The concept of a warm, welcoming home was something that had never crossed the Arrancar's mind. Decades of brutal training had only ever taught him that the place you lay your head must be secure, and that was what this cave had been. The unimposing figure strode into the cave, laying down his bandolier of sealed bottles down on one of the many makeshift tables throughout the tunnel system. Next came the cloak that helped to keep the white sands of Hueco Mundo from getting into his clothes, revealing the outfit he'd now worn for years. The grey outfit was similar to the white one he'd worn during his time under Szayelaporro, but he wanted those memories gone for good. With his new outfit he wanted to paint himself as a neutral party, and so far it had served its purpose. No one had come, and that was good enough for Círdon.
Without raising his goggles, he sat down and began categorizing the hollow tissues he'd collected that day. His laboratory was just one of the chambers in the cave system, and only one of two that he used consistently. It was adorned with shelves of Hollow tissue samples in vials, testaments to his years-long search and study into the differing Hollow physiologies. Unfortunately, he had not come across any Hollow like himself, and he wondered if he was truly alone. He always new he could go back and throw himself at the feat of whoever ruled Hueco Mundo at this point, but they probably had no room for those without the fire of battle.
'Interesting, this Adjuchas seems to possess not only the ability to camouflage itself using its Reiatsu, but it does so in a way that doesn't involve bending light. Or does it use Reiatsu at all?' Círdon put the sample in front of various objects, the sample of skin changing to match its background. 'Wonderful...it's a wonder I was able to get ahold of you...you never saw me coming, did you little Hollow?'
Unfortunately, Círdon’s happy little moment of quiet inspection was interrupted by a low reverberation. A dull thud shuddered throughout the expanses of caves where Círdon had hidden away in his laboratory. The vials on the shelves began to rattle, as if rocked by an earthquake. One even slipped off and shattered on the ground! What could the disturbance possibly be? Was a section of the underground labyrinth caving in?
But the source came from outside. At least a half a mile away, a white-clad figure perched on a sand dune. He crouched over a circular construct of glowing reishi that he had etched into the sand in the shape of a pentagram. It was a technique similar to Sprenger, but activated remotely. The Quincy—for he was very obviously a Quincy—pressed a silver pendant to the scar that cut across the corner of his mouth in thought. His eyes glowed with a soft, predatory blue as he observed the veritable maelstrom of Heilig Pfeil he had caused to rain down over the hive-like network of caves.
A massive plume of dust hid the cave’s entrance after the first onslaught, but he didn’t stop there, and activated a second wave of Heilig Pfiel. The bolts of reishi pounded down from the sky mercilessly. He had tracked the Hollow to here, and while his sharp reikaku couldn’t penetrate the hardened karst formations, he assumed the hive was brimming with Hollow life... if it could be called life, that was. Sheer coincidence had brought him to its location: he had observed a lone Arrancar in a tattered brown cloak skitter across the sands of Hueco Mundo and had traced him to this point. He bore no malice towards that particular Hollow, he simply wanted to see how many of the beasts he could draw out from the caves. Like clearing the puss from a festering wound, he supposed. Besides, he wanted to test out some of the new techniques he had developed, and had little patience for hunting down each individual Hollow that resided in that molehill.
In other words, Cang Du had zero chill.
The second volley ended, and he was content to watch from a distance to see what might crawl out onto the surface.
Then, he would strike without a shred of impunity.
Círdon looked around the cave as it shook, and small pebbles came down from the ceiling, cracking more of his samples.
"Tch..." He thought it might be some clash of large Adjuchas outside, but his Pesquisa, amplified by the seals on his wrists, told him otherwise. Was it an Espada? No, he was too far from Las Noches for them to be busting his door down. Irritated, but curious, Círdon stood from his seat and began walking toward the cave entrance, intent on discovering who this visitor was. Even though he did not want to seek out battle, if this was just a case of clashing Reiatsu, it was worth investigating. His Zanpakutō had not been used in a while, but it bore no signs of decay as he took it off his back. The cloud of dust kicked up by Cang Du's Heilig Pfeil greeted him, and Círdon slid his goggles down in order to protect his eyes from any unnecessary inconvenience. The entrance had also partially caved in, forcing Círdon to watch his footing as he stepped outside.
'Shame...I liked the way this looked. Now where is that Reiatsu coming from? It's strong, and it's not some trick of my seals. Speaking of which, I should prepare to release them if I must.' Círdon decided to sit and wait for the dust to settle. Whoever it was, they weren't going to let him run, otherwise they would have left. He would hunch over, putting his Zanpakutō next to his feet and planting one elbow onto his leg to cradle his head with his hand. Círdon stared out into the direction of the unfamiliar Reiatsu, mirroring their decision to wait and see who would reveal themselves.
Once the dust settled, he stared at the Quincy, shocked. He had heard of Shinigami, and knew what they looked like. This man was nothing like them, but his uniform bore resemblance to an intruder Szayelaporro had described just before he died, a Quincy. He had observed this person with the Octava Espada, but this person's Reiatsu was much, much more potent than their's. Círdon did not want to battle this person, more curious about his person's presence than their power. He did not move, waiting for this person to either approach or fate into the dunes like many of the other passerby.
'Whatever they decide, I will take the path of least resistance. Not like I'll be killed....I think...'
However, that thought would soon be put to the test as a flash of blue light covered the expanse between them. The bright stream of reishi, for an instant, drowned out the dark shadows of Hueco Mundo’s eternal night before it split into two. The jaws of a snake loomed above Círdon on each side... then they snapped shut with a roar of sudden energy.
The thunderous atermath of the Shé Jìn Zhǎo's explosion rippled across the ground, and Cang Du stood, pulling the hood of his cloak low to shield himself from the sand tearing into his face. His expression was as stolid as ever, but there was the faintest hint of a scowl in the corner of his mouth. Well, he supposed he might have overdone it, but he had been peeved that for all his effort, only one Hollow—the Arrancar he had originally followed to the cave—had answered his calling card.
Cang allowed his reiatsu, which he had spiked in order to draw the Hollows’ attention, to dissipate. The silver claws of his spirit weapon vanished, and he turned to leave, certain that his attack had completely obliterated the goggle-eyed Hollow.
“Gàn,” he muttered under his breath, breaking his characteristic silence to utter a simple curse.
Círdon had barely had any time to brace himself for the explosion, and as a result, small parts of his head and upper torso were blown off. His body had already begun to reform, small streams of ash coming together and filling in missing parts of his body. It wasn't painful, and it only took a few seconds for him to regenerate. Soon, his body was as good as before. His clothes had several holes in them, but he would worry about that later. Unfortunately for Círdon, regeneration would make he Reiatsu fluctuate, and he bit his lip every time he had to do it. He knew it would let his enemy know he was very much still alive. Maybe after realizing that fact, his enemy would find him to be not worth the effort, and move along. In any case, Círdon was now very much on his toes, preparing his body for whatever might happen next.
After relocating his Zanpakutō, he stood while his body finished regenerating, contemplating once more whether or not to release his seals. 'It could certainly frighten this person away, but it would also be a beacon to whoever's around. I don't know if there are more of these 'Quincies' in Hueco Mundo. I've been a shut in for too long...Perhaps I should return to Las Noches. No...I want to stay out of whatever's going on. Even if this is one person acting alone, more could come if I kill him.' Círdon decided to keep his Reiatsu as low as possible, slinking back into his cave in order to make it seem like after struggling to cling to life, he died.
He would then wait in the nearest chamber of the cave, seeing if this person would follow. Círdon didn't want to fight this person, he had no quarrel with them. He knew there were individuals that hunted Hollows simply because of their nature, yet Círdon never understood this. Sure, if a Hollow invaded the Human World, they were liable to be dealt with harshly, but journeying to Hueco Mundo to actively kill Hollows was a practice that seemed unneeded. Nonetheless, Círdon waited. The words to release his seals were on the tip of his tongue, but he hoped that he would not have to utter them.
At that moment, the Quincy flickered into sight in front of him. He stood in the entrance of the cave, his silhouette framed by the dark expanse behind him. The shadows cast over his face made the glint in his eyes even more sinister. He wasn’t smiling. In fact, he was the opposite of smiling. For a long moment, neither of them said anything as they stared each other down. Círdon probably wouldn’t be able to notice, but one of the Quincy’s brows had furrowed slightly, telling his frustration.
"You’re persistent,” the Quincy finally spoke. "I didn’t expect you to survive that attack—but it won’t happen again."
He snapped the flap of his coat to the side and his spirit weapon materialized over his right fist. He leveled the claws at Círdon’s throat... And an instant later blurred into motion. For a moment he was visible above Círdon’s head as he brought a high kick straight down towards the center of Círdon’s skull, aiming to crack the goggles and the Arrancar's face into two. But the spirit weapon hadn’t just been for show, as three translucent blades curved through the air, whistling as they cut towards Círdon’s abdomen.
Círdon didn't dodge the attacks, not because he couldn't, but because he didn't need to. His Reiatsu spiked, bringing his arms up to block Cang Du's kick in a display of speed that betrayed his true level of skill. His body had already reinforced his Hierro with dense layers of ash, but even then the spirit blades would leave minor laceration's across Círdon's abdomen. Instead of blood, a putrid smell filled the chamber they were in, as Cang Du could see a dust like substance starting to move inside the wounds he'd dealt.
"I'm afraid, Mr. Quincy, that persistence isn't what kept me alive." Círdon's body seemed to shimmer, and a small bit of static could be heard as he disappeared back outside of the cave. The Arrancar was backed into a metaphorical corner, and he was irritated about it. The display of Reiatsu would make him vulnerable, but he wanted to deal with this problem quickly. Círdon drew his Zanpakutō, pointing the blade at the mouth of the cave as he released his Reiryoku seals. "La muerte es sólo illógica..." The bracelets made a small click before Círdon took them off and placed them into a pocket.
What seemed like a pale green flame spread from his wrists, enveloping Círdon as his Reiatsu spiked drastically. His apparent power paled in comparison, and Círdon put it on full display as a challenge to the Quincy. His Reiatsu was heavy, filled with a dreadful feeling that someone was watching Cang Du from every direction. His eyes had a flicker of anger in them now, because his precious solidarity was now broken. 'I will deal with you here and now. And after you fall, I will have many questions for you.'
It seemed impossible, but Cang's eyes narrowed even further than their natural state as he analyzed the Hollow in front of him. The phrase he had stated had sounded like the release command for a Resurrección, but the Arrancar’s form hadn’t changed, despite his sudden increase in spiritual pressure. However, Cang was more disturbed by his failure to penetrate the Hollow’s dense Hierro than Círdon’s display of reiatsu. He didn’t want to expend any more effort than necessary in eliminating the Arrancar pest, but it seemed he would have to alter his approach if he wanted his attacks to be effective.
“Death is illogical?” he said, referring to Círdon’s release command. “Perhaps for someone whose existence is an aberration in the fabric of reality. But don’t worry. I—Cang Du, the ‘Iron,’ will provide your existence its logical end.”
And with that, Cang released his own reiatsu.
A sharp line of energy pierced the dense canvas of Círdon’s spiritual pressure. The murderous intent was palpable, concentrated to a single focus point at the center of Círdon’s being. Known as Shā qí, the “killing qi,” it was meant to utterly intimidate his opponent. But that was all that could be sensed as, a split-second later, Cang drew in his reiryoku into himself. The veins in his limbs flooded with an intake of reishi, glowing blue as he initiated Blut Arterie. For a moment he was completely tensed, like a coiled spring barely holding back its release...
The ground cracked when he launched himself into the air. The sudden pressure flattened out in a crater, causing the walls of the cave to rupture and collapse. Chunks of rock crashed into the sand, dust exploded in a thick cloud, and the earth shook as the rubble buried the entrance to Círdon’s lair. It had been a preventative measure: Cang didn’t want to spend his time chasing the Arrancar back and forth like a cockroach through the tunnels, and was confident that, should the Hollow attempt to flee in the other direction, he would easily outpace him on the open stretches of sand.
Cang appeared above Círdon again, but this time he was upside down. He used the sudden change in direction to his advantage, throwing himself along the direction of gravity as the kinetic force of his movement cracked against the sky behind him. Cang blurred towards Círdon. The claws of his spirit weapon glowed blue as he shot past where the Hollow stood. Following in his wake, six claws of energy—reminiscent of a certain Espada’s Desgarrón—cut towards Círdon from either side. But this time there was a catch: Cang’s skin had darkened—the visible effect of fortifying his reishi constructs with his Schrift. The reishi claws, harder than steel, were meant to break past the Hollow’s durable Hierro.
A short distance away, Cang slid to a stop, the wind carrying the sand past him as he turned on his heel in preparation to strike again...
What Cang would see was a still standing Círdon, albeit with one arm laying on the ground and a pile of the ash substance laying next to it. He picked up his arm, allowing the limb to reattach itself, and the pile followed suit, floating up and reassembling the chunk that was now missing from his body. This only took a few seconds, and then Círdon leapt at Cang Du, dragging his hand along his blade and coating it with the same ash that was in his body. He would use the oversized weapon with great precision; a flurry of attacks aimed at Cang Du's joints came at him in an unorthodox manner. The Quincy's Schrift would likely be a problem, since Círdon's fighting style went for shallow cuts instead of wide, sweeping blows that usually suited a nodachi wielder.
Círdon's blows also served to analyze Cang Du's movements as a fighter. Up until now, he had been using attacks that were meant to kill in one hit, but he had never seen the Quincy in the thick of it. His curiosity as a scientist wondered why a human could get this strong, and if they would continue to be a problem for him. "I swear, I should just move to the human world and live there. I'd probably blend in more than I do here." He sounded tired and annoyed at the present situation, but his blows didn't reflect that same tone.
"What I don't understand is why you tracked one Arrancar to a cave in the middle of nowhere. You ever think I just wanted to be left alone?" Talk was cheap, he knew that, but that was how he did things. He stopped his flurry for an instant, using this moment to sweep at Cang's legs, before spinning and swinging from down and to the left, intending to bisect Cang from his knee to the opposite shoulder.
Flecks of ash flew from Círdon’s blade as it encountered the reishi-fortified soul silver of Cang’s claws. While the Quincy had been taken aback by Círdon’s sudden change in tactics, his expression did not change as he responded expertly to the Hollow’s furious attack. The stance he assumed recalled Wing Chun, and despite their speed Cang’s movements were graceful as he easily batted away each one of Círdon’s strikes in a circular motion, gradually moving in even closer to Círdon.
There was a sudden opening in the Hollow’s attack. Cang smirked as the Hollow complained to him. Once, he too had made the mistake of monologuing during his fights. But that had been purged in the refining fires of training long ago. His fist hardened into steel as he reared back to strike. His body was steel. His will was steel. His—
Distracted by the speech he had been mentally composing, Cang was nearly caught off-guard by the sweep at his feet. He leaped over the pass easily enough, and was airborne when Círdon turned his blade upward. Cang tucked his knees into his chest and reached down, pushing off of the blade itself with his iron-coated palm. He used the momentum to spin himself around, then accelerated the rotating kick by sliding into Hirenkyaku. Lines of reishi shrieked from the soles of his feet, and a split-second later he hammered into the air with a volley of countless kicks. Cang didn’t actually make contact with Círdon. Rather, he intended the kicks to batter the Hollow down with concussive force, like a furious storm of Bala.
Using the explosive attack as a cover, Cang climbed into the sky once again.
“You must have been living under that rock for a while,” Cang at last responded, surprising himself with his own irony. Maybe he had picked up some of Bazz-B's sarcastic wit after all. But his expression soured at that. He thought he had had the strength to resist the pink-haired Quincy’s puns over the years . Sch. Disgraceful. “But you misunderstand. I’m not here for any personal grudge against you. You are merely a parasite that must be eliminated. You see...”
Cang spread his hands out to the side, and countless Heilig Pfiel shimmered into existence before condensing into feather-like slivers. They looked sharp. Very sharp.
“This is our world now.”
The wings of Hè Yōuyǎ Zhǎo, “Elegant-Crane Claws,” collapsed, and hundreds of reishi shards rained down on Círdon. The storm made the earlier attack on Círdon’s cave look like child’s play. A massive cloud of dust spread across the ground, masking the five points where Cang had shot specialized Heilig Pfiel. Unlike the other feather-like projectiles, these rods of reishi struck the ground in the shape of a pentagram as Cang prepared for his next attack.
If the Arrancar were able to reconstitute his ash-like body over and over again, then there only remained one solution... to utterly annihilate him in one fell swoop. Cang made that intention clear as he stood above the self-made storm, waiting for the Hollow to emerge.
And emerge, he did. Círdon once again reformed, looking around the cloud of dust once his head reformed. His nodachi was half buried under sand when he found it, and he figured that the Quincy was close to finally going all out. 'It's not over yet, he knows I'll just keep getting up.' But he was far from done. All of the man's various attacks, precise and widespread, had only served to break him apart in different ways. This fight was nothing more than irritating for him and his opponent, but they were similar. Neither of them held any personal grudge against the other, so perhaps he may listen to logic.
Círdon swung his sword, blasting away the cloud of dust as he finished regenerating. He stared out at the Quincy, and looked at the specialized Heilig Pfiel around him. "Some grand send-off, then? Funny how you seem to imply that you're going to annihilate the Hollows. As if you could manage that without killing everyone on the other side first. Your demeanor does not seem like a person who is ignorant to that fact." He would sit on the ground, building up the layers inside his body to make it as dense as he could. He and his opponent were the worst for each other. A man who seemed to have multiple attacks that could kill almost any target versus a man who was virtually impossible to kill by normal methods. On top of that, neither seemed to care about this fight other than beating the other. This was Círdon's pet peeve.
"Would you believe that I would really rather avoid killing you? A parasite I might be, but you are an invading species that will eventually come to the conclusion I laid out for you. Of course, this gives you no reason to stop fighting. The thousands of hollows I am comprised of have caused misery that one person could never comprehend, but I don't want to cause that to happen to you just because you found a rock with one stray Arrancar. Up until this point I have been holding back, and what's more is that I still have a fall back. To that end I'll ask you this: Do you want a drink, or do you want to keep bashing your head against a brick wall?"
Cang Du smiled at that. It wasn’t a pleasant sight, with the corner of his mouth twisted up sardonically. He was, however, genuinely amused by the Arrancar’s words.
“Avoid killing me? That won’t be difficult at all,” he replied.
Privately, however, Cang was intrigued by the Arrancar. Not only did he make philosophical appeals regarding the cycle of souls, but he didn’t seem to be acting on base instinct like so many other Hollows. Rather, his movements were guarded, restrained. Not to mention, but something seemed off about what the Arrancar had said. A fall-back? Cang’s smirk disappeared as he once again became serious.
Cang Du had an above-average reikaku, having refined his perception to sense the ambient flow of reishi around him at any given time. Furthermore, through the use of Fēnjiě, Cang had broken down his opponent’s unique physiology, which so-far had comprised the bulk of his “fighting” style. There was definitely something off about the Hollow’s reiatsu. And if that were the case, then the only solution were to end this fight as quickly as possible. Cang too, was becoming annoyed by the simple fact that the Arrancar seemed completely immune to his attacks. Not to mention, the Hollow’s comments about the balance of souls had gotten under Cang’s skin.
“Know your place, Arrancar,” he said, and his voice had a threatening lilt to it. “Those who spent their lives together should remain together in death, that is my belief.” He pointed his claws down towards Círdon. “Hollows pervert that. You bind up souls within you, refusing to allow them to regain autonomy. Non-existence is preferable to such agony.”
Cang placed the heels of his fists together and curled his fingers to resemble the paws of a leopard. His spirit weapon shone briefly with a blue light, then he fired a condensed bullet of reiryoku at the ground below him. Time seemed to slow as the drop glinted in the night sky like a slowly falling star. But Cang knew, and Círdon knew, its destructive potential.
The area contained within the five points of the pentagram erupted in a towering explosion. The expunging reishi tore at the matter around it, ripping apart the bonds that held it together. Cang watched from a distance for a moment, then, drawing out the pentagram from his cloak he activated yet another attack: Wǔliànquān, the five-chained spear.
The walls of the Sprenger-like technique caved in on themselves, forming a dome of energy. Then, Cang condensed the reishi. The sphere began to shrink, drawing in closer and closer and hardening into a Gritz-like prison...
Inside the prison, Círdon could still move, and drew up his sword. The layers of his Hierro and ash were being stripped away, but he fought through the burst of power to grip his blade. The time had come, and he wasn't happy about it. This battle had driven him to call upon his full potential, and this Quincy was going to receive a rude awakening. His hand glided down the edge of his blade, and he released his Zanpakutō. "Scour, Zamuro!"
The prison shattered as a pillar of ash and green Reiatsu shot into the air. A shockwave burst out from the epicenter of where Sprenger had been initiated, and the ash that was released suddenly froze in place. Círdon's nodachi also began to break down into ash, and the dust in the air flew back toward the Arrancar. His Reiatsu condensed as he began his metamorphosis inside the swirling storm of putrid smelling particles. Once it was complete, there stood Círdon, but with massive wings coming out of his shoulders. His upper body was covered in a white plating that resembled armor. His goggles had changed into a helmet that resembled the skull of a large bird of prey, and around his neck was a ring of grey, downy feathers. His legs were now covered in white scales, with feet that had four long, black talons. There were holes in the palms of his hands, and he seemed unarmed for the time being.
The Reiatsu he exuded was much more potent, and the feeling of being watched intensified in Cang Du's mind. "Your arrogance had superseded the calm demeanor you've had this entire fight. Even I can tell you're smarter than that. The souls I have bound within myself no longer have a voice, and they've become my power. The only thing I wish is to have the right to exist. Even if I am a perversion of the values you hold, I will fight to maintain that right. You are the perversion in this world, forcing your values on a place where such values do not exist. If you do not realize this, then I, as a native of this world and its anarchy, maintain the right to erase you, not vice versa. You say I should know my place, and I do. You are the one who needs to accept your place in our world."
Ash and Iron
Ah, there it was at last. Resurrección. A Hollow’s ultimate technique, which returned them to their so-called original form. This one’s resembled a vulture, but Cang was more impressed by the Arrancar’s long-winded diatribe. And he had been told that he had a bad tendency of monologuing. He gazed sadly at the Arrancar and supposed he might as well make the most of the lull.
As Círdon rambled along, Cang shifted his stance in midair, switching his hands so that one fist rested on top of the other. Reishi circulated around him, and he even drew Círdon’s released reiatsu into the soul silver of his claws. As a result, the spirit weapon started to glow, emitting light from the excess charge. Soon, Cang's arms began to shake as he barely restrained the overflow of spiritual power.
Truth be told, Cang was running out of options. The Sprenger from earlier had been intended to dissolve the Arrancar’s body, but since that hadn’t been effective, Cang aimed to cut through the dense mass of ash-like Hierro with the Schrift-reinforced attack. If the Hollow merely reformed again, that left him with only one thing left...
Realization dawned on him, and Cang’s annoyance turned to grim satisfaction.
It seemed he would be able to use his newfound skill after all. That’s what had brought him here in the first place, and by coincidence, Círdon happened to be the perfect opponent to test it against.
Cang laced the bound energy of the Shé Jìn Zhǎo with his Schrift, which flowed from his veins into the claws. The Iron would fortify the reishi of the attack, causing the jaws of the snake to become as impenetrable as the blade of a Zanpakutou. He aimed carefully for the center of the Arrancar’s skull... and unleashed the massive Heilig Pfiel.
Fed by Círdon’s own power, the sky was suddenly bifurcated by the downward path of the snake. Cang’s earlier Heilig Pfiel paled in comparison to what was essentially a massive Seele Schneider, and it whistled eerily as it cut through the air.
But for all its power, it was merely a distraction.
Predicting the path of his opponent, Cang emerged behind the Hollow, plunging his claws towards the center of the Arrancar’s back, right below the base of its wings.