scoffed, rolling her eyes at Enrico's choice of tone. "Hey, easy does it, pal! No need to bite my head off..." With an appreciative nod to Seishuku, she gathered reishi under her feet and stepped up to "hover" over the waters. She was mentally beating herself for not thinking of that prior to. It was the minor things like this that would get her killed!

"What's the matter, Yabun?" Masahiro asked in amusement, looking over his shoulder. "Afraid of getting your stockings dirty? Ha!"

"Its being smart, not a thing about masculinity. You should try using your head once in awhile, Masahiro. It would be good excercise from your animal instinct you so often defer to," Seishuku murmured aloud as they traversed through the dark tunnels towards another safehouse. It was ony a matter of time till they were able to fight back, and reclaim their home!

The Language of Fists, A Bond between Mentor and Apprentice!

SMACK!

WHUMPF!

THUMP!

WHACK!

POW!

"Gack--!!"

CRASH!

Within an area of the I.C.-controlled 2nd Division HQ, a training session was taking place.

Brina, without her cloak and only her bindings secured on her chest, was thrown into the nearest pillar with immense force. She tumbled to the ground, emitting a groan as she pushed herself to get back up. Her torso was covered in scratches and bruises, all of them aching like crazy courtesy of the one that had graciously delivered them to her. That person in question, Shikyo, was standing with her hands folded behind her back, a contemplating look on her face as she regarded her struggling opponent.

"Your hand-to-hand combat skills are definitely a cut above the rest, and you know your way around the Hakuda techniques..." She said, taking a few steps towards Brina. "But that's not where your weakness lies. You take far too long to take down your enemy, allowing your body to attack while your mind sits and waits for a lull in combat. For you to defeat even a high-level opponent quickly, you must allow both your mind and body to work in conjunction. The mind thinks, while the body fights..." She settled into a stance, her eyes regarding Brina sternly as the younger woman got back onto her feet. "Five moves or less. Go!"

Quickly, Brina threw herself at Shikyo and threw out a multitude of kicks and chops. Each one was blocked easily and readily by the woman. There was a certain way that the Horseman's body moved that indicated that she was predicting the movements made by Brina even before they were taking place. She was moving with an almost natural flair, her blocks and parries seemingly already planned out before hand. It showed the reason why she was a Horseman.

It wasn't long until Brina got to the fifth move that she counter-attacked, catching Brina's arm with both of hers and quickly twisting it behind her back. This caused the McTavish to let out a hiss of pain, but she didn't get to do much else before Shikyo released her and planted a kick to the spinal chord. This, in turn, sent Brina tumbling onto the ground like a tumbleweed. Slowly, Shikyo lowered her leg back down, relaxing her stance and walking steadily towards Brina.

"That's enough for today..." She said coolly. "Adaptation, reflexes, and timing. Your body is starting to work in conjunction with your thinking patterns. In time, both parts of you will be merged into one, as they should be." She extended a hand towards her student, who steadily took it and allowed herself to be pulled up. "Do you need any healing?"

"N-no, ma'am..." Brina breathed, hanging her head down and placing her hands on her knees as she inhaled and exhaled. "I...I'm fine..." Truth be told, she was sweating quite a lot. Shikyo had been working her non-stop and without mercy for several hours, trying to fit in as much training as possible within the time limit they had. All hands were needed for the next military operation, and that would be the defense of Soul Society against oncoming attack.

"Good." Shikyo allowed a brief smile to cross her face. "Now, shower off. You smell like a dead woman."

"Gak--!!" Brina nearly face-faulted at the blunt statement, raising her head up to glare in annoyance at the Horseman, who had begun to turn on her heel and walk off. "Wow, really? That could've really hurt my feelings!"

"Too bad." Shikyo answered readily, giving a wave over her shoulder. "Misery builds character. Now, get going!"

Rolling her eyes, Brina turned away from her mentor's back and Flash Stepped away, momentarily leaving the woman in silence. She took up a spot at the center and sat Indian-style on the ground, pressing her palms together in front of her face in a prayer-like motion and closing her eyes. It was a form of meditation that they had always participated in place of "breaks", exercised to help the spiritual reserves expand. She constantly did it whenever she had an opening, and she encouraged her students to do so in order to both lessen stress and increase their potential.

"She still doesn't let up, I see..."

A voice broke the brief silence that was created from the absence of the energy-filled student of Shikyo's. Walking out of the shadows, the dark hood-&-robed student of the Horseman's known as Kunō Shiru. She had a serene gaze projecting from her currently yellow eyes, and her cloak held a distinct organic series of blood-red veins stretching across them. It showed she was herself, and not disturbed mentally, much to everyone else's contrary thoughts. 

"...I take it she escaped fairly unscathed from the invasion into the Alliance's headquarters?" Kunō inquired softly, her body a good ten meters away from her mentor, not wanting to disturb her mistress and mentor's meditations, in the event she was lost within a trance. 

"Quite..." Shikyo replied, not breaking out of her meditative stance to face Kunō. "Needless to say, I'm quite impressed with how she's progressing. She had taken on the leader of the Crimson Knights right after defeating a particularly powerful subordinate known as the "Drunken Demon" with one solid blow. She learns very quickly..."

"Speaking of which," Kunō changed her tone from a calm, to one filled with ire, within a heartbeat as she crossed her arms as she locked her vivid yellow eyes onto Shikyo's, "I specifically requested to be a part of the invasion for Deep Cover Ops headquarters when we were preparing for the assault. You denied me the right to participate. I must know why, Shikyo-sama!" 

Now, this was enough to make Shikyo open one eye and turned her head accordingly in order to look at Kunō. She did not speak for a moment, simply staring at the Dragon for a moment. It was brief, but long enough for a slight tension to be created. It was here that she allowed herself to speak.

"You had your chance when the Inner Circle invaded the Seireitei." She said, her voice calm and nearly monotone as she explained. "You allowed yourself to get caught up in the fighting that you forgot that you were supposed to destroy your enemy and move on. You had even allowed yourself to get wounded by a Captain that you should have been able to kill with ease. And, on top of that..."

She opened her other eye, now meeting Kunō with a cold glare. "Who are you to demand anything of me? Do not forget the position you're in, Kunō. I taught you how to utilize those abilities, gave you the chance to evolve them to greater lengths. Think about that before you decide to believe that you "must know" anything."

Kunō's eyes opened widely at the cold glare directed towards her. Only then did her eyes look down, and her upper facial features became enshrouded with shame and unreadable. Her voice lowered to a whisper as she spoke out to her superior, "My apologies, Shikyo-sama...I didn't mean to assume you were to inform me of such things. You always have a reason, forgive my insubordination."

"Now..." Shikyo closed her eyes once again, preparing to get back into her meditation. "If you have no other business, I suggest that you--"

"Mom?"

Once again, Shikyo's eyes opened. But this time, they were filled with surprise. This time, she spun her head around in order to see the one who had said that term. She would see the figure of a young girl who appeared to be in her pre-teens. She had long hair tied up in a ponytail, Caucasian skin with a hint of brown, and indigo eyes. She wore a yellow dress which seemed to stand out in comparison to the rest of the residents there, and sandals on her bare feet.

After regarding her for a few moments, Shikyo let out a sigh of aggravation and rested a hand in her lap while putting a palm on her face. "Michiko, I thought I told you not to come here. I'm busy."

"Well, I'm bored~!" The girl whined, promptly falling to her knees and folding her arms across her chest. "I've had nothing to do ever since you brought me here! They keep saying it's not safe for me to go outside yet because of those Shinigami guys running around." She folded her arms across her chest, pouting as she glared at her mother - or at least, she attempted to, given how hard it was to take a pouting child glaring at you seriously.

"So," Kunō widened her own eyes in shock, having never seen Shikyo's blood other than from a picture or heresay. Looking over with curious yellow orbs of her own, walking a few steps in the direction of the pouting little girl, she bent down so her face was more level with the child's, "you must be my mentor's daughter I've heard about. Michiko is it?"

"Hm?" Michiko traded her angry gaze for a more curious one as she switched her attention to Kunō. She put a finger to her mouth in pondering. "And who are you, miss lady?"

Shikyo lowered her hand from her face, shaking her head as she watched the two interact. She had half a mind to stop her apprentice and send her back. But, of course, Michiko would complain about having no one to talk to again, and the last thing she wanted to have was a rather bored child. Or at least, a bored child who was at least anything like Michiko...

"My name is Kunō. Kunō Shiru," Kunō replied smoothly, keeping eye contact while retaining an impassive face as she conversed with the child. Having never seen a child with as much liveliness and unscarred features before, she was curious as to what kind of daughter this girl was of one of her most admired superiors, "what exactly were you hoping to do today, Michiko?"

Michiko's expression seemed to brighten up at the notion that she now had someone to possibly talk to. She put on an eager smile. "Well, I was hoping that I could go around the Rukongai for a bit. Don't know what exactly I'd do once I'm out there, but I would've thought of something. Say," Her eyes drifted towards the veins in Kunō's skin, and one of her hands slowly lifted out to touch them. "What are these supposed to be? They look kinda cool!"

Kunō's eyes briefly widened in shock, as her mind lapsed to show images of those who reached out towards her. 

"Now then girl...let's see if we can make you into a fine weapon!

"This pain is a part of you now. No need to cry over such useless things that pass in time..."

"What do we have here-"

Kunō's eyes relapsed into the present, and Kunō's complexion had briefly shifted from the normal veined coloration into a pale, sickly alabaster one. She covered her mouth and took a step back as she raised her back to be errect, her eyes overshadowed by an unknowable flood of emotions.

"Keep it together, Kunō...its just a child...she's just a child...she won't hurt you..."

Kunō kept trying to remind herself, causing her body to halt its shaking and her complexion of red veins to return to a sense of "normalcy" as she looked back at the child. She responded smoothly, albeit with a hint of shakiness as a few beads of sweat traveled down her jawline, "They're scars of my existence, Michiko. They remind me of what I have and what I lost. They aren't pretty," she looked away from the girl with shame, her eyes still downcast and covered by her hood's shadow, "I'm quite ugly to look at..." 

"...?"

Michiko's expression faltered as she saw Kunō suddenly reel back. She immediately retracted her hand, staring with a mix of confusion and sadness as she listened to the Dragon. Briefly, she looked over to her mother, who had taken to observing the interaction intently. Then, she looked at Kunō with a more sad face. Once again she reached out to Kunō despite being unable to touch her from where she was.

"I don't think you're ugly..." She said, her lips contorting into a sad pout.

Feeling a tinge of foreign pink coloration come to her cheeks upon hearing this, Kunō brought her downcast eyes to stare mesmerized by the naive perspective the child had. That, or she had a heart of gold she had rarely encountered. Allowing herself to smile softly, a rarity for herself, as Kunō kneeled down and allowed her to touch her hand, to feel the real organic texture it held on her body.

"You're very kind to say such things, Michiko," Kunō said softly, smiling at her beloved mentor's daughter in appreciation for her kind words. Looking up into her eyes, she lightly squeezed the girl's hand and responded with as much enthusiasm as she could mount up willingly, "Seeing as we're both left with nothing to do, let's go visit the Rukonagi Districts. I've never had the opportunity to spend the day with someone outside of work, so this might be something for me to enjoy and learn from."

The sad frown was immediately wiped away once her ears heard the chance of escaping her "prison" of boredom. Immediately, she sprung on her feet and held her balled hands in front of her in eagerness. "Really?" She squealed, bouncing up and down for a moment. Quickly, she spun her head over to her mother. "Can we, can we, can we?"

Even Shikyo couldn't ignore the pleading look her daughter gave her. A small smile came across her face. "Only if you stay close to Kunō and not stray too far..." She answered readily.

"Yay~!"

Standing to her feet, Kunō bows respectfully before her mentor and superior, "I will not let her out of my sights, Shikyo-sama. I will guard her with my life and ensure she finds...enjoyment...today," raising herself from her bowed stance, she looked over with a smile, reaching her hand out to the girl as she prepared to play with the young child, "ready to go, Michiko?"

"Mhm!" Beaming with new energy, Michiko was quick to reach out and take the woman's hand. "I promise not to stray too far away!"

With a nod to her new friend, Kunō looked to her master before giving another bow. After taking a minute or so to walk away, Kunō set off to tour the occupied and transformed Rukonagi Districts, to see what exactly their new prize looks like. 

Reason worth Fighting For, Recouperation and Recollection!

"I... seriously don't get paid enough for this shit..."

Tenshina had his face buried in his palms as he sat on the hospital bed, his fingers massaging his temples as he tried to rid himself of a massive headache. Although his body ached, the majority of his wounds had been healed courtesy of medics stationed within the 4th Division's HQ. The same was for Valeur and Choku. The only exception was Kameyo, who had been fortunate enough to have such a merciful enemy. As of yet, their experiences weren't shared with each other.

"Are you all right?" Kameyo asked him, observing as she was washing her hands in a nearby sink.

Tenshina gave a brief and somewhat stiff nod. "Yeah... I'm fine. I'll live, though I'm surprised I'm not dead..."

"The fury of that Soul Reaper...Kaien Shiba...wasn't aimed at us," Valuer spoke aloud as he sat upright on his own bed, medical bandages adorned around torso and part of his head, as he looked to Kameyo and Tenshina with stoic eyes, "if his rage had been used against us...there wouldn't be any remains, that I'm sure of."

"Of course you guys can get away with complaining about headaches and stuff...but what do I get?!" Choku moaned out in complain, being bed to the farthest corner of the hospital room, next to the window. With his glasses off, his body had been similarly wrapped as he folded his arm over his face in shame, "I get beat up by a Woman-child midget with nothing more than her tiny fists...you get to keep your dignity while I'm stuck with nothing but humility!"

Kameyo retracted her hands from the sink, grabbing a nearby towel to dry them off with. "Just like what happened with the Black Eagle, right...?" She asked rhetorically. "You should have been quicker to kill and not to speak."

"Hey, come on, Kameyo..." Tenshina complained, lowering his hands to rest his arms in his lap. "Lay off the guy, would you? I can safely assume that he's been through enough already without you nagging him about it. At the very least, we can all be grateful that tranny and snake boy didn't show up to rub it in our faces!"

"At least the Black Eagle had the decency of not rubbing it in! The Woman-child kept lecturing me on every turn, it was humiliating as hell!" Choku whined, quietly, if not comically crying to himself as he turned his gaze to face away from his parallel aligned, bed-ridden comrades and from the standing Kameyo. 

"From what I've heard, they're too busy doing their master's beck and calling to be busy with inciting more arguments," Valeur spoke lowly, gripping the sheets as his gaze hardened, "while three Lieutenants roam the sewers and shadows of an already conquered society, we're confined to an entire day of sick leave. I hate being confined of such immobility!" 

A scoff escaped Tenshina's lips. "Oh, what? So we can run into another guy who happens to be hiding some sort of mystical power?" He asked sarcastically, throwing his hands up. "Oh! Maybe he'll be nice enough to actually leave us a limb to move while he's breaking the rest! That would be fun, huh?"

However, he immediately directed his attention to Kameyo, a look of slight surprise on his face. "Oh, that reminds me. How come you didn't get beat down like we did, Kameyo? I would have expected you to be stuck just like us, all things considering..."

"My enemy was..."

As she began to explain, Kameyo suddenly paused for a moment. Her eyebrows furrowed in thought, her mind processing what words she was going to say. "She was... unexpected..." She said, her voice soft and quiet. "I'm honestly still confused. Usually, an opponent treats me with contempt or fear, rushing to kill me without hesitation. But this one... wasn't. She held no hostility towards me, even though she knew I was responsible for assisting in the slaughter of her comrades and we crossed swords. When Captain Shiba brought down you and Valeur, she allowed me to go fetch them without attacking me while my back was turned." She placed a hand to her heart. "It's... I don't understand why an enemy would treat their opposition so kindly like that..."

Choku kept silent, knowing that full well that his own mind was within a torrent of emotions. Whatever this Yachiru had said to him, he knew that he had been fooling himself into thinking that he could live forever, pretending to be the part of a villain while also being someone who opposed it. He didn't know how to show it, so he stayed silent, and just listened to everyone else. 

"She sounds like a true woman of chivalry. She must be the balance for Captain Shiba's rage, to have so much kindness within her soul," Valeur bowed his head, grimacing slightly while holding a sad smile onto his own face, "its times like this, I truly wonder, if they're in the wrong...or are we to blame for suffering and agony that is bore onto beautiful children, women, and men of staunch character and life," raising his head, he looked up at Kameyo with his own brand of curiosity, asking her with a smile, "what exactly did she say to you, to have you looking so perplexed and worried, Serah Kameyo?"

Kameyo allowed herself to turn towards the group in general, meeting Valeur's eyes with her own. "She took in my appearance and asked me just where exactly did I stand in this conflict. I told her of how I came to be, both within my own life and the life I began in the Inner Circle. When I had finished, she was... crying, regretful that she didn't have a place within my growth. So opposed to the idea of slaying me that she even pleaded for me to retreat from the duel..."

"Wha--" Tenshina's eyes widened as his ears picked this up, giving Kameyo a more attentive gaze. "Y-you mean, she would've actually let you leave if you wanted to? Come on, I'm not trying to support the enemy here, but the least you'd think she do would be to capture you for information, not let you walk away without hesitation!"

"How much do we know, Bokujin?" Choku spoke aloud, his face turned around and looked for the first time without spectacles blocking his eyes, glaring at all three of them, "how much do we know about a mere mercenary company that hailed the first, worldwide Blitzkrieg offensive in the history of mankind. Both in the Material and the Spiritual Realms, have we really learned of what their real motives were up until the announcement of becoming a interdimensional power? Did any of you expect us to actually go to war with the entirety of civilization, so we could establish our own? Think about it...did any of us actually expect to fight against the people who once hired us for contracts and black ops missions?!" 

This was enough to catch Tenshina off-guard.

"W-well..." He began, trying to come up with a proper response to the question that he was presented. Truth be told, he had been going along with everything out of the assumption that it was all normal for the Inner Circle. But, now that Choku was pointing it out in such a manner and considering the recent circumstances, that ideology was being put into question. In wrestling with these thoughts, he failed to give a proper response to the question.

"Th...they're our bosses, right?" He said lamely. "We're not supposed to know what they know. It's how a job's supposed to work, right...?"

"Is that a question above your wages, Serah Tenshina?" Valeur half-joked as he looked over at him, with an admittant look of his own, "when you signed up, were you told this was a organization vying for power, or a competitive corporation to become one of the largest outfits for hire-on muscle and armies? I knew what this organization was long before joining. Its why I joined to begin with...I knew of this endgame war they were planning and decided to join...so that things would change for the better!"

"See, that's not the kind of thing a mercenary group would preach, now would it? Ever since the beginning, I've seen a lot of characters. But what didn't add up, is why hire so many Fullbringers, or especially, human elements? I mean, wouldn't it make sense if a largely Spiritual organization would hire on other spirits, and not humans? Then, came my superiors. They all seemed too obscure, or overtly flamboyant with their intentions. This all seemed wrong. I began to also realize that those who openly questioned about the policies of their new employers, would vanish suddenly, or be killed in action. And then...we're all told the big news of working for a guy named Aizen. That's right. Aizen! He's to be the new govenor while our organization hails as the ruling military and police force throughout the known world. How the Hell did we turn from a simple mercenary force into a tyrant's army?!" 

Tenshina's heart skipped a beat.

"W-wait a minute..." His face paled considerably as he took in each and every word spoken by Choku. "Y-you mean to tell me that we've been carrying out his will?! That every advancing step made towards us was his step, too?! I--" He cut himself off, helplessness washing over his expression. "Why didn't I realize this when I heard about that whole Mourning War incident?! God damn it, why wasn't I thinking?!" He slapped his palms to his face, hanging his head down. "What the hell is wrong with me?!"

"I knew this, as well." Kameyo said calmly. "All the signs pointed to a massive takeover of the dimensions. The military buildup wasn't hard to miss. I'm surprised that you missed it, Tenshina."

"Oh, hell, that does it, then!" Tenshina abruptly pushed himself from the bed. "I'm not doing this anymore. I can't do this anymore. I should've known there was something messed up about the whole thing and I should've backed out then! To hell with what I'm being paid!!"

"You're a fool if you think you can just walk out of here!" Valeur shouted, his eyes drawn to Bokujin's rising frame, his teeth visibly bared and gritted, "it can't happen then, or now! If you hadn't noticed, you're on the winning side of this conflict. There will be one, final battle, and then its over. You will either be a convicted fellon, dead, or erased from the annals of history!"

"That's right!" Choku insisted, hoping on talking Bokujin out of his abrupt leaving, "think about it: We've already helped conquer the entire world. Dimension after dimension is theirs. If you leave, where will you go? Do you even have a home that isn't under an Inner Circle, or moreover, Aizen's banner?! Leaving now would be the same thing as desertion. You're a soldier of the new World Order. You'll be either living in fear of disappearing or hung publically as a warning sign for those who oppose them!" Looking to the side briefly, he rubbed his own hand down his face, "I have known this as long as I've questioned it. And yet...I still played along. I'm as much a fool as you are, Bokujin. In the end, we are nothing but disposable liabilities. Who's going to keep our asses out of the fire when shit goes down anyways?! They're are plenty of us where we come from and they already now control the flow of reincarnation as we know it! Every new generation can be indoctrinated accordingly! They'll all be personal robots under Aizen's control, or mindless hitmen contracted under the Inner Circle banner!" 

"You can't expect me to stay with this!!" Tenshina snarled, clenching his hands into fists as he glared at both of them. "Can you honestly say that it's better to keep doing this?! I just learned that I'm helping an organization that's willing to commit genocide on innocent people!! Man, woman, children, plenty of them died in that experiment that we all assumed to be some natural disaster!! We were lucky we didn't have orders to kill any civilians ourselves!! But what if we do?! What if Brina or some other Dragon orders us to kill some pregnant woman who's expecting in a few days?! What if we have to cut down some elderly man who's barely able to stand on his own two feet?! What if we have to kill some kid who's minding his or her own business?! Look me in the fucking eyes and tell me you can live with that!!"

After this, his eyes widened in their glare at the two men. Both even through his anger, tears could be seem brimming in them.

"No, I cannot," Valeur spoke flatly, his eyes meeting Bokujin's as held his stoic and firm absolution to his ideals, "but I can't imagine living in a world that is considered peaceful while men and women are exploited, brainwashed, and left to rot in the sewers. This may be considered a more forthright evil, but it may be a necessary one. I have seen too much horror that has been wrought by those claiming to be on the side of justice and mercy, when they themselves have none when it comes down to the hard choices. I may not agree with their ethics, but they are a necessary organization that must endure. Otherwise, I truly am the fool..."

"Bokujin, I understand if you want to walk away right now and take a chance, but doing that right now, in the middle of a Inner Circle controlled society, would be idioitic," Choku, briefly glaring at Valeur for his choice of words, before looking back at the man standing from his bed, "I'm developing a plan of escape as we're talking, so if you want in on something of that sort, talk to me later..."

KNOCK-KNOCK-KNOCK!

A series of loud knocks came at their hospital door, but didn't open, seemingly waiting for a response or an acknowledgement. No sound or noise was made outside the doorway, nor was their an illumination of a discernable figure outside. Who could it be?

"Oh, who in the hell could that be?" Tenshina snapped, beginning to walk over towards the door. "Of all the times--"

However, he was abruptly stopped by Kameyo's arm, which had swung itself out in front of him. He spun his head to meet a stoic yet warning gaze. "You still need a bit of time for your body to recover." She said calmly, shifting a hand so that she could press a hand against his chest and gently push him back down to his seat. "Allow me..."

Tenshina let out annoyed sigh, propping his cheeks on his fists. "Yeah, sure. Do what you want..."

Removing her hand, Kameyo pulled herself away from the group and approached the door. She grasped the knob and slowly pulled the door open. "Yes?" She inquired readily.

Yūyo Hakumei appeared as stoically as Kameyo would. The only exception, was that she had both arms full of what appeared to be "Get Well," baskets, culminating with a series of mutual notes and gifts from other Fullbringers as well as some notes from the Dragons themselves. 

"I'm...not use to this...but I got this stuff I'm suppose to drop off for you guys," Yūyo spoke flatly, a slight twitch near her left brow showed a slight note of irritation to doing the errand, sighing in relenting, "can I come in and hand these out to you?"

After blinking a few times at the sight of Yūyo, Kameyo gave a nod. "Of course. Please come in..." She moved aside in order to allow the other woman to enter into the room. "In case you were worried, you weren't interrupting anything."

Tenshina straightened up, once again settling his arms into his lap and folding his hands together. "Well, well, looks like there are people who like us after all..." He muttered with a bit of sarcasm. He swiftly pulled in his legs so that he was once again lying down on the bed, folding his hands behind his bed and shifting one leg over the other.

Yūyo walked in and began handing out baskets to each of them, noting the cross and pensive looks on each of them. With the exception of Kameyo, it certainly looked like they had some form of heated argument. That, or it was the pain medication wearing off after such a rapid healing process they went through. With the extent of their injuries after all...

After handing the last one to Kameyo, Yūyo couldn't help but draw her eyes to Bokujin. Drawing a pensive frown of her own, she crossed her arms as she spoke aloud with a sigh, "Alright, Bokujin-san. Spill it. Something looks wrong and I can only assume you either endured a psychological trauma from the injuries and recovery, or something is really bothering you..."

"With all due respect, Serah Hakumei," Valeur spoke firmly, but making sure to keep his tone polite as he drew his gaze to her, "I don't think its your place to inquire in personal affairs."

"I'll take that into consideration, Vents-san, but I am not asking you the question," Yūyo spoke firmly back, unabashed by Valeur's verbal intrusion, as she walked over and sat on the edge of Bokujin's bed, crossing her arms in front of her as she sat indian style, "spill it, Tenshina." 

"Spill it?" Tenshina repeated, his expression shifting to a bit of skeptical incredulity despite his remaining irritation. He turned his head towards her, his long hair scattered around his head courtesy of his undone ponytail. "That's a real nice way of asking someone what's wrong with them. Just why exactly are you so suddenly concerned with what's bothering me or us for that matter?"

"Cause I know you want out of this get-up, don't you? I can tell from the way you held yourself when I entered, and have since the time you came back from the mission on the SS's Caravan. You want a way out of the Inner Circle, don't you?" Yūyo asked, her voice filled with a sense of contempt and knowing, it felt both eery and dispassionate. 

Valeur glared at Yūyo for cornering him, and for a better lack of the term, them all on something they were just recently discussing. Was she spying after all?!

Tenshina reflexively clenched his teeth inside of his mouth as he heard his desire voiced out by the possible spy. Had he really been that obvious about it? Considering that Yūyo had been one of the more intelligent and observant members of the Inner Circle, it probably would have been natural to have successfully guessed correctly about hidden intentions. It was a shame that he didn't know what she would do about it. Was she going to rat him out? Hand him over to the superiors for possible treason and conspiracy?

Knowing that he wasn't going to get by with whatever answer he gave, he remained stubbornly silent.

"So what if you don't like it here. What do you plan on doing if you left? You do realize once the Alliance is destroyed, there is nowhere that you can go that won't be owned by us, right? We can keep tabs on you, even if we decide you're not worth the effort in expending. So...I assume your friend over there has a plan, and he wants to help you both leave? I'd imagine the only time you could do that was during the fighting we'll be having with the SS and whatever forces they bring...but would that really matter? You'd be an outlaw if the Gotei 13 win and imprisoned if not executed all the same. It'd be foolish not to play along...or would it?" 

Stepping back from Bokujin, Yūyo smiled in an uncharacteristically snake-like smile as she eyed them all, her voice distorting into a more masculine voice, "Are you all, considering that idea, or are you still clinging to the meat scraps the Inner Circle serve?

"You're not Yūyo!" Valeur's eyes widened, as he noticed the changes immediately, and began to stand up, wincing slightly at the pain he felt, facing the intruder with aggression, "who are you?!" 

"What the fuck--"

Tenshina didn't hesitate to react to the sudden shift in tone.

Within an instant, he yanked out his HCA-50 Kido Pistol and leveled the barrel at the head of what he had assumed was Yūyo. He had to twist his body accordingly on the bed in order to get a good aim on her, but he easily did so nonetheless. His eyes were narrowed in intense suspicion, and his scowl had deepened. "You'd better answer his question, or I blow your head off right here and now!" He snarled, his finger tightening a little on the trigger.

Kameyo's eyes had widened for a brief moment when she heard the change in Yūyo's voice, and she once again turned to face the woman. But other than that, she made no move to either attack or defend herself.

"Fufufufu," A throaty chuckle came out of the entity's throat, a dark violet-black smoke began to creep off the pores of the body used as a clever disguise. Slowly, but surely, "Yūyo's" body began to shift to a more masculine form, garbed in black trappings and a particularly distinguishable metal headband, embodying the trait of someone who fought in the Mourning War. With pale, snake-like skin and facial features, the yellow eyed entity smiled thinly as he looked upon them all, "I guess I can't help myself when I get excited. My name is Noroshi Kibō, 3rd Seat of the 12th Division and Deputy Director of the Department of Research and Development. I'm here to offer you a chance to attain your freedom, Dogs of the Inner Circle," looking over to Kameyo, Choku, Valeur, and finally at Bokujin, widening into a toothy, snake-like grin, "interested?"

A scoff escaped Tenshina's lips, and he kept his weapon pointed at Noroshi's head. "Oh, so you just come in here, looking to bribe somebody and get away with it, huh?" He asked rhetorically. "And what makes you think that we won't just call in security to come in and take you into custody?!"

"Because if I die, you'll be stuck in this prison you locked yourself in," Noroshi chuckled, his body momentarily producing a sickening Spiritual Pressure that enraptured his body, contained within the room and kept from leaking out from the there, "that, and with the condition you three are, I doubt any of you could stop me from getting away. Its not like it would serve you at all, if a spy of the Gotei 13 escaped with all four of you present. What would your irate superiors do to you, I wonder?" 

"Why you-?!" 

"Calm down, you two!" Choku spoke an octave above his two reasonably tempermental friends, looking to the conspicuous spy of the Gotei 13, "let's see if he's got a reasonable deal or not. If we don't like where its going, we'll ask him...politely...to back off. Okay?" 

"I'm glad there's a voice of reason among the four of you," Noroshi commented with a smile, looking to Bokujin in general, having approached him first, "so...are you ones to listen to reason, or shun it?" 

"...fine..."

Knowing that Choku was probably the most intellectual out of their group at this point, Tenshina grudgingly allowed himself to holster his weapon and sheathe it away. He kept a glare at Noroshi even as he did so, trying to ignore the ache of his arms as he folded his arms across his chest. "I'll listen. But I sure won't like it..."

An Effort to Relax, Interruptions Are Bound to Happen! 

"There you are!" Seihai, a sweet emerald haired girl in her late teens in appearance, hopped and somersaulted over a series of inclines before reaching the reconstructed First Division headquarters. Now redesigned to have a more modernized appearance, it served not only as the debriefing center for the newly established Royal Guard, handpicked as the elite warriors of the Inner Circle to protect and serve the Horsemen directly. 

Here, as personal advisor and head of logistics within Kyōaku's department, Seihai has often delivered messages back and forth between other departments, and their overseers. Unfortunately, Seihai can't find Suna at a normal place. One time it was in a Koi pond, backstroking. Another, it was ontop of one of the airships on the landing field. Now on the rooftop of the Royal Guard HQ. 

"Why can't you stay in one place like a normal person, Suna-san?!" Seihai playfully groaned, as she skipped across the square roof to stop just short of Suna's prone form. Leaning over, she smiled playfully and brightly at him, with the Sun enrapturing behind her head, causing her majestic emerald hair to glow green in the basking sunlight, "you cause me a lot of trouble you know?"

"Hunh...?"

Suna opened one of his eyes, turning his head in order to look over at the one who had addressed him. A complaining frown came over his face as she leaned over him, blocking out the sun with her form. "Oh, come on, Seihai..." He complained, bringing himself up to sit up and keep himself propped with his hands. "Can't I bask in some sun for a good while before you ruin it for me? Jeez.."

"You've been in the Sun since the morning, dummy," Seihai sighed, dropping to her haunches as she sat right next to  his propped up self, smiling at him with a mischievious glint in her eyes, "I wonder what Shikyo-sama or the others would think if they knew about your strange habit of slacking off in odd places? Wouldn't that look bad as one of the new rulers of the known world?"

Suna snorted, rolling his eyes. "Well, excuse me..." He said sarcastically. "But I think that just entitles me to do whatever I please now." He slid himself into an Indian style sitting position, putting his arms within his lap. "What do you want, brat?" The term, however, was used in a jocular and jesting nature. Seihai was one of the very few people he considered to be friends with him. Thus, the fact that she wasn't using any honorifics with him was actually normal between them.

"Well, I was going to let you know about the updates with certain persons of importance as well as updates to the war effort afar," Seihai leaned back, sighing in contentment as she allowed herself to kick back as well, "but for now, it seems like that can wait. Its not anything the other Horsemen don't already know about. I just thought to let you know, considering your involvement with the new world...but you're probably not thinking as hard as Kyō-kun is, are you?"

Suna sighed, closing his eyes and allowing himself to fall back onto the rooftop once more. He folded his hands behind his head, shifting one leg over the other as he spoke. "Kyōaka's always had the habit of burying his nose within things like this." He said dismissively. "Truth be told, I think he's overdoing it..."

"He never got the respect he had while being stuck within the shadow of Feudal Royalty. His brother never understood him, and the world kept spinning while horrors were being swept under the rug. He knew it had to end, one way or another. So he offered his genius and power to the Inner Circle, and became one of its founding leaders," Seihai spoke aloud in an admiring way, true to her love that she held for the stoic young man. Looking over at Suna, she spoke in a knowing tone, "having his face revealed so soon wasn't in his plans. I think...he was trying to keep his identity a secret up until now from anyone outside of the Inner Circle. He's probably trying to increase the speed of takeover so that no one who knows him can...exploit...his weakness..."

"Weaknesses?" Suna repeated, chuckling a little. "That guy wouldn't know weakness if it came up and punched him in the face. No one's smart enough to try and exploit anything concerning him."

"Its not that kind of weakness. Its not something that could be held, or understood easily. That man, Kaze, he would probably be one of the few who could do it. A man who understands the true scars within Kyōaku's psyche, and his heart. Kyōaku cares too much about those closest to him and the work he is trying to build. Not many would understand that, considering the air he perfectly projects," Seihai sighed, her tone wary and looking straight up at the cloudy sky. The sky itself hadn't stopped darkening every since their arrival and takeover of the Soul Society. She knew, it was their doing...and their disruption of its harmony has come to show in nature and the people around them. "I just hope he doesn't let his power go to his head...he could forget what's truly important, and why he started this war to begin with."

That was when Suna slowly opened his eyes, looking towards the cloudy skies and forming a frown on his face. Once again, he allowed himself to sit up, working out his neck in an idle fashion. "Yeah..." He muttered. "That's something I've been fearing ever since I myself became a Horseman. As of now, we're at the pinnacle both socially and in war." He looked towards Seihai, giving a warm smile to her as he reached over and ruffled her hair. "It makes me glad that people like you aren't in our shoes..."

Squinting her eyes down comically, she squealed in protest before sitting upright, combing her hair back into its usual silky appearance, "I couldn't stand working behind a desk, being in charge. Despite all of the glory people profess in fiction and history, its quite dull. I don't know how Kyōaku is going to handle being in charge as well as keeping busy with his projects. I just hope my help will make it less dull...for all of you," she smiled brightly, her eyes squint shut with a aura of certainty, being one of the true beacons of light for those within the office of Horseman. 

Suna chuckled, slowly lifting himself onto his two feet. He worked out his fingers before folding his arms across his chest. It was times like this that he couldn't help but envy Kyōaku a little. With such an individual that could brighten up any day by just being near people, it was something that was a rarity in the case of subordinates. "Who's to say you haven't already?" He asked, tilting his head to the side momentarily as he regarded her for a moment more.

Then, he allowed himself to turn away from her, his voice's volume expanding.

"So! Are you going to come out, or were you too busy catching the deeper points of this conversation?"

"Wh-What?!" Seihai's eyes widened, as she suddenly realized there was an ominous presence lurking outside her perception. Turning her head, left and right, she stood up immediately, holding her hands close to her chest as she stepped near Suna, for fear of becoming the assassin's prey, "who's out there?!"

What happen, would occur within the span of a second. 

SHFT!

A blurring, dark robed form dropped before Suna and Seihai's rear flank. With a swift rotating motion of its forearms, two palm heels struck out to "tap" their backsides. But what would be released, would be far greater than any form of tacticle contact. 

"Tsuifuyō Funka!

BOOOOOM!

An ear-splitting shockwave was released at point blank, as a concentrated projection of Li and Neijing, force was released within harmony of each other, using immense internal and raw power to knock them both away from their standing points with concussive power and bone-splitting force. The attack sent a wide-eyed Seihai sprawling into the air, her body limp as a rag doll, as she was sent a good distance off the rooftop's ground and tumbling across its expansive top. 

The force alone ripped up a good portion of the landscape within its wake, and decimated the point of their former locations. 

"They always attack from the rear..."

Unlike Seihai, Suna had actually been prepared for the attack.

As the smoke cleared, The hand that had threatened to strike him was caught by the wrist. Suna himself had fully turned around in the short time span that he was given to react to the attack, an anticipating grin on his face. "So, the head of the Shihōin Clan has decided to show his face." He said tauntingly. "And to one of the Horseman, nonetheless. What, have you decided how you're going to die?"

"I applaud your perception, for being able to tell where I was and who I am. I only know of two others in my lifetime who had that ability. One is dead, the other is in your captivity," Kōsei spoke through the black clad mask, though his hazel eyes could still glare through the slit of his trappings plainly, "I plan to make you the last!" 

CLAMP!

His free hand swung around and grasped Suna's arm holding his outstretched one, holding him tightly with a vice grip that only Suna could rival. But, something strange happened next. Within a brief, unnerving glow of white light, Kōsei's body then erupted...

CRK-BOOM!

...causing a point-blank explosion of powerful proportions, taking a good section of the expansive Royal Guard rooftop with it. 

As Seihai sat up, wincing slightly from the strike that hit her spine, her eyes widened at the magnanimous explosion that had occured, covering her eyes with one of her hands as the aftershock wind blew past her along with bits of debris.

"SUNA!!!" Seihai shouted out in a worried tone, while still internally knowing that he was far from deceased, but cautious all the same. She couldn't believe that Kōsei would purposely allow himself to be noticed, so that he could employ such a tactic. He truly is a genius assassin.

"Nice to know someone of your level exists," Kōsei's voice spoke from the shadows, though his presence seem to fluxuate from shadow to shadow, and didn't have the consistency it used to have, "but I am the 5th Head of the Shihōin Clan, and haven't resigned from my title for a reason. There is no one within my Clan as strong as I within the arts of subterfuge, battle, and assassination. If you believe me to be on the same level as the Captains, or the pup you tricked into capturing, you're sorrily mistaken!

"Oh, really?!" Suna began to laugh heartily, his grin growing feral and clearly influenced by the anticipation of the upcoming battle at hand. He clenched his fists, his muscles contracting as he settled into a prepatory stance. The initial explosion had only served to briefly stun him, leaving no major injuries to consider on his person. "That's good, then. Considering the rest of the Horsemen had their chance at some action in the field, I think that this would be a good time to take my turn!!"

He swung his arms out...

VWOOM!

An aura of spiritual energy erupted from his body, its brilliance causing the entire area to light up within its influence. The pressure was enough to cause any weaker entities within the area to have considerable difficulty breathing. However, he was still careful not to affect Seihai. His voice called out to her over the mighty roar of his own spiritual energy. "Seihai! I think this would be your time to get out of here. I'd hate for you to get caught up in this unintentionally..."

Before Seihai had an opportunity to acknowledge Suna, something happened that would produce an awe-shocking moment before her eyes. 

CRRRRRRK-BOOOOM!!!

A massive surge of electrical Spiritual Power detonated directly underneath Suna, detonating the Royal Guard building with an incredibly vibrant explosion. The shockwave caused Seihai to raise her arms in defense, the billowing winds and flames licking at her body as she was propelled a good distance into the air willingly. Her emerald hair flourished as much as her black clothes, as she winced at feeling a comparable Spiritual Pressure to Suna's as well. 

Rising out from flames, at the pinnacle of the Spiritual Powered storm, Kōsei was only wearing a pair of black hakama pants and a pair of straw-tied sandles. With powerfully distributed muscles aligned a large physical frame, he was as visually intimidating as his Spiritual Pressure was. Hovering in mid air, his large brass arm guards fell down to the ground along with ten sealing bolts. 

"Show me then, Horseman," rolling his neck side to side, creating painfully audible snaps as he settled into a fighting stance before his assumed opponent, "show me you are as powerful as your colleagues, and if you can take me on!" 

"As you wish!!"

The voice would not come from the location of detonation. It would come from behind him.

Suna had used a Flash Step movement to evade the sudden detonation, his senses tipping him off at the right time. He had used another to get behind Kōsei, bracing his feet while swinging one of his fists towards the man's head. Immense physical force, considerably above what even the Captains of the Gotei 13 were capable of, would be launched at his enemy within the arm he used for the punch. He would follow this with several more, moving in a feral yet experienced fashion as he struck.

Kōsei acted upon instinct, pivoting upon his heels as he swung around and side-blocked the first punch, redirecting a torrent of physical force that kicked up the flames and debris in a monsterous circular, crushing manner. He continued to use advanced Jujutsu-based swings of his arms to redirect and absorb the blows of his adversary, even while his eyes locked onto Suna's. 

Seihai could see it all, surprisingly, through the series of pops of air pressure whenever they would clash out of the dozens of strikes they delivered to each other's awaiting defensive postures. 

Kōsei then directed his own form of counterattack. One that derrived from potent, controlled Kidō-infused force with his own substantial physical and internal strength. 

With a loud growl, Kōsei shouted aloud, "Shunkō!" 

SHEOW-VMMMM!!!!

Within an instant, Kōsei's body became illuminated with a blinding aura of electrically-refined Spiritual Power, allowing a series of high-powered kicks and punches to propel towards Suna with nearly triple the strength of what he had been capable of producing before. The energy cracks blazed and sizzled the air like lightning itself, causing a chaotic storm to loom over them as they would combat each other. 

POW!

WHUMPF!

WHACK!

The first blow would connect with his chin, sending his head snapping back. The second blow would hit his stomach, making him double over. The third blow would send him skidding back. Although powerful, none of these would stagger him for long. As Kōsei delivered more blows, his own arms and legs began to defend against the strikes. As punch met forearm and kick met foreleg and knee, flashes and burst of massive power were unleashed between the two combatants. Throughout it all, he held that grin on his face.

Then, an opening.

CLAMP!

His hand thrust out towards Kōsei's face, and he brought that arm down to plummet his enemy into the dirt. The earth underneath their feet collapsed under the pressure he unleashed. Though the electrical currents stung at his skin, it was not enough to slow down his attack. He balled his free fist, swinging it down with a loud cry.

"IKKOTSU!!"

"RAAAAAAH!!" Kōsei shouted aloud, as he threw a punch of his own simultaneously towards Suna's chest, causing the two colliding forces to crash with equal force. The explosion would produce not only a visually distortive one, but one with incredible light and electrical force. 

Pummeled into the earth, and into the sky, the two opposing enemies would end up seeing each other and sport their own bloodied wounds. With Kōsei, his own Shunkō shielded him enough to the point where he only showed a surface wound, and no brutally crushed organs and bones. He couldn't speak for his opponent, as a trickle of blood dribbled down his jawline as he regarded him with caution. 

"Hahahaha...."

As Suna floated above the earth, there could be a smoldering hole in the center of his chest. Although it certainly looked deceiving enough, it did not reach into any organs or scrape too deep into the muscle. If that wasn't enough, the way he was carrying himself and his laugh was enough to prove that he wasn't too terribly damaged by the attack.

"Now this is just great..." He said with a mixture of jeering and excitement as he folded his arms across his chest. "To be honest, I'm really not sure what your gain is here. I mean, if you didn't put up any precautionary measures to keep this little scuffle private, then I can guarantee that there's gonna be someone woken up. I can't help but wonder. Why is it that you're here and not somewhere else, Shihōin?"

"How naive," Kōsei muttered aloud, audible enough to be heard, but low enough that Seihai couldn't hear. Cocking his head back and forth, he spoke with certainty, "we've been enfolded in a barrier since before you noticed my presence. All they see, is a camoflauged replication of their barracks and storm-ridden sky. You must be not paying attention to things as much as you'd like to believe," gesturing holding his arms to his sides in a preparation stance, allowing the Shunkō energies to collesce around his muscle-ridden body in anticipation for their next bout, "I'm here to bring you down, Suna Tekketsu, as a traitor to the Soul Society and as an invading force that must be purged! I'll kill each of you Horsemen, one at a time, if that's what it takes!" 

"...I see..."

The smile faded from Suna's face as he regarded Kōsei, straightening himself up. "So you are here to follow in the footsteps of Shin'en..." He remarked, reaching behind him to grasp the handle of one of his Zanpakutō sheathed on his back. He drew it with a deliberately slow motion, swinging it off to his side. "I can guess just what strategy you plan on using. Surround each of the Horsemen with the same barrier, then strike them down and move on to the next one. It's a clever tactic, even if it is rather redundant. However, there's something you've failed to recognize, Shihōin. How do you think we achieved our status as masters of deception if we're unable to spot it? You underestimate us greatly, fool."

Then, he raised his sword over his head.

VWOOM!

A tremendous amount of cutting force was unleashed towards Kōsei's position. Although only one arm was put in the effort of the attack, it would be enough to sear through the protective Shunkō that Kōsei was using. It was a mixture of physical force and immense control of his own spiritual energy that would work in conjunction with one another to destroy the target.

Recognizing the sheer force produced from the sword strike, it gave Kōsei chills as he leaped to the side, narrowly avoiding it as he observed the cleaving of earth and air it created. It made him feel like he was fighting someone of his passed on rival, certainly gave him a sense of anticipation. 

With a flex of his muscles, the Shunkō dissipated, allowing him to conserve his Spiritual Power as he turned to face Suna. Propelling himself forward, Kōsei moved with incredible speed, intending on taking Suna head-on...

SHFT-SHFT-SHFT-SHFT-SHFT-SHFT!

...until his body shimmered out of view, before seven duplicates came out of the reentry point of where he should be. Moving with high precision and speed, the "bodies" of Kōsei kept up a ferocious assault that mingled Samba grappel assaults to swift Karate strikes. 

"You think you can distract me with petty duplicates?!" Suna jeered, moving his blade and body in accordance.

SLICE-SLICE-SLICE-SLICE-SLICE-SLICE-SLICE!

His blade moved rapidly, cutting down the replicas that had charged him before they could even land any blows on him. As they were dispersed, he flourished and twirled his sword around in his hand as he reached out with his senses. Heightened as they were, he would pick out the slightest of disturbances within the area and subsequently find where his enemy was. The hilt was gripped tightly as he focused, allowing the tension to sink in for a moment.

Then, he attacked.

WOOSH!

He re-appeared behind Kōsei and swung his blade towards the back.

SPLURCH!

As what would appear to be a rounding Kōsei, a large geyser of force uproared in excess of the attack, causing the man before him to be bifuricated. However, this proved to be a ruse as within the moment of impact and dispersement, the image of a dying man began to whiz away...

WHOOSH-BAM!

...just as a rising form moved from directly underneath his shadow, almost appearing as if he had melded with it, and had temporarily shifted his presence there to be undetected. His palm moved up to make a powerful punch land at the base of his spine where his hips met his waistline, striking a nerve that he aimed to slow the powerfully built Horseman. 

"Way of the Onmitsukidō #13, Kage Shinpuku!

It was a blow that was anticipated, but could not be blocked. Therefore, Suna would have to move himself.

Swipe!

With a twist of his body, he evaded the fist and twirled around in a 360 in order to face his enemy again. As he did so, his blade would come at a horizontal angle towards his enemy in an attempt to slash open the chest and both arms. Once again, the force would be enough to cut his enemy in two. Even still, his sword was only gripped in one hand. The manic grin continued to decor his face as he initiated the attack.

Kōsei's eyes widened as he saw his enemy adapt so fluidly to his attack and counter with an incredible momentum behind his swing. However, the bloodlust filled the air and his eyes were staring with an insane expression. He wouldn't take his eyes off him now...!

CLAP!

"Tendō Yagura!

SSSSSHEEEEOOOOW-CRRRRRK!

Within a single instant, Kōsei's body was enveloped with energy as Suna's blade came within a fraction of an inch to his target. Within that moment and his voice's words, a large burst of heavenly light shined with a blinding flash, followed by a powerful uproar of electrical currents that blew back everything in an immense explosion. Physical and Spirit energy was blown back, recoiling from the force exerted from his body. It was an ultimate defense Kidō, capable of throwing back force away from the user, and attacking the enemy as well. 

It was like a tornado had struck him full-force.

"Ngh--!" He gritted his teeth as he felt the pressure collide into him head-on, his heels digging into the ground as he was pushed a small distance. The power put behind the attack was incredible, and it surely would have been enough to blow back any weaker adversaries. Inwardly, he was praying that Seihai had not done the stupid thing and stayed behind within the war between the two individuals. Who knew just how this assassin operated?

Taking in a deep breath, he pushed forth against the wind and unleashed his own attack. He swung his leg up, the top of his boot connecting with Kōsei's face. The power was enough to send the Shihōin flying away from Suna's person, and he was slow to lower his leg back down to the ground as he observed. Temporarily, he lowered his sword to the side and placed a hand on his hip, smirking smugly. "C'mon, Shihōin..." He said. "You wanna destroy me, you gotta put forth a lot more effort than that..."

CRACK!

"What?!" Kōsei thought as a vicious kick connected with his chin, sending his body reeling backwards throughout the air. The pain reeled throughout his skull. As his pride was pained, he had to admit something. The Horseman, individually, had more power than what Ultharon had when he fought him. He knew that he had to strike him with his most powerful blow and then retreat into the shadows. If he went to fight the others as he was, he would be beaten with ease...

"Alright then, Horseman!" Kōsei snarled out, as he reared back his arms and legs, stopping a good distance from the location of his opponent, "this isn't something I'd normally do...but I'll have to risk my life in stopping you...even if this means the end of my Clan!" 

CRRRACK-RRROOOAAR!

Within a powerful exuding blast of Shunkō energy flowing from his body, it mirrored the exact stance that Sazuke had done with Brina. Instead of forcing it all in, however, it seemed only his limbs to soak of the energy, and a constant flow of crackling, transparent Spiritual Power flew out from his shoulders and back. It almost looked as if he donned a cloak of lightning, while strengthening his limbs with concentrated spirit energy, crackling and fizzing on the surface of his skin. 

"This is my Shunkō's truest form! Prepare yourself!" Kōsei shouted out...

SHFT-BOOM!

...before disappearing before Suna's eyes, and reappearing within an instant, a series of crackling afterimages left in his wake as he swung his fist towards Suna's solarplex, containing raw spiritually imbued physical power. The force would be much greater and swifter, than what Sazuke could manage, and a follow-up discharge of Shunkō energy flew from his arm that would shock the atmosphere and blast the rubble into ash itself. 

Surprisingly, Seihai had remained to watch it all. Her eyes didn't show fear anymore, as she realized the power her friend and comrade had, comparing it to the Shihōin Clan Head. Despite the powerful forces rocking the atmosphere, a tranquil and calm expression emerged onto her face, even as her clothes rippled in sync with her glowing emerald hair. 

"You are strong, Kōsei Shihōin...but you chose the worst opponent to fight a physical battle first. Suna's a monster in comparison to the other three. You will lose...badly...and fatally."

Suna's immediate vision may have not caught Kōsei as he moved. But his reflexes more than made up for it.

Kōsei's fist would meet Suna's palm before it could reach its target, reeled in with a sharp tug. Then, his other fist, having been freed up due to him sheathed his blade, met his opponent's stomach with force that would've ripped through the likes of the common Captain-class opponent. A powerful shockwave could even be felt ripping from the focal point of the blow. Even with the Shunkō active, the physical and spiritual force unleashed would be enough to cause considerable external, but severe internal damage. It would also be enough to make him double over, allowing Suna to speak to him.

"I told you before, Shihōin." He said, almost as if he was reprimanding the man for his move. "You can't deceive a master of deception. I have fought enough wars and participated in enough conflicts just to know every trick that the enemy can pull. Maybe if had thought about it a little bit more than you did, you could've ended this quickly. It's a shame..." Slowly, he released the grip on his enemy's fist.

But he was quick to deliver an open-palmed strike to the throat with his newly freed hand. His fingers wrapped around Kōsei's neck, and with a sharp yell, he lifted his enemy up and slammed him into the ground with immense force. The ground nearby seemed to implode, while the entirety of it seemed to shake under the intense pressure.

Within the moment the fist met Kōsei's chest, it caved in and crushed his insides, causing him to puke blood with a widened expression of surprise. But, Suna would find that the first attack had no resistance and the Shunkō itself held no form of endurance as his limbs had. It seemed...he had willingly allowed his enemy to strike him down?!

"GAK!" As he felt his throat crushed, blood spewed out even further, and felt his neck cracking as his body smashed into the ground with force even his own substantial endurance couldn't withstand. His last thoughts remembered his rival and friend, Yamamoto...and...Furuidenshō, and his own plight. Within his final breaths, Kōsei felt his body crushed and his vision give into darkness.

"Pup...let my death...fuel your rage...against these...enemies. Don't let them...get...the...better...of...you..."

Seihai blinked a few times, realizing that Kōsei's Spiritual Pressure had ceased, and the barrier around them was nullified. She didn't believe this man had a goal that he could honestly anticipate achieving. Walking over to Suna's side, she spoke aloud in a surprised tone, "You...killed him?"

Now this was something that had surprised Suna.

His eyes furrowed as he stared at the body for a moment, folding his arms across his chest. His mind was caught in thought now, having felt the sudden lack of resistance from his target. There was no way that an assassin would allow himself to get struck down like this. He would have assumed that there would have been some sort of failsafe employed in order to ensure that any information he had on him couldn't be accessed. Wouldn't the body blow up or disintegrate? Wouldn't there be some sort of seal placed on his person to keep information out?

Slightly, he shook his head before looking over to Seihai. "Take the body over to the labs for analysis. Something's not right about this situation..."

"That'll be a boon for Kyōaku," Seihai sighed, walking over to stand next to the body of the certainly deceased man, lowering her hands to touch the man's lifeless body. After feeling certain nothing was triggered, she clasped her hands together, forming a transparent emerald glow, before laying it upon the corpse. Within a inaudible whisper, the body disappeared with a blink of emerald energy and transported to the labs, via Kidō, "let's hope he can go through that one's body for some answers...and hopefully not blow something up in the process," she joked as she stood up to look at Suna's worried expression. 

With a smile, she reached and placed a hand on his shoulder, "You alright? Do you want me to tend to your wounds, Suna-san?"

Suna sighed, working his head from side to side to eliminate any kinks. "Don't worry about me, I'm good..." He assured her. "But, I'm a bit surprised that you could stay and watch. I was a bit nervous that the spiritual energy would have been too much for you to handle..."

Pouting her lips at Suna comically, she placed her hands on her hips in response, "What's that supposed to mean? Are you saying that I, the personal aide of the Horsemen, would have trouble handling your nauseous Spiritual Pressure? I've felt worse when Kyōaku lost his temper in the laboratory before...!" 

"Ack--!!" Surprised at her response, Suna immediately raised his hands up defensively with a sheepish expression. "Hey, hey, no need to get testy! I was just worried for you, that's all!"

"Well in that case, that's very sweet of you," Seihai sighed, smiling in acceptance before shaking her head, "but I am fine. Kyōaku wouldn't allow me to be near himself and you other hot shots if I would be in danger of you cutting loose once in awhile. Now...if you would excuse me," Seihai turned on her heels, sighing in a more exaggerated tone as she flailed her arms out in emphasis, "some of us have to work for a living, so I will get started straight away on your recent kill. Have a good day procastinating, Suna-san!" 

"Ey!" Suna spread his arms out, frowning in complaint. "I've been working, too! I just do it on my own time!" Even so, he couldn't help keep the smile off his face as he watched her walk away, shaking his head. It was only natural that she was under Kyōaku of all people. He was the only one who would've mocked or probed him for his attitude. "Can't believe that guy would have such a cheery subordinate at his side. Then again, considering who one of his Dragons are, I shouldn't be surprised..."

With that being said, he walked away with his hands in his pockets. "I guess I've got enough time to go bother the rest of them. Got nothing else to do..."

A Violent Incursion, Big Trouble in Bad Rukonagi!

"This should be a more isolated District," Enrico spoke lowly, as he slid a sewer lid up and quietly to the side. As he poked his head up, he could see that the reconstruction process was the weakest within this particular section. No particular reason, but due to the lessening of the SS's population, there was no need to rush valuable resources within the outlying sections of the Rukonagi Districts. Therefore, scarred streets, burned buildings, and recently vacated alleys were to be expected to be seen around them. 

"Coast is clear," Enrico whispered below, fully pushing the lid away as he clambered up onto the top and looked around the mist layered atmosphere of the Rukon District. He turned to his left, waiting for the others to clamber out of the manhole while shifting his gaze down each side of the street, anticipating anything that might block or hinder their continued progress of anonymity. 

"We've got your six, Masahiro..." Tamiko whispered, urging the 11th Division Lieutenant up first.

"Right..."

Slowly, Masahiro clambered through the manhole entryway and stood up on solid ground. He reached out with his spiritual senses as well as his immediate ones as he swept the area. He had a rather pensive look on his face as he walked up beside Enrico. "Well, I'm not picking up anything..." He muttered. "This place might as well be dead. At the very least, we won't have to feel so restricted in our movements. This just might be our relief from all that work we did to remain undetected..."

"No kidding." Tamiko grumbled after she clambered up. "I'm praying that might be the last time we need to go through a sewer." She was grateful that Seishuku had showed her a way from stepping into the disgusting waters, though she couldn't help but wonder how Masahiro was feeling at the moment about it.

"I second that notion," Seishuku climbed afterwards, thankful that he was berift of the smell and the source of so much garbage, "I'd rather risk being caught by a hundred Inner Circle soldiers than skulk in someplace so disgusting and criminally established as there."

"You're not going to sympathize, are you?"

"No," Seishuku flatly spoke to Enrico, tersely looking over to Masahiro, relying on his perception for the most outlying perimeter of their current location's layout, "what's the current count of outlying perimeter guard?"

"Like I said," Masahiro folded his arms across his chest. "There's literally nothing here. The closest guard is so far away that he probably wouldn't hear us even if we had a shouting match. Still, this could also mean that the enemy's gone low to avoid detection themselves. We still need to be cautious..."

"Well, Enrico?" Tamiko questioned, moving herself over to flank Enrico's other side. "Any bright ideas on where we should go now? Standing out here in the open like a bunch of morons is not going to bode well if another patrol does happen to be coming around the corner..."

"I think there might be an abandoned warehouse where V-14 usually stacks up armanents, transportation, and a nice hideaway to keep any unfriendly people out," Enrico spoke knowingly while rubbing his chin, looking directly across the series of scarred buildings across the street from them, "if we keep going West for a good mile or so, I'm pretty sure we can hide out there until the heat dies down and your friends come in, all guns and blazing!" 

"Will it open for us?" Seishuku asked aloud, his arms crossed as he regarded the hispanic man with caution, "you did mention that this was to keep others out. Would you happen to know the way in, safely?"

"Please, I wouldn't want to drive myself and my new armed escort into any danger...willingly," Enrico sheepishly laughed, before explaining with a few gestures of his hands, "I often deliver them merchandise and goods when I'm not giving them info or jobs and the like. I know how to get into their base on this side...it should've withstood the attacks and be completely unnoticed by anyone too busy fighting off soldiers..."

"Well, then, what are we waiting for?" Tamiko beamed, parting ways from them and starting to in that particular direction. "We've got a safehouse waiting for--"

"C'mon, Kuno, this way!"

The laughing voice of a young girl stopped her, her body freezing up. Abruptly, she raised a hand up for silence. "Hold it." She said immediately, her blood starting to chill. "Do you guys hear...?" It was a rhetorical question, for they would all hear the cheers and laughs of the voice as it came closer and closer to their location. She swung her head around to meet Masahiro's surprised gaze with her own. "Masahiro, I thought you said there was nothing here!!" She hissed, her face expressing dread and horror.

"...maybe I should have rephrased that..." The man muttered, a bead of sweat falling down his face. "When I said "nothing here", I meant no hostile signatures. There are still civilians that I didn't take into account..."

"No one is supposed to be out here! Civilians are not even allowed-!"

"She was voicing aloud a name, meaning there's someone with her," Seishuku spoke aloud, trying to remain calm no matter how much he wanted to verbally lash out at Enrico again for bringing them unintentionally into danger, as well as Masahiro's sloppy analysis of their surroundings, "hide in the shadows and wait! Now!" 

The other two didn't need to be told twice.

Masahiro immediately pressed himself against the front of a nearby house, with Tamiko immediatately following suit. They were hidden in the shadows, all right. But due to the girl's voice seemingly coming around the corner, the chances of being seen or undetected were half and half. Both of them were sweating bullets at the threat of being caught.

"Tamiko, get that door open so we can creep inside." Masahiro said tersely.

Wordlessly, the female Lieutenant nodded, reaching over to the door and grasping the knob. But when she turned it, it did not make the resounding click of a door opening. "Oh, no..." She whispered, the panic creeping into her voice. "No, no, please no, not now, do not do this to us when we're so close...!"

"What's taking you so long, Okayama?!" Masahiro growled.

"T-the door's locked! I can't get it open!"

"Oh, for crying out--" After taking another peek over, Masahiro let out an annoyed sigh. "We don't have time for this. You all, stay hidden in the shadows. I just might have to resort to extreme measures here."

Confusion was starting to show on Tamiko's face. "Like wha--"

Then, the girl in question rounded the corner, spinning around happily in her yellow dress and seemingly humming a tune to herself. "Ring around the rosie, a pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes, they all fall--"

She never noticed the shadow of Masahiro descend upon her until it was too late.

Without hesitation, and much to Tamiko's horror, the 11th Division Lieutenant had grabbed her in a tight and uncomfortable hold. One hand was clamped over the mouth to muffle the screams of the girl as he pulled her into the shadows. She struggled, but against Masahiro's physical strength, she had no chance of breaking out of his grip.

"What the hell are you--?!" Tamiko began, but Masahiro was quick to cut her off with a harsh "Shh!"

"What is he doing?! Tell him to stop-!" 

"Silence!" Seishuku whispered harshly to Enrico, his gaze meeting Masahiro in understanding, but kept a stoic glare upon him, "explain how kidnapping a civilian, Masahiro-san, is supposed to help us?" 

Then, another voice called out from down the mist-layered street. 

"Michiko! Where did you run off to? You know its not safe to play hide and seek out here!" The unmistakeable tone, leveled to a somewhat playful tone while keeping within a audible tone from the distance she was from. Her black hooded cloak, with nigh organic red veins strewn upon the interior garments, and black gloves matching black boots. The Dragon of the Inner Circle, Kunō Shiru! 

"Oh, no..." Tamiko's whispering voice was laced with dread. "Th-that was the Dragon who overtook Captain Tachibana in combat. She spots us, we're really done for?" By now, she had stopped trying to work the door in fear that Kunō would hear the twisting and turning.

Masahiro nodded grimly, keeping a firm grip on the struggling Michiko. "Wait until she passes. I'll have to kill the child to keep our position fro--"

Then, the worst happened.

Deciding that physically struggling was worthless, Michiko had moved her mouth enough to open wide and chomp down on Masahiro's hand. The 11th Division Lieutenant's eyes widened, and he let out a hiss as he reflexively let go. Immediately, he realized his mistake once the child let out a scream.

"KUNO--!!"

But she wouldn't get very far.

Once again, Masahiro had moved to grab her, wrapping one arm around her neck. His other hand was poised in a claw position just above her head. There was the glint of the razor wires that made up his Zanpakutō, wrapped around her body. His eyes glared daggers at Kunō. "Don't move, or this brat gets it!!" He snarled, making sure the threat was clearly presented.

Kunō's blood felt cold for the first time in a long while. 

Her eyes widened and felt her throat constrict, as she strangled out a cry to Michiko. She had been foolish to believe that it would've been safe to relax her guard. Even here, her enemies targeted her at her weakest. As her brow twitched, doing nothing to relax her horrified expression, she tried to comprehend her situation in her thoughts.

"I might be able to move fast enough to kill him without him becoming aware of it. No...he has a vice grip hold, and he's a Lieutenant, skilled enough to initiate the kill upon Michiko if he wants to, consciously or subconsciously. If I try to threaten him, he might panic and hurt her. If anything happens to her...not only will my superior destroy me in any sense of the word...but I...can't..."

"P-Please..." Kunō barely spoke aloud, her jaw chattering as her lips quivered, a sliver of a tear carried itself from her left eye as she reached out with her right hand to Masahiro's and Michiko's direction, "d-don't hurt her! She's just a child...she has nothing to do with our fight, Soul Reaper!" 

"Masahiro!!" Tamiko was quick to reprimand Masahiro for his actions, even as her gaze switched from him and his hostage to the Dragon. It disturbed her to see that their enemy was showing such emotions in front of them, the display enough to jar her out of any contempt she might've had for the time being. "Stop it!! This isn't right!!"

Michiko had taken to whimpering loudly, tears falling down her eyes and dripping onto Masahiro's sleeve. She was kicking feebly but to no avail, as the Lieutenant had her within a better positioned grip this time. This garnered no sympathy from the Lieutenant as he continued looking at Kunō, a smirk on his face as he watched her. It satisfied him watching one of the Gotei 13's greatest enemies suffer.

"On your face!" He shouted, immediately wiping his smile away. "Hands behind your head and close your eyes. If I see you so much as take a peek, this little bitch is going to be nothing but ribbons. NOW!!" He swung a glance behind him quickly. "Tamiko, grab Enrico's shoulder and get ready!"

"I will! Just...don't harm her!" Kunō kept her hands outstretched, shakily getting onto her knees and place her hands behind her head as she did so, her face practically kissing the battle-scarred pavement beneath her. She felt her tears snake down onto the ground as she spoke aloud, "just leave her alone!" 

"Th-This is insane!" Enrico whispered as his eyes saw a desparate Dragon, whom he knew would be twice more vengeful for what was occuring before her eyes. Not only would this be humiliating, they were targeting someone of importance to her, "she'll be royally pissed at us when we get loose, you know that, right?!" 

"Do you have a better idea?" Masahiro growled back, not bothering to look at either Enricho or Tamiko, who had willingly placed one of her hands on the Spaniard's shoulder. He turned his tone to the bowing Kunō. "Consider yourself very lucky that I'm not pushed to the edge by what you and your forces have done to us, Dragon. I could easily kill both you and your child right now and be done with at least one of the many grievances the Inner Circle have caused us. So let this be a warning. Cross us again, and you will pay dearly."

With an opening of the arm, he released Michiko and promptly gave her a swift kick to her back in order to knock her on the ground. Quickly, he raised his hand up for them to move out. "Go, go!!"

WOOSH!

With that, the group would Flash Step away to their desired location, leaving Kunō and a very scared Michiko alone in the area. The latter of the two was sobbing, bringing herself up and running towards her guardian with tear-stained eyes.

Within the moment she heard Michiko's crying form rush towards her, Kunō released her hands hold over her head and rose to immediately embrace the weeping child, hugging her tightly to her self, "I'm so sorry, Michiko! Please forgive me! I should've watched you closer, especially with their kind out here!" She herself, found her voice filled with grief and self loathing, her own tears having failed from ceasing from the time of the horrifying predicament she was placed in that humiliated her to no end. 

"B-But I ran away from you...!" Michiko sobbed, burying her face in Kunō's shoulder. "I never would've got caught if I listened to Mom...! I'm the one who should be sorry! I'll stay close to you from now on, honest!" Her body was shivering out of the fear that still remained, as if letting go right now would cause her to get swept up the arms of the enemy once again.

"Its okay, Michiko. Its okay," Kunō stroked the young girl's back and hair tenderly, projecting a side of herself she never knew she was capable of showing, "its not good to run off, but I admit I envy your courage to rush into the danger of the unknown. You are a lot braver than you believe yourself to be, but try and keep yourself out of danger while we're out here, okay?"

"Y-yes, ma'am, I promise... I won't run off again, I swear..."

"Good girl," Kunō patted Michiko's back, before pulling away to show a rare smile of her own, despite the tear stains covering her cheeks, "I'm just glad you warned me, otherwise, I don't know if I could've found you. You're too good at hide & seek, Michiko..."

Slowly, Michiko's mouth curled into a beaming smile at the words of praise. She wiped away her tears, trying her best to clear the stains from her face. "Mom always said that I needed to be." She said, her voice quiet but a bit prideful. "She told me that there would be days in which she couldn't be there to protect me all the time, and I'm too weak to do anything against the bad guys. So she taught me how to run and hide, to keep them from catching me."

"She's a very wise mother," Kunō locked her eyes with Michiko, speaking levelly and respectfully as she smiled, "she understands that she won't be around forever, but that despite you being weak, turn you into a smart and wise little girl yourself. One day, you'll be as strong as your mother, and be able to tell your daughter these things in order to make her big and strong someday."

"I don't think I could ever be as strong as my mom..." Michiko said, the smile growing more and more out of the fear she had experienced before. "But thanks." She moved closer to the Dragon, snuggling up against her. "For saying that and keeping me safe..."

"I'd give my life to protect the ones I cherish, even their children," Kunō whispered with confidence and assurance, caressing his master's daughter, even as her eyes traced the scarred landscape around them, keeping watch for any incoming enemies that may try to ambush them once more, "and I will always be nearby to give you comfort and aid, Michiko. Never forget that."


"Well... that was a close one."

That was the first thing Masahiro had said once the group had reappeared outside the warehouse that had been Gamma Team's HQ. Surprisingly, and true to Enrico's word, the complex was relatively untouched. Certainly, the V-14 had garnered quite a hiding place if it managed to withstand the assault of the Inner Circle. The 11th Division Lieutenant himself couldn't help but marvel at it, even as he surveyed his partners.

"Is everyone all right?" He asked, having regressed back to his calm and controlled tone.

"I might need a check for a pulse from that earlier bit of drama and near-death experience, but I'm alright," Enrico spoke jocularly, still trying to breathe normally from having narrowly escaped death at the hands of the Inner Circle's supposedly most ruthless general. 

"No thanks to your underhanded tactic of pulling your head out of your ass," Seishuku spoke bluntly, heatedly glaring at Masahiro as he fully blamed his compatriot for their earlier predicament, "if I didn't respect your use in combat, I would've suggested abandoning you to be rid of your stupidity! Do you know what would've happened if that Dragon had decided not to fall for your gamble? We would all be dead, wouldn't we?!" 

"As a matter of fact," Tamiko was quick to join up with Seishuku against Masahiro, glaring daggers at the 11th Division Lieutenant. "Why did you even do that?! That wasn't some guard or officer we were talking about! That was just a little girl, someone who wasn't even involved in this!! Were you really about to kill her?!"

The accusations didn't suit well with Masahiro, who gave both of them an irritated glare. "Well, excuse me if I made a blunder." He said sarcastically, his tone at first showing nothing more than annoyance. But as he continued speaking, that tone began to show more and more anger. "You see, it's just that my men were and are still being slaughtered like animals, the enemies' law is now the law of the land, I'm constantly under the threat of being tortured and executed, and I have no idea when exactly when reinforcements are going to arrive. You'll have to forgive me, if I'm not in my best state of mind right now!!"

By the last sentence, he was nearly right in Seishuku's face. Tamiko had enough sense to retract her own anger, widening her eyes and holding her hands up defensively. "H-hey, wait a minute, let's not--"

"And you!!" Masahiro immediately rounded on her before she could finish speaking, glaring daggers at her. "What do you mean "a little girl"? Have you forgotten what they're doing to our comrades right now? Your Captain?! Do you think our enemies are going to care about regulations and ethics while on the battlefield?! There won't be any prisoners' rights given to us once we're apprehended. No, they'll march us right out to the center of the Rukongai, skin us alive and leave us to bleed out if it would make an example to their beloved public! So don't even start with me, Okayama!!"

Seishuku simply sneered at Masahiro, speaking levelly without giving an inch, "This is war, Masahiro. Our faith in ourselves as well as what we believe in, is being attacked as well as our bodies and minds. Would you be able to look your Captain in the eye if you said you completed the objective, even though you willingly spilled the blood of noncombatants. The infirm, children, women, incapacitated and sickly, all of them. If the quickest way to victory would be to cut them all down, would you take it?!" 

Without waiting for an answer, Seishuku stepped closer so that his eyes were staring directly into Masahiro's orbs, "Then go join your real allies, then! For that is their tactics. That is their mindset, and how they view life and honor. If we forsake ourselves in this war, then there is nothing to come back to. There is no reason in surviving and avenging our fallen if all we are is the byproduct of what are enemies intended into viewing us as: Debased monsters who will do anything for the cost of victory!" 

"We need to survive, Seishuku!" Masahiro said angrily. "We cannot afford to let the enemy see any weakness that they can exploit! If I hadn't did what I did, we all would be sitting in a prison cell or torture chamber of our own. Would you like that? Would that be fun for you, huh?!"

"Ok, ok, just back off!" Now, Tamiko saw it to be a bit more assertive. She cut in, abruptly shoving the two Lieutenants away from each other. She regarded each of them with a stern gaze as she spoke. "Listen to us! We're fighting amongst each other now! I might not agree with what Masahiro did, but the point of the matter is that we're still alive. If we start going at each other's throats, there won't be anything left for the reinforcements to get. Remember just who we're living for here!"

After glaring at Seishuku for a few tense seconds, Masahiro breathed out a heavy sigh and turned away. "I... you're right, Tamiko." He muttered, placing a palm to his face. "We're the only ones we have now. As much as we can't afford to get captured, we also can't afford to part with one another over something like this. Sorry..."

Seishuku simply closed his eyes and turned his back to Masahiro, speaking to them both as he walked towards the entrance of the base, "I take nothing I've said back. I only agree to stifle my tone in order for a more cohesive cooperation among the three of us. That is all," Seishuku turned his sharp gaze to Enrico, nodding over to the entrance in a wordless emphasis to open it. 

"Alright...now we got our little melodrama out of the way, let me punch in the code," Enrico began punching in a long line of digits that seemed to take him nearly an entire minute to input. After waiting for a few moments, a swift flash of metal was displayed as the door opened the way for them, "magnífico!" 

"Thank you, Enrico." Tamiko said politely, giving a little bow before turning to her two compatriots. "C'mon!"

Once they stepped inside, they would find that the hardened exterior completely contrasted with what was inside. There was furniture that was more situated to a living room rather than an actual warehouse. There would be many more within the complex that would be similar to what would have been in apartments. But there were also places where technology showed itself, such as in the medical rooms and the like. Gamma Team had really situated themselves here, no doubt.

"Well," Tamiko let out an impressed whistle as she surveyed the surroundings. "Some people have been living it up, I see..."

"This is the perks of being a big-time Mercenary Organization," Enrico spoke nonchalantly, walking around to inspect the place, noticing a thin layer of dust collected and hanging around the atmosphere, emphasized as he dragged a hand across a countertop of the immediate kitchen area they walked past, "eugh! Seems this place needs a little bit of elbow grease to get it looking all fine and dandy..."

"It doesn't need to be cleaned, it just needs to be defendable," Seishuku looked around, analyzing the structure of its interior, "these walls appear to be lined with a Spiritual Pressure dampening mineral. I can't sense anything outside of this structure...and I can only assume no one can sense anything unordinary of this place either. Tactful, if not slightly crude..."

"I just hope the V-14 won't mind--" Before she could finish her statement, Tamiko's eyes widened in realization. She slammed a fist into her palm. "Wait a minute! That's it!"

"Huh?" Masahiro had just shut the door behind him, cocking an eyebrow as he heard Tamiko. "What would you happen to be talking about?"

"If this place has remained undetected and untouched even through the attack," Tamiko explained readily. "Then the communications link hasn't been tapped yet! If we use their radio and tune in back to the D.C.O.'s channel, then we can steadily stream reports in of the situation without having to worry about any of the Inner Circle listening in!"

"But...isn't the Inner Circle suspecting we'd do something like that?" Seishuku inquired to Tamiko, remembering all of the unfortunate leaks of intel and spies from within, "what if the frequencies they used are already compromised?"

"Its worth a shot! Its not like the Soul Society knows all of your hideouts were known, otherwise the Inner Circle would've wasted them all," Enrico rationalized, looking around the area for what would be the communications room.

"No kidding." Tamiko agreed. "If the Inner Circle was expecting it, then this place would have been secured a long time ago. They wouldn't let any rebel forces wander into such a place so carelessly." A beaming smile came across her face, and she shook her fists in joy. "Finally! After an eternity of running, we have a chance of communicating with civilization!"

However, she took a double take over at the deadpan expression of Masahiro, her smile turning a bit sheepish. "Oh, um... not to say that you three aren't good company to have around... heh heh..."

"We understand, Tamiko..." Masahiro said dismissively, waving a hand. "Seeing you as the only girl within a group of males, I can see why you would be so eager to get back in touch with the others." The last words were said with a bit of a smirk, as he had spoken those words in humor.

"Women are so dependant on social interaction these days. Its as if they were going to turn into dust without outside stimuli," Seishuku spoke blandly, as he too smirked and turned his head away in dismissal of what his female compatriot said. 

"Well, excuse me if I'd prefer to speak with my words instead of fists!" Tamiko rolled her eyes, turning herself towards Enricho and reaching out to push himout the door. "Come on, Enricho, you should know this place better than any of us do! Help me find the communications room!"

"And what exactly are we supposed to do?" Masahiro asked, frowning.

"I donno, get comfortable? We're going to be here for a while, aren't we?"

"I wonder if they have a place suited for meditation?" Seishuku sighed as his gaze dropped to the floor, admitting fatigue catching up to him, "I could use a place to clear my mind so I am more...stabilized...for future conflicts."

"There should be some rooms of various sorts, custom-made according to the desire of the mercenary, to the West Wing of this place," Enrico spoke as he looked to the two Soul Reapers in question, pointing to their left to a long hall towards a series of doors, spaced apart respectively to their size and space needed, "they probably have a shower stall or two down there as well. You might want to wash the stink out of you while you're at it..."

"Don't remind me of that smell," Seishuku briefly raised his eyes to glare heatedly at Enrico before walking firmly away down the informed path to relaxation, "but...I thank you regardless."

"Now if you follow me to the Northern Wing, there should be a Command Center or Debriefing Room, whatever they called it down this way," Enrico insisted as he showed Tamiko down the hallway, walking past various doorways leading to other establishments and peculiar rooms, all of them walled off or tinted for whatever reason. 

Dancing Shadows, A Chat Between Two Puppetmasters

In the office of Shūkurō Tsukishima, things were pretty normal considering just who owned the place now.

He was sitting at his desk, looking over papers and shuffling them into folders. They were files concerning the suppression of Hollows acting aggressively against humankind. Although they had overtaken the Soul Society now, it didn't eliminate the duties that the Shinigami had been fulfilling. It was up to their forces to fill in the void, lest they wanted to cause a disruption large enough for any other supernatural force to pay attention to. The last thing he wanted was more interference.

This was how anyone would find him, silently shuffling through the papers with keen interest.

Knock-Knock-Knock!

The sound of knocking upon the normal oak-laden, open door came from behind Shūkurō's desk.

"May I come in, Tsukishima-sama?" The smooth, sultry voice of none other than one of Shūkurō's personal Dragons, Yashin Shiyōnin, clad in his usual black trenchcoat and tie, smiling as if he didn't have a care in the world. But his eyes, discolored as they were, held a slight mysterious twinkle within them, as if he had something to speak of in particular. 

Briefly, Tsukishima looked up at the door before turning his attention back to his papers. He gently set them down on the table, answering readily. "Yashin? Go ahead, the door's unlocked." He answered, putting the folder he was holding aside to fold his hands across its surface.

Walking inside, Yashin made sure to close the door until he was sure it made the audible click of it closing behind him. Turning to make himself presentable before his superior, Yashin kept his thin smile and good cheer tone as he walked towards him, his hands pocketed in each coat pocket, "I wanted to ask how things were going with governing the new world, firstly. It can't be easy to assume this much paper work and responsibility all at once...."

"It's not." Tsukishima said, meeting his subordinate's gaze evenly as he nodded slightly in acknowledgement. "That's why I'm the one who's doing it. I've got the patience and the attention span to tend to such matters when everyone else would be too focused on actual action." As he looked at Yashin, he lowered his head a little while keeping his gaze. "It can be rather dull at times, even for me. But someone has to tend to the mundane tasks, otherwise progression would not be as quick..."

"Fufufu, this is so true," Yashin nodded in admittance, making a lighthearted laugh than anyone but his superior would find bone-chilling, "not many individuals within your league would be able to handle such mundane tasks without assigning it to people much less suited to do so, just out of the excuse of boredom or pride..."

"The other thing I wanted to talk to you about, was what was announced to the Captains and the other high ranking members of the Alliance," Turning his gaze to look out the window, Yashin let the tone settle into a serious point as his gaze lingered out across the vista of the modernized Soul Society, "how long do you plan keeping your moles within the Alliance's forces intact?" 

"...intact, you say?"

Tsukishima slightly cocked an eyebrow at this, as if he was genuinely puzzled that Yashin would say such a thing. "Now there's a question I wouldn't have expected to come from the likes of you, Yashin." He said. "Ever since their deployment, they have never been intact. They have always been under the threat of detection, being rooted out and stripped of all the information they have. As intelligent as they are, as skilled as they may be, they are never intact."

"We have no guaruntee that they'll remain loyal to the end. Why not make it official, and try and make our friends in the Alliance's job easier at rooting them out by exposing them," Yashin made a whimsical gesture with his right hand, pacing to his left while keeping his right red eye trained on Tsukishima, "after all, it would be a hinderance if they gave us the pretense they were on our side when they discover they have a change of heart, and make our jobs that much more difficult. Why not...inexplicably...expose them? The sooner it happens, the more lethal the response our dear, young Head Captain of the Alliance will enact."

It was a notion Tsukishima had considered since the very beginning. In his time with the individuals in question serving them, he knew that the agents he picked would eventually attempt to go separate from the Inner Circle. Yashin's proposal only brought that notion back up to the surface. However, none of that showed in his business-like expression as he watched the Dragon pace around in front of his desk.

"You're asking me to throw off the covers of my agents and leave them to the scrutiny of those rebel forces?" He asked. "Out of the fear that their loyalty is in question? What would bring you to ask this of me?"

"Meikurai Shiomaneki," Yashin spoke with finality, turning himself to face Tsukishima fully as he crossed his arms in emphasis of his caution, "he simply knows too much about our organization. That and due to his recent time off you had allowed him to have, I believe he might have had a change of heart...because of his clouded affections he has for the Kuchiki woman. If he ever tried to come clean, not only would he potentially be a vital threat to our hold upon the world, he could expose anything he's ever known about your subordinates and your colleagues. And I do mean...everything."

Slowly, Tsukishima closed his eyes and thought about the words that had been spoken. But it wasn't long before he allowed himself to nod in acknowledgement, a smile slowly coming across his face. "It is good to have thoughtful ones like you around, Yashin." He commended. "You are able to sight out the weak link of our chain before it can cause any major damage. Now, if you have come to such a conclusion, then surely you must have an execution for that solution, hm?"

Yashin's smile spread to show his pearly white teeth, showing an almost venomous delight in issuing the downfall of someone who despised him so long, "No doubt he'll be giving you a call any hour from now, issuing for a demand for why you were so willing to expose the fact that there were moles within the Alliance. You will explain simply that you're cutting loose ends, and this is the end of the line. If we're lucky, one of the Alliance's higher-ups will have seen through any illusion that Meikurai has laced to hide himsef and catch him in the act. If not...I have a special contingency set in motion if they plan to interrogate him or win him back over to their side, in the event they really are that naive."

"You've certainly come prepared when it comes to the likes of Meikurai." Tsukishima noted. "But what of the other agents?"

"Captain Qilin and his Lieutenant? While I consider Meikurai my primary target, Qilin has far more battle prowess and tactical skill than what even Meikurai is capable of. According to Tenshi, he was able to easily stave him off to a standstill with nothing more than swordsmanship and his Shikai's abilities, having forced his opponent to Hollowify just to keep up with him. I'll use a more...subtle approach...to dispose of them, if the Alliance doesn't do so for us," Yashin waves an upraised forefinger in emphasis, the show of his insistance on being vague of his true plans, his red eye momentarily flashing in sync of the setting of the far off Sun from their Vista view, "I am quite capable of tying up all of our loose ends, Tsukishima-sama. I merely wished to inform you of the situation and to request permission into dealing with it when the time comes."

Tsukishima chuckled, raising his folded hands up to level with his face. "Then I will hold you to it at the period it proves necessary. "I leave it in your trustable hands, Yashin. So make sure not to disappoint."

Taking a polite bow, Yashin smiled as he spoke aloud, "Don't worry, Tsukishima-sama. Within the end of the time you gave our enemies to say their final words...there will be nothing left standing in our way." 

______________________________________________________________________________________________

"Mesmerize...Kagami!" 

VMMMMM!

Within the subtle half-draw of his Zanpakutō, Meikurai established a nigh irrecognizeable illusion of himself meditating within its epicenter and nothing disturbing the natural lights, scent, and any form of sensory detection that he could concieve.

Sheathing his blade with finality, Meikurai uncompacted a large black disk, placing it upon the center of the room and dimmed the lights. Wearing his blue-white kimono while stepping upon the plate, a vibrant blue-white light scanned his body up and down rapidly, transporting his visage in a holographic display within the Soul Society, directly within Shūkurō Tsukishima's office.

With Meikurai's eyes adjusting to the life-like realism of being within two places at once, Meikurai nodded his head respectfully to his superior, "Shūkurō-san. I decided after our most recent escapade that I would like to inquire what your next moves are in preparation of the final conflict with the Alliance's forces?"

"Right on time."

A pleasant smile dawned on Tsukishima's face as he looked upon Meikurai's form. Once again, his hands were folded across his desk. "I'm certain you were listening when I made it clear to the officials of the Alliance what our intentions were." He answered. "Everything has already been set in place to greet their counter-attack. There is nothing of that you need to be concerned about, Meikurai."

"..." Meikurai briefly lasped into silence, as his eyes looked down to the floor, as if considering his next words carefully, "Shūkurō-san. If you wanted me or the others to extract intelligence on the enemy's maneuvers or any additional reinforcements you should be aware of that may have slipped through your network, you made it increasingly difficult with what you spoke to the collective Alliance's higher-ups. About there being spies within their midst," raising his gaze with a questionable visage, Meikurai asked pointedly, "why are you trying to expose us?"

Following right after these words was a brief yet eerie silence. Slowly, Tsukishima's smile faded as he looked at the hologram of Meikurai. He slid his folded hands back up to mouth level, his elbows propped on the table. There was no immediate emotion what Meikurai would see within those brown eyes. That silence would only be measured in seconds, but it would feel like an eternity passing by with the slow increase in tension. All the Horseman did was stare stoically at his Dragon.

Then, he spoke.

"Why am I trying to expose you?" He asked gently. "No, that's not something you should be asking me. The better question within this situation would be..." He tilted his head to the side slightly. "What use do I have for you? I'll give you a simple answer. The Gotei 13 and its allies are nothing more than fragmented forces that are incapable of standing up to the might of the Inner Circle. You've sent me all of the information needed to infiltrate their networks and more. I have no more use for you... Lieutenant Shiomaneki." Those last two words were said with a subtly malevolent emphasis.

Meikurai's eyes widened as he heard the unmistakeable, cold-blooded tone exit that calously smiling mouth of his superior's. He felt his skin perspirate in irrefutable proof of cold sweating from what he heard. His skin tone paled a fraction beyond normalcy, and his teeth gritted together. With a slight show of balling his fists together, he realized how much a fool he had been in trusting this man more than Yashin himself. 

With a breath, Meikurai turned his nervous gaze down, shakily speaking aloud, "So...that's how it is then, huh? All this time...that fancy title, those words you spoke in promise...was nothing more than lies laced within a fraction of truth? Was I nothing more than a simple tool for you to use at your own benefit," raising his eyes to face Shūkurō, showing a saddened and defeated expression projecting from it, matching the pale and cold sweat-covered face he reserved, "Shūkurō-san?" 

Tsukishima scoffed. "Don't tell me you weren't expecting this." He lowered his hands, the small curl of a mouth corner clear as day. "Ever since you started bonding with that adoptive fake of a Kuchiki, I've come to realize that you simply aren't worth the trouble. I even saw it in your eyes when you stood alongside your," He paused to let out a mocking chuckle. "Allies? As they declared their intention to fight back against us. It has become clear that you have forgotten who you swore your allegiance to. Even now, you're addressing me as if you would an old friend and not a leader."

He unfolded one of his hands to give a simple wave. "I'm sure that the new Head Captain and her faithful subordinates will be happy to know the identity of the one who caused them so much pain and grief. I will see you in Hell."

With a sudden inflection of anger, Meikurai bared his teeth as he shouted out at the man he once called a friend and mentor with raw rage, "Shūkurō-!"

But would find himself interrupted...violently.

BOOM!

A sudden shockwave of force decimated the floor, causing Meikurai's body to be lifted up without warning, and his holographic feed to be terminated. With a rippling crack, the plate itself became dismantled and the room once again within Shūkurō's office to be quiet.

The spy, had been found.

"Heh heh heh heh..."

Tsukishima leaned back in his chair, closing his eyes and began to chuckle to himself. Due to the sudden disruption of the feed, he knew that something on the other end had done it. Within that moment, he felt the weight of his own power against his shoulders. Without lifting a finger, he had sent a powerful man straight to his doom. So it wasn't long...

"HAHAHAHAHA~!"

...before he tilted his head back and started cackling, his shoulder shaking with sadistic pleasure as he did so.

The War of Four: Recovery - Act III

Return of Heroes, A New Crisis Arises! 

BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM!

Within a particularly disclosed section of the Deep Cover Ops base, a large gymnasium of expansive proportions held a number of people working out. Specifically, a number of recovering Soul Reapers and operatives were using this time to prepare themselves for the final confrontation less than three days away. Within this area, one very feisty member of the Takuji Clan was beating a number of dummies around. 

Maki wiped the sweat off her brows, as the reinforced dummies were dented inwards from the force she deployed upon them from all sides. Using only her hands and feet, Maki pushed herself to the limit, while her nearby boyfriend was working out within the opposing set of attack Mod Souls, designed to recieve incredible punishment but had recieved no more than basic intelligence and no free will of their own. 

"Hah...Hah...hanging in there...Mikado...kun?" Maki breathed out as she took a momentary break from the constant barrage of evading strikes and delivering attacks of her own in the correct order and within key points of execution. 

She'd find that her friend was fairing much better.

SMASH!

BOOM!!!

CCRRACK!!!

One by one, Mod Soul dummies would come for him, but each time, they would find the fists, feet, and even the brunt head of the pale haired boy breaking them down and hurling them across the area. One would attempt to punch him, only for him to grab it's arm, slam his other fist into it's elbow and utterly shatter it, before taking it and slinging it into another dummy. At other points, he would kick a dummy in it's gut so hard, it would nearly be split in half, before flying all the way across the other end of the gym.

His brutality in this training mode was showing one thing; he was angry.

"Fine." he replied back to her briefly, waiting for more of the dummies to come for him. "Just wish there were a few more of these things..." he said as he roundhouse kicked a dummy's head so hard it twisted around and slammed into another one.

"Geeze, take it easy on those Dummy Mod Souls!" Maki comically sweatdropped while flailing her arms at seeing the brutal takedown moves her lover was preforming on the hapless, practice dummies, "they didn't do anything to you! No need to take out aggression on them!" 

"Why bother?" he glanced over at her, breaking another dummy's arm and slamming him into the ground behind him, before turning around to pummel a few more. "This is what they were made for, right?"

"Yeah...but you look a lot more pissed than usual," Maki sighed, walking away from her own dummies to approach Mikado, taking her time in reaching him as to not get hit by a hapless victimized shell-like effigy of a person, "you're not at all composed or collected like you should be in the midst of battle. Flaring anger is fine when on a one-on-one battle, but if you keep puffing like that, you're only going to wear yourself thin..."

Just as she arrived, Mikado had punched another dummy in it's face, flinging it across the gym as he sighed. "I wake up after being in a coma for three weeks, expecting things to be turning around for the better, and what do you know? Seireitei falls, our guys are routed, Captains taken captive...yeah, I'm more than just pissed right now." he said to her honestly, but without frustration towards her.

"And to make matters worse they've taken the whole Takuji Clan, our Clan, hostage. We don't even know what their status is, and where some of the Lieutenants of the Captains still here," Maki spoke in a bitter tone of acknowledgmeent of Mikado's words. But when she reached him, she placed a hand tenderly upon his face, trying to direct his gaze to meet hers, "but despite this, we have to push on. Its all up to us, and that just makes the challenge much more worth taking."

"It's all bullshit." he retorted, crossing his arms in annoyance as her news just hit him harder than he wanted it to. Just when he had made amends with his old foster family, they had been taken by the enemy. Now was the time he really wanted to punch something. "What about Sōdai? Have you heard from him any?" he asked her after a few minutes of silence.

Maki's eyes blinked with thoughtfulness, placing her hand that had been extended to prop on her chin, speaking her mind, "Before the invasion occured, Captain Sasayaki mentioned that the Head Captain Shin'nen spoke to Sōdai. Sōdai spoke about an impending conflict that would ravage the Soul Society, probably referencing the Inner Circle's corruption within our ranks and the oncoming invasion. He said he was going to prepare and bring the strength needed to help defend the Soul Society. We haven't heard from him in nearly two weeks now..."

"Could've used him when we were under attack." he scowled slightly at the thought of his foster father not being there for his family when they needed him most. But he let it go quickly, knowing that carrying such a thought wouldn't benefit them in any way. He sighed, looking over at her more gently. "C'mon. We'd better get back to central and see if they have anything new to tell us. Something good, for a change, I hope."

"They should. I'm tired of hearing nothing but pesimisstic chatter these days," Maki spoke aloud as they walked onwards out of the gym, leaving a good majority of its inhabitants relieved that they wouldn't be worried of the surrounding obstacles being hurtled by the enraged Takuji. 

It was in the middle of the hallway that they would encounter the expected abnormality in space.

A distance away, the air within the hallway began to distort. It rippled like a pond did when a stone connected with its surface, providing a rather surreal effect to any witnesses of it. The ripple effect stood by itself for a few seconds before each individual ripple began to be laced with a brilliant blue ring. A melodic humming could be heard, reverberating every time the most outward shockwave dissipated. From its center, a figure would step out from its fold and into the hallway. Visual would be initially distorted by the ripple effect. But as the entity parted away from it, details of it could be made out.

"I'm seriously working way harder than I should be right now."

It was Casilda, complete with her deadpan voice and all.

There were three other figures that she would be carrying along with her. All three would be recognized as the Tres Bestias. Apachi and Mila-Rose would be carried on the shoulders and supported with one arm, while Sun-Sun would be carried by the waist. While she seemed to perform this task rather effortlessly, she had a deadpan look of irritation on her face. Carrying so many people at once was just a nuisance, no matter how physically strong she was.

Fortunately, she had people to help out.

Starrk was walking alongside her, hands in his pockets and expressionless as always, though he did look over at Casilda briefly. "You know, I did say that I could help out with that if you wanted..." he remarked plainly.

Maki's eyes bolted open wide as she saw the time space rupture before her. When she saw the unconscious people being hauled head over shoulder, she made no effort to wait to be asked for help, rushing over to their side and grasping one of the Tres Bestia off Casilda's shoulder, "Here, let me help you with that. Are they in need of medical attention?"

"No, I was just carrying around because they're pretending to be sacks of potatoes." Casilda said sarcastically. "What do you think, of course they're in need of medical attention!" She emphasized this statement with a slight glare, pulling away slightly when Maki attempted to pull one of them off. "As much as I would appreciate the help, but I don't think any of these women would be very happy if they knew that a Shinigami had attempted to carry them. We still have our pride as Arrancar, after all. Just take me to where they need to be dropped off."

Mikado simply stuck his hands in his pockets. Of course, he wasn't expecting to see someone of the Primera's calibur at this place, of all places she could be. But at that same time, it did help inwardly remind him of just who they had on their side. "I think now would be the best time to not worry about things like pride, don't you think, Primera Espada?" he said casually.

"Just let her carry them!" An insistant voice spoke from behind, as the last person to exit the veil of ruptured spacial fabric just before closing behind her. With long turquoise hair laying smooth and freely down her shoulders and back, with a crown mask that of a ram, she held the unconscious form of Daisuke over her right shoulder and Kiorra over the other, "its best not to insulte a lady and tell her she's weak when she's already lifting a heavy burden." 

"Can it, Mikado!" Maki glared comically at her boyfriend, as she relented from taking hold of the Arrancar, for fear of invoking an incident. Nodding to the Primera respectfully, she walked swiftly in the opposite direction of the leader of Emprsa, guiding her to the medical bay, "follow me. Forgive Mikado's bluntness, he tends to be a little too...straight forward...when he speaks."

"He doesn't seem to be eager to leap to my aid, either. What a faithful companion she has..."

Casilda didn't dare word this out, though. As she made her move to follow, she paused to look over her shoulder at the two Arrancar behind her. "I guess we'll be right back..." She said, with a slight hint of joking. "If I don't, assume that I got killed by death."

"What does that even mean...?" Starrk wondered with a couple of blinks following Casilda's statement.

Lilynette, in the mean time, immediately ran up next to Kiorra and popped her on the back of the head briefly. "Hey! You were awake just a few minutes ago! Don't fall asleep now!!"

"...ouch." the Arrancar woman replied, scratching the back of her head. "I'm not asleep, you fool. Closing my eyes doesn't always mean that i'm conking out."

"Can't be too careful..." Lilynette replied with a huff and shrug.

Kiorra then briefly looked over at the one carrying her. "Is Daisuke alright?"

Nelliel blinked a few times, looking over at the Soul Reaper on her opposing shoulder, before looking back at Kiorra, "He's out cold, Kiorra-chan. He won't be able to wake up until his body replenishes all of the exhausted Spiritual Energy he's consumed, as well as get over the shock of using that pill he used to replenish his reserves. Why?" Nelliel cocked her head to the side with curiosity as she followed Maki and the Primera down to the medical wing of the facility's floor. 

"Oh...no reason." she lightly blushed before looking away from Nel. "Just...making sure I didn't beat him up too bad was all..."

Lilynette grinned teasingly in response.

"Oh? I thought he was the one who beat you up?" Nelliel asked with a pair of wide eyes. When she saw the blush briefly on Kiorra's face, Nelliel smiled coyly as she chuckled, "ohhhhh. I see. So you lllliiiiiiiiiike him, don't you?" 

Maki meanwhile had led them far enough that she spotted the medical units within the vast, high-rising walls that held a number of doors marked "Medical Units". After walking up ahead, she stopped a DCO Medic and motioned to the group behind her. Without a word spoken, the medic rushed to get others and were soon back with stretchers, offering the Primera and Nelliel to lay down the unconscious entities onto their stretchers so they could take them to be treated. 

"Nel, please don't start embarrassing people when they've already been through a rather tough time as it is." Casilda chided, settling her three burdens down in a separate stretcher. She was careful with each one, considering how she was carrying them. When she was finished, she gave a nod for the medics to carry them off once Nelliel had laid down her own respective luggage.

Nelliel sighed, pouting her lips as she relented, putting her two comrades respectively onto the stretchers, allowing the medics to take them inside. Crossing her arms, she relaxed back into her serious demeanor, looking to Maki who stared oddly back at her. Smiling softly, she spoke to the Takuji girl with a lighthearted tone, "My name is Nel! Nice to meet you!" 

"Uh...hi," Maki waved to her with a sheepish grin, before turning to Casilda, bowing to her respectfully as she inquired, "should we guide you to any of our superiors? I'm sure Hana-san is expecting your return ever since you've left..."

Casilda took in a deep breath and exhaled through her nose, folding her arms across her chest. "By now? I'm sure they're already expecting me." She said. "But yeah. I have at least a little bit of new information they need to hear, anyway. Lead the way."

"Looks like you guys ran into some pretty heavy trouble out there." Mikado asked Casilda, catching up to the group and walking alongside the latter with his hands in his pockets still. His tone was respectful, given her position, but still, he carried a bit of confidence in his voice as well. "What exactly did this to your Arrancar buddies?"

"The Vandenreich," Nelliel spoke stoically, turning her gaze to halfway meet Mikado, answering for Casilda directly, "among the Inner Circle's allies is a militarized fanatical group of Quincies. Their leader is Juha Bach, a being as old as the Soul Society itself. One of his elite lieutenants wounded me, and the Tres Bestias as if it was child's play," narrowing her eye to an almost glare to him, she spoke softly, "does that answer your question, Soul Reaper?"

"I was going to tell him once we got to the meeting!" If there was any resentment for Mikado mentioning their assailants, Casilda wasn't showing it outwardly. Her voice was in complaint at Nelliel choosing to answer for her, although she didn't turn around to face them. "Really, I didn't want to repeat any--" However, she quickly cut herself off upon realizing that Nelliel had spoken up for her. "Okay, I still won't have to repeat anything, thankfully. Even if it is a rather small amount of information..."

"Yeah....who are you again?" Mikado asked with an annoyed glare, as if he didn't take too kindly to Nel answering the question in place of the one he directed it towards. The fact that she added "Soul Reaper" at the end of her sentance didn't bode too well with him as well, but he was quick to shake it off. If there was one thing that he was certain of at this point, it was that staying on the good sides of everyone was key.

"So, we got the Inner Circle, then Aizen's group, and now we have an army of Quincy coming for us all together." he mused, putting his hands on the back of his head and sighing. "These days just get better and better..."

"Sorry to interrupt, all of you ladies and gents, but I need all of you to come to the debriefing room ASAP. I've found one of the spies the Horsemen were kind enough to infiltrate our ranks within," Hana spoke via Tenteikūra, projecting the information they all needed to hear, "I need all high ranking military assets to be present when I announce the spy and reveal his identity. I want to handle this as delicately as possible. That is all..."

"That...doesn't sound foreboding at all," Maki spoke aloud in a whisper, as she heard what had been said. She wasn't even aware of there being a spy, other than it being whispered as mere supposition that was leaked into the ranks by the enemy. But it was true after all...

"I guess our information will have to wait, huh, Cassie-chan?" Nelliel asked Casilda with a dry smile on her face, realizing that whatever the revelation was, wasn't going to necessarily be good news. For any of them. 

At the sound of Hana's voice, Casilda slowly stopped herself and tilted her head towards the ceiling. Her ears perked up as she heard the mention of a spy within the Seireitei. The mocking words of Bernabe immediately came to mind, and she couldn't help but smirk a little. Although she had high respects for the new Captain-Commander, she couldn't help but mentally poke a little fun at the truth her Segundo's jeer carried.

"Good, I'll have the spotlight off me for a little while longer..." She answered Nelliel, moving her head in a gesture for them to move quickly. "C'mon, she's not going to wait forever..."

"Right," Nelliel nodded, silently confirming their need for haste. In sync with everyone else, Fast-movement techniques were initiated, and all six entities of the assembled group moved to the debriefing room. Only what they would find, wouldn't be all to their satisfaction...not in the slightest.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

"When are we going to start this?" Renji spoke aloud in rapt attention to Hana's calling for a collaborative meeting to expose the traitor she had found. Wearing his crimson coat over his uniform, he was grouped naturally with all of the other Lancers, while the Captains stood next to their left, and the DCO Captains to the Lancers' right. In front of them, was none other than the Primera, Nelliel, Coyote, Lilynette, Daisuke, Mikado, and Makibatori.

"I wonder who the traitor is? Practically everyone is here," Maki spoke aloud, looking over her shoulder to see if she forgot anyone. But with a crowd this size, it was impossible for her to see if anyone was missing. For all she knew, this could be revealing someone among them rather than someone they caught. 

"Let's just hope this isn't a waste of our time," Nelliel muttered lowly, crossing her arms in front of herself as she locked her eyes upon the unusually stoic Hana. She could only pretend to understand what this young girl, named Head Captain of the remaining Soul Reapers, was going to do about this precarious situation. 

"I haven't doubted Hana's position as Head Captain thus yet." Casilda answered her fellow Arrancar with a subtle confidence. Her hands were folded behind her back as she observed. "So I have little doubt that this is going to be a waste of time. Just sit back and listen. This will be dealt with as quickly and efficiently as possible."

"Sorry if I'm late, ladies and gentlemen..."

Heads were turned to see Avaron step in through the doors of the meeting place, escorted by what looked like a few high-ranking police officers. Her eyebrows were furrowed as she gave a casual swing of her finger to greet the rest of the meeting group. "But considering the majority of you have the advantage of that Flash Step technique of yours, I can safely say my reasons were justified..." She said casually.

"Oh, you're not late, Setsuko-san!" Rukia, who had been grouped with what few Lieutenants within the Gotei 13 there, gave her a wave in return before she folded her arms across her chest. "The meeting's just starting." She took a look around the room, eyeing the number of people here. "And with you here now, I think that might be all of the official personnel to count--"

"Ceiling Punisher is watching you persecute."

The voice of the Hankami probably the most familiar to at least the Gotei 13 had promptly interrupted her. In surprise, her head and the heads of some others snapped towards her form. The Punisher was crouched down on the ceiling while upside-down, her hair hanging like rope as it fell under the spell of gravity. The tone in which she had spoken and the expression she bore on her face was deadpan, even as the smallest sign of a smirk threatened to be made out of her lips.

"She still insists on acting like a child," Kukkyōna sighed with annoyance as he sweatdropped, observing the Hankami watching overhead. Instead of being unnerved, Kukkyōna suspected entrances like this from someone like the Punisher. 

"Glad you're here, Sakura," Daisuke mouthed when he looked up, seemingly being the only one with a smile as he met her dry expressive visage with a bright one of his own. In return, she allowed her smirk to grow a little wider into a smile.

"Okay, I believe you're aware why I called all of you here," Hana turned her attention to everyone, after she believed to be satisfied with everyone who was within attendance, "I have exposed a single traitor, but I believe there is more than one of them still within the base. That is why...I believe we should act in a precarious manner as to how to deal with the one I will expose to all of you..."

Clasping her hands together, her body flared briefly with silver Spiritual Energy. Then, with a single gesture, she produced a flashing light of something akin to a teleportation technique...

SSSSHINK!

...to reveal a Kidō-bound Meikurai Shiomaneki, kneeling in acceptance and didn't bother to raise his head as he was exposed to all of his acclaimed comrades. 

Naturally, this garnered a slew of reactions.

Although there were various reactions and gasps among the populace of the Gotei 13's Captains, Hachiro was the first one to speak out, his blue eyes widening in clear surprise at the man who was bowed in front of them. "L-Lieutenant Shiomaneki?!" He said, his voice showing just how stunned he was to see that the very one they were going to send behind enemy lines was an agent of the Inner Circle itself. For him, however, there wasn't much anger or resentment behind his tone. He wasn't a Captain to hold a grudge against anyone... regardless of the rage he had displayed against Kyōaku.

On the other hand, Noriko was quick to exchange her surprise for a cold stare and a scowl as she regarded Meikurai. She spared a brief glance over in Kaze's direction. After all, Kaze had been his Captain and thus was naturally assumed to have a considerable amount of jurisdiction. This would clearly signal that either the Captain had gotten careless or was an agent himself, despite whatever actual position he had in the matter. In fact, if one wanted to look at it from an extremist way, that was also reason to be wary of the entire Deep Cover Ops personnel considering Kaze was the head of it. However, despite the bitterness she held towards the Inner Circle, Noriko knew better than to jump to conclusions.

Outwardly, Qilin squinted an eye and cocked a brow as if he himself was stunned by what he was seeing. Inwardly, however, he was chuckling at the man's misfortune to have gotten himself caught so carelessly. It tickled him to see that his official superior had fallen into the hands of the enemy while the subordinate was still kept in the dark. He had to resist shaking his head sagely. "So much for being a competent boss, Dragon..." He thought to himself. "Don't drop the soap!"

It was a considerable contrast to Tetsuyo, who only furrowed his eyebrows solemnity. But inwardly, he was sweating bullets. He spared a brief glance over at the Captains' side - more specifically, at his own Captain. "How is he acting so relaxed over there?!" He thought, his mind racing. "She knows that there are more spies within our ranks now!! If she caught Meikurai, she's going to catch us, too!! We can't afford it now!!"

But the one that would probably be the most personal to Meikurai was the very woman he had danced with and proclaimed his love to - Rukia.

She stared in silence, her eyes widened and her pupils slightly dilated. Her own shock and awe was evident. But if one were to look closer, they would see a flash of hurt across those eyes of hers before her expression slowly shrank back into a more serious and solemn one. She had a feeling that this was going to happen, that Meikurai would turn out to be hiding something. But at the same time, she had fallen far enough into the illusion to actually start to believe that he was loyal and dedicated to the Gotei 13. It was disheartening for her to see him like this, known as nothing more than a liar and a traitor.

Daisuke's eyes widened significantly as he saw both a good friend and a fellow Lieutenant appear to be at the head of this conspiracy. The fact that Hana would bring him here, bound in Kidō restraints, meant she must have caught him in the act of doing something treacherous. That, and there was no look of innocense within the downcast, hidden visage of Meikurai's. Swallowing a lump in his throat, there was without a doubt that Meikurai was a spy for the Inner Circle. 

Kaze displayed nothing but a dispassionate and uncaring gaze. He inwardly cursed himself for not seeing Meikurai past his competant, if not shady exterior, and recognizing the danger he posed. A master of deception and illusions, unless if it wasn't properly controlled, would fall right into the hands of the enemy. He wouldn't be surprised if he held a high rank of the Inner Circle, given how above and beyond Meikurai had went out of the way to "help" the Gotei 13 and DCO. 

The Lancers held mixed reactions of shock, anger, and downright hatred towards Meikurai. Having been trusted as a peer or senior ranking member of the DCO himself, along with being in charge of important matters within the Soul Society, made them all come to suspect how the Inner Circle managed to infiltrate their home so easily. But they all held their tongues...for the moment...

"I can see now why the Inner Circle chose you, Lieutenant Shiomaneki," Kukkyōna spoke solemnly, being the first to speak out as he narrowed his eyes at Meikurai's crestfallen face, "you have more discernment and intelligence than some of your peers are capable of, and you're an excellent strategist. Entrusted to being an agent for the DCO, you could flawlessly enact your own identity as a man driven by justice and compassion, while secretly hiding within the dark. Or plain view, when it came to fooling us of your presence with your Zanpakutō, right, Meikurai-san?"

"..." With no answer emanating from Meikurai himself, he could only keep his head bowed as he knew talking was pointless. Thrown to the wolves by his own masters, the people he had truly cared about were now turning on him for good reason. Betrayed them of their trust and their confidence within him as a valuable asset and ally, he knew the likelyhood of him being imprisoned into a prison as dark as the Mūken, or tortured for information before being executed. He knew how they worked, after all. It was one of the many reasons why he sought out the Inner Circle...reasons he knew were nothing more than mere excuses for not accepting what is reality and what is a mere illusion. 

"As you all know, Meikurai has done many things both within the light and the dark to aid the Soul Society. This being said, he has both been helpful and equally destructive to us at the same time. So, for someone who's flawlessly helped both sides, and convinced himself that he's on the path of a righteous cause be suddenly found?" Hana asked rhetorically as she admitted Meikurai's usefulness and his skills. Reaching down, Hana pulled Meikurai by the back of his scalp, painfully hauling him up onto his face, "c'mon, Meikurai! Tell them why you were found out so easily? Tell them how I was able to find you at long last?!" 

It was simply painful for Rukia to watch. She couldn't help the wince that came across her face as she saw Meikurai get yanked back in such a manner. Detainment and imprisonment was one thing. But this might as well have been humiliation, being treated like this in front of several of his former "colleagues". One of her hands started clenching and unclenching, trying to work out the sense of anxiety and nervousness that had overcome them. Despite his status as a traitor, he was also someone she felt as if he had grown to know. At the same time, she knew that she couldn't base things on her own emotions. She had to think from an unbiased point of view, work out a solution that would keep any blood from being spilled unnecessarily.

She had to think.

But what could she do here?

"H-Head Captain, ma'am..."

But before she could even think of speaking out, another voice had beat her to it. It was that of Tetsuyo as he looked over at both Meikurai and Hana. His eyebrows were furrowed in slight nervousness and empathy as he regarded the prisoner. "We understand that he is a traitor..." He spoke, resisting the urge to bite his lip. "But don't you think that this is a bit too much? A quiet detainment would have been better in order to keep the enemy's attention off of us, but rallying everyone here is just going to alert potential spies even more..."

Qilin's eyes widened as discreetly as they could at this.

"...Tetsuyo. What are you doing. Tetsuyo! Stop!"

"On the contrary, Lieutenant," Hana spoke evenly, not flustered in the slightest at the question the young man suggested, keeping her vice grip on Meikurai to keep him from falling onto his knees again, "I believe that all enemy spies were alerted the moment the Horsemen sold them out to us, if we weren't aware of them beforehand," turning back to Meikurai, she hissed to him with a sneer on her face, "isn't that right, Meikurai?!" 

"T...That...is the truth," Meikurai spoke aloud in a level tone, but one could detect pain within his voice. As he stood onto his feet more, Meikurai turned his gaze from Hana to the others, "I served faithfully to the Inner Circle, and had assumed a higher rank than one would expect when playing the discreet act of a double agent. And yet, I demand an answer from my superiors...and they just toss me aside like a used up ammo clip, having far exceeded its purpose..."

"What do you expect, pitiful boy?" Kaze finally spoke up, getting onto the podium as he could stand on a distant, if not evenly level area to catch his eyes, "did you honestly believe living the life of a spy would turn out well for you? If an agent's sole purpose is just to gather intel, then if you're superiors have no more use for additional information, then they will discard anything they do not need. Had I been in your shoes, I wouldn't be surprised if that would've happened...sooner or later-"

"And THAT is the problem, isn't it, Kaze-sama?!" Meikurai finally spoke out with an angry tone, as the conviction and reason for his betrayal burst into the surface, "disrespecting the dead and replicating them into a potent weapon?! Sending lesser skilled or trained agents into the thick of known danger that would get them killed for a marginal amount of data?! Executing anyone with the slightest hint of betrayal or cowardice?! How can the Soul Society allow such a man...no...MONSTER...roam freely, huh?! In fact, the very idea of you being awarded the position of Captain due to the accident that YOU caused that made it appear as if he and his Lieutenant comitted suicide!" 

Looking around to Hana, then to the others, allowing his gaze to fall upon Rukia's, "How can all of you just blindly go with the flow as if you can just accept evil as necessary?! BULLSHIT! You're no better than the most basest instincts a Hollow would undergo, nor the most zealous Quincy in their crusade against what they believe is evil! How can you claim you fight for a better cause and that you're the epitome of justice, when you're allowing men and women who've slaughtered countless comrades, both directly and indirectly, to stand by your side when you say those blasphemous words?! THE ARROGANCE you all possess is UNQUANTIFIABLE!" 

"So you betray us?! That's what you justify this all as?! Do you realize how much of a hypocrite you sound when you speak like that?!" Daisuke shouted out incredulously, as he took a few steps forward, but immediately regretted he opened his mouth when Meikurai redirected his attention to Daisuke himself.

"You're the BIGGEST hypocrite of all! The fact that you, of all people, formed a pact with vile criminal scum, one of which is RESPONSIBLE for the the largest scale atrocity the Soul Society has ever had since the Ultharon War had occured over three centuries ago!" Meikurai glared at all of them, turning his gaze to Hana who now looked confused as to what he was referring to, "Angelika Hartmann...is my predecessor...and was responsible for unleashing the virus that caused the Mourning War...that result in the death of countless Soul Reapers, citizens, and most of all, HIS best friend and mentor!"

"SO tell me again, Daisuke Hayate, righteous warrior," looking over at Daisuke, as he growled out at him as he glared openly at him with nothing but vehemence and distaste, "exactly what justification do you not have for not finishing the job when you had the chance?! You could've annihilated her, or at least marked her for death by the right that she had been a perpetrator for one of the worst war crimes ever committed! SO WHY?!" 

After that, another cold silence resumed.

Hachiro scowled faintly, narrowing his eyes at the furious captive. But he allowed himself to remain silent. The words Meikurai spoke at least held some truth to them. He couldn't ignore the fact that Kaze had been rather shady in his dealings to protect the Soul Society, willing to keep information from his fellow Captains like he did. But he had learned long ago that the man's intentions were for good cause. He had learned long ago that even the heroes of the Gotei 13 had to perform unsavory acts if it meant protecting the ones they loved and held dear to their hearts.

The other Captains seemed to be less receptive of the words. While Noriko had remained stoically silent, Qilin's eyes regressed back to their normal look as he realized Tetsuyo's words hadn't blown their cover just yet. Of course, that was assuming it hadn't been blown prior to the meeting. Hana had a sharp eye, and by the looks of things, he could easily assume that he was simply being allowed to stand along with the rest of the Captains. That alone had been made clear when he had spoken up at the earlier meeting.

It was here that Rukia herself couldn't look Meikurai in the eye anymore. She slowly closed her eyes and turned her head away a little, a solemn frown on her face. It was a horrible thing to be the subject of such words, knowing that at least part of the words Meikurai spoke were true. There was no undoing what had already been done, and it was only by some strange miracle she had faced Kaien again after their tragic departure from each other. All she could do was wait and see whatever answer the Lieutenant would have for him, if any.

"Harboring hatred for past sins is the result of war. People who wish to forcefully change that, end up causing war all the same," Daisuke raised his head to gaze at Meikurai's bitter-filled eyes, and saw the broken man behind the tears he was about to shed, "my friend would've wanted me to move forward, not hold a grudge against the woman, nor organization for what they had done. In the end, we won, and that's what really mattered," looking to Hana briefly, he walked a few steps closer till he stared Meikurai dead in the eye as he growled back, "so stop feeling sorry for yourself for making the wrong call! I know deep down you believed you were doing the right thing, but the Inner Circle decieved you more than they decieved any of us! Unlike you, they don't have good aspirations and goals in mind. Total domination is their only goal, and they'll dispose of anyone who stands in their way, even their own subordinates. So now I am asking you, Meikurai Shiomaneki...whose side are you really on?!" 

Feeling as if his guilt had been renewed but filled with clarity, Meikurai sighed in a exhale of relief from his earlier anger. Looking down, he felt tears come down his overcast expression. His shoulders began to heave as he began to speak aloud, "All I wanted...was there not to be any necessary evil existing in the Soul Society! I never wanted a war, nor betray my comrades' trust! Nor did I want to hurt the ones I cherish more than life itself...I just wanted to cull evil...but in the end I became evil itself, haven't I?" 

"While I can sympathize with your reasoning, Meikurai, I believe the damage you helped inflict upon the Soul Society and our allies is something that can't be ignored completely," Hana spoke sternly, causing Meikurai wince and kept his head bowed lower, hoping they would kill him quickly if possible. But, with a sigh, Hana crossed her arms as she looked at him, before turning to regard the rest of the collaborated leaders and high ranking members of their fragile alliance, "however, seeing as our allies are few and our man power even less, we need any available body we can to handle this battle. Your intelligence, and knowledge of the Inner Circle will be essential in order to make an effective counterattack. But, I can't make the decision solely," Hana spoke aloud, as she turned to the collaborated group of allies, "this is a decision that must be made by those who are invested in this fight as much as I am. What say you? Should we give Meikurai a chance of redemption? Or should he be treated no differently than any other scum produced of the Inner Circle's bowels?"

Now was Rukia's chance to shine.

She stepped forward, folding her hands behind her back and looking at Hana with absolute certainty. "Head Captain, ma'am." She spoke, keeping a formal tone within her voice. "I have worked closely with him as well as many partners during times of need and necessity. I had my suspicions during the Ahijados conflict. But even then, there was one value that remained constant about him. That was his dedication to do the right thing, even if he tried to do so using unsavory methods. Upon hearing everything, I'm willing to put aside any grudges I have and put forth my faith." Briefly, she would meet his eyes so that he could see her certainty. "I vote for giving him a chance at redemption."

Tetsuyo was quick to raise his own hand, a small smile of relief crossing his face at the chance to relieve his colleague of any potential punishment. "As do I. I've seen nothing but a good comrade, even considering any deception." He said readily. "If Daisuke was able to forgive the V-14 for the Mourning War, then why shouldn't we forgive this man for betraying us? It would be very unjust not to..."

As she looked down at Meikurai, Avaron couldn't help but feel a small sliver of pity for the man. She looked upon his broken and disheartened form, and for a moment, she could see the face of her old partner in that same fashion. She gave a heavy sigh. "A man with such a pitiful face just can't be lying to us." She said simply. "Loosen his chains and let him out."

The three answers was enough to bring a crack of a smile on Hachiro's face, and he couldn't help but chuckle. "At least two of three of those verdicts come from very intellectual beings." He commented, motioning with his hand towards Meikurai. "If the boy wants a second chance, then I say let him have it. By now, I can assume we're very much prepared for any more surprises anyway, right?"

"Are you all serious?"

The dissenting voice would come from Noriko, who was busy glaring coldly into Meikurai's back. "You want to let a traitor back into our ranks so easily? Accept him with open arms? In case you have forgotten, there are more unwanted eyes watching this very meeting! I say we should make an example right here and now, make them watch as their snake in the grass gets his head chopped off. Anything else would be letting any other spy know just how painfully lenient we would be!"

"They cut ties with Meikurai the moment I found him out. Apparently that declaration to us in the Thunder Room was nothing more than a verbal pink slip to all spies hidden within our ranks," Hana spoke evenly back to Noriko, readily answering her before anyone else could add to her monologue, "whether they're allied with the enemy or not, is irrelevent now, considering they're viewing them nothing more than the covers they assumed to begin with. Isn't that right, Captain Qilin and Lieutenant Tetsuyo?"

When the words had pointedly verbalized towards Qilin and Tetsuyo, Kukkyōna turned a knowing stare towards the prior of the two, his hands already in position of thumbing his twin katans free from their sheathes. Without a gesture or glare needed, Kukkyōna made it clear how Hana found out who the other two spies were.

It was here that all eyes had turned to face both Qilin and Tetsuyo, feasting eyes upon surprised expressions. Now, a good deal of hidden animosity had been focused onto them, and while Qilin wasn't showing much, the alarm was more apparent on Tetsuyo's face. Prior to this moment, they were simply at a meeting. Now, they might as well have been surrounded by the enemy in a siege. There was no way to get out of this, especially with more watchful eyes within the crowd.

Still, it didn't mean that they wouldn't cave in so easily as Meikurai did.

Qilin's eyes feigned genuine confusion as he looked at Hana. "I...I beg your pardon, Head Captain, ma'am?" He questioned. "I'm not quite sure I follow with this..."

"Acting ignorant won't help you, Qilin...or should I say, Spiritsmith of the Inner Circle?" Kukkyōna spoke aloud, his hands already purposely unsheathing his Zanpakutō as his eyes stoically stared him down, "you and your Lieutenant have been in the Inner Circle even longer than Meikurai has. You have personal ties to one of their leaders...Shikyo Ninaru, wasn't it? I've been having prompt issues with your many feigned reactions throughout each debriefing, even before the invasion had occured, you looked unaffected by the chaos around you. I looked into your files and found that your real name is Tsubasa Muromachi. Meikurai had a pretty thorough background of your exploits...so that helped me come to this conclusion, as the same one as Head Captain Yūgure."

"Did you honestly think you would be exempt of this, if I had Meikurai executed or not, that you and your subordinate's secret would remained unsurfaced? You're the bigger fool here, Qilin," Hana glared him down as she crossed her arms over her chest, "the sadder thing is that there are more people willing to give Meikurai a second chance than see him burn. Would you have wanted your own comrade in arms if we asked your opinion, or would you have sat in silence as you feigned grief should the worse come to him?" 

It had now turned from Meikurai from Qilin with the condemning spotlight on him - and his Lieutenant had never been more anxious and nervous in his life. A look of clear apprehension was on his face, and the beads of sweat dripping down it were more prevalent. This could be easily assumed that in the case of his innocence, he was simply fearful of being wrongly persecuted. But although the majority of the public wouldn't realize it, Hana and Kukkyōna's words were on the right track.

But if Qilin felt any sweat, he wasn't showing it.

"Hey, hey, hold on just a damn minute!" He quickly spun around and took a few steps back from the ground as soon as he saw Kukkyona draw out his swords. His eyes switched from the Captain and the Captain-Commander, his tone expressing a mixture of shock and anger. "Personal ties with the leader? The Spiritsmith? This has to be either some joke you two are working or a complete load! Firstly, the Spiritsmith is nothing more than a myth, a fairy tail conjured up by blacksmiths hopeful enough to seek out and create their so-called perfect blades! Even if he was real, the legend of such virtue would not hand over the fruits of his labor as if they were some toy sold at a store! If I truly was the Spiritsmith, you all would be long dead by now. Secondly..."

He swiftly turned his glare to Hana. "If I am a spy as you're claiming me to be, then why was I one of the first to be carried inside of the base? If I was an agent, I would've had a good amount of time to set up places in where enemy troops could come in, place bombs on key areas of vitality, and all that other good stuff! And yet, you personally carried me up to the doorsteps of this place! You had to know that you were dealing with a spy well before-hand, Head Captain! So if anything," He briefly pointed his finger at Hana. "I think you're one of them!"

That brought about a series of shocked and angry gasps within the audience as they watched what appeared to be an argument take place.

"I doubt it, very seriously, Spiritsmith."

This time, Mikado stepped into the debate. As he did, his blue eyes narrowed down and glared at Qilin into ice cold daggers. "I'm not sure if you remember me, and I can't say I blame you, but I was there when that fanatical Arrancar and his master had taken you from Iwo Jima and back into Hueco Mundo, helping two other people trying to get you back, I couldn't recognize who exactly. At the top of that mountain, where Ultharon was said to have acquired his power, they were forcing you to forge some sort of weapon. Not sure what exactly, but you were there, and you forged whatever it was they were wanting. A broken sword, split into seven different pieces. And when you had finished it, the power it radiated was all the proof in the world that no ordinary smith could have fixed something like that. I feel pretty stupid for not realizing it before, but then again, this is the first time we've seen each other in years, right?"

He then pointed at Qilin directly. "I don't forget Spiritual Energy like that, not like yours. You're the Spiritsmith, and you've been lying to us this entire time."

"And just who exactly are you to--"

But before Qilin could round on him completely, he feasted eyes onto Mikado's form. His words immediately caught in his throat, his pupils dilating to dots. This time, he found himself genuinely shocked by the identify of Mikado. Back where they had seen each other, he had not been under the alias of Mikado. He had been known as Akira, the one who had let loose the Hollow and nearly killed Brina after Caius had escaped with the sword. He wasn't blind or dumb to his own expressions, and a smile slowly crept onto his face. He knew the jig was up now.

Promptly, he slapped a palm to his face and started laughing. "Oh, of course!" He exclaimed, his tone playfully chiding to himself in spite of the seriousness of the situation. "Out of everything I thought of, I forgot you of all the variables. I should've been more careful than to assume that faces from years before wouldn't show back up, but oh well." He tilted his head to the side. "In any case, I'm glad to see that you're still fit as a fiddle, with a spirit to match..."

"I see now that you've come to your senses, I ask that you surrender your Zanpakutō," Hana spoke with a sigh if relief, hoping someone else would take a stand to put the liar in his place, "Kukkyōna! Make sure he doesn't try anything funny while Captain Horikawa retrieve Qilin's blade. And as for his Lieutenant," turning to project a glare upon Qilin's subordinate she looked to Renji and Shūhei, having Renji be in place for resistance while the latter reached out to unsecure his Zanpakutō, "I'm sure he'll be more than cooperative now that his superior's acting has come to light, won't he?!" 

"Ah--!" Tetsuyo was immediately quick to shrink back, reflexively raising his hands up in defensive. But it wasn't long before he found his hands restrained, a baffled look on his face. It wasn't out of the fact that he was being accused, for he understood that he had been found out. But it was the fact that he was being apprehended... and that was going against both his and Qilin's line of forethought. "W-wait a minute! You don't know what you're doing!"

"Enough with the theatre works, Miyagi." Hachiro said dismissively, moving to approach Qilin. "You and your friend are both caught now, so just man up and--"

"Just a moment, Captain Horikawa."

However, he was abruptly stopped when Qilin raised his hand up in a gesture to do so. He looked at Hana, quirking an eyebrow. "With all due respect, Head Captain..." He said softly. "Is this really the best course of action? While it is natural to deliver justice where it is due, it is another thing to be aware of the consequences of doing both the good and the bad. Do you really think it would be a good thing if you detained all three of us, put us away in a cell and be done with it?"

"You have quite a lot of nerve, traitor..." Noriko said lowly, staring disdainfully at the man. "I don't think you're in much of a position to be making any kind of negotiations or demands."

"But I'm not!" Qilin insisted. "I just want you all to think about it for a moment." He folded one hand behind his back and used the other for gestures emphasizing his words, stepping a bit further away. "The Inner Circle has been thinking several steps ahead, planning and trapping you before any moves of your own. When they helped you root out the agents within, they were attempting to silence us using your hands. If you lock us away--"

"--then we'll be opening the window for other agents to come and kill you." Hachiro summarized, leering at Qilin. "You sound as if the only option is to let you go free."

"We hold information vital to your success and the Inner Circle's demise." Qilin answered readily. "When they abandoned us, they also risked that information getting out to their enemy and hoped that you all would do your part in killing the sources. Allow us the privilege of staying where we are, and we will do our part in helping you achieve total victory over that nest of vultures lying within the Soul Society." He gestured towards Meikurai. "I can safely assume that by now, dear Meikurai wants his own chance at the ones who threw him away like trash, right?"

"Shut up, Qilin-!" 

"Operation Parameters within Red Protocol. Termination with Extreme Prejudice is Required!" 

CLAP-VOOM-VOOM-VOOM-VOOM-VOOM!

"Operation Commencing!" A familiar voice rang out, as a black masked and cloaked form materialized out of the light refraction of the debriefing room. Standing in between the podium where the Head Captain and Meikurai was, his hands swayed in multiple directions, projecting a number of rainbow-colored barriers to separate the number of powerful entities from the actual prey. The only ones whom weren't imprisoned were the ones who stood within the immediate proximity of Qilin and Tetsuyo, as Hana was closed off by a special emerald pyramid barrier that restricted her movements, "T-Minus 300 Seconds till Mission becomes Impossible to Achieve!" 

"The Hell-?!" Renji shouted from within the barrier, though his voice was muffled from within the barrier as the rest of the now cramped Lancers, Captains, and DCO squad members in all. The Inner Circle has begun their move to cut their losses.

Hana herself swung a powerful fist strike, causing the barrier to rumble but remain intact. However, she knew that the barrier was specifically designed to keep someone like her in check for a period of time. That would be plenty of time for someone as skilled enough to slip in undetected and then project so many powerful barriers. Who did they miss?! 

"See?"

Qilin smirked, lowering his hands to his sides as he saw the barriers be erected around any potential helpers. He didn't bat an eyelash when he saw the Captains reflexively attempt to break the barrier, to no avail. He only spared a glance when he saw Tetsuyo reflexively leap to his side with his blade unsheathed and prepared. "If you took away our weapons a second ago, you would've spelled out our deaths long beforehand. Aren't you all glad you have me around?"

Slowly, he allowed himself to turn to the perpetrator, the grin growing to the point where a slasher would have been proud. However, his eyes held that same casual serenity they always did. "Five minutes. All or nothing. Give me everything you've got, or else..."

His eyes looked into the small, blue irises of the man that had attacked them.

"...Shitō."

But Shito shared no words with Qilin.

WHOOSH!

Within a surprisingly swift movement, even for a Captain's standard, he was upon Qilin with two Kirikin blades in hand and swinging with swift, precise movements. By generating a boose of Shunpo-energy into his arms, his strikes almost became nigh transparent, unable to be kept up by normal means.

Simultaneously, his body shimmered in a way to allow a secondary Clone of himself to rush towards Meikurai, aiming to spear into the Kidō bound man and end his life quicker, and end the number of variables unchecked by the Inner Circle. 

It was fortunate that there was another who was with him.

The clone would immediately find itself with Tetsuyo's blade ramming into his side as the Lieutenant blindsided it. The assailant let out a sharp yell as he buried the blade within the would-be assassin's torso before ripping it out to finish the cut-down movement. He raised the bloodied blade defensively as he stood in front of the man, his eyes set and a determined scowl on his face. "Damn it! Unless Qilin can bring the majority of attention on himself, I don't think I'll be able to free Meikurai in time before another attack. Oh, why did this have to happen now, of all times?!"

As in his fight with Kōjaku, Qilin had not yet drawn his sword.

Woosh! Woosh! Woosh!

With his hands in his pockets, he began to evade the attacks made to his person and stick to that pattern. His own body was a blur as it moved, dancing around each and every enhanced attack like a professional. His smile had lessened to the point where the teeth were not shown anymore. All the while, he had constantly stuck to retreating in circles, allowing Shito to maintain a position of offense. He stuck to this rhythm for only a brief period, just enough for him to get an appropriate feel of Shito's fighting style.

Then, he attacked.

Within one of his blurring motions, his own respective blade had appeared in his hands. He swung, unleashing a flurry of swipes and strikes just as rapid as Shito's were. His blade clashed with the twin blades of the Kiriken as he fought against the assassin, keeping up a natural and even pace. Each swipe carried enough power to do some severe damage to the opponent should it connect with the flesh, and with the speed of his attacks, his counter-attack was made a formidable and deadly one.

"Shit..."

From behind the barrier that he and several others were trapped behind, Mikado cursed under his breath over the fact that they had all been blindsided by the Inner Circle once again. If Hana, his superior, couldn't break out of her barrier, then breaking out of his own barrier would be impossible. Grasping his sword handle, he could only grit his teeth, scowling at the situation he was in...

"Really kid?" a voice from within his mind said, causing Mikado's eyes to widen slightly, realizing who it was.

"Engetsu?" he inwardy asked, looking down at his sword.

"Who else could it be?" the blank, almost deadpan sounding spirit said in response. "Honestly, you're going to let something like this keep you from acting?"

"It's a barrier i've never encountered before...it's not like hitting it with a Getsuga or anything will do something good." Mikado replied in light annoyance.

"Screw that." Engetsu said back. "Look, I've told you this before: If you have me at your side, all you've got to do is believe that what you do next will work. You've got to have more faith in my capabilities, Mikado. I know for a fact that I'm the only thing in here, which means you're the only one in here who can break this little prison they have set up. Set your mind to it, and trust me with this, alright?"

Mikado closed his eyes and sighed, before smiling. "Yeah...you're right..."

With that, he slowly unsheathed the blade from his left hip scabbard. Gripping it with both hands, Mikado reared the weapon back, and then stabbed it's tip into the barrier. His eyes still closed in complete focus, one on the outside or inside would think that he was just goofing around. But what he was really doing remained yet to be seen...

Within contact of his opponent's blade, Shito would show he had no intention of merely dodging them...

SPRACK!

...as within the instance of contact, the blade would be violently ricocheted back. With a thin sheen of reflective light, it would be clear a skin-coating of Seki had been applied to the overall outer layer of his clothes and body to keep any physical attacks from reaching their mark. Within the rebound of the blade, Shito swung a blinding arc horizontally while simultaneously swinging his hand around to throw the Kiriken blade at Meikurai.

But as it flew...it multiplied in shape, and took form of a wall of energy razors, aiming to shred Meikurai effectively within a single blow while aiming to hit Qilin within the moment of off balance he would be feeling. 

"No wonder you came into this so confidently."

WOOSH!

Barely, Qilin jerked his head to the side in order to evade the blade that threatened to cut him. The tip of the blade ended up delivering a thin gash on his face, but it wasn't anything to worry about. As he skidded back, his free hand pointed a finger at Shitō. From his index fingertip, he launched a Byakurai spell that briefly illuminated part of the room with its blue light. Worrying about Meikurai was something he wouldn't have to do, now that his Lieutenant had stepped in.

And speaking of the said Lieutenant...

"Bakudō 39. Enkosen!"

As Tetsuyo's voice rang amongst the battlefield and his palms stretched out in front of him, he summoned a circular front barrier wide enough to envelop both him and Meikurai from view. The barrier would slowly grow and shift, extending around the two and gaining a more cubical shape. Within a time span of several seconds, it was in place to prevent any more surprise attacks that Shitō could unleash on their position. Tetsuyo bit his lip, praying that the five minutes given wouldn't be too long.

Shito becamed consumed in the light, but it would only be for a few moments. What would be revealed in the aftermath would be him holding a single card, radiating with a kanji emblazoned words in blue light. Within an instant, Shito briefly used Flash Step to take to the air, spinning around in an acrobatic display and threw two items at once.

The Kidō card rushed towards Tetsuyo's barrier protected vicinity, and a handful of Kiriken blades.

The Kiriken blades rushed towards Qilin, seperating into hundreds of blazing shards, laced with eruptive Kidō energy to explode upon the slightest of contact with its target while also simultaneously shredding his defenses apart within a wide area. The force would ricochet away from the barriers to Qilin's backside and leave them unharmed. 

The Kidō card sent towards Tetsuyo would employ the same spell, Qilin's force it was deployed and all, and magnify it to be twice as powerful. The result would unleash the card's magnified electrical Kidō energy upon halfway mark to the barrier enclosed space and strike it with extreme prejudice. 

With narrowed eyes and reflexes as swift as they were needed, Qilin thrust his index and middle finger out towards the wall of swords directed his way. A Shō spell with considerable magnitude was unleashed with a loud hiss of the wind, deflecting the majority of the swords that were threatening to hit him the most. Upon their richochet path, they would collide with other swords that happened to get in the way.

BOOM!

The resulting explosions came in the form of a chain reaction, with one area after another being lit up. In conjunction, the radius of the explosions was large enough to knock the ones headed towards Tetsuyo off course. Had he been paying the majority of his attention to it, the Lieutenant would've sighed in relief. But now, he had taken to crouching beside Meikurai and looking over the chains that bound him. "Hold on, Meikurai, I'm going to get you out of this!" He said, placing his hand on the restraints that bound them and inspecting them closely. "Okay, Qilin was telling me something about stuff like this, I just need to remember what part applies here..."

Other than those two areas, things had become restless within the places of the trapped audience.

WHAM!

Avaron had tried kicking at the barrier, but to no avail. "Doesn't anyone here know how to break these things?!" She demanded, raising her pistol up in an attempt to shoot it. But after considering she had no idea what the properties of the barrier were, she quickly lowered it. Her eyes shifted from the barrier to Rukia, who had an unsheathed blade lowered to the side. "Please tell me you have some idea!"

"Well," Rukia began, her voice hesitant. "I could try freezing the barrier and physically shatter it. Shiro had mentioned that he had performed a similar act when he was fighting against the Tercera Espada of the Espada Afilado in Yūrei in order to counter a Cero."

"And from the way you're making it sound, there's a catch to it..." Avaron muttered dryly. "What is it?"

"Even if it works against defensive techniques such as what's employed here, I don't think it would be a good idea to break it. We, and especially the normal entities inside the barriers, would be walking straight into No Man's Land. Besides, Qilin and the Lieutenant seem to be handling themselves pretty well out there. If anything, they look like they can handle the situation on their own..."

"...Burn."

None of them would have to do anything, for Mikado had already found a way out.

"Engetsu!"

The blade of his Zanpakuto, the tip of which had been pressed up against the barrier this whole time, was suddenley enraptured in a might blue spiritual pressure, almost like a torrent of flames. It swirled around the sword like a twister, Mikado's shining blue eyes finally opening as all of that energy compressed right down into it's tip. And within just a second of doing so, the barrier holding them completely shattered, leaving them all to move freely about as they wished.

After this, he exhaled slowly, ready to assist or battle against their enemies in whatever capacity.

With the barrier suddenly shattered, the blue eyes hidden behind the black mask suddenly widened at what he had witnessed. Specially crafted barriers to keep dozens of Captain-class and Lieutenant-class entities at bay was suddenly shattered less than thirty seconds of its conception. Knowing there was a nigh improbability of escape, Shito backflipped to the center of the room and pulled open off his garments...

BEEP-BEEP-BEEP-BEEP!

...showing him to be wearing a vest strapped with a large Kidō bomb wired into the material on both his torso entirely. The bomb appeared to be wired to his heartbeat, and was incredibly intricate, something that can't be willingly defused so long as Shito had the vest at hand. 

"Shit!" Renji shouted out, as he and the other Lancers were halting their leaps midway to Shito, promptly stopping all of the other assembled entities from lunging at him recklessly, "that's a Nomad-class Kidō bomb. That thing can take out the entire facility if we're not careful..."

"Shito, let's not be hasty..." As Qilin lowered his sword, he slowly raised a pacifying hand to Shito's direction. "Think about your comrades and your personal leader. Do you think they would've wanted you to die like this? Trying to accomplish the dream of individuals who want nothing more than to destroy the very fabric of existence? Is that more important than the bonds you shared with the rest of the V-14, the ones that really do care about the lives of their friends? Don't be a fool..."

Avaron gritted her teeth as she kept a steady aim on Shito's head, her finger ready to pull the trigger and blow the man's brains out. But she didn't know whether or not that would simply set off the bomb. Beads of sweat were forming down her face as she glared at the traitor amongst them, her heart beating furiously within her chest.

"Relenting will only happen if targets Tsubasa Muromachi, Tetsuyo Miyagi, and Meikurai Shiomaneki are deceased. Disarming the bomb will only commence if those demands are met," Shito said with an impassive expression, his voice was all but bland and robotic, as if he wasn't really speaking, "you have thirty seconds to decide, or I will activate the bomb remotely-"

"Mesmerize...Kagami..."

A lone voice whispered through the air as Shito finished speaking, his body now free of the binds holding him down. Unsheathing his Zanpakutō, he fluently changed the perception of Shito, reflecting their actions from the last five seconds and looping them. Within this moment of opening, Meikurai leaped forward with a Flash Step...

SHIIIIIIIIIINK!

...and reentered with his blade held outwards, showing a thin slash tear through the back of Shito's neck, causing a small splurch of blood to emit before a dazed Shito fell to the floor limply. As he turned to speak to Shito, his body heaving at moving at such speeds in the condition he himself was in, he explained to him, "I sliced the base of your spine where your brain signals the rest of your body to trigger the device remotely. You can't move, but this isn't permanent or fatal. We can get you walking again...if you cooperate with us..."

"...well, okay, then..."

Qilin blinked at the intervention of Meikurai, turning his head to see Tetsuyo waving at him with a triumphant grin on his face. He flipped his sword back before sheathing it within its respective holster, taking in the words and the tone Shito had taken with him. It was becoming all too clear that Shito had not performed this of his own volition. At the very least, words would not be enough to get through to him...

Another person had another idea...

CRRRAAAAACK!

...and that certain person was none other than the Head Captain, finally smashing herself free of the intricate, high-grade barrier to get out. With a few heaves of her chest, she shook her fist in show of how much force she had to exert in order to effectively break through it. 

"Let me have a look at that," Hana spoke cooly as she strode over to Shito's inert form. Kneeling in front of the wide-eyed and confused Shito, she looked at the bomb strapped around his body. A desperate man's tactic, suicidal success upon nothing else working. She knew now how serious the Inner Circle was at keeping their loose ends cut out, "looks to me that you can't disarm it through normal means. And if this is separated from the wearer, it'll go off in a few seconds. Well then..."

CLAP!

"...I'll just have to transport it to another dimension!" Hana declared, as emerald energy enraptured her palms brightly, billowing her Haori and the area around her. Within a mere few seconds of concentration, Hana placed her palms upon the jacket-bomb...

CLAP-BOOM!

...before willing it away, sending it into a far off place within the empty void between Hueco Mundo and any known world. The dark abyss would accept the explosion in stride, as if nothing had occured and would become silent once more. 

A Relieving Pause, Time for the Counter-Strategy!

That was the signal for the tense mood of the situation to relax and fade away. The occupants allowed themselves to relax, but only to an extent. After all, there was still the fact that there was a newly revealed agent within their presence. They could safely assume Meikurai was no longer a problem, but what about Qilin and Tetsuyo?

"You see that?" Qilin asked, folding one hand behind his back and approaching the group with a casual gait. "They will go to great lengths if it means that they are able to keep their secrets safe from their enemies. They always look several steps ahead, making sure they're always leading the sheep along instead of running right beside them. If anything, we need to start doing the same." Once he neared the prostrate form of Shito, he lowered himself to one knee and looked down on the man. "You with us now, Shito?"

"What...the...fuck?!" Was all Shito muttered out, as his irises returned to a normal size and hue, and his head moved in multiple directions, "I can't move! Why the Hell am I paralyzed?! Why are all of you looking at me funny?! THE HELL IS GOING ON?!" 

"Sorry about that," Meikurai said sheepishly, as he kneeled down to Shito's side across from Qilin, placing his left hand over the wound and began to project healing energy over the cut, "you were attacking us and tried to kill me, Qilin, and Tetsuyo. Not to mention you were talking like a robot, you were probably under some form of pre-timed hypnosis. You should be fine now..."

"Should be fine?! The Hell is fine about being turned into a frigging killer machine and sent to kill your friends?! That's some serious shit we're talking about, no joke!" Shito shouted aloud with incredulous hilarity, as his eyes nearly bulged out with veins protruding from his forehead, as he felt infuriated at being manipulated so easily; all the while he was being mended by his would-be victim. 

Hana rose to her feet as soon as she was finished assuring the would-be assassin had come to his senses, she looked over to Qilin curiously, "Do you think Shito may possess information regarding whomever programmed his mind, if nothing else certain details about the Inner Circle's forces?" 

"If there is," Qilin said, observing Shito carefully before looking over at Hana. "Most if not all of it would be pushed back within the subconscious areas of his mind, seeing as he doesn't seem to remember anything about the attack. Is there any way we can pull it out, make him remember on his own?"

A moment of thinking caused Hana to lapse into silence. While a few of the Lancers looked from each other, it appeared none of them could think of a proper method of memory retrieval off the top of their heads. Even Kukkyōna even frowned as he tried to contemplate a proper method of doing something of the sort. 

"I don't think my Zanpakutō can bring forth memories like that. That's more along the lines of a special Fullbring or Shūkurō Tsukishima's speciality. Neither of which we have a valid option," Meikurai muttered as he finished attaching the nerves to Shito's spine back into place, allowing him to feel his body and the pain accompanied from a freshly healed wound. 

"OUCH! Careful how you reattach someone's spine, will you?!" Shito snarled, but kept it from boiling over. He knew he was lucky they didn't kill him, or treat him a like a criminal, after what he had attempted to do.

"I have a method that may work," Kaze spoke aloud, clacking his cane audibly in order to separate the crowd of Captains to get to Shito and the oothers gathered around his sitting up form, "if this had happened a century ago, I wouldn't recommend it, but at this time period it is more than feasibly capable of extracting the information you seek. With little to no trauma damage to the subject's mind..."

"Yes?" Qilin inquired, his head looking up at Kaze and his eyebrow cocking. "What would that method be?"

"The Kigei," Hana spoke lowly, turning her stoic gaze to face Qilin and the others, "its a special device that allows to alter the chemistry of the mind of a spirit or human. Originally it was crafted as a means to help prepare one's mind to undergo the most traumatic-tendency training regiments, or meditate in a sense to regulate a higher-than-average amount of information and regulated releases of limitations set by the body waiting to be unlocked. It can also read the thoughts and bring them to near-perfect digital life in an avatar sense and translated into code for more manageable purposes."

"I've never heard of this machine," Meikurai furrowed his brows as he crossed his arms, shrugging in afterthought, voicing in emphasis, "then again you all have reason not to trust me then, anyways, so I can't be surprised too much..."

"Dabbling within the psyche is a dangerous notion, regardless if its a spirit or a material body's brain," Kukkyōna spoke levelly, looking at Kaze with well deserved suspicion, "how long did it take you to use that machine effectively without bad afteraffects?" 

"You should ask Hana," Kaze said with a smile, leaning fully on the cane as he stood a little taller in pride of his work, "she's first and most successful candidate that's ever went through the process and unlocked her full potential. Over years of training, special tutorship, and being grouped with people of all sorts of planes of power, that method has finally bore fruit to what you see before you!"

This was where Qilin spared a glance towards the "result". His eyes had come to rest, in the brief time that they were given, on her face. Only the more observant eyes of the bunch would see that regression into a more stoic and hidden expression. It was a clear sign that something was off with Kaze's boasts, whether he realized it himself or not. He quirked a slight eyebrow, but did not bother to question on the matter.

"Well, it's nice to know that reliability doesn't seem to be much of an issue here..." Avaron took the opportunity to speak up, regarding Kaze with a quirked eyebrow. "But all things considering? This is one of the V-14, Hartmann's henchman. I think the alliance between them and us is already fragile enough without us digging into the mind of one of her henchmen behind her back..."

"Yeah, what about my feelings on this? I'd rather not have people play with my head, thank you very much!" Shito insisted with widened eyes and a verbal tone of caution, standing up after feeling confident enough to move around after Meikurai's precise healing. 

"Then go ahead and ask her! I'm merely stated that this is a viable option if you want to see if he has information he may or may not have," Kaze sounded flustered, as if they were taking his idea and throwing it away before even considering things, "I'm just letting you know that it is concievable to do so at this time without any percieved side affects. That is all..."

"I'll go and take Shito with me to discuss it with their triage of leaders," Hana insisted, nodding to Shito to come to his side, "I know how the process and the machine works better than anyone next to Kaze. I also will make sure not to instill needless fear for something that shouldn't be painful or damaging..."

"In the meantime," Meikurai spoke aloud in a purposeful diversion of topics, placing a hand on Qilin's shoulder while turning to the other Captains, "we should collaborate with all known knowledge and information based on the Inner Circle's forces, allies, and placements for what we have. In the event we can't guaruntee Shito will come through as a reliable source, we should at least start strategizing for what we know already..."

"Sounds reasonable," Kukkyōna nodded, turning his head to regard Noriko and Hachiro in emphasis of his query, "any objections to that?"

Throughout the midst of the conversation, Hachiro and Noriko had been talking quietly with one another, mostly exchanging idle chit-chat about the events. When Kukkyōna's voice called out to them, however, they were quick to snap back to their attention to their fellow Captain. Noriko, in particular, cast a glance towards Meikurai, Qilin and Tetsuyo, the latter of whom having made his way to his fellow defectors. "Only if they don't tell everything they know." She said bluntly. "Nothing can be withheld here."

Hachiro gave a swift, acknowledging nod. "Best to keep things prepared ahead of time..." He said, sparing a glance at the Punisher as she allowed herself to push herself off of the ceiling and jump down to the ground. "And to make the most of it while the Inner Circle's still willing to show mercy..."

"My superiors tried to have you all eviscerate me like a mob, and in failing that, sent a mind-controlled suicide bomber/assassin to take us and everyone with him. Leaving anything out would be an injustice to the mercy and renewed faith you placed in us," Meikurai spoke solemnly, if not hiding a hint of a dry sarcastic tone about the irony of the situation. In emphasis, he elbowed Qilin as he sideglanced him, "right, Qilin?" 

"Ow." After grumbling about the spot where Meikurai had hit him, Qilin couldn't help but roll his eyes. His hand instinctively grabbed the spot in where he was hit. "Yes, yes, why would we try and hide anything now that our secrets are out anyway?" He asked rhetorically. "Besides, I'm fully aware of what's at stake for all of you as well as the ones who are under the influence of your enemy. We'll tell you everything we can."


"Right this way," Kaze spoke lowly as they entered a far more lower level of the complex, beyond what was seen within the schematics. It took awhile, and Kaze had to enter a series of long-coded digits, show his own personal DNA, and speak a phrase, but they all eventually reached a magnamiously sized laboratory with various different sections dedicated to particular pieces of equipment. 

The direction they headed to was a lower recess of the room, with a machine that looked like a metal-encased cylinder big enough for a full grown man to be encased in and still have a couple meters of space above to climb out out of, with a few computer consoles with large, cable-sized wires attached to it. 

The group that accompanied Kaze on the journey was Hana and the V-14 members Angelika, Asuka, and Mōka - the triage of leaders. Initially before their trek, Shito was the only non-leader that they had been planning on accompanying them. But surprisingly, Oliver himself had requested to see the mind-bending machine that had formed Hana into what she was today. It was anyone's guess as to why he did, but no one bothered to pressure him about it.

"This..." Asuka, for one, took in the scenery around her with a slight amount of awe. Every substance that whirled around in their glass prisons, every piece of technology and just about anything that held a futuristic appeal to it had caught her curious eyes. "I can look at such things a hundred times over and still feel like I'm looking at something new."

"Well, considering you're a feudal kind of woman," Oliver said casually. "That's probably to be expected. For people like me, Nazi and Coffee, this is something that might as well be the recent rerun of Two and a Half Men. Stuff like this is pretty common-place when you're a member of the special ops. Lets you see things they would never even think of letting the eyes of the public see."

"Its normally a lot emptier, giving me space to test out my newest inventions and trinkets," Kaze admitted aloud, turning to face them as he stood right next to the tubular transparent machine, "but, since the announcement of enemy forces storming the Soul Society, I made sure to secure the entirety of my laboratory and transport it here, what you see now. You could say this is a special storage facility in the event my lab is ever threatened."

"Quite a collection you've attained. I don't think I've ever seen so many machines in one place before," Mōka gawked at all the machines around her. Whistling loud enough for it to echo throughout the endless space that seemed to go on forever, she appeared to be projecting stars from her eyes at how enamored she was, "this is so cool!~" 

"I don't believe I've ever seen you so giddy about my brains being probed, Mōka-sama," Shito spoke in a dry tone, with a dry expression as he held a cloud of depression over his head, "I guess my brain will be in a jar, blending in with all of its grandiose toys for you to stare at all day..."

"I'm sure nothing that drastic would be needed just to find pieces of information." Angelika reassured him, her hands folded behind her back as she stopped her footsteps. She looked at the machine, analyzing every bit of it and taking the details within her mind. She spared a glance over at Oliver, who had taken to studying the machine himself with silent judgement. "In addition to that, I doubt that Captain Sazayaki would have much use for keeping your brain in a jar, as unique as your mindset may be..."

Breaking away from her own gaze of amazement, Asuka turned her attention to the machine in front of them. She cocked an eyebrow as she regarded it with slight curiosity. "Well, at least this particular piece looks familiar." She noted. "Containers like this were used for various means such as containment, studying living samples and keeping severely ill individuals in a state of dormancy for long periods of time. There were rumors that the Sakamoto had versions of these for healing and meditation purposes, but they weren't really talked about that much..."

"Aw, look at it!" Oliver spread his arms out in a gesture towards it, grinning towards Shiro. "It's practically got its arms out and your name on it, Shito! Go and give it a hug!"

"Oliver, you can take that sword of your boss's and shove it up your ass!" Shito snarled with venom, as comical flames billowed around him as he glared at him fully. Mōka smiled with an anticipatory grin as she thought her subordinate would somehow clash with her partner's own subordinate. 

Leaning over, she whispered to Angelika, "Who'd you think would win? My Shito or your lover?" 

"She's your boss too, dipshit~!"

As Oliver started taking pleasure at Shiro's expense, Angelika regarded Mōka with a mixture of wariness and slight bewilderment at the question given to her. Of course, she wasn't one to be concerned about silly arguments between subordinates. However, she couldn't help but take a jab at the choice of words Mōka used. "Your Shito?" She whispered back, a slight smirk on her face. "How risque. Does Karitori know?"

"As if," Mōka huffed, rolling her eyes as she waved a dismissive hand in emphasis, "he's more like my dog or personal slave than an actual toy for my more adventerous recreational activities..."

"I HEARD THAT, BOSS!"

"Get in the machine now, Shito!" Mōka yelled out with an angry tone and bulging veins protruding from her forehead. This was more than enough incentive to cause Shito to recoil with terror, and turn around to climb up the ladder of the machine, aiming to lower himself slowly into it.

"Are you all through with your antics?" Kaze asked dryly, glaring at all of them before turning to the machine, to talk to Shito, "now, I'm going to turn on the Kigei so stay perfectly still. I don't want you acting crazy in there or else you really will have traumatic damage done to you!" 

"Yessir!" Shito recoiled as he answered readily, standing absolutely still, fearing that something will jostle him senselessly into an unknown state of borderline death. 

"Just relax, Shito..." Asuka did her best to turn him away from whatever anxiety he could've had at the moment, giving a smile. "It's nothing to worry about. Just stay calm and everything will be fine. We can pull you out if anything's to go wrong, after all..."

Shito could only take deep breaths to calm himself down, closing his eyes, attempting to find tranquility within his mind to steel himself for the upcoming venture into his own psyche. As much as he didn't want to reveal about himself to total strangers, he knew he didn't have much choice in the matter. Might as well go with the flow, so to speak...

"Don't worry about him," Mōka spoke aloud as she noted Kaze reaching the control console a few meters away from the device, typing a number of commands as Shito's superior smiled, "he may not look it, but he's one of the most composed and sane people I've ever met. It helps balance the equilibrium of madness myself and the rest of my team exudes, so to speak..."

"That'll help him," Hana spoke with a stoic tone she had yet to drop, as she stared at him standing still in a borderline meditative stance, "this machine was originally constructed to reestablish the cracks formed by psychologically damaged or unstable minds. The more sane the person is, the more likely we will encounter no problems..."

And then, the machine turned on.

VVVMMMMMMM!

Within the series of lights that lit up in vertical fashion, a triage of seals opened and began to fill the tank-like container with a transparent neon green liquid. Temptation set within Shito's eyes to gauge what was going on, but he allowed the chills running up his spine to subside as the water began filling up past his shins and towards his waistline. 

"This should take only a few minutes," Kaze spoke from his console, as he observed Shito with half-minded attention as he kept his eyes on the readings as the Kigei continued to prime and prep for use, "once he is fully immersed the procedure will begin shortly..."

"For a machine that produced such a skilled and experienced fighter," Asuka noted, sparing a glance over at Hana and taking in small wonder at the stoic attitude she was carrying. "I assumed that this was something that would be more... intimidating."

"Wha--" Oliver immediately turned his attention away from the tube to cock an eyebrow at her. "Intimidating? What, do you want it brandishing a chainsaw and running at you wearing a hockey mask? It's made for the purpose of analyzing, a big fancy microscope at best. That's like expecting a muffin to taste like a birthday cake right after you've taken the first bite."

Asuka frowned, pouting a little. "Well, that's just it! If it's made for the mind, then it should have that feel to it, give a clear implication that it's made for psychological effect. I was thinking of a visage that could easily represent and symbolize its purpose. At least, the liquid should be red and pulsating, like blood."

"And now you're critiquing it like it's the current generation Mona Lisa piece." Oliver deadpanned, rolling his eyes. "Seriously, normal people who stay up late at night and watch horror movies usually spend the rest of that night shivering in fear over how scary they were instead of trying to dig deeper for analysis."

"The container is merely a bodily analysis tool. The real Kigei," Hana pointed to the machine, as a head-shaped helm descended from the top of the machine and began fastening over Shito's head, up to the point where it covered his nostrils. With a brief whining noise, the helm securely latched to the man's head, as the water reached up to his torso, allowing him to float carefree, "is the helm that is fastened over his skull."

"Isn't that inviting," Mōka spoke dryly, her browline furrowed as she studied the neck-deep liquid cascading around Shito and keeping him floating and aloft. From what could be seen, far from anyone's naked eye, Mōka could detect what would be microscopic machines, circulating what would appear to be electrical currents of an unusual form, "I wonder what he's got cooking in there?" 

"Alright! I have successfully integrated the Kigei onto the subject's head," Kaze turned to Angelika and the other two triage leaders of V-14, "any particular time or date you wish for me to scour his memories for, or do you want me to pick a number with my eyes closed?" 

"Start scanning from the meeting between the V-14 and the Gotei 13 prior to the Inner Circle's attack. and work up from there." Angelika said immediately, eyeing the container carefully. If anything, the best guess she could immediately conjure up would be the time in where the V-14 had been letting their numbers heal within the D.C.O.'s pools. Any enemy could have approached Shito at that particular moment in their time of vulnerability, after all...

Wordlessly, Kaze began to tap a number of commands as he instructed the machine to log through Shito's mind through the specified date. When hitting a final switch, the machine hummed to life once more. As Kaze and everyone else took special care to look at the machine, the water began to shift and change in shape. While at first it appeared as if it was nothing more than bubbles surged by electrical currents by millions of machines, they quickly began to assume shape and literally project scenes from within Shito's mind from a first person point of view. 

"Whoa," Mōka blinked a few times as she saw a perfectly retold memory of Shito sitting on a bench with all of them drinking within Beta's base. What came next was another perfect clarified memory of Shito within Aether, skulking within the shadows as he tried to find a lead for Oliver. It was here, that something came out of nowhere and unexpectedly caused Shito to jolt within the water-filled machine. 

"Aha! It appears we found the Anomaly within Shito's mind!" Kaze said with victory, as he instructed the machine to slow down and hold within the space of Shito's mind as it began to play out audibly from the water, as if they were all really there. 

What occured would almost seem surreal...

As Shito walked down an alleyway, completely transparent with Kidō enrapturing his being, a voice suddenly spoke from the darkness, as a being folded from its emptiness and gave birth to an all too familiar visage. The visage of none other than Yashin Shiyōnin!

"Fufufufu, you're quite good at using Kidō for someone not being a Kidō Corpsman or a Magus of Aether," Yashin spoke aloud as he walked towards him, seemingly stopping Shito cold in his tracks. While not moving in the slightest, one could tell from the dialation and vision of the thought projection that Shito was very nervous. 

"What do you want with me, Dragon of the Inner Circle?!" Shito spoke aloud within the machine, giving voice to what he had spoken during that time. 

"I want you to work for me. At this time, no one would suspect a sleeper agent within their ranks, and you'd be the perfect tool to instigate the next step of my plan...in order to ensure my success against all factions other than my own," Yashin spoke in a cryptic, yet revealing manner at the same time, as he raised his hand towards him, causing Shito's projection to distort and waver, "I'm going to ensure you don't remember this...and give you the tools necessary for a more fitting counterattack. Wouldn't want the survivors be outmatched by them, wouldn't we?"

FFFFFZZZZZZT!

And within a series of crackling pops, the liquid-electric formed projection popped and returned to sizzling water, leaving a panting Shito in its wake. 

Needless to say, this was a surprising piece of information to hear.

Angelika, Asuka and Oliver's eyes widened as the projection faded away. Briefly, they looked over at each other before switching back to the container, trying to register what they had heard. Initially, they had assumed that it was something as simple as Yashin forming Shito into a sleeper agent to destroy what was left of the alliance. But the last sentence had destroyed that particular line of thinking. As much as the Dragon enjoyed the "hunt", this was making it sound as if he had sent the man in knowing that he would fail. It could only mean one thing.

"So, that's it, hm?" Angelika said, her eye slowly narrowing as she looked at the contained Shito. "All this time, I had assumed Yashin was simply acting under the orders of the Inner Circle. I should have known that a chessmaster operates for himself and only himself."

"This wasn't meant to be a sabotage." Asuka said, folding her arms across her chest and raising one of those arms to cup her chin with her hand. "This was a deliberate sending of vital information to the alliance. Far too much has been put at risk for the Inner Circle for any of this to be an accident." She turned her gaze towards the rest of the group in confusion. "But why? Why would he choose to deliberately sabotage the efforts of a faction who's leaning more towards the winning side at this point?"

"This is a hunch, but I believe he sees the value in our organization and the continuity of the SS's forces," Mōka deduced with a knowing tone, as her eyes narrowed at the glass encased cylinder holding Shito, "think about it. Ever since he's introduced himself in the picture, he made himself the sole figurehead of the Inner Circle, and would always allow us to win by the skin of our teeth. The time he attacked us in the cover of the retreating 10th Division's forces; the time he formulated an entire invasion upon the Sect's Meet; even his participation within the invasion of the Soul Society seemed relaxed in comparison to his other Dragon or Horseman counterparts. Why? To him this whole war is just a fog to hide his real intentions and his true endgame. He probably has been planning to undermine both his faction, and the other two of their Axis of Evil's regimes in order to make his move..."

"So what you're implying is that this Yashin," Kaze interceded, looking over at them with keen interest, "has been manipulating all fronts of this war so he can gather some materials, information, and set the stage for an even greater scheme? Just who is this man?" 

"That is something that drives me crazy," Mōka spoke admittedly as she looked down and crossed her arms in frustration, "I don't know what he is, let alone what his real name is. Its as if he's always existed, and will continue existing. He's as old as the Hankami itself, that's the only thing I can assure, and he's probably a lot more dangerous than what the Horsemen combined are capable of..."

"Well, at this point in time, this is a vital chance to turn the tables around." Angelika commented, slipping her hands within her coat pockets. "It's also a sign that Yashin, for the moment, is willing to push us in the right direction... for once..."

"Well, if you're all done idly chatting about how black is really white, and white is really black, I'm going to turn off the machine," Kaze muttered aloud in an annoyed tone as he began flipping switches upon his console's surface, an ominous sound echoed as the device powered down and additionally began draining of its liquid contents, "while you were all pondering what lied ahead of us, I took the liberty of analyzing and capturing the memories that were instilled within Shito's mind. The Kigei will decrypt and break them down into something sensible within the next few hours or so..."

"At least it did some good for once," Hana muttered, sighing as she turned on her heels, speaking aloud to everyone as she walked up the recess to the exit of the magnanimously sized laboratory, "I'm going to report to the others that we hit a solid lead. I'll spare them the unnecessary details of Yashin's questionable allegiance until I see fit. Until then, cha!~"

SHFT!

Within a single Flash Step, Hana disappeared and left the others to their own devices. 

With this said, Shito happily shook his head free of the nigh-aphyxiating helm and climbed out of the machine. After deftly landing near his compatriots, he gagged slightly at the sight of himself being completely drenched, "Guh! I should've wore a bathing suit if I knew I was going to be soaked," taking hold of his shirt, he swiftly undressed his upper half and began draining it upon the floor, despite showing off a good portion of his muscular skin, "geeze..."

"What does this look like, a restroom?! Dry yourself off somewhere else!" Kaze snarled at Shito, to which the latter rolled his eyes as he continued to squeeze the liquid out of his shirt. 

"Oooh, Mama likes~!"

Asuka could not stop herself in time when she laid eyes upon the man's physique. A millisecond afterwards, her eyes widened as she realized that she had spoken the statement out loud. Her hands slapped to her mouth, a blush spreading across her cheeks as she saw both Oliver and Angelika turn to her with surprised looks of their own. Unfortunately, the expression that she took only served to fuel things when they both started snickering. She shook her head in a futile attempt to deny her slip. "W-wait a minute--"

"She wants the D~!" Oliver sang, breaking the dam and causing both himself and Angelika to start laughing out loud. It was simply reinforced by Asuka covering her face with her hands and hanging her head, her face having turned the color of a tomato.

"Nice one, Ollie! HAHAHAHAHA!" Mōka laughed in turn, leaving all but Asuka's embarassed form, and Shito's perplexed one behind as their laughs echoed the entirety of the laboratory. Well, Kaze couldn't help but snicker under his breath, but he narrowed his eyes with irritation. 

"What...did...I...miss?" Shito looked dumbfoundedly, as he saw Asuka blushing after she said something he could only assume was flirtatious. Looking down at himself, he just realized how...exposed...his chest was, and how well toned he was. With a prompt facepalm to his face, he quickly put his wrinkled and damp shirt on, waving his arms out to Asuka, "I-I'm sorry-!"

But before he could apologize properly...

WWWWWWWWWHHHHHHHRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!

"Attention! Space-Time Event occuring within the main congregation deck! All hands to battle stations! A Space-Time Event is occuring upon the main congregation deck!" The robotic voice of the alert system broke through the laughter echoing through the laboratory, causing even Kaze to look up in alarm and surprise.

"They're attacking now?!" He breathed out in alarm. 

"Your security could use some improvement..." Immediately, Angelika sported her usual expression of calmness after she had stopped her laughter. She folded her arms across her chest, looking over to the rest of them as she did so. Surprisingly, Oliver had managed to quell his own laughter just as quickly as he looked up, his ears perking at the announcement.

"An attack and we just happen to be up and about?" He asked rhetorically, grinning from ear to ear and punching a palm into his fist. "I'm ready to rock and roll, baby! Let's go waste those fuckers!"

"It must be a large force if we're able to pick up on just one level, and the largest hall too," Kaze spoke aloud, grasping his cane and Flash Stepping over to their midst. Slamming his cane onto the ground, a bright emerald light gathered around their forms as he briefly explained, "we'll be the first ones on the scene, so stave your thirst for battle, little brat!" 

"?!?!?!?!" Shito's eyes widened as he suddenly found himself lurching in space, as they were soon consumed in a brilliant flash of light, leaving an excess thunderclap in their wake and an empty laboratory behind.... 

______________________________________________________________________________________________

CCCCRRRRAAAACK-BOOM!

...and would find themselves within the blink of an eye in what would appear to be large stadium of sorts. Bewildering as it might appear, the stadium looked as if it had a layer of ice around the entirety of its landscape and had a distinct, nearly eternal chill in the air. 

"W-What is this place? Your backup freezer?!" Shito immediately felt frozen as he wrapped his arms around his wet and chilling clothes, leaving a perplexed Mōka and a intrigued Kaze. 

The prior whistled as she sifted her senses into the ice itself, "I feel an incredible amount of Spiritual Pressure resonating from the ice and within the air. This is the work of a Zanpakutō's Bankai, no doubt, otherwise this ice would've melted awhile ago..."

As the latter looked around, he saw a blue rippling warp within space near its epicenter and held a good twenty meter radius over what looked like a frozen hillside, crafted solely by water with no earth buried within its frozen particles. 

"Apparently they have yet to come forth. They could be using another means, hence the detection being triggered. Why would they do that when they already have the key to the door in their hands?" Kaze muttered aloud, paying no mind to the frozen atmosphere surrounding him. 

As she stood within the frozen wasteland, Angelika let out a slow and audible exhale of breath. Because of her coat, she wasn't as affected as Shito or Asuka, the latter of whom was holding her arms close to her chest. "Maybe this isn't an attack." She suggested, keeping her hands within her pockets. "The Inner Circle's first one was unexpected and deliberately made to surprise us. They would have to understand that by now, better means are being deployed in order for this base's defense."

"Wait...its stabilizing!" Kaze spoke aloud, his tone demanding silence as a number of light enraptured entities began to form within the wake of the brightening glare of spacial energy. Within a matter of moments, a large concussive burst disrupted the energy, and revealed a large collaborated group of people within the epicenter of the ice field.

Standing at their forefront, a battle-weathered man enraptured in intricate robes and holding a fan-like stave in front of himself, heaved as he spoke with relief, "I finally...managed it...after all..."

"You've done well, Ser Adrian," A hooded young man spoke as he placed a steel-covered hand gently upon the weathered Magus's shoulder, before turning his youthful eyes towards the ones who've come to greet them, "you need not fear us. We're allies of the Soul Society, and were told to come here, during any time of distress that we couldn't overcome ourselves." 

It was here that Angelika, Asuka and Oliver's eyes widened upon seeing the newcomers appear. It wasn't because they were expecting anything else. But rather, they recognized the garbs that the two were wearing. These individuals were from Aether - something that caused a bit of wariness within the V-14. None of them allowed that particular emotion to show.

They would be more surprised at the ones who had appeared.

"Okay, really!" The voice of another man spoke up to complain, his arms held close to his chest and his body shivering a little. He was wearing more Westernized attire that would be fitting of the American or British gentleman, signaling that he was from Yūrei. "You'd think that you would give us a warning before coming into a spawn place with freezing temperatures! I'm lucky I had this coat on..."

"You're being a baby, Jūshin." An unsympathetic voice, distinctly female, was heard a few ways behind him. The source of the voice rolled her eyes as she walked up to him, her hands on her hips. The hand that was hung at her side held her sealed Zanpakutō. "You were in the military, for crying out loud! I think that this would've been nothing compared to what you were used to."

"Hey," Jūshin looked over his shoulder to give the woman a mock glare. "I've been out of touch with the military, okay? It's not my fault I had to do paperwork, participate in the constant debating and all that crap!"

"You really are making Yūrei look bad right now, boss," Shiro muttered, as he rolled his eyes, his attire being closer in semblence to those of the Seireitei's Soul Society, with a dark blue coat hanging loosely over his shoulders, with a white sash bearing a fastened Chokutō katana nearly out of sight, "I guess you could learn a thing or two about tolerance from the Stonghelm Family, and they're not even in charge of a country..."

"I'm certain this isn't the natural temperature of this facility, Jūshin-dono," Shōmei spoke aloud, wearing a western style of a regal draped cape and suit uniform, as well as embodying a pair of silver gauntlets with iconic I's emblazoned upon their surface, "as soon as we get explanations out of the way, I'm sure we can navigate to a more desirable location..."

"It would've been better if you called, young blood of the Stronghelm Family," Kaze spoke gruffly as he recognized the boy, paying more attention to him than the supposed man-child king of Yūrei, resting both hands upon his cane, "you caused quite a panic by coming here in such a manner. I'm certain our Head Captain is busy telling en route forces to stand down as we speak."

"Forgive our intrusion, but we really have been in a dire state," William bowed his head apologetically, raising his face to project a serious gaze to the Captain from the distance, "but I'm afraid both Yūrei and Aether haven't been fairing so well since the Inner Circle has launched its Blitzkrieg campaign across the known civilized worlds, both material and spiritual."

"Both of our forces were hit hard. They had taken portion by portion of the capital city before we could even begin to put up a decent defense." Jūshin himself added, a slight scowl of resentment on his face. "This might as well be the third time in a row security's been compromised! The more we try and double our efforts, the harder the aggressors knock it all down!" He let out a sigh, the ice vapor escaping his mouth in a cloud. "Look, isn't there another place we can discuss this? I'm sure that everyone vital isn't in this massive refrigerator--"

"W-wait a minute, what the hell are they doing here?!"

Chidori's alarmed voice abruptly cut off his sentence, and he immediately spun around to see her shocked face and a pointed index finger regarding the V-14 individuals. Namely, they were pointing at Angelika and Oliver, with the German woman looking on unphased while the American was giving her a look of annoyance. Oliver was the first one to speak up, his tone sarcastic. "Well, it's real nice to see you too, sweet-cheeks. Sorry we never came to visit you sooner..."

"Shit!" Shito's eyes widened as he saw a sudden change in expressions from the various entities within the crowd.

"If you're here to start something, let me crush them," Shinsetsu spoke aloud, as he raised a hand to audibly snap in the air as a testament of his strength, only to be stopped by Shōmei's raised hand, briefly glaring at the latter before halting his advance.

Shiro himself had to contain his animosity towards the infamous criminals for what they tried to pull off at their socity, and the lives they had taken in the name of that selfish cause. 

"I was curious if you made it out alive or not, Black Eagle!" Adrian stood up as soon as he caught his second wind, his eyes glared behind his mask, projecting his resentment for their allies to have one of their most hated enemies under their roof. He was only stopped by William's hand on his shoulder again, as he arched a brow of curiosity of the triage of leaders of their own worst nuisance and criminals, plus two. 

"As it pains to me to admit it, these three women and their subordinates are responsible for having kept our enemies at bay as we evacuated many citizens and Soul Reapers underqualified to handle the immense threat sent our way. They even managed to defeat quite a handful of them before they were pulled out," narrowing his eyes, he smiled thinly at William and Jūshin, "now, we can either navigate to a more presentable location for discussion, or we can yell all manner of childish profanitiies over spilled milk. Which is it?"

"I have no problem with it," William spoke readily, seemingly unaffected by the new revelations much to his subordinates' chagrin. He turned, however, to meet Jūshin's gaze, "Jūshin-san?"

"This... really is quite a development to have, Captain Sasayaki..." Jūshin muttered, regarding the V-14 members tersely for a moment before looking over at Kaze. "But I'm sure that everything will be explained in a better location. Please, lead the way..." He glanced over at Chidori, who had taken to glaring silently at what had been essentially mass-murdering terrorists. But other than that, she was doing a good job at restraining herself.

"Excellent!" Kaze spoke in an enthusiastic tone, finding a little pleasure in seeing his counterpart associates of their allied nations cringe at the sight of the V-14 members being present with them. Turning around, Kaze made a motion to follow him to the large exit, allowing the newly arrived allies and the present ones to sojourn out of the ice field and chilling atmosphere. 

Practically feeling the chilly daggers projected by nearly the entirety of the arriving allies, Shito couldn't help but feel as if he nor any of the V-14 members really belonged in their resistance band. Even as they had finally migrated from the cold contained room, he couldn't help but feel a chilling aura of resentment, anger, and malice directed towards his, and his comrades' backs the whole way that Kaze led them out. 

Mōka however took it all in stride. Even after meeting the collective of glares and dirty looks shot their way, she kept only an impassive expression at least. While she sympathized with their righteous anger for any crimes that V-14 had committed upon their lands beforehand, she knew they were just acting as all men and women do when confronted with long-hated enemies, now seen as allies within the last safe haven of known friends. 

After turning the last corridor, the collective of newcomers finally found themselves walking into the expansive debriefing room. There, they would find the remaining Gotei 13 officers standing behind not Furuidenshō, but Hana, all wearing formal Gotei Shikhakushōs as they looked onwards with a mixture of impassive to warm expressions. Disregarding any uncomfortable aura being brought into the gathering place, Hana seemed especially pleased to see so many noteworthy individuals coming to them during their hour of need. 

"Jūshin-san! Will-kun! Its nice to see you brought all of your friends with you!" Hana spoke with a bright tone, waving to them as she held a twinkle of mischief in her voice, "do you want me to grab the sake and liquor and we can all talk about the good ol' days, or should we just duke it out and have some good ol' fashioned violence to vent our ill feelings as of late?!" 

"Hah! I think that with what all we've been through, enough fighting's to be had around these parts!" Jūshin scoffed, giving a brief and yet exuberant wave to Hana's direction as the group approached. "I could use a drink right about now. But," He slipped his hands in his coat pockets and nodded his head over towards his associates. "My two bodyguards just insisted that we had to come the way we were, sober and irate..."

"Trust me, it would've been a lot worse if you came here drunk." Chidori said flatly, walking up to his side and passing a glance towards him before looking at Hana. "Excuse me, Hana, but where's the Head Captain? I figured that out of all the people with you, he'd be here."

"The Head Captain's been captured along with several of our colleagues." Hachiro allowed himself to cut in before any answer could be given, nodding his head towards the Captain-Commander's replacement. "As of now, you're looking at her."

"Wha--" After registering this new string of information, Chidori's eyes widened in complete shock. She abruptly took a bow, fearing that she had carelessly disrespected Hana. "O-oh, forgive me, ma'am, I didn't mean to be so rude! I hadn't known that you were substituting for Head Captain Shin'en in a time of absence...!"

"Yeah, its been a big shock for everyone," Hana spoke with a wry grin, taking the opportunity to cross her arms in front of her chest as she observed her and several others' bewildered looks, "my promotion was pretty much only known to Furui-dono and Captain Sasayaki. I was considered a top secret project, so to speak," looking over at a few constant stares given at V-14, she sighed and nodded in the triage female leaders' direction, "but I'm guessing you have more on your minds than my simple promotion in comparison to present company?"

"We're all a little...perplexed as to why a known mercenary organization of such infamy is staying in the one safe haven we assumed our allies was residing within," William spoke tentatively, trying not to sound in favor of having company of such disreputable entities but also not sounding against the idea, considering their situation, he kept an impassive expression all the same, "while if push came to shove, Jūshin and I can put any personal feelings we have with any entity if its a means to save our world, many of our colleagues and subordinates aren't as...receptive, so if you could explain, that would be grateful..."

"Explaining why a bunch of guys who basically done nothing but screw all three of our societies at one point or another, multiple times? I think we'll need a pretty damned good explanation, with all due respect, Captains of the Gotei 13!" Shiro spoke aloud his own piece as he glared vehemently at the V-14 collective standing near the Gotei 13 members, before returning his gaze back to the Captains with a demanding stare upon them all. 

It would not be them who would take up the response to the demand.

"You want to know why we're here, Herr Tategami?" Angelika spoke, allowing herself to step forward, keeping her gaze locked on Shiro. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Chidori tense up slightly as she approached. "It's because the Inner Circle is a very, very bloodthirsty organization. The governments of the present time are not the only ones in danger. The world of the underground is at risk due to the Inner Circle's neverending desire to control anything and everything within existence. Even now, your enemies are moving to secure our territory as well as yours in their bid for universal domination. The V-14 stand beside their mortal enemies because we both want the same thing - to reduce this new enemy to nothing but ashes. It's very simple, really."

By this point, she was face-to-face with Shiro with that calm look still on her countenance. "Is there anything else you need to have explained to you, little boy? Because the last thing that I believe any one of us want is a child whining about how much of a bloody nose he got a few years back."

"Why, you--!" By this time, Chidori was just about ready to unsheathe her own blade. However, Jūshin was quick to grab her shoulder and spare both her and Shiro a warning stare. The last thing that any of them needed was fighting over measly words. Still, it did not keep the female bodyguard from narrowing her eyes and glaring daggers at the German woman for speaking to her colleague in such a manner.

Off to the sidelines, Oliver was snickering. "Well, well, Nazi's certainly in a good mood, isn't she?" He remarked to his Mōka and Asuka. The latter of whom seemed a bit worried than anything else as she silently watched, a hand placed on her mouth.

Shiro kept his body in check from reaching for his sword, or swinging an arm out at the one-eyed german mercenary leader. He could only bare his teeth as he kept himself silent, noticing that Chidori was silenced by his superior, and he knew he would only do the same thing and be halted once again. Instead, Shiro glared back and spoke back with the same disgust as he had for her when he laid his eyes upon her and her cohorts, "Its not so simple to work for someone who nearly help topple our government during the waking hours of a civil war. You've murdered hundreds, thousands of people from nearly every Society you've encountered. What good is there in defeating this regime when your evils will go unpunished long after they become the ashes you wish them to become, eh, Angelika Hartmann?!" 

What would happen next would be the intervention of Hana, or any of the other Captains, or even fellow comrades of the V-14 organization. Instead...

SHFT!

"Calm down! Both of you!" 

A voice spoke allowed with barely controlled anger at the both of them, for their actions. It would be none other than the hero of the Plinian Movement and rising influential Lieutenant of the Gotei 13, Daisuke Hayate!

"Angelika! Treating people's feelings as if they're garbage isn't going to win you any favors! How would you feel if we were to count on the many reasons you or any of your colleagues shouldn't be with us! I'm pretty sure it would be inevitably pointless to go on vocally about your shortcomings, no matter how long you've lived with your guilt and pain!" Daisuke growled at Angelika, then turning to Shiro as he yelled upon him, "and trying to question the trust of your comrades isn't something we should be doing! We've all spilled blood and all have done unspeakable horrors in the name of peace and justice, despite what others may claim. The Hollows themselves might do what is natural to them, but we would call it evil, excusing us to cull them in the thousands. I daresay we have even less room to speak of who've murdered and killed as the next person does! Now, if you please," releasing his hold on both of their shoulders, he growled at all of them, "GET OVER IT! WE are ALL we have left! If you don't want to fight with them because of some blood needed spilling," raising his hand he balled it into a fist and slammed it into his own chest, "take it out on me! Otherwise, shut the Hell up and listen to the Head Captain!"

Silence.

Angelika slowly turned her lone eye to Daisuke as he spoke, glaring daggers at the Lieutenant as he grasped her shoulder. She remained silent, letting him rant at them both. It was pretty much the same message that she had been trying to convey to Shiro, even if it was in her own little way. All he was doing was repeating what she already knew, and to her, that was nothing more than a nuisance. She held that stare for a moment more after he had finished speaking, letting the silence sink in slowly and painfully.

Then, she turned back to Shiro, her expression lessening back to the passive yet cold stare. "I've said my piece. As much as I'd love to exchange words with you, measly bodyguard, we have more important matters to attend to. So I do hope that you and your friend can clean up those bloody noses of yours before they get too... messy..." She took a few steps back, turning her head towards Daisuke. The glare had returned full-force, her pupil and iris having shrunken under the feeling of anger.

"And as for you, Lieutenant?" She said quietly, although the venom was clear. "I have come to respect your boldness and bravery. But you seem to have forgotten that I still have yet to return the favor for you burning the insides out of my body. If you ever, ever lay your hands on me like that again, you won't be laying hands on anything ever again. Are we clear?"

"Geeze, fine! I forgot how anti-social you are..."

"Hayate!" 

"Hm?!" Daisuke whirled around, seeing Shiro's eyes cooly stare back at him. At first there was a bit of resentment as he glared at Angelika, but he turned to face the Lieutenant with a heavy sigh in his breath, "I apologize for my behavior. You're right, we shouldn't be starting any trouble. After all, they're bound to be brought into this because it benefits them, so I guess there isn't any reason we shouldn't trust them..."

"Thanks-"

"But seriously, don't touch me." 

"KAY! KAY!" Daisuke exasperatedly threw his hands in the air, backing off from the majority of the group as he backstepped over to the rest of the Captains and Lieutenants present. 

"There are times where intervention is needed and there are times where it isn't." Hachiro commented, smirking a little at Daisuke's reactions he had unfortunately gotten. "Hopefully, you know now which one is which now..."

"Well, now..." Jūshin politely cleared his throat before folding his hands behind his back, looking over at Hana. "Now that the presence of the V-14 has been cleared up for the time being, I'm sure that we have other inquiries to tend to, as much as I'd love to get settled in and talk about old times, right?"

"Yes, now is the time to strategize with all those who we have. After all," William smiled as he locked eyes with Hana and the other Captains, "that is what an Alliance is for, right?"

Bottoms Up! The Deep Breath Before The Plunge

It was sometime after.

As soon as the V-14 who were in the debriefing had finished their work, they had regrouped with the other members for a trip to one of the D.C.O.'s many bars. For such a high-tech and low-profile faction affiliated with the Seireitei, places like this seemed to give the impression that it wasn't all assassinations and cover operations. It was a perfect time for some downtime, for in the face of the upcoming conflict and counter-attack they would unleash on the I.C.-occupied Soul Society, they would need to use every minute they had.

Fortunately, none of them seemed too very rushed to do so.

The majority of them were situated at the actual bar, with those unable to find their own seats finding places at nearby tables. There were a few extras within the area. Two of which were Shou and Genesis, both of them having been established as "unofficial" members. Another was Kaitlyn, who had shown up from her mysterious absence just in time to join her father and sister. As of this moment, they seemed to be having a rather good time.

Or at least, most of them were.

"I, I am so drunk right now..." Rika's statement was emphasized by the heavy blush on her face and the rather loopy smile on her face. She was trying to sit up in her chair, holding her drink and swaying lightly from side to side like a leaf in a soft wind. She was sitting on Asuka's left side, while Yusuke was sitting on her right. While he didn't seem to be as intoxicated, he had his own loopy smile and blush on his own face as well.

"Y-yusuke..." Rika giggled. "G... guess what?"

"What the freak do you want... pancake chest?" Yusuke slurred back.

"I..I'm so f... drunk right now..."

"Ha! You almost said a curse word!"

Rika abruptly frowned, trying as best as she could to glare at Yusuke. "H... hey, gay boy. You wanna know... you wanna know something that my momma told me?"

"Did..." Yusuke smirked, leaning on the bar and trying his absolute best to look "cool" - or as cool as he could get while under the influence. "Did she tell you how great last night was...?"

"No! Well..." Rika paused for a moment, as if actually considering what he had just said. "Yeah, but she told me something else... you wanna know what she told me...?"

"What?"

"It's better.... to be pissed off... than pissed on... that's what she told me."

Yusuke's eyes brightened up, as if he had learned a mind-shattering revelation. "Oh my joj, that's like... that's like some Confucius-level spit right there--"

"And then she pissed on me."

"....PFFAHAHAHAHAHAH~!" That was all it took for Yusuke to start laughing, his head falling onto the bar as he did so. Rika followed suit, having to hold her sides as she was laughing so hard. The only reason she was laughing was because Yusuke was laughing, and she had no idea what he had found so funny about it.

As the two were having fun, Asuka had her hands buried in her face out of embarrassment. The fact that her two personal subordinates were now acting like drunken idiots was bad enough. The fact that it was whom she considered to be the two children of the V-14 made it all the more worse. "Please, just someone kill me now..."

"Mother, do you wish to sit somewhere else?" Shinshin asked from behind Asuka, standing with a herbal tea jug in hand as he looked her with curiosity, "if you wish, Kaitlyn-chan and I are sitting at another table in the non-smoking section. You can join us if you wish to escape the idiocity of the current seating..."

"Shut those two kids up! This ain't no laugh-your-asses-off area, capiche?!" Yajū shouted from down the counter from Asuka's seating. Joined by him was Shito on his right, Karitori on Shito's right, and Zaii sitting on Yajū's left. All of them were drinking and talking amongst themselves, but surprisingly not as stoned as the two child-like members down the ways from them.

"Ah! Shin-chan..." Asuka raised her head up from her hands to give a grateful smile towards him. "You and Kaitlyn are sitting in another area? Well, maybe this would be a good time to actually meet your special someone in person, hm?" She let out a chuckle, rising herself up from her stool. She eyed the jug that the man was holding. "Oh? And I see you're deciding to be the odd one out, hm?"

Had it not been for Yajū's intervention, Yusuke and Rika would've started whining about wanting their leader to stay. However, they were immediately drawn like bees to a flower towards the direction. Somehow, they had managed to ignore the actual context of the voice and listened to just the sound. So his demand would go unanswered, while his actual voice would not.

Whumpf!

Before anyone knew it, Rika had appeared behind Yajū and threw herself onto his back, her arms wrapped around his shoulders in a haphazard manner. "Hey, hey guys..." She said happily, looking to each and every one of them. "I just... figured out something about my boy Yajū here. He... he has a really big scythe... and, and he likes to stick it in people... and, and he argues a lot with Zaii... so... so..."

"Place-a-dispenser-heeh-resnepsid!" Yusuke yelled, facedown on the ground behind them.

"So... he must want to stick his big scythe into Zaii!" Rika finished her analysis, looking quite proud of herself.

"Oh my joj, she's a friggin' genius!" Yusuke rose his face up from the ground, looking over at Zaii and beaming. "Hey... hey Zaii! You... you and Yajū... you two should kiss!"

For the first time, the two of them, Yajū and Zaii felt unifyingly in sync with rage. 

While Yajū knew he wouldn't hear the end of it if he laid a hand on Rika, he knew Yusuke wasn't as fragile as his appearance let on to be. It would be something that even Zaii could agree on, since his first fight with Yusuke was, that is. Their eyes glowed with killing intent, comically sparkling with golden light as they locked their gaze upon Yusuke's prone form. 

"Shito! Catch!" Yajū growled out, as he swiftly grasped onto the drunken Rika's right arm and spun her around, throwing her head over heels over the bar and slam directly into him, sending him sprawling across the bar floor next to Karitori, causing the latter to snicker with humor, "it seems this little snot crossdresser likes to see other guys get it on, so to speak!" 

"Let's show him how we show our affection," Zaii snarled out, as both Yajū and him grasp Yusuke by each arm, pulling him up off the ground, before slamming their fists in unison into his face, comically sending him flying towards the far end wall, "THROUGH OUR FISTS!" 

Shinshin blinked a few times impassively at seeing the comedic roar that followed the incident. With a sweatdrop he gestured in the opposite direction of the commotion, he said willingly, "Yes...please let us make haste..."

WHAM!

Asuka's pleasant smile did not waver, even as Yusuke promptly got slammed into the far end wall and Rika got thrown into the hapless Shito. She clapped her hands together. "Oooh, we have so much to talk about, I bet!" She said in eagerness. "I wonder how long she's been in the gun-selling business and how long she's been in the military..."

She wasn't the only one that seemed to be ignorant of the chaos that had taken place.

"Okay, you guys ready?" Anton asked his fellow Alpha Team members, all of which were sitting at a table with the remainder of the V-14. The ones in question gave their own grunts and nods of confirmation, holding their respective drinks. "On three. One, two, three..." He took in a deep breath in order to start off. But they would all voice at once.

"♫ And so once again, my dear Johnny my dear friend... and so once again, you are fighting us all... ♫"

They were singing a song called "Fiddle and the drum", a popular song within the Material World and the Rukongai district. Oliver, Anton, Shou, and even Genesis were singing it like a professional chorus group, allowing their voices to keep strength even knowing that there would be people who would hear it. Angelika and Anton had even suppressed their accents for the sake of blending their voices in with the flow of the song, doing a rather good job at that.

"♫ And when we ask you why, you raise your sticks and cry and I fall. Oh, my friend, how did you come... to trade the fiddle for the drum~... ♫"

As Shinshin led them through the haphazard chorus-filled atmosphere to the quieter area, they passed by Hyōryū whom was sitting on a table just across from the singing group. While she loved Anton, she had no singing voice of her own, so she allowed her eyes to close and smile, swaying her head side to side in sync with the beat of the song. 

The last table on the edge of the "crazy" section and bordering the calmer section of the bar, Mōka sat with her mother on a secluded table, having downed two pints of hard liquor and was already on her third. She allowed the drink to settle before talking to her parent, steeling herself for a potentially bitter conversation once again, "So...how's it been living life balanced between the Mortal Afterlife and Hell these days? Any different than it has been the past...millenia?"

"These days? Hell, I might as well be on vacation now compared to before."

The Punisher herself seemingly had a rather casual attitude even as she sat at the table with one leg crossed over the other as she listened to the singers. She was sitting beside her daughter, her body facing away from the table and away from Mōka as a result. "I'm actually surprised that I'm not complaining of boredom. Back then, the morality of the mortals were so nonexistent. People would kill each other over petty things such as money, love interests, reputation, and all that crap. Messing with the minds of humans, playing the role of a helpless and clueless woman in a world ruled by sexists and chauvunists... they were such fun things to do, back when the presence of sin was strong."

She looked over her shoulder at Mōka, a small smirk on her face. "You know that there was this one time, I stumbled across an innkeeper who was actually raping his women tenants. I played the role of one of his victims, and as he was getting finished with me, he slashed my throat and assumed that he killed me." She chuckled. "I can still see the look on his face when I got up and... well... let's just say that there wasn't much of his mind left after I sentenced him. I really should pay him a visit again sometime..." She finished this off with a tilt of her bottle to her lips as she started to drink.

"Nothing to really speak upon humanity's behalf during those ages," Mōka agreed, taking another swig of her pint mug, holding it thoughtfully. Leaning her head to the side, a smile of her own worked its way onto her face as she held her mug casually, "I remember being the object of affection between two warring nations in the Material World. I don't think the nations exist anymore, changed their names and such, but obviously they treated me like some prize to be fought over. They gathered their armies to fight over me, and then...surprise! I pulled my swords out, lighting them aflame and demolished both of their enemies before they realized the helpless woman they were trying to fight over was massacring them all. Ugh...men really piss me off sometimes..."

"So, you did learn a little from me..." The Punisher commented. "Nice to see that even during your "rebel" period, you didn't disregard me completely..."

Snickering, Mōka leaned back and looked at the Punisher as she spoke further, "Well that's nothing! I once fought a guy that held not one...not two...not three...but TEN swords! And this guy wasn't just a pushover, I mean we really fought! I think we reshaped a continent by the time we were finally willing to call it quits. If it wasn't for the fact I was immortal at the time, I think I would've died during that battle," looking off thoughtfully, she turned over to look at her mother curiously, "what has been your toughest battle you've fought?"

The Punisher lapsed into silence for a moment, her eyebrows furrowing. She turned herself around so that she was facing the table once more, resting her arms on the table. Her elbow was propped on the surface, her hand keeping the bottle at head level. "My toughest fight..." She repeated in her thought, looking over at Mōka. "Well, to be honest? I never really was one to get in fights, believe it or not. The only time that I've ever had to raise my own blade against an enemy was during the Hankami Civil War, but even those didn't compare to the absolute toughest fight I've had yet. You may or may not be surprised... but it was with the Lieutenant Daisuke Hayate, in the aftermath of the Plinian Movement."

It was unfortunate for the Dominator, as she was in mid swig of her drink when she heard the name and title of the person she admitted to be the toughest battle. With widened eyes and a large amount of liquor spurting from her mouth in a direction away from the Punisher, much to her daughter's relief, she coughed a bit as she looked over with bulging eyes at her with clear disbelief on her face.

"You're kidding me?! That Daisuke Hayate?! The one who's only at a rookie Captain level?! How could he of all people give you a hard time?!" 

It was a justifiable question, considering the one who had asked it hadn't actually witnessed it.

"Here's a lesson for you, kid..." The Punisher drawled, although a somewhat serious tone graced her words. "Power and strength aren't everything. Sometimes, it takes a clash of beliefs, a knowledge of how your enemy thinks and perceives the world around it. Pluck the right wires, cut the right strings and sooner or later, someone's going to break. Of course, I don't think that he's ever had the heart to intentionally do that to anyone else. You might even be wondering how he was able to do it to me, of all people."

She took in a deep breath, pausing to take another sip from her bottle. "Before the first signs that summoned the Hankami for the initiation of the Plinian Movement, I was convinced that all mortals were nothing but a bunch of scumbags who would eat themselves out rather than actually take bliss in the lives that they were given. But out of all the mortals I met, never have I met someone as devoted to his personal goals and desires as he was. I tortured someone right in front of him, laughing like a hyena as I humiliated my victim right in front of his enemies. I flat-out told him that I was nothing more than a monster, a creature too twisted for any sort of kindness. But he... he was so damn convinced that I had a heart, some sort of redeeming quality to my being. No matter what I did, he always seemed to hold on to the desire to get close to me. I just couldn't wrap my head around it, and no matter how much I tried, I just couldn't push him away from me."

She swayed her bottle from side to side as she chose her words. "In that fight... I just could not contain myself. I was so frustrated, so upset at his persistence, so angry that he was making me question the lifelong view I had built up for myself. It didn't help that the Melody had fallen for his words long before I had and weakened my power just for the sake of restoring everything back to what it once was. In the end, I was just too broken to fight properly, and he struck me down as I was trying to blink out my tears. Even knowing what I had put myself through... he looked me in the eyes... and he said that he loved me."

She tilted her head to the side a little. "Sometimes, words can overpower even the strongest of powers as long as they have ears..."

"Wow...," The Dominator was nearly at a loss of words over the entirety of her mother's story. Every word she spoke was sincere and heartfelt, something she never expected someone of her blood's character to ever openly admit. Looking away, she felt a slight blush work onto her face, taking one of her hands and moving a few overcasting bangs to the side as she smiled slightly, "that's really something. I can't believe you found someone like that. It makes me feel happy...you found a pure soul that cherishes you, regardless of what you are, ya know?" 

Looking over at her with a smile, she emphasized with a twirl of her pint by the edge of her fingers, "I think I can emphasize with that Daisuke in a way...kinda like how I found some goodness within the tortured soul like Karitori's..."

The Punisher couldn't help but snicker a little. "You'd think that she's doing well and dandy what with that attitude of hers. All in, cooch out, fuck the world. Never would've thought you would go for the "butch" type..."

Chuckling in admittance, the Dominator looked over at Karitori in the distance beyond their table, watching her drinking and competing with her fellow two male teammates, "She's been through a lot. Far more than any ordinary soul should endure. To think there was a group of scientists preforming secret experiments that would allow children to tap into the Void's energy waves and build it within their fragile bodies, was something far more cruel than most things I've seen men capable of. She's precious to me...I'm not sure if its love or not...but we share similar passions, she and I. I just hope I can give her a glimmer of hope in her dark percieved world before she passes on to the next life."

"In truth?" This was where the Punisher looked over at the girl herself in slight curiosity, sipping at her drink. "I wouldn't put it past me that maybe she's already seen that glimmer of hope. Being surrounded by comrades who care for her, having someone that she's able to open up her heart to without fear of persecution... if anything, that should be more than a glimmer, isn't it?"

"Yeah, I guess it is," the Dominator whispered with a smile, holding her drink towards her mother in a toasting position, "may our bright lights never waver, nor go out so long as we're alive!" 

"Amen."

With that being said, the Punisher clanged the bottle against her daughter's and lifted the open end to her lips to drink the rest of the contents. The chorus of the Alpha Team continued to fill the air as she did so.

"Look at that..."

From the table stationed in the non-smoking section, Asuka looked on with a warm smile as she took it all in. There was Alpha Team and the Daitenshi picking out songs to sing while enjoying their own drinks, Anton holding Hyōryū close to him as he "conducted", Yusuke and Rika continuing to annoy the Omega Team members in their drunken stupor (despite Yusuke being faintly aware of being punched through a wall because of it). For the Gamma Team leader, it felt like a scene she never thought she'd see in a long time. "I think this is the first time in a while we've been so jovial and laid back..." She commented to both Shinshin and Kaitlyn. "It's heartwarming to say the least."

Kaitlyn laughed a little, holding her own mug of tea as she watched. "You'd think we're all just a bunch of college students hanging out at lunch or something like that instead of a group of renowned criminals." She commented. "Was this quite common before you all were involved in the war effort?"

"Very much so." Asuka confirmed, turning herself around to face the two. "When we weren't participating on missions, we'd be touring through the Rukongai without a care in the world. We'd get drunk in the local bars and some of us would start jumping on the tables and dancing like crazy. Some of the bar owners kicked us out, but most of them just sat back and laughed." She grinned, feeling a bit of laughter well up within her. "This one time, Shou-san had gotten himself so drunk that he, and I heard this from Angelika by the way, he ripped off his shirt, climbed up on stage, pushed one of the stage girls off and started poledancing himself."

Kaitlyn's eyes widened, and she slapped a hand to her mouth in disbelief. "W-what?!" She repeated, fighting to stifle her laughter as she looked over at the Daitenshi. "H-he seemed so quiet and soft-spoken in the time that I've seen or heard him! Are you sure we're talking about the same guy here?!"

"People often act differently alive, then they are in a reformed body like the Daitenshi," Shinshin spoke in a pondering tone as he raised his green tea mug up to his lips, sipping it fondly, and then setting it down with a sigh, "or giving into drunken stupor will have you do many things, things you wouldn't ordinarily do consciously, whether you desire it or not. Tis a foolish notion, but I can see why others would wish to escape through alcoholic consumption."

"Eh, I wouldn't call something like that escape..." Kaitlyn said, taking a sip from her own cup after she had calmed herself down. "Sometimes, when you want to kick back and relax, you need something to help you do it. Alcohol's just one of those things." She looked over at the Alpha Team group, looking at her sister in general. "After all that's happened, it seems like you guys deserve at least that before anything else..."

"Have you ever drank before?" Asuka questioned, earning a slight shrug.

"Only on times where there was a big sale involving the Taikodenso Company or some other celebratory thing involving work." This was where the blonde sighed heavily, looking a bit forlorn. "With the Inner Circle taken over now, I can't help but wonder how the business is faring..."

"It shouldn't be bothered with too much," Shinshin spoke in a presumptious tone, as he waved his hand to the side in emphasis, "consider, the biggest problem for the next month is stabilizing their government hold over the Material World and Spiritual World's citizens. While they have removed the major military powers, sects such as the Black Blood Sect, and other mercenary organizations will keep operating as normal. Once things are in place, they will then start proceeding to sieze power over their assets or preform...clean-up, as it were upon those left defying them. Your company wouldn't be within their high priority as to being taken over or shut down, I'm certain, Kaitlyn-chan."

"Shin-chan, I would be careful as to assume anything about what the Inner Circle won't do." Asuka said gently, taking a drink of her own cup of tea before setting the cup down for a moment. "The Gotei 13 had assumed that the Inner Circle wouldn't ever attack openly, after all. Something as valuable as an armory like what Kaitlyn owns would no doubt be something that would be greatly valued to their cause. After all, you've seen what Oliver's weapon had done in that convoy assault..."

Kaitlyn propped her hand on her chin, furrowing her eyebrows. "Well, at least I managed to secure the bigger guns. Here's crossing my fingers and hoping that they don't manage to break--" However, she abruptly stopped herself, her eyes widening as she realized what Shinshin had said to her. She looked over at him, blinking a few times and emphasizing the surprise on her face.

"Wh.. what did you just refer to me as?"

Halting in mid-sip, Shinshin lowered his cup down to hover just a few inches off the table with both hands holding it, as he directed gaze into Kaitlyn's, "I referred to you as Kaitlyn-chan. Are you uncomfortable being named with that suffix, or are you not accustomed to speaking of someone with japanese linguistic culture?"

"Well, I know what it means, but..." Pausing for a brief moment, Kaitlyn wracked her brain in order to make sure that her definition of the suffix and the one presented here was matching. When she was sure that they did, she averted her gaze away from Shinshin's look. "That would mean you're addressing me as your girlfriend, wouldn't it? And I don't think this counts as a date..."

"Girlfriend?" Shinshin spoke in a perplexed manner, looking to Asuka for some form of clarity, but decided against it and turned his gaze back to Asuka's turned one, "I don't think I ever got permission to court you properly, so I don't believe we are dating, so to speak. But," allowing a rare smile to work its way onto his face, he spoke admittedly, "I am quite fond of you, and I might be a bit smitten of your particularly unique charm. You're also quite beautiful, so I guess referring to you in such a manner is a bit...presumptious...on my part. I just wanted to call you by something that declares my attractiong and way I view appropiately."

The butterflies in Kaitlyn's stomach were stirring like crazy. The blush faded away, but a somewhat bashful smile had taken its place. She looked up at Shinshin, momentarily disregarding Asuka for the time being. "So, you like me?" She summarized. "Well... in that case..."

She discreetly breathed in deeply and mentally steeled herself before she scooted closer to him. She regarded him with a curious look. "Would you... like to court me? You know, at least after all of this is over and done with..." It was quite possibly the boldest move she could've ever made in her life. She was offering herself up for a date, and with her father only a set distance away, she had to fight to keep her nervousness suppressed.

Over on her side, Asuka had the decency to remain silent. But she had a hand to her mouth, a somewhat smug look on her face as she observed.

"Of course I would," Shinshin smiled nodding to her with acceptance and readiness, "I would very much cherish the opportunity to have some quality personal time with you."

"I'll take this as my cue to leave." Asuka said, slowly pushing herself from the table. She set her empty cup down onto the table, looking over at the her former spot. As she regarded her own personal subordinates, she sighed in relief as she saw them finally settle down amongst their compatriots. The moderate blush on her faces still indicated that they were at least still somewhat buzzed. She looked back at her two table associates. "Have fun~!" With that, she walked away in order to rejoin the rest of the group.

"She seems quite nice..." Kaitlyn commented, smiling a little as she watched Asuka depart. "For someone as revered and illusive as she supposedly is, she acts just like any other person you'd see in the Rukongai..."

"She was my mother...I know not of her legacy or upbringing as a member of the Sakamoto Clan, but she was nothing but kindness and honor. Something I failed to wholeheartedly live up to in the waking days of my solitude when she left me to forge my own path," Shinshin spoke fondly, if not holding an undertone of regret as he looked towards her retreating form, and then looked to Kaitlyn with a comforted smile, "but fate has smiled upon me to redeem myself, as she happen to cross paths with me once again. I have renewed my rightful place as a warrior of honor and integrity, rather than a slave to scum that know nothing of virtue or ethics that make this world worth fighting for."

The formal way he spoke caused Kaitlyn to chuckle a little, leaning her head against his shoulder as she took another sip of her tea. "You certainly have a way with words, don't you?" She asked in amusement. "But still, it's nice to know that you're willing to go the rough way instead of the easy way. That's something not a lot of people do nowadays... sticking to their virtues instead of their vices..."

"Its what puts people who stick to the Bushido from the people who follow what they've been told by others. Sometimes, people can thrive from the path their heart, because they stand apart from what others say is right or wrong. Most of the time, it isn't the case. I followed my path, no matter how dark it was, knowing I have set a certain and satisfying road to follow that cannot lead me astray," Shinshin crossed his arms and looked over at Zaii and the others of V-14 relishing each other's company in their own way, "if I had not been taught under Take Xanxus, I would've certainly never run across my mother and fine people like V-14, and wonderful flowers within the midst of chaos such as you, Kaitlyn," he ended his words with fixating his eyes with a fond light within them, even daring to reach out to allow his finger tips to touch Kaitlyn's hand.

Naturally, the gesture was returned positively. Slowly sliding her fingers out from underneath his, Kaitlyn wrapped her hand around his and squeezed gently. "It's a good thing that I chose to save my father instead of watching along with the rest of them, then." She said. "Isn't it?" 

"You followed your heart's desire to follow what was right, despite knowing it could be a unsavory outcome should you have failed," Shinshin spoke lowly, leaning towards her as his voice carried a softer note as his face angled towards her openly, "to me, your own path you carved for yourself is more satisfying than any principle the Bushido has given me..."

"Wanna bet that?"

With a small chuckle, Kaitlyn closed her eyes and leaned her own head in to press her lips against Shinshin's. She held them there for a brief moment, yet still long enough for the messages to be clear. As furiously as her heart was beating in her chest, she was somehow keeping her cool even under the physical contact. In that moment, she had allowed herself to forget everything else. For the moment, none of it would matter.

...at least, for the moment...

In the other section of the bar, a familiar set of faces entered the expansive and well populated place of relaxation and exhalation. Leading the group, Yōki wore a simple black tank top with a red trimmed hakama skirt over black leggings and boots, with black gloves to finish her half-heartedly relaxed attire. Rokotsu wore a collarless short-sleeved short but wore a pink Mid-western skirt with a stylishly patterned pair of sweats and a pair of large high-heel clogs. Takashi, wore nothing but a large high-collared black trench coat, his armored black grass hat, and matte black attire from top to bottom. 

"If you think those other bars at the undercover bases were great, take a load of this one, Brae-kun!" Yōki flourished her arms at the colorful and expansive bar area, showing just how much effort they put within their relaxation areas, as much as their equipment and such. 

"Jeez, how many bars do you guys spend money on?" Braeburn said in slight disbelief, eyeing his surroundings with a mixture of awe and curiosity. He himself had switched to more common wear of Western attire, wearing a black T-shirt with brown pants. He also bore fingerless black gloves on both of his hands. The only thing that was still of Rukongai wear was the sandals he wore on his feet. "If I didn't know any better, I'd think that the D.C.O. was nothing more than a miniature version of Los Vegas. The only thing we're missing is the slot machines and--"

"Hey! Samurai boy! Are you putting the moves on my daughter?!"

The sound of Oliver's shout and a table flipping over promptly interrupted him. His eyes widened as he looked in the direction of the blonde man and his compatriots, with the man in question having a bottle in his hand and a glare leveled at Shinshin. Kaitlyn herself was regarding the man with surprise, while Anton was doubled over with laughter, holding his sides as he sat in his seat. At the sight, the Australian cocked an eyebrow in bafflement. "...well, at the very least, bar fights seem to make up for everything around here..."

"Come over here so I can fuck your shit up!" Oliver demanded, pointing down at the spot in front of him for emphasis. "Get o'er here!"

"Wait, Dad--" Kaitlyn started, but was promptly cut off.

"This is for your own good, sweetheart. You! Samurai boy! Git! Over! Here!" For emphasis of his words, he kept jerking his finger downwards towards the spot where Shinshin was supposed to stand.

"I...I can't breathe...!" Anton gasped, trying desperately to take lungfuls of air. His laughter was making it a very difficult fight to win. "Oh, god...!"

Hyōryū herself joined in the chorus of laughter and snickers, as she found Oliver's debased come-on challenge thrown across to Shinshin for what he saw him do with Kaitlyn, she knew was totally priceless. In fact, most of the atmosphere had silenced into onlooking awe and playful jeer, as they knew what was going to happen was worth looking onto. 

With a roll of her eyes, Yōki crossed her arms and watched from the entrance, not wanting to get involved with the testosterone-pumped fight between V-14's members, especially when she had no desire to step in and halt whatever madness was about to occur. 

If it had been any other person, Shinshin would've apologized. But seeing Oliver, in a drunken state as he was, made his own blood boil beneath the surface. His adamant belief in what liquor could do to a man, especially someone as debased as Oliver Holmes, spoke bounds to himself as he saw the man unfittingly shout at him in a goading manner. 

Standing up straight, he walked over without word or hesitation, seeing this as not only a challenge of his honor but his pride as a man himself. Once he stopped a good measured two meters away, Shinshin just eyed Oliver with a stoic and detached expression. In an almost mocking manner, he inquired rhetorically, "Is there a problem, Mr. Holmes?"

"No, nonononono! You come in my face when you talk shit to me!" Instantly, Oliver was directly in front of Shinshin and glaring into his eyes. "And why would you ask me a dumb question like that? I see you kissing all up on my daughter, and you expect my jimmies not to get rustled? Well, I do believe that your expectations are very wrong, my friend." He raised the bottle up to eye level.

"You see this bottle? If I see you do it again, I'm gonna take this bottle and shove it in your ear! And then I'm gonna take that ear and shove it up your nose! And then I'm gonna take that nose and shove it up your ass, so you can watch, hear and even smell me kick the crap out of you! You got that, cunt hands?!" He held that stare for a minute more, making the situation seem more serious than it actually was.

Then, he raised his finger and promptly tickled Shinshin under his chin.

"Goochy goochy goo~!"

Any seriousness within the mood immediately dropped once he did that. A good majority of the crowd watching burst into laughter, with even breaks of a smirk appearing on Oliver's "angry" face.

"Wh-what the fuck...?!" Genesis said in disbelief, having had the air effectively knocked out of her lungs.

"This... this is my partner." Shou had a hand on his face and his head hung low. "This was what I considered a rival. I'm starting to believe that I've set very low standards for myself..."

"Am I...looking at the same guy who scared me shitless at one point...and caused a bloodbath in Aether, or is this guy the dumbass I kicked his nuts on a daily basis?" Hyōryū asked in a bewildered sense, as her laughter stopped to a reeling halt as she looked on as an awkward air of tension and confusion ebbed the air around the bar. 

Shinshin however, wasn't amused by Oliver's antics at all. He didn't mind Oliver's vulgar tongue, as he was most undoubtedly drunk by his verbatum and the stench coming from his mouth. However, when the man reached up and touched his face, his angular chin at that, in a mocking way. That, was when he crossed the line...

CLAMP-SHIIIINK!

...as within the blink of an eye, Shinshin's left hand grasped Oliver's wrist with a vice iron grip and thrust his palm halfway towards his solarplex. This in turn, also revealed the blade surgically embedded in his forearm, extending out with the grating sound as if it truly was sheathed within a metal scabbared within the depths of his own right limb. The blade touched, but did not cut Oliver's chest, but served as a reckoning point for Shinshin's ultimatum.

"Listen closely, Mr. Holmes, and I'm going to say this only once," Shinshin spoke smoothly, despite his current position with him, "there are certain things I can ignore and there are things I cannot. I can ignore the fact you have consumed more than your share of liquor, and thus are taking the actions of your grown daughter and I way too seriously than this needs to be. I can ignore your idle threats of violence, so long as they stay verbal and threats all the same. But I will not abide you disrespecting my pride as a warrior and a man...nor will I stand having the hands of another man grace my person with the intent of mockery or maliciousness! Swear you will behave yourself for the rest of the night, Mr. Holmes, and I promise not to sever your hand nor disembowl you for daring to intimidate me!" 

Now, everything had fallen into a tense silence.

Even as Shinshin spoke to him, Oliver's expression slowly changed to a confused and dumbfounded expression as he eyed the sword touching his chest. To the Alpha Team who knew him the most, this was a sign that he had not yet truly gone off the deep end. Why he antagonized Shinshin could only be answered by him. But as he listened to the threats, Oliver furrowed his eyebrows in what appeared to be contemplation. He tilted his head to the side slightly. "Oh, you're going to disembowel me? Cut my hand off? In all honesty, the liquor I've been drinking is far from getting to me. I'm just having a bit of fun, joking around. But if you're going to start threatening me for it..."

Then, he made his move.

His free hand swung out to grab Shinshin's wrist, the one that had exuded the threatening blade. He shoved that arm inward, forcing the blade away from him and off to the side. With his own immense physical strength, he threw his restrained arm forward and around Shinshin's neck as he moved forward, twisting his body around. In turn, Shinshin would be swept off of his feet and slammed onto his side in a military-style take down. Without hesitation, the blonde scrambled to straddle the man before wrapping an arm around the neck in a tight chokehold.

"Now listen up, Samurai boy..." He hissed. "You may have gotten away with your life when it comes to opening verbal fire at a deity. But if you think you can pull that shit on anyone else? You have another thing coming." He continued to tighten his grip just to increase discomfort and emphasize his point. "Nor am I going to let you get away with thinking you can do whatever you please with my little girl. Let this be known that I really don't mind. But I'll also let you know that I almost lost her years back. If you do anything to make me regret turning a blind eye at this moment, you'll pay. Oh, by the fucking wrath of Izanami, you will pay."

With one final squeeze, he abruptly released Shinshin from his death grip and pushed himself back up to his feet, glaring with a much more serious scowl. "You got that... Mr. Fūten?" He asked rhetorically, emphasizing the last two words with mockery.

"You're the one who's the damned fool, Holmes-teme," Shinshin growled lowly, even as he stood up without as much as noticing the death grip placed on his own neck a few moments ago. His eyes cast an eery glow of vengeful ire towards the man, as he clenched his unsheathed blade in emphasis, "you're the last one who should be worried about her. She has taken care of herself without your intervention long before you knew of her well-being. I will rather die than allow anything to happen to her, anybody precious to me I'll put my life on the line. A trait of selflessness I know is more foreign to the likes of you than anyone else here!" 

With that said, Shinshin sheathed his blade and moved to the exit without thought of anyone to halt his movement. Skirting around the hanged-back squad of DCO operatives, Shinshin aimed to leave as fast as he could before he felt himself want to willingly begin to commit murder upon the wretched excuse for a man that is Oliver. 

"...sorry about that, ladies and gentleman, that was supposed to be funny."

After watching Shinshin exit the area, Oliver took in a deep breath and shook his head. It was terrible that any merriment was destroyed by what he had did. The apology and intention was sincere, with the thought that the rest of the V-14 would have grown used to his rather volatile ways of joking around. Shinshin had just proven himself to be one of the sole exceptions. Because of it, he might have just ruined the atmosphere of the bar.

He turned to the table, bending over and raising it back up on its legs. "Jeez, you'd think that by now he'd loosen up a little now that he's around with his mother..." He muttered under his breath, rolling his eyes and grunting as he pushed the table back on all of its legs.

"Was that... really necessary?" Anton asked, cocking an eyebrow in question and disbelief. "I mean, that was Shinshin we were talking about."

"I'm surprised he didn't cut you open right then and there." Shou said dryly, folding his hands on the table and frowning. "I think the V-14 have enough problems with you starting fights with your own allies." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Genesis pick herself up and walk away from their table to Kaitlyn's. The blonde female in question had a wincing expression on her face and looking over at where Shinshin made his exit.

"Hey! He put a blade to me and threatened to disembowel me." Oliver said defensively, raising his hands up. "I'm surprised that the Queen of Hell over there decided not to incinerate him from doing the same to her. If he's willing enough to put a blade to his own ally's chest and threaten them in front of all of you, what else is he going to do? He needed someone to put him in his place."

"I'll go check up on him." Asuka said softly, turning herself away from the group. "You all sit back and relax." She turned towards Oliver, furrowing her eyebrows slightly. "Oliver-san?"

"Hm?" As he looked up to her, Oliver's eyes widened slightly at the subtle glare within the woman's eyes.

"I'm more neutral on the matter. But I insist that you don't make a habit out of doing things like that. We may not be of blood relation, but I still consider him to be my son. Do you understand?" There was no threat within her words, but the firmness within made Oliver realize that he wouldn't get away with a second throwdown.

"Uh... yeah. You got it..."

"Good." Asuka gave a nod to him as well as a brief smile towards the rest of her compatriots. "See you all later, then?" She walked away, gently pushing past the D.C.O. in order to follow after Shinshin.

"...well." Braeburn blinked. "That was more intense than I thought it was going to be..."

"I guess its a good thing we arrived, so we can return its festivities, right?!" Rokotsu tried to keep a happy tone in her voice, despite having witnessed what she had. Walking in towards the emptier counter area, she slammed a palm to the bartender present, "get some good stuff for me and my friends please!" 

"Right," Yōki sighed with a smile, looking over to Braeburn as she looped an arm around his, as she insistantly pulled him along towards the bar counter, with a grumbling Takashi in tow. 

In the meantime... 

"Wow," Hyōryū shook her head, placing her hand on her face to drag it off in an exaggerated manner to emphasize her tone, "you really are a dumbass, aren't you, Ollie? Exactly how do you think your daughter is going to look at you now that you chased off someone she shared her first kiss with? What's to stop her from castrating you?"

Oliver smirked. "Because she's not you, sis." He answered, allowing himself to sit down. "She's smarter than that. She knows why I do what I do, and she's no savage. I can say that much from who she's dating, after all. But whatever comes up is my problem. You needn't worry about it."

"Hope that Shinshin doesn't harbor too much of a grudge against you for, Oliver." Angelika commented. "As much fun as it would be to see the two of you actually fight, we do have other pressing matters." This made Oliver roll his eyes.

"Yeah, yeah..."

"Hey there!" a distinguishable voice broke out from the entrance, as the familiar fur-collared sleeveless jacket form of none other than Tome himself broke into stride towards familiar faces. Specifically, Tome dropped an arm and leaned over to Angelika grinning toothily, "I heard you guys practically owned this place after the debriefing was over. Guess I heard right...enjoying yourself, Angie?"

All eyes would turn towards the new arrival in surprise. But Angelika would regard him with the usual formal smile she used in the midst of her Black Blood Sect colleagues. "Herr Kūgun. It's nice to see that you're still in one piece, even after all that's happened. I take it that everything's still all right over on your end, then?" 

"That Brina-chick is good, I'll give her credit on that, but she was buckling by the time they pulled her out," Tome spoke aloud in a confident tone, looking at his nails and gestured nonchalantly before answering Angelika, "Hiroi is busy training and meditating, he's always been a stick up the ass like that. As for the others, I managed to get in contact with the others, and it turns out Alastair and Victor are helping turn the tide in Aether's campaign against the Inner Circle forces there. Van Kessler and Senmei are doing a number of Material World raids, as well as harass forces within Yūrei's borders to keep the majority of the forces of Inner Circle's hold over that province. So, despite our current situation, I think we're moving in the right direction so far..."

"Sounds like you've been doing some serious work, then." Shou commented, folding his hands on the table as he looked at Tome. At the mention of Senmei, he couldn't help but perk up his ears. "It's good to know that your friends are still fighting against this menace as hard as they can."

Oliver scoffed slightly, frowning. "Oh, of course. While we're stuck in here just waiting to back, you guys are already out there kicking ass. It's just our luck that we have to miss out on everything!"

"...and...?" Angelika quirked a slight eyebrow, frowning a little as she looked at Tome intently. It was a hidden question inquiring the whereabouts of Athena and the Keeper. "What about everyone else...?"

"Athena is okay. She's rallying all of the smaller alliance's groups into a formidable force under the Sect's banner to move in on the Soul Society to help snuff out the remainder forces or help us in the event we're overwhelmed by the IC's allies. As for the Keeper...now that's the strangest thing. It appears that attack by those weird masked goons was just a front, and the Keeper was certain that one of his books is missing from his personal quarters," Tome frowned, his tone growing foreboding as muttered lowly, "its a book about the science and physiologies of people that have come into contact with Shinsei energy. Don't know why anyone would want some book like that..."

Now here was where at least a few sets of eyes were widened.

"Wait a minute..." Anton began, looking to each and every one of his compatriots. "The only possible people who've had to come across Shinsei energy would have been the Hankami. They're the only ones that are capable of wielding it, aren't they? If the Inner Circle was looking for something involving that, then--"

"Maybe they're trying to extend control over the remaining Hankami." Angelika said simply, sparing a glance over at the Punisher and Mōka. "Either that, or they're aiming to destroy what's left of their race. It would explain the suppression seal that had been used on Mōka during the attack on the Soul Society."

"So, in other words, they're picking a fight with physical gods?" Oliver asked incredulously. "And I thought Samurai boy was bad..."

"Says the guy who went bat-shit and unleashed Hell on a Demon," Hyōryū muttered, rolling her eyes at Oliver's incredulous remark. 

"Which was going to kill us either way!" Oliver countered readily.

"I won't pretend I know any of this and what it means to the war effort, but the Keeper is actively seeking the culprit who stole the book, so he might get it back and find someway to turn this humiliation into his own advantage, so to speak," Tome spoke in a nonchalant manner, shrugging as he backed up from the table and pocketed his hands into his pants, "its not like the Hankami overall are going to join this battle. They're probably going to just hang back and enter in when the smoke clears, and if any of our enemies are still standing, I guess..."

"Herr Kūgun, if there is anything I learned, it's not to take anything for granted." Angelika said bluntly. "If there are two of them already participating in this fight, what's to say more of them won't show up? In situations like this, it's better to be safe than sorry."

"Yeah, with guys like Aizen and that Quincy guy coming out to play with the big boys, who's to say the Spirit King himself won't come down and cause a shit-load of pain for our enemies?" 

Hyōryū sighed aloud as Tome laughed at his own idea, "Don't even joke like that! I've about had enough of these supernatural baddies that we have to slug with nukes and the like. The last thing we need is the Devil and the Spirit King duking it out cause they got their godly testosterone worked up from our squabbling!"

Elsewhere, the DCO squad that had joined the bar counter had began to get their enthusiasm back. 

More than others, Takashi and Rokotsu were singing a off-key duet of some song in an unintelligible language on the far side of the counter, having migrated most of the V-14 gang to vacate to a number of booths and tables on the opposite end of the "smoking-side" of the bar. 

Yōki on the other hand, held a toothy grin that stretched from ear-to-ear, a drunken blush worked its way upon her cheeks and showed a glassy tone within her eyes as she looked onto Braeburn. Leaning on him, she huskily breahted into his ear, having her right arm around his shoulders while the other held a tipped over bottle of alcohol in her left hand, drained of nearly all of its contents.

"So...Bra-kun...hehehehe...didja know...how sexy you are?" Yōki asked pointedly, snickering as she looked at him with an underlyingly serious tone but was too clouded to speak clearly from the buzz running rampant within her brain. 

Of course, it was Braeburn who was stuck with the most drunk out of the group.

An unamused expression graced his face as Yōki leaned herself against him. The smell of alcohol on her was something he was used to considering him being around the likes of his uncle, and he wasn't the type to react sensitively to very much. But apparently, the liquor was convincing her that it was a very good idea to hit on him. If Hana was here, she would've seen the reason why Braeburn himself was careful to avoid drinking too much.

"Yōki, dear, you're drunk. Go to sleep." He said bluntly, placing a hand onto her shoulder and gently pushing her away from him.

"Why?" Yōki suddenly asks as she felt herself pushed away, her arm sliding off him and her face suddenly going sullen by the gentle, but mistakenly interpeted push from Braeburn, "Why do...you always...ignore me? Why does it...always have to be...Hana-Hana-Hana-Hana, huh?!" 

"Oh, no. Please don't be one of those drunks. I beg you, I'm going to look like an asshole if you are."

The sudden shift in attitude made Braeburn gain a more wincing expression. Immediately, he stole a glance over at his other two compatriots. But he would find no help from them, as they were too busy indulging in their off-key songs. One of his eyes started twitching as the gravity of his situation. He was stuck alone with an emotional drunk, and his girlfriend happened to be nowhere in sight.

"Okay, okay. Let's just calm down, Braeburn. We can do this."

"Hey, hey!" He raised his hands up, trying to cool her off. "C'mon, don't talk like that. You might as well be one of the closest long-time girl pals I've had ever since... well... possibly ever! I never ignore you!" He followed this up with a chuckle, though some of his nervousness leaked through. "You're speaking silly now..."

Yōki sniffled, looking away from Braeburn as she spoke in a sad, far-off tone, "I just wanted to get to know you better, Brae-kun...but...I can't compare to her. She's prettier, stronger...and now she's a fricking Head Captain! But...I knew you had a thing for her...I just...hoped...we...could have a chance," flopping her head onto the counter, she sobbed in a muffled tone on the slick surface as she clenched onto the bottle with her left hand and the other balled up on the countertop. 

"FUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCK--"

Although Braeburn was panicking up a storm within the confines of his head, his expression was one of slight helplessness. He found himself placing a hand on her shoulder once again, this time in an attempt to comfort her. "Oi. I told you not to talk that way. It's not like I'm the only fish in deep blue sea, you know? I mean, what guy could resist a lady like you? You've got looks, personality, brains... I'm personally surprised there aren't more men just falling at your feet."

"Y-You mean that?" Yōki asks as she looks up from her bang-matted mess, her face stained of tears as she looked up pathetically to Braeburn, "you think I'm pretty...and smart? Do you meant that, Brae-kun?"

"Okay. Bomb defused. Good job, Braeburn. You did it without needing the assistance of your girlfriend. Well done, good sir."

Braeburn put on a sincere smile as he looked down on her. "Of course I do. Wouldn't be saying these things if you weren't, eh?" He said in assurance. He took his hand off of her shoulder and rested it on the counter top, idly tapping his fingers against his own drink.

"Yeah...I guess you wouldn't...huh...?"

FLUMP!

And as suddenly as the conversation began, it ended with Yōki flopping onto the counter unconscious, snoring loudly as the alcoholic induced-fit had ended. Drooling on the counter, she was soon joined by Takashi and Rokotsu as they fell haphazardly onto the counter themselves and unconscious, much to the gratefulness of the rest of the occupying people within the bar.

"...well. That went clusterfuck fast."

Braeburn spared a slight glare of annoyance at the passed out woman as well as his other teammates. He rolled his eyes and gave a sigh as he slid out of his chair, drinking the last of his own contents before putting the glass on the counter. They seemed like such lightweights when it came to drinking. At the very least, he could be grateful that most of the V-14 weren't like that.

Speaking of which, a thought came to him.

"That's right. None of the D.C.O. actually bothered to talk to these guys. If we're going to be allies with them, might as well acknowledge their presence somehow..."

With that in mind, he turned away from the counter and started walking upwards to the stage. As he set foot upon the first step, he could feel the eyes of select people fall on him out of curiosity. Conversations were immediately started concerning it.

"Wait a minute, what's that guy doing?" Oliver whispered, raising an eyebrow to his table mates as he watched the Australian pull the microphone from its stand. "Oh, god, don't tell me this asshole's going to sing for us. People are already drunk enough without karaoke night going on..."

"It'd be a helluva better than re-running your scene with Shinshin, Ollie," Hyōryū muttered to Oliver, emphasizing him to be silent. 

Walking into the bar, ironically appearing the most sober of the group, was none other than Jack McTavish himself. He took interest into what his nephew was going to do, and allowd himself to lean against the entrance of the bar, so that he could have a good view of what Braeburn was going to do or preform for everybody.

After turning the microphone on, Braeburn began to circle the stand while he spoke to his recently acquired audience. "So," He began, his voice collected and casual as he addressed the members of the V-14. "It occurred to me that in all of the time spent here, we've failed to give you a formal welcome. This probably would have been done with more people, but," The "but" was emphasized with a slight glare in the direction of his sleeping teammates. "Some people just can't hold their alcohol, can they?"

He slipped a hand in his pocket, taking a brief glance towards the ceiling as he chose his next words. "That being said, welcome to the humble abogue of the Deep Cover Ops. More specifically, welcome to the bars of the Deep Cover Ops, where we might as well be just swimming in money. We've got a variety of drinks, a plethora of music to listen to, and most importantly, a melting pot of gold when it comes to the people here. I'm only sorry that I couldn't convince Mr. Hyde to put some strippers on this stage instead of having this dumb Aussie whiner drone on and on. Of course, the more enthusiastic female bunch could always--"

Woosh!

"Ah--!" Braeburn yelped, immediately ducking in order to avoid a bottle tossed at him courtesy of Rika. "Okay, notion denied, notion denied!" After straightening himself up, he stopped when he was facing the audience once again. "That being said, I do hope that all of you enjoy your stay. If you have any questions, the name's Braeburn McTavish and I'm available pretty much any given time... except of course, when I'm out with the team."

"I feel right at home already! Way to go, Burn-boy!" Jack called out, redirecting the tension of the atmosphere onto himself as he walked in with his hands clapping loudly. Smiling, he bore a few scratches from his most recent battle, but nothing seemed to keep him from showing up at the bar. 

"And here I thought I told him no alcohol," Tome muttered as he noted his subordinate strolling in, narrowing his eyes in displeasure, "should I break his knees to tell him that, or should I just let it slide? I'm kinda in an iffy mood so I could do either..."

"Who the hell is that?" Hyōryū asked Anton regarding the thick Aussie-accented man with the weird blue mohawk, strolling in like a big shot while also stumbling a little to the left and right, as if he was passively drunk, "is he the janitor, or the karoke singer?"

"And of course, you ask me again." Anton said flatly. "When exactly have I started to be come the encyclopedia of the world again?" He spared a look over at the man himself, he couldn't help but chuckle a little at the way he was walking. "Though to be honest, I wouldn't be surprised if he was both..."

"You're not V-14, Wallaby. Go back to sleep." Braeburn said immediately, promptly shoving the microphone back onto the stand and walking over to fiddle with the nearby radio. He placed himself to one knee, turning the knobs and working with the buttons. For a moment, he seemed to be stuck trying to just turn it on. "Okay, wait a minute... no, that's not... ah! There we go!"

But it wasn't long before that notion was dispelled. As he stood up from his spot, a song immediately began to play out. The drum play and musical effects were quick to define this particular one as a club song. Braeburn himself was nodding his head to the rather catchy bit, smirking a little as he walked off the stage. "You all can thank me later."

"This is nice," Mōka smiled as she tapped her fingers to the beat of the song on the table, "reminds me of those bars the gang and I visited in Tendan. Great music, violent atmosphere, and a ruthless crowd to boot. Listening to this music reminds me how badass we were and how nobody dared touch us or fuck with us!" 

"Hell yeah!" Karitori shouted out, nodding her head to the beat of the song, while Shito just sat and drank his drink, with Yajū just smirked at the look Braeburn made as he walked off the stage, "arrogant prick..."

"Hey, Braeburn!" Jack finally caught up to his nephew as the music settled into the bar, subsequently causing lights to flicker in tune with the rythym of the song, allowing him to fully soak in the true nature of the establishment he entered, "wanna treat your old man a pint or two? I want to talk with ya over some stuff. We...never really get a chance to chit-chat, you and I, eh mate?" 

"Hm?" Braeburn stopped in his tracks in over to look at the man, quirking a curious eyebrow at his uncle. "Well, I guess we never did." He admitted coolly, shrugging a little. "It would be a little nice to catch up on old times, considering this might just be the only good break we'll have for the time being..."

Jack pulled up a stool, patting the counter next to him as he waited for his drink. Sighing, he looked over at his nephew respectively, asking him pointedly, "So I see life in the down-and-proper is doing you fancy. So tell me, have you seen your pops? Its been awhile since me and Harry have chatted or tango-ed in a bit..."

As he sat himself in the stool, Braeburn leaned his arm against the counter while resting the other arm in his lap. A snort escaped him. "You kidding me? Ever since Mom died, there's practically been no trace of the guy I could find. Then again, with me having gone missing due to the whole "being on the run from the Seireitei" thing, he probably assumed I had gotten myself killed. Bet that's what exactly those sharks fed him, too. Dying for the sake of duty. Hah!"

After looking a way in a huff for a moment, he focused his gaze back on Jack. "Why do you ask, out of curiosity?"

"I heard rumors, here and there, about him, but I never got a chance to see him after that day," Jack said somberly, crossing his arms as he closed his eyes throughtfully, "you'd think a handsome devil like me, would eventually see his brother, with all of the wallopping I do for my legitimate business, but I never laid eyes on him once. I may have tried taking up a contract on him just to find him, but I hung it up just like the others," sighing, he looked over at Braeburn with sad eyes before looking down at the counter, just as the drinks were being carried to their direction, "I guess you saw me getting my ass handed to me by your Sheila-sister, eh?"

Braeburn huffed. "It was a stupid thing you did challenging her, if you ask me." He said bluntly, grasping his glass and holding it off to the side as he regarded Jack with scrutiny. "Don't get me wrong, I'm not downing you in terms of strength and power. But her? She's got a killing resolve that even I don't want to cross paths with. You're lucky I happened to be there before she turned you into a bloody mess, you know?"

"I couldn't even face her consciously," Jack said in a downcast tone, grabbing his mug, thoughtfully looking into the fizzing contents that were practically bubbling over the wooden-crafted lip, "I had to become the Drunken Demon in order to face her. And even then, I wasn't able to stop her. I'm such a coward, Braeburn...this old wallaby isn't cut out to fighting his own blood..."

"Isn't that a good thing, not being able to fight your own blood?" Braeburn questioned, taking a swig of his own drink. "That's not being a coward, uncle. It's saying that you have morality, that you're still a human being. There's nothing cowardly about that."

"My little Bree...killed my brother's wife, a gal as close as any sister would've been to me. I shouldn't feel anything for someone...that damned despicable!" Jack growled, but immediately drowned out his angry expression with a large swig of his drink, sighing heavily, trying to keep the anger from rising again, "there's only so much family can forgive and forget. And what she did...its hard for me to ever forgive or forget. Which begs the query, mate," Jack looks over at Braeburn with a curious glint in his eyes, "why are you so protective of her? I mean...she's the one who killed your mom, isn't she? She shouldn't mean that much to you after what she did, right?"

At this, Braeburn's expression seemed to darken. He fell into silence for a moment, setting his glass on the table and contemplating his next words. But it wasn't long before he looked up at Jack again. "So what? Are you asking me to have a vengeful mind, that killing her will solve all of my problems?" He asked rhetorically. "If I held a grudge against her, I would've held a grudge against the entire Gotei 13 because I myself nearly died at their hands. Killing them isn't going to bring the innocent back." He averted his gaze away, the next words as bitter as they could have been. "Likewise, killing Brina isn't going to bring Mom back... no matter how much I struggle over her death."

He took in a deep breath, cooling his nerves. "Because I stand on the fence, I see things that either side can't see of each other." He said softly. "There was this one time that Brina and I had met in Yūrei before the Ahijados invasion, and she told me what had happened on those fateful days. Although she was trying to keep a smile, she herself had been terribly hurt by what she had been ordered to do... by the one she considered to be a second mother to her, no less. Tell me this. Would it have been so easy to disobey the one you wanted so desperately to recognize you? Would it have been easy to say "no" to the one who had given you a good part of your life, hm?"

"I guess not, mate," Jack spoke with resignation, having heard all that Braeburn had to say, intermittenly taking another long swig before looking back at his nephew, "I'm not like your pop, Braeburn. I don't got the lick of courage to keep going when the going gets tougher than an armadillo's hide. Not sure I can raise my hand against a little Sheila like Bree again. Despite my chosen corral, I'm not cut-out to be a heartless bounty hunter like my mates of dem Crimson Knights. Even I, a Wallaby, draw my lines in the dry sand when it comes down to it," looking over, Jack smiled at Braeburn before putting a strong hand on his nephew's head, ruffling it as he said with pride, "you do the McTavish family proud, Braeburn! None has come from this family full of insight and integrity like yourself!"

"Don't jinx it, old man." Braeburn warned him, smirking and chuckling all the while. "Just because I'm the more recent out of the family doesn't make me the automatic genius."

"Course it does! It means you can learn from all of your family that came before you, mostly from the whonking mistakes we made and whenever we fell on our tails or noses. Sure you may not be the smartest man or the strongest of our family, but you have an honest heart. That is worth more than every ounce of power your Sheila sister has, more rum than I can swallow, and more hiding places than your pops could find in his entire life time," Jack pointed out in an attempt of encouragement, despite how clumsy it turned out to be. 

Another small chuckle came from Braeburn's lips anyway. "Well, gee. Thanks, uncle." He downed the rest of his contents within his glass before setting it down on the table, allowing himself to stand up. "Listen, I think I'm going to go and drop in on our Head Captain. Maybe you can keep these lot company while I'm gone for the time being..."

"I'll watch over these joyies for ya. Go on! Go kiss up to your Sheila-friend, kay?! HAHAHAHA!" Jack was back to laughing heartily, as his face turned red as he drank more and more, rejuvenating hsi spirit after having a nice talk with his nephew, much to everyone else's chagrin.

"Whatever you say..." Rolling his eyes, Braeburn proceeded to exit the bar in order to head towards the said location. There was something of his own that needed to be done...

Reassurance from Loved Ones, the Suspense Builds Up!

Silence echoed...at a deafening decibel within Hana's ears, within her personal quarters.

While she had been offered quarters that befitted someone of her newly arisen stature, Hana felt that she felt more at home within the first place of living, during her conception as a full-fledged agent of the DCO. With only a simply cot in front of her, mounted to the wall, a good five meters of space in any direction that held a spartan-grade of cabinetry and her few choices of wardrobes. Squatting within the epicenter of the room she lied within a meditative state, but it appeared to be doing the opposite of what she wanted to achieve.

Instead of feeling at ease, she felt unnerved.

The voices within her head continued to haunt her, and her senses felt chilled every time she tried to dive within the darkness within her psyche. It felt as if trying to escape shadows of herself by diving into an ink-filled ocean, of artificial darkness. But the harder she tried to escape, the more enratpured in darkness she felt herself become. Beads of sweat bulletted down his browline as she tried to focus, and concentrate upon her training, everything she had achieved to reach this point. She couldn't break now, she couldn't! She wouldn't! 

One thought dawned upon her, however. A simple yet memorable song she had often sung to herself, even before she had been joined with the Kigei. A song that surrounded her with warmth and love, from someone she never met and cherished all the time, without ever knowing her name or seeing her face. And so, she began humming a quiet song, that cascaded the confines of her room, and unbeknownst to herself, to the dark corridors that lied beyond her own quarters. 

It was here that, out of coincidence, her "hunter" would appear on scene.

Silent and gentle feet would carry a silhouette into the room that Hana was in, closer and closer to the designated target. With each step, it seemed to be moving somewhat in sync with the sung words. Its gait was slow and deliberate, but the way it stood was in a calm and passive manner. Even though it was taking its time, it didn't take long for it to reach the spot directly behind Hana. That was where it would stop, patiently waiting for her to finish.

By the time of Hana's ending to her song, a tear had dragged out of her left closed eye and down her face. When she realized the presence had walked in her room, she drug her right hand from her knee up to her cheek, wiping away the salt-filled streak off her face, not turning to face him, as she already knew who it was without even opening her eyes.

"What is it Braeburn? Is there something you wish to discuss?" Hana asked aloud, her voice becoming vocal enough to reverberate her small and sparce room. 

A small part of Braeburn was disappointed that he didn't manage to sneak up on her and surprise her like he wanted to. But once he saw the movement of her wiping her face, he was quick to push that away and remind himself what he was there for. A soft frown donned his face as he walked around her, stopping in front of her and bending over so that he was crouching down to her level. His eyes met hers right away, regarding her with concern. "Yeah. You." He said simply, not wanting to waste her time by skipping around the bush.

Opening her eyes, they were briefly surprised. As her irises focused onto Braeburn's piercing, matter-of-fact gaze, she couldn't help but smile, crossing her arms over her chest as she paid full attention to him. With a brief inhale, she assumed a no-nonsense expression on her face as she pointed to him in emphasis, "Normally, since I'm your superior, I'd tell you that there was nothing for you to check on, and that you should be busy training or associating with your other comrades. But, since we've known each other before all this went down," smiling, she rested her hands on her knees as she opened her eyes to meet his, "how can I say no to the man I love?" 

A brief smile graced Braeburn's face. "Good to hear." He sat himself down readily Indian style, placing his hands on his knees. He tilted his head to the side slightly as he looked at her. "How are you feeling?"

"Honestly?" Hana arched a brow in question to Braeburn, before hanging her head, sighing as she rubbed her temples in emphasis, "I am feeling a bit overwhelmed from all these...duties...that have been thrusted onto my shoulders. I wasn't supposed to be eligible, in truth, to take the mantle of Head Captain for another fifty years. But, considering things rarely go according to the way we want to. This is, after all, why I have been trained and bred into the person I am today," Hana looked up at Braeburn, staring at him with serious eyes, "tell me, do you regret having what happened to you in the Mourning War? That you had no control over your destiny and you had no chance to explain yourself? Would you change the way things have happened if you could?"

At this question, Braeburn tilted his head to the side out of curiosity. His expression grew thoughtful as he contemplated the question. But it would only be for a brief moment. "Well," He began, swinging his gaze back towards Hana. "If I had the chance to undo everything... to stay within the confines of the Gotei 13 as one of them and not an outcast... then I would've never learned to see both sides of the coin. I would've never gotten the ability to see through the point of view of those that would eventually stray from the side I'm on... like my sister. So, if there's any regrets that I have, they're pointless to hold on to."

"I see," Hana bowed her head, a faint smile enamored her expression, even as her tone grew more thoughtful as she spoke, "sometimes I wish things were different. I, a lowly child, should not wear the sacred mantle of Head Captain as if I am a cheap substitute for warriors of legend and virtue that have come before me. I have not been born of noble blood nor sprung from the earth with incredible skill. I am simply a lowly girl whom was given everything to surpass limitations that someone else couldn't achieve. The precipice of power I've attained...I am undeserving in every sense of unworthiness."

Braeburn's next move was sudden and possibly unexpected.

Without warning, he had threw himself forward. His fingers clutched at the front of Hana's shirt, pulling her closer to him as he stood up. His eyes, previously filled with only passive intent, were now narrowed into a hardened glare. Certainly, he was being bold by handling the head Captain in such a manner had he been with anyone else. But right now, he wasn't speaking with the commander of the Gotei 13. He was speaking with Hana Yūgure, comrade and lover.

"Don't you dare start talking like that." He hissed, his voice just above a whisper. "You're many things, Hana. You are powerful. You are capable. You are spiritually indominable. But I'll be damned if I hear you refer to yourself as nothing but a lowly child. Tell me, who was the one that slapped me and told me that I was being a coward? Who was the one who was willing to spit in the face of a god? It was you. Not anyone else. You didn't come this far because of the power you were given. You came this far because you wanted it to, because you didn't let the worst of circumstances bring you down. No amount of power could ever make a difference in that. That's why you and not anyone else was chosen as the successor for the Head Captain. You didn't need noble blood or some special genetic to achieve that, did you?!"

"You're right. You're right just about everything...except one thing," greeting his glare with an impassive expression and a haunted stare to greet his eyes, she spoke with clarity, "the Kigei. It isn't something that merely reads the thoughts of a person is connected to. It originally was designed to bring about a person's maximum potential: Spiritually, Physically, and Mentally. When I was found, I was just one of a hundred orphaned children, forgotten and tossed aside within the Rukonagi with no parents or families that wanted us. The side affects from being overly exposed to it would either leave the child that had been exposed to it mentally lost and souless, or haunted by crazed illusions of another personality developed within the corners of their minds. I am the only success, and I am still haunted by voices that are not my own," looking away with shame, she bit her lower lip as she whispered, "you've...seen what happened when the voices got to me. If I am not keeping myself in check, if the pressure gets to me, I could not only lose focus but also potentially lose this war and cause my subordinates, friends, you...to die!" 

That was when Braeburn's expression faltered, and his grip on her shirt loosened completely. He gently set her back on her feet, lowering his head for a minute and closing his eyes. When she had put it that way, the Kigei was nothing more than a cheat sheet for power and intelligence. A simple-minded fool could excel to the lengths of a genius with such a machine. When Hana explained it in that manner, there was at least some justification to her words.

But the last thing Braeburn wanted was to give ground, especially when Hana was in such a state of mind.

He lifted his hands to place on her shoulders, meeting her gaze with empathy. "I told you before..." He said softly. "You're not alone in this. If the voices try to pull you again, then at the very least, my voice will be the one to pull you back out. If you can't keep yourself in check, my hands'll steady you." Slowly, he leaned his forehead against hers, their eye-to-eye gaze more prominent. "Rest assured that we will get through this. You're not alone in this, and you never will be. Do you understand that?"

Smiling, Hana whispered as she grasped her lover's face with each hand, "Then I will use your voice and my love for you as the anchor to keep my mind clear. When darkness comes to claim me, you will be the light that guides me back. Promise me that you'll be my beacon back to the present of which I need to protect. Please promise me that, Braeburn."

"What kind of a man would I be to you if I didn't uphold a promise like that?" Braeburn gave a mixture of a warm smile and a confident smirk. The touch on his face only encouraged such an expression. "I would be your very sun if you needed it. I can promise you that..."

"Well then, my sun," smiling softly, chuckling at the choice of words Braeburn used, she spoke equally as soft in request, "will you stay with me then? If only for a little while? Your presence with me...gives me reassurance those words are yours and not a fabrication my mind made up..."

"You got it, Shiela..."

______________________________________________________________________________________________

"So...I've been curious. How did you and...father...fall in love...mother?" Murasaki asked quietly within the dark hallowed space where the Captains had been imprisoned. Since the day Murasaki made contact with Gina, she had been coming often to tend to her wounds, apply pain relief to her, and talk to her personally. Mursaki had even begun to smile, faintly, but expressing emotion that she hadn't felt herself projecting in a long time. 

So, when she asked the question, steering away from personal humdrum and experiences Gina had experienced, Murasaki went to the one she longed to know. What was it like to fall in love

The subject of her former husband was a rather tentative one, characterized by the wincing look on Gina's face. Had she had her hands free, she would've instinctively raised one as if she had been about to be slapped. She averted her gaze away from Murasaki for a moment, both out of pondering and slight pain. It was only for a brief moment, but it was also one that made itself seem longer than it was.

"Well..." She began, trying to choose her words. She was moving her head, her expressions conveying emphasis of her words. "When I first met him, he was a far cry from the man he is now. He was someone who stuck to the samurai's code... well, as much as he could while serving as a scientist for the Gotei 13. Back then, I was also a bit more hot-blooded, a bit more reflexive when it came to making seemingly easy decisions. In addition," She couldn't help but smile a little at herself. "I had a bit of a crush on him. He was quite the looker, after all. But I also thought I'd never come to appreciate his attitude, the seemingly professional way he held himself in at all times."

She took in a deep breath, finding her words to come out more readily. "Despite the law of Captains' not being able to fight each other, I challenged him to a duel. Wasn't much that I could call eventful in comparison to other fights that I've been in, but... he had an advantage over me. Matter of fact, he could've won that duel. But when he started to take an opening to finish me off... he stopped. He had purposely drew himself back and allowed me to disarm him. When I asked him why, he said that he happened to be infatuated with me, too."

Briefly, she chuckled. "Even now, it seems like a bit of luck on both ends. After sticking around each other for a while, we found ourselves beginning to share our ideals and beliefs, tossing them to one another like a ball between kids. Pretty soon, we began to grow closer and closer, until the point where it felt like we were inseparable." At this, her expression briefly grew sullen. "It's a shame now that's nothing more than a kid's dream..."

"I see," Murasaki bowed her head, her faint smile closing back to a somber expression she's most familiar with. After furrowing her eyes, her lips formed what could be translated as a form of a pout, "father...never talked about you. It seems that he...cast his thoughts from you...and instead...focused all of his attention...on me. I...cannot comprehend...as to...why...love can be severed...or lost...so easily..."

"He just fell in love with something else." Gina said. "He had an interest long before I came into the picture, and he chose that interest over the bond we had. Ultimate knowledge, everlasting life, insurmountable power... the intentions of a man can ultimately break what he's created between other people. He's focusing so much attention on you because he wants you to carry on his legacy, to become his and Aizen's ultimate weapon. To him, I might as well be nothing more than a undesirable variable now, especially sealed up like this. He doesn't pay much attention to things he doesn't find important to him."

"Why am I so special?" Murasaki asked aloud, feeling a slight bitterness show through her speech as she looked up at Gina's eyes, "am I important cause I'm the disciple...of Sōsuke-sama? Am I special cause I was raised...by my father? Am I important...because you're my mother? Please, tell me, what's my purpose if I am nothing but...a tool for someone else's end?! I need to know...if this feeling in my chest...is a longing for something more...than what I already have!" 

"I'm afraid I can't tell you that straightly. That's something you need to figure out." Gina said softly, a tint of sadness within her solemn yet resigned tone. "You're a grown woman now. At this rate, you certainly don't need the likes of me to tell you what needs to be done. You have to learn to think for yourself as well as question yourself. I'm not going to try and take that away from you... even if it does mean this. I can at least give you that much..."

Having grown silent in the wake of this development, Murasaki began to contemplate her choice. Her hands flexed into tight fists before relaxing into lax, open palms. With a brief inhalation, she spoke with gratitude, "Thank you for listening to me, and talking to me today, Mother. I know...what I must decide upon," raising her earnest eyes to meet Gina's, she smiled sincerely, "I will meditate upon this and act when the time is right." 

"Just remember..." Gina's voice had a hint of pleading to it as she looked at her daughter, her eyes wavering slightly. "No matter what you do... you were always the closest thing to my heart since your father. No matter what happens, that won't change for the world."

With a smile, as well as a tear of happiness rushing down her left side of her face, she placed her hand on the violet-transparent barrier that separated herself from her most cherished person in the world, "And you, mother, have always been on my mind since the day we've been separated. I never knew you were this brave, this kind, and this strong to have made it this far. Believe me when I say this," Murasaki turned her face as she began walking away stoically, but still holding the same tone of conviction, "I know now what's more important in my life. I just have to figure out how to grasp it now..."

______________________________________________________________________________________________

"Looks like this is the last day..."

Mikado stood near the edge of a large window in one of the many rooms belonging to the Alliance's hideout, leaning up against a wall with his hands in the pockets of his sleeveless Shikahushō, his hood down so that he could see clearly. He was speaking to Daisuke in particular, who was standing in the room a little ways from him.

"Anything you want off of your chest before it all starts?" he said to him calmly, glancing over at his orange haired comrade.

Looking stoically out at the many soldiers congregating with their respective Captains, and coordinating their timing to allow them to flow seamlessly by the time the battle was to come. He had a far-off look to him, as if he had been holding his breath and didn't know how to let go yet. Something weighed heavily within Daisuke's heart, and he didn't know what it was. 

"Mikado...is there really no other way?" Daisuke asked softly without turning his head from his view of the large gymnasium, having long been "defrosted" and allowing all awaiting forces to do prep work and drills to prepare for the invasion, "even if we're to go to war, there will only be another tragedy that awaits us the next time, even with our success. Loved ones will be lost...sibblings and parents slain...families in shambles. This isn't right, nothing about it feels right. When will this eternal bloodshed and fighting ever end?" 

Here, Mikado sighed as he looked out the window along with Daisuke, a similarly worried expression on his face as well. "My father always told me that if you wanted to make enemies, all you had to do was try and change something. And since everyone always feels like changing something that's wrong with their lives, war is always going to be around."

He then looked back at Daisuke. "But I guess change is needed sometimes. If Soul Society would change how it did some things, maybe things like this wouldn't happen to begin with."

"Soul Reapers will always be needed. That hasn't changed since the beginning of time and life," Daisuke stated with certainty, his brows furrowing as he spoke next, "but...how has that helped? All we can do is quell the threats Hollows in the Material World cause by dissatisfaction or longing felt by those who have been killed or died in ways that couldn't leave them at peace to pass on naturally. And when Hollows give in to their basest instincts and devour souls, a damning crime against life itself, they themselves become more like us. What does that say about Soul Reapers? Are we nothing more than a society that acts in accordance with nature, but is blinded by the pretense that we ourselves are without fault?" Daisuke looked over at Mikado with a haunted look behind his own eyes, "I nearly killed a defenseless woman in cold blood, responsible for my own pain and anguish, as well as millions before me. I wanted her to feel my pain, their pain, and relish in her screams of despair. That darkness within me...is more terrifying and evil than any Hollow's act or anything our enemies condoned to allow to happen to others. It makes me question," Daisuke then looked back to the Soul Reapers training and honing their skills in sync with each other, "what good are Soul Reapers, when we ourselves act no better than Hollowity itself in our own darkest moments?" 

"Being a Shinigami doesn't expel you from being totally human." Mikado said, now standing up fully and standing alongside Daisuke, looking out the window with him. "We still fall when we make mistakes. We still cry when we've lost, and we still lose ourselves in the face of overwhelming pain. No manner of power nor wealth will change that, despite what most of the higher ups will tell you. And Hollows? I can tell you from experience that Hollows aren't any different, which is why I try not to treat them any different. Regardless of what we think of them, all they want is more in life, or to have a life in general. Shinigami, from my stand point, just do what they do because they need meaning in their afterlives. Being able to live for almost an infinite amount of time tends to be rather...empty, if you know what I mean."

He scratched the back of his neck before going on. "I almost killed my own brother not too long ago, actually, kinda like you and that Arrancar girl. Losing myself to the anger and malice that I felt for everything at that point...it makes you realize just how much of a threat you are. Not just to others, but yourself as well."

"Yeah, I almost allowed a mere test of resolve turned into a battle of life or death because she pushed my buttons," Daisuke sighed, realizing he and Mikado were one in the same in their respective occurances. Turning around to face the door of the room, he began to walk out, "I need to clear my head. Some...conversing...with my partner alone will probably help me out. He's usually the one to talk some sense into me after all..."

But once Daisuke turned, he would see a familiar face standing in the doorway waiting for him. "Leaving already, Shinigami?" she said calmly with that emotionless glare of hers.

"Shit!

Daisuke's eyes widened upon seeing Kiorra's dauntless, and now apparently recovered form standing in the doorway. He could only wager how long she had been listening, or if she had just arrived, her mere presence unnerved him due to their last encounter. Shaking his head to snap himself out of his shocked reverie, he forced a soft smile as he inquired, "Kiorra, you're recovered already?" 

"I have regeneration, remember?" she said, holding up her bare arm where he had scarred her in their fight. "Your medics didn't even really need to do anything besides give me a couple of hours to myself. My three followers, on the other hand, are still recovering."

Mikado then quietly slipped out of the room, placing a hand on Daisuke's shoulder briefly to reassure him from his previous doubts, and to give the couple some privacy.

Gulping down his nervousness as he saw Mikado leave the room, Daisuke scratched the back of his neck. Trying to reach into his subconscious for guidance by his Zanpakutō, he found he was indeed alone when he recieved no response. 

"So...I guess this is the part where I apologize for hurting you, the way I did," Daisuke said with admittance, dropping his smile into a stoically apologetic expression. Bowing his head, he muttered aloud, "I'm sorry, Kiorra. I hope you don't feel any malice for the other Soul Reapers for what I did..."

"You Shinigami are more like us than you know." she said, crossing her arms and entering the room once Mikado had passed, briefly looking around it's interior before turning to face him once again. "Before I met you, I'd just assumed that all Shinigami were simple children acting as if they were gods looking down on us. But you've changed that perspective when you attacked me. You are full of faults and mistakes, and you acknowledge them fully. I think I can respect you, if no other Shinigami were the same."

Able to raise his gaze to be level with Kiorra, he became more and more enamored by her voice. As level and impassive that it was, there was something...musical, behind it. He allowed himself to smile at the words she spoke, nodding in acknowledgement to what she said, "I try to think Hollows are no different than Soul Reapers. After all, we both come from the origin of humanity in one sense or another. The more evolved we become, the more alike we are to our opposites. Yet, in the end, once we die, we are rebirthed into humans again. So in a sense, you and I are the same."

Here, Kiorra's eyes widened just a small bit in surprise that he would actually agree with her; she was certainly expecting otherwise. But she had to shrug it off really quick before she could let it distract her further. "The same, eh?"

She then looked out the window at all of the training Shinigami. "If you and I are really the same, then you surely know how hard of a fight that we are all in for, right?"

Turning his gaze briefly at the training Soul Reapers, he nodded in confirmation, as his face resumed a more stoic visage, "Yeah. There's no guaruntee that this will work either. In battle, no matter how large or small the conflict, there will always be things that don't go according to plan or make a situation awry. But then again," Daisuke turned around to look Kiorra in the eyes with unbreakable confidence, "that speaks volumes of every major conflict I've been in. In comparison, this war is actually quite abysmal in comparison to the fate of reality within the hands of the Hankami or Harbinger. Though I guess the only difference is that we're fighting familiar faces who know how to press our buttons, and use deception rather than overwhelming power to take over the worlds we know."

"Their overconfidence is what'll give you your victory." she said in agreement with him, looking back to meet his gaze as well. They believe that since they've conquered Soul Society, they will be unchallenged, which in turn will make them careless with their tactics. At least you have that on your side..."

But then she crossed her arms, glancing back at the doorway. "Though, I have been thinking about the Quincy that you fought, Asumu Godai, and his master. They will both be major obstacles for our forces, but there's something else that has me thinking....I believe that they, along with Aizen and his forces, will actually be a much bigger help than a hinderance to us."

Now this made Daisuke frown at the prospect. The very two men that had cut down his Head Captain, was going to help them out? "You're going have to explain that to me, cause I don't know exactly what would compel such kinds of men to even consider helping us, instead of trying to wipe the floor of us?" 

"Think about it." she said, looking back at him. "Do you really thing that two beings as greedy as Juhabach and Aizen are just going to sit back and let the Inner Circle rule the very thing that both of them have sought for so many years? Why else would they seek an alliance with each other?"

"It would explain why Aizen agreed to take the Hollows out of the equation. It was probably a show of good will to the Inner Circle that he can be staged as the key figure ruler while the Horsemen held the real power. Him bringing Juha Bach into the picture has probably showed his true intentions for an inevitable coup," Daisuke thought about it, saying aloud what could be possible. 

"So we'll use that against them." she said in compliance, stepping closer towards him as she crossed her arms once again. "When they attack, which i'm certain that they will, all hell will break loose. The Inner Circle will be thrown off guard for a time before they recoil. While we let them kill each other, we wait for them to be more vulnerable, and then we hit them with everything that we've got. At least then we'll have a chance."

"The good guys always have a chance. At least, that's what I believe, since I'm still alive after two near-apocalyptic events that should've been the end of me, so I have to believe in something," Daisuke shrugged, yet kept an enthusiastic smile as he placed his own hands on his hips in emphasis of his certainty. 

Kiorra deadpanned, her eyes turning into frustrated white saucers with thick black outlines and a nerve vein popping up on her head as she spoke in a surprisingly annoyed tone. Another sign of her actually showing emotions? "You're thinking that we'd still have a chance even without this ploy? Speaking of which, why are you acting like you've had this idea in your head the entire time? Were you holding out on us???"

With eyes bulging in alarm, Daisuke sputtered as he raised his hands in a defensive posture, "W-W-What do you mean?! I'm just saying that I have great confidence that whatever plan we come up with, will ensure that we're going to be the victors in the end is all! I haven't been holding anything back, honest!" 

Her complexion when back to normal upon hearing his last words, almost confused in appearance as she raised an eyebrow. "You really do think that we can win this....how? Even with the possibility of Juhabach and Aizen turning on the Inner Circle, our chances have to be at least 20 out of 100 in terms of success. We're completely outnumbered, out gunned, out manned. Some of your troops don't even trust each other."

Her glare became more serious as she went on. "What is it that makes you think that we really are capable of winning this?"

"Faith," Daisuke said stoically back to her, leveling his gaze with hers as he took a step forward with barely a foot to separate the two of them, "if haven't faith of my own convictions, then I would be powerless. If don't have faith in my Zanpakutō, I cannot have faith in my own abilities. If I don't have faith in my allies and friends, then I might as well be alone. Faith in the best of others, faith in the best of humanity...faith that victory is attainable. That, is how I know that we will win. Not that we can or maybe, but will. For it is certain, no matter the result, we will win!"

She couldn't help but slightly admire how this Shinigami had everything that she didn't, and yet always wanted to understand and have herself. At first, she didn't have any words to reply with, but slowly, a very slight smile worked it's way onto her face. "Faith, huh? I've never understood faith, really. We Hollows don't have anything to live for in our day to day lives. We don't even consider that tomorrow might be different...but I think you've changed that, Daisuke Hayate, at least for me."

This time, her smile became just a little more apparent. "I think you've given me something to live for."

Feeling his affectionate side for Kiorra take hold within his gut, Daisuke couldn't help but smile brightly. Reaching a hand up to caress Kiorra's face, he couldn't help but whisper as his face drew nearer to hers, "I'm glad I could bring some hope in your life. It makes my fight...all the more...meaningful...cause I fight...for you..."

And by the time her eyes had widened even more at that point, before she could even really react, their lips touched softly. If there were ever a term to apply "butterflies in your stomach" to a situation, it would be hers. His hand caressing her face, the warmth of his form so close to hers....it was such a pleasant feeling, the first one like that she'd ever felt, she almost didn't want to move away. So she just closed her eyes, and let it all sink in.

"So this is what love feels like..."

And unfortunately, that was when the actual love interest of Daisuke took the opportunity to show up.

The door promptly opened up, and in stepped the red-haired Hankami known as the Punisher. She had her eyes averted, one of her hands scratching the back of her head. At first, she hadn't noticed the scene of Daisuke and Kiorra kissing. "Fucking moron couldn't tell his right from his left when he's shoving gallons of 150 proof vodka down his--"

She cut herself off abruptly when she laid eyes on the two in front of her, her body freezing up and a look of shock on her face.

All fell silent.

"D-D-D...Double...S-S-S..SHIT!!!!!

Daisuke's eyes widened in shock, and the color immediately began to fade from his face as he heard the familiar voice, and the sudden silence that follows. What made it worse, is when he tried to separate his mouth from Kiorra's, a distinctive pop came from their lips to confirm what clearly had been seen. With hyper-dialated pupils and a dumbstruck look on his face, he could barely utter a word as he spoke his girlfriend's name, "S-S-S-Sakura!"

Slowly, the Punisher's expression of shock faded away. A moderate scowl graced her lips and she lifted one of her eyebrows as she glared at Daisuke with both intensity and questioning. She folded her arms across her chest, briefly switching to the female Arrancar before back to her boyfriend. "Oh." She said, a monotone sarcasm within her voice. "I see I was interrupting something. I'll just step outside until you two are finished." With that being said, she promptly turned herself around and began to walk out.

Kiorra merely blinked a few times at the sight of one who felt completely foreign to her, in both race and power. Her very presence was hellish in nature, but the way she talked and acted made it seem like she was just another person in the fray. What really confused her though, was her interactions with Daisuke.

"Is there...." she began, looking back at him. "...something I should know?"

Gulping, Daisuke took a step forward and reached a hand out for Sakura, speaking clearly as he spoke in a desparate tone, "S-Sakura! I'm sorry! This was a mistake...I let myself get caught up in the moment! This isn't what it looks like!" 

This was where the Punisher spared a discreet glance over her shoulder.

The Arrancar, in terms of social interaction, might as well have been mostly dead. Clearly, she had no clue what was going on and why Daisuke was acting the way he was. Inwardly, she couldn't help but laugh at it. Had it been someone who was more aware of the norms of the more civilized races, there would have been much more anger coming from the Hankami.

She continued walking away, not turning to face Daisuke. Her eyes swept the area, making sure that the two of them were both a fair ways away from the room they were in. The last thing she wanted was the presence of a large audience turning this into a drama show. Then, she performed an immediate pivot and spun herself around to face Daisuke. A stern glare was directed into his eyes, and she held that look for a very brief, but still very uncomfortable moment. Then, she allowed herself to speak.

"Just who are you, exactly?"

This is when Daisuke knew he was in trouble. He almost never got her to speak in this tone or from something he done wrong before. Rare occurances in the brief passage of knowing her, let alone being this form of relationship with her, have left little experience in how to handle the times he did screw up. So, knowing he ultimately couldn't produce a fathomably good answer without hearing an angry retort, he let loose his shoulders slack and smiled at her weakly, saying one line.

"I dunno. A hotshot dumbass who doesn't know when to quit, even when a situation is impossible to overcome through effort alone?"

"Really?" The Hankami inquired, a slight mocking within her tone. She took a few steps forward, keeping her peering eyes at the Lieutenant. "Because you seemed almost all too ready to throw away your commitment to me, judging from what I just saw. It's very lucky that she seems a bit clueless about the social norms, otherwise I don't think she'd be able to look at you the same right now. She'd be looking at you as if you were nothing but a hypocritic scumbag, with every convincing word you said to her lost to the wind." She placed her hands on her hips. "And that's what I would be saying too..."

She leaned forward a little. "If I was some whiny bitch crying about how her boyfriend was cheating on her. But I'm not that kind of chick. I'm a woman who's been on both sides of the field. So rest assured, I'm not angry about seeing you kissing on that Arrancar. But now, I can't help but wonder as I look at you. Was this the very same man dedicated to saving the Hankami from their presumed fate of pain and darkness? Was this the very man that had went to the Hell and back I made for him just out of love? Just how many other females did you manage to woo and throw away for other ones you thought were better?" On the last sentence, she did not bother to hide her spite for what she had seen out of him.

Turning his head to the side, he realized how foolish he truly acted. He allowed his emotions to cloud his judgement, and sway him to do something he knew he wouldn't ordinarily plan out or commit upon free will. He betrayed one of the few people he'd sacrifice his life and soul to protect, the one person he came to the edge of existance to help rescue her not only from death, but also from making a wrong mistake of her own. Now he felt as if he had done a terrible crime in repayment for all of the devotion he showed her...

"It is the same man...he's just found a way to disappoint the person he loved, without knowing it," He whispered, only audible to Sakura as he looked on with a sad expression, as tears began welling up behind his eyes, "he...he didn't think he was susceptible to petty emotions, like lust and pride. He never considered the ramifications of breaking such a commitment...and eternal promise to someone so precious to him. Its the same man, just broken from what he was originally forged from that time."

"Broken?" The Punisher scoffed, decided to approach him this time. Her swagger was slow and deliberate. "Hardly. You've just forgotten who you are. The next head of the Hayate Noble Clan, a Lieutenant of the Gotei 13 and my beloved." By this point, she was face-to-face and eye-to-eye with him, close enough for him to lean and kiss her. "The next time you raise up your sword to anyone, think about protecting a life... will you remember?" Once again, she held that look for a brief and uncomfortable moment.

Then, just to make sure that she hit him where it hurt, she twisted herself away from him just before any physical contact could be initiated. "It's a real shame. I was actually coming down here to apologize for not being around recently. But I think you need some time to yourself. Come talk to me when you've gotten your head back in the game."

Voom!

And with that, she was gone.

"...Oh."

Kiorra wasn't able to contain her surprise at the situation well enough. Daisuke didn't love her, as she had thought; he had just been caught up in a moment with her. This...hurt her, somewhat, but not too much. When she saw these two be caught up in such tension, it made her question whether or not a relationship with anyone would be worth the hastle.

"...you already had someone, didn't you?" she asked him quietly.

"Yeah," Daisuke said quietly, already turning his head away from the pain he felt when the Punisher rubbed it in that she came to reassure him because of their momentary time apart. Now he managed to hurt two people because of one thoughtless action. He couldn't believe how bad things have gotten in such a short amount of time, "I do...though I'm not sure for how much longer, considering the odds we have to face, you know?"

The Arrancar walked up behind him, took him by his shoulders and turned him around fully. Placing both of her hands on the sides of his head, she closed her eyes and in his mind, she would speak in a blunt, analyzing tone. "You're stressed beyond belief. You have hope, but at that same time, you have despair catching up with you. The lines between right and wrong are clear in your mind, but they will cloud in the passing days. You feel the need to release your tensions, but you feel as if the one who should be there with you isn't there for you enough..."

She then released him, staring blankly at him once again. "Go and talk to her. Let her know the state of your mind. Your bond with her must be strong if you are to win this war."

With a few blinks and hearing what Kiorra said, he knew she said the truth. He had barely rested since before the invasion. With all of the motions going through, exhaustion had slowly seeped in and his worries were starting to distort his faith in himself and those closest to him. Nodding, he couldn't say anything to Kiorra in return for her advice.

He momentarily smiled before turning and rushing out of the room, to follow Sakura. He knew the error of his ways now. All he had to do now...was correct that!

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