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The War of Four: To the Victor Act I

Deploy the Big Guns, Return of Sinister Forces!

CLANG-VWHOOSH!

"Hehehehehehehehehahahahahahahaha!" Jamie couldn't help but release a demented laugh, as his claymore struck against Oliver's weapon, as he pressed on his assault, with a maddening rush. Now covered in blood, Jamie's physical and spiritual power had been bolstered to an even higher plane before the start of the battle. Whether it was a mental awareness or something to do with the darkness he sealed within his soul. 

"MAKE. ME. FEEL. ALIVE. BROTHER!" Jamie shouted as he raised his blade and slammed it against his sibbling's defenses, harder, and more ferocious than the last one. It was dead set in his mind that he would kill Oliver. And everyone he was associated with. This would be his final testament he would have in life...before his own ended in a wake of Hellish flames!

Each and every strike would be met with just as much ferocity and power courtesy of Oliver. As their blades continued to bang against each other again and gain, Oliver still wore his expression of fury as he met Jamie blow for blow. The increased power of his enemy's strikes was enough to start pushing him back, digging his feet into the ground as he fought relentlessly. But it wasn't enough to break his stance or throw him off-balance. At the same time, Jamie was making it pretty hard to regain an offensive of his own.

It wasn't long before his back was against the wall, and he found himself within another sword lock. He glared hard into Jamie's murderous and insane eyes as if trying to find some trace of humanity still within them. But it was as if every reason that Jamie would've had to kill him had vanished. In that gaze, he could only see a monster wanting to kill. He knew that if he didn't stop this soon, there would be nothing left at the end.

He had to end this.

"James..." He said vehemently, struggling against the opposing blade as best as he could. "I know that you can still hear me, somewhere in that decaying skull of yours. I'm going to give you one last chance to walk away from this, keep yourself breathing while you still can. You may have slaughtered dozens of people, both innocent and guilty... you may have become a genocidal terror of Aether... but you're still breathing! You still have a chance to live, just like I did! Are you really wanting to throw it all away, just for the sake of killing me?! Are you really willing to exchange that for killing my comrades and taking your own life?! Is it really worth it?!"

After grinding the blade further against Oliver's sword, he felt his eyes widen a fraction more, and his eyes regain some consciousness. Retracting from his carnal mindset of murderous intent, Jamie could only snarl audibly, as he renewed the flames upon his blood-charred claymore, "You don't understand, Ollie! I have nothing left to live for! Even if I was to survive this battle, how am I supposed to live after this?! Aether wants to crucify me for my crimes! The Inner Circle will eventually dispose of their rabid dog, soon enough. Aizen and that Quincy pal of his don't seem to be much different. Don't you see?! I DON'T HAVE ANYTHING TO LIVE FOR!" 

VOOM!

The flames began to discharge with intensity, blasting away the wall and intending on scorching Oliver's body, as his red eyes widened to renewed angered heights, as he pushed with both arms, using all of his strength to end his young brother's life, "YOU HAVE EVERYTHING I DESIRED! AND YET YOU ARE AS TAINTED AS I AM! WHY?! WHY CAN'T THAT BE THE SAME FOR ME?! YOU STOLE MY LIFE, OLIVER!" 

Instinctively, Oliver shut his eyes as he felt the flames threaten to consume him. His own spiritual pressure billowed up in response, throwing the fire away from his body even as it continued to spread throughout the area. He clenched his teeth and bore a snarl on his face as he put forth all of his weight into the lock, shoving himself away from the wall and pushing back against Jamie. "Because you're too caught up killing people, that's why!!" He growled back. "This doesn't have to be an option for you anymore!! Aether may have warped us to their liking, but we still have our minds, don't we?! We chose to become nightmares breeded from their ranks, chose to kill all of those people!! With our own two hands, we carved our respective paths!! I never took anything from you, damn it!! The only one you have to blame for not having what you wanted is yourself, and no one but yourself!!"

Then, with a particularly viscious parry, he would blow the flames away and send his brother skidding back a tremendous distance. His eyes widened, and he let out a loud battle cry as he threw himself towards the other man. He would unleash his own attack, swinging his sword again and again at his brother in feral yet experienced efforts to cut him into pieces.

"There's too much blood on my hands, Ollie! I can't go back to being the brother you looked up to," catching each blade with an expert swivel of his heels upon the ground, Jamie did his best to counter the ferocious series of counterattacks as he spoke in rebuttal, "you may have blood on your hands, but I bathed in it! Consumed it! Annointed myself a devil in the eyes of all! Don't you see?!" 

Catchaing one of the slashes, he swung it to the side, before Bonnie came out of his left sleeve and into his hand, firing it rapidly towards the undefended Oliver with a slasher smile once again donned upon his blood soaked face, "I AM A DEVIL WHO GLORIFIES MURDER AND SLAUGHTER!" 

It would only be quick reflexes that would pull the blonde from certain doom. He broke away from the sword lock, performing a dive-and-roll maneuver to evade the shots fired in his direction. As he landed in a crouched position, he didn't allow himself to turn to face his brother right away. "So that's your answer?" He whispered, closing his eyes and allowing himself to stand back up. "That's going to be your choice? Good. Now I know what choice I can make." He allowed himself to spin around, taking a free hand off of his sword to point a palm at his adversary.

All he would have to do was say two words.

"Kisei Byōki!"

Jamie would start to lose feeling within his motor neurons once what sounded like a command take effect. That would be the result of those particular neurons dissolving at an accelerated rate, courtesy of a trap having been placed earlier. It had been something plotted for Reitanmujō had Jamie not arrived to intervene, but the elder Holmes had allowed himself to walk into the same trap. It pained Oliver to have to use the technique on the madman. But he knew that by this point, he had no other choice.

BLAM-BLAM-BLAM!

Jamie, having anticipated a Kidō-based attack or some form of energy release, raised his gun to fire repeatedly at Oliver. However, he could only get three shots out, as his arm began to lose the strength to pull the trigger. What followed was a dazed expression crossing his face, dropping his demented smile, and one of dumbfoundment, as the sword left his grasp, clanging to the ground. Not too long after, so did the gun, before his knees hit the ground, barely keeping himself upright.

"What the Hell have you done to me?!" Jamie snarled, it was all he could do to muster the strength to churn his jaw appropiately as he felt numb everywhere. 

"I've destroyed the motor neurons within your body via a colorless, tasteless gas my Zanpakutō released into the air. If I walked away right now, you'd be nothing more than a cripple for the rest of your life." Oliver answered, twirling his blade around before sheathing it. The three shots had completely missed their targets, leaving him unharmed. As such, he walked slowly towards Jamie's fallen body. "I released it during the earlier encounter with the Takuji freak. He didn't suspect it, and had you not shown up, this would have been a fate solely for him. I wouldn't have bothered to do this if you had just walked away."

By this time, he was close enough to Jamie to kneel over his form. A solemn expression had graced his face, and any anger that had written itself on his countenance had vanished. "It's a shame, Jamie. You could have joined us. Kaitlyn would have been so happy to see her uncle alive and well, and we could have had a chance to rekindle what we had. Do you at least have any regrets about what you're doing and what you did?"

It was then, at this point, all of Jamie's rage bristled into utter grief. Tears began to be shed around his red eyes, before his head hung weakly, the only part of his body he could move at this point, as he was delicately kneeled upwards. He could die from the weakest attack at this point, and he wouldn't even have the pleasure of feeling the pain before his passing. This was the uttermost disgraceful and humiliating thing for him to endure before his end.

"Kaitlyn...Genesis...Allison...you," Jamie muttered, barely audible, as he spoke aloud with clear authentic grief upon every word his tongue uttered, "you were my family. When Kaitlyn...was missing...I thought her to have joined Genesis in the next life, along with Allison. When you were gone, I was alone, and I couldn't fill anything that the void in my heart had become. I turned to Yashin, and he taught me how to use my rage, my bloodthirst, and my insanity to my advantage. I turned to carnage, and would only be warmed by the feeling of blood coating my skin, and I would only feel alive when I would cause others pain and anguish. After all this...how can I come back from this sane, Ollie? How can I ever return to the person I was before? It would be better if I was to just die and atone in Hell for my sins..."

"...I know I haven't done much for you back then." Oliver's tone held clear bitterness within it as he responded. He took in a deep breath to keep himself mentally steady, feeling a sudden warmth within his own eyes. He didn't allow himself to shed a tear as he continued to speak. "If only I had been there, I could've kept you from falling under his spell. But in this moment? If that's what you feel... then the best I can do is make your passing a peaceful one. Where you'll go and what you'll do will be up to the fates to decide."

He softly rested a palm of Jamie's forehead, closing his eyes and focusing. His brother would feel the sensation of a natural death, peaceful and painless.

"Go to sleep. You at least deserve that much from me..."

"Ollie...please...take care...of...your...kids...for...me," Jamie uttered aloud, before falling completely silent. His body fell over limply and his body grew cold, as his heartbeat began to fade to nothing, as his brain began to shut down. 

Jamie Holmes, the Blood Coat, has passed away. 

"...yeah..."

Once those crimson eyes closed for the final time, Oliver slipped off the bloodied coat from Jamie as he lowered the man to the ground. He would slip it on himself, not minding the fact that it was covered in both dirt and blood. After buttoning it up, he placed his hands to his gun holsters and threw away his dual pistols before taking the Bonnie & Clyde pistols to replace them. He walked over to the fallen Seelenbracher and picked it up by the hilt, allowing the back of it to rest on one of his shoulders. It wasn't simple pilfering - he wanted a memorium, a reminder of just how costly this war had been for him and the rest of the V-14. As far as he was concerned, this was the only way.

Without another word, he grabbed Jamie and slung the man over his shoulder before walking away to rejoin his comrades.


"...and that makes ten," Hyōryū says aloud as she places the final piece of Kidō detonite on a supporting pillar, deep within the inner recesses of the Seireitei's underworks. Having completed their battle, all they had to do was set up, wait for the others to regroup, and for Oliver to get up.

"How's yours coming along, Anton?" the red-headed lover asked the russian Kidō specialist, whom had his own stuff to unpack and plant. 

"Shit..." Anton let out a swear as he planted the detonation charges onto their respective places, twisting knobs and flipping switches in order to render it active. He had an annoyed and somewhat haggard look on his face, wiping sweat off of his forehead. "Everything's in place on my end. All in all, though? I can't believe that we went through all of this just to place some measly charges. After this, I think I'm going to be taking a long, long nap..."

"Only if that nap includes both of us, after a long, long, long drink," Hyōryū spoke in approval of the notion, as she inspected her explosive devices, walking around from pillar, maneuvering to be standing behind Anton's weary form,  wrapping her arms around his neck and whispering in his ear, "we're going to share that drink, alone, in a dark room and do the f'ing deed, right?"

A smirk crawled across Anton's face. "Oh, don't you know it..." He drawled, allowing himself to lean back and turn his head. His lips would meet hers in a swift and teasing kiss before he pulled away. "The only thing that could ever beat the fireworks we'll put on... is the fireworks you make..." At the end of his statement, his voice became a purr, and he nuzzled her neck in order to emphasize his tone.

"Good, now kiss," Mōka said flatly, as she appeared behind them all of a sudden, with the rest of the group in tow having arrived, "and make it nice...and slooooooow..."

"THE FU-?!" Hyōryū bellowed out in shock, turning on her heels and falling straight onto her buttocks, as she grew hot red in complexion, while snarling at the other female leader of V-14, "W-W-WHERE DID YOU COME FROM?!"

"HA-HA-HA-HA-HA! Omigawd, that was f'ing hilarious!" Karitori cackled just behind Mōka, as the others joined in with nervous to verily amused chuckles of their own.

Anton wasn't too prepared by the sudden appearance of the rest of the team, either. Usually, he would have been much more alert than that in the event that the enemy attempted to ambush them. But apparently his exhaustion had dulled his senses a bit too much. So when he heard the voice of their half-deity boss behind him, he couldn't really be blamed by the demonstration of clumsiness on his part.

He stumbled after Hyōryū abruptly pulled away from him, tried desperately to stop himself as he lurched forward and ended up doing so when his forehead collided with the pillar set to detonate. The good news was that he hadn't touched the bombs. The bad news was that he was now stumbling around like a drunk, courtesy of the force his head had collided with the concrete of the pillar. As he roamed around, he wore a rather dumb grin on his face and his eyes were swirling around within their sockets. He would only get a total of five words out.

"Beep, beep... I'm a cloud!"

Then, he unceremoniously collapsed on the ground.

Naturally, Genesis and Yusuke were the first to follow after Karitori, laughing at their teammate's misfortune. The Daitenshi had even taken the courage to add in her own insult to injury. "Well, don't let us interrupt you! We were just getting the popcorn!" She crowed, the grin of amusement all too clear on her face.

"Mommy," Yusuke added in his own two cents. "When I grow up, can I be a cloud?" This promptly caused the two to fall over in their laughter, holding their sides from the ache it was causing them. Even the ones who had the decency to try and have respect for the interaction between the two couldn't keep themselves from snickering at the intervention.

"It--" Rika held her face in one of her hands, her head hung down. Although it looked like a gesture of exasperation, it was clear that she was struggling not to laugh and fall onto the ground herself. "It...it really isn't that funny! Stop laughing!"

"It really--" Shou had to slap a hand to his mouth and turn away, trying to speak through his own sniggers. "It really isn't... especially when it's one of the more volatile members of V-14 that you're laughing at..."

"I..." Asuka seemed to be the only one who was able to keep a better composure than the rest of them. "I was going to ask if you two were all right, but... I can plainly see that your respective encounter hasn't taken much out of you, has it?"

"Such loathsome acts in the middle of the battlefield." Shinji muttered disdainfully, fixing a glare of irritation at Hyōryū and Anton. "How would you be if there were an enemy sneaking up on you? You would've been cut down without a moment's hesitation..."

C-CLICK-CLICK!

"I swear I will murder all of you if you don't shut up!" Hyōryū snarled out, her guns primed and her body's aura comically granted her a menacing portrayal of imminent doom for all of them.

"Ooooh, I'm so scared of your pee-shooters! Help me, help me! HAHAHAHAHA!" Karitori insisted, accepting the challenge of being shot at by the infamous pair of Kidō guns. 

"That really wouldn't affect me, you know that right?" Mōka dryly stated, despite the red-head's furious mental state she withheld. 

"I don't think she's bluffing," Shadō murmured to the others as his face dripped with comically nervous sweat, as he slinked back the farthest flank away from the laughing comrades who continued to mock her, "I'd stop if I were you..."

"I'm just glad she asked me to stow away the Executioner, otherwise this would be a problem," Zaii muttered to himself in a knowing tone. 

Yajū just kept chuckling, "Its not like any of us could get hit by her pee shooters. The only ones who could at this point is this guy," shaking the tired Kenja, before nodding to Rika, "and the dame over there."

Kenja sighed, hanging his head at the thought of being shot at so soon, "I'd rather not be dragged into this, actually..."

"Okay..." Shou took in a deep breath, finally steadying himself enough to speak. He stepped forward beside Asuka, raising his hands up in a placating manner. "It's very nice to know that you two seem to be very much in one piece. But," He took a look around, quirking a slight eyebrow as he surveyed the area. "Where's Oliver? He was with you two when we separated."

That was when a familiar voice would cut through the air.

"Where could Ollie be, you say?"

Immediately, Anton shot himself up in alarm, climbing back onto his feet in an instant. As his head spun in the direction of the voice, his eyes fell upon what a shocking sight.

A few ways off from them stood a man in a coat, with the coat's hood covering his head. His eyes and hair were covered within the shadows, but the malicious smile that decked his face would be as clear as day. In one hand, he held a Seelenbracher that rested itself on his shoulder. In the other hand and other shoulder, he had a body slung with the rear end facing the group. For a moment, Anton could've sworn that the voice was a bit off. But there was no mistaking it for anything else.

It was Jamie.

"Why," The man continued speaking, nodding his head to the corpse he was holding. "He's right here, of course! Unfortunately, he seems to be quite deader than a doorknob. But don't worry, because you all will be following him soon enough!" This was followed by a mirthfully insane fit of laughter before he stopped himself. "Now that your particular question is answered, I think I have one of my own for you." He lifted the Seelenbracher off of his shoulder before stabbing the tip into the ground challengingly.

"Who dies first?!"

"How about you?!" Hyōryū snarled, her comically enraged fury transformed into righteous anger, as she aimed the guns and dialed the laser sights to lay upon Jamie's form. 

Everyone seemed to settle into a fighting stance at once, fully alert and very much alarmed. If this man could kill Oliver, someone of renowned infamous fighting power and newly reacquired spiritual power, then he would be someone not to be trifled with. 

However, it was Mōka's deadpan sight that broke the air, as she blankly stared impassively at the figure, "Oliver, please drop the act. That...really was in bad tastes...and that's saying something, coming from you."

That was all that would be needed to break the tension within the atmosphere.

An aggravated groan, familiar and much more positive for the rest of the V-14, would be emitted from the shadows of the man's hood. "Leave it to the fucking half-breed to spoil all my fun." He growled, releasing the hold he had on his Seelenbracher. The newly freed hand grasped the edge of the hood. "Seriously, couldn't you at least pretended to be alarmed and wary?"

The hand promptly pulled it off, exposing the sight of blonde hair and blue eyes that was currently directing a glare of annoyance at Mōka. The sight was enough to make Anton balk a little, prompting him to shift his gaze to the body that he was carrying. "Wait... if you're alive, then..."

"Yep." Taking that as an opportunity to show the body, Oliver knelt downward to heft it off of his shoulder and place it on the ground. There in full view would be his red-haired brother, with his malicious crimson eyes eternally shut in what seemed like an expression of peace. "The Blood Coat is nothing more than Aether's nightmare now. For those of you who weren't here, it turns out that he really wasn't on our side. The assistance he provided during my rescue was nothing more than a side effect of him softening up Aether's defenses for the Inner Circle's ambush. He was acting as an agent of Yashin the whole time."

As Oliver explained, Genesis would slowly pick herself up from the ground in order to look at Jamie's body. She had fallen deathly silent, her palms clasped together in front of her mouth. In a rare occasion, she was showing genuine vulnerability. When Oliver and Allison started to pay attention to Kaitlyn more than her, Jamie had been the one to take up their place. He had been a kind and loving uncle, regardless of the perilous obstacles that had gotten in the way of his and their life. Seeing him dead and lying on the floor as he was tore her up inside. When she blinked, she could feel a few set of tears drip down her face.

"Uncle...?"

"Wait a minute? Jamie was one of Yashin's thugs?!" Shito asked incredulously, causing even Karitori to blink, knowing full well that he was responsible for granting them many mods and upgraded weapons during their time spent in his hideout. 

Now, not only was he a turncoat whom had worked with the enemy all along, but laid dead at their feet. Mixed emotions flew up, and people were wondering exactly why the man had helped them at all, even if it was to further his cause for his employers. 

"Strange," Mōka narrowed her eyes, her gaze drifting to Jamie's deceased body, "though I smell much death from him, I don't sense genuine malicious intent or evil. His soul must have passed on without being grasped by Hell's Will. I wonder why?"

A dark smile came across Oliver's face, and he tilted his head to the side slightly as he heard the inquiry. "And here I thought you would've been around the world and back..." He said sarcastically, grasping the hilt of the Seelenbracher and lifting it so that the tip was poised over the man's chest. "Apparently, you don't know the difference between an evil person..." His grip tightened, and the smile was quick to fall off of his face as he finished the sentence.

"...and an insane one."

Then, he stabbed the blade into the corpse's chest, calling upon the Seelenbracher's powers. Immediately, the body would be ignited with orange flames that swallowed it within a timespan of milliseconds. Those flames spread across the ground, but would not burn any of their feet within the small radius it had expanded within. The time of burning only lasted for several seconds before the flames disappeared, leaving the ashes of a skeleton behind. Oliver pulled the Seelenbracher so that it would be resting on his shoulder once again, shifting his free hand within his pocket as he looked at the group.

"There. I would've buried him when we got back to the surface. But I don't know just how vengeful Aether can be when it comes to people like him. They'll probably keep pursuing him, considering they had been looking for me even after so many years." He let out a little scoff. "At least I can have a little laugh knowing they'll be on a wild fucking goose chase..."

"I...think he would have appreciated sentiment," Shinshin spoke aloud with a tone of respect for the man who passed on. Despite the evil he intended to wreak, he had helped them all in the end. 

"The...bastard should have just shot himself, to save us the trouble," Hyōryū sniffled, holstering her guns as she tried to stifle the tears rising to the surface. Despite him being a serial killer, he wasn't half bad. He gave them sanctuary, helped them get Oliver out of the city in one piece, gave them weapons and mods.

"Well, ladies and gents?" Oliver questioned, after a moment of silence. He placed his free hand on his hip as he looked at the group in general. "I'm sure that all of you've set your charges by now. It's high time that we get the fuck outta here and blow this place to kingdom come." He turned away from the group, beginning what would be a walk towards the exit direction. "I don't know about you all, but I'm just about ready to go on ho--"

However, he would feel a feminine hand grasp his, immediately feeling the jolt of foreign spiritual energy that he had sensed within their former compatriot. His eyes widened slightly, and he looked over his shoulder to see that Genesis had been the one to stop him. Her eyes were overshadowed, hiding any possible expression from him. Her voice, in unusual contrast from the rough and rowdy tone she had used many times before, would be quiet and subdued as she spoke to the rest of the group.

"You guys go on. We'll be there shortly."

"Oh, okay," Mōka nodded with understanding. Turning to the others, she made a commanding gesture towards the exit, "let's go boys! I may survive it, but I'd rather not watch you all get blown to bits when we set these off."

"Oh har-har!" Shito rolled his eyes at the joke of Mōka's deified endurance in comparison to the others. 

Shadō briefly locked eyes with Hyōryū as they saw the look Genesis and Oliver had. Nodding to each other, they left wordlessly, knowing what kind of talk it would be and probably the last time they'd get to speak it to each other.

Before long, all of the V-14 company left, leaving the two alone in the middle of the underworks of the Seireitei.

For the most part, Oliver could only stare in bemused silence. Why had Shou's subordinate suddenly decide to reel him back in from what seemed to be a private talk? They hadn't really talked much, even in their respective time working as colleagues against the Inner Circle. He kept his surprised look as he turned around so that he could look at her fully. "All right, Miss Gangster. What the hell's with--"

"So." Genesis would stop him short, her subdued tone carrying a bit of bitterness as she raised her head up. "How long has it been? A year? Ten? Hundreds? Time seems to really fly by when you aren't allowed to pay attention to it. Good thing that dead souls like us tend to age like wine, even in such a long time, huh?" She spread her arms out in a gesturing motion to herself. "I knew you wouldn't have recognized me right away. After all, I have been ripped apart and put back together so many goddamn times. It's surprising that I still recognize myself, having been shot in the head and left to bleed out in that alleyway and all..."

That was enough to break the annoyed look Oliver was giving her. His eyes widened, and his ears twitched as they picked up the familiarity within her tone and voice. Several years ago, there had been a girl he knew that spoke and acted just like her. He couldn't mistake her for anyone else, despite the radical changes she had gone through in terms of visage. He took a hesitant step forward, finding one of his hands reaching out to her as he spoke her name.

"...Jean?"

What he didn't expect was her fist colliding into his face.

"AGH!"

The man involuntarily dropped the Seelenbracher and let out a sharp yell as he was sent careening into the wall. Genesis would storm towards him as he slid down to a sitting position, her eyes narrowed and her mouth contorted in a fierce snarl. "You've got some nerve calling me that, Dad!" She snapped. "Before, you couldn't even pay a second's worth of attention to me, and now you're acting all overjoyed to see me?!"

"What are you--" Oliver only managed to push himself off the wall before Genesis launched a kick to his knee-cap, causing immense pain to shoot through his leg. He was forced to fall down to one knee, unable to do much against her as she continued to rage at him.

"You and Mom spoiled that bimbo of a sister, treated her as if she was the queen of fucking England!" She followed this up with two vicious haymakers to his face, forcing him to stagger and stumble back. She wouldn't stop there, raining blow upon blow upon him without mercy or restraint. "Sure, you may have met my basic requirements. But hell, whether it was our birthdays, serving dinner, or just helping us build up for our future lives, it was always her that feasted like a sultan, while I had to settle for scraps like a beggar on the fucking street! You gave her everything, and at the same time, it seemed like you never wanted me to exist at all! What in God's name was I to you, huh?!"

One of her boots would find its way to his groin, meeting it with immense force. Naturally, this elicited a much louder scream of pain from him as he fell to his hands and knees. Genesis would back away for the moment, glaring at his form. "I became a party-goer. Went through nearly all of those damn clubs back at the Rukongai, got drunk as Hell, and I even got to get up on stage to do a little pole-dancing now and again." She scoffed, throwing her hands up into the air. "That's the life I had to live just to get some form of attention from anyone, even if it was from guys who only wanted a piece of my ass. I wonder how's that gonna fair on your conscience, knowing you let your daughter become some street-whore?"

"Jean.." Oliver reached his hand out towards her again, a pleading look on his face as he attempted to calm her down. "Come on. You don't understand--"

"The Hell I don't!!"

He would be interrupted by Genesis's furious scream and a boot crashing into his face, nearly crushing it inwards. He crumpled to the ground, clutching it as he felt a few teeth come loose from his mouth. He could still hear Genesis's voice screaming out to him, letting out all of the fury she had kept inside of her for so many years. "A lifetime of neglect from my parents, and what do I get in the end?! A bullet through my goddamn skull, that's what!! But that's not all, kiddies!! I had to suffer an eternity of torture, running from those giant horned things that kept trying to eat me!! I had to keep it together even as those other Daitenshi kept killing me and bringing me back to life, just so they could do it again!! If the Punisher hadn't found me, I would've long lost my mind!! And it was all thanks to some neglectful parents who were too lazy and selfish to tell me what's wrong from what's right!!"

Hyōryū winced at the sight that befell her, from the shadows.

While she had thought about giving the two space, she kne with something juicy was going to go down between father and daughter, it was going down now. Hearing what she said though...made her tear up inside. She could only think one thing, "This girl...she lived my life, once upon a f'ing time. Dammit, Ollie! Why did you do that to her?!

She wasn't alone, however.

Shadō had came to ensure both his female partner, and Shou's subordinate, wouldn't cause any lasting damage to either Oliver or the prior temperamental Daitenshi. Despite the tenuous situation, he knew that she wouldn't cripple or kill Oliver, and would only hit the point of pain of which he could tolerate it and not breach it.

Unaware of the two presences hiding nearby, Genesis reached up to grasp the front of Oliver's shirt and hauled him up so that she could glare into his eyes. "And now, after all the Hell that you've put me through, I get a front row seat to the murder of the only relative who bothered to give a fuck about me!! I got to watch him just burn away into nothing more than ashes, just like that!! The first time I've seen him in years, and you took him away from me!!" She shoved him down onto the ground, her eyes dilated with rage. But now, the first sign of tears could be seen from her eyes.

"Are you happy now, asshole?! Did you get what you wanted?! Because thanks to you, I don't think I have anything left now!!"

Following this was a silence thick with tension. Genesis had to fight back her tears as she glared down at his bowed form. She knew some form of defense or rebuttal would be launched in response to her tirade. But she wasn't going to have any of it. There was no excuse for neglect, leaving her out like she was some mathematical error in an equation. Whatever pathetic excuse he could've had was just waiting to be shot down.

But then, Oliver spoke.

"Neither do I." His voice was hoarse, weakened and weary. He pushed himself up so that he was on his knees, looking up at his daughter. "I wouldn't have killed Jamie if he hadn't felt that death was the only way to repent for what he did. I wouldn't have killed you if I had just manned up and shouldered the burden meant for both of us. But I didn't. It's cost both me and you so much in our lives. If I can't even have something like this... I understand."

"What are you--" Genesis cut herself off when Oliver struggled to stand back up, her body tensing up. He walked slowly towards her, the haunted look in his eyes sending a chill down his spine. "Stay back..." She said, her voice tinted with alarm as she took a few steps back herself. "Stay the fuck back, damn it!! I'm serious!! I'll snap your head right off if you don't--!!"

But before she knew it, he was right in front of her. She shut her eyes, expecting some sort of physical retribution for her aggressive attacks on his person. Beads of sweat were forming down her face as she waited for him to strike her, return all of the pain that she had inflicted on him. But they would open back up when she felt his arms wrap around her in a tight, affectionate hug. She would feel him rest his head on the top of hers, gently nuzzling her hair.

"But it would mean so much to this old man if you did this for me." He said softly, closing his eyes with a solemn and pained expression on his face. "Words just aren't enough to express it, but... I'm sorry for everything I've done to you and everything I didn't do for you. I had so many chances to be a better father to you, and I never took them. But starting now, you will have something to live for as long as I'm breathing. Jean... can you ever forgive me?"

"L-let...!" Genesis weakly struggled in his grip, her eyes shutting tightly. Although she still had anger within her voice, it was rapidly fading away under the genuine misery of his words. She could feel her eyes burning as she struggled to keep the damn from breaking, struggled to keep herself angry at him. "Let me go...!" But it wasn't long before she stopped herself, too emotionally exhausted to keep it up. She fell against him, burying her face within his chest and allowed herself to sob.

"Sssh..." Tears were now falling down Oliver's face as well, but now he held a small smile on his face. He used one hand to gently rake his fingers through her hair to comfort her. "That's right... just let it all go... let it all out, kid..."

Hyōryū grasped a hold of Shadō's shoulder, speaking with a hidden monotone, as her bangs covered her eyes, hiding her expression, "Take me back to the others. I've seen what I wanted to see..."

Shadō nodded wordlessly, grasping her shoulder, before swallowing them both within the shadows and retreating back to Mōka and the others.

It would only take a few more minutes before Genesis allowed herself to calm back down. With a final sniffle, she gently pulled away from him and wordlessly raised her fingers to snap. He would be enveloped in a blaze of blue fire, and all of the injuries that he had suffered at her hands would be healed by the flames. After the last scratch had been healed, the flames would subside. She let out a sheepish chuckle, gesturing towards him. "Can't leave any evidence. Your pals might grill me if they knew I had beaten you up..."

That caused Oliver himself to chuckle a little, walking over to pick the Seelenbracher back up and rest it on his shoulder. "I don't even think they'd care. It's not exactly uncommon for me to get as much punches in the face from them as I do the enemy." He gestured towards his head towards the direction that the rest of them had gone. "C'mon. They must be getting impatient waiting for us." He started to walk away in that direction, with Genesis briefly running to catch up to him and walk beside him.

"Hey, Dad?"

"Hm?"

"Please don't tell Sis I called her a bimbo. I really didn't mean it."


To say that ground zero of an apocalypse looked horrific, would be an understatement.

The battlefield around Senkaku and Mukurō was barely contained to a square mile, as barriers were errected by other parties to keep their battle as enclosed and cut off from the others as possible, to decrease the chances of the war ripping apart the Soul Society's structures any more than it already has.

The air was lukewarm and uncomfortable, as bathing mist of solidifying frozen water particles and steaming fissures of superheated molecules would constantly coalesce within the atmosphere of the ruined landscape. Any ground had become blackened, cracked, glassed, and unearthed during the collision of unnaturally destructive forces. 

Mukurō clashed once more with Senkaku, streaking an immense blaze of white-orange discharge of incinerative energy upon him, while focusing the cutting blade's edge towards the reinforced skin of his enemy. Neither of them have yet to make the defining killing blow, let alone a scathing one. He intended to be the first to implement it!

The opposing weapon would meet Senkaku's as the Arrancar raised it to intercept. In the wake of his swing, a veil of ice was created to counter the surge of superheated energy. It would carry enough force to hurl Mukurō away and enough potency to negate the offending attack. However, it would not last long in the fluctuating temperatures, melting and evaporating within the heat created by the man's Bankai. His Hierro did not keep him from experiencing the brunt of discomfort caused by the unstable environment.

But even as he fought, he had yet to show any signs of discomfort. His eyebrows were furrowed and his eyes were locked on the enemy in an intense notion of concentration. The small frown, ever since the release of his Resurrecion, had not left his face. All in all, he had fallen completely silent aside from the occasional grunts of exertion as he fought against his enemy. As far as he was concerned, there was nothing more to say.

There was no more hoping for an enemy to hold mutual respect for him and his abilities. There was only a burning hatred for the condescending view the Dragon possessed concerning him and his kin, although it didn't show on his face. He hated the fact that Mukurō could hold such a view and be able to get away with it as he was. He despised the fact that the man was able to take the power of his Segunda Etapa and push it back with a simple release. Right now, there was one thing he wanted above all else.

He wanted this man to suffer.

With a boost of his wings, Senkaku threw himself at Mukurō to clash blades with him once again. His attacks were aggressive yet coordinated and precise. He battered away at his opponent's defenses, using his fury as a means to fuel each and every attack he made.

Mukurō used his own armor plus his swordsmanship experience to clash evenly with the Arrancar's fierce blows. Every clash caused super-heated energy to be sifted with sub-zero, hyper-crystalizing force, producing billowing shockwave of lukewarm mist with each weapon collision. Whenever Mukurō would be thrown off guard, he allowed the weapon of his enemy to pass right through him, causing his body to shift into smoke, before re-solidifying upon his counterattack with his powerful blade.

"Ngh--!"

Whenever that happened, Senkaku found himself having to retreat right away in order to avoid getting hit. Mukurō's maneuvers were making it increasingly hard for him to tell whether or not he was about to get a critical blow or not. He had barely avoided getting cut after being caught off-guard so many times, making it next to impossible for him to finish the fight. Now that he had a mouth, he pursed his lips and clenched his teeth as he skidded away.

"Damn it... I can't touch him with that cursed armor on. At this rate, this is going to tip into his favor!"

SHINK!

"Seirō!" Mukurō stabbed the blade into the ground upon punctuating the technique verbally and lowly. Within an instant, fifteen meters of earth glowed underneath Senkaku, before a mighty tower of white fire erupted from it, exploding high into the sky, widening and stretching to the size of a skyscraper, towering within the Soul Society's skies.

For a moment, it looked as if Senkaku was consumed. He hadn't made a move to evade the attack and had instead crouched downwards. His massive wings wrapped around his form as the fire consumed him, and his spiritual pressure billowed outwards in order to keep himself from getting incinerated. At the same time, he was hiding himself within the inferno to keep his enemy from detecting him. Still, the intense heat kept him sweating and making it more difficult to wrack his brain for a solution to the problem.

"Maybe it would be better if I just gave up." He thought to himself, frustration and self-loathing taking over once again. "I've failed to get anywhere or any step closer to defeating this... monster. No matter how high I ascend, he's able to keep up with me every step of the way. I need this to end..."

"You also need to heed to the Primera's wishes. You're not going to accomplish that just by accepting defeat, are you?"

His eyes would snap open at the firm and reprimanding voice of Hermosa within his head. He let out a soft gasp at her words, but she would continue speaking to him. "Just because there are enemies capable of fighting against you doesn't mean that it's okay to lie down and let them take victory, especially at such high stakes! If you want this to end, you'll have to stop relying on brute power and start using your head!"

"But... I've used everything in my arsenal to topple him." Senkaku protested. "Nothing's working!"

He heard a slight scoff in response. "Not everything. I've been using our senses to get a better view of the environment around us while you fended him off. Tell me, what have you noticed about it all?"

"What are you trying to get at, Hermosa?"

"If the two powers created by our Segunda Etapa and his Bankai cancel each other out, then why does the environment around us look so war-torn? The powers haven't nullified each other out. They're still clashing against each other, gaining only brief control of the area before the other side takes over. His power is prevalent... but so is yours. This may be your only opportunity to finish him off."

"How? His smoke tricks are rendering my attacks futile! He'll phase straight through anything I throw at him!"

She would chuckle at his negativity. "It seems to be a rather useful tool to have, I bet. But there's a little something that I picked up over the years. Whenever a gas such as smoke is cooled down, it condenses and turns into a liquid. If your sword passes through him while the ice-type spiritual pressure within you is channeled into it, it should cause a reaction. You do that, and you may just take a major chunk out of him the next time he does it."

"And how do I know he's just going to let me?"

"His tactics have been rather effective through the course of the fight, and they nearly ended up killing you. Somehow, I doubt he's going to just surrender such an advantage at this point. Just keep pushing him to close-quarters. Your time will come, and when it does, don't hesitate to take it."

"...right..."

The end of the conversation would follow with an outwards spread of his wings, blowing away the white flames and allowing them to wither within the fluctuating temperatures. Slowly, he stood back up to glare at Mukurō. "Is that all you are capable of, Shinigami?" He questioned, his voice as cold as the ice he controlled. "I thought I was supposed to be nothing compared to the likes of you, a worthless piece of Hollow scum in need of culling. My head's just waiting to be cut off and mounted on whatever wall you have." Slowly, he approached his enemy and raised his sword threateningly. "But then again, I'm starting to think that you're just not cut out for slaying a "creature of darkness" like me, after all. Go home, little boy, before the Boogeyman eats you."

Mukurō didn't have words to cleverly rebuttal, nor did he act composed. He acted upon instinct and rage.

"RRRRRAAAAH!" With a mighty yell, Mukurō moved as much speed and power as he could muster to close the distance between himself and his prey, swinging his blade overhead with immenese pressure, slewing a fissure of white flames to bear upon his body and cut him in half, and leave his body to be burned to ashes.

This was a window of opportunity that Senkaku would've never expected.

As Mukurō lunged, Senkaku could see the chance Hermosa was hinting at. There was a sudden fluctuation, and he could feel the temperature change to the blistering cold that had made up the power of his release. He pushed his body one step forward once his enemy was close enough, swinging his own blade in parallel with the opposing one. It would carry the ice-type energy within the blade as it flew towards its target. Upon initial visage, it would seem like the blades would simply collide. But the eyes of Senkaku saw otherwise. Although Mukurō's attack was threatening, it did not hold the coordination and timing that he had seen prior to this moment.

Within the eve of their swings, they would move past each other before standing completely still. At first, it didn't seem like there had been a connecting blow from either of them. But then, Senkaku allowed himself to speak once more.

"Run."

That was when a gash, wide as Mukurō's shoulder length and running down past the breast. A mixture of his smoke and blood would spill from the wound, indicating just how critical the injury was. "Run far away from here and don't you dare turn back. Meet Rey Dorado, tell him that the Tercera comes for him next. This is the only act of mercy I'm going to waste on the likes of you... disgusting parasite."

SPLURCH!

"Nnnngh," Mukurō grunted aloud in pain, barely propping himself up from falling to his knees, as a spurt of blood spattered out of his black armor and poured upon the damp ground. Without taking a second thought, he knew that he had been beaten. He could call upon other armors, but now that he had been dealt a critical blow, he had no chance of beating the Tercera at the level he was now.

With a dark chuckle, Mukurō began to sink into his own shadow, speaking in a exiting speech of farewell, "We'll finish this another day, Senkaku Ningensei. Your kind will all meet the same fate as you will, upon my victory of you, Tercera Espada Afilado!"

After he vanished completely, there was nothing but silence.

Slowly, Senkaku closed his eyes and focused on himself. As he reverted back to his orginal form, the instability within the environment ceased to exist. Hermosa would escape from him like a portal, stepping out through his body and hopping onto solid ground. As she did so, he would completely regain his former features prior to the battle's start. He took in a deep breath, tilting his head towards the darkening sky.

"Hermosa."

"Yes, sir?" The female Arrancar turned to face him, her hands folded behind her back as she looked at him.

"As much as I despise that... tick as well as the leeches I fought before him, he made me remember something very important. All this time, I started to forget that there is no such thing as honor or integrity in the likes of combat or war. I'm no longer looking for that one adversary anymore, as I know it doesn't exist... at least, not in this lifetime. From now on, each and every one of the enemy is nothing more than ants meant to be crushed under our heels. I want to see their world burn before their very eyes the same way they burned the face of Hueco Mundo."

"...that..." The contempt and malice within Senkaku's tone was unnerving Hermosa - something that could be shown by the hesitant tone within her own voice as she spoke to him. "...that sounds like a rather malevolent viewpoint to have. Are you sure you'll be okay carrying that belief with you? After all, you were about to call the Segunda out for saying the very same thing."

"Bernabe had the right idea." Senkaku answered simply, sheathing his blade. "He's always had the right idea. That's why that although the enemy regards me as the second strongest Espada, he will always be much stronger than I will." With that being said, he turned to walk away from the combat area and deeper into enemy territory to reinforce their allies. "Come on. We have a tyrant to overthrow."

"R-right..." Hermosa was quick to run to his side and fall in step with him, preparing herself for further battles ahead.


For Daisuke's group, the battle with Asumu had taken a dark turn.

Three of the Lancer's Bankai had all been stolen in one single movement, and were now within the Quincy's disposal whenever he chosed to summon them. They were tired, wounded, and had all just lost three of their strongest powers.

All of this, at the hands of just one Stern Ritter.

"It's unfortunate that you three trained so hard to master these Bankai." Asumu calmly mocked in his ever so resonant tone, holding on of the medallions in his hand and glancing at it idly. "Because if I want to, I can turn them all three against you at once. Do you still think you would last?"

"No way..." Izuru's eye widened with horror. 

"T-This can't be happening," Ikkaku felt sweat accumulate on his bald brow. 

"YOU BASTARD!" Renji snarled out with an understanably humiliated rage within his eyes. Raising his blade towards Asumu demandingly, "stop hiding behind your fancy gadgets and fight us like a man!" 

"What kind of power does this Quincy have? Why are my legs shaking...like when I faced the Monitor within my own Soulscape? This...this isn't like me at all...but...I can't help myself, being terrified by this man!" Daisuke felt himself swallow down a lump of fear as he felt his skin clam up and his breath leave his lungs, as he bore witness to the inevitable defeat just lingering before their eyes. 

Although she was experiencing symptoms similar to her comrades, Lisa didn't dare to admit it. She grasped her Shikai's staff within both of her hands, her shoulders rising and falling with each inhale and exhale she took. Half of her mask was on her face, the other half having been shattered in the midst of combat. Sweat was beading down her face as she glared in defiance at the Quincy. "All of us against one guy, and he's the one that's winning. Would've probably been a lot easier if those idiots hadn't released their Bankai..."

She looked over towards Yachiru, who was standing a few ways off from her. She was holding the bicep of her sword arm, breathing just as heavily as Lisa herself was. Her pink hair had been mussed somewhat, and she sported several cuts and bruises on her own person during the midst of the battle. The most distinct feature was blood trickling down one side of her face due to a particularly brutal head injury. Still, she was being very stubborn about remaining on her feet - something that Lisa silently commended her and berated the men alongside them for.

But even she would be surprised at what Yachiru would do next.

After making sure her sword was stabbed into the ground, Yachiru straightened herself, put on a grin of anticipation... and started laughing mirthfully. Her hands raised themselves, clapping as if applauding the Quincy. It caused the Visored's eyes to widen slightly, but she would remain silent as the young Shinigami spoke up. "Well, that's certainly a dumb question!" She remarked. "There's been the Captains and the other sneaks within the Soul Society that's been turned against us. Three Bankai are nothing compared to what we've been through. Go on and do it, if it makes you more comfortable..."

Asumu glanced over at the girl with pink hair, not changing his stoic expression as he spoke in a dead serious tone. "I've got a better idea."

Without warning, the shadow that Yachiru was casting would suddenly take on a more human form, reaching up with it's long black claws and wrap around her in a nigh unbreakable hold, before slowly dragging her into the darkness from which it came. The same thing began to happen to Lisa as well. "You two just sit calmly and watch. I'd prefer to not end the lives of two kids, females at that."

"!"

Now this was something that surprised both females.

Yachiru let out a yelp and Lisa's eyes widened as they felt the shadows wrap around their bodies. Reflexively, Yachiru grasped onto the ground as she felt herself pushed down to one knee, while Lisa herself would stab her spear into the ground and use it as an anchor. While this kept them from being pulled underground, it effectively immobilized them. Had they been at their maximum, they would have broken out of it.

"Aren't you the gentlemen?" Lisa quipped sarcastically, sweat falling down her face as she kept herself on the surface of the ground.

SHFT-SHINK-SHINK!

"I'd rather you not do that," Shūhei spoke aloud with a dark tone, as he expertly threw his chained scythes to loop around and cut through the earth underneath the shadows, disrupting the hold it had on his two female comrades, before the dual weapons came back to either hand in a crossed manner, "its impolite to force a woman to do something she doesn't want to."

"Well spoken, Shūhei-san," Yumichika spoke with a jovial tone, despite the circumstances of their situation. Running a hand through his forehead, he walked forward, nodding to Shūhei and Daisuke, as he took the lead, walking methodically forward to Asumu's direction, "Lisa-san and Yachiru-san, please cover our flanks. Daisuke-san and Shūhei-san shall lead the offensive while I maneuver myself appropiately."

"If you all wish to die at once..." Asumu said, now in a more annoyed tone. "Then I'll allow it."

With that, he held his hand out towards the group, and from his palm, he unleashed a large, star shaped blast at the group. As it traveled towards them, it grew larger and larger, threatening to engulf them all in it's destructive power.

"Bloom, Ruri'iro Kujaku!" Yumichika spoke aloud as he fully released his Zanpakutō, sending out a dozen tendrils to envelop the star shaped blast within an instant. When it did so, a shockwave of energy was released, before it shifted into a brilliant azure blue sprouting forth a towering, exotic flower that loomed over Asumu. 

"Tenrai Seika," Yumichika spoke aloud the name of his Shikai technique, that thrummed and pulsed with spirit energy that shook the air magnificently. With a sudden twitch of his wrist, several tendrils jettisoned out and thrust towards Asumu, splitting apart at the end to unfurl like flowers. Within an instant, they discharged hundreds of energy barbs that would numb the body with the merest touch, "may you die beautifully!" 

Asumu didn't need to do much for this attack. As beautiful a display as it was, Yumichika's Shikai could be easily countered if one could time their defenses properly, and Asumu had one of the best counters there was.

Narrowing his eyes, Asumu waved his hand out in front of him in a 'wave' motion, and following the path of this wave was a trail of dark blue fire, of which enveloped the energy thorns and roses and burned them away, into possible Reishi for him to use later.

Shūhei moved around to Asumu's flank within that instant, throwing his scythes to hit him from the flanks on either side, all the while using Flash Step consistantly to catch his airborne weapons and throw them to other blindspots. 

This was the same dance as before; Shuhei's tactics were not going to do the group any good against Asumu this time. Each and every time the scythes came near the Quincy, he would simply bat them away with his hands, of which were further augmented by both his Blut and Vollstandig.

Daisuke then thrust himself into action, his body feeling revitalized, upon seeing Yumichika's act of courageous charge to the enemy. With a Flash Step of his own he appeared behind Asumu as he would evade or handle the attacks in any manner he would act upon. Thrusting his palm towards Asumu's backside, he spoke aloud a conjunction of Kidō spells, "Sai-Geki!" 

Within that moment, the transparent web of energy would force Asumu's weapon hands to coil behind him, with Geki reinforcing the barrier and hold him in place. In the worse case scenario, he'd be slowed down long enough for his comrades to land their attacks. 

"Ikkaku, Lisa, Yachiru, Renji, Izuru! Attack him all at once!" Daisuke shouted out. 

Now this was where Asumu was taken by surprise. The annoying Shinigami captured both of his hands as he was fending off Shuhei. Simple, but effective, however he couldn't help but feel shameful that he had let Daisuke pull off such a cheap trick.

He quickly twisted around and round house kicked Daisuke away from him (he had forgotten about his legs), but by that time, the next attack will have commenced.

Upon that line, Yachiru and Lisa would be the first to spearhead the attack.

With a Flash Step, the pink-haired girl moved herself behind Asumu with her sword raised over her head. A smile reminiscent of the one her "father" had worn in times of battle was on her face. Her injuries would do nothing to inhibit her enjoyment of the fight, even if she was on the losing side at the moment. She swung her blade down with the intent of cutting the Quincy into two pieces, and her attack carried a considerable amount of physical force behind it.

The blade slammed right down on his forehead, but his Blut kept it from cutting deep within him. Still though, the force he felt was considerably strong, especially for a little girl. Yachiru's daten file certainly wasn't misread in terms of her own base power. He had to get her off of him, and to do that, he grinded his head towards her, and then bent it down, following up with a powerful head butt to her own forhead.

Likewise, Lisa had re-appeared in front of Asumu in a crouched position. Her Hollow Mask had once again donned itself fully, and her Shikai's spear blade was swung in a motion perpendicular to Yachiru's attack. Underneath the mask, her eyes were narrowed in concentration as she focused her own immense power into the strike.

The next Hollowfied strike came and hit him in the shoulder, and his Blut kept it from being serious as well, but it was here he knew that he had to step up his game. If not, these Shinigami would certainly overwhelm him. Using his Reishi manipulation, Asumu broke the bindings around his wrists and absorbed them, before grabbing Lisa's spear and throwing her back towards the crowd behind him.

"Your efforts are getting more effective." he breathed, turning back around to face them all again. "But they're all for nothing; you will all die soon enough. Your bodies are limited and held with restraint. In this world, my kind are even more dominate in comparison to you all. You don't have a chance."

But it wasn't over yet, even as Daisuke felt his back impact a distant pile of debris, he would cry out to his comrades, "Don't give up! Keep fighting!" 

CRACK-SSSSSSSSSSSSSSHINK!

And fight Renji and Izuru did, as the prior slammed his blade into the ground beneath him, extending it, and then having it pop up underneath Asumu and wrap around him tightly, constricting him with a series of sharp hooks and wired-mesh metal. While the Blut Vene may protect him from its crushing embrace, he'd be unable to use his Blut Arterie in the meantime. His pulsing Spiritual Power rushing through his Shikai would be more than enough to help keep the constriction at its maximum capability. 

Izuru would then follow up and slam his Shikai around the surface of the coiled Shikai blade, making it incredibly heavier, and much more dense, to the point it would drag Asumu into the ground and be covered by the earth as he would flow downwards. 

"NOW!" Izuru spoke aloud as he leaped into the air, aiming an outstretched hand towards Asumu's bound form, "Hadō #61, Rikujōkōrō!

Daisuke also sprang up in quick succession, bringing his blade upwards, before thrusting it forward to move in sync with Izuru's attack, "JIGOKU HASHIRA!

The electrical and fiery forces merged, becoming one immense pillar of destructive power, before slamming towards the bound and buried Stern Ritter, intending to inflict the first sign of severe damage upon his body since the beginning of their one-sided exchange. 

There would be one more attack that would be unleashed towards the Stern Ritter.

From the crowd, a massive Cero erupted from the tip of Lisa's pointed spear. It glowed a brilliant red as it ripped through the space between the crowd she had been thrown in, piercing through the combined attacks of Lisa's compatriots. She was in a crouched position, her narrowed eyes glaring at the focal point of the resulting explosions. Certainly, it was a devastating attack that promised the death of their enemy. But she knew better than to assume, what with all of the tricks he had up his sleeve. She kept on her guard, watching as her Cero melded in with the destruction they were creating.

"Keep your guards up!" She called out to the rest of them. "Be prepared for anything!"

The smoke quickly cleared to reveal Asumu's form, his Vollstandig still activated, but his left arm appeared to be heavily burned, along with some other burns throughout his form. However, he held out his right hand, and several rods with Roman numericals on them. "A nice tactic, I believe you've managed to burn me...but the game has ended."

"Kirchenlied: Sankt Zwinger!" he said aloud, as he and Daisuke alone would be caught within a rather large ward, with four Reishi towers around them, trapping them both within it's grasp. "Now... we can finish this the way we were meant to." he said to the Shinigami. "If you leave this ward, you will be vaporized, and if your comrades attempt to enter, they too will be destroyed."

Even as Renji pulled free what was left of his Shikai, from the earth, he couldn't but feel totally useless. Berift of Bankai, along with Izuru and Ikkaku, all of the compatriots could hear what Asumu spoke of Daisuke being singled out for execution. One of their biggest heavy hitters was cut off from the rest of them. 

What could they do, but wait?!

"Ah, Hell," Daisuke's eyes widened, feeling his hovering form quickly seperated from the outside. In the end, he felt his feet touch the ground gracefully, as he stared death in the face, with his blade held aloft. Never had he met such a determined opponent, wanting to crush him outright. He knew he couldn't beat him outright, but...

Tap!

"Don't worry, Daisuke-san," the voice and presence of his Bankai form's Zanpakutō, manifested next to him, touching his shoulder as he hovered with a confident, cocky smile on his face, contrary to the clam sound coming from his voice, "as long as we stick together, there is no enemy we can't defeat. As long as you remember that, even the tallest beasts will fall into ashes before you."

"Thank you," Daisuke bowed his head, allowing the manifestation to envelop his body, with a brief uttering of the Bankai command phrase, transformed into a coat of bright orange, yellow, and red tongues that flowed around him like silk in the wind. Raising his blood red katana towards Asumu, he spoke the name of his Bankai, "Gyakushū Kyōi Abatā! Asumu Godai," rearing back on his heels, his body projected an immense amount of resolved Spiritual Power, blazing the interior of the enclosed space that had been created, "ready to die?!" 

Asumu's resonant expression didn't change, raising an eyebrow as he spoke. "Shinigami, are you going to attack me over and over until your entire body weakens? Clearly you want to, so tell me...what is it you despise about me so much? Aside from the predictable reasons, such as war, and conflict, or even race, why are you so determined to destroy me? Becauce I did harm to those four Arrancar? Because you are losing this war?"

"Why I fight?! You must be thick-headed to not know why someone like me fights!" Daisuke snarled aloud as he raised his blade towards his designated enemy, "I fight against oppression! I fight against genocide! I fight against tyranny! Right now, you embody everything I despise, and your callousness towards life is marked as disgusting and reproachful in my eyes. You would kill anything if it would benefit your master, and wouldn't care in the least if everything that made this world bright and joyful be smothered by darkness and sickly terror. Prove me wrong, if you believe you're going to make this world a better place when you've finished destroying the last remnants of resistance! We have left!" 

Arrival of the Vanguard, the Endgame Continues

"Are we there yet?"

"No."

"Are we there yet?"

"No."

"Are we there yet--"

"FUCK!"

Casilda promptly banged her forehead against the wall of a nearby house, promptly cutting off Melina and alarming an equally irate Findor. "Why are you following me, Melina?" She snapped, keeping her forehead leaned against the material of the structure. Her eyes were shut, and her mouth was contorted into a scowl. "I think Tierra would have wanted you to stay by her side. You know, because that's what Fraccion are supposed to do for their Espada! She's your direct leader, not me!"

"Yeah..." Melina pouted, folding her arms across her chest and looking at the Primera. "But she's so boring, though. I figured that since we're in the middle of war and all, you'd get the most challenging targets. I mean, there was Aizen, that Rey Dorado guy, and Juhabach. You've been hogging all the fun ever since this war started! I think I'm entitled to some too, Lady!"

"Even in the event that you could get overwhelmed?" Findor's alarm at Casilda's act of attempted self-harm was replaced by exasperation at Melina's presence. "With all due respect, Fraccion Herselia, this is not some walk in the park we're talking about. As long as the Inner Circle and her allies stand, we are at severe risk here!"

A toothy grin crossed Melina's face as she looked over at him. "That's what makes it all the better. Don't you know anything about being an Arrancar?"

"That's it." Casilda muttered, pushing herself off of the wall and continuing to walk. "The moment we're done on our end, I'm strangling Tierra for not keeping a better leash on you. Then I'm gonna beat her to death with her own leg for every second you used to drive me crazy. No, make that millisecond, I want the beating to last for a good, good while before I'm done..."

Their idle talk and walk would be fiercely cut off, as a narrow pair of condensed thin Ceros struck the ground before their feet. It would contain enough explosive yeield to erupt a tall and wide pillar of orange-red energy, followed up with the arrival of a pair of transparent visages that attempted to strike the dazed targets. 

The taller one of the two would strike out towards Casilda intently, swinging a powerful right hook towards her jaw, before swinging a short blade towards her midriff several times, intent on spilling her guts open with powerful and clean cuts. 

The shorter one swung a powerful blade towards the other two, intending to kill them both quickly, using his disorienting transparent form to keep from being seen or countered easily. 

Disturbance!

Abruptly, the trio of Arrancar would turn their attention off of each other. Their eyes widened as they saw the energy beams strike the area in front of them. They were forced to shut their eyes in the brilliance of the attack. But they suppressed the urge to put a hand or arm up in front of their face for further shielding from blindness. That would've left them more open for attack from their assailants.

When the attacks came, they pulled out.

Casilda threw herself to the sky in an enhanced backflip. Her legs would carry her far away from her assailant, turning her completely upside down at zero point. She would easily catch herself, landing in a crouched position with one palm pressed to the ground and one of her knees touching it. She swiftly raised her head up to glare at the one who had dared to attack her.

Likewise, Melina and Findor did not engage their own targets right away. They threw themselves in separate directions, with Findor moving in a front flip and Melina moving in a back flip. Although they didn't display a supernatural effort in their evasive maneuvers, they would roll before landing in respective crouched positions of their own. Their respective swords were drawn quickly from their scabbards and held out to their sides.

"If I don't happen to die on the way..." Casilda muttered, slowly allowing herself to stand up and grasp the hilt of one of her own swords. She slowly drew it out, brandishing it threateningly as she looked at her assailant. "All right. Let's get this over with so I can--"

But upon the moment she saw who she was facing, her look of annoyance was replaced. Her eyes slowly widened, and her voice died within her throat before she could finish speaking. Her stance almost faltered as she regarded her personal enemy, and she could only manage to whisper one word.

"...you..."

The transparency fell, and the pair of assailants were revealed: Tome Kūgun and Hiroi Kyozai. Both held a bit of war scars and bleeding, but all in all, looked capable of holding their own against their chosen prey. The only thing that made things disconcerting, was that their brows were layered with sweat and their eyes shimmered with stress, as their voices came out in hoarse whispers.

"Help...me," Hiroi whispered aloud, as a trembling hand raised his sword over his head, charging a large amount of solar energy into a sphere at the edge of his blade, as he stared with desperation at Findor and Melina, "d-dodge...this!" 

Tome, on the other hand, swung out his blade and fist towards Casilda in a rapid manner, allowing him to speak in sync with his movements, "I can't...control...my body's...movements...Cassie! Tsukishima...got to us...when we tried...to take him and the others...out! You have...to...stop me!"

Upon that statement, Casilda's eyes widened. As she reached out with her senses, she could pick out a slight difference within the spiritual signature of Tome. It was as if the signature of something else was overriding it. There was part of the original still remaining within him, almost as if it was trying to fight whatever control the foreign presence had on it. It was right then and there that she knew this was Tsukishima's doing. The look of desperation within his eyes signaled that much.

It unnerved her to see the rough-and-tumble man she had come to know fall under such a state of mind. But that wouldn't keep her from becoming angry at how he had been made into an unwilling fighter under the Horseman.

"You mean to tell me that you tried to take Tsukishima out on your own?!" She demanded more than asked. Her blade was swung again and again to counter his swipes and punches as she retreated, her feet carrying her backwards against his assault. "No, strike that. You're telling me that you tried to kill him and the enemy's leadership on your own?! Please tell me that you at least had more than Hiroi backing you up!"

Then, in the midst of one of his fist attacks, she used both of her arms to catch the one he had hurled. With a short yell and a twist of her body, she threw him away. The force she put behind the throw would send him flying over the ground like an air glider over the ocean.

On the Fraccion's side, Findor's ears perked up at the words of Tome as he had attacked Casilda. What indignation he felt at them attacking his leader was quick to fade away and replace itself with alarm, which was amplified when he looked at his own enemy. Through the orb of solar energy, he could barely see the man's stressed look as he vainly struggled against the control over his body. The power he was putting behind the attack wasn't something to be trifled with. He switched his gaze to his partner.

"Melina, look--"

But that was when Melina, in an iaido stance, made a move that had temporarily shocked her male comrade.

With a Sonido, she was right in front of him in a crouched position. Her blade was unsheathed and swung in one quick and fluid motion. Her blade sliced through the orb that would have consumed them otherwise, and the small space that separated the two would be taken up by a wall of solar energy. She shut one eye and dug her feet in as the winds pushed against her. But all the meanwhile, she had an anticipating smile on her face.

"Show me a good time, Hiroi-kun!"

"This isn't a game!" Hiroi snarled out with a cross of indignation and fear, as his body broke out into a full charge, swinging his blade within a series of graceful and thoroughly aimed slashes to overwhelm her position, "I will kill you if any of these connect!"

Tome winced at the feeling of being thrown with such force. It wasn't long until his instincts took over and discharged a wave of kinetic force from his backside, earning a thunderclap of cracked air pressure as his body ground to a halt. Raising his forefinger to point towards her position, he discharged a thin stream of white flames towards her, aiming to annihilate her upon impact through detonation of the white-hot flames he had copied and mastered from his fight against the Shiroyasha. 

"It sounded like a good idea at the time!" Tome growled out in frustration as his body waited to see the results of his attack. 

Fortunately for Casilda, she hadn't waited long enough for his attack.

With another Sonido, she had taken to the skies high above their heads. Her body was in the midst of a front-flip, with just as much abnormal acrobatics she had displayed in her first jump. She was a silhouette within the light of the white flames as descended towards the ground. Her body was performing a cannonball flip as she dived down towards her opponent. Just before she collided, she unfolded just as her blade would make its way towards his head. The force delivered behind this particular attack would be monumental, emphasized by her yell as she struck.

The resulting shockwave would be powerful enough to annihilate the surrounding structures, blowing them off of their foundations and sending their remains across the earth. The shockwave would, however, wash over the other three without any adverse or negative effects. As such, Melina was free to continue defending herself against Hiroi. Her strikes were focused in horizontal and diagonal directions, continuously parrying and batting his sword away. She spun and twisted around as she did this, essentially dancing around him as she fought him off. But even throughout the intensity of their fight, she had an anticipating grin on her face.

It was here that Findor got himself together, shaking his head viciously to get him out of the stupor he had went into after seeing former allies attack him. Of course, they were acting against their will. But it didn't mean that he had to stand there and watch as his comrades got attacked. Knowing that Casilda would have no problem going toe-to-toe with Tome, he set his sights on helping his fellow Fraccion. His eyes narrowed, he gritted his teeth, and he threw himself forward.

"Hrah!"

With a yell, he rushed Tome as he was engaging Melina. His own sword was thrust forward to begin his very own attack, intending to overwhelm and disarm his enemy quickly.

Able to hold himself back enough to not muster a full defensive, Tome felt himself struck downwards within the wake of the explosive, kinetic force, driving his back hard into the earth with a uproaring blast of disheveled debris and dirt in his wake. He did everything in his power to suppress himself, knowing it was nothing more than mental puppet strings ordering him to fight. He found it ironic, that he wanted desperately to stop fighting when all he loved to do was to fight the good fight. 

Hiroi, however, was having a bit harder time resisting the tensile control over his body's functions. 

Despite Findor's blade meeting Hiroi's guard, tossing his weapon away, his arms immediately swung out like weapons themselves. Laced with spasm-pulses of electrical Kidō fabric of energy above and through his skin, he began to parry Findor and Melina's blades equally, while using his feet to strike out powerful kicks to send them back with competantly swift and destructive kicks. 

Immediately, Findor and Melina switched their tactics.

While Melina kept countering and parrying from the front, Findor had twisted around to flank and get behind him. They kept up this position in order to fence him in and surround him, pressuring his defenses even moreso than it would have been possible with just one. As they maneuvered and attacked, Findor couldn't help but feel a fascination for the method of defense Hiroi was using against them. One corner of his mouth would curl upwards in a smirk. "An electric field to surround the entirety of the body. The pulses provide enough of a jolt to deflect the blade and not electrocute the holder. He must be holding himself back, as well. This is a perfect opportunity to finish this fight before it can proceed any further."

Time would slow down as Hiroi would turn to Melina for the briefest of moments. Quickly, Findor sheathed his sword and settled into an iaido stance. His eyes peered at the currents running through the body. There were times in where the currents had a gap in between, leaving the body momentarily exposed for attack. He would see this as a small window of opportunity to finish the fight before it got too much out of hand. A precise cut to the spine would paralyze him and render his body immobile, but it would keep him alive.

So he grit his teeth, unsheathed his blade and swung towards the designated point.

Meanwhile, Casilda was seen with Tome in the center of the crater that had been created when she slammed into him. She was straddling his hips, with her free hand gripping his blade wrist tightly. Her sword was poised so that the tip would be impaled into his head if she had to do so. She too had noticed the sudden relent in her opponent's assault. It was a clear sign that he too demonstrated at least some will over the force controlling him. If there was any hope to break him from the spell he was under, it would only be through him.

"Fight it." She had lowered her voice as she spoke to him, her tone firm yet almost a whisper. "You've gotten so far that you're still able to talk with me on your own accord. Even now, you're struggling against the hold he has on you. I know you can fight it!"

"I know that's damned obvious, Cassie! But...I...can't...do this...much longer," Tome growled, his body crackling with slowly building energy, as his muscles instinctively prepared its counterattack. Gritting his teeth, he closed his eyes, trying to halt the speed of time through his perception and just think. 

He could feel the disorienting pulses rushing through his brain, manipulating his motor controls, and trying to sieze a harness over his frontal lobes, constantly trying to break his free will and thoughts. But he could still move his head, if nothing else, as well as train his eyes. If he could only find a way to bring that to his advantage...

Then, it hit him.

With a smile, Tome chuckled as if he found out the most obvious thing to preform to counter this foul spell. 

"Cassie...do me a favor...and reflect the flat side of that blade of yours...just a few inches above my eyes," Tome's eyes trained on the blade pointed at the blade's edge that motioned close to his head itself, nodding it towards his direction, "I got a plan to bypass this damned puppetry..."

Hiroi halted his body long enough so the cutting edge to scathe his spinal column, causing his lower body to feel instantaneously numb and unresponsibe, following a fiery crack of pain going to his upper body. Falling to the ground, he barely held himself up with his forearms, gasping in shock as he kept himself from slipping into unconsciousness, "Without my legs, I cannot fight properly. Its over for me...thank you..."

"Think nothing of it, dear brother..."

Findor, seeing that the threat was effectively neutralized, slung the blood off of the blade before sheathing it within its scabbard. Now that the adrenaline acquired from the duel had worn off, their was simmering loathing towards the one that had performed such a spell on them. It was certainly one of the lowest things that could've been done in the likes of warfare, and he certainly didn't appreciate it happening to one of his closest associates. But he made sure to keep his voice calm and controlled as he spoke to the fading Hiroi.

"Well, that was a disappointment..." Melina's lips contorted into a pouting frown, but she sheathed her own blade and folded her arms across her chest. "Why'd you have to end it so quickly? I was just starting to have fun..."

"He's an ally, Herselia..." Findor was quick to remind her of that, a slightly stern tone within his voice. "Combat may be indeed entertaining, but it doesn't do anyone any good when it comes at the expense of a comrade." He turned his eyes towards Casilda and Tome as the prior lowered the flat blade of her sword a few inches above his eyes. "Be glad that we managed to contain it before it could get too destructive. I can't imagine what would happen in the event that the Lady and Kūgun-san unleashed their full strength against each other in an environment like this..."

Tome's eyes flashed vividly a silver glow, reflecting off of the metallic surface of the blade's reflective surface, directing it back into his own eyes. The affect was useful, as he had acquired the rare ability of casting illusions through eye contact. It was what happened during part way through the battle between him and Aizen, and found a perfect use to preform it upon himself. 

Within an instant, he preformed the illusion that simply erased the existence of Tsukishima's Zanpakutō from his mind, furthering any control it would have upon his body now and within the future.

As quickly as it happened, it was over. His body stopped trembling and regained full control over itself. Letting all tension release from his body, Tome sighed with relief, muttering softly, "Thank Izanami that was over..."

But Casilda had not yet moved. The grip she held on his wrist had not yet been released, even as she pulled the blade away from his eyes. Her voice was quiet as she spoke to him, but from the words she spoke, it was made very clear how she was feeling right now. "What were you thinking?" She asked, a slight scowl on her face as she glowered at him. "Did you really go in there assuming that you were going to win against the likes of Aizen? When he had the Horsemen backing him up? You were lucky to only have escaped with your body intact. Trust me on that... I had a taste of his power myself during my brief visit of Hueco Mundo."

Then, she abruptly released her grasp. But it was just as abruptly that she would clasp Tome's throat. She wasn't choking him, but the pressure she was applying would be enough to reflect the glare she had in her eyes. Although she was clearly angry, there could also be bitterness and concern flashing through her expression as well. "Don't you ever do something that stupid again..." She said, her voice a harsh whisper now. "If you even think of doing any more stunts like that, I'll kill you myself." Quickly, she released her hold on his throat and climbed off of him, dusting herself off as she stood up. She extended a free hand to him for him to take so that she could help him up. "We clear?"

Sighing, Tome could understand what the gravity of the situation was. Having gone calvalier without aid or a plan, he had nearly risked the entire war. If he hadn't mentally chosen to go after Casilda, the casualties may have been astronomical. 

Grasping her hand, he hung his head with an ashamed look on his face, nodding to her as he looked to the side towards Hiroi, "Yeah...we're clear..."

She gave a nod, sheathing her blade as she pulled him up...

...into an embrace.

Because of the height difference, she had to turn her head in order to keep his shoulder from pushing her nose in. The hand she had used to grasp his was moved inward, resulting in him feeling the beating of her heart. She had her free palm resting on his back, keeping him close to her in the hug. It was probably the closest she had gotten to him ever since Aizen's attack on Empresa, as well as one of the few times she would actually allow herself to express any affection towards him. "You don't know how glad I am to see you alive..." She whispered, her eyes closed and an expression of relief on her face. "So... make sure you stay that way, huh? You and Hiroi..." She passed a glance over at Hiroi's unconscious form, watching as Findor silently knelt over to sling the man over his shoulder. Melina stood near him, quietly regarding the two with a...

Wait a minute, was she giving them a dirty look? Casilda couldn't help but blink owlishly for a moment, but it didn't deter the other female Arrancar's expression away.

Tome had relished the feeling with a thankful smile, not feeling any words of his could express his thankfulness or his gratitude. All he had wanted was acknowledgement of his affection to her, or the relationship they possessed. Now, that he recieved it, he felt inclined to keep alive, if nothing cause she had requested it. 

Turning on his heels, however, he gave the unknown Arrancar a glare of his own, raising his right hand to flip her off as he walked towards Hiroi's twitching form, "Hey! Bitch, do you have something to say, say it to my face, kay?!" 

"Oh, I'll say it to your face, all right!" Melina fired right back, using a Sonido to promptly step in front of him. She thrust a finger into his chest to emphasize her words, ignoring the fact that he was much taller than she was. "Who do you think you are, smiling like that just because Cassie-chan got all close to you? I'll have you now that she's quite taken!"

That made Casilda's eyes widen, and she immediately found herself shaking both her hands and her head in a frantic nonverbal gesture for Melina to stop talking. However, the Fraccion either didn't seem to notice or care as she went on her tirade. "That's right. She's already got a boyfriend, and his name's Coyote Fuckmothering Starrk! So you stop those fat, jiggling, googly eyes right this instant, buster!"

"The Ex-Primera with THE Primera? Like that would work," Tome sneered doubtfully at the short Arrancar, making a motion with his hand in a shooing gesture towards her, "why don't you run along and go bother someone else, sweet cheeks, while I fix up my friend here."

"Oh, thank God..."

Casilda almost breathed a sigh of relief as she heard Tome's dismissal. For a moment, she had feared that he would react negatively if she had heard she was possibly harboring feelings towards the former Primera. But if he straight up didn't believe it, she could at least breathe easy for the time being. The last thing she wanted for the guy to attempt to fight the unenthusiastic and lazy Starrk out of jealously or anything like that. It'd be a bit amusing, of course, but the last thing she wanted from anyone was them fighting each other over her, of all people...

Melina gave a huff, her lips contorting into a pout. But she promptly turned and stormed off without another word until she was at the side of Findor. The blonde Arrancar in turn would breathe an audible sigh of relief, realizing that the situation could've been a bit more volatile than it had turned out to be.

Grasping Hiroi by the collar, Tome sent an illusionary pulse through his eyes into the silver haired man's, causing his struggles to cease and his breathing to return to normalcy. Within a matter of seconts, Hiroi administered self-healing Kidō upon his spine, tenuously repairing the sliced nerves back into his spine. 

"Thank goodness...that's over," Hiroi voiced aloud, feeling as if there was no more opposition left.

"Well, we still have a few Dog squadrons still reinforcing areas, as well as those three other Stern Ritters still present in the Soul Society," Tome noted, as he used his Pesquisa to sense the happenings around the Seireitei and respective Rukonagi Districts, "I won't know for certain until the Quincies and Aizen's cohorts are out of commission, but I think we can safely say the Inner Circle has run out of wild cards to play on the table..."

"Were it so easy..." Casilda muttered, shoving her hands into her pockets. She took in a deep breath and exhaled, looking upwards to the sky. "The Inner Circle may have run out of wild cards to play... but it doesn't mean that the ones already on the table are going to be any more easier to deal with." She began to walk forward, motioning to Findor and Melina to follow. "C'mon! We've still got a job to do, and the quicker we get it over with, the quicker we can get out of here."

"Exacta, my Lady." Findor said lightly, giving a slight bow as he made to follow.

"Maybe this time I'll have a longer fight!" Melina said happily, skipping behind Findor while humming a tune.

VMMMMMMM!

"This is-?!" Hiroi's eyes suddenly widened along with Tome's, as they looked upwards. A white garbed individual with a hood over his face, swung his blade out in a crescent motion. Within a series of afterimages, nearly a hundred blades were formed, and then thrust towards the ground at the group's bodies and heads. 

The force the blades sent were great enough, that Tome felt the need to dodge the falling jagged spears, pulling Hiroi with him as the blades moved to hit them and the others with just as much ferocity. 

"Twelve o'clock, incoming!"

That was Findor's yell to his comrade and his leader as he leaped away. Even Melina had stopped herself to look up at the storm of blades approaching them, quickly jumping away with her fellow Fraccion in order to keep herself from meeting a grisly demise. The only one that hadn't moved was Casilda. Although her eyes were widened in surprise as she saw the swords approach her, she didn't make a move to either defend herself or dodge the attacks. All it took was a matter of seconds before the blades converged on her position. There would be nothing seen but the metal that rained down on her.

Findor's eyes widened in shock as he stood back up, his voice instinctively calling out to Casilda. "Lady Casilda!"

However, he would soon find that his call wouldn't be needed. Where the spears had landed directly, they would be shoved off and collapse to the ground. An unharmed Casilda dusted herself off in a nonchalant manner before folding her arms across her chest. Her immensely strong Hierro had once again saved her from an otherwise deadly attack, and thus there was no need to be alarmed as the rest of them had been.

SHFT-Tap!

"Impressive Hierro you have, Primera Selestino," A smooth, confident tone broke out from the man as he stood before the group. A dark skinned face with a visor-like white pair of shades wrapped around his eyes. The Zanpakutō's blade gleamed out under the crackling light, even within the wake of the halted rain of the storm looming overhead.

Tome's eyes widened, as instantly recognized the man and his blade, uttering aloud, "Kaname Tōsen...former Captain of the 9th Division of the Gotei 13?!"

He wouldn't be the only one who would be surprised by the man's appearance.

Findor's eyes would regard the presumed-to-be-dead Captain with shock and a little bit of horror. His eyes had slightly dilated, and he had instinctively taken a step back. This man had been one of the bodyguards that served beside Sōsuke Aizen himself. He had also been a commander in the Winter War, and his authority wasn't exactly the kindest Hollowity had received. Hearing the man speak again sent a vicious shiver down his spine - something he thought he only would have felt in the presence of Baraggan. His hand gripped his blade tightly, fearing the worst.

"So, it turns out that Aizen's personal pet did survive, after all." Casilda would speak to him in a casual drawl, and she lowered her arms back to her sides. "What? Did getting turned into primordial soup the first time not do anything for your brain?"

"Cassie! Careful!" Tome spoke out, refusing to move from his spot, less to encourage the dangerous man to strike. His eyes, carefully analyzing everything about him, could find little other than an obvious fact, "this guy's as strong as us! Don't let your guard down!" 

"Allow me to put you to sleep, Cortez," Kaname spoke with a taunting smile, as he used the masculine name that had previously adorned Casilda's title as Primera. Raising his blade towards her direction, he whispered aloud a subtle command, "Suzumishi Shishiki: Semihimei!

Within a single vibration, all space before Kaname distorted and transition through space with bare moments of elapsing time passing. The sonic force would be so great that it would rupture the most solid defense and tear at the internal organs set before it. Visibly, the noise would be directed into one solitary direction, as if shot through a wide tube at Casilda's direction, ripping apart the cobblestone beneath her feet and rippling the air with hyper-intensity.

Casilda couldn't help but inwardly chuckle at Tome's warning. She could safely assume that his experience with Tsukishima had shaken him up out of whatever cocky attitude he held before this moment. He wouldn't have bothered to act so cautious otherwise. But still, even as the sonic wave came towards her, she gripped one of her own swords and used her own senses to analyze. Sound was an element that didn't have much counters to it due to his nature of inflicting internal damage instead of external. He certainly knew what he was coming into.

Without hesitation, she performed a sidestep to evade the attack. The sonic wave would race past her, barely missing her side as it tore through the air. Her hair and clothing billowed in the intense winds that were created, but her expression didn't falter. Her eyebrows furrowed, and a small scowl was set on her face. She twisted her sword so that the cutting edge would be leveled at her enemy, gripping it with two hands and settling into a kendo stance.

"Okay..."

Then, she moved.

A Sonido was all it took to get to him within a blink of an eye. She unleashed an uppercut swing to his chin, the air rippling and distorting in the power of her strike. Throughout it all, she had a small smirk of anticipation, keeping Tome's words in mind and expecting nothing but the best out of this particular enemy.

"Let's dance!"

Within a whirling blur of white, Kaname moved to the side with a pivoting swing of his body, facing her forward thrusting body perpindicularly to her left. Simultaneously, he swung out towards her empty-handed left hand with a powerful horizontal slash, intending on cutting her mid-riff and kidney open in a single slash. 

"Haien!" Within exodus of the slash, his left hand generated a powerful sphere of violet-white flames, sending it towards her body. The nature of its energies would eat away at her skin and burn her up until she was nothing but ashes. Such was the nature of this particularly lethal, volatile Kidō.

Casilda had enough sense to understand that blocking with her bare hand would've simply resulted in her arm burning up. But evasion at that range would have been pointless, as the flames would've caught her before she would have been able to complete the movement. The only option that assured that she would be safe from harm was to catch the blade with her bare hand - and in order to ensure her safety, she would have to perform a little extra.

She gritted her teeth, summoning a Bala to encoat her hand as the palm collided with Kaname's weapon. A brilliant display of violet and red was created for the audience to see. Findor and Melina were watching with their own varying degrees of wonder, their swords having been sheathed for the moment in favor of letting their leader fight it out against the man.

"The age of legend is gone..."

Findor's voice would surprise Melina, and she turned her eye towards him in confusion and inquiry. He would keep his eyes on the clash as he continued to speak. "During her takeover and rule, Casilda was an unrivaled fighter. There were few who dared to challenge her directly, and those who did ended up suffering either a humiliating defeat or imminent death. But here in this generation, there is Sōsuke Aizen and Yashin Shiyōnin. There is Tome Kūgun. There is Rey Dorado and Rana Zolinder. Many more have arisen up to her level, and no more can she find herself closing her eyes in the middle of battle. After all these years..."

He watched as Casilda shoved the blade away from her person, using enough force to displace Kaname's balance before renewing her assault. Both her body and sword would twist, turn and thrust as it struck at its target with malignant grace.

"There is a chance that she will be able to finally find an equal..."

Without flinching, Kaname allowed himself to move backwards, backpedaling more gracefully than his enemy intended. As his heels skid across the shattered cobblestone, he weaved his arm out to thread out a golden chain of Sajō Sabaku to wrap around the thrusting weapon. As it neared his chest, the chains became fully taut, allowing him to yank with incredible strength to the side, and allow him to execute a powerful kick to her midsection, while simultaneously slashing horizontally towards her throat.

"Oof--!"

Although Casilda bent over at the foot that collided with her stomach, the air hadn't been knocked out of her lungs. She shut one eye out of reflex, but her free hand would swing up to grasp his sword wrist before the blade could scratch her throat. She pushed herself forward, causing the leg pressed against her stomach to bend back to him. With a low kick of her own, she struck his ankle in order to knock him off of his balance once again. Then, she twisted herself around, keeping him within her grip in order to ensure that she would take him with her. With a yell, she hurled him away from her person like a bullet to send him crashing into structures that had not yet fallen in the wake of their earlier battle.

Melina couldn't help but whistle. "Wow. She'd play a mean game of catch..."

The Primera would relax her stance for a brief moment, her smirk growing in size a little. Now, she could tell just from their opening blows that she was dealing with a whole new opponent than the one faced in the Winter War. But it didn't mean that she would allow herself to remain tense as Tome apparently was. She raised her arms outward to her sides, chuckling as she looked over at the spot she had thrown her enemy. Although her words would be nothing more than a simple jeer, the implications behind them would be very clear.

"Test tube experiments like you don't belong on the battlefield!"

Within the excess of the smoke cloud, Kaname could be walking out smoothly in answer to her words. With a spare hand, Kaname's gloved hand dusted off the debris clenching onto his overcoat as he stared in the Primera's direction. 

Though his voice was low, he knew that the Espada Afilado would hear it, as he spoke in retort, "I don't believe you should think of me...as a mere experiment..."

With a tap of his foot, several strings of blue-white electricity raced towards Casilda's direction, surrounding her within a wide eliptical circle of energy. 

In an instant, the blast would erupt around her entirely...

"Hiryū Gekizoku Shinten Raihō!

Unlike Rey's use of the pre-timed Kidō, the energies that would be projected would threaten to engulf her entirely and cook her skin, while frying her body entirely within the incinerative, arcing tower of lightning force. The destructive poise of the technique would only be furthered, as Kaname raised his left hand towards her direction, and rapid-fired nearly a dozen Sōkatsuis into the flames, as he intended to fuel the flames that would threaten to burn her alive. 

Of course, it would have been a pitiful end if Casilda allowed herself to die so early in the fight.

Her eyes widened in surprise as she saw the pillar of lightning surround her. Knowing that she had little time to react, she flipped her blade to an upside-down position and stabbed it into the ground. She concentrated her power into her blade, letting out a grunt as she felt the volatile energies shift around her. But before the first tendril could reach her, she would release the pent-up power within her to create a shockwave that would blow away the energies that threatened to consume her.

As the following Sōkatsui spells were shot towards her direction, she pushed herself off of the ground with her hand still resting on the hilt of her blade. For a brief moment, she would be off of the ground, upside-down and using her sword as a balance. Then, she curled her body and boosted herself into the air, narrowly missed by the Sōkatsui spells. She performed a flip and twist as she spun towards Kaname, gripping her blade in both hands and swinging downwards. A wind shock-wave created by her tremendous physical force would be unleashed towards his position, capable of crushing him like a pancake.

CLANG-VWHOOOSH! 

Within a single connection of steel, a thunderous blast of pressurized air cracked between the two warriors, sparking up a vibrant blast of kinetically charged electricity, and flattened the ground for a good twenty meters, denting it with ease. 

Kaname, however, had withstood the strike with one arm without moving a single foot. 

"Tozanshō," Kaname uttered, his hand swerving out and sending a vibrant flash of light to consume Casilda in an inverted pyramid barrier. Within the barrier's space, a series of Bakudo energies sifted and projected towards Casilda and held her with incredible precision and care: Sai and Geki being roots to those spells. 

Not wasting a single moment, Kaname swung his arm out towards the barrier encaptured Arrancar, as he spoke coldly, "Three Quarter power...Kurohitsugi!

In an instant, a monumentous fortress of black-violet energy would enclose around her space, fully forming up around her to reach nearly half the height of a skyscraper with a wide, ominous gait. Within the space, she would feel it sending shredding forces of unimaginable strength to rip apart at her defenses and threaten to barrage her relentlessly, until she would lose consciousness or die. 

Such were the terms of Kaname's variant of this formidable Kidō.

"!"

A look of alarm crossed Casilda's face when she saw the prism surround her. Her head swiveled every which way, only seeing the blue of the prison Kaname had created for her. If it had been anyone else, this would've been an inescapable fate of doom. However, as realization started to settle in and the Sai-Geki Bakudō combination formed around her body, a smirk once again crawled onto her face. She couldn't help but note the immense amount of control he possessed over his Kidō. She could also take a gander as to what he was attempting to do - finish her off so that he could quickly move on to the rest of them with energy to spare. Even if he was a Reigai, it wasn't as if he had access to unlimited reserves.

But did he really think this would be enough to kill her?

As her body was enveloped from the view of her Fraccion, Findor grit his teeth. He wanted so desperately to intervene and to protect his leader from the imminent doom she was facing. But he also knew that attacking Kaname would only give him more reason to start challenging them. He assumed that both Tome and Hiroi needed time to fully analyze the man's abilities in order to make a difference. Casilda was the essential bait needed. He would just have to allow himself to sit back and watch, hoping that the Primera would free herself from this predicament.

And sure enough, a breakthrough happened.

On the surface of the cubic prison, sparks of crimson electricity started to dance. At first, they were minor and nothing to pay attention to in comparison to the spell itself. But then, they started to increase in number, and it wasn't long before the entire coffin was enveloped in volts of the electricity-like energy. Deep inside, Casilda' power could be felt manifesting, pushing against the walls of the cell in order to break loose. All of it would take only a few seconds.

Then, the inevitable.

The cell of death was enveloped in a spherical explosion of crimson energy, which was massive enough to illuminate the immediate combat area. Both Findor and Melina found themselves shutting their eyes and raising their arms to their face in order to keep themselves from being blinded. The crimson energy would immediately expand and spread outwards, gaining a more misty look. Around them, homes and other structures would be enveloped by the misty energy, pulled right out of their roots and lifted into the air. It would feel like being in the winds of a tornado, with Casilda herself at the center.

Then, with a brilliant flash of light, it was all gone. Each and every structure that was within their proximity had been completely annihilated by Casilda's power, leaving nothing but a barren wasteland and the combatants within. Even pieces of the remains had been vaporized. Casilda's eyes seemed to glow a brilliant red in the darkness as she slowly moved towards Kaname, her sword lowered to her side.

"If that was supposed to kill me..." She said, twirling her blade once before slowly leveling it towards Kaname. "Then I'm going to be very, very disappointed."

"No," Kaname spoke flatly, his body emersing from the smoke to have deployed seven silver rings from his Zanpakutō, as his feet spread out into a particular stance as his blind eyes stared down Casilda's, "I needed to stall you for a moment...Bankai..."

SHINK-WHOOSH!

Within an instant, seven rings swung out and around a wide area of space, encapturing even the likes of Tome, Hiroi, Melina, and Findor, as darkness seeped into the atmosphere, cutting off all sensation and traces of spirit energy senses. They were caught within Kaname's Bankai. 

"Suzumushi Tsuishiki: Enma Kōrogi!" Were the last words that Casilda were to hear before all of her senses were closed and deafened to oblivion as she was held captive by Kaname's Bankai. 

"...oh. This is new."

Reflexively, Casilda's eyes widened as she gazed upon her new surroundings. Reflexively, she took a few steps back. She had researched the abilities of the warriors before the Espada Afilado's rise to power, but she had allowed herself to completely forget about this particular weapon. It was a cage that suppressed the senses, save for touch. She could still feel the cool air permeating within the sphere that Kaname had summoned as well as the movement of her neck when she moved her head around. She was blind, deaf and mute, an essential sitting duck for the enemy to strike her down. The deathly silence that reigned over the area now made the situation all the more tense.

"Cassie, old girl..." She thought to herself. "You're not going to get out of this in one piece..."

SLASH!

"You are confident, Primera. Perhaps too confident, in your abilities," With a defining cut across Casilda's sternum up past her shoulder and through her collarbone, Kaname swiftly moved past his prey with ease, as he monologued to himself, wearing a cold smile upon his face, "no one is exempt to the hold my Bankai has over them. In here, those born in the darkness like myself, can use their fullest abilities against the helpless prey. You, are no exception!" 

SHINK! 

With a pivoting movement towards Primera on the balls of his feet, he thrust his blade towards her right kidney and side, aiming to produce a ghastly impalement of his wepaon upon her body, and deal some real damage to her. 

Pain.

Casilda's body flinched and shuddered briefly when she felt the cold metal cut through her flesh. There was surprise that he had been able to slice through her Hierro like he had and deliver such a vicious blow to her person. The blade had cut deep enough to the point where there was a plentiful blood spill, and she could feel it stain her front as she stumbled forwards. A hiss of breath escaped from her clenched teeth, and she reflexively pressed her hand to the wound. The feeling of the sticky red fluid on her, steadily coming out from the open wound. She hadn't felt a wound go that deep since Aizen had struck her down at Empresa. It was just another demonstration of how powerful this man - no, this creation - was.

But even as she felt the pain, she could hear his voice. Her ears perked up at what she heard.

"Confident... too confident... no one is exempt... my Bankai has... those born in the darkness... no exception..."

For the briefest of moments, she had picked up his voice through whatever means that had been suddenly deployed. A strange feeling could be felt within the injury she had received, as if something was making its way through her. It didn't feel like a poison that had been injected through her system, and she didn't see why he would've needed such anyways when he had such a powerful weapon at his disposal. The more she thought about it, the more it seemed like something unintentional. The sensation was unfamiliar to her, yet recognizable at the same time. In fact, it was possible that she might have just felt it prior to the release of the Bankai...

Then, she felt it. It was faint and nearly untraceable, but she could feel a sudden disturbance approaching from behind.

Ignoring the pain that shot through her torso, she spun around in order to face what she saw as darkness. But in reality, it would be Kaname thrusting his blade towards her kidney and side. But although she managed to react to it, it was too late to actually do anything about it. Before she knew it, she had been delivered yet another ruthless blow courtesy of her enemy. She grit her teeth and hunched over as she felt the cold metal rip through her flesh once more, forcing back a yelp of pain. Her heart was racing faster and faster under the merciless strikes that were being delivered to her person, and she began to wonder if she would actually die here.

But in that very moment, it clicked in her head.

She could hear. She could see the ground and the hand that held the sword embedded within her side. She could taste the cold air on her tongue, sense the enemy in front of her and see his cloaked form standing so confident in front of her. Without hesitation, she reached out with her free hand and clasped onto the side of his shoulder. As she felt his arm, she came to realize that the foreign feeling in her wounds wasn't just something that came randomly. It was residue spiritual pressure exuded from his Zanpakutō that was left within her. She could not help the chuckle that escaped her lips, pained as it was.

"Too confident, hm...?"

With a rough movement of her arm, Casilda would pull him closer to her body. Their heads would be side-by-side as she spoke, almost as if they were leaning on each other. "Throughout my reign of Primera," She breathed. "There was a reason for that. Any enemy that challenged me simply wasn't worth my time, and they either got beaten down too early or beaten just before things could get interesting. But in this current era, it seems like they've started to learn from their mistakes. Now, look at me, leaning on my enemy after getting impaled like a shish kebab. Even if you are nothing more than an artificial being masquerading as a real one, you just may have some promise yet." Her fingers gripped his shoulder tightly.

"Tome's gonna get so mad at me getting messed up like I will. But if this is the game you wanna play, then I think I've got some time to kill. Show me what you're made of, concubine of Aizen!"

Without hesitation, she shoved him away from her person. The blade would rip out of her kidney, and her senses would deafen once again. But this time, she had an anticipating smirk on her face as she readied her blade defensively.

"How?!" Kaname uttered aloud, his blind eyes widened behind his visor, as he felt himself thrown back, totally aghast by this revelation. Throughout his memories, he only ever had one individual find a way to fight through the deafened senses cursed upon the body. Kenpachi Zaraki. 

Gritting his teeth, Kaname backed up a few more steps, realizing the predicament he was in. Bereft of one of his only advantages, he'd have to fight smart, and not let his guard down to counterattack. Despite her working through the deafening silence, he still could surprise her if he moved quickly enough. 

"This doesn't change anything, Primera!" He uttered within the darkness, as he propelled himself with incredible speed towards her, swinging his blade with ferocious force and swift repetition, intending on overwhelming her from all sides while his Bankai still held some hold over her, "I will kill you!" 

"That disturbance again..."

Even as he attacked, Casilda could sense the disturbances a bit better. She still was rendered mostly blind by Kaname, but at the very least, she could partially sense his attacks. She was able to back herself up, quickly retreating from his sword swipes as best as she could. But still, his blade would strike her multiple times as she moved, cutting her with its killing edge. Fortunately, thanks to what she could garner already, she avoided critical wounds. It was obvious that she couldn't keep dodging forever, as the multiple wounds delivered to her would most certainly finish her off. Thankfully, with each and every strike made on her person, her senses became a little bit clearer. So even through the pain she was feeling, Casilda's confidence did not waver.

Then, when the opportunity arose, she took it.

Twisting to avoid a horizontal swipe, she resheathed her blade and settled into an iaido stance. Her eyes were narrowed as she watched him come again. By now her face was bloodied, but it did nothing to hinder her counter-attack. Time slowed down as she waited, standing still in that brief second. To her, it felt like an eternity. Her wounds looked gruesome, and she was completely covered in her own blood. But she still had that narrowed-eye look on her face as he moved in for the kill.

Her blade moved.

The cutting edge would be pulled from its sheath and return the favor, slicing cleanly through his sternum and collar bone. She was awarded with a shower of blood that sprayed from the injury delivered. She spun around and fell back into a retreat, slinging the blood off of her blade and lowering it to her side. "I wonder where you could have gotten your confidence from, hm?" She questioned him, idly twirling her blade and inspecting it. Her breathing had considerably hitched, but the taunt did not leave her tone. "Did you think that just because of your Bankai, you would have an easy victory? That there wouldn't be anyone to effectively counter it as the Kenpachi did?" She swung the blade down at her side once more. "I have hundreds of years worth of combat expertise. I've been preparing solely for the return of Sōsuke, one of the biggest threats that could've come across our lands. Certainly, the replica of a concubine couldn't possibly be able to match that."

"NNNGH!" Kaname barely kept himself from crying out in pain, as he felt a geyser of his own blood erupt from torn tissue, muscle, and narrowly near his lung. The deep gash caused him to stumble back a few steps, but kept a hold of his Bankai, showing that the one slash wasn't fatal nor critical to his being overall. 

A dark chuckle broke through his gasps through the pain, as he raised his face towards her direction, pointedly retorting back, "I am not a replica of a dead Captain, nor am I an effigy. I am Kaname Tōsen! I will not allow you to best me in battle, Primera!"

With a fluid raise of his hand, he swung a curtain of black-violet energy, that wrapped over his face and then descended upon his whole body. Within a powerful thunderous wave of sheer might, the Bankai became shattered, allowing all to see Kaname's true, terrifying form.

Ebbing with a curtain of dark blue Spiritual Power, natural to his Reigai origins, it sifted with black bio-electrical currents that sparked from his skin. A mask with a straight line descending from the forehead spot to the chin, Kaname's Hollowfied state brimmed with intense force and power. He was now prepared to fight Casilda at full power. 

"Are you ready for me now, Casilda Selestino?!" Kaname's Hollowed voice cast an eerily dark tone in the air, as he raised a sword in a declarative manner towards his enemy. 

"Oh, no."

Casilda's eyes widened in a brief display of surprise upon seeing Kaname utilize his Hollow Mask. She took a few steps back, suddenly aware of the situation at hand. She was considerably wounded, and her enemy had seemingly pulled out another wild card she had forgotten about. Kaname had wielded a mask against his former compatriots during the Winter War, and if memory served, he possessed a Resurrecion, as well. She grit her teeth, clenching her sword tightly in one hand as she mentally prepared herself. Unless she wanted to be using her Resurrecion, she had to find a way to end the fight quickly.

Still, she didn't allow herself to be shaken by the turn of events. The smile faded from her face as she spoke back to him. "I'm always ready..." She said lowly, twisting her blade and settling into a defensive stance. She ignored the vicious sting of her wounds even as blood leaked from them, knowing that time wasn't on her side.

Age Before Beauty, A Clash of Titans and Goddesses

"Sir, we've been getting reports that the 43rd's defenses are weakening. Supply lines are being cut off by the enemy as we speak, and the numbers of the Greencoats are lessening."

"Damn it! What are those so-called elites doing? They're costing us both land and money!" - Throughout the intensity of the battles taking place throughout Soul Society, a dozen of Dogs were moving through a particularly war-torn environment. They would have their respective weapons, ranging from Kidō firearms to enhanced melee weapons. They were scavenging the area for enemies, but so far had found nothing but the corpses of both ally and opponent. Although the remains of it were grisly, there was no more sign of chaos within the area. Of course, at the point they were at, there was no point in taking chances.

"We'll have to fall back and reinforce the core areas." What was presumed to be their commander spoke, sweeping the area with his eyes as he spoke to his subordinates. "The last thing I want is for the higher-ups to chew our asses out for someone else's incompete--"

However, he would abruptly stop himself once he saw a figure step out from the shadows.

It was a woman with long, black hair and a suit seemingly made for an acrobatic type. She looked rather beautiful, and her movements seemed both elegant as she approached them. On her look was an expression of serenity and calmness, almost as if she wasn't deterred by the remains of warfare surrounding them. Upon seeing her, one of the subordinates had a smirk on his face. "Well, now. Not the best day for a sight like that to come across, but--"

"Knock that shit off!" The commander was quick to cut him off, quickly leveling his weapon at her. "It's an Arrancar! You know, the things we're ordered to kill?"

The subordinate in question scoffed. "Your point being?" Regardless, he too leveled his weapon at the woman, who stopped just a few feet away.

"All right, sweet-heart..." The commander said, his voice regressing to a colder tone. He raised his rifle towards her head, tightening his finger ever so slightly on the trigger. "Just hold still and we'll make this quick--"

But he would not get to fire that shot.

A sudden pulse shot through his head before he realized what was going on, and his eyes widened in shock. In panic, he attempted to pull the trigger. But already he found that his grip was loosening on his gun. He was losing all feeling within his nervous system, his brain's conscience shutting down. As he fell to the ground, he could see that his comrades were falling in the very same manner. He spared one last look at the woman that had performed the deed. She would whisper one word to him.

"Sleep..."

Then, his eyes closed, and he finally surrendered to the darkness.

For a moment, there was nothing but silence. The woman folded her arms behind her back and made to walk past them, her legs stepping over their unconscious forms. "I'm not a fan of taking lives. I never have been." She said softly. "So I do have to apologize if you were expecting to die today."

"Hold it!" Another squad appeared within the clearing, bearing witness to the sudden collapse of their comrades, and the Arrancar being responsible. They charged and opened fire with various discharges of Kidō armanents, as well as employing their various Fullbring abilities towards the woman in question. 

This time, the woman didn't bother to waste her energy.

On a dime, she spun around and ran straight at the new group. Her legs were carrying her a considerable distance with each and every step that she took - something which was only helped by some of the Fullbringers charging in close to use their abilities against her. Although her reflexes caused her to swerve and sway to avoid potential harm, whatever bullets shot or swords raised against her could do nothing against her Hierro. All she needed to do was get within arm's reach, her eyes narrowed in concentration.

Then, her hands and legs gained a mind of their own. A karate chop struck the neck of one Dog. A kick to the throat ripped the breath right out of another. No matter how fast they moved or how quickly they reacted, they paled in comparison to her. Every limb would connect with its target with frightening accuracy, hitting just the right spot in order to ensure that her victim was knocked into unconsciousness. Sure, it would've been easy to slaughter them outright. But it took tact and skill to remain pacifistic even while she fought. By doing what she did, she was showing a testament to her own skill.

Seconds passed, and the Arrancar landed on the ground in a crouched position. She stood back up, placing a hand on her hip and looking over the fallen bodies with a look of finality. Then, she turned back around and continued to walk. "Seems like I've missed most of the fighting done here." She muttered to herself, sweeping the area with analyzing and watchful eyes. "Hope the civilians were evacuated in time..."

"Should you be so lax, in the middle of war?" A voice echoed behind Nohemi's back, as a grizzled and dark tone cut across her senses. Just, like his attack..

VRRRRRRRRROOOOOOOOAR!!!

A sudden discharge of ungodly superheated flames suddenly wafted forth behind Nohemi, as it grew into the scale of a tidal wave, flowing forth, and turning all matter into ash, as it billowed forth from the extended blade of a man, clothed in white and black. His black mustache and hair flourished, as his eyes glowed an eerily blue tint, as he glared towards her direction. 

Reigai Genryūsai Shigekuni Yamamoto, has arrived on the battlefield.

"From behind!"

Thankfully, the woman's senses hadn't dulled as much as her attitude in combat had made it seem.

Her eyes widened as she heard the voice of the deceased speak to her. But that would be all the surprise her enemy would get.

With a bend of her legs, she boosted herself off of the ground and over the tidal wave of flames. Judging from the tremendous heat that she could feel from their tongues, there was no denying whose flames they were. There was also no denying that out of all the Dogs she had knocked unconscious, she now had a real fight on her hands. The only thing bad about it was that it was going to have quite a lot of collateral damage.

In the end of her backflip, she landed in a bracing position against the ground before lowering herself back up again. She was now standing over her assailant's head, her eyes looking him over. The blue tint within his eyes made it clear that he wasn't the real Yamamoto. Still, he was close as one could get, personality, power and all. She allowed herself to speak down to him, her voice carrying itself clearly to its level.

"Captain-Commander Genryūsai Shigekuni Yamamoto. It's quite the honor, seeing the legendary warrior of the Gotei 13 in person..."

Looking up at Nohemi with a bored gaze, Yamamoto simply huffed in response, "Someone as young as you could dodge me so easily? I guess I underestimated you reflexes..."

Lowering his fiery tongued blade to his side, Yamamoto regarded his enemy with caution and allowed himself to rise up to stand but a mere meter away from her, so that his eyes would meet hers exactly, "Tell me your name, so I may etch it in my mind, as you'll leave this world in ashes, woman."

Slowly, Nohemi closed her eyes and shook her head. "I can't leave this world just yet." She answered calmly, placing a hand to her heart. "I am Nohemi de la Cruz. I understand you might not know me, considering how much time has changed in your absence. But at the very least..."

With that statement, she slid one foot behind her and readied her hands out in front of her in a defensive stance. "I can anticipate a good fight in my near future..." She finished, the ghost of a smile crossing her face.

"We'll see!" Yamamoto growled out, as his body exuded flames itself, as the full brunt of his terrifying Spiritual Power brimmed to the surface. It cracked the air with intensity, set the surrounding landscape on fire, and instantly killed the unconscious Fullbringers whom were spared by the evolved Arrancar. 

Then, Yamamoto struck.

SHFT!

With a thoroughly swift employment of speed, Yamamoto swung his fiery Zanpakutō around the air before him with incredible power and versatility, sending enormously sized fissures of flames with every strike, intending on battering down her defenses and cut through her body. All the while, he kept his left arm back to parry off any attacks sent his way from her direction, intending on keeping just as good of defense as offense when engaging the powerful adversary before himself.

Now, under any normal circumstances, going up against such a destructive Zanpakutō bare-handed would have spelled a millisecond suicide. The flames were hot enough to turn any creature into ash and bones, and even the hardened Hierro of particularly powerful Arrancar was nothing compared to it. But Nohemi wasn't the normal Arrancar. That much would have been seen when she had easily bested a physical god without exerting much effort. For her, barehanded fighting was a commonplace tactic to use due to her nonlethal approach to striking down her enemies. Yamamoto would not find it so easy just because he was the only one between them with a sword.

When he swung his sword, she swung her limbs. Her fists and palms would meet his quick swipes, while her kicks would parry away more stronger ones. She would evade with side-steps and short leaps back if she couldn't defend herself right away. Each and every parry would re-direct his flames to the environment around them, setting everything ablaze. The ground itself would be converted into ash and glass under the power of Yamamoto's Zanpakutō. But the only thing that would remain relatively affected was the target herself, who continued to fight against her enemy even as the heat surrounded her.

Eventually, one of her attacks - specifically, a boot to the guard of his sword - would send him flying away from her with tremendous force. She didn't hesitate to follow after him, performing a tremendous leap in order to catch up with him.

Yamamoto glared at her, even as his body flung across the skyline, the force his form flew cracked and shattered any material below him while defusing the volatile flames that were still alight from his Zanpakutō's earlier flurries. 

As she rapidly closed the distance, Yamamoto subtly jerked his forefingers of his left arm to the side, generating a flash of golden energy. Discharged like bullets, the rods of Rikujōkōrō flew forth with incredible velocity and versatility, as they zoomed out from his fingertips, aiming to pin her in the middle of the air. 

Though this would all be a ruse...

Using Flash Step, he would appear directly overhead of the area she would be avoiding the golden rods of binding force, he swung his Zanpakutō out and bathed the sky above her in a torrent of searing fire, aiming to catch her off guard and bury her in the molten downpour of fiery tongues of incinerative energy. 

It was a subtle move - but it wasn't something that could bypass the observance of a veteran like Nohemi.

Her eyes widened briefly as she saw the six rods of light generated from Yamamoto's power. Abruptly, she stopped herself from going any further and spread her hands out to focus her spiritual pressure. A pulse of it was emitted from her palms, and the potency put behind it was enough to shatter what would have been an imprisoning move. But she did not drop her guard, knowing just how deadly and smart Yamamoto could be when in the midst of combat. She would catch him appearing up above the area, her eyes narrowing as she settled into a stance.

Then, the flames came. They seemed to incinerate the very sky as they raced down towards her, threatening to consume her and the entire area within a fate of immolation. But once they neared her, they would meet a hexagonal shield three times the size of Nohemi's personal bubble. It illuminated and rippled with brilliant light as it met the flames, and she squinted her eyes somewhat as she watched the reaction between the two elements. But she didn't watch for long, bending her legs up and focusing her physical power into this next move.

Once it was clear, she moved.

Her legs would boost herself from the ground with so much power that a small crater would be left. As she jumped, she performed a cannonball that threw itself towards Yamamoto. Once she was near enough, she unfolded and thrust one leg out in a kick so strong, it caused the very air to ripple around her foot.

A brief widening of Yamamoto's eyes emphasized his surprise at her quick timing of defense. However, having studied her attacks during their brief clash, had already devised a potent rebuttal towards her counterattack. 

As she thrust out a kick, so too did the Reigai Head Captain, causing the very air to crackle with intense friction. The air ballooned outwards in a dramatic display of sheer kinetic force, crushing the crisp, glassed landscape below and sending large buffeting winds to shake the foundation of the Soul Society. 

Within the brief connection of legs, Yamamoto thrust his fiery blade towards her head, forcing her to block or evade the destructive weapon, while opening up a swift simultaneous follow-up thrust towards his enemy's chest. The force composed not of just physical energy, but of internal energy, one of which compromised to be one of the most deadliest strikes of his martial artistic plethora of techniques. That was...

"IKKOTSU!" He muttered out, as the dramatic display of destructive force emitting from his being through his contacting knuckles, as he intended on dealing damage of any sort to his durable and skilled enemy. 

In return, Nohemi would display her own skill at both acrobatics and hand-to-hand combat.

She would time her movements right, immediately lifting up her free leg and and maneuvering it in a spinning kick. The blow would connect with Yamamoto's wrist, effectively deflecting the force used against her. She would continue to move, spinning her body around in a pivot until it was directly facing Yamamoto's front. Then, with a burst of Sonido, she would boost that leg in a thrusting kick towards his chest. Not only would it send him flying, but it would also carry enough power to blow a hole within the Captain-Commander's chest. Her eyes were narrowed in concentration, a faint frown made of her lips as she attacked.

WHAM!

Meeting the crossed arms of Yamamoto's, the Reigai Head Captain flew high up into the atmosphere, grimacing at the force he had to absorb from her fast-moving kick. He stopped after reaching a height of nearly five thousand meters, generating a buffeting blast of Spiritual Pressure around himself to halt his ascent, so he may observe his opponent down far below. 

"Her martial artist prowess is considerable, as well as her ability to anticipate movements I make during the thick of battle. Not only that, she relies solely on physical contact for her attacks, making my current strategy repetitive and prolonged. However...she has yet to begin seeing me trying!

Raising his flaming blade towards her direction, and the Soul Society consequently, he generated a powerful surge of Spiritual Energy into the air parallel to his blade. Within the blink of an eye, dozens upon dozens of pink-white spears of volatile energy formed within the skyline, almost creating a blanket of vibrant power, intent on raining down towards her. Even the spears, however, concealed a deadly strategy within them. 

"Senjū Kōten Taihō!" Yamamoto uttered out magnanimously, as he pulled his blade back, and thrust it forth, sending the half a hundred spears of deadly pink energy spears rushing towards her. As they screamed with descending velocity, they had a concealed series of Rikujōkōrō rods concealed by Kyokko veils, making them impossible to detect until upon impact. Within even being close proximity to the spears of Kidō energy would cause the yellow energy to jut into her, restricting her movements, and making it easier for the other homing Kidō projectiles to crash into her. 

Throughout all of this, Yamamoto would use Flash Step to appear below her, on the ground, thrusting his blade into the earth, sending fiery fissures of energy to gather discretionally across their battlefield and be used for a specific purpose for his calling. Unsheathing his blade from the earth, he'd look up, and see his handiwork of the Kidō firepower laid upon her person. 

This time, a corner would be created to his enemy's back.

Nohemi had narrowed her eyes at the oncoming attack, spreading her hands out to meet it head-on. The attack was powerful, and certainly would've annihilated anyone else (even if it was just a Kidō spell). But her skin had long ago adapted to the foundation and bonds that made up the demon arts. All it would take was another pulse wave, and the attack would be blown right out of the sky. She closed her eyes, preparing to focus her power.

But then, she felt the rods.

Her eyes immediately shot open as she felt the rods slam into her. Her movement was no longer free, and her concentration was immediately broken. She looked down in shock at herself, seeing the brilliant yellow of the rods entrap her midsection. As she directed her attention towards the Kidō destructive spell that had yet to come down on her, she immediately realized what had happened. She couldn't help but be impressed at his skillful use of Kidō, knowing that there would be no escaping this one. She shut her eyes just a second before the pink fire rained down upon her position, consuming her within a violent explosion.

For a moment, there was nothing but stillness.

Then, there was Nohemi's voice.

"You're pretty good..."

Within the midst of the smoke, Nohemi's silhouette could be seen within. As it faded away, there could be traces of smoke seen coming from her body as well as light black markings on her skin and clothing to signal burns. But any damage inflicted to her was nothing more than superficial - something emphasized by the body posture she had taken. She folded her arms across her chest, looking down on her enemy with analyzing eyes. "It's been quite a while since I've had an enemy corner me like that. Truly, you are fit to be the Reigai of the legendary Gotei 13 Captain-Commander!"

Taken aback by her light scathing from the immense force he contributed to his Kidō that had reduced much of the Soul Society's surface into a black crater for a good two square kilometers. Her vitality, if nothing else, was simply impressive. 

A rare, impressed and excited smile split across his grizzled, yet young features as his eyes looked into Nohemi's distant ones, "I see you're much tougher than I expected. I know now why you prefer to use your fists rather than a blade. You truly have mastered the arts of using internal and external energy in synchrony. You put my martial artistry to shame, Nohemi de la Cruz."

Raising his blade in a diagonal alignment to his chest, the bright tongues that flowed across the sharp metallic surface, just a bare meter away from his rippling Shikhakushō and white coat.

"What are you? I know by the presence of your Spiritual Pressure to be Hollow in nature, but I've never seen such an Arrancar of...evolved...proportions. If I relied on my eyes alone, I would've mistaken you to be a Plus or a Human. Are you a Vasto Lordes?" Yamamoto spoke with an enamored tone, while retaining his wide grin of anticipation, eager to know what exactly he was facing in front of him.

"You could say that..." Nohemi answered, dusting herself off and blowing away the residue smoke. "I'm a relic from the ancient times of Hueco Mundo, where civilization actually existed. I am one of the few Hollow that have had their masks removed naturally in contrast to the forceful rip of the mask utilized by other Arrancar." She would have floated down to the ground to meet him levelly. But she could sense tremors within the earth - a possible trap that he had set up when she was enveloped within the explosion of Kidō energy. "To call me a Vasto Lorde, however, would not be too far off from the truth."

"Would it be strange to tell you that you're the first Vasto Lorde I've had the opportunity of meeting, let alone crossing blades with?" Yamamoto asked Nohemi rhetorically, raising his blade over his head, surging forth Spiritual Power from it, blazing the air with its growing elongated reach, with the flames becoming hotter and more focused, "let it be known that the flames of Ryūjin Jakka burned the flesh and bones of a Vasto Lorde this day!" 

With a migthy swing towards the hovering frame of Nohemi's, with incredible momentum and speed behind his attack, he widened the flames that extended from his sword and aimed to catch Nohemi by the vibrant and powerful tongues of the infamous and old Zanpakutō. 

Nohemi responded in kind.

Without hesitation, she swung her hand forward and released another hexagonal barrier at her front. The flames, expansive and extremely hot, seemed to incinerate the very air around her. She narrowed her eyes and clenched her teeth a little inside of her mouth as she fended off his flames. However, she continued to remain steadfast. "This battle will escalate very quickly." She thought to herself. "The only good news out of it is that I'll at least have an enemy that will test my skills possibly to their limit. I hope you're fighting just as hard on your end, Casilda..."

As a flicker of blue light glistened from his eyes, Yamamoto chuckled, as he thrust forth his flames forcefully harder into her barrier, "Your defensive shield is truly impressive, Nohemi de la Cruz. But like all foundations, they eventually turn to ash in the wake of such power. Your body is tensing at such force, isn't it? Its why you reflex yourself to defend against my Zanpakutō instead of my Kidō, right? If that's the case..."

Raising a hand up, visibly hidden by the surge of flames covering Nohemi's shield, he harnessed the force from underneath the earth to swiftly gather underneath her, into a column of epic proportions that was fueled by the flames his Zanpakutō had been gathering for some time.

"Jigokurō!" Within an utterance, a deafening upsurge of white-orange-red hot tongues flowered forth from the earth like a volcanic geyser. As it flowed, Yamamoto used a deft Flash Step to escape the expanding flow of flames, soon consuming an entire square kilometer, as it imprisoned and encased her body at its epicneter.

While the force of the flames reached into the heavens, the flames would cause the clouds to breath gouts of fire, rather than lightning, as it soon turned into a violent firestorm that danced around the Soul Society's skies.

But even through this, Nohemi would continue to call out to him.

"You have it wrong..."

Within the midst of the flames that swirled around her was another hexagonal barrier that encircled her and protected her. She had her eyes closed and her head lowered in concentration as she fended off his fires once more. "This shield has enough power to block out the likes of even sound and light." Her voice seemed to echo across the battlefield as it called down to her enemy. "As potent as your flames are... as destructive as you have pushed them to be... they will never be able to bring it down. Such is the power," She slowly lifted a finger to point at Yamamoto's new position, a white orb forming at its tip. "Of a Hollow who has reached the peak of its evolution!"

From that small orb, a massive white beam known as her Cero would be fired at his position. It would blow away the flames near her, and she would break her concentration on her shield in order to unleash it. As potent as it was to start off with, it harbored a much more dangerous trait. It was gathering reishi with it as it moved towards its target, increasing in power and potency with each inch of distance crossed.

Yamamoto's eyes widened to borderline outrage and incredulous disbelief. His Zanpakutō's Shikai was being deflected effortlessly, and the power of which she summoned was of great volume. Such in fact that he felt that he was now fighting with sticks in the face of this ancient, abysmal force of Hollowity. 

Time crawled as he raised a swiftly defusing Zanpakutō towards the blanket of ever-expanding white fissure of the Cero's epicenter. As he did so, Nohemi would notice all flames that were burning or cast across the battlefield around them would suddenly vanish, upon the surprisingly swift utterance from the Reigai's mouth.

"Bankai..."

FSSSSSSSHOOOP! 

Within a mere instant and the flick of a wrist, the entire column of energy that threatened to overwhelm his being was nullified in an instant, disappearing altogether. His blade, no longer fueling an inferno of super-heated flames, was now containing dark embers along its metallic surface, giving it a dark and ominous visage to the naked eye. 

"...Zanka no Tachi," Yamamoto spoke lowly, as his body shimmered from the tall heights he assumed within the sky, before appearing a mere ten meters away on the ground level which Nohemi stood.

Raising the dark blade to bear in her direction, the grizzled warrior spoke with a respective tone of warning to her, "Know that you are the second and only being to see my Bankai. And you shall know why my Zanpakutō is the strongest of all Zanpakutōs in the Soul Society!" 

"Bankai...?"

Nohemi repeated the word quietly, even as she looked eyes onto his Zanpakutō's true form. Now, sweat was visible down her face as she was met with a sudden heat - something that clearly came from his power. It was as if every ounce of moisture within the air had suddenly been wiped clean from the area, leaving only a dryness that could've been produced from the likes of the hottest desert. She knew now that the fight was only going to get tougher from here on out, and the chances of survival had considerably lessened. But still, her anticipation of an excellent fight overrode any possible anxieties she had about her situation. She had successfully forced one of the most legendary warriors out of the Gotei 13 to use his Bankai against her.

If she wanted a chance to experience a good battle since Jinete, now was the time.

"Yes... this is your Zanpakutō's true form, isn't it?" She remarked, bending one of her arms and moving it at a one o'clock angle. Her fingers curled, as if she was holding something. "Then I suppose that there's no more reason to continue fighting so defensively..." There was a brief and bright flash of light, illuminating the area and momentarily blocking Nohemi from Yamamoto's view. Through it, the silhouette of a blade could be seen forming within her hand. It took only a few seconds for her to spawn it completely, and when she did, the flash cleared away. What was held in her hand now was a sword with a blue blade that seemed to glow within the darkened sky.

"A perfect opportunity to see how refreshed I am in the art of swordsmanship." She slowly shifted the sword in front of her in a defensive kendo stance, the blade visibly dividing her face. "I can only hope you don't make me regret this decision..."

Divide and Conquer, Strategies upon Strategies Intertwine

"This is working perfectly," Kyōaku spoke with an ecstatic tone, as he observed the images cycling around their imaging screen. Witnessing the power of his Reigai and Aizen's associate's Stern Ritters was exactly what they needed to turn the tide of the battle back in their favor. Even still, Reigai Yamamoto seemed to have been showing the most force to beckon, and his recent release of Bankai was making him excited to witness it in action, "so...that's what his Bankai looks like? This should be fun to watch."

"The reinforcements may be doing their job right now." Shikyo said, looking at the screen with intense concentration. "But with their new arrivals, exhausted enemy opposition may be given time to recover and push the attack. This momentary advantage won't last long." She rested in her chair, folding her hands in her lap and shifting one leg over the other. "Especially now that they've regained those two troublemakers back to their side."

"Even when trapped in a corner, those bounty hunters are proving to be thorns in my side." Tsukishima said, his voice calm but laced with venom. Slowly, he pulled himself up from his chair and looked to his fellow colleagues. "It's about time we intervened, wouldn't you agree?"

"I wholeheartedly agree..."

An ominous voice inflected within the hallowed, partially ruined halls of their throne room. Within a few moments, Yashin Shiyōnin's own ethreal form appeared before the Four Horsemen, a look of seriousness portraying from his eyes as he locked onto their gazes.

"...but there are forces at work that require your attention than the menial battlefield from which your valued pieces are battling."

"What do you mean, Yashin?" Kyōaku asked, genuinely interested, keen on learning what he meant.

"The current Head Captain, Hana Yūgure, is currently en route towards your HQ. I think she intends on destroying your base of operations in a single attack," Yashin spoke aloud with a grave tone.

"Oh, joy." Suna muttered sarcastically, pushing himself up from his own chair. "They couldn't even stop the likes of a little girl from breaking her way through. Just goes to show how competent pure-blooded mercenaries can be. If there aren't any more problems that need my attention, I'm going to make my way to where she is. Give me her coordinates, and I'll make sure that she doesn't touch this place!"

"Don't worry about a thing, Suna-san. I'll keep things monitored from her-...the Hell?! Security breach?!" Kyōaku spoke with a surprised tone, as he began to type a number of commands on his wrist command controls.

Through his HUD and the floating images cycling in front of the Horsemen, a man bathed in electrical energy blasted into Furuidenshō's cell, swiftly knocking out or killing all of the guards and attendants within the room. When the viewing systems came into focus, they would see none other than Kōsei Shihōin smashing the controls to the machine, as he began to extract Furuidenshō's weary form from his customized prison.

"Suna...are you sure you killed that man?!" Kyōaku spoke with an ghastly tone, as he could hardly believe what he was seeing. But as he reached out with his senses, he could definitely tell that it was none other than the infamous Head of the Shihōin Clan himself.

Needless to say, Suna and the other Horsemen were most certainly shocked.

"I crushed his throat in, shattered every internal organ and bone within his torso!" Suna grit his teeth, both dumbfounded and angry that the Shihōin had somehow survived. He had known something had been up ever since he had "won" the duel against the clan head. "Unless that was some sort of body double, there could have been no possible way he could have survived, and in fighting form nonetheless!" He jerked his head away, taking a few steps from the table and folding his arms across his chest. "I should have known something was up the moment he let down his guard..."

"He must have had some sort of revival spell or medicial properties applied to his person beforehand..." Shikyo commented. "The plan you had explained to us was certainly spoke suicide. He was probably aiming to get struck down for the sake of getting into HQ. Can't say how he managed to escape from wherever his body was supposed to be, but..."

"Horsemen! I need your attention!" A image suddenly brought up to their attention, as they witnessed Kōsei speaking to Furuidenshō, "I found the laboratory where Kōsei Shihōin's body was being examined. It appears that we've been had, I found that his body had been toss aside, and traces of a Reigai formula implanted in his Soul Sleep. Apparently it activates after a certain period of time has elapsed, and had remained indefinitely dormant until then...!" ō

"So that explains why neither Seihai or yourself detected anything irregular with his body's death. Damn that Kaze!" Kyōaku growled at himself, remembering his old professor and superior from his time spent within the Gotei 13, "he must have duplicated a form of Rebirth technique by abusing the reincarnation affect a soul undergoes when they die with a Spiritual body. If he implanted or made a Reigai Mod Soul pill ingested into the subject, it could easily reform the dying spirit into a replicated body, one with all past accumulated abilities and memories intact for the revived to use!

As soon as Kyōaku explained, Kōsei was seen doing something.

As he placed his hands on Furuidenshō's weary shoulders, his body seemed to be embroiled with his maximum Spiritual Power. As sudden as it ignited, it began to sizzle swiftly into a soft flame, before it was Kōsei who needed to be resting on Furuidenshō's shoulders. Now vibrant with Spiritual Power, Furuidenshō's glowing blue eyes locked onto the device monitoring them, and with a single thought, destroyed it within an instance, sizzling it into static at once.

There was a moment of silence. Kōsei, from what had been seen, had revived the Head Captain of old. It was bad enough having one of them active and headed to the base. But now, there was another one right within their HQ. As of now, no one but them stood a chance against the vengeful man. Shikyo in particular closed her eyes and furrowed her eyebrows, understanding that their position was becoming very, very threatened. If anything, they had to bring down these threats right here and now before they got out of hand.

A laugh.

Shikyo's eyes shot open as she heard Suna chuckling. As she spun her head towards him, she would see that he was raising his arms in a come-on motion as he turned to face the static screen. It wasn't long before he converted to full-out laughter. All anger he had for the situation had suddenly vanished when he saw the former Head Captain back on his feet. It was almost as if he took entertainment in seeing one of their greatest threats rise back up again without warning.

"Well played, head of the Shihoin!" Suna remarked, clapping his hands for a brief moment. "At first, I was starting to regret that I didn't destroy his body completely before this could happen. But now that I've seen what he's done, I think this situation is for the better. Now, I don't have to worry about Aizen stealing that particular kill anymore!"

"You plan on fighting him?" Tsukishima inquired, looking at the man inquisitively.

"Unless you have a better suggestion, Tsukishima..." Suna answered readily. "We have two bugs - two big bugs - within our proximity. One of them's headed this way to bring down this whole place, and the other's already inside. You and I both know that there's no one but us that's capable of standing a chance against that kind of power." He popped his knuckles and tilted his neck from side to side. "And I intend to use this opportunity. Yamamoto's top student will be mine to hold above the masses!"

"Well, I hate to break it to you, but you've just got your last third bug to deal with," Seihai spoke with a sigh, as she threw a hand up on her own screen, dragging a display of another incoming threat. 

This one would be irrefutably recognizeable as Byakuya Kuchiki, former Head of the Noble House, Kuchiki Clan. As he walked up the stairs towards the main entrance, squads of Dogs and IC commandos tried to bar his way, but all met a horrifying end. Without seemingly moving his hand a fraction, the soldiers nearest to him would stop in their tracks, before quickly exploding in a spray of gory blood and cleanly slashed body parts, screaming in agony in his wake. 

After the camera angle changed once more, his cold eyes would be caught glaring up ahead, as he ascended towards his old Captains' Meeting Hall, now with the intent of taking the fight to the enemy's leadership. With the display of brutal, nonchalant executions he placed upon the outer guards, it very much looked like he'd reach his goal intact. 

"Well..." A small smile came across Tsukishima's face as he looked at the screen. "Seems like agreement with you is in order, Tekketsu-sensei. I never thought that man would be the first to arrive here. But this seems just as much of an opportunity to destroy an anticipated target as it is for you. I never did return the favor for him killing me, after all..."

"That's the spirit, Tsukishima!" Suna encouraged, smirking as he looked over at Shikyo and Kyōaku. "And I suppose that leaves you with the little brat?"

"I'll deal with her." Shikyo said simply, allowing herself to rise from her own chair. "Out of both me and Kyōaku, he's the one that needs to stay to his post in order for more monitoring. I'll try not to take too long."

"Don't underestimate her, Shikyo. I know her past records well to have fought against the Punisher on a couple of occasions, as well as the entity known as Harbinger. Just hope you keep that in mind, when facing an adversary of such adept ability, cause I know you'll be the one walking away from this conflict," Kyōaku lightly chided, as he swung a half-hearted salute to her and the others with finality, "and to you all the best of luck on your duels. I'll watch with great fun with Aizen-kun," looking over his shoulder at the stoically silent co-conspirator, he called out to him in a taunting manner, "isn't that right, Aizen-kun?"

"You don't need to worry about my view, Kyōaku-san," S</span>ōsuke spoke with a smooth, deep tone as his eyes were closed and didn't bother opening, "I can see everything happening everywhere. It'd be pointless to be constricted to such mundane monitoring systems to keep track of these events, as colorful as they are."

"Tch," Kyōaku wheeled his chair back to face the three comrades of his, crossing his arms as he spoke to them in a serious tone, "win this and we can all clean up this mess our enemies have made. With their leadership and such prominent pawns out of the way, it'd be easy for us to turn the tide that our dear Alliance has assembled. Good luck to you all."

"Right." With an acknowledging nod to the man, Suna motioned with his head to the exit of the room. "C'mon, ladies and gents. It's time that we bring down the elements of their leadership here and now!" With that being said, he turned around and walked in that particular direction. The other three Horsemen were quick to follow him, their respective weapons within their sheaths but ready to brandish at a moment's notice.

The War of Four: To The Victor, Act II

Prodigy vs. Veteran, A Battle of Idealism Part I

It wasn't long before the Horsemen had split up in order to face their respective enemies.

Shikyo would move towards the location where Hana had been detected. Narrowed eyes and a scowl made up the expression on her face as she briskly walked through the corridors. Her staff was readied in one of her hands and balanced on her shoulder, while her free hand was in her pocket. Occasionally, she would sweep the area to see if there was any sign of her enemy. But so far, she had gathered nothing. Still, she had every right to be cautious, considering who she was facing. If Kyōaku had warned her to take the girl seriously, then it certainly was no empty threat she was facing down.

As she reached the exit to the outside, she would be spotted by a surprising and familiar person.

"Mom!"

The cheery voice of Michiko came to her left ear, causing her head to snap abruptly to that direction. Sure enough, the young girl was making her way towards her mother as she spun and twirled around without a care in the world. She would stop once she was close enough, prompting Shikyo to kneel down to her level. "Didn't think I'd run into you here! Whatcha doin'?"

"I should be asking you that." Shikyo chided, making Michiko's smile fade a little. "It's too dangerous for you to be out here at a time like this. Where's Kunō?"

"I was just heading back to her." Michiko answered, folding her hands behind her back. "Had to use the bathroom, and she let me go off on my own since I knew the way." She tilted her head to the side. "How come it's dangerous? Isn't this supposed to be like the Horseman's house or something?"

"Bad guys broke in." Shikyo said darkly, averting her gaze away to the path she was planning on taking. "I suppose Kunō hasn't been made aware of their presence just yet, but I know that's going to change soon enough." She turned her gaze back to the young girl, reaching out to place a hand on a shoulder. "I need you to head back quickly, get to Kunō as fast as you can. Remember what I told you--"

Then, she felt it. A sudden spike of energy that washed over her and sent her senses on the alert. Unintentionally taking Michiko by surprise, she abruptly stood up and readied her staff. Her eyes looked up at the ceiling - or more specifically, the direction of where she had pinpointed the power. As she analyzed it, she clenched her teeth within her mouth and her hands around her staff. This was no simple energy attack building up. This was an attack meant for the destruction of the entire headquarters... and everyone within its walls.

"That crazy bitch!" She hissed, jerking her head back to look over at a subdued Michiko.

"M...mom...?" Michiko began hesitantly, but Shikyo was quick to cut her off.

"Change of plans. Kunō won't mind if I took you back off of her hands so suddenly." Following this statement, she turned around and knelt down. "Come on. I'm going to need you for something."

"Um..." Still taken aback by the sudden change within Shikyo's tone, Michiko was understandably hesitant. But that hesitation would stand no chance against her willingness to obey her mother. "If you insist..." She reached up to climb onto Shikyo's back, wrapping her arms around the neck and legs around the midsection. "But... where are we going now?"

"Just trust me, dear..." Was the only reply she got before the woman took off, this time running towards the location with haste.

Within the sky, a blazing inferno of blue-white fire had gathered to the outstretched palms of clasped wrists. Her Spiritual Power blazed up around her at a much brighter display of power, shaking and crackling the air with intensity, as if she was the epicenter of a micro-scopic star, with the output of energy building up to the surface of her palms. 

Through the finishing preparation of her charging time, she spoke with a resounding tone, "Through the hazy mist of time, I call upon you, seeker of chaos and tranquility! Bound through fates all things that come about come to an end! Burn, Blast, Crack, Obliterate! Hadō X-1," she began forming a massive draconic maw at the edge of her hands, as she almost discharged it upon utterance, "Hayate Ryūjin-!"

Then, she saw an incoming pair of individuals that made her stop her attack. Shikyo Ninaru, one of the Four Horsemen. But what stopped her wasn't the fact that she was approaching her. It was the fact a little, frightened girl was clinging to her, with a frightening resemblence. There was no mistaking it: Shikyo was using her child as a living shield!

"What is the meaning of this, Horseman?! Move aside!" Hana growled out, her aura defusing, but not relenting in the fierce, red-eyed blue-white draconic Kidō, semi-sentient by this point and ready to obliterate all in her sights. 

"So what?" Shikyo's tone was cold and almost reprimanding as she glared down both the Head Captain and stopped herself from running any further. She motioned to the building that she had just came from. "So you can annihilate this place, kill everything inside and be done with it? I always knew you were a brat, Captain-Commander," She said these words with clear mocking even as she kept her tone of voice. "But isn't this a bit much? Do you even realize just who you're sending to their deaths?" She folded her arms across her chest, staring defiantly at her enemy.

"Certainly there are men and women trained and molded to kill those like you. But there are also people who haven't, those who have never seen the chaos of war before. They have never picked up a weapon or stained their hands with the blood of someone else. Men, women... even a few children... they're within this building right now, trapped inside because they fear the slaughter going on out here. But now, you're aiming to kill every single one of them. For what? Because they're working for us? If that's the type of zealous thinking that you took when you acquired your position, then it would be better off if the Horsemen continued to rule over the Soul Society."

"Tch, what would a woman like you would know! Have you even attempted to place yourself in harm's way to protect the lives of those you cared about?! Had you not started this war through treachery, murder, and decepit, then your subordinates and allies wouldn't BE in this mess to begin with!" Hana snarled, as she kept her Kidō gauged, but didn't fire it as she glared only at Shikyo, attempting to keep her eyes from making contact with the child, "and you have the GALL to sway me by bringing your own daughter to still my heart from firing?! To what end, Shikyo?! To make your argument convincing?! Most of your soldiers and subordinates are already dead, and a lot of ours as well! What makes you think your acts are in any way, shape, or form honorable, when you're the one who put them in this position?!"

"They're not." Shikyo said simply, closing her eyes and averting her gaze away for a moment. "I started this circle of death, that is for certain. But the question is... are you going to join that circle, show that you'd rather follow in our footsteps rather than those of your predecessors? Or are you going to understand the weight of doing what you're about to do? It's up to you, Hana. But the consequences will forever be yours to shoulder." She spread her arms out, opening her arms in a welcoming gesture and her eyes so that they could look at the Head Captain once more.

"What will you do?"

Hana didn't say anything, feeling completely manipulated by this woman, not favoring to respond immediately. Lowering her head, her bangs covered her eyes, hiding her emotions, as her hands split apart and pull the concentrated spirit energy back into her body, defusing it properly.

With a sigh, she waved an arm out to the side, "Set the child somewhere safe. If we're going to do this, I prefer not doing it in front of a child..."

A light scoff escaped Shikyo's lips. "There just may be promise for you yet." She directed her attention to the child on her back. "Michiko, get yourself back inside and--"

"No!"

For the first time in front of her enemy, Shikyo's eyes would widen in shock. Had Michiko been standing right beside her, she would have swung that gaze right at her daughter at the sharpness of her tone. It didn't override the sternness she had within her retort. "This isn't a choice! If you don't get out of here now, I can't guarantee that you won't get caught up in this."

"I don't care!" Michiko shrieked, hugging onto Shikyo even more tightly. "It's not... it's not fair! I'm always stuck inside while you're beating up the bad guys! I'm always worrying whether or not you're going to come back safe and sound! Just now, this bad lady was going to kill all of us, kill you! You could die here, and I'd be left by myself..." She shut her eyes and buried her face in Shikyo's shoulder, soaking the cloth over it with her tears. "I don't want to be left alone like that..."

"...you'd also run the risk of seeing me die." Shikyo said quietly, her tone having been effectively subdued by Michiko's outburst. "Are you sure you want to chance it?"

"...I don't want to think about... you getting struck down..." Michiko sniffled. "I... I want to be by your side if it happens. You've looked after me... so I want to look after you... just please, don't make me leave you..."

Shikyo fell into silence, closing her eyes and furrowing her eyebrows. The words spoken had shaken her to a considerable degree, and it disturbed her that her child didn't seem to fear the topic of death enough to not talk about it. She seemed to genuinely want to stay, regardless of the consequences. The conviction and emotion made it virtually impossible to deny her that desire.

"...all right." She allowed herself to relent, gently lowering herself to a crouched position so that Michiko could climb off. "But... you have to keep yourself close to the building. I'll make sure you don't get hurt, okay?"

As she climbed off, Michiko began to wipe her face and continued to sniffle. "Th...thank you..."

After she was done, she quickly ran over to the side and abruptly spun herself around once she reached it. She would see Shikyo snap her fingers, spawning a barrier around the child. The transparent spherical shield would be visible for only a brief moment before it vanished from view, making it look like it wasn't there at all. In turn, her own movement would be restricted inside it. But she didn't seem to mind. In fact, her spirits seemed to brighten as she looked at her mother, cupping her hands around her mouth and emitting a cheer.

"You can do it, Mom! Beat that bad lady up real good!"

Shikyo couldn't help but chuckle lightly at it, amused by the child's expression of spirit. But the smile would fade as she looked up at Hana and readied her staff. "Get down here and brandish your blade!" She commanded, emphasizing this with a fierce crack of the staff on the ground. "If you want to win, you have to want it!"

Tap!

With a light, shimmering movement, Hana found her feet touching the ground. Her Head Captain Haori and hair flourished from the light ripple Shikyo's staff's impact made upon the ground. As she raised her cold, steeled eyes towards Shikyo's direction, she grasped the horizontally aligned Zanpakutō from behind, unsheathing it slowly, before bringing it to bear in a inverted grip stance.

"I'm more than eager to win this battle, Shikyo, without tricks and lies to aid me. I'd feel almost hearstricken I have to kill you in front of your daughter. But then, I'd have to feel sorry for a woman who condoned mass slaughter of many women and children in the act of an unwarranted genocidal force. Robbing my comrades of mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, friends, lovers, husbands, wives...all of them, and more within the last week. No more!"

CRACK-KOOM!

With a mighty stamp, her body ignited in a blazing hot aura of blue-white Spiritual Power, as her eyes glowed with Resolve, as she pointed her blade in her enemy's direction, "I end the bloodshed and slaughter you and your merciless cohorts started, here and now!"

In response, Shikyo lifted her staff over her head and started spinning it around. Her body glowed with her own aura of her spiritual pressure, and powerful shockwaves were being emitted from her body to counteract Hana's spiritual pressure. Out of the corner of her eye, she could Michiko staring in awe at the demonstration of power. She couldn't let herself get distracted her. If Kyōaku's words were serious, then this would be a tough fight to survive.

"Okay..." She gripped her stance in two hands and settled into an offensive stance. Her eyes narrowed in concentration, and every last nerve was set on full alert. For a moment, she didn't allow herself to move from her spot. But that moment would be brief once she called out the rest of her response. "Show me just how much of a woman you are!"

Then, she attacked.

With a Flash Step, she had put herself just above her enemy's head in a heartbeat. With her weapon pulled back behind her, she swung it down upon her enemy with enough force to shatter her enemy's weapon and split the body apart like a watermelon.

Hana swung her body around in a spinning pivot, utilizing a burst of speed to avoid the swift fall of her staff striking where her body was but a moment ago. Stopping to face her opponent the moment of impact, she swung her wakizashi with a swift strike towards Shikyo's exposed side, exuding a mighty blast of Spiritual Power to send a deafening shockwave to cause her opponent to reel sideways, even if it doesn't connect. 

To avoid the strike by itself, all the Horseman had to do was twist herself around in a spin. But to keep the shockwave from pushing her back, she used her spiritual pressure and focused it to the area of contact. It would act as a cushion against the pulse, allowing her to spin without fear of getting knocked down. Within an instant, she was behind Hana's guard, and she would emit a snarl as she made her next move.

"Not good enough!"

Her staff connected with the back of her opponent's head, sending her flying and skidding through the dirt with tremendous force. But she didn't bother wasting time gloating or looking at her handiwork. She exhaled a breath before boosting her legs and leaping herself right after her enemy. As she descended towards her target, she pointed the spear at the chest and thrust forward. Her own physical strength as well as the momentum she carried would have the potential to impale the other woman like a shish kebab.

"Ngh!" Hana found her head throbbing from the clap of exploding air pressure exuding from the painful impact Shikyo's staff made to the back of her head. As her feet skid forward a good ten meters, she could feel her enemy leap off the ground in order to deliver a follow-up, executionary blow. 

Turning around, she reached out, as a curtain of bio-electrical, spirit energy sparked out of her hand as the palm of her hand stopped the force dead in its tracks. Her feet indented into the ground from the amount of lethal momentum she placed into her thrust, further instilling how serious Shikyo was into destroying her. 

With both hands on the spear, her opponent was now defenseless to a counterstrike, as her hand grappled the sharp edge of the blade in order to keep her from maneuvering, as she made her counterattack. 

"RRRRRRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!" Within a single slash, the air seemed to distort and bend, as a great gait of cutting pressure was released along the edge of her blade, intending on obliterating her whole body into an explosion of gore, along with decimating a good swath of landscape behind her. 

At the range they were at, Shikyo knew she wouldn't have the proper time to initiate a proper counter-attack. Her weapon was held in the hands of the enemy, and a Kidō spell would need a bit more time to gather - time that she didn't have. So, with a Flash Step-boosted side-leap, she managed to evade the strike. But in the process, she had to release her hold on her staff and once again relinquish it to the enemy. As she landed a distance away, she let out a huff of annoyance at the fact that her enemy had once again rendered her unarmed.

She raised her arms briefly in a welcoming motion, before bending her arms and legs a little in a preparatory stance. "I'll kill you with my bare hands if I have to." She said, glaring at her enemy with a hardened stare. "Come!"

Flick-CRACK!

With a swing of her hand, Hana disposed of her enemy's spear, striking into a wall not too far from where her daughter was protected by. Flicking her wakizashi around, she dropped it next to her own feet, as she reared both of her hands back in acknowledgement, as she spoke back in rebuttal, "Fine by me!" 

Then, she took off...

SHFT-WHAM-WHAM-WHAM-WHAM-WHAM-WHAM!

Within a single, rapid deployment of Flash Step, she moved in close to Shikyo, thrusting out a palm-heel towards Shikyo's midriff, following up with a series of rapid thrusts and kicks from all four limbs. Her movements weren't consistent, as they'd switch style and her body continued to move in a harmonious chaotic dance aroind her, with each thrust of her body producing deafening blasts of concussive force, proving her mettle as a physical fighter, as well as the grace she retained as a martial artist.

"Eee--!"

Although she was protected, Michiko comically reeled away from the staff in fright before she relaxed, breathing out a relieved sigh and focusing her attention back to the fight. As Hana attacked Shikyo, the young girl folded her hands together as if in prayer. "You can do it, Mom... I believe in you..." She thought, her expression both hopeful and pleading.

Shikyo was surprised at her enemy's actions. She had assumed that Hana would have attacked with a weapon. But instead, she chose to fight barehanded as she was. It seemed that this foe was much more honorable that Hiroi had been. She couldn't help but be a little impressed at how much leverage that was given for the sake of a fair fight, even in the heat of warfare. Her own earlier words echoed within her head.

"Perhaps there may be some promise for you yet."

And so, she began to defend herself. She would meet her enemy blow for blow, blocking and parrying the opposing punches and kicks as quickly and naturally as she could. Occasionally, she would catch her opponent and throw her over her back, only for the enemy to quickly recover and resume the attack. It was expected from the ranks of such elite freelancers, and even more expected from the likes of an experiment.

Eventually, she found herself grappling with her foe and staring her in the eye. "Impressive, for a child soldier..." She remarked. "It's a pity you were brought to such a level only through experimentation, a tool to be used for the sake of the Gotei 13. You would have been better as one of us..."

"Shut your mouth, murderous bitch!" Hana growled out, her eyes glaring heatedly at Shikyo for the choice of words. Maneuvering her hands slightly to her advantage, she continued with a guttural snarl towards her, "I am no one's experiment! I am the destined heir and leader of the Gotei 13, Head Captain! This is my purpose..."

"Shunkō!"

KRAK-KOOM! Within a bright flash of light, her body electrified and increased in strength immensely, swiveling Shikyo's grappling arms so that her body would be thrown head over heels. Her left side would meet her foot, as she snap kicked with incredible force up before double-tapping her exposed abdoment with concussive-breaking force, as she finished verbally, "...and you talk too much!"

Now this was certainly something Shikyo had forgotten about.

Her eyes would widen as her body was pulled into the air. But they would regress into closure once she felt the foot collide into her ribcage. The first blow was bad enough, sending an immense amount of pain throughout her bones and lungs. But the second would be enough to shatter the left ribcage completely, and she couldn't help the strangled yell of pain from her mouth. She tumbled through the air before crashing unceremoniously to the ground. To be punched in the face was one thing. To be kicked in the ribcage was another thing entirely - especially when the use of Shunkō was being utilized against her flesh.

Still, it didn't stop her from getting back up onto her feet. She scowled, but walked back to her staff within the ground nonetheless. "Then why don't you shut me up?" She fired right back, yanking it from the spot where her enemy had embedded it and readying it defensively. "Prove your right to wield the mantle of Captain-Commander here and now!" Then, she stabbed one end into the ground and threw herself forward. The friction between the tip and the ground would be enough to cause the tip to ignite like a torch. Once this happened, she spun the staff so that both ends would be ignited. They would be fueled by her own spiritual energy channeled into the staff.

Once she was close, she renewed the attack. Her staff flipped and twirled every which way as she aggressively moved against her foe.

Each impact had vibrant cracks of light and distortions of air pressure in her wake, as Hana used her arms and feet to block and parry the blows of Shikyo's spear with deft grace and force respectively. Her eyes focused and kept tracking the movements with incredible visual analytical reaction timing, and swift dexterous prowess. The dozens of blows would hammer the surface around her, but not land a meaningful blow. 

She made an opening ducked under a horizontal swipe, uppercutting the handle with enough force to careen it into a forceful vertical aligned stance, leaving her midsection exposed. As she stepped forth, she slid her forward heel to go in between Shikyo's legs and meet her other heel, keeping her from using a Flash Step to evade, and make a limb-thrust counter ill-advised. 

Hana swung her retracted arm towards her chest, gutturally roaring out, "'Shunk'ō Kaoru!"

The force from which her Shunkō enraptured fist would make impact wouldn't be formed out of crushing concussive power, but more out of a violent discharge of electrical properties. They'd induce waves of pain and strike at the sensory nodes along her nervous system, intending on disabling them from the spasms of pain she'd be inflicted with, and stun her into submission.

It'd be the perfect maneuver to open up for an executionary blow afterwards.

This time, no escape could be seen.

Hana's fist would collide with Shikyo's chest head-on, and the pulse waves would be released from the opposing limb. Although the Horseman visibly flinched from the attack, there was no grunt of pain or yell as with the blow to her ribs. She stood still for a minute, hunched over as if the blow had momentarily incapacitated her. But that notion would be thrown out the window when she raised herself back up, regarding Hana with the smallest of smirks on her face.

Then, her hand abruptly latched itself around Hana's throat. As her palm met the Shunkō, Hana would feel the very energy that made it up start to turn against her. It would start to attack her, threatening to rip her apart from the inside out. This would be emphasized by the abrupt and unpredictable sparks of energy that kept emitting from the fluctuating shield. Both of these feats showed an immense amount of energy control - a testament to her position as the 4th Horseman.

Slowly, the hand around Hana's throat began to constrict. But it wasn't just aiming to strangle her to death. With her physical strength applied, she was aiming to slowly crush and break her neck. A brief chuckle, carrying all the pleasure of a sadist, would escape her lips as she did so.

"Is...is that..." Hana's eyes briefly lit up with a fiery intensity as they opened, past the pain of her neck being squeezed tightly, "all you...got?!" 

Clamp-CRACK!

Grabbing Shikyo's extended wrist with both hands tightly, she swung up with all her might to knee-kick the relaxed and extended elbow, using an enormous amount of force in order to break the hold as well as aim to break the woman's arm at that point. 

"Quite the stubborn one..."

Although Shikyo was a little taken aback by the fact that Hana could still speak coherently, she wasn't unaware of the retaliatory attack. But because her other hand was full, she would have to rely on her Kidō skills in order to defend herself. She was quite ready this time; when the knee met its endpoint, it would not connect with the bone of the elbow. Rather, it would meet the repelling shield of a Seki, which would throw the leg back to its former position. Shikyo would follow that up with a choke-slam into the ground, breaking the earth underneath and creating a print of Hana's body within the small crater made.

But she knew that Hana, having fought opponents that would have been out of the league of anyone else, would not go down so easily. She would have to apply every measure she had at her disposal to ensure that her foe would breath her last breaths. So, as she kept a firm grip on her opponent's neck, she leaned over to peer into the young woman's eyes. "Oh, that would be a far too easy exit, Captain-Commander..." She answered smoothly. "Clearly..."

Then, she activated a Tsuzuri Raiden spell.

"...you haven't suffered enough yet!"

The electricity would travel from Shikyo's palm to Hana's body like a current running through a wire. Brilliant flashes and violent sparks would emphasize the transformation process to the outside if her target's violent shaking didn't. This would not only damage tissues and organs like a lightning strike would. It would burn through Hana's body, mind and even soul as it moved through each and every system that it could.

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!" Hana screamed out as her body convulsed and spasmed with intensity, feeling her whole body ignite with pain from being electrocuted with such fierce, unbridled maliciousness. But even through the failed knee kick, she was glad that Shikyo hadn't caught on to her subtle gesture, and the sudden movement. 

The movement of a blade piercing the air like the dead of night, coiled in the shape of a full moon, and moving with such speed that it might've seemed that it had been thrown by hand. The Zanpakutō, Shingetsu, expanded indefinitely upon mental command to cut into Shikyo's back and cleave her body in perfect vertical line. 

"A disturbance!"

The faint whistling of the sword moving through the air alerted Shikyo to it. Her eyes widened, and she reflexively twisted her staff so that she would bat the blade away before it could reach her. In doing so, she had to stop her concentration on the current and release her grip on Hana. After she parried the attack, she leaped away from her fallen enemy and landed back into a defensive stance. "Mental control of her Zanpakutō." She thought to herself. "I'll have to keep an eye out for that particular trait..."

With a deft forward flip, Hana grasped her Zanpakutō, and landed gracefully on the ground, a few meters opposite of the crater, and the direction Shikyo flew to. As she turned, an emerald aura wrapped around her, swiftly healing her injuries, superificial and critical, as she cast a stare indignation towards her opponent. 

Spinning her ring blade rythmically, she began to expand the size of her blade subtly with every rotation, as she began to walk smoothly back towards Shikyo, as her eyes cast an eery gleam of controlled anger. Her emerald aura would shift to a pale white one, as it cracked the ground underneath her feet and express her rage she felt towards her enemy. 

"You're going to wish you didn't do that, Shikyo!" Hana snarled, as she swung her blade, now a good ten meters in diameter, carving through the air with immense momentum and dexterous poise, as it moved to strike its target with even more force than before. 

"Ngh--!"

When Shikyo raised her staff to block the oncoming blows, she hadn't expected the increase of strenght put behind the attack. She shut one eye and grit her teeth, skidding back a little as the metal crashed into the wood of her staff. It didn't help that the blade had extended beyond its normal size, allowing for long-range combat. She could keep up a proper defense, but at this range, counter-attack was impossible.

Unless...

She side-stepped a downward vertical strike, waiting until the blade made contact with the ground in order to make her move. A simple hop brought her feet on the back of the blade like a trapeze artist on a wire, giving her a path straight to her enemy. Without hesitation, she threw herself at her target once more with immense speed. The power put behind the thrust of her staff caused the wind to ripple and become visible around the tip, making it look like a comet was headed towards Hana instead of an actual person.

As Shikyo charged, Hana's eyes didn't bat once, even in the wake of incredible force being produced by the superhuman momentum carrying forth. As the blade pierced her chest, it looked as if she had let go of her Zanpakutō with resignation. Within the thunderous crash, however, Hana's signature of life would disappear as the ground upheaved within an immense pillar of dirt and flames, ignited by the super friction induced into the ground upon impact. 

However, all Shikyo would find jutting around her spear would be Hana's Head Captain's Haori, fluttering in tatters from the connection that had been formed. 

"You fell for my trap," Hana whispered within place where her Zanpakutō had formerly gashed the place where Shikyo side-stepped. But her Zanpakutō would not be within her hands, but rather, spinning rapidly around her, glowing blue-white and moving at such speeds that any contact would be ill-advised. 

CLAP!

"Taíbakugō!" Hana proclaimed aloud, causing the Zanpakutō to expand and begin to discharge blazing white energy in its wake. As Hana leaped up into the sky, it expanded to the size of a city block within a second, as white-hot lunar energy burst forth and coiled around Shikyo, blazing at her body within the epicenter while forcing it upon her as if she was the center of gravity and the blazing sphere was her prison.

"Christ!!"

Shikyo's eyes widened in shock as she saw the blade expanded to an extraordinary length within such a short time. Such a move made her consider the possibility that her Zanpakutō might have been released this entire time. But the speed of extension had caught her off-guard completely, and as she dodged, she could felt the tip rip into her chest. Pain tore through her body as deep as the cut was, and she instinctively stumbled back against the force generated by the swing. But her troubles weren't over, emphasized by the orb of lunar energy that imprisoned her person.

But this was an attack she was familiar, thanks to Hiroi.

Without hesitation, she started spinning and flipping her staff around. She used a combination of energy control and her own physical strength in order to fend off the fate of incineration. With each and every movement, her chest wound's pain increased. But she was fighting it, stubborn to survive and kill her enemy. Unlike Hiroi's attack, however, the energy would not be repelled. Instead, it was taken into her influence and pulled in to her control. Soon, the heat from the energy began to lessen until it was no more.

"Useless!" She snarled, thrusting her staff forward at Hana's location. Within an instant, all of that energy that had imprisoned her had dissipated and converged around Hana instead to recreate the same fate she had nearly gone into.

Hana didn't bother to try and fend off the blast of energy. Having anticipated the compression of energy into her weapon, she knew now that her enemy was skilled within energy manipulation, having already experienced firsthand through the thorough electrocuting shock she endured at her hands. 

The prison wouldn't hold her for even a considerable fraction of time. Within a aura of Nenshō flames, Hana blasted through the forward side of the bright lunar dome, speeing forth like a vehement meteor of harnessed rage, before thrusting a fist directly impacting Shikyo's gut, and releasing an immense force directly after.

"Ikotsu!"

"HUAGH--"

To her credit, Shikyo didn't get hurled away under the force of the attack. But when the fist connected with her stomach, it felt like all of her organs had been crushed simultaneously. Once again, she staggered back from her enemy. But this time, she had dropped her staff and had fallen to one knee. A mess of blood spewed forth from her mouth, spilling the ground and staining her hands. She breathed heavily, her hair having fallen over her face as she knelt before the Captain-Commander.

At this, Michiko's eyes widened in horror. She pressed her hands against the transparent barrier, her voice calling out. "M...mom?!"

With an oustretched hand, her Zanpakutō compressed to its normal shape and size, slipping into her right hand's grasp. Trying to not focus on the horrified child's face, and upon the woman who had every intention of killing her, she resolved to make the finishing move. 

"Join the abyss, Shikyo!" Hana snarled out, as she swung her ring blade down with incredible force, aiming to slice her in a clean vertical half, from her left shoulderline from the rest of her body. 

Time slowed down for the Horseman and the child within the barrier.

Michiko could see it all. She could see the ring blade fall down towards its target with the intent to bifurcate. She could see her mother kneeling before her enemy and waiting for the finishing blow. Her small hands pressed against the barrier, with tears threatening to fall out of her eyes. She shut them, opening her mouth and screaming her desperation.

"NO!"

It was that shout that seemingly pulled Shikyo back to the present.

One of her hands would reach up and clash with the ring blade, stopping it within its tracks. Her body's muscles tensed under the immense force put behind the attack. But she would remain firm, keeping the blade within her grip. She raised her head up slightly, revealing an eye while the other was still hidden behind her bangs. There would be one other characteristic that had not clearly shown itself throughout the battle.

A smile.

"How long has it been... since I've been in this position?" She whispered, although it was unknown whether she was talking to Hana or herself. "Lying in a puddle of my own blood, with my enemy about to kill me. He was the first to ever do so... and, thanks to my relent, you are the second." Slowly, she pushed herself up while pushing against Hana's blade. She took the opportunity to look into her enemy's eyes.

"Ruthless, cold-blooded and indiscriminate." She continued to speak, her tone directed to Hana this time. She walked forward, subsequently forcing Hana to walk backward in her advance. As she continued to walk, she used her free hand to place a hand on her own breast. "I never thought I would have regarded a child like you in such a manner..."

She slid that free hand's fingers across her chest until she reached the shoulder. In its wake was a white glow underneath her clothing, bright enough to make it look like she was a living light. The cut across her chest as well as the internal injuries inflicted by the punch would slowly heal until there was nothing left but the stains of blood on her clothing.

"...but we seem to have more than common than we both were willing to believe."

Promptly, she shoved the weapon and its wielder back, although she only used light force to do so. She turned around, calmly walking back to her pole. "Born as simple children, pulled in by forces of domination and made into weapons of mass destruction. We would do anything for the sake of achieving our goals, even if it means using unsavory means to meet that end. Not letting something so petty as morality and legality get in the way, not caring if it costs a few lives or several..." She reached over and picked up her staff before turning to face Hana.

"Yes. You shall make a worthy successor when I'm gone, Hana Yūgure..."

As Shikyo spoke when she stopped her ring blade, her eyes widened with surprise, further grimacing when she noted how precisely and intricately her enemy's wounds were being healed. As she spoke though, Hana's grip tightened on the ring blade, and her face bowed forward, causing her bangs to hide her eyes. 

"You're wrong," Hana spoke lowly, her eyes raising to show an unyielding stare of passion and conviction, as she turned her ring up and around, so she would be within the center of its inner space, before spinning it rapidly, "I don't fight to succeed you. A woman, broken and fueled by zeal to sacrifice all your comrades and all sense of justice to impose your world view upon the world, and crush those not of your path. You...YOU ARE NO BETTER THAN THE HANKAMI WERE!" 

Clapping her hands, the ring began to glow pure white light, covering her body all at once as an immense column of her own Spiritual Power began to rise and strengthen her body immensely.

When her eyes met Shikyo's, they would be blazing blue with Resolve, as she spoke the word...

"Bankai...!

KRAK-KOOM!

Within an enormous explosion of Spiritual Power and light, Hana's being emerged from the column of light transformed. With a glowing white halo spinning over her head, Hana now appeared to be spinning a much smaller chakram around her extended right forefinger. Her upper facial features was bathed in a violet veil of light, giving her a much more divine visage to her now white irises. A black cloak, sparkling of white stars, and a rugged short-sleeved Shikhakushō, with a kama skirt covering her black-lined leggings.

Shingetsu Nisshoku!" Hana declared, continuously spinning her small ring blade, as she continued speaking, "there is only one person of whom I will be worthy of being called a successor to that legacy. His legacy, handed down by Genryūsai Shigekuni Yamamoto, in order to protect the legacy of the family that is the Soul Society and the World of the Living. You'd dare feign maternal love for your child, when you've yet to begin to know what the word love and family means! To me, killing you, is the same as protecting my family from a murderous, wretched woman who'd intend to see them all die in the wayside!" 

A brief sneer crossed Shikyo's face, even as she saw Hana's Bankai released. "To succeed Yamamoto, you say?" She fired back. "What's the difference between him and I, child? Do you realize how many genocides he advocated while he was the Captain-Commander? Have you even begun to think of how many immoral experiments he had conducted, just for the sake of "protecting the legacy of Soul Society and the Material World"? So many innocent people suffered under him, or rather, his desire to turn his attention away from them. Criminals were free to take over territories that should have been under the law of the Soul Society, free to destroy the lives of those seeking peace. Even now, you have the scum of criminal bounty hunters and mercenaries working along beside you just for the sake of self-preservation."

With a brief raise of her staff, she swung it. Within the period of time that it was swung, it transformed into the katana known as her Shikai. She held it horizontally in front of her, one hand holding the back of the blade while the other stayed on the handle. "I'm not sacrificing anything, Hana." She said vehemently, a bit of her own conviction beginning to show within her controlled tone. "They chose to fight and die for the sake of what they believed in, chose to wage war against the tyrannical regime that is the Gotei 13. When you say that you're succeeding him, you're saying you would continue his practice of neglecting the people, the citizens who've had to be born poor and hungry. You would mark them as scientist target practice and exterminate them just for the sake of "maintaining balance"."

Slowly, she lowered her blade and glowered disdainfully at Hana. "But all of that's fine, right?" She questioned with nothing but mock and vicious jabs of Hana's goal. "As long as you keep looking away from your victims, denying responsibility and telling yourself that it's all for the sake of "protecting your family", none of it is wrong. After all," She subtly tilted her head to the side to indicate Michiko. "You seem to be doing a good job of ignoring the one that will be most affected by my death, aren't you?"

"You FOOL!" Hana shouted, her body shimmering out of view, now astronomically faster than it was before. As she rushed past Shikyo, having slashed at her exposed sides within a blurring motion with a dozen manifested ring blades that slipped out of the folds of her sparkling coat's sleeves. 

As she slid on her feet to turn around, she now had ten large ring blades rotating in and around her body, as she looked back vehemently, "I am not speaking of the ill deeds of a dark era that has come to past. I am speaking of a man who sought to bring back justice and order within a world strife within darkness. One who fought tooth and nail to keep all from falling into the abyss. Furuidenshō Shin'nen is not one of barbaric methods to use a disease to instill chaos and culling within the Soul Society, just like how you forced your subordinate, Angelika Hartmann, in order to instill such a horrid burden!"

All of the rings unleashed would meet Shikyo's blade. Her arms and wrists moved themselves automatically, allowing her sword to deflect and parry the oncoming projectiles. Within that second, she had protected herself from the barrage with her sword held in a kendo stance. But she soon dropped that stance, slowly turning herself around to face Hana once more.

"And just like how he chose to kill his own Captains, right?" She taunted. "Just like how he mindlessly destroyed former homes simply because they were under enemy control? And just like how he advocates the legalization of a criminal terrorist organization as notorious as the Inner Circle. Face it, Hana." She gripped her sword in two hands, holding it in an offensive stance. "You and your precious Soul Society have already fallen!"

Then, she threw herself at Hana to renew her attack. Her eyes were set with malice, and she could no longer hide the feral smile that had threatened her countenance. This time, there would be no holding back. One would destroy the other, and one would live on to rewrite history. Who survived would be the deciding factor of how history would progress.

This was a battle between life and death.

When Olympus Quakes, A Battle of Zeals! Part I

"Just a little further..."

While his colleague was battling it out with Hana, Suna was preparing himself to do the very same thing against Furui.

Briskly, he was walking from the Horseman's meeting room and down a path reverse of Furui's. After calculating the speed and path determined, he concluded that the halfway point at which they would meet would be within a spot preluding a particularly massive area. A smirk was on his face as he came closer to the designated area, anticipating the fight ahead of him.

It didn't take him long to reach the area. He pushed open the doors and stepped out to a balcony hovering not too far from the ground. Below was a massive area lined with red carpet for any visitors coming through. It was a simple area, not possessing much security traits and acting as foreshadowing for the next area they would come through. He folded his arms across his chest as he moved to the edge of the balcony to look over the area and wait.

Fortunately, he didn't have to wait long. His target was walking straight through the entrance. Swiftly, he turned his back on it and allowed his voice to address the man.

"Well, well, well. If it isn't another visitor from the dear old Alliance! First we get those two bounty hunters, and now we've got the new Captain-Commander, the old Captain-Commander and Byakuya Fucking Kuchiki himself! If I knew we were gonna get so many fans, I would've made a bigger red carpet for all of you to walk on!"

But the esteemed Head Captain had no intention of being hospitable. 

VMMMMMMMMMM!

"I'm sorry, I didn't hear the idle chatter spewing from your mouth," Furuidenshō spoke lowly as he approached Suna, his body suddenly projecting a wrathful aura of Spiritual Power around him, bending the light to dim with the exception of his body. As if he was the center of a man-sized nova, he marched towards Suna without any sign of slowing down, as his eyes fixated a glare at him, "I'll acknowledge what your tongue flaps if its intelligent, but otherwise, please do me a favor and shut up!" 

If anything, Suna seemed amused by the rather rude comment by his enemy. He unfolded his arms and slowly turned towards Furui, his eyebrow lifting in inquiry. "You wanna hear something intelligent, huh? All right, then." He raised one of his hands and snapped his fingers. "If you want some advice..."

What Furui would promptly run into was a transparent, flat and rectangular barrier that extended to the ceiling, effectively barring further entry. "I think you should calm down before you go any further." He continued, lowering his hand and leaning against the balcony edge. "You'll have your fight, Captain-Commander. But the last thing both of us wants is a repeat of the first time you got wasted by Aizen."

He tilted his head to the side. "What? Did you think that the security wasn't stronger the closer you got to our area of operations? It's perfectly designed to counter entities like you, Furui. I could turn 'em on and have you vaporized within an instant, and we've had plenty of chances to do that. So if you don't want your journey to end, I'm gonna let you take this minute to recompose yourself."

Furuidenshō bowed his head as Suna spoke, his hair covering his eyes as he visibly stilled upon hearing his words. Without batting an eye, Furuidenshō raised his hand and slapped the barrier.

CRAAAAAACK-FZZZZZZT!

What happened next was a visible light show and a thundrous clap that shook the room. The physical contact to the barrier caused it to fold in on itself, before dispersing into light particles. The entire room cracked, producing a dozen fissures, showing just how much physical strength was released from one backhand gesture. 

"You misunderstand your position, Suna Tekketsu," Furuidenshō spoke lowly, his face raising to meet Suna's eyes once more, his eyes shifting to a sinister red glint as his body continued to radiate a Killing Intent into the atmosphre as potent as his Spiritual Pressure, "you're just the warm-up. When I'm finished with you, I'll finish Aizen and Yhwach off, just like they should have been."

"...or you could just slap the barrier and nearly take the building down with you. Not like that was very expensive or anything like that..."

Despite his inner thoughts, Suna only allowed his smile to fade into a small frown. His eyebrows furrowed as he looked at his enemy, analyzing him. From the looks of things, it was clear that there would be no room for talk, at least in a lull of combat. All this man was interested in was the deaths of his arch-enemies, nothing more.

But then again, that was a good thing for him.

Slowly, that frown twisted back into an amused smirk as he heard Furui's dismissive words. He turned himself back around to face the entry point in whence he came. "That so? In that case, I hope to be a very good warm-up for you when you face the two of them again. The second Horseman officially bids you welcome." He walked away, his visage disappearing from view as he walked to the next area. But his voice would continue to echo to Furui.

"Come on, Captain-Commander. Come on in!"

The next area would be a perfect area for combat. It was a Japanese garden, with grass covering the entirety of the ground. There were trees scattered across and lined up against the walls of the place, while the covered and decorated ceiling made it seem like the moon was shining over the area. A constant and slight wind would blow, keeping a slight chill to emphasize the feeling of the night. As he reached a far enough away spot, Suna turned back around to face his approaching enemy.

As Furuidenshō walked into the tranquil environment, he felt as if it was a disgusting shield from the war that loomed just beyond the walls. The sounds of warfare and smell of death was closed off, using whatever technology to keep themselves cut off from the madness occurring proximate to this area.

Within this moment, a second figure appeared, right next to Suna's side. 

"Suna-san, are you alright?!" Seihai asked aloud, a look of worry crossing her face, as she stood upright to observe him. Though, that attention was immediately halted, as her eyes widened at the slowly walking form of Furuidenshō. Though his aura had calmed, it was clear from the Killing Intent emanating from his being that he was wrath incarnate, and he was here to kill the 2nd Horseman, "S-Suna...its...the Head...Captain...!"

Suna smirked at the notice. "Anything else you'd like to share with me, Captain Obvious? I've never been better, but thanks for asking." He folded his arms across his chest, looking over at the other man with anticipation. "How's it, Furui? This particular area was meant solely for relaxation purposes, built by good old Kyōaku himself. It operates in a sort of infinite loop concerning distance as well as recovery, meaning that not only it's endless, but it can also recover from any collateral damage we're gonna commit once we get going. I do hope you like it, because from here, it's just a few hallways from the main area."

To be honest, he was inwardly confused at why Seihai seemed so apprehensive. Wasn't this the same feeling she had experienced in the fight with Kōsei? He personally had nothing to fear. The killing intent that hit them both was like a breath of fresh, clean and crisp air to his lungs. It only told him of a promising fight that would give him the run of a lifetime. Chopping off this man's head would be a most challenging goal, but he would set himself to it like plastered brick within a wall.

"She has a right to be afraid," Furuidenshō spoke aloud, ignoring Suna's rhetoric of their current atmosphere for their inevitable battle to take place. He halted, allowing his Spiritual Pressure to quake the ground and the air, as his aura crackled to life with vibrant light and bio-electric fury, "I am the one who killed Ultharon. My Zanpakutō has the power to turn this whole building into ash in an instant. It took the Quincy King and Sōsuke Aizen to beat me. Do you honestly think you stand a chance against me, Horseman?"

A dark chuckle escaped Suna's lips. He spread his arms out to seemingly embrace the energy that was radiating off of his enemy. Although his hair and cape was billowing violently, he was not moving an inch against the tremendous spiritual pressure. His voice would be loud and clear over the roar of the winds and the rumbling of the ground. "Oh, I stand more of a chance, Commander. It isn't because of something so simple as power or might, either. It's because you, like Yamamoto before you, chose to embrace the monster inside of you instead of suppressing it. You allowed it to grow, just like Ultharon, Aizen and Ywhach did, until it couldn't possibly grow any more. That was what made you so different from the rest of your cronies, not the extent of your power."

When he reached to grasp the handles of his twin katanas, he began to delve into his own spiritual pressure. Slowly but surely, his own body began to glow with a bright aura, white in color and potent in pressure. That aura would grow to clash with Furui's head on, causing sparks of electricity to form at points of collision. In the illumination, Suna's eyes and mouth seemed to glow - a rather frightening effect when considering the feral smile on his face. "You didn't come here for the sake of justice, Furui. You came here solely to kill, crush and destroy your enemies until there's nothing left. What better enemy is there to have..."

With a quick pull, he removed both swords from his sheath and held them over his head.

"...than yourself?!"

Then, he swung those swords downward to his sides.

The energy he had been building up was unleashed upon the environment, causing a brief warping effect. All colors would be wiped away from the vision of the other two, momentarily replaced by red in conjunction with the warp effect. In that brief moment, one could see the entire area being reduced to nothing but ashes and dust. But as he had said, the area regenerated itself within a matter of seconds. The illumination of the aura would clear, but the aura itself would not. Thus, a constant clashing of powers was created by the two combatants.

Every muscle was screaming for action, and every blood vessel within his body was pumping blood at a superhuman rate. Adrenaline ruled his form, and the vicious glee on his face couldn't have been clearer. There would be no more restraint within his words as he called out to the Head Captain, fully ready to begin.

"COME ON!"

Seihai had to leap back from the release of such immense pressures, raising a barrier to shield herself from the inevitable explosive waves that would be released from their attacks. Furrowing her brows, she knew she must study the previously incarcerated Head Captain's strategies and abilities, so she may pass them on to others, should Suna fail. But she knew all too well, if anyone could defeat Furuidenshō Kakkotaru Shin'nen, it would be Suna Tekketsu!

"May your blood swell upon the coming storm," Furuidenshō spoke lowly, as he reached to grasp his Zanpakutō, unsheathing it slowly as his eyes never once diverted from Suna's, "rampage through the dead of night, crush all living things and turn it into dust, leave not an inch of soil unturned. I breathe life into you..."

SHINK!

"...Shinigami Daikama!" Furuidenshō snarled out, as his blade fully unveiled from its scabbard prison, but discharge a mighty aura of a black cloaked entity before him. The wraith's eyes glowed, holding a massive scythe as it charged forth, intending to swing a the large ethreal weapon in hand, and cleave away not at his defenses and flesh, but at his very essence and life force.

It was like staring into the face of a freight train. Seeing what had the very visage of death race towards him sent a chill down Suna's spine. But he raised his swords in preparation to counter, bracing his body for the inevitable collision. He wouldn't have to worry about Seihai getting in the way of the fight; she had plenty of chances to flee before the battle's start, but knew how to defend herself against the destruction of the battle.

When the scythe collided with the blades, it resulted in a sword lock. Suna grunted as he felt the aura of the wraith, blistering cold and exuding malevolence. He could practically feel his spirit trying to leave him in the face of the attack unleashed. But the sensations that washed over him did nothing to hinder his counter attack. Tensing his muscles, he briefly allowed the wraith to push against him and the scythe's blade to reach his form little by little.

Then, he swung.

Both of his blades moved out of their cross position in outward swings, generating enough power to rip apart the entity and blow away the essence that made it up. He did not stop there, spinning himself around on a pivot and pointing his twin katanas so that they would be parallel with one another. During the 180-degree part of his turn, he stabbed both blades into the ground and dragged them along as he moved. This would seem like a pointless action, at first. But within that instant, the tips of the swords sparked and were set ablaze thanks to the immense friction generated.

When Suna completed his turn and swung his swords in an uppercut, he would unleash a fissure of firey death from those blades. The fissure of flames carried enough heat to blister the very air around them as it raced with tremendous speed to Furuidenshō's position, powerful enough to render his very bones into ashes. They were also bright enough to bathe the majority of the area in an orange color, making the setting all the more hellish.

"All life wanes within the wake of your icy breath. Shinigami Fubuki!" Furuidenshō thrust his blade out in retaliation as soon as he saw the flames. In doing so, a ghastly white wraith formed within the edge of his blade, discharging a wide voluminous blizzard, freezing and stealing the warmth of the hellish flames heading his way.

It would be here that Suna's signature would suddenly disappear as soon as his visage did. Thanks to the blizzard that enveloped them both, he was a ghost within. What he was doing was move rapidly within the blizzard and keeping a certain distance away from Furuidenshō in order to ensure that the enemy would not catch him right away. As he circled the Head Captain like a vulture, he would sheathe one of his swords in preparation for the attack. Once again, his voice would call out through the storm and echo.

"Protecting Soul Society? Delivering justice and saving the people? It's all nothing but bullshit once you're given a sword and made to fight! In the end, all that matters is wiping your enemy off the face of the earth. I thought that era of the Gotei 13 had come to an end. But now that I see you with such a wrathful look, I know that all of that's gonna come back. All heroes are really good for..."

At the end of that sentence, he re-appeared at a diagonal angle to Furui's side in a crouched position.

"...is dying!"

He swiftly pulled the sword from his scabbard again in an iaido slash. The power put behind the slice promised not only to cut Furuishendō in two, but rend his flesh into fragments as well as uproot a good portion of the earth with its pressure.

A nerve had suddenly been struck in Furuidenshō when the words of his enemy reached his ears. While the image he had left behind of him standing still was cut to ribbons, Furuidenshō's form appearing behind Suna's crouched with an outstretched left hand, spoke volumes of his building rage.

"Jōkai Kaen!" Furuidenshō uttered, his palm discharging a wafting wave of pure destructive force via Kidō. Blending black, red, orange, yellow, and white tongues of fire all together into a half mile wide fissure of unforgiving malicious energy, it was focused to hit Suna's unprotected body, and wrend him into oblivion. What's more, it was the uttered name of the nameless spell he used against Kōjaku and Shindō, shattering their Bankai forms and nearly killing them in a single blow. 

What followed the embodied steam forming from his hand, came an angry snarl of reproach, sending towards an anticipatedly living Suna, "All heroes are really good for is dying? Is that the blasphemous mantra you recite to yourselves when you condoned a horrific plague that nearly crippled the Soul Society? Robbing families of their loved ones, brothers-in-arms of their comrades, and superiors of their subordinates? Do you realize how terrible it is to shoulder the weight of so many deaths, and truly feel their pain? DO YOU?! I felt it, as I was Head Captain then, as I was when you so treacherously turned brother against brother, my Captains against me, and terrorized the peaceful world myself and the other Captains, and their subordinates have fought so hard to attain and keep safe. They bled and died for it. If you only view them as nothing more than garbage, then you will know the origin of my wrath I am feeling within my bones towards you!"

The moment where the mirage had been put in place was the moment where Suna would immediately turn around. His boots had made skid marks within the grass as he twisted his crouched form to face his enemy, and his swords crossed in front of him just as the blast of fire connected with his defenses. But the immense force of the attack had shoved him away from his enemy, and he grunted as he forcefully dug his feet in. But as powerful as the attack was and the potency it had shown against the likes of two of his strongest Captains, it did not rend his defenses. In fact, it wasn't long before he completely dug himself in, stopping himself from going any further. With just a swing of his swords, he ripped through the flames and blew them into the wind. Their energy would dissipate as they were repelled, leaving the two combatants and a rapidly regenerating area once again.

Slowly, he stood back up and sneered at the Head Captain for the remark. Although his swords were crying to bathe in the man's blood, he wasn't so impatient as to start recklessly attacking before gracing him with any sort of reply. "Kill or be killed, Shin'nen!" He answered, briefly nodding his head for emphasis. "All of those casualties were made in that so-called "Mourning War" because the victims didn't embrace their true nature quickly enough, or the governing force was cuddling them far too much. It's in our genes to kill, dominate and destroy. Men have it, women have it... hell, even children have it! Because of the system in place, they always lose touch with it as they grow older, start getting brainwashed with petty things like "morality" and "ethics". Don't start talking like any of those people were innocent. None of 'em were..."

He slowly approached the Head Captain as he continued his speech. "And don't start talking to me like you're some sort of savior. If that were the case, then why'd you start haphazardly blowing up homes of civilians and non-combatants like a kid throwing a temper tantrum? Why'd you opt to kill your comrades instead of detaining them? Why is there so much malice in the attacks you're throwing at me? Face it, Shin'nen..." He tossed his blades and caught them, positioning them so that their tips would be pointing at the ground. He stabbed them into the ground, bracing himself for a run.

"You're just as much of a murderer as I am, and you enjoy every bit of it!"

Then, he threw himself forward. His body was like a missile, and his swords dragged across the earth as he moved. The metal would ignite with searing hot flames once again. But this time, he would not throw them. Instead, he would use them in close-range; as he neared his enemy, he threw an aggressive barrage of sword strikes and thrusts at his target. With the flames enveloping his blade and his movements, he looked like some sort of fire dancer as he fought. Up close, Furui would see the malice within his eyes as well as that bloodthirsty grin, which was illuminated by the orange glow of the fire.

"Split, Bunkatsu," Furuidenshō whispered, even as Suna prattled on as he approached him. By the time his enemy lunged, it was already too late. Furuidenshō finally swung his blade, the energy exuding from it dissipated the flames within an instant of contact, as well as sending a cutting force that separated all the bonds of physical matter. He intended to cut through Suna's blades, as well as through his whole body within a fell swoop.

"You insane fool," Furuidenshō spoke lowly, as he stabbed his sword in the ground in a proclaiming manner, his eyes glaring at Suna's bloodthirsty ones, "I aimed at the places that didn't have my own subordinates and civilians purposely. While you were so focused on eliminating my forces, DCO agents were evacuating citizens en masse. My outburst was intended to root out my Captains to go after me. I allowed Sōsuke Aizen to incapacitate me so I may gain entrance into your fortress, so that Kōsei Shihōin may revitalize me from within your headquarters. As for my malice..."

Withdrawing his blade from the soil, a bright blue spark emanated from it, as Furuidenshō raised his blade to be level in pointing at Suna, "I despise anyone who disdains the morals I've built up my Soul Society, and then uses that petty excuse to use my citizens and subordinates as target practice for your sick pleasures. Consider yourself and your three conspirators targets of my justified rage!" 

It happened within an instant.

The entire area around Suna's feet ignited into a deafening explosion, sending a surging pillar of vibrant explosive force, contained to only demolish everything within the area of his desire. Even as his hair and Haori flourished vibrantly within the wake of the flames produced by his Zanpakutō's explosion, his eyes never wavered away from Suna's position.

This was a moment in where defense at the most scientific level would be needed.

The strike would wipe away the loose molecules of the flames. But when it struck the steel of his swords, it would result in a parry that shoved Suna back. The reason was because the molecules within his Zanpakutō were so packed together that cutting through them was next to impossible. So although he once again lost his flames, Suna would keep his weapons and his form intact as he was moved away from his enemy.

The manic expression would be wiped off completely when he heard the words spoken.

Slowly, his face contorted from blood lust to skepticism. Then, as the speech progressed, he found himself regarding his enemy with bewilderment. Had it been anyone else, he would've dismissed it all as desperate claims just to disprove his own. But as he stared into the other man's eyes, he found nothing but truth. This man didn't enjoy killing. He was fighting against them because he wanted to see those ideals through to the very end. Aizen, Juhabach and the Horsemen were nothing more than obstacles to those ideals going to the surface.

"Those eyes..."

It almost caused him to become the victim of a geyser incineration.

His spiritual pressure activated, causing the pillar of fire to widen around him but not touch him. Quickly, he pointed the tips of his two swords at one another before calling out his own release command.

"Eliminate, Kami no Ikari!"

They glowed with a brilliant flash before they began to shift, slowly merging into one blade. Little by little, the features of a massive broadsword could be seen. used one hand to raise the broadsword over his head. With a slow and almost swing, he blew away the flames that surrounded him to reveal both his form and his sword. He was quick to regress back to his sneering look as he regarded his enemy.

"Is that so?" He challenged, stabbing his blade into the ground and tensing his body in a challenging stance. "Then what about you trying to kill the Captains? Don't tell me you were pretending just to lure Aizen and Juhabach out of hiding!"

"There was no guaruntee that what has been done to their minds and bodies could be restored. Nor did I have the resources to rid them of what curse Shūkurō Tsukishima left on them in such a short elapse of time. I knew they'd rather be die and remain free, then be bound by enslavement."

Raising his blade in a readied stance, Furuidenshō clasped the handle with both hands, readying himself to commit to a much fiercer fight, and direct all his power onto the man before him. The man responsible along with his conspirators for so many deaths, callously in the name of their own divinity and lust for power. 

"On the other hand, I only have to kill you Four Horsemen, Yhwach Juhabach, and Sōsuke Aizen in order to end this war. Even if I have to cut you down one at a time, your maddened schemes of bloodlust and terror end here!" 

Leaping forth, Furuidenshō started his own assault. Moving with incredible poise and powerful momentum, Furuidenshō allowed the edge of his blade to cut through almost any form of substance besides Suna's blade. Meaning one touch could end in inevitable dismemberment or gouged flesh. No matter how durable his body or his aura of Spiritual Pressure may be, his blade would reach him, through the power of his Kendo-style strikes, caused the entire room to buckle and shake fiercely, breaking and shattering with each slash he poured onto him.

Time slowed down.

This time, Suna's body seemed to move on its own as it fought against the attacks of Furui. Blade would meet blade, with Suna's style matching up with his opponent's even as he retreated. No longer could he register the adrenaline flowing through him in the intensity of the sword battle. No longer was he paying attention to the fierce movement of every muscle and bone as it fought against Furuidenshō's strength. His mind had fallen back to every word his foe said, his earlier realization of just what his motives were. The man wasn't fighting for revenge or desire for his enemies' blood. He was fighting for the very same reason that most of the Horseman had for waging their war against the Soul Society against the first place. It could only be summed up in one word.

Freedom.

That would bring the smile back to his face once again, and he couldn't help the laugh that escape his lips. But he could help the next movement he would make.

In the midst of one of Furui's strikes, Suna lifted his leg and swung it in a kick. But the movement would carry speed transcending what he would be capable of otherwise, thanks to part of an ability of his Zanpakutō. Visible electric currents would be seen running through the leg as it was swung, boasting both incredible speed and increased power. The attack would be strong enough to crack through the bones of his enemy if it connected. But he wouldn't wait to see.

"Poseidon no Hogo!"

An electric aura sparked through and coated his entire body, enhancing his offensive and defensive abilities to much more dangerous level. At this point, he had abandoned the sword and went on a full-frontal assault with nothing but his fists. Every punch and kick was greatly upgraded to the point where contact with the flesh would result in even the likes of Furuishendō getting crippled by the onslaught. The electric currents would repel the blade and keep him from getting sliced by the blade itself.

Furuidenshō noted the kick and the nature flowing from it. It gave him a small smile, as he swung around allowed the flat end of the blade to absorb the force of the kick, causing a fountain of sparks and electricity to dance within the air. He felt his heels grind into the ground amidst the concussive force, and his hair flourish in sync with his coat from the blistering winds issuing from it. 

When he saw his enemy his enemy drop his blade, he too, allowed his blade to drop to the side.

CRACK-CRACK-CRACK-CRACK-CRACK-CRACK! 

Within the wake of the impulse driven strikes, Furuidenshō couldn't help but allow a smile to work onto his face, knowing the intensity of his enemy's aura had grown astrnomically stronger with every passing second. The storm of electric-enraptured strikes, however, seemed to not actually connect to his flesh and bones, but rather, be repetitively repelled, within a series of thunderclaps of transparent waves of energy flowing from the surface of his body. 

When the last strike came towards his face, he swiftly used Flash Step, moving to the left of Suna's form a good ten meters. He was physically bathed in steam, the incinerative force and concussive power equally tearing at his clothing. What was revealed underneath, was shown to be a set of colorful violet-red-black Kidō armor, all of it crackling from recent use. 

"Funny. That flurry of attacks would most likely have harmed me to the extent of being unable to fight back. Your strength is renowned as much as your name, 2nd Horseman. Its unfortunate that your technique relied on Kidō-based abilities, otherwise, my armor would've cracked twenty five blows ago," Furuidenshō spoke solemnly, as his smile dropped as he raised his blade pointedly at him, causing the blade's construct to crackle with a blue aura, "but sadly, your kick connecting into my Zanpakutō, was your own undoing."

KRAK-BOOM!

Within the moment of his speech's end, Suna would feel his own electrical aura ignite into a skin-proximate blast. The force would be enough to wound him from the severity of the explosion, of that Furuidenshō was certain.

"My Zanpakutō has the ability to split matter and fuse its energy into matter, causing it to create a powerful explosion. If the target is exuding a powerful current of Spiritual Power or Pressure, then you basically turn yourself into one big bomb. The stronger my enemy is, the bigger the blast. Its your own strength that brings your body down in the end," Furuidenshō explained, even as he kept his sword pointed at Suna, "that is the power of Bunkatsu, the splitter of the fabric that all life clings to, ending it within an instant."

It was only natural that Suna was shocked - literally and figuratively.

When his own power turned on him, he could feel every nerve light up with his own electricity in a fierce fit of electrocution. His teeth involuntarily clenched, and his body spasmed in a violent and somewhat disturbing display as it experienced the shock of his own energy. It took only several seconds. But when it was over, Suna had unceremoniously collapsed onto his back beside his sword. His body was smoking, and there were signs of external bleeding on the skin that showed. With such a frightening ability, one would have expected him to have been killed or at least demoralized by it.

But he wasn't.

With a pained grunt, he pushed himself back up onto his feet. As he staggered back up, he took a moment to catch his breath. There was no doubt that trying to be unorthodox like that wasn't going to do him any more favors, especially now that he saw what was protecting him. A toothy smirk crossed his face as he looked over his enemy, before he straightened himself back up and walked over to his sword. A brief fit of laughter escaped his mouth as he grasped the hilt of his sword and raised it to balance on his shoulder. Casually, he turned back around to meet his foe once more.

"Impressive, Shin'en..." He commended, slowly settling back into a kendo stance. "Most impressive!"

Without hesitation, he threw himself back at his enemy to renew the attack. The lightning aura that had briefly dissipated had ignited once more, this time enhancing the strength and speed of his sword strikes instead of his hand-to-hand abilities. "But let's see just how long that precious armor of yours lasts against me!" He taunted, even as he attacked. The thirst for battle had returned full force, as well as his desire to kill the man standing before him.

Echoes of the Past Reach the Present, A Battle of Vengeance! Part I

In a courtyard just ahead of Byakuya's position, Tsukishima was meditating. He was sitting on his legs with his hands placed on his knees. His eyes were closed and a contemplative look was on his face. Beside him lay his sheathed sword, waiting for the moment to be pulled out and readied against his adversary.

He could feel it. The spiritual signature, even after so much time had passed, was still recognizable by the former Fullbringer. But it was much stronger than it had been compared to the first duel that they had. This time, though, Tsukishima was no mere human. This time, he was a Shinigami with power that could control the masses with a simple wave of his weapon. Although his heart beat furiously in anticipation, he couldn't help the smile of confidence that crossed his face.

This time, Byakuya would be the one to fall.

"You seems as calm as the time we fought, three hundred and twenty years ago," The voice of Byakuya rang out in a smooth, controlled tone. His coat fluttered, clean and untouched by the elements of warfare, showing just how masterfully he had dealt with all opposition standing in his path. His cold, silver-blue eyes gazed upon Tsukishima's sitting form as he walked towards him, stopping only a good five meters, as he coldly observed him, "only now as a Soul Reaper, instead of a human. Even now, you haven't changed at all. How disappointing."

"Neither have you, Byakuya-san." Came the smooth reply, followed by the opening of Tsukishima's brown eyes. They gazed at Byakuya with a polite, serene and almost friendly look. He slowly reached over to grasp his sword, pushing his legs out from underneath him and standing up. "Cold, calculating and ruthless. Just how many pieces did you cut my soldiers into before come here? Dozens? Hundreds? Thousands? Either way, it must have been quite the warm-up, wasn't it?" He fastened the sheathed sword to his waist before resting a hand on the scabbard.

"The only thing that has changed about you, though, is your strength. But then again, so has mine. After all, being killed has given me plenty of time to realize the mistakes I made. It made me think about the corrections needed to prevent such errors from happening again. And it's led me to the discovery to how joyous a life-threatening situation can truly be once you pull yourself from the brink of it. I stand before you completely changed, reborn, and a new man, sort to speak. And this time," Slowly, his eyes narrowed as he looked at his old enemy. "I will be the one to take your life."

"Foolish boy," Byakuya spoke, a hallowed, dark tone. His eyes filled with the knowledge of being alive a lot longer than the reborn Tsukishima, and the seniority and skille instilled within him graced his prodigious talents a dozen fold, "You may have gained strength, but you lack the principles and wisdom to properly wield that power. When I say you haven't changed, I mean to say you still lack the elegance to truly wield your powers in a manner befitting a warrior. You'll be lucky to even lay a finger on me, Shūkurō Tsukishima."

That was when Tsukishima struck. His free hand moved to grasp and pull his blade from its sheath in a lightning-speed quick draw. The path was in a direction of an uppercut, cutting through the air as elegantly as a master swordsman would have. As he slowly resheathed the blade and returned his arm to his side, it seemed like a pointless motion.

But then, something happened.

The entire wall that had made up the entrance to the courtyard had crumbled. But it wasn't into just two halves. No, it fell into perfectly carved fragments that scattered across the ground. Within that one motion, Tsukishima had unleashed multiple strikes in slicing up the wall. It was a terrifying yet all-too-real demonstration of how much his skills had improved over the years. This time, there was no unpolished one-hand fighting. This time, there was no ducking and evading like a rabbit. This time, there was only a man that stood like a brick wall in the face of death.

"I won't need to." He said in retort. "Because even at this range, my blade can not only cut you, but it can destroy you completely. It is time that you were put in your place... my dearest student." These last three words were said with clear mocking - a reference to the minor mind trick he had used on Byakuya in their last duel.

"Wave your blade all you like, but if it flaps as much as your tongue, then it won't do any harm to me," Byakuya spoke in a irate-edged tone, but never once lost the smooth composure he cherished to speak with passively, "the result will be the same as I said. It will be a miracle if you can even lay a finger on me this time, Shūkurō Tsukishima."

The Horsemen almost rolled his eyes and sneered at the response he got. Once again, his hand gripped his blade. But this time, he bent his legs in a preparatory stance, locking onto his target. As he stood stock still, a tense silence swept over the area. Had it been a Western, a tumbleweed would have been moving across the plains between the two combatants. For a moment, it seemed as if Tsukishima had decided to stop attacking.

Then, he threw himself at Byakuya to begin the attack.

In a heartbeat and with a Flash Step, he had re-appeared in front of his foe, unsheathed his sword and swung it in an uppercut. The blade was on a path to cut Byakuya into two pieces from the crotch up, carrying all of the speed that it had done before.

Something strange happened when the blade rose to strike Byakuya. 

Instead of a motion of the body to swiftly unsheathe his sword to block it, or a release of his Zanpakutō to transform into Shikai, an invisible unseen strike moved in between himself and Tsukishima's Zanpakutō.

The force struck just as fiercely, springing a shockwave of concussive force and sparks to shower across the rooftop. Byakuya impassively stared down at Tsukishima, as he narrowed his eyes at him, silently mocking Tsukishima for trying to prove him wrong. Then, he struck, both without sound or sense to detect.

SHINK-SHINK!

Two cuts, moving to cut the Horseman's shoulders, extended out in the middle of space, while carrying across the ground with enough finesse that it made a thin fissure appear far to the ends of the courtyard.

It was solely on reflex that Tsukishima was able to counter the strikes made on his person.

Briefly, his eyes widened. But his body managed to leap back in time. His sword moved on its own, clanging with the... something that had intercepted his attack earlier. To the naked eye, it would've looked like he was simply leaping back - a testament to how fast he had become. But even considering that, he was regarding his opponent with mild bewilderment. He had assumed the Kuchiki's words to be nothing but an arrogant boast. But whatever defense he had certainly justified every word.

Playing smart was essential.

"Um," When he spoke again, he had a genuinely polite but taken aback tone. He raised his index finger in front of his face as he elegantly sheathed his sword. "Pardon me for a moment."

Then, he slowly turned himself away... and began to casually pace around. One arm was folded across the chest while the other was tapping against his chin in serious thought. It was as if he had shut out the hostility of the situation at once for the sake of pondering just what exactly Byakuya was doing.

"You don't have the luxury to ponder," Byakuya spoke out, the air fluxuating as nearly a dozen slashes flew through the air invisibly, all of them crossing in different angles and rushing at Tsukishima with the same momentum and speed as before.

His eyes calculatively narrowed at his target coldly, not caring in the slightest if Tsukishima wanted to strategize or try to figure out how he was able to attack him in this matter. All that mattered, was to attack him while the advantage was his. Nothing else mattered but the mission. 

This time, Tsukishima had a clearer sighting of the attack upon him. The places where the air was distorting marked the attacks that raced to him. Although it was an extremely subtle notice, it was enough to tip him off. His hand would once again race to his sword as the distortions neared him, and he would only have to wait for a millisecond before taking action.

Like a lightning strike, he moved his blade. When the metal collided with the invisible threat, he could feel that he was hitting a sword. This was a clear sign that Byakuya wasn't using his Shikai right away as he had done before. A simple explanation would have been that the Captain had made his Senbonzakura petals invisible and undetectable to both physical and spiritual sense. But whatever Byakuya's attack was, it was a bit more complex than that. Had it been any other person, they would have gotten haplessly shredded.

But Tsukishima's speed, quick reflexes and attention to detail saved him from becoming chopped liver. It wasn't long before he had parried the last strike, his sword sheathed once again at his waist. "It seems we are at an impasse, Byakuya-san." He mused. "I can't immediately decipher what you're using against me right now, and you can't seem to break my defenses. You came quite prepared for this, didn't you?"

"As I thought, he hasn't deciphered the nature of this style of swordsmanship. I must tread carefully from this point on. If I overextend myself, his mind may be cunning enough to find a way to overcome my advantage, whether I'm aware of it or not," Byakuya thought, allowing his unwavering stare back at Tsukishima to be unreadable as he pondered his next move. 

Raising his right hand delicately, Byakuya allowed himself to speak with a humored tone, laced within his impassive voice, "I'm just testing the waters, Tsukishima. Allow me to demonstrate what happens when I actually try..."

What happened seemed to dwarf the slashes he had generated. Within a single "pulse", an astrnomically swifter and much stronger force was discharged, moving with enough presence to shave off the surface of all substance within the courtyard. It encompassed everything, scathing the artificial material while shredding any bird or any other living thing within the wake of his attack. 

All of that menacing force of death heading straight towards Tsukishima, with only moments to decide how to face this oncoming fateful force of death creeping upon him. 

Now came the question.

"Should I?"

It was here that Tsukishima realized one thing - Byakuya had not figured out the one basic trait of his sword that made it so deadly. It was the cutting edge, the edge that was said to be able to slice through anything within its path. Now that he had ascended beyond the status of a mere human, the effectiveness of his weapon and that particular trait had increased. He would have to ask himself; would that apply to this strange force that his enemy was using against him? There was only one way to find out.

Once again, he unsheathed his sword. But this time, he would focus his power into slicing it in two. The metal would slide out of the scabbard and to the opposing force. His eyes were narrowed, and a slight frown crossed his face as he watched his own movements take place.

When that blade connected, he was hit with a foreign sensation. His eyes widened in shock even as the cutting edge tore through the force like butter. What he felt wasn't the exertion of energy, physical or spiritual. It was enough to cause a bead of sweat to fall down his face, both at the intensity of the attack and the fact that it was completely foreign to him.

"What the hell...?!"

Abruptly, he spun around to meet Byakuya's eyes again. Although his eyes were narrowed once more, the frown and solo bead of sweat had not left his face. This time, his body was a bit more tense. "Just what is it that you're doing to impose such a power on me," He breathed. "Byakuya Kuchiki...?"

"He was able to counter it well. That's some weapon he has in his hands. Any lesser man would've been turned into dust by that attack," Byakuya analyzed smoothly, without showing any form of surprise or anger through his cold stare, passively projecting towards Tsukishima. He couldn't help, however, to feel a sense of pride in that despite how skilled Tsukishima was, he couldn't decipher what kind of power he had over him. 

For whatever reason, he decided to tell him what it truly was, without being too blunt. 

"Its the power of a true swordsman that I possess, Shūkurō Tsukishima. It is a force that lives within the gaps of Spiritual and Physical energy that I employ this form of power upon you. It doesn't stress nor does it waver. It flows like the wind, and you are but a mere razor caught within its fierce gale," As Byakuya spoke, he began to clench his hand, causing the force he thrust out at the Horseman to suddenly swirl around him like a transparent twister. It cracked the ground and ruptured the integrity of space all around him, "even the sharpest metal becomes shattered in the face of nature. Now...feel that nature...Horseman!" 

Then, the force compressed all around Tsukishima, intending on imploding him and crushing him beyond any form of recognition. 

Death seemed all too real for Tsukishima. There was an attack that surrounded him from all sides, negating any chance for evasion. If what Byakuya said was true, then blocking would not have been much of an option. Byakuya was about to kill a Horseman... and the timespan of the fight hadn't been more than a few minutes. Although the Horseman kept his outside composure, apprehension and horror were present within the inside. All there was left to do was sit and die.

Then, it hit him. Why did it feel like he was connecting with a sword when it wasn't a sword attacking him? Why did he feel so much malevolence from each and every strike? Why did that malice seem to exceed what could be read from a simple physical or energy attack? If he was deciphering Byakuya's words correctly, then all logic that he knew had been effectively defied. This was a metaphorical force turned literal, a myth turned into reality. There was only one force that could be used in such a manner.

With a throat gripped by his shock, he hoarsely whispered the word.

"Will..."

Then, he was hit.

An explosion would envelop the area he was standing in courtesy of the immense force projected into the attack. Rocks the size of boulders had been erupted from the earth and sent into the air, only to descend back and create small craters from their impact. The dust cloud was massive enough to create a brief fog that swept through the entire area.

As the force detonated the area, fueling the flames from such hyper-friction colliding upon each other, it blew apart the center of the courtyard. Wood, tiles, and small benches were incinerated upon proximation, while the rest was uprooted from its place and sent awry across the airspace around it. 

Throughout it all, Byakuya's hair and cloak flapped in the fierce wind's wake, while his eyes never wavered in its gaze. After a long silence followed the explosion's exodus, he spoke allowed in a declarative sentence, "You're stubborn...to have survived an attack like that."

The smoke cleared.

In the center of the shallow yet wide crater that had been created, Tsukishima's figure could be seen kneeling. The black coat he had worn over his white shirt and suspenders was now in tatters on his torso. Underneath that was a set of scars and slashes that mixed the white of his shirt with the red of his blood. His sword was held stabbed to the ground with one hand, while his other arm was resting on the knee off of the ground. Yes, he had been hit with the brunt of the attack, all right.

But when Byakuya's voice spoke out to him, he let out a chuckle.

"How could I have not seen this...?"

Slowly, he pushed himself up to his feet. Though he stumbled a little, it was clear that he was still within fighting condition. Even his face had been somewhat bloodied, but it didn't hinder the smile that he gave his enemy. "To think that you would've been able to use a tool of symbolism and turn it into one of the deadliest weapons I could have ever faced... it's not a wonder so many fell at your feet. A power in where you can simply use the sheer force of will to kill your enemy... only having to wish for his death in order for it to happen... what could possibly compete with the likes of that?"

With his free hand, he grasped the front of his shirt and ripped off the tatters to expose his wounds in all of their glory. His bare chest was covered with his scattered blood, and the ugly gashes could be seen as clear as day. But all pain and shock had been pushed aside in favor of his intrigue. The trademark calm look on his face had returned as he looked at Byakuya, slowly walking out of the crater that had been created.

"Even knowing this, it impresses me that your body didn't turn to dust. You're more durable than I gave you credit for, Shūkurō Tsukishima," Byakuya spoke coldly, lowering his hand down as he analyzed his form and observed his wounded frame. The confident smile didn't bode well, however, despite having won the first shot at him, "yet you smile as if this is a game. Do you not fear death, or are you already resigned to such a fate?"

"I didn't know you were the type to ask such pointless questions, Byakuya-san..." Tsukishima remarked. "Isn't it natural for a soldier not to fear death when he's fighting on the frontlines? This new ability of yours may be something I've never come across before. But regardless, to say that it shakes my foundation would be far from the truth."

Slowly, he raised his sword over his head with one of his hand while bringing his other hand up alongside it. When the sword was over his head, he grasped it with his other hand and lowered it back down into a kendo stance. "As strong as the force of your own willpower is," He continued, his voice taking on a taunting and menacing tone. "It will never be enough to take me. You want to kill me? You'll have to do much better than that!"

And just like that, he was on the offensive again.

With another Flash Step, he was in front of Byakuya with the cutting edge of his sword swinging down upon his head. The force brought would be enough to rend the Captain's body to pieces, and the infamous trait of the sword itself would now be enough to carve through the defenses of his enemy. After all, his own weapon was generated from his own soul, a manifestion of his will. All of that will would be focused on slaying the man who had slain him, fueled by vengeance and the desire to dominate over the former Captain.

"His intent to kill has just increased astrnomically!" Byakuya's eyes widened as the zeal and pressure of Tsukishima's Spiritual Power had notably increased. Swinging his right forearm forward, his palm enraptured with the force of his Will, he swiftly parried with the downward strike of his enemy's blade. Within such a compressed state, it allowed to properly deflect the cutting edge, but couldn't push back as effectively. 

The result caused the space around them to collapse and send crackling sparks to fly and dance around their feet. 

With a swift pivot of his feet, he brought down the two handed lock his enemy had to his side, using the moment of off balance to swing his free hand forward, sending a powerful burst of invisible force to annihilate his body from the side. 

The blow was met with a turning kick delivered by Tsukishima, which would effectively derail the blast from his path. His ankle would collide with the wrist, and once again that unpleasant sensation washed through him as the power was deflected. But this time, he was steeled. After he swung his leg back down, he moved forward and went on the offensive. His strikes, although continuous, carried new power behind them as they attacked Byakuya's shield. He was a relentless force of nature against the insurmountable spirit, looking to batter down the walls that were made up of Byakuya's will power until they were no more.

"This isn't the Fullbring that you've faced before." He continued speak. "This is a Zanpakutō, generated from my very soul. My desire to kill, destroy and dominate... surely with those bare hands of yours, you can feel that coursing through you, can't you? As strong as the manifestation of your will is, you just don't have what it takes to kill me. Your heart,"

Abruptly, he switched tactics. His free hand would reach out to grasp Byakuya's defending wrist. His sword hand would twist around so that the tip would be facing away from its target. He would move the hand down and slam the butt of his hilt into the center of the Kuchiki's chest, releasing his grip on his wrist in order to send him flying back into the debris of rocks he had created. In turn, he would lower his sword back to his side and stare in amusement.

"Just isn't black enough."

While Byakuya's widened at the force placed upon his person, causing him to gasp aloud before being thrown far away into the pile of debris, he realized this battle wasn't going to be as easy as he thought it to be. Now that the enemy realized his weapon of choice, he harnessed his own desire to kill to augment his Zanpakutō's strikes. Bare hands wouldn't be bale to defeat this Horseman. 

Rising from the rubble, only being slightly disheveled from the attack, Byakuya emerged with an unphased expression on his face as he walked towards Tsukishima. 

"Perhaps I entered this battle thinking too little of you, Shūkurō Tsukishima. To think I could believe that you couldn't harness your own potent desire to kill, I believed you to not be worth my time. But now that I am finishing warming up, as it were," Byakuya spoke smoothly, as his right hand reached for the hilt of his Zanpakutō, unsheathing it in a slow, purposeful moment, as his Spiritual Pressure began to shake the air with the insidious sensation that his earlier attacks were felt to be like. An eery violet glow emanated from his eyes, as an overwhelming desire for Tsukishima's blood to be spilled seemed to surround and attempt to shake the Horseman to his core.

Then, Byakuya struck.

Leaping forth, the former Kuchiki Clan Head reached Tsukishima's front and swung with a precise, blurring movement, almost as if his limb disappeared. The force had been magnified immensely, and along the edge of a Zanpakutō, two Wills working harmoniously together, cried in perfect unison for the Will of death to manifest and attack him at the same time, in a perfect upper diagonal slash.

Tsukishima's sword would move to intercept. Their steel would clash against each other in another display of immense power. In that moment, Tsukishima would look directly into his enemy's eyes. Now the pull to kill was much more clear within those violet eyes of his. The murderous intent radiating sent another chill down Tsukishima's spine. But in the heat of combat, this was a very welcome feeling. It fueled his adrenaline to know that his life was on the line, that there was an old enemy intent on ripping it away. The smile on his face temporarily grew wide enough to expose the full white of his teeth.

Certainly, he had inherited a lot from Suna...

Passion Behind the Circle, A Battle of Desire

"Even I have to admit that what you did back there was reckless, Qilin. You shouldn't have revealed yourself so quickly!"

Qilin let out a light and humored scoff as he strolled through the underworks of one particular location. Both of his hands were in his pockets, and he seemed to approach everything with a rather casual gait despite the chaos unfolding around him. "Oh, come on, Lieutenant. I had everything under control back there. You know I wouldn't just jump in to something without knowing the consequences first!"

"Be that as it may," Tetsuyo's voice continued on the other end of the radio, slightly annoyed but calm. "I can't be too sure what this is going to spell for us. We're officially recognized as traitors to the Gotei 13, even if we are still working alongside them now. Who knows what they're going to do after the war is over and done with?"

"Oh, relax..." Qilin muttered, rolling his eyes. "Haven't you been paying attention? The Gotei 13 were willing to legalize a criminal terrorist mercenary group in order to help them against the Inner Circle. In addition to that, they've got most if not all of the Black Blood Sect on their side. In a few days, everyone will most likely be friends and partners once the I.C. forces here are destroyed. I'm telling you, Tets, it's the start of a new age!"

"New age, huh? You've never stopped talking about that ever since you chopped the head off of the 7th Division's Captain."

"An age of change. The Soul Society has been closing their eyes and covering their ears for far too long to understand the concept of change. It took intervention by a Ryōka, a betrayal by one of the most esteemed Captains and a war to move them from the spot they embedded themselves in. If it wants to survive, it has to overcome its own flaws and limits. This war will bring out the pain and ugliness that everyone's tried to suppress and ignore ever since Yamamoto's rule. The new generation will make sure that it's no longer a problem."

"And what about her?"

That particular question would make the Spiritsmith stop in his tracks. His eyes widened in surprise, and he looked at his earpiece in question despite the fact that Tetsuyo wouldn't be able to see it. "E...excuse me?"

"You know, her. Your wife. She's one of them, after all. The Alliance aren't kidding around here. They won't take prisoners. If she's defeated, they won't hesitate to kill her. Is... is that okay, being on the side of her would-be killers?"

"...that's..." In one of the rarest moments ever since the conflict, Qilin's expression contorted to a somewhat solemn one. His tone matched his face. "...that's a bit of a powerful question, Tetsuyo. To be honest... I'm not really sure. She and I had to break away from each other because our ideals were so different, even though the purpose was the same. I really do care for her, but... I'm not really sure. But I hope that somehow she'll be able to survive. She always has..."

"Yeah..."

Qilin's eyes swept the area during the brief pause in their conversation. He had landed himself within a dark room, with the only light being from several massive cryogenetic tubes lined up as a pathway to wherever. The blue light illuminating from them was so bright that one couldn't see inside of them without getting blinded. But he wouldn't have to see in order to realize what was inside of them.

"We'll have to cut this conversation short, Tetsuyo. I've reached the birthing chambers and I'm on my way to the main access terminal. Once I slice into the records and upload them to the channel, I'll shut down the experiments being conducted down here to prevent any further projects from being launched. Keep an eye out on your end, all right?"

"Gotcha. Good luck out there, buddy. You're gonna need it."

The comm-link cut off from there, and Qilin managed a small smile as he heard the last words of encouragement from his comrade. With that, he took his hands out of his pockets and started running down the pathway to his objective.

Out from the shadows, an elderly man in a white labcoat come from an enclosed office within the laboratory. Having recognized Qilin from brief encounters, the man smiled widely, extending his arms towards him, "Ah, Qilin-sama! Its been so long since I've seen you. I take it Kyōaku-sama sent you here to check on the experiments?"

"Hm?"

For a brief moment, Qilin regarded him with slight surprise as he came to a stop. He had recognized the man as one of the leading scientists of the project, someone he had occasionally spoken to while running errands. Judging from his tone of voice, he supposed Yashin hadn't made a broadcast of him being an expendable element by the Horseman just yet. If anything, he could use that to his advantage.

So he wiped away his surprise and exchanged it for a casual attitude. "Yeah." He breathed, briefly running his fingers through his hair. "The Alliance are making heavy progress into places that were supposed to be heavily secured. If worse comes to worst, we'll have to evacuate any experiments or equipment that's able to last. I'm just here to see how much can remain intact..."

"Well, its a good thing you came. While I'm confident in the reinforced bunker this laboratory is constructed within, ever since he activated those experiments I can't be guarunteed about anything being safe for much longer. Follow me," The scientist scuffled around towards the various cryo tubes and stabilization tanks. 

Within them were a few organic entities looking to be on the verge of development, from fetus to full grown adults. Most of their features hadn't fully developed, but they looked completely unaware of their surroundings. At least, most of them were...

BANG-BANG-BANG!

"Let me out of here! I can't stand the silence! I have to get out, don't you understand me?! I need to be free!" A fully developed woman, clad in a synthetic black-grey body suit that covered everything around her shapely hourglass body with the exception of her hands and feet, as well as her long auburn colored hair and fair complexioned skin. Her eyes looked frantic, on the border of desperation and insanity, trying to escape the tube of breathable liquid, but held back by the durable transparent glass and barrier encasing it. 

"Ah, her again," The scientist said with a saddened tone of regret, placing his hand on the surface of the tube, while rubbing his aged hand on the vibrating reinforcement holding the subject within, along with its indigo colored water that she was enraptured within, "I regret that you cannot hear me, child, but be patient a little while longer. You're time will come when you may enter a better dawn that the Inner Circle make, I assure you."

"Why...Why are you ignoring me-"

WHAM!

"...when I am talking to you?!" The attractive girl snarled out, as she lashed out with a violent punch that distorted the tube's interior before stabilizing once again. Clearly being unable to hear them, but through the speakers of the tube, they could hear her. 

"Woah!" Qilin's eyes widened at the fierce display, transfixed by the sight of the enraged woman. He folded his arms across his chest as he looked her over. In comparison to the rest of the experiments, this one seemed at least close to full development. But why was it being so aggressive? Was it due to being aware of its own condition and surroundings that made it behave in such a manner? He couldn't help but feel at least a little bit sorry for the girl, despite understanding that she was created within that tube.

He turned his head to the scientist, briefly unfolding one of his hands to gesture towards her. "Who exactly would this be, if I might ask?"

"Ah, this girl?" The elderly scientist asked with a smile, keeping his hand on the tube, even as the girl cringed at his proximity. However, as her eyes diverted towards Qilin, her right eye briefly glistened black-&-white within the light before returning back to a normal white-brown eye, as the scientist informed him of her identity, "she's our most promising experiment. Of all the Reigai out in the field, they don't compare to the untapped, limitless capabilities this young woman possesses. Her name is Meihaku Ayūi, and she is the byproduct of genetic construction from samples of Sōsuke Aizen's own DNA we were able to extract before he was imprisoned and went missing for the past several centuries."

"You don't say...?"

Slowly, Qilin walked up to the test tube and gently placed a palm against the glass. As he looked the woman in the eyes, he could see the need to escape and the desire for her imprisonment to cease. There was a flicker of sympathy within his own as well as a bit of pain. He never liked seeing someone with will and identity locked up inside of a prison like this. If he was able, he would try to get her out of there as soon as he could. It wasn't in him to create victims to kill.

"Funny..." He remarked, slowly sliding his hand off of the glass and taking a few steps back. "She seems quite opposite from the calm and collected man known as Aizen, doesn't she?"

"Its the irony in the name when Kyōaku-sama witnessed her day of awareness. While Sōsuke's full name means, Seemingly Helpful, Gentle Being, her full name means, Apparently Critical. Despite having all of his intelligence, intuition, cunning, and the natural ability to learn things at an exceedingly high rate, even higher than her counterpart, she has nothing but desperation to escape and anger in her heart. Kyōaku had to restrain her multiple times in order to keep her from punching a hole through the bunker to get out..." The scientist continued to elaborate, as the woman's eyes locked onto Qilin, obviously seeing something different about him.

Meihaku's form began to descend to the bottom of the tank, her knees bent in a crouched form, placing her hands on the surface. Whispering in a voice only Qilin could hear, she passively fed an illusion around the scientist's sense of space and time, allowing to rant endlessly as she spoke.

What's more, the world seemed to melt away and be replaced by a large white room, in the shape of a box. Meihaku hovered in place, her hair flourishing as if she was still suspended in liquid, but at least she had a sense of mobility and control. 

"Who are you? You don't look like anyone Kyōaku has let into this laboratory," Meihaku spoke forthwith and bluntly, her eyes narrowing and full of suspicion, clearly knowing that Qilin had some ulterior motive of entering the complex, rather than secure the experiments' integrity.

"An illusion...?"

To say Qilin was surprised by the display of power was an understatement. His eyes widened as he watched the world melt away, making it seem like he was being transported into another dimension. It wasn't the fact that she was generating such power that amazed him. It was the fact that she was generating it while still within her prison that did. For a moment, he wondered how much value she would be to the Alliance if she was freed.

He was quick to push that thought aside. No, it wasn't his place to use her as his or their personal tool against the enemy. This woman had a mind, a will of her own, and here she was like some caged animal. No sentient mind deserved to be fenced in like this. So he shook all but the necessary thoughts out of his head, looking her straight in the eyes and giving her a warm smile.

"A friend." He explained, giving her a slight nod. "They call me "Qilin", if you have to use a name..."

After a few moments slipped by, the young woman floated down to stand in front of Qilin, her eyes but a foot away from his, as she stared intently into his.

It was just a minute passing before something akin to a smile crossed her face, "Your eyes speak the truth, Qilin. I have no name, other than the one my...father...or that's what Kyōaku Hōritsu wants me to call him, Meihaku Ayūi. But if you truly desire my friendship, call me Ayūi."

"Well, then. Ayūi it is." Qilin chuckled, giving a nod of acknowledgement towards the girl. "But it's not just friendship I'm looking for. You see," Moving carefully as to not scare her or make her think he was going to attack in anyway, he placed his hands on her shoulders. "I saw what was in your eyes. Judging from what they and the elder scientist told me, you'd rather not be kept in here like this, right? I know that this isn't exactly within my boundaries according to my colleagues, but I'm going to get you out of here."

Hope filled Ayūi's eyes. Her lips trembled as a trepidating smile of relief awashed her face, as she reached up grabbed his collar with sudden desire of being free, "Please let me out! I hate being locked in this silent cage! Everyone can hear me but won't listen, but you! You have to break me out before I-"

All of a sudden, a dawning locked onto her eyes, as she saw something behind Qilin that he couldn't see or sense.

"LOOK OUT!" Ayūi spoke aloud, shattering the world around him like glass, and maneuvering his body upon mental command to deflect an incoming swing of a sheathed scabbard. 

The attacker wore a white bow around her hair, leaving dark brown hair to flow smoothly down her back. She wore a red tie, fastened within an official suit-like attire of golden trimming and white trappings, with white gloves and boots to match. Most notably was the sword, swathed in bandages around the hilt and tsuba, that swung forward with incredible concussive force. Strangely enough, even cutting power was exerted from the sheathed weapon, as if there wasn't a scabbard separated by the wapon at all.

The force and the apparently sudden arrival of the attacker caused the scientist to be thrown back with enough force to be rendered unconscious, as his head was smashed into the wall and left his body to fall limply to the ground.

In a time of desperation, Qilin's body could adapt before danger could strike him. That was the way he had to grow up ever since he was a child. But this was one of the rare occasions that he was genuinely caught off guard, possibly due to the illusion. But it was because of his body being moved like a puppet to face his assailant that saved his life. Inwardly, he couldn't help but sigh in relief.

"Thank God I've got good charisma."

He felt his hand reach up to grasp and unsheathe his sword to block the incoming strike. He grunted, taken aback by the immense force put behind the blow. But it didn't stop him from raising his foot and kicking the woman away from him. With all of his body on high alert, he flipped his sword and pulled it over his head, with the tip pointing at a 45 degree angle towards the ground. "And you are?" He asked, quirking a slight eyebrow and frowning.

Lightly grunting at the impact of his boot hitting her midriff, the assassin's boots skidded across the ground, but not dipping over from the force he thrust into her body. Instead, she regained her bearings, and pointed her blade down to the ground in a similar angle as her opponent, as she spoke to her opponent in a smooth, precise tone, "Kōkō Kage Hyōjin, disciple of Lord Shiyōnin, and here to exterminate the traitors of the Inner Circle. Namely you, Tsubasa Muromachi!

With that being said, Kōkō leaped towards her target with surprisingly swift speed, seemingly darting past Qilin's exposed left flank, swinging her sheathed weapon as she flew past him. Within excess force, a considerable geyser of earth was left in her path, even grazing the surface of Ayūi's tank barrier, within the directional arc of Kōkō's sheathed blade.

"Wait a minute..."

Even as Kōkō attacked, Qilin's eyes caught something about the weapon she was using. He flicked his wrists, turning his blade in an angle parallel to his body in order to block the incoming strike from his enemy. Then, he twisted himself around to parry the strike and begin a series of two-handed swings to push the offensive. "I recognize the signature coming from that sword of hers. It feels like a Zanpakutō, both in texture and appearance. But there's something off from it... something very familiar..."

After another parry, he spun around and readied himself into a defensive stance. A slight smirk came across his face as he looked her in the eye. "What, is he still keeping up that guise of being on the Inner Circle's side?" He questioned. "Probably won't be for long, considering the way the tide's turning against them...!"

Following that sentence, he continued his offensive barrage against her. That feeling of adrenaline was staring to come back to him. He knew he had a mission to achieve. But this woman was starting to show promise as a good adversary. He only hoped that Ayūi could hold on just a little bit longer for him. If this enemy was as strong as he was hoping, then quelling her would take a while.

"The Inner Circle you and I speak of are very different, Tsubasa-dono," Kōkō spoke in an eery, calm tone as she exchanged blows with Qilin's blade. Every two-handed strike the Spiritsmith struck, Kōkō exchanged back with just as much fervor, without any sign of forced effort. The currents around the scabbard of her blade would make it appear as if it really was a blade, despite it being blunt and made of wood.

Then, the scabbard itself glowed as she swung it out, exuding an enormous fissure of Spiritual Energy, before she unleashed it upon the extended slash of Qilin's blade...

SHEEEEEOOOOOOW!

...releasing an immense explosion of incredible force, mingled with the cutting arc of her sheathed weapon.

"The Inner Circle you once knew were mere puppets being held by a puppetmaster. The Horsemen just happened to be distinguished puppets, nothing more, nothing less," Kōkō spoke stoically certain and precise, never having a single thread of doubt what she spoke was the truth.

Here was where Qilin's eyes widened - not out of apprehension, but recognition.

"That's it...!"

His blade moved with the swiftness of a sparrow as it moved to counter the arc of power. His blade would slice through the fissure of energy cleanly, and the backwash of it would cause him to briefly crouched down to one knee. His eyes narrowed in the face of the intense winds that blew against him, but his body remained firm in the face of it. It only lasted several seconds before he straightened himself back up to face his enemy once more.

"She's not just using any sword..." He thought to himself, smirking as he idly flipped his blade. "She's using one of my creations. I can sense the faint spiritual signature of myself coming from that sword. A mere toy in comparison to my more serious works, but still quite the impressive weapon. I'm quite pleased it seems so effective..."

"Oh, that much was made pretty obvious from Aizen and Juhabach's first appearances right away..." He answered casually, balancing his sword onto his shoulders. "At least Yashin was a bit more subtle about it before he decided to put in his two cents to "help" the Alliance."

"Sōsuke Aizen and Yhwach Juhabach are both anticipated variables. They are also merely puppets in a show, even if they are given longer string than the others, it'll undoubtedly create a noose around their necks," Kōkō spoke derrisively fluid, as she lowered her weapon to a more balanced, ready state, awaiting Qilin himself to take the offensive this time around, "I speak of a puppetmaster that rivals Lord Shiyōnin in subtlety and mystery. The one whom formed the Inner Circle in the first place."

"Huh...?"

This time, Qilin's eyes would widen in slight surprise upon hearing the mention of another power player within this game of chess. "Another chessmaster...?" He asked, his casual tone having been momentarily replaced by one filled with surprise and wonder. He lowered his sword back to his side, more interested in finding out information rather than attacking right away. Who could have been the person manipulating everyone else? Who would have had the massive intellect and tact for such a thing?

"Seems like this girl knows a lot more about the situation than any of us do." He thought, slowly narrowing his eyes and frowning. He slowly settled into a kendo stance, gripping his sword tightly. "I suppose you're not going to hand the answer to me out on a plate, are you?" He asked with a bit of sarcasm.

"No," Kōkō spoke clearly, as gripped her sword tightly. As she raised it above her head, her voice held a tint of finality, "that is for Lord Shiyōnin to decide...if you are worthy...or not!" 

With a downheaving slash, a powerful torrent of cutting energy tore through the laboratory, tall enough to even scrape across the dauntingly high ceiling. As the tearing force rushed towards him, she ran up the walls and leaped from surface to surface, slashing her sheathed weapon a number of times, sending smaller and swifter cutting fissures to hit him at opposing angles. 

"Hm!"

With a boost of his legs, Qilin leaped out of the blast's trajectory and landed feet-first on the wall. The aura of spiritual pressure was enough to create another powerful torrent of wind that blew against him. He couldn't help but be impressed at the way she was utilizing her sword; despite aiming to cut, the weapon itself was still sheathed within its scabbard. It was a testament that the bond Kōkō held with the weapon was strengthened to quite an extent. That would make it all the more anticipating to fight against.

He stabbed his blade into the wall and dragged it along with him as he ran beside the passing fissure, consequently avoiding the smaller blasts as he did so. A heavy amount of sparks were generated, falling onto the ground below and disappearing as soon as they came into contact. He would leave a thin and deep mark within his wake as he moved, his sword cleanly making its way through the wall. He would keep this up until he was parallel with Kōkō.

Then, he ripped his sword from the wall with enough force to uproot several massive boulders towards her location. They were coated with his spiritual pressure so that they would not be easily hurled aside by a simple release of spiritual pressure. Although the speed and power would be enough to assure severe injury and the number of boulders would limit maneuverability, they would only serve to be a distraction for her.

One Flash Step, and he performed the same tactic from another wall perpendicular to his previous location. Another Flash Step and the repeat would result in boulders flying from all directions. Upon the last movement, he would sheathe his blade and keep his hand on his hilt in a preparatory iaido stance. His eyes narrowed as he zeroed in on her location, his spiritual pressure dampening so that he would not be detected right off the bat. When the timing was right, he took off once more.

The moment she would attempt to clear a path for herself would be the moment where she would be met face-to-face with his blade.

When he performed the iaido strike, he released enough power to blow away a good portion of the area. Although he restrained himself to ensure that other sentient projects would not get caught up in the fight, it didn't keep the destruction from being on a high scale. The ground caught up in the force of the attack had a trench burned through it, with the material that made up the floor turning into fragments of glass under his power. Debris fortunate enough to escape such a fate were smashed against the walls and the ceiling. Contact with her flesh would be enough to rend her asunder in the blast.

Kōkō saw the boulders thrust in her direction and responded immediatley. Without as much as a blur of motion, her scabbard vaporized the boulders of debris heading her direction, each one before even reaching a midpoint. When she finally turned her attention back to Qilin, she barley had time to acknowledge the stance he had assumed, nor his plan. 

As the blast of destructive energy was unleashed, Kōkō's body became enraptured in a dark violet-black aura, irrefutably similar to another entity's. Uttering aloud, Kōkō charged headlong into the mass of disassimilating energy, as she swung her scabbard-clad blade towards it, "Sheathed Sword Art, Makonbō Yari!"

Within that instance, the force she swung had just enough ferocity and intensity as Qilin's Iaijutsu technique, effectively warping the space in between them, forcing an explosion of orange flames and distorting all the metal and quite a few of the developing tanks to explode.

Within that instant, the barrier shattered around Ayūi's tank, while also forcing her to shield her eyes from the flash with her hands.

There was a flash of light, and then it was all over.

Within a few moments, the environment had just turned a bit more war-torn. The two combatants were standing in the midst of all, with Ayūi now an apparent spectator to the death duel. Qilin couldn't help but chuckle as he slowly sheathed his blade again, though keeping his hand on the hilt. He hadn't expected the durable tank to shatter against their power, but considering it an event of good fortune. The girl was free once more, even if he hadn't directly been the one to do it.

"See? I told you I was gonna get you outta there." He remarked jokingly to Ayūi, though keeping his eyes on his enemy in preparation for another possible attack.

"Almost killing me in the process wasn't what you promised, Qilin," Ayūi rolled her eyes, as she reared back a fist and smashed her way out of the tank. Within a flow of liquid, the young woman slid onto her feet and sighed with relief, coughing up any built up fluids within her gullet. Within a matter of seconds, her body became enraptured with a silver aura of immense Spiritual Power, causing her body to manifest a familiar high collared white cloak, "ahhhhh, much better."

"Subject Reflection has been released from containment," Kōkō spoke with a calm tone, as if announcing to someone other than herself, "how should I handle this?"

A brief silence elapsed, as Kōkō's eyes closed in response. Nodding, she spoke a brief, "Understood," as her own body began to ooze a violet-black smoke, as her eyes opened, showing a pair of red-kanji irises upon black scleras, "I'll assume priority of this situation..."

VOOOOOM!!!

Within a powerful gust of violet-black flames, Kōkō's presence was changed into that of all-too-familiar entity. As the flames of Spiritual Power dispersed, Yashin rose from a knelt posture, now holding the blade that was previously in Kōkō's possession.

"Pleasure to meet you, Meihaku Ayūi and Tsubasa Muromachi," Yashin spoke aloud with a pleased smile, his eyes meeting both of theirs.

"What the--"

Needless to say, Qilin was taken by surprise upon what he witnessed and felt. Just like that, the situation had turned on its head. No longer was he facing down one of Yashin's disciples. Now, he was staring into the eyes of the master himself. The spiritual pressure couldn't have been mistaken for anything else. For whatever reason, Yashin decided to drop down for a visit.

Yet at the same time, he could feel a faint trace of Kōkō's spiritual energy within - a clear indication that what was in front of him wasn't the "real" Yashin moreso than it was some twisted manifestion of his person through Kōkō. It was exactly the same situation as it had been with Rana. Only this time, the host willingly gave up control instead of struggling to the very end. His lip briefly curled in disgust at her voluntary surrender of her will and identity.

"Is she really so loyal that she would give up her body and spirit for him? Tch..."

But the disgust was present for only a brief moment. Slowly, he lowered his sword back down and quirked an eyebrow at Yashin. "Impressive toy you've got there, Yashin." He commented. "And I'm not just referring to the sword in your hand, either."

"Oh, such a callous remark coming from a turncoat spy for the Inner Circle. Then again, I have been playing all of you from the beginning, so whom am I to judge?" Yashin spoke nonchalantly, waving the sword with emphasis before regarding him with a cruel smile, "and does dear Shikyo know of your whereabouts, or are you just going to let the Alliance butcher her like the puppet she is for the mastermind of the Inner Circle?"

And once again, Qilin found one of his lips curling at Yashin's verbal jab. His teeth clenched slightly inside of his mouth, and his grip on his sword tightened just a little more. But he inwardly reminded himself to remain calm. Yashin was a master at word games, and the last thing he wanted to do was give him the satisfaction of seeing his composure break. Besides, this wasn't even the real Yashin he was dealing with.

"To say I'm a spy for anything implies that I'm affiliated and identify with them." He fired back, idly twirling his blade in a slow circle. "And I don't identify with anything or anyone. I'm my own man. Shikyo knew this, and she knew what she was getting into when she started down her path. So naturally, she already knows what I'm doing and what I plan on doing." Slowly, he shifted his blade back to a position on his shoulder. "That being said, who's the "mastermind" of the Inner Circle? All this time, I thought it to be you. But judging from what Kōkō said and what you're saying now, I can tell that even you're far from the main chess player here."

"He's not important anymore. He started the game the Horsemen are playing by coming across your wife, but left halfway. I think he may have known about me and my intentions, giving up on you to start another agenda of his. So really, this has been my game since I've joined the Inner Circle," Yashin commented smoothly, shrugging casually at the mentioning of the IC's mastermind up and leaving the organization.

"!"

Qilin abruptly stopped twirling in blade as he heard Yashin's words, jerking his head up to regard Yashin with a bit of astonishment. "Wait a minute." He said, reflexively taking a few steps forward. "Did you say that she had encountered this person?" There had never been a word from her about the likes of meeting this mysterious backer. But then again, they've rarely had a chance to speak to one another ever since their separation. It made Qilin wonder just how much she knew about it all...

"Your rank as a Dog of the Inner Circle shouldn't make it a surprise that she wouldn't tell you. In fact, she's the only Horseman who's met him. While even I don't know his true identity, they call him by the title of the Commandant," He spoke with an impassive tone, his eyes cooly looking into his, "I don't know if he's truly a man, woman, or a group acting on the identity of the Commandant, but whoever your wife encountered, started the Inner Circle and chose her as its first Horseman."

"That's how she got such a powerful position..." Qilin thought to himself, a more serious look on his face as he looked at Yashin. "All this time, I had assumed that she had fought up the slope to acquire her position. But she was simply seduced into it by another, played as a puppet all along..." There was a slight waver within his eyes, even as his expression remained steadfast. "Damn it, Shikyo... why would you allow yourself to do that, especially when you hold the life of our daughter in your hands?!"

He blew out a breath, narrowing his eyes and lowering his weapon back to his side. "So, even the great Yashin doesn't know everything, huh...?" He mused, seeing this as an opportunity to taunt the man. "That's actually the first time I've heard you speak with even a hint of uncertainty. Are you sure that you're not one of the many being used here? Sure, you might say he abandoned his goal because of you. But if anything? I think you're just trying to reassure yourself, keep yourself thinking that you're so independent when you're clearly not. Denial is always present before acceptance, after all..."

"Who knows?" Yashin spoke with amusement, closing his eyes as he shrugged, "maybe I know more than I am letting on, spreading a lace of truth within lies. Maybe I am nothing more than a piece in another puzzle game, but am simply self aware. But one thing is certain, is that I have completely fooled all three sides of this war. The fact that you just now heard of his existence means I am completely aware of his identity and what his plans are. Thought about that, Dog?"

Upon the last word Yashin spoke, a surprising burst of movement and power was launched at the master manipulator, causing even the prior to widen his eyes with slight surprise. 

"DON'T SPEAK ILL OF MY FRIEND, BASTARD!" Ayūi snarled aloud, as her Zanpakutō clashed against the guard of Yashin's own, specially created Zanpakutō, creating such a Spiritual Pressure that it sent fissures of force all over the laboratory.

Needless to say, Qilin was quite shocked.

The sudden outburst from Ayūi wiped away what would have been a hawk-eye gaze and a scowl to match, causing it to be replaced by nothing more than shock and awe. Quickly, he raised an arm to shield his face and dug his feet in to keep himself from being thrown back by the immense force utilized against his enemy. But the winds lasted only for a brief moment before they subsided, allowing Qilin to lower his arm back down and look upon the scene with astonishment. Although she seemed physically stable, he hadn't expected to be in enough condition to start fighting right off of the bat.

"Ayūi..." He whispered, slightly touched by her declaration of comraderie with him. With the shock of her attacking, his voice had spoken the word in a quiet and subdued tone.

"You're quite strong, Meihaku Ayūi-san," Yashin spoke with a delighted look of surprise, his eyes narrowing as he used one hand to push back with a burst of his own power, shoving her back onto her feet, "I guess you're not for decoration then. You really do possess Sōsuke Aizen's Spiritual Power."

"Qilin-kun," Ayūi spoke to Qilin to the side, as a bead of sweat crawled down the side of her right, facing jawline, "I am a little rusty at fighting at this level, so I need you help work with me to bring him down. He's obviously got no intention of letting you leave alive, so I have no intention of rattling his mouth any longer, so this is the only logical course of action."

Her words caused Qilin to take in a deep breath through the nose, purging whatever possible emotional distractions from his body. But his expression would once again regress to his serious look, with most of his mirth and entertained attitude he contained during his fight with Kōkō gone. Slowly, he grasped his sword with both hands and leveled it in a kendo stance at Yashin. "All right." He said lowly to his new ally. "I'll make sure I'll fill in the blanks for you. In turn, I'm trusting you to watch my back."

Then, he directed his tone to Yashin, his tone matching the emotion within his expression. "To be honest, Yashin?" He spoke up, his tone low and smooth at first. But when he continued speaking, he would gain a more throaty and threatening voice. "I'm not really sure why you're seeking to kill me of all people. Maybe it's because I'm an unknowing obstacle in your plans. Maybe you decided to seek me out for the sake of a good fight. Or maybe it's because you got bored and had nothing else to do in this pitiful excuse for a war. But I'll tell you one thing."

Then, a bright flash illuminated the area, with a shockwave erupting from Qilin's person in the process. When the flash cleared, he would be seen glowing with a brilliant aura of his own spiritual energy. The air around them seemed to warp and distort under the influence of his spiritual pressure, with several more structures collapsing and becoming crushed underneath the power. He would regard Yashin with glowing white eyes, yet the malice was clear as day. "I'm on my own path, and you're standing in my way." He hissed, his tone beginning to shift. "So I'm going to give you an ultimatum. Get the fuck out of my way..."

He coiled his legs, performing a Flash Step that would leave him hovering above the ground in a leaping jump towards his foe. His blade was raised over his head with both of his hands, swung down towards his foe's head with extreme predjudice. His eyes had never gleamed with so much wrath and fury, which was matched by the shout of his final words and the power put behind his strike.

"...OR DIE!!!!!"

"Annihilate All Opposition, Taiteki," Yashin uttered smoothly, never once being phased by the look of wrath and passion by Qilin. As he spoke, the seal holding the bandages around the blade's guard tightly burned away, allowing him to take hold of the blade's hilt. As he began unsheathing it within an inaijutsu maneuver, he unleashed a force that seemed to white out the space which Qilin charged into. 

SHEEEEEEEOOOOOOW!!!

Within but an instant before he drew his sword, Ayūi launched a Hainawa rope to wrap onto his ankle and pull him below the arc of immensely dangerous force being unleashed by the blade. A look of utter horror was on her face, as her eyes saw what the blade did. 

Just above where Yashin slashed his released Zanpakutō was a gaping fissure, cleanly cut to be nearly the exact length of the laboratory room and nearly as wide as ten meters. What was more amazing, was the fact that it cut straight into the sky, parting the ferocious clouds and out of the bunker that was designed to withstand incredible pressure and stress of battle-based blasts. 

Any of the tension that Qilin had felt when he made his move was shattered the moment he felt the Kidō wrap around his ankle. Even in the bright light, his eyes abruptly widened until they were nothing but white dinner plates in a show of comical surprise.

"Oh, cr--"

Then, he promptly was thrown onto the ground face-first, barely missing getting clipped by the energy released by the attack. He would ride it out in that manner, with the waves of power washing over his person. When it was all over, his figure would be found face-down at the mid-point between Ayūi and Yashin. It was a rather humorous scene to see, with the legendary Spiritsmith faceplanting on the ground in front of both adversary and ally. It would be made even more ridiculous when he spoke up, with one word coming out of his pained voice.

"...ow..."

"You alright, Qilin-kun?" Ayūi asked with a worried tone, as Yashin snickered at the humiliating position he was in, resting his unsheathed blade on his shoulder as he observed his posture. 

"...am I all right, she asks." Qilin muttered flatly, slowly moving his arms so that he would be positioned for a push-up. However, he did not move himself right away. "About to unleash an all-out assault on the guy, promptly get tripped by my comrade-in-arms, and land ever so gracefully on my face, and she wonders if I am fine and dandy." Slowly, he turned his head to give her a glare and a raise of the eyebrow. "Well, if you must know, my dignity is in pieces with no hope of repair. But thank you for asking." The sarcasm was especially thick within the last sentence, and he pushed himself up on one knee. His free hand began slapping at the front of his face to rid himself of any dirt and dust that had accumulated on his countenance. "Couldn't you have done the thing you did when Kōkō ambushed me? Would've been a lot less painful for--"

However, once his eyes directed their gaze to the destruction Taiteki had unleashed, he stopped his complaints right then and there. Slowly, he brought himself to his feet and stared in astonishment at the trench that had been cut into the building. Slowly, he lowered his head and shook it, his bangs falling over his eyes to hide part of his expression. But his mouth would remain to be seen, slowly curling into a wide smile. He let out a chuckle, his shoulders shaking slightly with his mirth.

"Perhaps... I was a bit too quick to get angry." He said softly, raising his head back up so that his eyes would meet Yashin's own. "I have to commend you for taking such good care of Taiteki for me. It's a toy in comparison to my greater and more legendary works... but I see that you've managed to evolve it to much greater level without much consequence. She's only got her teeth..." He held his sword in one of his hands, pinching the base of the blade with his index finger and forethumb before idly scraping them against the metal surface. "But they're pretty sharp teeth, that's for certain."

"This is but a tip of the iceberg, Tsubasa-san," Yashin speaks smoothly, not bothering on humiliating the man as much as he already had, as he lets the sword drop and skid across the ground. As he did so, the large gaping trench would be left behind as he walked towards Qilin's direction, smiling nonchalantly as he did so, "Taiteki's power is far beyond your expectations. Should I release its true potential, it would cause a cataclysm to occur for the Soul Society."

"He's not kidding around, Qilin!" Ayūi cautioned lowly, rushing to his side with sword firmly in her hand, her eyes narrowing at the blade's destructive path by merely making minimal contact with it, "a single touch from that blade could be a death sentence, even for you. I'm not even sure your Zanpakutō could handle much pressure from a full powered swing from that blade!"

"Climax, Aijin."

Qilin would lowly speak the words and extend his sword out to the side, allowing his sword to shift to the black blade that was the released form of his Zanpakutō. He would lower it back to his side, seemingly ignoring Ayūi as he observed the approaching Yashin. But when he spoke, it was clear that he wasn't. "Ayūi, dear. This is a weapon that I designed. I'm fully aware of what it's capable of and its respective limitations. I find it a bit adorable that Yashin thinks of me as someone who is quick to assume. But no... even my toys are painstakingly crafted and designed to the edge of perfection. I never allow myself to forget anything about my children. And besides..."

His smile grew a bit wider, and he allowed himself to start walking towards his foe to meet the unspoken challenge. "Even if what he says is true, I don't mind. Dying by the teeth of such a beautiful sword wouldn't be so bad. In fact, I think I'm hoping for him to cut me with that sword of his." His eyes would meet Yashin's at this point. "Do you hear me, nightmare of the Inner Circle? That weapon clearly appreciates you as its wielder, and as such, you are free to use it as you see fit. Don't disappoint me, pal..."

He raised the blade horizontally in front of him with a foreboding click, ready to begin the battle anew.

The War of Four: To The Victor Act III

Arrival of the Vanguard, the Endgame Continues - Part II

It seemed that every time she released her form, Casilda ended up in a different one.

When she had fought Aizen, she had a visage equivalent to a half-humanoid bat. When she fought Yashin, she was in a purely humanoid form with wings. Now, as she fought against Tousen, her form had changed yet again. Her hair had elongated, reaching down to reach the halfway point of her back. It had also gained a white color as well as a more rough-looking appearance. She wore what seemed to be a light-blue skin-tight body suit with a darker blue thin jacket. On her feet were matching-color boots that looked like they were her feet themselves instead of just footwear. Overall, this made for a powerful and menacing appearance, though it clearly wasn't as dark or hideously menacing as Tōsen's had become.

The environment around them was now an apocalyptic wasteland thanks to the clashing of their powers. Red lightning crackled down from the storm clouds, illuminating a crimson sky. Several rocks had uprooted from the ground and began to float around, with even the concept of gravity having been distorted by the clashing energies. By this point, even Melina had been stunned into silence as she watched the two entities clash fiercely against one another.

"Look at it, Findor-kun..." She mumbled to Findor, who was standing beside her silently with his arms folded across his chest. "It looks so... beautiful..." She seemed star-struck by the clash of powers. "No matter how many times I see it, it just never gets old. Even better that Kana-chan seems to be able to match her..."

"I'm impressed how powerful you are, Casilda Selestino," Kaname spoke aloud with a Hollowed voice, still donned in his masked Visored state, while holding his blade at a ninety degree angle from his arm, standing still and unmovable, "considering how much work the Master went into creating me, its clear that you and I are equals in many fashions. It doesn't change the outcome of your defeat, but it has been rather...entertaining...to find a meaningful battle in this lifetime. I have you to thank, Primera!

And with that said, he lunged once more, swinging his blade with incredible momentum and poise, much like a dancer with the strength to uproot skyscrapers. His every arcing maneuver of his blade allowed him to retreat back and counter every returning strike by his opponent, never fully leaving an opening, overextending himself, or wasting any form of energy. It came down to a battle of skill and timing. Whoever proved to be better at both would be the victor, that much was clear. 

Within a moment of brief silence, Casilda allowed herself to speak.

"Equal? Defeat?"

The cutting edge of Kaname's sword would meet the Hierro of her palm as she reached up to catch it. A brief burst of sparks was generated from the metal colliding against the hardened skin. She gripped the weapon tightly in her hands, regarding her foe with a slight smirk. "You must be getting quite comfortable." She remarked lowly, still carrying taunt within that tone of hers. "Do you know just who I've had to fight before coming across you? Do you really think that you of all people could match up to the likes of them or me, for that matter? I can commend you for pushing me to my released form, that's for certain. But to say that we're equals? You truly are blind..."

Then, she jerked the blade aside. With speed that made her seem like her arm was a blur, she used her free hand to clasp onto his Hollow mask. With tremendous strength, she would lift him off of his feet before slamming him into the ground. The force was enough to indent the earth underneath their feet, causing the earth to implode and a massive crater to be formed within. Powerful winds were generated in the form of ripples, reaching as far as the audience while still retaining considerable power. Casilda's subordinates would reflexively raise their arms to shield their face, grunting as they struggled to keep their balance.

"What?!" Kaname thought as he felt the impact breach his protective Hierro, causing his mask to split horizontally where his mouth was. The pain felt as if he was being crushed all over, despite the fact her hand was only gripping her mask. Gritting his teeth, he swung his free hand towards her midriff with a powerful palm-heel, while uttering aloud, "Haien!" 

The resulting blast would issue a giant fireball of violet-black flames, propelling Casilda away to give him a moment to recouperate, as well as eat away at her protective skin and burn her away to ashes. 

"Hup!"

Readily, Casilda pushed herself in a leap off of Kaname to evade the attack. The flames would clip her skin, leaving slight burn marks on it as she retreated. But other than that, there would be no considerable damage done. She landed elegantly on her feet, standing straight back up and regarding her enemy once again. "I'm someone who had to work very hard for the position and identity I possess now." She continued to speak to him. "Dozens of battles I've fought, and many more wars. My very life was conflict... conflict that helped me harden myself to protect my kind and its companions from their enemies. You, however, are nothing more than an artificial creation, a shadow of a servant's existence. The difference between us is as great as the distance created by all the oceans in the world combined. Make no mistake, Tōsen..."

Slowly, she extended her hand out to point at him.

"There is no "equal". Cero Ametralladora!"

From her palm, multiple Cero was released towards Tōsen in a machine-gun fashion. The power and recoil was enough to make Casilda's arm shake. But she kept her aim locked on her target in order to keep him suppressed and bombard him out of existence.

"I can hear it. I can hear the thundrous roar of power ripping across from her palm and can see it as streaks of star light. Though I might not possess the raw martial might to match you, Casilda, I do have one thing that even a Reigai like me possesses. The Will to win!" Kaname thought within his mind, as the Ceros began to fire and reach his position. 

Retreat wasn't a viable option. Pushing forward was the only logical and true choice left to him. Her rapid firing wouldn't allow her to sense his presence while he moved forward, only giving her a vague sense she's within the wide gait of his movement. Even as the horizon lit up in a torrent of explosions of skyscraper plumes of fire, and the landscape became gouged in fissures of fiery ash and glassed sand particles. 

Moving forward, he took advantage of the small gaps between each and every fired fissure. Because it wasn't a solid wall of energy, it allowed him to use his heightened senses that he had been blessed and cursed with to evade the lethal pillars of incinerative energy. Though it didn't leave him unscathed. Being just a hair's breath away from every beam of rapidly discharged energy, as he ducked and weaved in and out of the blasts exiting her palm and into the airspace, his skin was burned and torn off, with only his instantaneous regeneration allowing him to come this far. 

Then, he managed to use a deft Flash Step to appear just underneath Casilda's extended arm, thrusting his blade forward to her navel, coating it with Haien flames, from which he would discharge in a gout of Nenshō intensified energy, intending on overtaking her with the surprise of his rush to her position.

But unfortunately for him, Casilda had taken notice of him.

His movements between her shots caught her eye, and she had slowly squinted them as she continued firing. She flexed the fingers of her free hand, waiting patiently for him to reach her again. The way he moved made it all too clear what his intentions were for her. Even after what she had said and done to him, did he really assume that such a simple ambush tactic would strike her down? He was quite stubborn in his beliefs, she'd give him that much. But they were the wrong beliefs to have against an enemy like her.

When he appeared underneath her arm, his masked face would meet her fist. The force of the blow would derail the Kidō unleashed against her, once again clipping her form as it passed her. The flames would cause the area to be illuminated in a mix of purple and orange light as the two combatants were crowded by the fire. None of that would keep Casilda from pressing the attack, however. The power put behind her blow would at least briefly stun him for her next series of attacks. None of them would hold any mercy.

After all, she could tell he wasn't planning on surrendering any time soon.

Her fists would crash down upon Kaname's masked form without relent or remorse. They weren't enhanced by speed, but they were enhanced by her physical power. There were uppercuts, haymakers and straight jabs that she unleashed on him. Her eyes were narrowed, and a scowl decorated her face as she continued her assault. She refused to let up on him, knowing that the moment that she did would be the moment he would immediately counter-attack.

"I miscalculated," Kaname thought as his nerves began burning under the threshold of pain he received. With every blow, muscles split, tissue torn, blood spurting, and bones with tendons snapping under the weight of every punch. All that kept him alive was his constant use of Instantaneous Regeneration, and even that was starting to slow down under the flurry of fists raining upon his figure, cracking the air pressure and producing electric shocking blasts outside his body's proximity, "she's going to kill me if I keep holding back. I must use that power...even though, it may...kill me!

Within an instant, Kaname used a burst of Spiritual Power to throw her momentarily off his person, and allow him to use Flash Step to backpedal a good distance. Once accomplished he raised his blade up into the air, as his masked form barely hid his bruised and bloodied face and torn appearance. 

"Suzumushi Hyakushiki: Grillar Grillo!" Kaname shouted to the heavens, as his body became overwrought with a blast of blue Spiritual Power, engulfing his body, before transforming into a torrent of black flames outlined with violet tongues. When he emerged, his body transformed into that of an enlarged cricket-like creature, with a bulbous white mask, with multi-faceted eyes, glaring ugly with blue tints, hinting his artificial origins and his unnaturally heightened bloodlust.

"!"

At first, Casilda was surprised by the sudden burst of spiritual pressure that Kaname had pushed against her. Once again, she had to leap back before she could deliver another punch. She did not attempt to attack anymore, feeling the sudden shift in his spiritual signature. As she readied herself, she could see him transform once again. The Resurrecion known as his "final form" would be revealed to her. She would take in the mask, the eyes, and the insectoid body that made up his new form in silent disdain. As far as she was concerned, it was nothing more than a copy of a real Hollow's abilities. Still, she understood that this was the Reigai's final card against her.

If she suppressed this, he would be done for.

"And so, the mask comes off..." She said simply, raising a hand to gesture towards him. "Your true ugliness has shown itself in all of its glory, concubine of Aizen. But at the very least, I hope that it provides some sort of comfort when I send you to the next life."

"You are nothing but a sham of Hollowity, Casilda Selestino!" Kaname spoke gutturally as he bent down on all fours, spreading his wings accordingly, "I'll show you...just how powerful...my very own Ressurreccion is...in comparison...to...YOURS!

BZZT!

Kaname moved forward with incredibly heightened speed, his form descending upon her with a powerful pair of claw slashes. The resulting pair of attacks sent destructive fissures to cut across the earth for nearly a quarter of a mile, followed up by a flurry of slashes and movements erratic in nature, due to his released form. 

"Certainly a rather ironic choice of words, Reigai..."

For her first movement, Casilda would leap back in order to avoid the first pair of strikes sent her way. The dust released by the force of the strike into the ground would make her shut her eyes briefly. But as he moved against her, she allowed her body to speak for her. She went on a backwards retreat, dodging each and every one of his claw swipes while using acrobatic and evasive maneuvers to keep him off her back. At the moment, she seemed like the mouse at the mercy of a hungry cat.

As Tōsen attacked, Findor would regard his taunting words with disgust. "A sham of Hollowity, he says?" He repeated, wrinkling his nose. "I never knew the real Tōsen would have carried such arrogance with him to the grave. The very gall just makes me want to take my sword and kill him myself!" For emphasis, he balled up a fist and raised it to chest level at their mutual enemy.

"Even though you most likely would get butchered in the process." Melina said offhandedly, causing comical dark lines to cross the man's face.

"...do not remind me of my shortcomings, Melina-san."

Age and Beauty, A Clash of Titans and Goddesses Part II

On the side of Nohemi and Yamamoto, the battlefield had been turned into a war-torn landscape.

Yamamoto's Bankai had turned the ground under their feet into nothing but glass due to indirect contact. Whatever piece of ground as well as any structures unfortunate enough to get caught in his assault was vaporized from the thread of existence. The only thing that was unmarred and without taint was Nohemi herself, who was standing with her sword balanced onto her shoulder. She peered at her enemy with an analyzing look, keeping a calm composure despite the destruction that had been wreaked around her.

Likewise, Nohemi's strikes had been nothing short of lethal and devastating. Every wasp of power leaked from one of her swings had caused explosions of light to consume what Yamamoto's Bankai hadn't, ensuring that any soul who walked anywhere near the zone would risk the threat of imminent death. But she hadn't landed a good blow on him at all, mostly due to the invisible fire shield he had around his body. Although her blade and her body proved itself durable enough to endure the heat of the Sun, it wasn't enough to break through.

It was the result of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object - and she couldn't help but smile slightly at the fact that she now had a tougher adversary to deal with. Her only regret was that it wasn't the real Yamamoto she was facing, as eerily similar as the Reigai was to him.

"It doesn't seem like we're going to get anywhere with mere parrying thrusts," Yamamoto spoke aloud, verbally recognizing the impasse they had found themselves in, as he squinted his hardened eyes towards Nohemi, "would you like to try out a serious attack now, or would you allow me the honor?" 

"Serious?" Nohemi repeated the word as if she hadn't heard correctly. Slowly, she started approaching the old Captain-Commander with her sword still balanced on her shoulder. "I've been serious this entire time, Commander. If I even tried to even think about toying with someone of your caliber, I would die before I hit the ground." At this point, she allowed herself to stop before sliding comfortably into a defensive stance. "But if that's how your line of thinking's going to be, then I'll let you have the first move. Show me a... serious... attack."

"Very well then!" Yamamoto spoke out in a declarative shout, as he spun his blade around and stabbed it into the earth. A deep rumble as an ominous wave of force began to quake the decimated landscape for kilometers, as an eergy flame rose up from the glass, ash-covered soil.

"Zanka no Tachi," Yamamoto began to utter, his eyes glowing blue with bloodlust as he stared back at Nohemi's eyes, "Minami: Kaka Jūmanokushi Daisōjin!

Then, it happened.

A skeletal hand reached up and grasped for Nohemi's ankle. The another, then a dozen more, soon to be joined by hundreds. Within an instant, Yamamoto allowed the transparent veil of his flame armor to come down, giving him a much more menacing appearance as a black-ash-covered sea of skeletons rose from the entirety of their demolished battlefield. All scrambled up, all moving dauntingly towards its prey, as the wielder of this undead army controlled them. 

"!"

Nohemi's eyes dilated as she felt the bony hand grasp her ankle. She grit her teeth as she saw more grab at her. They seemed ready to pull her under the ground and make her join them in their grave. But of course, she was far from ready to die just yet. With a flip of her sword, she pointed the tip at the reanimated dead and plunged the blade into the nearest one. Then, with one powerful swing, she unleashed what appeared to be a brief yet massive pulse of light. This pulse would blow its way through the mass army of undead and reduce them to nothing but pieces that would be scattered across the ground.

"Undead? I thought this to be a purely flame-based Zanpakutō." She thought to herself, settling into a defensive stance as she looked at Yamamoto. "Are they really undead? Or are they constructs made from his spiritual power?"

"You look confused, Arrancar. These bones are forged out of the ashes within the belly of my Zanpakutō. In Shikai, the spirit of anyone who dies within the fiery maw of Ryujin Jakka is absorbed, and is taken out of the flow of reincarnation. Forged out of ash harder than diamond, these skeleton warriors are the victims my Zanpakutō had devoured. An endless ocean of ash formed into a legion of warriors to be at my command," Without even twitching, the skeletons she had blasted apart began to reform, as hundreds more rose from the space she cleared through the vast sea of black bone avatars of the dead his Zanpakutō swallowed and now used like puppets, "and you are their prey." 

Within an instant, thousands of skeletons leaped at speeds that would rival a Captain or Espada's, latching onto each other to create a massive bone-shaped hand. Formed out of the bodies of skeletal faces, crisp and adorned with dried blood and ash, the massive hand swung out, intending to strike her with incredible force and send her into the sea of endless, churning dead-like skeletons rising from the ground continuously. 

It was an impressive attack.

But to the likes of the Queen, it wasn't infallible.

All she had to do was extend her palm out.

To the outside, it looked like she was catching a boulder several times her size. When the massive hand collided with the much smaller one, it was stopped in its tracks. The frame of Nohemi hadn't faltered against the strength put into the attack, though her hair blew in the face of the immense winds. She narrowed her eyes, which briefly glowed a brilliant red. There would be no spiritual energy placed, no physical power exerted. But the destruction would be just as devastating.

A brief shockwave, too brief for anyone to get a quick view of, would shoot through the area. Yamamoto would be unharmed. But the hand and the sea of skeletons would fall apart and disintegrate under the force unleashed upon them. Slowly, the Arrancar would lower her hand and lock her gaze onto her enemy again. "You'll have to do a lot better than reanimate corpses to kill me." She said, once again balancing her blade on her shoulder.

"You speak as if you won already," Yamamoto chuckled dryly, not bothering to change his stance, let alone be intimidated by her show of force. 

BOOM!

SHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINK!

Then, the earth exploded around her, as spears of hardened, ash-covered bones speared out and intended to stab her repeatedly from all over. Thousands of lines of skeletal constructs formed long tendrils of blade-edged limbs, forming to be as tall as skyscrapers as they homed in on her and discharged bone fragments as she would evade the slightest thrust of the collosal sized, snake-like bone tendrils.

Reflexes kicked in.

Without hesitation, Nohemi leaped from her spot as soon as she felt the first nanosecond tremor. She performed an elegant backflip, her vision panning to see the tendrils launched at her. She used her Sonido to evade them, deftly evading the stab attempts until she stopped herself in mid-air. From her position, she was able to view Yamamoto's position as well as spot a good majority of the appendages racing to her. Her eyes narrowed in concentration, and she readied her sword in both hands.

It was time to play a little leap-frog.

With a boost of her Sonido, she lunged towards the tendrils. Once her feet stepped on one, she would use a Sonido movement to get to another, and then another. There was only a few that she needed to step on in order to reach their wielder, and once she was close, her sword would be raised over her head for preparation for an overhead swing. It was quite an obvious attack and something that the old Captain-Commander would dodge. But as she swung, the wake of her blade seemed to create a visual warp effect.

Then, she swung down.

Although the visage came in the form of a brief pulse of light, the destruction was devastating. The force of the attack would carve a wide and shallow crevice within the ground, instantly grinding it into dust. The target, as frighteningly durable as he was, would be ripped asunder.

KRAK-KOOM!

A shockwave would billow out in a bizarre warping affect, as Yamamoto's weapon's edge touched the destructive force, obliterating it to nothing. A grimace appeared on his face, as he noted the unaffected result of using his skeletal avatars. Knowing that the only thing that could possibly reach her, is his blade, and the force behind its power, convinced him he had only one other technique that could obliterate her completely. 

"I have enjoyed our battle, Nohemi de la Cruz, but I cannot continue fighting in this Bankai much longer. If we drag this out much longer, our battle will result in a irreversible cataclysm within the realm of the Soul Society's borders," raising his blade declaratively towards Nohemi, before pulling it back, "this will be over soon. If not within an instant, than not too longer afterwards."

Within a blinding blur of movement, Yamamoto slashed his blade across the horizon, while declaring loudly, "Zanka no Tachi, Kita: Tenchi Kaijin!

Time slowed down.

Thanks to the counter-measure Yamamoto had unleashed, Nohemi knew that she wouldn't have enough time for an equally powerful countermeasure against his own attack. She extended her free hand out as she saw the air distort and a crevice being dug within its wake. She closed her eyes, focusing her power into her trademark defensive technique.

Cero Fuera.

When the wave washed over the area she was in, it would leave her unharmed. The bright orange hexagon of energy stood between her and her enemy like a stone wall. She had another technique that could have been used to counter more effectively and keep her from using too much of her techniques at one time. But she would have to rely on this method if she wanted to finish it as quickly as Yamamoto did.

"I told you," Her voice was almost a whisper as she spoke to him, calling off her barrier but keeping her hand outstretched. "I can't die just yet."

Then, her hand glowed a brilliant white. Upon her nonverbal command, several wide rings materialized around Yamamoto in the same manner that particles would circle an atom's nucleus. Within a millisecond after creation, these rings would converge on Yamamoto's location with the intent of crushing him into dust. It was one of her deadlier techniques within her standard arsenal, and she preferred not to use it commonly. But against a fighter like this, she had no choice in the matter.

Yamamoto saw the disturbances too late, as it closed in on his Sun-equivalent armored body. The fact they slid through the nova compared waves of flames made him gawk in surprise, barely able to summon a wave of Spiritual Power to neutralize it. That's of course, when it happened.

"RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!" Yamamoto's body became engulfed in white light, as an enormous explosion discharged from his skin, as the technique and his full power clashed as one. Even with the vibrant crackling tendrils of blue energy within it, the end result is clear. 

Within a long moment of hazy mist, Yamamoto's body appeared out of the mist, a cracked Shikai blade in hand that bore a vibrant, flickering flame, while gazing at her with scorched skin. His ribs were exposed, and his chest bled profusely, along with his upper arms and legs, with little of his coat and garments left intact.

"His Bankai has dissipated."

Nohemi's stance relaxed somewhat as she saw the injured state of her enemy. She couldn't help but grimace slightly at the wounds she had delivered. But at least she knew that her enemy didn't have much more energy left, if at all. She lowered her sword to her side, pushing aside her disgust at the grievous injuries in order to focus on the task at hand. She needed to finish this fight, now that her enemy was taken off guard.

Slowly, she began to approach her enemy with her sword lowered at her side. But it was ready to deliver the potentially finishing blow.  

"To think...I would be bested in battle...at my strongest. You truly are a rare gem, Nohemi de la Cruz, to have the skill and power to best me, even though I am but a mere reflection of the original," Reigai Yamamoto spoke as his body began to wither into dust before Nohemi's eyes, revealing a simplistic doll body underneath the aritficially generated flesh and bones, "I have no regrets, being able to combat someone as fierce and ancient as you. Farewell, Vasto Lordes..."

And with that, the fight was over.

Nohemi, after completing her walk to the remaining doll, stopped to regard it with weary eyes. It was definitely one of her toughest fights she had thus far, even if it was only a reminder of how strong the remaining obstacles would be. Although she knew things were taking on a good turn for the Alliance, she was somewhat fearful of what was to come. It wasn't simply because of the strength and intelligence of the enemy. It was for the future for the Material and Spiritual Worlds, now that this war had been waged?

Would there be any hope of recovery?

Slowly, she stooped down to pick up the remaining doll, regarded it for a brief moment, and exhaled a slow breath. Then, with a brief squeeze, she crushed the doll into nothing more than particles of dust. She let the fragments fall gently to the ground and blow away in the brief winds that crossed the land. Then she turned around and walked away, her sword slowly dissipating into thin air and leaving her barehanded as she had always been.

"Hueco Mundo... I may not be there." She thought to herself. "But I trust that you'll do well without me. You were born as warriors, more than a match for those Quincy trespassers. They will experience nothing but true Hell before you would allow them to take you."

A single Sonido would pull her out of the area, leaving nothing behind but the wasteland.

Prodigy vs Veteran, A Battle of Idealism Part II

Hana had to admit one thing about her enemy: She was good. 

Even at Bankai, despite her not revealing many of its fantastic traits other than greatly augmenting her speed and dexterity, Shikyo had managed to adjust within a graceful stride. She proved to be a capable combatant, able to produce cutting fissures of enormous gait as well as deflect Hana's projectile attacks, keeping her at a distance. 

Within the ensuing battle, Hana regarded much of the landscape had begun to wear and tear, as swathes of disheveled trenches of steaming cuts within the artificial and natural earth suffered blow after blow. It pained Hana to see that the Soul Society's infrastructures had to withstand so much punishment, despite her directive of protecting it. Her only comfort is that it was a painful marring of the original, taking pride that she could destroy the effigy that the Inner Circle made it out to be. 

With that mindset, she renewed the attack, coming in close as she produced two ring blades of small proportion in each hand. 

As she rushed towards Shikyo, using her Flash Step to create a dozen afterimages, she threw her two ring blades towards the 4th Horseman. As they flew towards her, she increased their velocity to impact by a fraction, as well as expanding their gait to be nearly ten meters from each end on its internal space. 

Within the mind numbing instance that they drew close for her to counter the large blades of incredible momentum and power, she threw another one, increasing its speed astrnomically faster than the others. The intention was to have the weapon overlap the others slash towards left hamstring, immobilizing her and giving her an advantage.

With thoroughness in mind, she cast a Kyokko spell on it, masking its presence, hoping her enemy would be too distracted by her erratic movements and hew priorly thrown weapons to notice the third. 

A slight sneer came across Shikyo's face as the discs raced towards her. A novice would have been quick to look at the mass of ring blades as the immediate threat. But she was able to sense the physical disturbance that the hidden ring caused and see it to be faster than the rest. Her sword was lowered at her side and her stance was lax, but she was ready for the attack.

"Pointless."

With that word, every blade would be intercepted by a sword-made warp within the atmosphere and knocked away. She held her sword in a back-hand position, slowly approaching her enemy with a slow and deliberate gait. Slight bursts of electricity leaped from her body, courtesy of a Tsuzuri Raiden spell. Naturally, it wasn't the original variant. Coming from the likes of such an opponent, it was clearly going to be used to a much more devastating level.

Sure enough, she didn't disappointment.

From the sky, an artillery barrage of yellow lightning bolts bombarded Hana's position. They would relentlessly target her, hunting her down if she evaded and bombarding her defenses if she dared to defend herself. Shikyo would continue to walk slowly and seemingly without a care in a world. "You can die along with the rest of your broken legacy!" She declared, her voice controlled but the menace clear as crystal.

"This is insane!" Hana thought as she swiftly moved to and fro, away from the titanic sized blasts of golden lightning, heralding from the heavens above, "her Kidō ability must be massive to use a spell like this without proper incantation or preparation needed. Not only that, but her Spiritual Power continues to rise, despite any wounds I sustained on her earlier. She just might be the strongest Horsemen of the Four!"

With swift hand gestures, she managed to manipulate the blades that were knocked to the ground, sending them rotating fiercely and hurtling towards Shikyo, expanding their size and exuding a powerful fissure of energy, making the ring blades appear like solid lunar discs heading her direction.

Using it as a distraction, she made her move towards nullifying the magnanimously destructive torrents of lightning heading her way.

Reaching into the folds of her sleeves, she manifested a handful of ring blades, and threw them around her, forming a tight spherical aligned space of constantly rotating metal. Within a clap of her hands, they all formed solid energy discs, and immediately began to rotate at high velocity, distorting the electrical currents threatening to thrust towards her, while simultaneously increasing in size and gait. 

The sphere expanded and expanded, until it looked as if a smalle meteor of light had erected over the battlefield, repetitively blasting away the lightning thrust in her direction. Then, the sphere moved. 

With unprecedented movement, the bright small moon thrust towards Shikyo with unstoppable momentum, as the surface of it shredded and set anything near it ablaze, while the overall concussive yield would shatter the ground around her for a great distance, as it homed in on Shikyo's position.

The massive discs thrown in Shikyo's direction would be the easier part of the attack. The lightning bolts would redirect, strike the discs and send them hurtling off-course. They would crash all around her in random directions, carving paths of destruction within their wake. But even as chaos reigned, she stood steadfast. Her stance would not break even as they continued to race towards her form. The bolts were her offense and defense, an invaluable weapon against the sword of her adversary.

Then, the massive moon was hurled at her. This would be where she would break her stance, gripping her sword with two hands and readying it. It glowed a dark purple - the color of her Izanami no Ibuki attack. Time would slow down in her perception, and she would close her eyes in concentration for her counter. Her blade would be a blur to the eye as it struck, carving and slicing through what would have been a still ball to her. It was sliced into parts and pieces and then fragments, with the only sign of her blows being the trails her blade would leave behind as it tore apart her weapon.

She would used the fragments of the small moon as a temporary visual block.

Tensing her body, she threw herself at and through the mass of fragments with immense speed. Her blade ignited with her energy as she moved, and the wake of her self-throw acted like a repelling shield against collision. It took only a heartbeat for her to reach Hana, with her sword raised over her head and the blade glowing with ominous energy. Without hesitation, she launched an Izanami no Ibuki attack in an attempt to completely consume her foe within the corruptive power.

"There's no way I can beat her like this! She's too strong!" Hana's thoughts rang in her skull, as she felt the entirety of the powerful Bankai technique shatter into billions of fragments. Not only that, but her tenacity wouldn't allow her a fraction of an instant to deploy a countermeasuring strategy. 

That, and the corrosive energy that rushed towards her, she knew of only one power that'd give her an edge, let alone an even playing field against the strongest of the Four Horsemen. 

As the dark, oozing blackness of the violet tongues began to swallow her being, a vibrant light pierced it. Within an instant, the flames were snuffed out, and a brilliant blast of light and a sacred pressure began to thrum within the skylines. With a slight crimson hue, a silver-scarlet aura donned upon her body as she opened her eyes and glared back at Shikyo's form as she delved into the one power that made her rival even her predecessor in terms of sheer skill and strength: Philosophy

Not even bothering to verbally acknowledge her, Hana mentally harnessed all of the fragments of the shattered moon construct, and empowered them with glistening white flames. Within an instant, Shikyo was surrounded with Hana by billions of fiery lights, all of them edged with razor sharp metal that used to form a small meteor. 

"Try dodging this, Horseman," Hana spoke stoically as she raised her hand, and snapped a finger against her thumb. 

It happened almost instantaneously. 

A hail of mentally guided, fire-covered shrapnel, all flowing forth with grace and precision as their max velocity made them appear like small comets heading towards their prey. Penetration would be a given instant shredding to the woman's durable frame, as well as set her flesh aflame, while delivering concussive force to her internal organs and break her bones. 

That was when the tables turned in the most brutal manner possible.

The sensations that the new energy produced was rocking to Shikyo's senses. Her eyes shot wide open as she saw the empowered pieces of shrapnel unleashed. Reflexively, she raised her sword and twisted herself around to fire off another Izanami no Ibuki attack. The wave would come in the form of a twister that would surround her form in order to protect her from the oncoming projectiles. Surely, the corruptive energy would destroy anything that it came across, right?

But it just wasn't meant to be.

To her shock and horror, the empowered projectiles not only ripped through the wave of miasma-like energy, but they also dismantled it completely. Her eyes dilated, and she couldn't help the gasp of horror as she saw all those pieces of metal shoot towards her. The comprehension of her situation hit her full force, and she idly wondered if this was what it was to feel truly helpless. Thanks to her reflex, she had spent the one chance she had at coming out of this particular attack alive. Before they closed in completely, she uttered two words of quiet fear.

"My god..."

Then, there was nothing but pain and agony as the fragments tore through her, setting both the external and internal body on fire. It was a miracle that her body was still holding itself together, riddled with holes and alight with the white fire produced by Hana's philosophy. She stumbled around, violently swinging in an attempt to blow away the flames. But they continued to lick at her, burning her from the inside out and the outside in. It didn't help that the projectiles had dug into her body, further ripping it apart whenever she moved. In that moment, she knew nothing but pain. There was only one thing that she could do for it.

She screamed.

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH~!"

It was an ear-splitting and blood-curdling scream, conveying all of her torment in the face of the strike. It would reach the ears of her daughter, who had been sitting in her barrier and watching helplessly from the sidelines. All of it was enough to render her into silence, her face conveying nothing but horror and despair. Her mouth was stuck open, and tears were steadily falling from her eyes. But she was too emotionally weakened to even call out for her mother, stuck with her hands pressed against the barrier. This wasn't how she wanted things to end. She had wanted to at least stay by the side of her mother in the event that she had gotten struck down. But by this time, there would most likely be nothing left to stand by.

After what seemed like an eternity, Shikyo ended her violent movements with a single hand stretched out towards Hana. A gesture of begging for mercy or rage at her defeat, it was hard to say. But it would be the last notion that she would make. With the last of her energy ripped away, she collapsed facefirst on the ground. Her body was like a bonfire to the battlefield, dimly illuminating everything within its center.

The brief silence would be broken by another scream.

"MOM!!!"

The barrier around Michiko would shatter, and she would run straight towards the bonfire. Once she felt the heat, she fell to her knees. After regarding it with her expression of dread, she put her face in her hands and began to cry openly. Tears ran steadily down her face, and she was repeatedly shaking her head as if denying this atrocity hadn't been committed in front of her. Her mother had just been slaughtered like an animal in front of her eyes, the stone wall shattered to nothing but pieces of rock and dust. She understood that her mom probably wouldn't make it out alive. But to die like this was nothing short of cruel and sadistic. What kind of monster would have condemned anyone to such a fate?

FWHOOSH!

Within an instant upon landing, the flames were defused by Hana herself, her body still radiating the stoic, powerful aura she used to defeat the Horseman. As she eyed the crying child, her gaze shifted back to the spasming body of Shikyo, holding it, as she saw the burns and cuts that marred her once beautiful appearance. 

Walking over to her, she stood over her fallen foe, before casting a pair of eyes back at Michiko, as she kneeled before her, "I have not here to cause tears, child. I am here to erase the source of pain, that's plagued my brothers and sisters of the Soul Society. This woman must be held responsible for the cruelty, contempt, and murder that she so callously committed upon this sacred soil, once known for tranquility and harmony."

With a brief inhale, and a resigned exhale, she stretched out her hands over Shikyo's body, while generating a emerald aura of divine light to cast over the wounded woman.

"But I will not be a murderer of a child's mother. She will be convicted, as much as I would desire her execution, I cannot do so without her acknowledgement of her misguided ways," Hana continued as her tone softened, repairing her enemy's bones and restoring the lost blood that had been stained upon her burnt and torn flesh, that healed in a matter of seconds. The only thing she didn't restore was her stamina, making sure she wouldn't provide resistance let alone a renewed fight that she fought so hard to achieve, "there. She is healed," casting a smile towards Michiko, she beckoned her over to her mother's side, "she'll wake soon enough..."

Had Hana not acted immediately, Michiko would have been quick to snap at her.

But when she heard the words of her mother's enemy and saw the moves that swept away death from reaching the fallen woman, her tearful anger was quick to recede. She looked on with slight confusion as she saw wounds regenerate, the fire wash away and the visage restored back to its former self. Slowly, she switched her gaze from her mother's body and to Hana, clasping her hands together in front of her. Although her mouth opened, she couldn't find the words to say. Was her enemy, after inflicting such a brutal defeat, actually keeping her from death's door?

But she wouldn't have time to ponder on it.

Hana would feel a hand gently placed on her knee and a light squeeze applied, courtesy of Shikyo herself. She was lying on her back with a weary expression, with all of the fury and blood lust gone from her body. "Well done, Hana..." She commended, her voice weak but holding a semblance of pride. "I never thought that I'd live to see this day. To embrace the desire to kill is one thing... but to willingly spare your most hated enemy is the hardest that any combatant would be able to do. Maybe... maybe I misjudged you after all. Maybe you're the one truly deserving to write the course of history... the way it was meant to be..."

"The legacy passed down by my predecessor, no, by my master, is to know when to embrace your intent to kill and when to let it go. Slaying monsters is one thing, but slaying another passionate being? Its...entirely different to deal with. I'm just glad I made the right decision," Hana breathed a sigh of relief, as she looked to the two of them, "if I had a mother, I knew I wouldn't want to part with her, not like this. You at least deserve to grow up with her guidance, instead of seeing her go before your maturation ends."

"...I think I was wrong about you, too..."

Michiko took this opportunity to speak up to Hana, her tone hesitant and quiet. She twirled her index fingers as she looked at the Head Captain. "I thought you were a mean lady, a bad guy..." She said, managing to bring up a shy smile. "But you made her all better after you beat her up... so, you can't be all bad..." She looked over at Shikyo, expressing concern that only a child could to their parent. "Are you okay now?"

"I'll live." Shikyo breathed, slowly exhaling. "I have to admit, though. I didn't see you take your eyes away from it not one time during our exchange." She allowed a soft chuckle to escape her. "I can clearly see a part of your dad in you..."

This prompted Michiko's smile to grow wider, and she clapped her hands together at the praise. "I'd never leave you, Mom! It was scary, but it's nothing I couldn't handle! You showed me that, after all."

"So I did..." Shikyo allowed a small smile of her own to cross her face. "So I did." She looked over at Hana, with her daughter following her gaze shortly after. "Well, Captain-Commander? You've beaten me, clearly showing that you're more than capable of taking your...master's... mantle. But what will become of me, seeing that you're not going to kill me?"

"I received word before our fight that the 43rd Sherman Regiment turned themselves in, due to their superior's own orders. They've been sweeping the Soul Society's outskirts, sewers, and underworks for signs of their comrades engaged in combat. If there are any survivors on your side, they will be taken into protective custody to stand trial, pending our victory and successful take-over of the Seireitei from your other compatriots," Hana declared, crossing her arms as she spoke in a commanding tone, as she squatted onto her haunches, "until then, just sit tight. I'll be in meditative contact with the rest of my forces and allies. Try to run, and I'll stop you. Try to take me by surprise, you'll be getting another thing coming. Clear?" 

This time, Shikyo closed her eyes and let out a laugh instead of a chuckle, weak as it was. It was clear, though, that she thought nothing but amusement within Hana's words. "Run? Ambush you?" She repeated. "I can sense it now. Our forces fight aggressively. But they can do nothing but delay the inevitable against the enemy. Soon, this land will be yours once again. Besides, this battle here has shown just whose ideals are meant to be in place. With dignity, I'll leave my fate in your hands, Hana Yūgure."

At this, Michiko moved a little bit closer to her mother. Slowly and without word, she laid herself down beside Shikyo and leaned her head against the woman's shoulder. In response, Shikyo brought an arm around her in a gentle embrace.

When Olympus Quakes, A Battle of Zeals! Part II

The fighting was fierce, for sure, for the two combatants. When they weren't exchanging lightning bursts and explosive blasts, they were parrying each other's fists and feet, as well as their own powerful Zanpakutō blades. 

Furuidenshō's Kidō armor had cracked quite a deal over the period of the battle, showing its waned use and soon to be dried up core that lied within.

"No wonder this man is considered the 2nd Horseman. His power and tenacity rival my own!" The young Captain Commander thought as he parried another slash from his enemy, as he backpedaled away from arm's reach, "if this battle continues much longer, I may need to resort to using Bankai. But can this room take it? I can't imagine the reprocussions if my power was unleashed upon my forces and the enemies all at once. This battle would be for nothing if such a power erupted at this location..."

Furuidenshō swung his Zanpakutō out towards the lightning-embodied Suna, creating a powerful jetstream of explosive energy, blazing out like an inferno. The Head Captain noticed from his fight that the tranquil scenery continued to pull itself back together, upon instinct, as if it had a mind of its own. He knew the room would've been turned to ash a dozen times over if it wasn't for the room's uncanny physical integrity. 

Suna, meanwhile, seemed to be having the time of his life.

With the nature of a berserker, he threw himself into the attack. The lightning aura that surged around him was like a trigger to the explosive energies that were launched by Fruidenshō, setting them off before they could even touch them. It was an intended effect, of course; although Suna preferred the use of a sword over his mind, he didn't disregard tactics and strategy completely. He was dealing with an enemy who used his wit as well as his power in order to overcome his enemies. It was important that he do the same.

It took him a heartbeat to appear back in front of the Head Captain, swinging his sword against the sword of his opponent. The strength of the attack would be enough to knock his foe off of his feet and send him careening into the back wall. He himself would spread his arms out in a taunting motion, complete with a smile and cocked eyebrow to match. "C'mon, Shin'en! Show me the man who killed Ultharon!" He called out, wagging his sword to emphasize his jeering before settling into a defensive stance.

"GAH!" Furuidenshō felt part of the back of his armor splinter from the impact, already chipping away from the ferocity of his opponent's attacks. As he slid down the wall, he heard the jeering from his opponent, trying to goad him into attacking recklessly. But, unlike before, he hesitated.

"I fought Ultharon in Hueco Mundo, a land that I had no care in unleashing my power. In here? The room has proved stable enough to keep itself from crumbling, but I'm not so sure if it can contain my power. I...just don't know if I can willingly unleash that kind of devestation again, knowing everything I fight for lingers just beyond these four walls!"

"Furuidenshō!" A solemn, loud voice bellowed within his mind, appearing before the Soul Reaper within an ethreal form, standing just beside Suna. He had a massive build, nearly ten feet tall, with a long braided beard and overflowing hair that flourished majestically over his shoulders, compensating the tattooed bald spot atop his crown. With feudal japanese armor endowed upon him, the one telling trait that he was his Zanpakutō, was the unmistakably identical blade in his right hand, "You have too much doubt in your own control over me. Wasn't it by your hands that you wielded a power that has brought down tyrants, monsters, and entire mountains to ash? Wasn't it through your understanding and patience in all living things around you that allowed you to understand sancity of life, and the necessity of protecting it as much as it needs to be destroyed?"

"Bunkatsu...I...I've never doubted myself and the power I have that's protected the Soul Society for over three centuries. The power that destroyed the monster my master couldn't defeat, and the power that can end this war. I just don't want to hurt anyone else I care for-"

"THEN STOP HESITATING AND FIGHT AT YOUR MOST POWERFUL!" Bunkatsu shouted, his voice holding enough force in Furuidenshō's mind to annihilate an entire city, as he pointed a large finger at him, "show this Horseman the error in dwelling in the thrill of bloodshed and violence! Show him just how terrifying total annihilation really is!

"I understand, my friend," bowing his head within his mind, even as his physical body began to stand up calmly, "thank you," he raised his eyes, in time to see the specter transform into a boy, enamored with tattoos and holding the same Zanpakutō in hand, with glowing eyes that kindled with approval, "Fuhen Bunkatsu!" 

"!!!" Furuidenshō's eyes widened, as his own eyes glowed pure blue-white light, as his entire body projected a powerful gale of Spiritual Power, cracking the walls and shaking the entire room, as if it was at ground zero of a powerful earthquake. 

"You want to see the power that slain Ultharon, the Archdemon?!" Furuidenshō's voice spoke out magnified, as his power became perfectly synchronized with his Zanpakutō. Raising his blade, a powerful fissure of energy was unleashed towards Suna, as he shouted aloud, "well here it is! BANKAI!"

SHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOW!!!!!

It was as if the entire room was filled with a white light, as destructive energy so voluminous and so incredible, it couldn't be contained as Furuidenshō unleashed his Bankai's true power and form within the blade he held.

"What the--?!"

In his years as a warrior and a veteran within the field of battle, Suna never felt anything like what he was feeling now.

His eyes widened and dilated as he felt the waves of power wash over him. It was like standing in the wake of a tsunami and unable to do anything but be submerged within its waves. He found himself digging his feet into the ground, raising an arm to shield himself from the brilliance shining from his enemy. But soon, and much to his shock, he could feel the floor beginning to crack and shudder. Kyōaku's invention actually couldn't handle the immense power Furuidenshō was unleashing into the atmosphere.

"So this is Shin'en's true form." He thought to himself, feeling shock and awe within him. "His demon unleashed into the world!"

Beside him, he could hear a massive portion of the walls break to create giant holes to the outside That was when he could understand the room's regenerative properties had broken. It was a failsafe specially made for such an event; as a measure to keep everyone within from dying, reflective sensors channeled the energy and funneled it to one direction. All of that power would be shot towards the sky, saving the entire building from complete destruction but sacrificing some integrity in the process. But it was a sign that this building wouldn't last much longer under the stress of the battles commencing within.

When the last of the initial energies was over, he raised his hands up, regarded it all with a smile.

Then, he started laughing. His hands clapped together to applaud the Captain-Commander, regarding the destruction with anticipation and enjoyment. All in all, he treated it all as if was one of the best spectacles he had witnessed in his lifetime. "So this is the power that slaughtered Ultharon, hm?" He commented to no one, slowly turning himself around to see Furuidenshō's form. "All right, let's see how scary you look..."

"RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRH!" Furuidenshō's voice growled out, his eyes shifting into crimson light, his body a constant geyser Spiritual Pressure, warping the appearance to appear as if he was ten feet tall, as the ground broke and crumbled around him. As he walked forth, his blade was bathed in a white light, runic letters began spread across its surface and travel up Furuidenshō's actual skin, until he appeared as if he was some form of warrior monk behind the nightmarish visage he projected, "surrender, Horseman! NOW!"

Suna's response?

Without hesitation, he stabbed his sword into the floor and bent to a crouched position. He concentrated, gripping the hilt of his weapon tightly and shutting his eyes. If he wanted to fight on Furuidenshō on even ground now, he would have to unleash his full power. Against a force of nature as strong as this, nothing could be held back. He would have to unleash his own demon into the world, and he would do so without hesitation. The demand that he surrender only made him grin even wider. "Now, now. You were all eager to kill me before, Shin'en. Don't get soft now, when I'm just starting to enjoy myself!!"

Outside, a phenomenal event would be taking place.

The darkened sky would be enveloped within a mass of storm clouds, blotting out the faint moon and setting sun. The only source of light created would be massive lightning bolts, shooting through the sky and occasionally striking parts of the Soul Society. Each bolt would carry a temperature of fifty million degrees Farenheit, capable of vaporizing anything out of existence. In conjunction with that, a mixture of rain and hail would fall down from the formed storm clouds, hitting any soldier unfortunate enough to be outside at the time. The release of Suna's "demon" was enough to annihilate the Soul Society.

"BANKAI!!! ION SHŌMETSU!!!"

A lightning bolt would strike the building and envelop it within another brilliant light of its own. But unlike the others, it would be harmless to the structure and inhabitants. When the brilliance of the flash cleared, Suna would stand up and reveal the change within his own weapon. It was an elongated sword, its foundation entirely made up of condensed lightning. Although it was only a change within the weapon, an overwhelming heat could be felt radiating from it. Suna held it across the chest with one hand while looking at Furuidenshō tauntingly.

"Let's not forget to enjoy this, hm?"

"There's nothing to enjoy in unleashing destruction upon nature!" Furuidenshō spoke aloud, his aura calmed, but his voice held a hallowed tone as he raised his blade purposely slow in a horizontal alignment, "you may command the heaven's fury, but I call upon the power of annihilation. Let me show it to you, since you're so eager to taste it!

Then, with a single swing, he struck out.

"Hadō no Shinmetsu!" He shouted out, as a wave of destructive energy blew out, thrusting out into the horizon like a deadly wind that tore everything apart into atoms, with not even ash left in sight.

For a power of absolute destruction, it would be countered with a force that was equal.

A single swing from Suna's blade would repel the force unleashed on him, causing it to blow outward. This time, the wave would disintegrate what little of the foundation that remained for the upper half of the HQ. In turn, this would cause the said upper portion to fall off like a dropping hat. The cracked-off portion would descend to the ground and crash, kicking up a tsunami of dirt and debris to extend outward from where it landed. In turn, this would remove any protection they would have from Suna's elements. The wind, rain and hail would hit them without mercy or hesitation, but the lightning bolts seemed to stray away from their position. Clearly, it was Suna that was keeping them away, not wanting them to interfere in the fight.

"Your Bankai isn't the only one that can destroy down to the singular particle!"

With that being said, he pointed the blade tip at his enemy as if he was holding a gun.

Like a turret, lightning bolts as wide as the human upper torso were launched from the blade and at his foe. With a speed of 3,700 miles per second, one lightning bolt would be very difficult to evade even for a master of the Flash Step. But Suna was launching multiple consecutive ones in an attempt to annihilate his foe where he stood. They would illuminate the area with each and every bolt produced, their length extending to a considerable distance over the battlefield. All of them had the potential of vaporizing their target completely, making for a very terrifying attack.

Truly, the fury of the heavens was on his side.

Suna's power was unleashed in the most terrifying way, and somehow, it didn't scare Furuidenshō. 

On the contrary, he felt liberated. The man didn't think he would have to use such a power and have it be contended with so readily by his opponent. Now, he could fully demonstrate the power his Bankai possesses, that he had failed to fully express when he slain Ultharon in two short blows.

KRAK-KRAK-KRAK-KRAK!

Swing after swing, Furuidenshō's body splintered and cracked the lightning blasts that funneled towards him, sending the stray tendrils of electrical power screaming in multiple directions with intense fury. Splitting each and every strand of negative-energy coalesced bundles of particles was like using a katana on thick slabs of butter. It was completely effortless for his part. 

Even as he held his ground, he built up a steady stream of explosive force within the soles of his feet, building up through his body and pulsing vibrantly as the powerful lances of lightning kept striking towards him. Then, he struck back at the lightning before it made it to the half-way point.

KRAAAAAAAAAAAK-KOOOOOOM!

What seemed like a wide arc of blue-white energy that snaked up the lightning bolts themselves, it streamed all the way back up to the source of the energy, crackling and thundering ominously all up within the clouds until the golden flashes turned blue-white. 

"Fall to ash, Suna Tekketsu! HRAAAAAAAAAH!" Furuidenshō roared out as he swung his blade down, causing the entirety of the skyline to fuse its energy into a singular point, before streaming down towards Suna's body, issuing a warping explosive fissure to come into contact with his blade and his potent Spiritual Pressure, intending to turn his own potent power against him within an instant. 

Once again, it seemed like a matter of utilizing the enemy's own power against him.

When the flow of blue and yellow energy connected with his sword, he let out a grunt and swung it off to the side in order to stop the lightning bolts from shooting out any further. In turn, this would keep the blue energy from connecting with him and inflicting damage. But when Furuidenshō summoned his power to gain control over the power in the skies, he was made to direct his gaze upward. A sneer crossed his face, and he lifted his sword to point to where the energy would be unleashed.

When the lightning struck, the Horseman's body would be enveloped in a brilliant aura of light and electricity. Now, he looked like a living lightning bolt that shone brightly within the area, like a beacon within a wide ocean. His sword would vanish from his hand, and he clenched his free fists together before cocking one back from the ground. The illumination seemed to dim for the rest of his body and brighten for that very same fist. His eyes displayed nothing but a feral rage, his mouth contorted into a vicious snarl. "Die, you piece of shit!!" He roared, swinging his fist to the ground.

It was like a supernova had been unleashed. The entire area would be enveloped in an expanding sphere of electricity. It was as if a sun had been created within the entire battlefield, if only for a brief moment.

Furuidenshō dove into the wake of the expanding superheated blast, using his Zanpakutō's power of nullification and splitting to create a fissure in between the raging waves of heat. Even within his Bankai state, he could feel the heat licking at the edges of his protected skin, and continuous force being exuded by Suna's body.

"This is insane! Whatever I throw his way, he'll just throw back at me! At this rate, the Soul Society will be overlapped into ash and this battle will be for nothing!"

"Furuidenshō! Do not succumb to fear, for you are the master of your own power, not its slave!"

"But this is the Horseman's power! If I don't destroy the Soul Society, he will!"

"Then think of a way to bolster your strength. You have proven throughout this battle that he is capable of being destroyed as much as you are. No one is infallible within the fiery maw of battle and war."

"Then what do I do? I can use his own energy as a fuel for a significant explosion. And if he uses blasts this big, I can only counter it, so..."

"You're not thinking big enough. Think of drawing fuel to you, rather than setting fuses off to such small sources of power..."

<"Then...that means...!" Furuidenshō's glowing eyes widened, suddenly realizing what he had to do. Breaking away from the remainder of the torrent of golden flames, Furuidenshō leaped high into the sky, while throwing his blade higher until it halted at the head of the clouds. Reaching an altitude of nearly a kilometer, Furuidenshō slammed his fists into each other, and expanded his Spiritual Power into a thin veil over the Soul Society.

With the blade being held by his Will tentatively above him, something began to happen across the Soul Society. Deep within the recesses of the obliterated foundations, the rubble, and even the skin of all those below him, began to glow, and stream up towards his blade. More impressively, monstrous fissures of glowing energy that dwelled within the core of the Seireitei discharged like semi-sentient serpents, flowing forth with a majestic show of power and harnessment.

Within an a minute, the energy compressed and crackled brightly above Furuidenshō's head, allowing it to fall and be grasped within the Head Captain's hands. It looked as if he was wielding a blade of pure light, too bright and sanctified for even a Quincy to touch.

Dropping to the ground with a mighty crash that spread a vibrant blue flash of light, Furuidenshō looked towards his opponent with a vindicative glare, as he raised his blade towards his opponent, ready to end his battle, "Fukumeiken, the ultimate force of righteous retribution! I've never used this on anyone due to its destructive output. It could wipe away your existence, just like the Quincy's method of using energy. Now, I ask you one last time, Horseman," with a steely glare, Furuidenshō kept his crackling and vibrant blade pointed towards his enemy, speaking to him in a hallowed, threatening tone, "stand. Down. Now!"

"Huh...?"

Once again, Suna's expression would regress to one of surprise when he saw the transfer of energy take place.

He lowered his stance, raising his arms up to view and seeing them glow with a brilliant blue. Following the path of the energy, he could see it float up to Furuidenshō's body. As he looked around, he could see that a mass of the very same energy was coming up to the form of his enemy. Slowly, realization came to him, and he found himself holding his hands out as if he were holding them out for rain as he observed the vent. Furuidenshō was using the very power of the Soul Society in an effort to bring him down and finish the fight. Now, the possibility of him making it out alive became so much heavier.

There was always the option of surrender. Somewhere, he knew Seihai was still observing. He could assume that with the feelings she was expressing earlier, one of her fears was for his life being taken away. But at the same time, he would be dishonoring himself and stepping down from one of the greatest moments in his life. He knew that if there was anything he couldn't do, it was go against the very thing he had molded his life around. He couldn't do it... even if it meant cutting its last threads.

"Sorry, kid. Hope that all goes well for you and Kyō, eh?"

With his back turned to Furuidenshō, he looked over his shoulder and gave a toothy smirk at the threat thrown his way. He summoned his own sword back in his hands, slowly turning around and pointing it at an angle that mirrored his enemy's stance. "C'mon!" He taunted with an emphasizing toss of his head. "It's time that we ended this little game!"

"He's serious about this!" Furuidenshō thought with incredulous disbelief, but maintained outward composure, "he wants me to kill him? Is he...unwilling to accept defeat, or does he actually think he can live through this?"

"Only one way to find out, isn't there, Furuidenshō?"

"Right," Furuidenshō pulled back the blade, sliding his foot back as the wild energy began to compress further, until it was just a glowing piece of metal to be seen by all nearby. Then, he thrust it out.

"Messatsu!

What came forth from the blade, gushed out like a harmonious mixture of water and white fire, streaming forth on the current of a holy ray of light itself. The voluminous wave of destructive white light, aiming it towards space, angling it away from the Soul Society while the bottom half of it would consume the opponent, and leaving nothing left within its wake. 

All Suna had to do was flip his blade, twist it to a lunging position and thrust it into the wave.

The force of spiritual negation would collide with the wave of annihilation. To Suna, it would feel like a tsunami crashing into his body. He dug his feet in and clenched his teeth as he fought to hold back the power Furuidenshō had unleashed on him. But with each passing second, it seemed as if nothing was letting up. His heart was threatening to burst out of its ribcage, every muscle and bone felt as if they were on the verge of being crushed, and his very soul seemed to want to split apart under the pressure.

That was when he would feel his very sword start to break apart. His eyes widened in shock and amazement as he felt his only defense against his death begin to break. "My sword... it's not negating the attack!! Incredible!" He thought to himself, even as he felt the wave of white close in. "This isn't just spiritual power... this is the desire to kill, the need to win, and the resolve to fight... all manifested into a physical form. This... is truly an attack...!"

Now he knew.

He would not be getting out of this alive - something that would be emphasized when he felt his sword break in two. In a last act of defiance, he swung his shattering blade to the right to direct most of the energy away. But it would not stop all of it, and he understood. Even as he felt the waves touch him, he couldn't help the smile that crossed his face.

"Guess we know whose ideals get to be on top... eh, Shin'en?"

Then, he felt his body rip apart. His arm, at least half of his torso, and part of his leg was caught within the brunt of the blast. The pain was incredible, overwhelming his mind and shooting through his body like fireworks. But to his credit, he would still be standing throughout it all. As his blood stained the ground underneath him, the light would finally fade away to smoke and then to nothingness. He would look at his enemy with a weary expression of what seemed like a semblance of pride and approval. His weakened words would state this outright.

"Well done... kid..."

Then, he collapsed onto his knees with a groan, his head hanging down and his remaining hand dropping to the earth.

"He actually kept himself from dying in the blast! Incredible," Furuidenshō thought as his eyes widened at the sight of Suna being able to whisper to him before collapsing on his single working knee, "his tenacity is truly without equal. The energy I summoned would've been able to turn Ultharon to dust three times over. The fact he's standing with that much of his body intact, truly boasts his vitality and endurance."

"SUNA!!!" Seihai shouted with alarm, tearing away her Kidō barrier as she deftly leaped and somersaulted towards his wounded frame. Having witnessed it all, she still couldn't believe it. Suna had been felled in battle, and by the legendary Furuidenshō himself. She thought he was stronger than that, but after what she witnessed...no entity could withstand an attack of that caliber and walk away unscathered.

When she landed next to his side, she immediately placed her hands on his most wounded side and began projecting an advanced, turquoise-colored aura of healing energy onto his body. Sewing back tissue and replacing lost organs, bones, ligaments, she did all she could within her power, trying not to think of the consequences of turning her back at the Head Captain behind her.

As she did so, Suna allowed himself to shift stiffly to a cross-legged position, keeping himself propped on his remaining arm while allowing Seihai to work on him. He continued to breathe heavily, keeping one eye shut and one eye open. "I was wondering where you went..." He breathed, managing a small and weak smile. "I was starting to worry that you got too caught up in the scuffle. Nice to see... you've made pretty good preparations..."

Seihai could only smile weakly back as she continued to pour her energies into his body, "It comes with the territory of being an aide to the four most powerful entities of the Inner Circle. Kyō-san wanted me to learn to use Kidō as my greatest shield, and continue to improve upon it. Its a good thing I took his advise on it, hm?"

Echoes of the Past Reach the Present, A Battle of Vengeance! Part II

"Hm?"

Tsukishima would briefly turn his head in query as he felt the signature of his fellow Horsemen start dropping. A frown crossed his face, and he furrowed his eyebrows. "Well, now... this is quite the predicament." He commented. "It appears that your allies have bested mine in combat. Yet they are still alive..." He idly traced the back of his sword with his free finger as he turned his gaze to it. "Surprising that they're deciding to show mercy, even after all that's happened. Very unlike all of those years back..."

His gaze would fall to Byakuya - or rather, a severely wounded one.

The reason he wasn't tracing the entire blade was because it was coated in blood from the Captain's wounds. Ever since the recent renewal of their duel, it had grown from a stalemate to the tides turning in Tsukishima's favor. The Horseman was simply far too aggressive for a proper defense, and it hadn't been too long before the very defense that initially had Tsukishima caught off guard was rendered useless. The smile on his face grew as he looked at the results of his work.

"Too bad you're not going to be able to join them." He continued, slinging the blood off with an idle swipe. "It's a shame, Byakuya. Maybe if you came in a little bit more prepared, you would have been able to join them. Did you ever once come in, assuming that you were going to face an obstacle that was actually going to be a challenge to you? It should've been the first thing that crossed your mind when you stormed headlong into your enemy's HQ like this. But I see that you've allowed yourself to become careless in our time away from one another. It will be by your own mistake and arrogance that your life will end here."

Slowly, he balanced his sword on his shoulder and began casually approaching his enemy, ready to deliver the final blow.

Byakuya felt lightheaded and faint. It was a sensation he felt very few times in his life. After sustaining injuries from both the Substitute Soul Reaper and then taking a blow to protect his sister's life, he had nearly succumbed to injuries. This...this would be the closest thing to death he ever experienced.

Hoarsely, he breathed, as his onyx eyes began to lose their light, staring back at Tsukishima's dispassionate eyes. He had been close, so close to defeating him a second time. But it seemed fate dealt a bad hand to him this day. The only solace he could take in being defeated was that his comrades had succeeded in defeating the other Horsemen. Perhaps, they could defeat him in his absence.

As he fell to his knees, his sword clattered to the ground next to him, just as he heard ominously purposeful claps pierce the air. 

CLAP...CLAP...CLAP...CLAP!

"Bravo, 1st Horseman, Shūkurō Tsukishima," An ominous voice broke the silence that elapsed the nearly won battlefield, as an additional figure entered the fold. Bathed in a dark aura that seemed akin to another entity, the shroud that covered most of his upper facial features kept his visage hidden, save for the single red eye that pierced purposely through the mystically veiled shadow erected by the hood, "taking down Byakuya Kuchiki is no small feat. I daresay he was as powerful as the Head Captain. To think you could take him down without losing that air of composure is truly a spectacle to be sure."

It was this untimely intervention that stopped Tsukishima from approaching Byakuya's figure even further.

Abruptly, he would stop in his tracks as he felt the familiar and ominous aura. His eyes widened, and his head abruptly turned in the direction of the man that had approached him. Had it not been for the voice, he would have been quick to assume that it was Yashin. That guess was pushed farther away from accuracy when he saw the distinct features such as the bangs peeking out from underneath the hood. His senses were quick to detect that something was amiss, thanks to the similarity in energy influence. H

He would push away any thoughts of caution as he regarded the arrival with a collected attitude. "I wasn't expecting visitors outside of the Alliance's forces..." He commented, lowering his sword back down to his side and turning to face the man fully.

"Apologies, Tsukishima-san," An additional voice breached the air, more familiar the prior, stepping out of the shadows, donned in a long black trench-coat and loose black tie, matching the white collared shirt, loose black slacks, dress shoes, and midnight black hair that flowed down his shoulders. Additionally, his red eyes seemed eerily similar to the newcomer's, "I couldn't turn down an old acquaintence's request to see you in person. Is that alright with you?"

For a moment, Tsukishima remained silent.

Now that the two signatures were right beside each other, there was no denying it. They were too identical to mark as two separate identities, too similar to divide them up into separate people. It was as if he was staring at two pieces of the same puzzle - something that was setting off his mental alarms. Although this was enhanced by the rather foreboding aura that they were exuding, it wouldn't have been enough to push him into a complete state of alert. But there was one thing that Yashin had said to arouse that paranoid suspicion.

He addressed him with the "-san" suffix.

Slightly, he narrowed his eyes and tipped his sword to a horizontal position so that he could grasp the blade between forefinger and thumb. "Somehow, I believe that he isn't just an old acquaintance, Yashin." He said. "And since when did you get the idea that his word overcedes the word of your Lord?"

"Ehe...hehehehe...hahahahaha...HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!" An amused fit of laughter broke out from Yashin, the rarity of the situation placing the whole scene into a eerily dark light for what came next. Yashin's power, the true power that he kept hidden even from the Horsemen, began to ooze out like a dark smog, enveloping all light and casting a dark veil on the surroundings, with only the identical and Yashin visible to Tsukishima's eyes, "I'm sorry, Tsukishima-san. But if there is anyone fit for the title Lord, it is myself."

The newcomer just smiled tauntingly back at Tsukishima's form, waving a hand in emphasis, "I can't believe you never put two and two together. I guess Yashin speaks too highly of your perceptive prowess. Then again, since you never fully looked at one side of the coin, how could you recognize the other side of it?"

"!"

Now Tsukishima's senses were on the alert. He gripped his sword in one of his hands, reflexively pointing it at the two men. With each and every word spoken, what he was worrying about the most was starting to come true. Though he was keeping his emotions in check, he could not stop the beads of sweat from falling down his form. "Then I suppose this is it, then." He said coldly, a slight frown forming on his face as he glared at the two. "How long have you been planning for this moment, Yashin? Did you think that I wouldn't see this? If you were trying to hide this insurrection, then you were doing a very poor job. After recognizing you as a superior tactician and combatant above the masses, how could one not get suspicious when a group of ragtag mercenaries slip through your fingers... time and time again? The only thing that kept me from disposing of you earlier was those uniformed pests. But still,"

He slowly shifted the tip so that it would be pointed at Shidai - or rather, the set of eyes that belonged to him. "That doesn't explain your friend. Who is he, really? I doubt you would've brought any of your own personal slaves to accompany you..."

Grasping the top of the obscuring hood, the man in question began to speak as his crop of black hair and a italic black tattoo enamored over his right eye and jawbone, while showing his glistening left crimson-&-black kanji eye, symbolizing Heaven, "Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Shidai Kagai, Master of Deception and Lead informant to the Underworld. More importantly, I am the other half of Yashin Shiyōnin, what you may say the Yang to his Yin."

"You're hardly any more blacker than I am, Shidai," Yashin joked with a thin, toothy smile.

"The fact you hardly come out in the open unless you guaruntee success proves how unwilling you are to get your own hands dirty. Probably the reason why you...or...rather we decided I'd be the one to personally see to that the plan goes smoothly," Shidai commented offhandedly, shrugging as he pocketed his hands in his coat, as his eyes graced back to Tsukishima's, "but putting that aside, you may think of Yashin and I as one in the same being."

"Damn it!"

With Yashin's spiritual pressure blotting out whatever influence the sky had in the area, Tsukishima's situation was becoming more and more threatening. Two enemies both of the same individual were carrying immense power was in front of him, and he wasn't sure if they were openly challenging him or just toying around. There was the factor of him having been injured by Byakuya earlier playing against him, and he was fairly certain that had been in the plan, as well. He pursed his lips and scowled. If the two hadn't taken his attention from the Captain, he most likely would have eviscerated the man by now.

"What? Nothing to say?" Shidai asked, smiling with satisfaction at the apparent scowl he traded between the two of them, as well as the lack of smooth, eloquent speech to parry back at the two of them, "you don't appear so sure of your situation. Are you sure there isn't another BIG question you want to ask of us? I mean, you never really knew much about Yashin to begin with, but really, what's stopping you now from knowing the truth. Before you roll in your grave, that is!"

Yashin seemed to evaporate from his position, appearing directly behind Tsukishima, his back positioned just a mere foot behind his, standing before Byakuya's knelt, bled-soaked body, "Centuries before your plan came into conception, my plans have been woven into place. Allies, enemies, neutral parties alike, all of them have been my pawns in this delightful game I've added the Inner Circle and the Soul Societies alike into the fray," waving his hand, a emerald veil of light cast over Byakuya, shortly before he thunderclapped away to a nearby hospital FOB for the Alliance, "your life, as remarkable as you may believe it to be, is a mere footnote in the longevity of my existence."

"Centuries...?"

That was enough to cue to Tsukishima that Yashin wasn't the typical Soul. He narrowed his eyes and clenched his teeth, fighting the urge to twist himself around to face his enemy. As much as he wanted to engage due to his chance of finishing off his old archenemy being ripped away, he knew it would not be the logical choice. All it would do is leave his back open for another. "...what the hell are you, then?" He asked tersely, his voice starting to lose some of his naturally calm composure.

"If I told you the whole truth, you probably would find it too hard to understand," Yashin walked around Tsukishima, making sure he walked a good five meters in front of him before turning to face him directly, "so let me summarize my origins to you. If you know who and what Angelika Hartmann is, then you should know that she is the vessel of a very ancient essence, born from the blood of the forefather of all creation, Izanagi. I am that essence's very consciousness, given flesh and life," raising his hands dramatically, his smile widened along with his eyes, the gleaming right one shined menacingly as he elaborated, "since the beginning of time I've evolved, adapted, and reincarnated myself for countless ages beyond count. This is the sixth time I've been incarnated, and it has by far been the most invigorating and pleasant life. I am not bound by any one mere body. My mind, my spirit has touched others of all sizes, shapes, and races. What you see before you is my more preferred state of being and form. Shidai Kagai," waving a hand to the infamous hunted and previously little known entity standing a good dozen meters away, smiling as devilishly as his counterpart, "is part of the original body I've been incarnated in. Therefore, you could say he's more of my embodied brawns, and I am the embodiment of intelligence, but we both share the same consciousness. We are the same, and yet we are not. Regardless, the very fact that I am descended from the blood and bones of Izanagi itself, proves to you that I am a much, much more threatening entity than any mere physical god like the Hankami!" 

"...is that so?"

Slowly, Tsukishima lowered his head, his gaze averting towards the floor in thought. What he was saying was not out of a sudden burst of overconfidence or the belief that he could quell his enemy. It was one of simple spite, an act of defiance in the face of insurmountable losses. According to Yashin, everything and everyone had been manipulated to suit the needs of him. He and the other Horseman had been doomed to fail from the very beginning. There was no possible recovery, no chance to regain what was lost. But it still didn't keep him from spitting in his foe's face.

"A fragment of Izanagi, thinking that it's a much more dangerous threat against me than the Hankami? I find that hard to believe. If you really were that strong, it would have been much easier to wipe everyone off the face of the Earth, wouldn't it? Instead, you chose the act of playing the puppetmaster, hiding behind your pawns. Even now, I bet the only reason you even dared to show your face to me was because of my injuries sustained by Byakuya. And now, all you seem to want to do is talk down to me."

He gripped the hilt of his sword tightly with one hand, stepping back so that he could make out the two of them within his visage once again. His spiritual pressure began to billow, shoving away the fog that Yashin was created and making it at least a little bit better to see through. "A Horseman of the apocalypse does not fall so easily to the likes of a measly shard like you. You, Shidai... every one of the pieces you inherit... I'll destroy them all if that's what it takes to wipe you out of the picture. Now, I for one have had enough time for pointless talk. It's time you proved your words, if you're able to!"

Without hesitation, he lifted his blade to point at his two new adversaries.

"Who's first?"

Sighing aloud, Yashin waved his hand towards Shidai, saying, "It seems this upstart thinks we don't have what it takes. Can you please demonstrate the error of his thinking?"

With an array of audible cracks, Shidai spread his fingers out towards Tsukishima, as he began walking towards him. Spreading out his hands apart, he clapped them, spreading them apart as a spherical well of energy built between his palms...

SHOOOOOOOMMMMM!

...and spread out, enveloping the three, continuously moving out until nearly the whole Seireitei was covered by the web of emerald energy. It looked as if time had stopped, literally, for every conflict and every battle transpiring around them for a good kilometer, leaving the three able to move freely.

"Now that we got that out of the way," Shidai spoke with a breath of relief, he raised his hands, beckoning Tsukishima with a smile, "your move, Fourth Horseman!"

"A time-stopping barrier..." Tsukishima thought to himself, slowly lowering his sword to briefly inspect the area. Aside from the three of them, everything had stopped within his tracks. There would be no reinforcements to come to his aid, no help he could call. His fellow Horsemen had been quelled and subdued until further notice. And he was up against two entities that were out for his blood and no substitutes. The situation couldn't have possibly been more desperate.

But still, he didn't have any other choices. He couldn't surrender and he couldn't retreat. He was up against insurmountable odds with no alternative than to face down his enemy. So, he took in a deep breath and grasped the hilt of his sword with both hands. His body settled into a stance as he glared daggers at his foe, every muscle begging for action. But still, he couldn't help but shoot off one final sentence.

"That's First Horseman, you fool."

Then, he lunged.

Passion Behind the Circle, A Battle of Desire Part II

"Three down, one to go," Yashin spoke cryptically with a smile, as his blade collided against Qilin's, sparking off a screeching explosion of pressure and ignition from both of the two swords. As he leaped out of the excess smoke, he twisted his body so his feet would land on the outer ring of the immense hole he opened up the ceiling and beyond from his earlier blast.

All the while, throughout most of the battle, Yashin kept a vividly pleased expression. Even as he fought Qilin, he couldn't help but feel fascinated to fight the creator of the magnificent blade within his possession, not to mention showed to be a renowned fighter in all senses of the word. Kidō, Zanjutsu, Hohō, and even some base Hakuda skills, Yashin studied each and every ability that Qilin had to offer against Yashin. He marveled at each one, and always kept a hair's breath away from being caught within the gale of each attack.

It almost seemed like he was a daredevil, trying to get the most ecstasy of being closest he can to death or injury without actually being touched. 

Qilin could guess as to what he meant by that... and he knew that, at least for him, that wasn't a good thing.

As Yashin leaped away, Qilin would narrow his eyes and frown tersely. While normally, he would have enjoyed the duel between him and Yashin. But because of the remarks that his foe made towards Shikyo, he was worried. If Tetsuyo was right, the Alliance would not show mercy. They would slaughter the Horsemen along with the rest of the Inner Circle as payback for the atrocities committed to them. In addition, he feared what they would do to Michiko once they found her. Although they were willing to forgive the criminals working with them now, he had no idea how far that forgiveness extended.

He performed a leap into the air, twisting his body around once while ascending. During the process of that movement, he grabbed both scabbard and sword in respective hands and pulled them off of his waist. At zero point, he would face Yashin with a hand on his hilt and another on his scabbard in a position to draw. A reverse pulse wave seemed to close in and become absorbed by the scabbard, causing it to glow white for a brief moment.

Then, he unsheathed and swung.

A series of small, yet potent explosions would envelop Yashin's position as well as the areas surrounding it. Flashes of white, bursts of flame-like energy and a massive cloud of dust would mark the visage of the detonations. The winds generated made Qilin brace himself, digging his feet in to make sure he wasn't blown off his feet. But he knew that wouldn't be enough to destroy his enemy. He would have to press the attack, keep Yashin on the ropes if he wanted to win. Although he had Ayūi with him, there was no telling what this man was capable of.

With a running start, he threw himself through the dust clouds and towards Yashin. His body was spinning around like a cannonball being launched, and it was timed so that by the time he reached his target, he would vertically vivisect the man once his sword was close enough to reach.

Yashin dealt with each situation accordingly. 

While the explosions individually were no threat to Yashin upon combustion, it was the crackling shockwaves that would thrust into his body's direction that would poise much of the problem. So, within a hair's breath of time elapsing within the spark of the explosions, Yashin swung his blade rapidly enough to disten the airwaves, dissipating the explosions' culiminated affect without losing the smokescreen. 

When Qilin through himself at his body, he was ready. Swinging with a powerful burst of cutting power, a stream of white light emanated from the edge of his blade, refracting all of the room's visual orientation as the cutting power exceeded normal parameters and intended breaching through Qilin's defenses. 

All of this done with a casual smile on his face, as he remained vertically upside down. 

The counter-attack would be based at a molecular level.

When Qilin's blade connected with the opposing force Yashin unleashed, the particles that made the wave up would blow apart. In turn, this would break the foundation of the attack and cause it to disassemble within collision time, allowing the intended target to pass freely. It was a purposeful move, one that required exceptional control of the spiritual energy in order to utilize in combat.

Because of this, he didn't have to stop himself in his cannonball to Yashin. He unfolded like an armadillo once he was close enough, gripping his sword in two hands and swinging it in a Ryōdan strike. The power from it would be enough to cut what remained of the ceiling into two halves that would fall inward and collapse to the ground below. It was a powerful strike, but before it had even initiated, Qilin had taken note of the smile.

He couldn't help but laugh inwardly at the irony. Usually, he was the one toying around and enjoying himself...

Before the slash could be made, Yashin smiled a bit wider, flipping him out of the way within an instant, as the ceiling perch he previously stood upon gave way, with the rest of the complex's infrastructure closest to the exit caved in on itself. The large debris smashed tanks, equipment, and other pieces of noteworthy craftsmanship as Yashin tapped his feet comfortably within the epicenter where the least impact would affect him.

As one large hung of debris flew towards his head, he swung his blade in its direction without looking, smiling with a challenging gleam towards Qilin as either half of the piece of rubble flew inches away from the back of his head and his face. 

"It seems you really were toying with Tenshi like I suspected," Yashin spoke deductively, holding his blade casually at his side, allowing its tip to cut cleanly through the floor below, causing a shower of sparks to intimidatively fly near him, giving his red eye a menacing glow, "good. You need to take this seriously, Tsubasa-kun. Otherwise, you will assuredly die against the likes of me."

"Hah!"

Qilin himself would land in a crouch and one knee, quickly standing back up and swinging his sword twice in what seemed like a pointless motion. However, within those two swings, a multitude of strikes had been unleashed. Debris that happened to be falling towards him was sliced into multiple pieces, allowing the fragments to miss him and pelt the ground like rain. Slowly, he lowered his sword to his side but kept himself at a ready stance. His eyes stared intensely at his enemy, the frown still on his face.

Slowly, he settled back into a kendo stance. "I should be telling you that, Yashin." He retorted. "You seem to be more interested in playing the role of a cat with a ball of yarn rather than a lion aiming to kill a gazelle. Were the rest of the Alliance too boring for you to toy with?"

"Phase One nearly complete. Next phase should be beginning within fifteen minutes," Yashin spoke cryptically, as he continued to drag his blade across the ground. When he stopped a good ten meters away, he ripped the blade up, causing the rest of the ground to come up violently before crumbling in on itself from the cutting pressure he unleashed so minutely, "I don't think you comprehend the situation you're in. You're just a piece within a game. I'm simply the player on one end of the board. There were three other players in total, but one left the game by the time I inserted myself into your organization. By that time, it made things much easier to play around, and move my influence freely and accordingly."

The moment the ground uprooted was the signal for Qilin to strike again.

When he felt the concrete buckle, he used the massive piece and a boost of reishi to launch himself to his enemy again. It would be a Flash Step that would close the distance between them within a heartbeat, and his sword would smash against the very creation he had made. Sparks were generated between the two blades as they ground against each other, but it did not stop Qilin from glaring into Yashin's eyes. "Your point being?" He fired back. "I could go on and on about my accomplishments, too! But I doubt my enemy would have enough patience to sit and listen to it!"

With that being said, he batted Taiteki away and began his own attack. His movements were aggressive yet experienced, tactical and orthodox. Every sword strike was fluid, with one swing flowing into another like water. Every movement of his arm carried power and channeled it into his strikes in an attempt to break Yashin's defense and cut him down. His style was professional, and there was a balance between his offense and defense. All the meanwhile, he continued to speak to his adversary.

"Who are you trying to lie to, Yashin? Are you trying to lie to me, break my resolve for the sake of keeping another stone wall from being deployed in your path? Or are you lying to yourself, deluded into thinking that everything has and will go to plan? You may have had the luxury of understanding the world from its very beginning. You may have a good reason to look down on all of the people involved in this as nothing more than chess pieces. But rest assured," In the midst of one of his swings, his sword was raised high over his head with both hands. "I'm not one of them!"

Then, he swung down.

With the power of his Zanpakutō, a powerful explosion was generated upon contact. Its visage was marked by a sphere of white light that illuminated the entire area, massive enough to dwarf the humanoid forms within but small enough to remain comfortably in the combat area.

Yashin danced as if it was an intense bout of tango. As the first initial swordlock began with incredible tension, Yashin could only scoff, speaking back as his enemy pushed him back and renewed his offensive, "This is hardly a time to go about accomplishments. In fact, I'm doing you a favor, letting you know who your real enemies really are before you die. Consider it courteousy of respect as your former superior and comrade of the soon-to-be non-existant Inner Circle!" 

As the explosion formed, with Yashin's body appearing to be within its epicenter, something took form. Within the flames, an enormous talon emerged and was large enough to slash outwards at Qilin's body, bathed in magma rock fused bone and breathed to life by fire even more intense than Qilin's explosion that he created.

"!"

Stopping his attack, Qilin jumped into a backflip away from the massive talon to evade its claws. Once both of his feet hit the ground, he fell back into a defensive stance as he observed the talon. "What the hell are you...?" He thought to himself, regarding it all with a somewhat perturbed gaze.

"Sōsuke Aizen, Yhwach Juhabach are two other players, ready to make their moves the moment you topple the last of the Horsemen," Yashin spoke knowingly aloud, as his body emerged unscathed by the blast, his eerily calm smile still donned, his red eye upon the Kanji reading 'Demon'. His left arm was transformed, now composed of a gargantuan limb of magma-bones and hellish tongues of flames, with sharp obsidian talons to boot at the end of the said large limb, "the last was the Horsemen's superior, one known only by the title as the Commandant. He's been very reclusive as lately, making sure to keep his distance from everything occurring within this world and the material world. Waiting out this and the next calamity to come in this lifetime, before showing his ultimate hand of reckoning."

With that said, he swung his blade towards Qilin, creating another blinding fissure of cutting force, intending on taking him out within a single instant.

Once again, Qilin twisted his sword over his head before swinging down to meet the fissure of power. The head of the fissure would disassemble upon connection with the blade, and the rest of the fissure would follow soon afterwards. It wasn't long until all of the cutting force had been voided, allowing Qilin to settle back into his stance. His eyebrows furrowed at the new information. Even though most of it were things he had already anticipated, the title of the "Commandant" wasn't. It wasn't much, but at least he now had something to go by.

His ears perked at Yashin's choice of words.

"Next calamity...?"

"An event that will not just raze the Soul Society, but every world and every habitable civilization in existence. An ancient foe will awaken after a long slumber, having been put in his place many years ago. He will rise, and with all the forces of Hell itself, will unleash a fire that will put the Hankami's Plinian Movement as a mercy killing in comparison!" Yashin spoke aloud, keeping himself vague while revealing the information he knew and had acquired over his many years of existing.

That was enough to make a bead of sweat fall down Qilin's face.

Now, the man wasn't known for breaking composure. He always made sure to be collected and composed in the face of combat and verbal assault. But when he heard the event of another catastrophe that could outdo what was experienced by existence in the Plinian Movement, he felt a shot of fear shoot through him. There had been nothing more surreal than floating in a void without a body, hearing the sounds of the others trapped within. There were screams of despair, moans of agony, but there were also cheers of joy and cries of juvilation. It was the most disturbing thing he had ever gone through in his lifetime.

One thing was for sure. He didn't want to go back to that. And he sure as hell didn't want his wife or daughter to go through it, either.

"What utter Bullshit!" Ayūi snarled out, her body producing a wave of incredible Spiritual Power, warping the near annihilated laboratory, as her body crackled with a transparent aura of Spiritual Pressure, "you actually think we're going to sit back and let that happen?! I don't know much of the people outside these walls, nor of the worlds beyond this one, but I will tell you this: If they matter even a little to my friend, then they will be guarunteed to be under my protection!"

Yashin could only chuckle, his eyes fixating upon her with renewed interest. Strangely enough, his stance began to shift towards her, rather than Qilin whom faced him not but six meters away.

"Additionally, I did come here for a purpose," Yashin looked towards Ayūi, smiling with a chilling intent that caused her to take a step back with apprehension, "you see, ever since my dear Rana Zolinder has been incarcerated, I'm a bit short-handed with necessary vessels. With something as valuable as Aizen's home grown duplicate at hand, I can't simply say no to that." 

"V-V-Vessel?!" Ayūi stepped back with sudden fear exiting her voice, while holding her blade up towards the monster before her, "what the Hell do you need my body for?!"

"My existence predates the existence of the Gotei 13, the Quincy folk, and even past the established order of much of the known civilized races that came after the fall of the Hankami's reign over the mortal material and spiritual worlds. I've embodied six lives, including this one, as a whole. The body you see is relative to what is related to as a 'Human' vessel. My power has grown so exponentially, that I've yet to find a single body solely contain my consciousness and the totality of my power. This whole war has been pivotal to find that one vessel, to contain all of my consciousness and the equivalent power I've obtained over the ages," with a dark smile, Yashin chuckled as a black-violet aura enveloped him, as his demonic arm shifted back into a normal arm, while summoning a familiar black handled, silver forked trident in hand, his red-black eye giving the appearance of the Kanji word, 'Human' before the two, "But with a artificially constructed body made from Sōsuke Aizen's deified DNA, you might be one of the few vessels capable of containing my whole being."

This sentence would be punctuated not by a follow-up by Ayūi or Qilin.

Instead, the aura that had enveloped Yashin would be met by the tip of a black sword, courtesy of a throw by the Spiritsmith. Time would slow down as the properties of the Zanpakutō collided with the properties of the spiritual pressure. All of it would happen in the time-span of a heartbeat. Then...

BOOM!

An explosion of white fire would be created, turning Yashin's own aura against him. Fueled by that and the spiritual energy of Qilin himself, it would expand to a grand size. The power would be enough to shake the very underground, and the effects would reach to the surface above. It would wreak destruction on the lab, incinerating everything to ashes. But despite it all, the only one who wouldn't be harmed was Ayūi. The only effect it would have on her was the brilliance of the light produced by the fire.

The only other one it wouldn't aim at was Qilin - or more specifically, a very angry Qilin.

His eyes were narrowed and his teeth were clenched together as he glared daggers at Yashin's position. He himself was immersed in the aura of his white spiritual energy, his body hunched over in an aggressive stance. His bare hands had their fingers curled like claws, eager to kill the adversary that had threatened the one he was attempting to pull out. It was rare for the Spiritsmith to become truly angry at anyone. But when it happened, it was a rather frightening sight to behold.

He cocked one of his hands back with his hand still in the clawed position, apparently preparing to grab Yashin. "Over my dead body, you son of a bitch!" He snarled, throwing himself at his foe with the speed of a lightning bolt. Any wariness or apprehension he had in facing the demon was wiped away, replaced nothing bore than the desire of ripping apart the vessel that held his presence.

Yashin may have turned to direct his attention to Ayūi, but he never left his guard down or his attention on Qilin. Seeing the sword thrown, he only had a hair's breath to react to the sudden ignition of utilizing his own latent Spiritual Pressure he leaked into the air around his body. While it became a catalyst for an explosion, Yashin was quick to adapt his body to withstand the impact.

Within the moment of the explosion, an enormous secondary explosion dispersed the blast and sent it careening away, as well as thrusting the blade off course. With his trident held over his head, Yashin's eyes locked onto Qilin, and forebodingly enough, his smile had vanished.

It was within the moment that Qilin lunged his person at him, that he spoke in an intimidating and guttural tone, "What makes you think I'll let you stand in my way?"

Twisting his sword around the moment Qilin's hands would be upon him, he slammed the pommel of the blade the Spiritsmith forged himself into his chest, thrusting a powerful wave of follow-up Spiritual Power to send him away and increase the damage upon his person. 

The pommel of the attack collided with the palm Qilin had thrust to Yashin. With a resounding smack, it was stopped in its tracks. This time, all he had to do was utilize physical strength and movement in order to stop himself from getting injured. In a follow-up to the move, Qilin closed his fingers around the hilt (and subsequently, Yashin's hand), twisted himself around and put forth that very strength into a throw that would send Yashin flying deeper within the complex.

Qilin himself would twist himself around, swiping his thumb across his mouth before settling into a barehanded stance. "What makes you think I'll let you stand in mine?" He shot back. "You've robbed enough people of their lives for the sake of extending your own sorry life! You want a vessel? You'll have to get through me to get it!!" Briefly, he would break his stance to spread his arms wide in a beckoning gesture. "My ideals against yours, Yashin! Come on!"

As Yashin flipped in the air, his eyes fixated a cool glare at Qilin, before the smile re-donned on his smooth face. With a dark chuckle, he braced his landing with a sudden projection of Spiritual Pressure, allowing him to land unharmed on a pile of rubble, created by Taiteki. A wave of his hand, and his trident disappeared, and his eyes fixated on Qilin as he raised his blade declaratively. 

"Very well, Tsubasa-kun. This battle will determine the fate of that girl you cherish so dearly. I don't need to remind you what the stakes are if I win. If I lose, well, there's always the next time. But you only get one chance," Yashin's body readied, but cared not to eject a potent aura, reminded of the near miss he had with recieving the blunt trauma of the explosive force of his enemy's weapon, "still care to take it?"

Slowly, Qilin turned himself around and walked towards his sword, which happened to be embedded within the ground a few steps away. With one hand, he pulled it out and hovered it over his shoulder for a moment as he turned around to face Yashin. Slowly, he leveled the blade back to an offensive, holding that stance for a moment. With the gaze in his eyes, there was no response needed. He would fight to the death if it meant stopping Yashin from progressing a little further.

He lunged, his blade's cutting edge ready to kill.

Muzzling The Opposition, Victory Is Within Our Grasp!

"Looks like the Inner Circle's Dogs are being shoved back as we speak."

"And the 43rd?"

"We've removed our traces and covered our tracks. The Inner Circle have yet to realize that the backbone of their defenses has willingly crippled and think we've been simply overwhelmed. We're just part of the crowd, as far as anyone is concerned.

"Excellent." Although Kameyo wouldn't see it, Brina would give a slight nod of approval at the news. "Make sure that you get the injured evac'd accordingly."

"Commander, are you sure you're fine?" Kumiko's voice, although keeping a business-like tone, still showed a subtle demonstration of concern as she talked to her comrade and superior. "I'm not even sure if you're in a very good position right now. I mean, I do trust your judgement... but you're in the midst of--"

"Oh, relax!" Brina said dismissively with a wave of her free hand, her other hand pressed against her earpiece. She looked over to see the two Stealth Force operatives, closing her eyes and smiling. "I'm in good company. I'm sure they'll keep me safe from all the terrifying Boogeymen wanting to get me."

"Right." She could hear the roll of Kumiko's eyes in that tone. "As long as you're sure. Kumiko out."

"Boogeymen? Really?" Yoruichi asked with a wry smile and an uplifted brow of bemusing humor, "you honestly think any fabeled creatures would stand a chance to get you? You're honestly doubting your ability to survive, Brina-chan."

Sazuke merely clucked her tongue with dispassion, as the three of them were seated within a large tent within the middle of a debris-ridden block of the outer area of the Rukonagi sector within the Northern area. 

"Well, there are boogeymen of all sorts!" Brina answered, though briefly taking note at the noise of irritation Sazuke had made. She shifted one leg over the other, placing her hands on her knee. "Doesn't have to be limited to just the creatures kids think are in their closet or under their bed. Anyone with the ability and willingness to commit violence can be one. There's the big boys and girls of the Inner Circle, the big boys and girls of the Alliance... just a matter of perspective, to be honest..."

She tilted her head to the side as she directed her gaze over at Sazuke, a momentary frown coming across her face. "Hm. You've certainly gotten a lot more quiet since we've embarked on this newfound team. You should be at least a little happier about your circumstances. The Alliance is pushing the Inner Circle back and it won't be long until all is yours once again. Not to mention that some potentially dangerous criminals are going to have justice served to them. That's what you wanted, isn't it?" All of it was delivered in a casual and conversational tone, not carrying the mock or taunt it would've carried in the heat of combat. It was as if Brina was genuinely treating Sazuke as a comrade again.

Of course, anyone who knew would see that wasn't the case.

"Team is certainly an enthusiastic term for this tenuous alliance we have with each other," Sazuke spoke coldly, as her eyes turned to regard Brina fully, "if anything, you should consider yourself and your subordinates prisoners of war. Any misstep in keeping our forces in the status quo, you'll find I'm especially disagreeable to keeping you on this 'team', Brina-baka!" 

"Easy, Sazuke-san," Yoruichi spoke in a level, direct tone that caused Sazuke to turn her gaze away, "no need for us to bite each other's heads off. Whether either of you like it or not, the Soul Society's continuity depends on our union, so I suggest dealing with your petty rivalry for now."

"Its not her or her men, or her would-be allies I'm concerned about, Yoruichi-dono," Sazuke spoke in an ominous, foreboding tone as she looked out of the tent and at the darkening sky that crackled above, continuing to pour rain down on the ruined cityscape of the once expanded, modernized marvel that the Soul Society had been turned into, "its the unknown factors still allied with the Horsemen. Sōsuke Aizen and Yhwach Juhabach. When they strike while the iron is hot, we'll need ALL of our reserves and allies, not just the pultry forces we've restrained ourselves with to this point."

"Are you sure that's going to be enough to destroy them?" Brina asked, cocking an eyebrow. "These aren't the "final bosses" of a particularly good video game. These are individuals with sociopathic minds, people with nothing to string them along and able to bend to the situation when the time calls for it." She sniffled a little. "I wouldn't be surprised if they found a way to make all of your reinforcements kill themselves off before they could even begin to arrive on scene."

She paused for a moment, adding as an afterthought. "Not that I'm aiming to demoralize you or anything. It's all a matter of mind over might in this situation. Simple numbers, power and sheer force of will won't be enough to stop the likes of them. But with a mind that's capable of understanding and pushing theirs to the limit... well, that's a different story."

"We didn't have numerical advantages on our side the moment this war ignited," Yoruichi spoke plainly to Brina, her eyes casting over to her visage while Sazuke looked away with a visible snarl on her face from the latter's words, "we relied on each other. Through the bonds of friendship, mutual pain, and desired survival, that is what's on the line for us. For them, this is just another scheme from a long list of ones they've achieved. They've believed they already won. That is their greatest downfall." 

A wide smile came across Brina's face. "And that is why I'm leaning towards you winning this scuffle." She said casually, looking over both Yoruichi and Sazuke. "In addition, things may just be a little bit easier for your forces even considering that. Several minutes from now, Aizen and Ywhach will begin turning on the Inner Circle remnants in a bid to destroy them and the Alliance in one go. With possible in-fighting and your promising reinforcements, things look pretty smooth for you, don't they?"

Then, without warning, she slid an arm around her archenemy's shoulders and pulled her close in a gesture of comraderie, although it was mostly made to tick off the woman. If that didn't do it, then her mock baby talk tone certainly would. "Isn't that right, miss Muscle Missiles?" She teased, resting her chin on the top of Sazuke's head. "You're going to win, yes you are!"

Yoruichi couldn't help but snicker at the display, especially at the sight of Sazuke's contrastingly ever increasing darker expression, the more Brina patronized her. 

"If you value that pretty face of yours, I suggest you remove your chin off my head, and your arms off my body," Sazuke spoke in a level, barely controlled tone, as her mollars ground into each other with animosity and restrained rage, "clear?!" 

"Sssh, sssh..." If Brina was aware of the threat made towards her person, she certainly didn't show it. She brought another arm to complete the hug, looking out of the tent flap as if in thought. "It's okay... everything's going to be just fine..." She whispered, sounding like a mother trying to calm a crying infant. "Don't cry..."

It happened in an instant.

One moment Brina was coddling Sazuke, the next, Sazuke grappled the arms wrapped around her person and used her sitting posture to her advantage, and hurtling Brina directly into the ground with a thunderous smash. The entire tent's interior would be indented, and a reveberating gust of wind would flow through the campsite at the sudden violent movement. 

It took a frazzled Yoruichi to laugh it off and tell everyone it was alright outside. 

"I warned you, bitch," Sazuke snarled as she stood upright from the movement, her eyes glaring almost murderously at Brina. Funnily enough, a pair of flushed sports were seen receding from her cheeks, as if truly embarassed at her proximity to Brina herself. 

Had it been anyone else, the spinal chord would've been snapped into two parts.

But thankfully, Brina was much tougher than that.

She lay in the crater with her eyes shut for a moment, her face scrunched up a little. It only took a few seconds for her to pop her eyes back open and relax herself, slowly sitting herself up and looking over her shoulder. "You're so adorable when you're angry..." She said teasingly, slowly pushing herself on her feet and dusting herself off. "If I knew picking on you was going to be so fun, I would've done it more as a Lieutenant. Master probably would have had our heads for leaving so many craters in the training grounds, though..."

"If you have enough zeal for telling jokes, perhaps you should put that insidiously crafty brain of yours to work on coming up with some form of plan for a proper counterattack. Instead of bothering to infuriate me, it would be better to actually be OF USE for once in your life, rather than waste everyone who's trying to fight for the right cause's time!" Sazuke snarled at Brina, spitting at her feet as she turned on her heels to brush past her and exit the tent.

However, she was stopped dead in her tracks by the golden-eyed scowl she received from Yoruichi, whom rebuked her with nothing but a glare. As Sazuke's head bowed, Yoruichi turned her gaze over to Brina's speaking levelly, "I'd appreciate if you don't antagonize anyone further. I know we're all on edge, and we need something to distract ourselves from the current situation, but I suggest you keep your attempts of humor to yourself. Understood, Brina-san?"

Suddenly, Brina found herself feeling a bit like the child who had been caught with her hand in the cookie jar.

While she acted rather casual in the face of their grandmaster, Brina held a high respect for her as much as she did for her former master. As she stood with her arms folded across her chest, her eyes widened when Yoruichi had directed a somewhat scolding tone in her direction. Upon the end of the sentence, her expression held a mix of sheepishness and guilt. She found herself looking away from the two, unable to meet the golden of Yoruichi's eyes. "...right." She muttered, her tone a bit more sullen. "Sorry. I'll be on my best behavior from."

She took in a deep breath, straightening herself to take in a few steps away from them. She raised her head up, looking at the ceiling in thought. "Onto business, then. By what the 43rd are picking up, the counter-attack exhausted a vast majority of the Inner Circle's defense. Most of the particularly powerful fighters such as those of Captain-class power and above are still going strong, while those that make up the front lines have suffered considerable casualties of their own. Within the hour, the only ones on stage will be the main players of the game."

She turned back towards the two. "On assumption, the two targets that we're concerned with are Aizen and Ywhach. Before I go on, I'd like to ask: how is it that you plan on approaching either of them, let alone both?"

"We have an elite squad situated on dealing with Yhwach, and a few individuals in mind for handling Aizen. Other than that, we can only hope our zeal and perserverence can get us past their subordinates and lieutenants alike," Yoruichi spoke honestly, shrugging, as if she was very unsure of their victory. 

That caused Brina to fall silent for a moment. She placed a closed fist into her other palm and rested both hands against her chest as she looked at Yoruichi quizzically. "That's... a very unsure and hesitant tone of voice coming from you." She commented, lowering her hands back to the side. "With all due respect, I would've at least expected some sort of complex plain explained detail to detail. Surely you have to realize that zeal and perseverance is not enough to destroy this threat. Then again," She exhaled a short breath, allowing herself to turn away from them and pace a little. "That's not taking into consideration the fact that you don't fully trust me to be cooperative... right?"

"I trust you to do the smart thing," Yoruichi answered quickly, only pausing a moment to let out a sigh in regret, "but that doesn't mean I trust you to do the right thing. Listening to me, and withdrawing your forces was a tactfully smart decision. But would you really lay down your life to help us end this war? Or would you switch sides to the one that you believe would be once again tactfully better for you to survive?"

"Once a turncoat, always a turncoat," Sazuke muttered, though not directly, as she kept her back to Brina purposely. 

"I heard that, 3rd Seat." Although delivered in a calm line, Brina's sentence still held a bit of venom within it. "But, you'd be right in not assuming that I'd sacrifice my life for the sake of ending this war. After all, with the way things are going, the Gotei 13 will be back in power. And after the history my family and I have went through, I don't have much of a reason to put my life down for the sake of it. Of course," She made a slight nod towards Sazuke, although the Captain wouldn't see it. "There's always one thing I will lose if your enemy gains the upper hand..."

"And what would that be, Brina McTavish?" Sazuke spoke curtly towards her, looking over her shoulder, allowing one eye to sideglance her with venom, but also genuine curiosity, "besides your life for your incompetance, what exactly would you of all people have to lose if you switched sides again should the opportunity arises?"

The immediate thought that came to mind was a harsh, armor-piercing response. But knowing that would fall under the category of antagonizing, Brina decided to answer in a straightforward manner. A small smile graced her face as she met the Captain's eye. "That would be you, dearest 3rd Seat." She said casually, opening her arms in an emphasizing gesture. "You see, at first all I wanted was your impending demise. But then I thought about it. This wasn't about someone wanting another dead. This was a clash of ideals, the dark and the light locked in a vicious struggle for dominance. We saw each other as more than targets. We saw each other as true enemies, people who would fight until the end of time until the other was wiped completely from existence. You die by the hand of another... and all of that would be annihilated in a blink of an eye. That's become our connection to one another, hasn't it?"

She dropped her arms to her side. "In short, you could say I'm helping out to ensure that I have a hand proper enough to end my life. Although," She rolled her eyes in disdain, the small smile fading away. "Recent actions are starting to beginning to make me wonder if you're worthy of doing that. After all, I doubt Master would willingly choose a hypocrite with a superiority complex as a good successor for her throne, would she?"

"BRINA!" Yoruichi immediately shouted, her eyes flashing dangeorusly towards the taunting woman's own orbs, as she threw her own hand out in emphasis, "that's enough out of you! I'll have you know I am very aware of your rivalry and hatred for one another! I accepted you as a friend's request to spare you, but you're making it very hard for me to do so. Another word like that, and I'll ensure you're thrown to the wolves, gift wrapped and all!" 

Even after Yoruichi yelled, Sazuke could only chuckle humorlessly at Brina. Her eyes closed as the smile never reached her eyes, as she spoke in a level tone, "You dare cast your insults at me for being narcissistic, when you had the cowardice to question your own superior's actions with a sword rather than with reasoning. You've done nothing but betray others. Your subordinates, your family, your allies, your friends...even yourself," opening her eyes, she turned to fully stare coldly back at Brina, "the only superiority that I've ever gotten was attained through hard work, skill, and loyalty. I never once faltered in my duties, and never once was placed in a position you found yourself in. Do you know why? My loyalties weren't in question. Yours, forever will be, Brina McTavish. That is the price of your sins, and will forever marr you as an outcast, no matter where you go. No, the only thing you have left to live for IS our rivalry, and your yearned annihilation by my hand to release you from your shame."

Normally, Brina would've come back quite readily with a vicious comment of her own. She was more than ready to, considering just who it was she was speaking to. But when Yoruichi raised her voice, her heart rate and adrenaline spiked. She jerked her head and regarded the grandmaster with surprise and even a little bit of fear as the words shot through her. In conjunction with Sazuke's vicious jabs at her mental defenses, she found that her calm and collected composure was breaking very quickly. The both of them seemed to be closing in on her, and suddenly, she found it a lot harder to think and maintain stability.

She closed her eyes and turned away, trying to keep hold on herself. But as Sazuke's words continued to hit her, she found her hands twitching and her upper lip threatening to curl. Rage and bitterness was starting to overtake her. Gone was the aim to make the Captain crumble. All of it was replaced by the desire to shut the both of them up by any means, defend herself against what seemed like a stream of accusations. With each and every chord struck, her feelings were steadily rising and rising.

Then, it finally reached the surface.

"Question?! QUESTION?!"

Within a heartbeat, she was right in front of Sazuke before she herself could register it. A snarl was etched on her face, and the daggers she was glaring would have been enough to slice the other woman's head to pieces. "I am so sick of you telling me how loyal I was to Master!!" She roared. "The reason that I even raised my sword was because of that!! I trained under her, I learned from her and I loved her very dearly!! I fought, bled and nearly died for her, damn it!! All of that, while I had to endure your scrutiny," She jabbed a finger against Sazuke's sternum to emphasize this. "And the scrutiny of those ignorant, anti-religious scumbags!! Tell me, Tensai, what would you have done if you were ordered by someone like that to kill another close to your heart?! What would you do if you found out that you were responsible for them being crippled to the point of no recovery?! There wasn't even a goddamn consolation for the loss I had to commit! I was loyal, I was devoted, and I was BETRAYED!!"

She stopped herself before she could go any further, glaring wildly into Sazuke's eyes. Through her murderous expression, there were flickers of bitterness and sorrow. Through her gaze, the first sign of tears began to form. At first, she ignored them in favor of keeping her vicious stare locked onto her accuser. But, after a few blinks, she couldn't hold it anymore. She lowered her head and staggered back, taking in a shuddering breath as she placed a hand to her face.

"But... you're right..." She said, her voice having been sapped of its strength and fire in an instant. She dropped to her hands and knees, her ability to stand having been ripped away "You're so fucking right. I've been giving myself so many excuses as to why I'm doing what I'm doing. For the greater good of the Soul Society, I said. To avenge my family from corruption and conspiracy, I said." As she spoke, her voice was cracking under her emotions. "But who the hell am I kidding?! I don't even know why I'm still hunting for blood, destroying other people's lives or waging this war in the first place. Who am I, really? What's my identity or the reason I'm living? What's my name?"

This was followed by another pause.

Then, she raised her fist and smashed into the ground, causing the sound to resonate through the tent and making a small crater with that hand in the center. "WHAT IS MY FUCKING NAME?!" She screamed, shutting her eyes as the tears spilled from her eyes. It was the last words she would speak before she started sobbing, her shoulders heaving with each and every one. Once again, Sazuke had reduced Brina to nothing more than a sobbing wreck, and it was one of the most humiliating feelings she could have experienced.

Sazuke just stared impassively at the weaping rival, kneeling before her, unable to mount a response that she may say. But she lost the desire to continue their verbal battle. Brina was too emotionally ruined, and she already made her point. The very fact that she agreed with her caused her to hold her tongue throughout the rest of her tirade. 

Lowering her face, until her bangs covered eyes, Sazuke turned on her heels and left the tent. She didn't even bother gracing a response to her former comrade, thinking it would be best if she got some distance from her, and allow her to sort out her feelings. 

Yoruichi, however, had a different reaction to Brina's grief-stricken form. 

Kneeling down, she slowly wrapped her arms tenderly around Brina's head and placed it into her bosom, stroking her hair softly as she spoke tenderly to her, "Now isn't that a silly question to ask yourself. You're Brina McTavish. Sister to a valliant warrior that your brother has turned out to be, and disciple of one of the greatest heirs to the Stealth Force I've ever left behind. But the real question is: What will you make yourself out to be from this point forward?" 

When Yoruichi first made contact with her, Brina had instinctively flinched out of apprehension that she would get struck. But she allowed herself to relax, her shoulders relaxing under the comforting touch. She shut her eyes tightly, taking in deep and sharp breaths in an effort to get herself under enough control to speak. "I... I don't know...!" She said weakly, raising her hands up to place on the sides of Yoruichi's arms. "I really don't know... all I've grown to understand... is the act of seeking violence. What else could I have gotten out of life, being on the run for so many years?! I've known nothing but the act of spilling other people's blood! Where... where could I possibly go from the life of a warmonger, someone else's shadow?!"

"I can't tell you that, Brina-chan," Yoruichi spoke softly, still stroking her head as she advised her as best as she could, "that's really up to you. Is there anything you wish to protect in this life? Surely you have something to fight for, behind all the guise of manipulation and bloodshed, there has to be something you wanted to do after all the war was over, right? If you have that special something, then aim for that being your goal, and fight for it because you want to do the right thing, not just the smart thing. That's the best advice I can give. Its all up to you, how you take it from this point forward..."

That shot Brina's eyes wide open.

Flashes of images appeared within her mind as it went on a brief trip backwards. There was her first encounter and dance with what would be her lover and husband. There was the moment in where she, after an exhausting task of giving labor, got the chance to hold her son - their son - in her arms. Her husband had been smiling down on her, congratulating her and staying by her side throughout it all. In the time that they could spend together, they were always a happy and almost normal family. If it was anything Brina treasured the most, it was family - especially those two.

It only took several seconds. But she closed her eyes and let out a bittersweet chuckle. "Of course..." She said, reaching up to grasp Yoruichi's shoulders. "All of this time, and I never even thought about it that way. Yeah... I've got something to fight for, and something to protect. And no matter what happens from here on out, that will be my personal goal."

Gently, she pulled herself away from Yoruichi and stood back up. A hand was used to wipe away the tears she had shed, and she blinked several times to rid herself of any remnants. She took in a deep breath to steady herself, meeting the grandmaster's gaze as she lowered her arms. "In the end," She said softly, giving a small shrug of the shoulders. "I guess you're all going to be stuck with me again, huh boss?"

"I distinctly recall Yoruichi never being your boss, Brina," A familiar voice ushered behind Brina, as Sui-Feng herself entered from the closed flap of the tent. A rare smile graced upon the armored, ponytail-adorned woman, as she stared fondly at Brina with tears in her eyes, "I've yet to hand the reigns over to Yoruichi-hime just yet. I've got a lot of fight left in me, despite what you may think of me."

"While I might not have had the distinct pleasure of working for you, I'm going to be more than happy to fight alongside you, Brina-chan. Not as a superior, but as an equal. After all, you've mastered the Shunkō to a level I never could," Yoruichi smiled approvingly towards Brina, proppering her hands on her hips as she looked towards her student's pupil with respectful regard, as her eyes wandered over to Sui-Feng as well, "although, its hard to say either of your students have mastered the Shunkō aswell as you have, Sui-Feng."

"Who knows? We won't know till we all fight together," Sui-Feng spoke with a nod, her eyes never leaving Brina's as she closed the gap between her disciple and herself. Before she could possibly retort, she wrapped her own arms around her, giving her a maternal hug as she rested her chin over her shoulder, "welcome back, Brina-chan!"

It was as if she was being hit with a blast from a past... and a good one, at that.

When the woman embraced her, Brina felt a wave of new emotion come over her. There was relief, for a burden had been officially lifted off her shoulders. With this, the old times might as well have been buried in a coffin six feet under. With a shuddering breath, the brown-haired girl wrapped her arms around Sui-Feng to return the welcoming gesture. The grateful smile on her face couldn't have been clearer. "It... it's good to be back, Master..." She whispered, holding the other woman tightly to ensure just how real this moment was. "Thank you so much..."

Teary Reunion, The Gang Together Again!

"Well, this should do it," Mōka said confidently, as the near entirety of V-14 was a good half kilometer away from the superstructure that held up the precipice of the Seireitei. Knowing the blast would bring the structures ontop of itself rather than fall over, her only concern was the explosion's shockwave and debris most proximate to it. 

The only question was, when should they do it? It wasn't until recently they felt a handful of friendly Spiritual Pressure signatures do battle within the enemy's HQ. Not long ago almost all of the Horsemen's tremendous Spiritual Powers, excluding Kyōaku Hōritsu, had all but diminished the danger ceiling.

She hadn't heard confirmation from the Head Captain, so until then, she decided to "camp-out" in an immediately evacuated alleyway.

"Why the hell are we waiting, boss?" Karitori asked incredulously, flicking the safety on and off idly on her Kidō shotgun.

"We haven't heard confirmation of all friendlies being evacuated from the enemy's HQ perimeter. I'd rather not our tentative alliance be sullied by causing important personnel's demise(s)," Mōka retorted, rolling her eyes as if she was educating a child.

"Guess we got no choice then to wait for another sign," Shito muttered, rocking his buttock against a crate as he wrung his hands anxiously, "hopefully not the bad kind..."

"I'd like to just blow it sky high and just hope the good guys are out of the picture," Hyōryū sighed as she leaned against a wall, flanked by the two stoic and silent warriors, Shadō and Shinshin, "but sadly I'm not THE boss. That's Angie..."

"Wonder where she could be?" Zaii queried as he sharpened his blade, having undone the bandages by hand out of sheer boredom of the situation, "you think her battle with Yashin's going well?"

"You do realize that miss eyepatch is probably one of the most deadliest people here, besides our boss?" Yajū asked incredulously, sitting against a wall while his scythe's pole hilt angled across his chest and the inner right partition of his leg, "with the way it sounded, she could've taken on Aizen without breaking a sweat." 

"I'd rather you not jump the gun on assuming such things." Shou said in retort, sitting on a trash can with one leg shifted over the other. "Sure, the signatures she and Yashin gave off weren't something to mess with, and I'm fully quite assured of Kachō's abilities. But giving everyone a false sense of hope? We're on a good luck streak here, Yajū. Rather not ruin it..."

"Speaking of signatures," Asuka spoke, standing right beside him with her sheathed sword in front of her. She was forwardly leaning on it with both hands on the hilt bottom, treating it as if she would a came. "You've been checking the skies, haven't you? It seems that our dear Yashin's has disappeared. The last time I noted, Angel-chan was the only one still up there."

This made a good amount of the V-14 there do a double-take.

As Shou looked at her in surprise before switching his own gaze to the sky to confirm it, Anton was the first to speak up. "Wait a minute." He said carefully, trying not to get his own hopes up. "Are you saying that his spiritual signature dropped just like that? Did it vanish, or--"

"It was a rather quick drop from sensible to nothing." Asuka said, giving a slight nod. "But it was a drop. She was the one to land the fatal blow on him."

Needless to say, this garnered most if not all of the eyes there once more. Yashin, the mastermind behind each and every one of the events at hand, the one who had pulled the strings of their organization so easily, had fallen victim to Angelika's blade? It was almost a rather unbelievable thing to hear, as equally desirable as it was to do so. A few of them might have been quick to assume that they were in some sort of twisted illusion where everything was still being manipulated by the enemy.

Another voice would break the silence.

"He's dead?! Ding fucking dong, the bitch is dead!!"

Oliver's.

Although his choice of words were certainly vulgar at best, he had a rather enthusiastic smile on his face as he walked up to greet them. A little ways behind him was Genesis, who had her arms folded across her chest and an eyebrow slightly raised at his exclamation. He paid no heed to it, clapping his hands together as he regarded them all. "I don't know about you," He continued. "But I'm sure that's a pretty damn good reason to celebrate once this war business is all over and done with. So, why haven't we blown up the HQ yet? Det those charges and let's get--"

"We can't." Anton was quick to cut him off with a blunt tone, earning his surprise.

"Well, why not?"

The Russian gave a sigh, rolling his eyes at the already answered question. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Genesis walk away and lean against one of the alleyway walls next to a trash can. "As much as I'd want to blow up the enemy's base and get this done and dusted... there are still people inside that just happen to be our allies. We can't risk them getting caught in our crossfire, especially when they happen to be former enemies we've only recently signed a truce with."

"In addition, we have to wait for either the Head Captain or Angelika herself to make the call." Shou added, folding his arms across his chest. "Jeopardy of alliance or not, we're still under orders."

In turn, Oliver gave a small snort and rolled his eyes. "Still the momma's boy, I see--"

"RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!!!!"

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH~!!!!"

A male roar and a female scream cut him off and turned his surprised attention, as well as a good deal of everyone else's, to a startled Genesis as she fell to the ground on her rump. The trash can she had been standing beside had its cap thrown off, revealing a trash-covered Yusuke. He had his forearms crossed on the rim of the can, giving a deadpan look at his victim for a moment. He held that look for a moment, waiting until anger started to show on the Daitenshi's face to speak in a smug voice.

"Oscar the Grouch ain't got nothin' on me, bitch."

"PFFFT, HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!" Hyōryū bent over with both arms around her waist as she giggled and snorted with uncontained laughter at what had been said, "t-t-that was priceless! For the look he made you pull, Genie, nyahahahahahahaha!"

Shito sweatdropped with nervousness, happenstance, in sync with Shadō, "Why do I get the feeling a Daitenshi is about to set the trash can Yusuke's in on fire?"

"Oooh~!" Genesis's cheeks puffed up with anger and embarrassment at Hyōryū's comment, as well as the amused looks from the others. "Shut it, Boobzilla!" She swung her glare over at the grinning Yusuke, quickly bringing herself up to stand onto her on to feet. "And what were you even doing, sitting in there?! What kind of person within their right mind would sit in a trash can?!"

Yusuke kept a straight face. "Why, a hobo who knows his housing. It's comfortably warm, perfectly isolated for the loner and there's plenty of food to come across! Granted, this particular trash can is empty, but still..."

An eye twitch from Genesis.

"You know? Shito's idea seems pretty darn good right about now."

That wiped the straight look off of Yusuke's face. His eyes widened, and he started to raise his hands up. "Wait a minute, what do you mean by that--"

He was abruptly cut off when the trash can lid was grabbed and slammed onto his head, confining him within the can space as it pressed him in. With a somewhat manic grin on her face and a snap of her fingers, the bottom of the trash can was ignited in a fire formation meant for ovens and cooking. She threw her arms out in a triumphant gesture.

"Monkey stew! Fresh from the wild and into the pot! How's that, Oscar the Grouch?!"

"I AM MELTING!!"

"Oh, is this a bad time?"

The familiar voice of a German woman would make its way through the atmosphere that they had created.

The source of it came from a distance behind them. She had a body slung over her shoulder, with her free hand stuck in her coat pocket. Her outfit was a mix of stained blood, sword slashes and gunshots. A sleeve of her white coat had been torn off, and her face sported a scar or two, signaling just how close her encounters before the situation were. Still, she was approaching them with a collected and composed gait. "I was getting quite nervous about being late to rejoin you, but I see you've taken occupation of time into your own hands..."

"Tch, and you were doubting your own ex-commander. For shame, Shou, for shame," Yajū snickered as he feigned a ridiculing tone as he flipped the Daitenshi Captain off with a chuckle. 

"Boss! You're back!" Hyōryū ran towards her, causing Shadō to smile and Shinshin to breathe a sigh of relief.

Shito began to stand up, being the closest to Angelika's position, he began to speak without looking at her directly, "Must've been helluva fight, Angelika-san. Considering from the explosions that dwarfed the thunderclaps in the actual storm, I almost believed that you...you...your eyepatch!" 

Hyōryū stopped her stride as she skid in front of Angelika, and her eyes nearly bulged in fear at seeing both eyes open, "Angelika's possessed! RUN AWAY! IMMINITE TENTACLE RAPE INCOMING!" 

CONK!

"Relax, spastic queen, she's obviously quite sane," Zaii lightly whacked the tope of Hyōryū's head with the flat of his enormous sword, looking over at her with an approving smile as he propped it behind his back, "glad to have you back."

"Likewise," Mōka spoke as she half-hugged Angelika beside her, before oggling at the body lumped over her shoulder, "did you bring a present for me? You know I don't eat recently dead people, if that's what you're wondering..."

A sarcastic chuckle was Angelika's response. "And here I thought I'd have an easier way to dispose of the trash. But rest assured, this isn't so much a present as it is a headline on a newspaper." She slipped her hand out from her pocket and grasped the body to pull it off of her shoulder. "You may or may not have gotten the impression that in the aftermath of our fight, I killed Yashin. The plummet of his spiritual pressure would signify that much. But, as it is..."

Promptly, she tossed the body of the unidentified man for all to see, folding her arms across her chest as she looked down on it. "It was the same thing as the first time he had met with us. A vessel that he was using to channel his mental and physical being into instead of the real thing."

"Y-you're shitting me, right?!" Oliver exclaimed in disbelief, moving over to stare at the body. "You mean to tell me that what you were fight was only a substitute, a puppet for the real thing to control?! That would mean that--"

"Yashin isn't dead." Angelika finished smoothly, closing her eyes and giving a heavy sigh. "And as circumstance has told me, it isn't likely that he's going to be dead in the foreseeable future."

"Correct you are, my dear," the void of the supposedly omnipresent force at odds with V-14, stepped out of the shadows from between Shinshin and Shadō, causing them both to widen their eyes with understandable fear. As Yashin Shiyōnin appeared, toting his telltale trident in his right hand, he seemed to use his left hand to brush a few loose black bangs from his eyes as he locked them upon Angelika, "if there is only one real illusion, that is death. I've lived as long as the creators of this Universe have existed and battled one another. What makes you thinks mortal wounds would possibly strike me down, even if its done by my admittedly weaker half?"

All at once, everyone drew their weapons forth.

Despite being bereft of his arm's surgically implanted blades, Shinshin had been given a new sword out of Zaii's arsenal, now being drawn from his left him and held out towards his neck. It was soon greeted by Yajū's scythe, and Zaii's own behemoth sword. 

Hyōryū, despite all of her initial hate and despise she held for the man, couldn't bring herself to unholster her guns. For some reason, she felt like this was a weird case of eternal Deja Vu. How many times have they danced this deadly tune? How many times have they narrowly escaped death? She felt as if her participation, whether she liked it or not, wouldn't do a single good thing. 

This fact, caused her to shiver with fear and ground her teeth with self disgust. 

But a voice of reason came out, right next to Angelika's side, being one of Izanami's Children, "I should've known there was a weird connection between you and Angie. I just didn't know it was a literal one. That and the fact you make my blood boil every time you're near me, only helps enforce the fact that I hate you more than anything else, without any sense of rationality behind it. And yet, you've done nothing but hold yourself back when you've engaged us in conflict or battle. Why is that?" 

Looking to Angelika, it was almost as if she was asking her more than she was asking Yashin.

And just like before, Angelika had not reacted immediately when Yashin made his appearance.

"How can you expect to be at the top of the pyramid when you destroy sources of information? Why would you bother putting forth all effort into destroying your enemies, when you can simply manipulate them into destroying themselves? Why would you be so eager to annihilate your foe, when you can find more pleasure in teasing, taunting and rolling them around your finger?" She closed her eyes and shook her head in a sage manner. "I only learned recently that this man isn't just a simple soul that's turned to the ways of the dark. He's something that's been around since the beginning of time, a force powerful enough to threaten the likes of even Izanami's first children. Centuries of intelligence, knowledge and power, up to the present day... now that's realized, it's much easier to see just why it was necessary to hold back. If he really wanted to see us dead... we'd most likely be dead."

"Boss...?" Anton questioned quietly, surprised and subdued by the once vengeful German's words of relent.

"As I was descending, I was keeping an eye on my spiritual radar." Angelika would continue speaking. "His signature isn't just in one place. It's in several. Right now, two of the sources are engaging Horseman Tsukishima as we speak. So," Her eyes directed themselves towards Zaii, Shinshin and Yajū, glancing from a sideways point of view. "I can safely say that what you three happen to be holding at blade-point would also be nothing more than a random vessel. Isn't that right," She put on a small smirk as she spoke the next word. "Yashin-kun?"

"Fufufufu, you are a sharp one, Angelika-chan," Yashin spoke with a leveled, complimentary tone.

The relaxed poise he held, caused the three who held him at blade's edge to feel quite silly at even attempting to subdue him, retracting their weapons immediately. 

Upon doing so, Yashin rested his trident onto the ground with an audible 'tack' as he presented himself to her and the others, "What you see before is nothing more than the vessel I sent your way in offering a contract in the beginning. I felt it...fitting, that I used this body to communicate my reasoning for seeking you out, and delivering my farewell to the majority of you lesser members."

"Goodbye?" Mōka asked with curiosity, raising her right brow as she crossed her arms, studying her distant "cousin" carefully, "what makes you think this is the last time we'll see each other? Are you done having fun with us?"

"What comes next may be the end of all of you. For this not to pass, I'll be requiring my full concentration. This means I'll have to keep my obsession with your merry band contained, so I decided to gain a sense of...closure...in seeing you all off. Especially you, Angelika Hartmann," Yashin flashed a handsome smile at her, as his discolored eyes shined eerily, as if he fixated them solely onto hers.

"I've never had more fun pushing myself to outwit or outmaneuver you and your band of allies. Whether it was the first time contracting you to hunt down the Fullbringer, or our first real battle in the Rukonagi, the ambush at the Sect's Meet, the Invasion, infiltrating DCO HQ, and our dance among the dark skies, you've always been nothing but dazzling within the thick of conflict," having walked towards Angelika, none of V-14 halted his progress, even as he stood but a hair's breath away. His hand graced her left cheek, caressing it like a delicate flower or a ivory vase, his thumb moving over the edge of the cheekbone, as his face neared hers, "you inotixcate me. For this reason, for playing my game better than expected, I shall grace you with a single gift."

With that, he did the unthinkable.

Closing the gap, Yashin's mouth enveloped Angelika's, fusing them into a deep kiss. Upon the surface it may have looked like an ordinary act of lust or sincere love, but internally, Angelika's mind would see something else during the heat of the moment.

She would see a beast, deep beneath the bowels of Hell, wrapped within chains of ice, slowly wrenching himself from its slumber. As soon as he freed himself, his howl would shatter the tower he was within, and moments after, Hell's gates opened before the Soul Society, and thousands of Togabito stormed its airspace. Flames consumed homes and people were slaughtered in droves. Within the wake of the inferno, a being, garbed in flames devoured it within the blink of an eye leaving everything within darkness.

Within that darkness, Yashin's being seemed to walk towards her, as her body would appear as if it was floating within a void, created by Yashin's own illusions.

Resuming the same stance just moments before their kiss, Yashin whispered, "These events will come to pass before the victor will realize it. Be it Aizen, Juhabach, or the Alliance, Hell itself will flood the Universe with its unabated wrath. The Children of Izanami cannot contain what is about to be unleashed in this cataclysm. But know this. When you find yourself bereft of your lover, your allies, and your closest friends, know that I will seek you out and keep you from harm. That is my token to you, Angelika Hartmann, whether you wish it of me, or not."

It would be within this moment that normalcy would return, and all that would be felt, would be the physical passion Yashin projected upon her.

"!"

At first, the members who wouldn't immediately catch on would be the ones with surprised looks on their face. The most prominent of faces would be Angelika, who would have her eyes open wide in a mirror of when Oliver had first kissed her. The mentioned man had his eyebrows slanted and a scowl on his face, and the woman instinctively pushed a palm against Yashin's chest out of reflex. But that is where reaction movement stopped; Oliver knew that he wouldn't get anywhere if he attacked Yashin, and Angelika had been trapped within the vision before she could do anything else.

As for Angelika, the illusion was a vivid nightmare come to life.

Although all she had to do was allow herself to watch the images unfold before her. When the beast rose from the depths of Hell and released the torrent of Sinners with it, she was standing and watching as everything was butchered. Homes, lives, and even the very atmosphere itself was being torn apart by the invasion. The flames that touched her skin seemed to burn away at not only her flesh, but her very soul. It was as if she was facing Daisuke's fires again, only these were magnified to an all-new extreme.

Worst of all, this was something claimed to be in the coming future. Once again, she and her organization would have to fight for their lives against a destructive force. They would have to steel themselves against the apocalypse this time, for with Izanami's children unable to do anything, there would be no resurrection upon death.

Then, the illusion ended.

Angelika let out a soft exhale as her lips were parted from Yashin's, opening her eyes back up to look into his. Although there was some mental amusement due to the fact that in front of everyone, she had just kissed a bitter enemy. But she kept it under wraps, her eyes slightly narrowed and a small frown on her face. "I'll make sure all of them will be ready." She whispered, carrying nothing but resolution and absolution in her tone. "No one's going to die on my watch this time."

"That's what I wanted to hear," Yashin whispered back, righting his trident as he did so. With a resolute impact onto the ground, the pommel created a neon emerald light, travelling up his body and enveloping his being, "I am counting on you to lead this merry band of misfits to cause more mayhem to the enemies you will be facing. Do not let them succeed. What they will do to the world...will make it a very dull place indeed!"

CRACK-BOOM!

Within the sound of thunder within their midst, Yashin's form disappeared, leaving them all behind within a single instant and allowing them to soak what he had just told them. 

A brief silence.

Then...

"Wow, since when did you become the resident pimp?"

The rather outspoken comment was made none other than Asuka, who had been watching with silent curiosity. This garnered some surprised looks in her direction, but she kept her owlish gaze on Angelika. The German woman was quick to give her an unamused look back. But she chose to ignore it, skipping a sarcastic comment for an explanation.

"It was his way of sending a message." She said, folding her arms across her chest and looking at all of them. Even Yusuke had managed to bring himself out of the garbage can in order to hear. "A message concerning the future, and... I can tell you right now, the future for everyone's not going to look so great."

That broke off Asuka's owlish expresion in exchange for a more interested one. "What did you happen to see?"

"I saw a beast," The leader would tell it straight from her heart, turning herself away and walking a few steps in a pace. "Rising up from the depths of Hell itself. I saw the Damned bursting from their prisons and waging a genocide on existence. I saw the world ending before my very eyes, the very universe turning into nothing more than a black void. All of it reminded me of the Plinian Movement, and it felt all too similar. But I'm sure you understand." She spared them a sideways glance.

"If this is true, and this apocalypse comes to life... it won't matter who wins here. Aizen, Juhabach, the Alliance... this will destroy everything and anything that exists. And unlike the Movement, there won't be any resurrections."

"Then I guess we got some bad news to tell the Alliance, if and when this is all over," Mōka grumbled out, not liking the fact the bearer of bad news and prophecy came from the likes of Yashin Shiyōnin.

"That's still a very big if," Shito called out, his eyes dragging over to the mutual commanders of the V-14 squads, "like it or not, we're fighting an uphill battle against Sōsuke Aizen and Yhwach Juhabach. We don't really have a clue of how many forces they retain at their beck and call, nor how many steroid-powered lieutenants to dish out against our strongest fighters, and the two of them combined brought down the Head Captain within a matter of a single minute, intentional or not. And they weren't even trying hard!"

"Thanks for the vote of confidence, you guys," Zaii grumbled, as he began wrapping his behemoth weapon.

Shito raised his hands up in defense as he stood up, "I'm not saying I'm giving up, or we should call it quits! I'm just pointing out the odds of victory here. Even if the Alliance still has yet to call back a third or even a half of their forces waiting at DCO, we have no idea what to expect from those two clever bastards! And if they weren't just powerful, they are frigging smart! Its hard to beat people who plan a hundred moves ahead, when we barely plan out five or ten!"

"Will you quit your paranoia, Shito," Mōka spoke in a derrisively exhausted tone, emphasized with a hand dragging down her face, "I may say if and when, but you're forgetting something crucial. My Hankami Uncles and Aunt may not be participating to help out, but I intend to stick with you, and I won't hold anything back. If there's one thing that Aizen and Juhabach should fear, its the daughter of the Punisher and the Nihilist, the Dominator!"

"Oh, really?" Genesis snarked, folding her arms across her chest and raising a skeptical eyebrow. "Because that paralysis spell Daigomi put on you seemed very effective."

"Be careful not to let them grab you by the wrist, Mōka!" Oliver mocked. "We all know now that's your weak point!" This was followed by a set of laughter from both him and Genesis, with him briefly tilting his head back and her swinging her hand in an "Oh, you!" motion.

"I'm sorry I allowed you guys to be NOT liquid floor fodder," Mōka growled at Oliver and Genesis with an angry twitch, as she glared heatedly at them both.

"In any case," Shou said flatly, briefly fixing a slight glare at both his former colleague and current subordinate before switching his gaze to Angelika. "If this "vision" is true, kachō... then Genesis and I will need to head back to Hell as soon as all of this has been settled. We need to be on high alert for any particularly rowdy prisoners and keep an eye out for any outsiders who might happen to be passing through the boundary. The last thing any of us want is Hell spilling over to the world of the Living and the Spirits..."

"That's assuming you'll have a chance to contain it..." Angelika said, earning his look of surprise. "According to him, not even Izanami's children will be able to stop this from happening. As reliable as I believe the Daitenshi to be, I don't think that they'll last long if that's the case. Still, it'd be even worse to do nothing in order to at least prolong it." She gave a slight nod of acknowledgement. "I trust that you'll work to the best of your ability, Shou."

Although his expression was a bit apprehensive, Shou gave a respectful bow. "Of course, kachō."

"In the meantime," The German would continue, shoving her hands into her pockets. "I think it's appropriate to see the fruits of our fireworks. Oliver, if you would be so kind, activate the charge."

That got plenty of shocked reactions, and Anton could only manage one word out.

"What?!"

"I don't know if you got the memo, Angie, but we have friendlies on the Seireitei. Leaders of the Alliance, actually. We blow those charges now, there's a good chance we can get them caught up in the blast, and that will be more bad baggage to throw on our heads," Mōka spoke in a level, stern tone towards her German partner.

"I would rather not incur the wrath of the Alliance, upon the fact that we caused even more deaths for them to live with," Shadō spoke in a low, clear tone, one which Shinshin nodded in agreement with.

"Wasn't it the Head Captain's plan to blow up the Seireitei? Wasn't that our mission? If that's the case, why wait? Surely some high and mighty fighters like them can avoid a collapsing super structure, right?" Karitori waved her gun with exasperation.

"I'm with Kari on this one," Yajū rubbed the handle of his scythe against his shoulder as he stood upright to look at Angelika, "we shouldn't have to wait. We either blow the charges now, or never."

"You do realize how crazy it is to do something so reckless, right?!" Shito spoke out incredulously, looking to Hyōryū for help, "back me up on this! Tell your boss she's making the wrong call!"

"I don't know, Shito," Hyōryū shrugged, placing her hands on her hips, "on the one hand, we went through a LOT of shit to get in good graces with the Soul Society, let alone be asked to help support the Alliance. But then again, we're mercenaries. We don't have friends or enemies, just clients and targets. If our client told us to blow up the mountain that's holding up half the city and the enemy HQ, with or without them on it when it goes, I think we should abide by that contract."

"W-wait a minute!" It was Rika's turn to speak up. She was sitting on the ground with the unconscious Kenja's head in her lap, having spent her time idly stroking his hair. She shrank back a little when she saw stares in her direction, but fought against her nervousness to continue. "W-what is a contract worth when all it does is get us in trouble? The Gotei 13 have suffered enough casualties without us adding more! It's not right!"

"Yeah!" Yusuke had clambered out of the garbage can and stood up, fixing a protesting glare at the ones that had advocated the notion of blowing up the HQ. "We have went through a lot to get good graces with the Soul Society and the Alliance in general! Why should we have to waste that in a single minute? I don't know about you all, but I'm not going to be responsible for tearing apart the lives of good people!"

The only ones who had not participated immediately were the members of Alpha Team and the solitary Asuka.

Anton, Oliver and Shou had moved to stand near one another as they looked at Angelika, who was regarding the group with an unreadable expression. But there was a subtle way the German's mouth twitched that implied that what she said was not really being mentally enforced. They exchanged glances with one another out of confusion for a moment, before looking at the group. They would meet eyes with the silent Asuka, who regarded them with slight confusion. But when she read the question in their eyes, she glanced to Angelika for a moment before a small smile of amusement came across her face.

That was all that was needed for them to do the same. Only, they didn't do it with a subtle movement.

The argument would promptly be broken by the sounds of the Russian and American chuckling as they looked from the group to Angelika, whose smile had started to get a little more prominent. When Oliver looked at Anton and spread his arms out in a momentary shrug, their chuckling got a little louder. After a moment or two, though, they would look at the group in general once they were sure they had gotten everyone's attention. There were only six words they would say to summarize the situation.

"You just got trolled." Anton said smugly.

"Nazi style!" Oliver crowed, emphasizing with mock gang signs.

This exaggerated gesture broke the dam that was holding back Asuka, Oliver and Anton. They started laughing, fueled by the amusement they discreetly shared. Angelika herself didn't bother to restrain the grin she had on her face, her arms folded across her chest as she watched. "Oh, I forgot how adorable they are when they argue."

"The hell is so funny?! Is wiping out allies now a joke?!" Hyōryū growled at Anton, Oliver, and Angelika with irritation, feeling as if she'd been tricked big time.

"I don't exactly get what's funny," Shinshin looked over at Asuka insistantly for answers, "is slaying our enemies and allies some form of ironical humor? Or is the lack of decent comedy within the joke keeping me from enjoying it?"

With a sigh, Shadō patted Shinshin's shoulder, "Its apparently Angelika's way of picking on the less observant ones and making an inside joke without telling any of us the punch line..."

"I still don't get it," Shinshin spoke flatly.

"Neither do I," Shadō rolled his eyes in emphasis.

Zaii laughed sheepishly, though felt sweat bead down his scalp at the cruelty of the joke, realizing how close he almost believed them all to have condemned their allies. He was lucky enough none of them were directly working for the Gotei 13, so it wouldn't come back to bite them.

"Yeah, sorry, the humor's lost to me on that one," Shito rolled his eyes as he sweatdropped in emphasis. 

"Am I the only one that finds this funny?!" Yajū laughed along with the gang of "trollers", finding it hilarious how they kidded the idea of slaughtering their allies upon contract's orders. The irony of it wasn't lost to him.

Mōka could only sigh as she cast her glance over at Angelika, giving her a "really?" look as she spoke rhetorically, "Couldn't help yourself, could you, Angie?"

"It was a very obvious one, to be fair." Angelika responded, lowering her arms back down to her side. "As much as I would love to see these fireworks put to good use, it serves no practical use now. The Horsemen are in the progress of being dealt with by the Alliance as we speak, and the Inner Circle forces are being rounded up. It won't be long before our main enemy is effectively dismantled and destroyed. There's no need to resort to such desperate measures right this minute."

"So, what?!" Genesis took the opportunity to speak up, shrugging her shoulders in an annoyed manner. "Did we just waste all that time and energy, get our asses kicked in planting bombs, only to find out that the Alliance just sent in troops to deal with the situation?! If anything, I think we should have them blown up for wasting all of our time!!" She folded across her chest and gave an angry pout, turning her head to the side.

"Wouldn't be so quick to assume it was all for naught." Asuka said gently, turning her head in her direction. "After all, there is still plenty of danger capable of provoking the necessity of using the explosives. In addition," A slight smirk crossed her face. "And this might be just a bit of a stretch. If the Alliance just decided to send in troops to deal with the Horsemen individually, then they might have forgotten about us and our operations. Even if we don't have use of them during this battle..."

"We'll still be able to use them later on, in the event that the Gotei 13 or any other part of the Alliance attempts anything against us." Angelika finished, giving an acknowledging nod. "I'm willing to stay my trigger finger, and I hope that you all are willing to do the same. But if there's any confirmed suspicion that they're moving against us--"

"Boom!" Genesis's anger quickly faded away as she listened to the words, and she cut in with her own exclamation. She pumped her fists in the air as she did so. "Down goes the Seireitei!" A wide grin was on her face as she lowered her arms back down. "Jeez, it's such a sucker punch yet so good at the same time! I like the way you guys are thinking now..."

"...it's nice to know that a fellow punisher of sin is willing to advocate such violent actions." Shou said flatly, glaring at the female Daitenshi. But instead of reacting in a sheepish manner, much to his surprise, she was willing to fire back at him.

"Hey!" She jabbed a finger in his direction. "Don't treat me like the bad guy, Yoshi! If you're so against it, why are you helping?" She grinned again when she saw him jolt in surprise, his eyes widening and his mouth contorted into a startled frown.

"I-I won't just abandon my fellow colleagues and comrades at a time like this--!"

"You just want to see things explode." Oliver cut in, giving a smirk of his own as well as a thumbs up to his daughter for her words. After receiving a wink in response, he continued to mock Shou's choice of words. "Face it, I saw your face trying to split after Jean tore Daigomi new assholes with her fire fingers. You haven't changed a bit, Jap."

"Are you both ganging up on me now?!" Shou asked incredulously, looking from female Holmes to male Holmes in disbelief. "I would've figured you two would be the closest on my side!"

"What's the matter? Is my mom's upstanding lap dog worrying too much about his image to have some decent carnal fun? No wonder your presence feels like a killjoy, haha!" Mōka laughed aloud in mockery towards Shou, not showing any form of sympathy for the poor Daitenshi.

Hyōryū couldn't help but join in, walking up beside Oliver and Genesis with a wide grin of her own, "I gotta say, this is one of the few times I'll side with ya, Ollie. Shou here's a bit too restrained, and needs to cut loose once in awhile. Just blow the Hell out of things and enjoy the carnage for once! You don't need to hide it, cause we can see you enjoying yourslef in the thick of it!"

"I have...something to say to that," Kenja finally spoke, as his eyes opened and his being lifted to an upright posture from Rika. He momentarily turned to give her a thankful smile and a wink, before looking sternly at Angelika, "I don't mind codoning on who you name as targets, so long as there is a plausible reason for it. But to hold hostage an entire city on the gamble they might turn on you, is exactly the same tactic the Inner Circle employed to get a hold of the Soul Society in the first place. If this battle is over and the explosives are never used, remove them, otherwise I'll do it myself. I won't have your lust for wanton destruction or your distrusting paranoia put innocent lives in jeopardy!" 

Silence.

The word of protest and challenge caused eyes to fall upon Kenja's form. While Rika held a mix of confusion and a bit of fear within her eyes and Yusuke was regarding him with silent curiosity, the majority of them were now regarding him with various feelings. The smile had been wiped off of Angelika's face as she looked at him, with Alpha Team following suit quickly after. Her eyebrows slightly furrowed and one corner of her mouth turned down in a slight scowl. It was clear that she and certain other people were displeased with Kenja's demand.

"Excuse me, Herr Kodai?" She asked rhetorically, her calm voice carrying a hint of menace within. She began walking towards him with a slow gait, raising a hand to rest on the pommel of her blade. "I don't remember you being in a position to give me demands. You already strode the line when you demanded that I not treat Lieutenant Keikai as a prisoner. But now you're starting to push my hospitality. I've allowed you the privilege of being sheltered by us and fight alongside us. But that doesn't mean you can disrupt my modus operandi whenever you see fit."

By the time she stopped, she was staring him eye-to-eye. She would have been face to face if not due to his towering figure. "I'm not going to bend over backwards and jeopardize our security just because you want to play hero. Don't like it? Too bad, because I'm not changing my mind. And unless you'd like to die right here and now, I think it would be in your best interest to keep quiet and continue cooperating."

Kenja looked down at her unphased. It wasn't a matter of intimidation or sense of self-worth that allowed him to stand his ground. To him, it was a matter of principle, especially when it came to this woman's decisions.

Despite the tension and the seemingly different stoic gaze she had with both eyes exposed, Kenja wouldn't relent easily. He did, however, softened his tone to be more diplomatic, "Listen, I know you and the Soul Society have had plenty of issues. But this is completely irrelevent given the situation, to even plan out their demise when they've yet to betray you."

Waving an arm out to the side emphasis, he continued, "They gave you an assignment and as a part of this Alliance, you should feel compelled to carry it out within the appropriate manner. Planning out betrayals before we even win this battle is pointless, not to mention exactly what the enemy wants you to do. The point of winning this war is to ensure a trustyworthy alliance with all Spiritual Provinces, including your organization. Why even say such things when you've been entrusted with so much? The Inner Circle made you into a killer, but V-14 made you into something so much worthwhile," Kenja looked down at her with a desparate pleading within his eyes, "don't waste the opportunity to do some actual good, in penance for all the lives you've hurt and the people you allowed to die. Don't make that Lieutenant's faith in you be all for nothing. Do the right thing, Angelika-san, for everybody."

Oh, how Angelika would have loved to cut him down right then and there.

It wasn't the somewhat patronizing tone he was using on her that made the hand on her hilt twitch a little. It wasn't him talking like he knew her from the inside out that caused her upper lip to curl a little. It was the fact that he was striking a nerve. When she had been confronted by both Daisuke and that Dragon, the weight of taking all those lives had punched her right across the face. Yashin had pecked at it to keep it alive, and now Kenja was pulling it straight to the surface. She had to close her eyes and step away, taking in a deep breath to keep herself calm.

"God damn it. This is how I work. This is how all of us have been working ever since the start of V-14, and this man expects me to change my tone?, just like that? Does he really think that the Soul Society is just going to stand by and let a set of hired killers and terrorists live? I can't do it. I can't do it, I will not do--"

The voice of another would break through her thoughts and cause her expression to shift to surprise.

"Angelika-sama?"

It was Rika.

She had allowed herself to walk until she stood beside Kenja, folding her hands behind her back in a wary and nervous manner. "I... I think what Kenja's saying is right." She said softly, trying not to avert her gaze to the ground. "I know that it's a gamble, throwing precaution out of the window and trusting in a daunting opponent. But it's more of a gamble keeping the bombs where they are. The Gotei 13 could find them, accuse us of planning to blow it up for the sake of simple money, and the war between us could start all over again. That encounter with Shindō's a reminder of just how close we were to death..."

She winced a little when she saw Angelika shut her eyes a little bit tightly, the scowl becoming slightly more prominent. "I don't want to have to see that again. Our comrades shouldn't have to get slaughtered for something that can be avoided." She clasped her hands together in front of her in a pleading motion, her expression displaying the same. "The decision is yours and yours alone. But I think... that this would be the appropriate time to let go."

Angelika was silent for a brief moment, slowly turning away from the two of them and hanging her head down. Then she spoke again, her voice having lowered itself and lost some of its conviction. "All right, then. I'm going to put this up to a vote. Who wants the explosives to stay and who doesn't?"

"We worked our asses off to get those in there! Why should we have to take them down at all? I'd say all's fair game when it comes to the endgame. Its not like they can blame us for setting the explosives like they asked, so if they want to take 'em down, that's their business," Karitori raised a hand and symbollically put a thumb's down to put her opinion out to her boss of bosses, "bombs stay!"

"I'm with Kari on this one. We fulfilled a contract. Even if they by some chance remember we placed the bombs there, it was by the Head Captain's orders. We can't really be held accountable. That and the fact they make a good bargaining chip if things ever do go south," Yajū spoke with a grim smile, putting up his own hand in sync with Karitori's, "bombs stay."

Shito spoke out next, his eyes looking to Angelika only briefly before looking to the others, "We're placing a lot of gambling on the events the bombs aren't used for the remainder of the conflict. We still have a lot of unknown variables to make it tenuous for us to win this war, let alone survive it. We may face enemies that make any decisions we make here irrelevently absolute. In the off chance we do make it out of this in one piece, we should try and not do anything to warrant further suspicion. As someone who was garnered for treason, even if I was manipulated, I'd rather not chance another occasion of being called to the stands in account for leaving explosives unattended like that, especially for probable use against them," Shito folded his arms over his chest and looked away, while speaking firmly, "get rid of them if we don't use them."

It took awhile for the next person to speak, due to the sensitive nature of the topic. Let alone that it was Angelika who was vouching for the idea to keep them intact, to protect their organization's interest. 

However, the next one to speak, was Shinshin, "I may not know the past history you have with the Soul Societies, from every corner of the Spiritual Planes, Angelika-dono. I understand the need to keep people from betraying you. You firsthand saw how easy it was for the Alliance's homes to be usurped so quickly by the likes of the Inner Circle. But perhaps...if you use deceipt and lies to protect this family you've created for yourself...how are you differing yourself from those you swore you'd never stoop to becoming, or the ones you left behind in search of us? I say this not as a personal opinion, but as a son of the one you trust closely. Get rid of those damned devices before it threatens to tear this family apart at its core!" 

Shadō could only smile with agreement, as he raised his own hand after Shinshin's words had time to sink in, "I am with Shinshin-san on this one. I'd rather not use our ace in the hole as another secret waiting to be unearthed, and lie to anyone that we have good intentions. They're taking a gamble in trusting us in the first place. For once, I'd like to make good on their trust, instead of misusing it, on a What-if."

Zaii shrugged his shoulders, tapping his fingers along the bandaged length of his blade, "I have no real desire one way or the other. If we keep the bombs, we have a wild card to use against a government that might want us gone in a few years. We can always deny that was our intention upon finding it, and let them remove it. We can always place more if that's the gameplan. And if we have a change of heart, we can always tell the Head Captain to remove them herself. I see no real point arguing about this issue, cause we may end up using them before the end of today..."

"I say let the bombs stay," Mōka spoke with a nonchalant tone, looking over to Angelika and the rest, "I mean, we can always deny the accusations and it pretty much was what we were supposed to do if things went south. If the bombs are left untouched, we can use them later when they're needed. Whether its to protect the organization or to hinder another takeover, I think it'd be tactically wise to keep him where they are, should we not use them."

It was within the maelstrom of declarations, rationalizations, and words of decision being thrown out into the air that a particular red-head was keeping quiet. Her bangs covered her eyes' expression, and her lips quivered with anxiousness. Throughout it all, Hyōryū Fūsoku, could barely keep herself from trembling in remembrance of what had happened to them all.

"Why are all of you acting like this isn't a big deal?!" Hyōryū asked with an enraged shout, her eyes baring upon Omega's leader and all those who already spoken. With a dramatic wave of her hands, she emphasized her anger, "do you not realize how close the Gotei 13 could've killed one of us?! I saw my life flash before my eyes because of those Soul Reapers, and they stayed their hand because they wanted us to be important, or special! If we do something like this, and incur their wrath, we might not get lucky again!" Turning her gaze towards Angelika, she walked up ther commanding officer and jabbed a finger into her chest, brazenly despite her chosen words that flowed from her mouth, "They'll f***ing kill us! Burn us alive at the stakes for even suggesting something like this! I don't mind killing cultists, massacring monsters, or taking on an enemy force aiming to maim and murder us...but I did NOT sign up for genocide!"

"Cool it, Hyō..." Anton was quick to move up beside her, grasping her shoulder and giving it a slight but cautioning squeeze. He also pulled her back a little, giving Angelika breathing room. "It's okay to feel strongly about this, but taking anger out on the boss isn't going to help anything."

His gaze, softly stern, fell on Angelika and immediately fell to a more solemn attitude. "In all honesty, I think that moment was particularly my fault. I was toying around too much with the enemy instead of getting serious, and that was what allowed Shindō to gain the upper hand against me. That being said, I think we're more than capable of handling anything the Alliance throws at us." He folded his arms across his chest. "I believe you should keep the bombs there. I don't know about you, but I'm certainly not willing to risk them jumping us."

A chuckle of slight amusement escaped Oliver. "Well, look who's decided to switch positions with me, eh?"

This caused Anton to round on him in surprise. "What, you're wanting them to be removed?" He asked incredulously.

Oliver shrugged. "Ey. A few years ago, I probably would've said to keep them on. But now I'm starting to think about it. War is what separated me and my daughters. It cost the lives of my wife and my brother. Who the fuck am I to do the same to these guys? I guess you could say I'm feeling a bit more generous. Besides," He spread his arms out briefly. "You said it yourself. We can handle anything the Alliance throws at us, so we won't have a problem if they do decided to betray us first. There's no use for the things, if you ask me."

"Me, too!" Yusuke was quick to add in his own opinion in with a raise of his hand. "I mean, I don't know about you guys, but I think some of us are starting to get close to 'em. I doubt there's gonna be a chance they're going to stab us in the back any time soon, so why do we have to keep them there? Just doesn't make sense!"

The only ones that would remain silent afterwards would be Asuka and Shinji. While the former was looking at them all with a silent curiosity, Shinji was silently meditating and apparently tuning it out. In total, the majority ruled for the bombs to be removed after combat was over. It made Angelika wonder just how far her group had been changed by the events at hand.

Although she personally did not like the outcome, she wouldn't coldly dismiss their opinion. She sucked in breath through her nose before opening her eyes back up again. "Fine." She said curtly. "The explosives will be removed after the battle is over and done with. But rest assured that if this ends up causing unwanted consequences, the ones who supported this notion will be held responsible. Am I understood?"

"Crystal," Hyōryū said bitterly, turning to clench at Anton's form and turned away from Angelika. 

"Got it," Shito spoke plainly.

Shinshin and Shadō simply nodded, understanding the consequences if they were accused to be wrong.

Lastly, Kenja spoke to Angelika in a neutral tone, "You may not like my ideas, Angelika, but I wouldn't bring them up at all if I didn't have the utmost respect for you and your people. This feels like a family I intend to protect and help ensure they go down the path that will have them remembered for centuries to come as heroes, and not disdainful villains that we fight to this day."

"...yes. Because it's become a necessity to be a hero these days."

With that scathing comment, Angelika began to walk away from them and turned her voice to direct the mercenaries. Asuka would take the time to approach Kenja and Rika, first directing her voice to the girl. "Well, that was certainly impressive, Rika-chan!" She commended, giving a commending smile. "I never would have thought you to have the courage to stand up to Angel-chan like that. I guess the recent events have changed you for the better..."

Rika blushed slightly, but smiled nonetheless as she folded her hands behind her back again. "Th-thanks, Asuka-dono." She said softly. The smile would fade away when she looked at Angelika's retreating back. "But... Angelika-sama seems... upset by this change of events. Is she going to be okay?"

"I apologize for her rather hostile demeanor." Asuka said softly, turning her gaze to both her and Kenja. "I know you have good intentions behind you, Kenja-san. But Angelika isn't exactly the person raised in a setting that encouraged morals and ethics. She's dug herself pretty deep in the world of crime. Ideals, philosophies, her way of life... it's been shaken, but she's stuck by her own code. To have to deal with this sudden change and understanding that her subordinates have consciences of ther own won't be easy for her to accept right away..."

"Everyone fights for a reason, Asuka-san. One person simply doesn't fight for a paycheck. They have a yearning for purpose or to find that one goal to put forth passion into. Surviving alone isn't called truly living life," Kenja spoke to Asuka in a sage tone, as his eyes trail over to Angelika's backside, "if all she sought for her organization was survival, then she truly hasn't experienced life itself. She needs to accept her comrades' identities, and that they are all complex, and have their own morals, complexes, and codes of their own. She also needs to distinguish what makes this family different, than the cold force that she swore to never return to."

"It'll take time," Asuka responded, a gentle smile crossing her face as she folded her arms across her chest. "But that time won't be forever. Trust me, if she never learned to accept changes like this, she would have still stayed the near-sociopathic woman she was when I first met her. In time, she'll understand." She took a few steps forward, looking over her shoulder. "In the meantime, though? We still have a war to win. Make sure," She gave a playful wink. "You take care of Rika-chan, okay?"

"Ah--!" Rika's eyes widened at the teasing jab, and she instinctively slapped her hands to her mouth to cover the blush. "S-Sakamoto-dono!"

"Don't worry about her," Kenja spoke confidently, smiling brazenly as he raised a hand to strike a thumb over his armored chest, "I'd never let a young lady get harmed on my watch. Rika's in good hands now, I assure you that!" 

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