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Author's note: I wrote this last October by quite a random urge. It was a hit on DeviantArt, I must say. Anyway, it's my only Bleach fanfiction that's novel-sized so far. Enjoy!
There was banging on the great door of his personal chambers. Aizen lifted his eyelid just far enough to make out the silhouette of the massive door frame, with cracks of light from under and above it. The rest of the room was shrouded in the continuous nighttime darkness that was Hueco Mundo. The banging started again.
“Lord Aizen, your presence is needed! Are you in there?”
He waited for ten seconds, until he could tell the caller was about to knock again.
“Yes,” he replied, coolly and evenly, before there could be another knock. Even though he was still tired, and very angry at whoever had just banged him out of his wonderful dream, he could still retain his calm. He rose from his bed – a much better one than could be found anywhere in Las Noches – and slowly reached for his shirt that was laying across the table beside his bed. He pulled it on, just as slowly, and then quietly stepped for the doorway. Just as he got to it, the banging started up again, this time louder.
“Lord Aizen! Your presence is needed right away, sir! Lord Aiz-!”
“Yes, hello, what is it?” Aizen asked, flinging the door open (to the inside, luckily) and stepping up to come face-to-face with whoever dared to wake him with such insolence. The one who had been calling actually turned out to be one of the servants that helped to run this place. This servant, however, looked twisted and scarred… maybe Szayel had gotten to him?
“Uh… L-Lord Aizen!” the servant said, suddenly becoming aware, seemingly, that he was face-to-face with the grand leader of Las Noches.
“Yes?” replied the great Lord, barely keeping his calm beneath him, but managing to do so with perfection, as he always did. The servant gulped, but managed to keep speaking. Luckily for him, Aizen’s reiatsu was under cover at the moment. Otherwise, he might not have been able to stand while delivering his message.
“Um… Lord A-Aizen, your presence has been r-requested by the Espada Nnoitra and Grimmjow, sir,” he said, stuttering in almost-fear as he did so. He knew that at any moment, Aizen might kill him, possibly for no reason at all. He’d heard too many horror stories to be completely at ease.
“Requested?” he asked, looking down into the cringing servant’s eyes. The addressee quickly averted his vision to the tiled floor, and gulped. “What could get those two to request my presence instead of demand it?”
“I-I’m quite sure they respect you a lot, L-Lord Aizen,” the servant stumbled along, not wanting to set Aizen off on anything that might upset him. “B-but they asked that you come immediately. It is rather important, sir…”
“Important, you say, slave?” Aizen asked, striding past the shriveled Hollow and brushing against him as he did so. The mere density of his spiritual pressure as he swept past caused the servant to cry out in pain and collapse to his knees, grasping at his lungs and trying desperately to breathe. Smirking, Aizen strode on down the hallway, leaving the messenger to recover himself…. Or try to, in the darkness of the massive building.
He decided to take the long way, instead of just cutting a path for himself through the building, and walked calmly as he usually did along through the white, emotionless walls of this dreary place. He really had hoped for a structure much more confusing and exciting than this, but since it would take so much trouble to relocate all of the Arrancars and, now, the Espada, he had just decided to be content with it and leave it how it was. If he ever needed to torture someone into getting lost in this place, he could just rearrange it as he saw fit. That was one nice aspect of the place.
He got lost in his thoughts about the layout of Las Noches, almost forgetting about where he was going in the first place. In the back of his mind, he was still heading towards Nnoitra’s and Grimmjow’s spiritual pressures, but he slowed down and began to inspect the hallway as he went. It was such fun to waste other’s time, especially Nnoitra and Grimmjow’s. He became so wrapped up in inspecting one section of the wall that had recently been morphed, that he didn’t even hear, or sense, Gin approaching.
“Why, Lord Aizen,” Gin said in his signature, purring voice, right behind Aizen, but far enough away not to get sliced clean through with a sword, should his master decide to use one. Aizen started, and glanced around quickly at him, having been surprised. He forced himself not to scowl.
“Gin,” he said simply. “What is it?”
“I’m afraid you’re needed,” his former lieutenant stated, that wide grin of his slapped on his face. His eyes remained closed and set off his ‘Gin’ look perfectly.
“What, you too?” Aizen asked, turning and walking off in the direction of the reiatsu of his destination. “I’m guessing this really must be urgent if they sent you to get me.”
“Precisely, sir,” Gin said, falling easily into step right behind him. “Maybe it would spur you to move faster if I gave to you the reason why the Espada summoned you?”
“That would help, Gin,” Aizen said, in a slightly annoyed tone.
“Well, we have a prisoner,” replied the latter, suddenly catching the attention of the former.
“Prisoner?” he asked. Gin nodded.
“Yep,” he said.
“What prisoner? Why? And where did you capture him? Who is he?” Aizen shouted, becoming fed up with his right-hand man’s personality.
“You’ll have to ask him that yourself, I’m afraid,” Gin purred, opening a garaganta inside the building, plowing a pathway through the structure. He flash-stepped through it, beckoning to Aizen before he did so. Growling under his breath, Aizen followed him, and, being more powerful, arrived before Gin did by a breadth of a second.
Before him, he saw a scene so unusual it genuinely shocked him. There stood Grimmjow and Nnoitra – both looking bored – holding the prisoner between them. He was suspended half in the air and half out of if, because Nnoitra’s arm was so high off the ground, but it wasn’t his odd position that shocked Aizen. It was his face. The color of his hair… the shape of his mask.
“It’s… it’s you,” he said, stumbling over his own words for the first time in his life. The prisoner looked up at him and sneered in disgust.
“Aizen Souske,” he stated flatly. Aizen stared back, his expression evening out and becoming hard as he realized what must be going on.
“Arturo Plateado,” he replied.
A moment passed in silence, as the two stared each other down, looks of recognition in their eyes. The turquoise-haired Arrancar tried to shake off his captors, but to no avail. The sixth and fifth Espada refused to let him escape, especially when they were right in front of both of their superiors. Still, there was silence.
“Um, Lord Aizen?” Grimmjow finally asked, snapping everyone out of their little, seemingly evil moment. Aizen turned his malevolent glare to the sexta Espada, angrily awaiting an explanation for the interruption. “We found him hanging around outside the back gate. We got him by surprise, but he still tried to fight back.”
“Didn’t make it very far,” Nnoitra put in. His grin was even worse than Gin’s.
“That’s odd,” Aizen said, slowly, turning his gaze back to Arturo’s. “If my memory is correct, you are one of the most powerful Arrancars alive. Yet, you fell to two of my weakest warriors?”
Grimmjow and Nnoitra winced.
“I didn’t fall to them, Aizen Souske,” Arturo replied, repeatedly using Aizen’s last name to show disrespect. The great ex-Soul Reaper didn’t seem affected by this, and instead took two steps towards his old acquaintance.
“Whatever it is that you did do out there, Arturo, it probably doesn’t mean you came here to call on me socially.” He stopped about three inches from the Arrancar’s face, letting part of his spiritual pressure leak out and overwhelm the person he was talking to. “What is it you’re here for, outcast?”
“I’m here…” he started, trying not to let the reiatsu get to him. Grimmjow and Nnoitra on the other hand, had stumbled backwards and away, unable to stand even a little bit of Aizen’s immense power. Arturo continued. “…to kill you, Aizen Souske.”
There was a pause.
And a laugh.
“Kill me?” Aizen scoffed, suddenly becoming amused. He let out a loud, barking laugh, doubling over in an attempt to control it. However, it continued to come out, and he set off on a loud stream of laughter. Arturo scowled at him, and stood, now free of his bonds. Gin, however, was instantly at his side, grabbing onto one of his free arms and cutting off his escape.
“Kill me?!” Aizen roared, laughter still bubbling out of him. “How, in your right mind, could you conceive to kill me?! I am the most powerful Soul Reaper alive! And not only that, but I have obtained the power of the Hogyôku! There is no way you could have even attempted to kill me!”
“If your memory is correct, Aizen Souske,” Arturo suddenly burst out, angry enough to make Gin’s eyebrows go up. “Then you will remember that I singlehandedly destroyed half of your Soul Society’s army! And that was nothing hard at all! Killing you will be mere child’s play!”
“I’m afraid that I’ll have to disappoint you, Arturo,” Aizen said, coughing a little into his hand to appear at ease. “You’re not going to kill me. I’m going to kill you.”
“Oh?”Arturo asked, looking deep into Aizen’s eyes with resentment and anger.
“Yes,” replied the former, drawing his zanpakuto. This was enough to make Gin’s eyebrows go up even higher than before. Arturo’s eyes narrowed to golden slits.
“Try,” he replied, grinning.
“Oh, I already am,” Aizen replied. Gin, knowing all, stepped carefully away from Arturo’s side, taking a few steps until he made contact with the wall, and knowing he was therefore safe from anyone’s wrath.
For at that moment, Aizen shattered, it seemed, into a hundred thousand pieces of tiny shards of mirror. Arturo’s eyes widened instantly as he realized what must be going on. He whipped around, only to lock eyes with the real Aizen.
“Goodbye,” the former captain said tauntingly. He lunged forwards, sword point at the ready, and attempted to spear Arturo straight through the chest right below his Hollow hole. However, he didn’t expect his former follower to dodge the attack using flash step, and appear to his right. Aizen’s sword met thin air, and his lunge was broken, allowing Arturo to unleash a wave of his own immense reiatsu, surprising both of them, but not downing them. Instantly, his own zanpakuto was unsheathed, and he lunged for Aizen.
However, Gin had unsheathed his own sword and had leaped in the way, using flash step, blocking the blow with a clang of metal. Aizen immediately appeared behind Arturo and went to slash him from behind, but the Arrancar was too quick, and ducked out of the way, sending Aizen’s sword straight into his subordinate.
“Oops,” thought Aizen as Gin fell to floor, a deep wound across his shoulder. With no time to think anything else, he whirled around just in time to counter a death blow from Arturo’s blade. The swords slid against each other’s blades until their hilts locked, as did the opponent’s eyes. Aizen’s were full of fury at his adversary, and Arturo’s were practically bursting with revenge. They pushed with all their strength against each other, trying to use muscle to out-power each other and force their opponent to the floor. While doing this, they inadvertently unleashed even more of their powerful spiritual pressures, filling the room with a crushing force.
Barely able to stand, let alone keep his sword up, Gin made his way slowly towards the duo, readying his blade. The reiatsu that filled the room nearly crushed his mind into oblivion, but he managed to keep a steady path through the room. The two of them were nearly at the point of killing each other, they were pushing against each other so hard. Their swords were creaking under the pressure, and their upper bodies were practically drenched in sweat after even such a short struggle. Gin could sense that both of them still had some reiatsu hidden away inside them, and that they were going to unleash it. He’d better hurry. He quickly stepped up towards Arturo, unnoticed because he was staggering under such pressure, and with one, swift movement, brought his sword in for the kill.
Aizen, still pushing with all his spiritual might, was surprised, mildly, when Arturo’s eyes suddenly flew open wide, and let out a grunt of pain. The strength left his arms, it seemed, and Aizen pushed him backwards and to the floor without a second thought. Gin pulled his sword out from Arturo’s side just in time for the Arrancar to slither to the floor, blood instantly pooling beneath him in a puddle of bright red. Aizen smiled down at him triumphantly.
“As you can see, Arturo Plateado, you can’t kill me,” he said in a sneering tone. Arturo, gasping for breath and clutching at his side under his arm, darted his gaze at Gin.
“Y-you didn’t d-defeat me… coward…” he managed to gasp out. Aizen glanced at Gin as well, who was leaning against the wall, holding his shoulder, his big grin toned down to just a little smile.
“I realized that if you continued to unleash your spiritual pressure, you might end up killing Grimmjow and Nnoitra,” he said, slowly, motioning at the two writhing figures on the floor. “And that probably wouldn’t have been good.” Aizen scowled at him, dismissively.
“Well, at any rate, Arturo, this means you wouldn’t have gotten far, even if you had managed to injure me in some way.” He glanced back down at the turquoise-haired Hollow. “You would have been struck down by my subordinates… all of them.”
“Weak….ling…” Arturo managed to say before catching his breath and tightening his grip on his wound. It felt as if his lung had been punctured… and it hurt. Bad.
“Oh well,” Aizen said, mostly to himself. “Well, I’m going to get rid of you. Your face has ceased to amuse me. Gin!”
“Yes, Lord Aizen?” asked his lieutenant, gritting his teeth in pain from his wound, but trying not to let it show.
“I want you to dispose of this… trash,” he said, borrowing his fourth Espada’s favorite insult. It seemed to fit the situation. By now, Arturo’s blood had stained the floor around him, and his entire side of his outfit, and his breathing had become more ragged, allowing Aizen another smile at the state of defeat of his adversary.
“Of course, Lord Aizen,” Gin said, sheathing his zanpakuto and shuffling towards the prisoner. He took Arturo by the torso under the arms – which included putting his hand directly over the wound he’d given him – and started to drag him away. As he was lifted up to Aizen’s height again, Arturo spit in the face of the former Soul Reaper.
“I hate your kind,” he said scratchily. “And I will kill you all!”
“Go ahead,” Aizen said, calmly. “Try.”
Gin gritted his teeth and held back all the groaning he felt like he needed to let out due to his own wound across the shoulder as he dragged Arturo away from the place where Aizen had defeated the Arrancar. A trail of blood followed them as they made their way across Las Noches, staining the tiled floor bright red and marring the perfect whiteness of the hall. In the half darkness, Gin could eventually tell that Arturo had lost consciousness, because he’d become dead weight, not attempting to pull himself along anymore. Assuming that he’d die soon, the former lieutenant dragged him towards one of the least-visited parts of the whole building. He struggled up towards magnificent door that contained the greatest secrets of Las Noches, and, lowering his load, brought his fist up and knocked.
“Szayel,” he said as loudly as he could without letting pain leak into his voice. “Come here.”
“Hello?” said the familiar, sly voice inside. The huge door cracked open a fraction – only enough to behold one eye – and revealed Szayel’s retina. It widened slightly at the sight before it.
“I have something for you,” Gin said in his purring voice. “Would you like it?”
“Of course,” Szayel said, opening the door to its full openness. “What happened?”
“Oh, just a little trouble,” replied the ex-lieutenant, handing Arturo over with a wince. Szayel eyed him suspiciously, and then reached out and took the arm of the unconscious victim. His eyes danced with the prospect of a new subject to entertain himself with.
“Why thank you,” he said, taking in the cargo with a gleam in his eye. He glanced back at Gin. “Feel free to stop in if you need a little patching up.”
“No thanks,” he replied, smiling. He turned away, keeping his hand on his shoulder and feeling fresh blood escape out of the wound and trickle onto his hand. “Just have some fun before he dies.”
“Why, of course,” Szayel said, dramatically, pulling Arturo in through the door. “Take care of yourself now.”
And with that, he closed the great door. Without pausing, Gin walked off towards his own quarters, hoping that this would be able to regenerate as fast as he wanted it to… being injured by Aizen’s sword wasn’t exactly one of the most pleasant experiences. Meanwhile, Szayel pulled Arturo in through the door and away into the deep depths of his laboratory, eager to get started on this new project.
By this time, everyone in Las Noches was awake and alert, wondering what had caused the huge bursts of spiritual energy to course through the building. All of those who were there had recognized Aizen’s spiritual pressure right off the bat, and many of them were wondering aloud what had caused him to unleash it at such high levels while inside the structure. Nobody could identify the other reiatsu, though.
Ulquiorra couldn’t identify it either, but he didn’t gather with the others to ask themselves questions about it. That would be pointless. Instead, he reasoned, it would be much more interesting to actually head towards its spiritual pressure and find out who had dared been brave and stupid enough to challenge Lord Aizen in his new home. Although he did have to admit, if Ichimaru hadn’t been in there with them, the new reiatsu would probably have stood a much greater chance of succeeding. Why HAD this person challenged the great leader of Hueco Mundo? What did he seek to accomplish, and why? The 4th Espada’s thinking got the better of him, despite the warnings he gave himself that questioning the person would only lead to no good. His reasoning collided with his curiousness, and he eventually decided that he would only go to see who it was that had come to Las Noches.
He took the short way through the structure, warping the hallways with a flick of his hand, opening a path straight through to where he wanted to go – towards the stranger’s spiritual pressure. He swiftly walked along through the whitewashed walls, hands in his pockets, and focused on where he was going, instead of pausing to muse about the place like Aizen had. His emotionless self finally came through the right hall, and he paused, looking up to find himself right outside of Szayel’s laboratory. He entered without knocking.
Inside the dark, sinister room, he found the pink-haired scientist laying the attacker – if it had indeed attacked – out on one of his tables, and pulling on some gloves, which gave him a rather frightening appearance. The scientist cracked his knuckles in an uninviting way, and then swiftly picked up a clipboard and began scribbling down the nonsense that scientists often scribble down.
“Szayel,” he said, quietly, from behind the man. The pink-haired Espada jumped slightly and turned around, surprised, his expression quickly going from startled to annoyed.
“Why Ulquiorra,” he said, a tinge of his emotion hinting on the edges of his voice. “I suppose you’re here to deliver a message of some kind?” There was a pause as Ulquiorra studied Arturo, trying to place who he was, but not able to. He’d never seen this person before, but he could guess that Aizen did, what with the amount of anger that had laced his reiatsu.
Ulquiorra didn’t seem to be answering Szayel’s question, and the 8th Espada wrinkled his nose at him a little, placing the clipboard down and heading towards the row of scalpels that he had lying about. Arturo, in his state of unconsciousness, twitched and moaned a little, as if sensing what the pink-haired man was planning. Ulquiorra remained expressionless as he watched the scientist pick out two of the many sizes of sharp knives that he had in a row. For some reason, his two little helpers didn’t seem to be around for once.
“Are you going to stay and watch?” Szayel asked as he tested the sharpness of the medical tool. He didn’t really expect an answer, and he didn’t get one. Instead, Ulquiorra watched as Arturo’s eyes slowly opened, revealing their unique golden color, but they were clouded in pain and confusion instead of the usual sharpness that was probably usually in its place. Arturo let his eyes wander along the ceiling of the room, trying to place where he was, and they also skipped right over Szayel, but they came to a rest on Ulquiorra. Arturo stared at him for a moment, studying the 4th Espada, and then for some unexplained reason, he smiled.
“You look happy,” he managed to say, bordering on a laugh as he did, but wisely keeping it down. This statement confused Ulquiorra somewhat, and he stared back at Arturo blankly. There was a pause, and the blue-haired Arrancar raised an eyebrow at him.
“Do you talk?” he asked, heavily, since he couldn’t seem to take in enough air to quite support his speech. There was another pause.
“Yes,” Ulquiorra eventually replied, but still keeping what emotions he should have had hidden away. Arturo gave him an odd, confused look. Through the cloud that he was seeing and thinking through, Ulquiorra reasoned, he probably didn’t know what he was talking about, or who he was talking to.
“Well…” Arturo said, his breaths getting scratchier. “What’s your name?” This time there was no pause.
“Ulquiorra,” replied that of whom it was. Szayel watched on with a kind of amusement, watching with his lips twitching into a smile as the victim on what was probably his death bed attempted to talk to the 4th Espada. What was weird, he thought, was that Ulquiorra was actually speaking to him. Wouldn’t he consider this kind of person trash?
“Heh,” Arturo half laughed and half coughed. “I’m Arturo Plateado, the most powerful Arrancar.” Ulquiorra felt a little surprise at this, but at Arturo for proclaiming this in a boastful way instead of actually believing it.
“The most powerful?” Ulquiorra asked, suddenly intrigued for an unexplained reason. “Why?”
“Wow,” thought Szayel. “He got Mr. Emotionless to ask a question. Make that two.”
“I wiped out half of the Soul Society army,” replied Arturo, slightly delusional from the loss of blood. His smile widened as the memory came to him vividly. “Countless warriors fell before my might… I was going to kill them all.”
“Why didn’t you?” Ulquiorra asked, never remembering hearing anything about this before. Then again, he didn’t remember anything before waking up after Aizen used the Hogyuôku on him.
“Eh, I can’t remember,” Arturo said, waving his hand dismissively at Ulquiorra. The 4th wasn’t quite satisfied with this answer, but he managed to keep another question from coming out. He didn’t want to appear too curious, although he wanted to know why Arturo hadn’t continued his quest… if it was true that he had done it at all.
Szayel, on the other hand, had stumbled upon the experiment of a lifetime. A slow smile spread across his face as an idea came to his mind, unfolding and becoming more interesting by the minute. He placed his scalpels back down on the tray, quietly, and looked at the two of them closely. Arturo seemed to be in a state of half-awareness, and it was obvious that he didn’t feel any pain at the moment. Odd. Ulquiorra, he found, was staring at the turquoise haired man intently, and he only ever did that when he was interested in something. His mouth twitched into a smile again. Was it possible that he had actually found an interesting combination for the two of them? If he could get Arturo to keep talking, maybe he could pull some sort of reaction from Ulquiorra. This would be a much different type of experiment than usual, but anything different is extremely tempting to a scientist, and acts like a magnet to the mind.
Casually, he prepared a little something that would start to regenerate Arturo’s blood and flesh, healing the wound, but slowly. If he could keep the subject alive, then this little experiment could continue a bit longer. Hopefully, Gin wouldn’t realize that the man was still alive, or come to him asking about it. He poured this vital liquid into a small syringe and tested it while Arturo continued to talk.
“What about you?” the Arrancar asked, looking back at Ulquiorra curiously. “What’s your life’s story?” Ulquiorra didn’t respond at all this time, knowing that he knew nothing of his past except what he remembered since he came to Las Noches. Although he didn’t let it show, this fact bothered him a little. How had he come to be here? Why had Aizen chosen him, or had he chosen to go to him? Why couldn’t he remember?
“Well?” Arturo asked, raising his eyebrow at him. “Do you have a life’s story? Or a life at all?”
There was another pause as Ulquiorra tried to recall any small part of it, but couldn’t.
“I cannot remember,” he stated simply.
“Well… you will someday,” Arturo stated, gazing back at the ceiling. He didn’t seem to notice as Szayel placed the shot in his arm and squeezed its liquid contents into him. Ulquiorra turned his gaze to the scientist.
“What will that do?” he asked. Szayel fought very hard to keep his triumphant smile to a minimum as he answered, seeing his plan already in action.
“It will start to regenerate him, but slowly,” he said, deciding that the truth would serve as a better setting to start his experiment in than otherwise. Ulquiorra searched Szayel’s face for any trace of lies, but he couldn’t find any. Satisfied, he turned back to look at Arturo and watched as he fell back into a state of unconsciousness.
“Good,” he said. Without offering any explanation as to why, he turned and left the laboratory quickly, hands still in his pockets, walking swiftly as he always did. Szayel watched him go, fingers drumming on the table beside him, his smile stretching to full length. He glanced at Arturo.
“Well, well, well,” he said, reaching up and removing his gloves, no longer needing them. “Looks like I have a use for someone of the likes of you after all.” He started whistling to himself as he began to clean up the area around his vicit- wait. Make that a patient. Perhaps he could keep this “Arturo Plateado” for further research after this experiment was done.
By now, of course, Nnoitra and Grimmjow had limped their painful ways, glad that the horrific amount of spiritual pressure had been toned back down to its normal levels. Nnoitra stalked off in the direction of his living quarters, but Grimmjow slunk off in a random direction, feeling much too disrupted to go somewhere and sleep it off. He needed some metaphorically fresh air.
Slinking away, he kept to the shadows and walked swiftly down the prominently white hallways, heading towards the monstrous doors that led to the wide, windswept desert outside. On the way, he got to wondering what had actually happened to this Arturo Plateado, because after Aizen had unleashed his first real wave of spiritual pressure, he was downed along with Nnoitra and couldn’t remember anything except the overwhelming feeling of claustrophobia. He shuddered at the thought.
As he walked off through the halls, he became aware that he was coming closer a couple of familiar reiatsus, and instantly recognized them as Ulquiorra’s and Szayel’s. Also, though, they were close by with a weaker, less familiar one. That of the intruder that he’d captured earlier.
“Weird,” he thought to himself. “I can understand why Szayel has him, but why would that grouch be in there too?” He stalked silently up towards the typically monstrous doors, stopping across the hallway and peering at the door as they obviously talked to each other. At first, all he could hear was Szayel’s voice, but a little while later, he could hear that of the stranger’s, and then Ulquiorra’s limited responses. Maybe the 4th had been assigned to question him? He waited outside, listening to their voices but not able to make out what they were saying, for a long time.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, Ulquiorra came striding out of the room, swiftly heading away as if something were right behind him. Raising his eyebrow, Grimmjow got a peek in through the door before it swung shut, and saw Szayel with a crazy grin on his face, watching after the Espada as if amused. The door clicked shut, though, before he could get a glimpse of the prisoner, and he decided to tail Ulquiorra instead. He quickly footed it after the slim Arrancar, following him from a distance through the hallways as he made his way towards his destination.
Ulquiorra walked quickly for a bit, heading, seemingly, in one direction, but after a while, he slowed his pace and walked slowly through the hallways. Eventually, he stopped completely and turned his head slightly behind him. There was a slight pause.
“I know you’re there, Grimmjow,” he said, monotone, as the sexta Espada came up behind him.
“About time,” Grimmjow replied, striding up and standing next to Ulquiorra. He looked down upon the 4th. “What were you doing back there anyway? Questioning that guy?”
“No,” Ulquiorra said, starting up his walk again and striding away down a hallway to their right. Grimmjow quickly caught up with him, not satisfied.
“Well what were you doing?” he asked. He got no response as they continued to swiftly walk towards their destination, wherever, or whatever it was. Ulquiorra remained silent, his eyes trained ahead of him, as if he had not heard the question. Grimmjow smirked sarcastically at himself as they walked, knowing that he shouldn’t have expected anything else out of his short superior. He waited a few seconds more before trying again.
“Well, were you… making a new friend, perhaps?” he asked in a slightly insulting tone, knowing that it was beyond questioning that the 4th made any friends at all. He was too cold and silent, but asking was worth a shot at making Ulquiorra annoyed.
“No,” replied the Arrancar, not seeming annoyed at all. He appeared as emotionless and stone-like as ever. Grimmjow suppressed a sigh as they walked on, having run out of questions. Soon, they arrived at the hallway of the Espadas, and they closed in on the emerald door marked ‘4’. The half-panther Arrancar looked down at Ulquiorra one last time, not at all surprised to find that he looked depressed. Shrugging, he started walking off back in the direction of the blue door marked ‘6’. He was just passing Nnoitra’s door when Ulquiorra’s voice suddenly cut through the air to him.
“Grimmjow,” he said. The blue-haired Espada stopped, surprised, and looked back with a weird expression.
“Eh?” he asked. Ulquiorra was paused in front of his own door, one hand on the doorknob, staring at the number 4.
“Have you ever heard of a certain Arturo Plateado?” he asked. “That supposedly wiped out half of the Soul Reaper army?”
“Wow,” Grimmjow thought. “Where the whole of Heuco Mundo did he get that?!” He continued on in a less disbelieving tone, pretending to ponder on it: “Um… ‘Fraid not.”
“Hm,” replied Ulquiorra. He then proceeded to open the door and enter his room without another word. Grimmjow blinked a couple of times, and then quickly made his way to his own room. Before he opened it, though, Nnoitra’s door opened and his head poked at. He looked up and down the hallway, catching Grimmjow’s eye.
“What was all that?” he asked. “I thought I heard Ulquiorra asking you a question, but I might have been dreaming.”
“Heh,” replied the 6th. “The way you act, I thought you were dreaming all the time.” Nnoitra scowled at him as he chuckled, then quickly retracted into his room like a spider. Grimmjow, still chuckling, opened his door and entered it quickly. Maybe he and Nnoitra both were dreaming. Ulquiorra asking him a question about the prisoner? Insane.
Time passed – days, it seemed, to Arturo, but it was impossible for him to tell if this was true or not. The second time that he’d regained consciousness, he still did not seem to remember where he was, but he asked Szayel what happened to ‘that sad guy’ he saw before. Szayel, grinning, told him that he’d return shortly, but before he could summon the 4th Espada, Arturo had drifted off again into some kind of sleep. Shrugging, Szayel merely waited for the next time he awoke.
As he was waiting, so was Ulquiorra. He knew that it would be a waste of time – possibly foolish – to go back and continue to converse with this prisoner, but for some reason he just couldn’t get his words out of his head, as delirious as they probably were. He wanted to know why the turquoise-haired Arrancar hadn’t continued on his quest to wipe out the Soul Reapers, after he got as far as he did, if he got that far… or if he did it at all. He wanted to know the answers, but he didn’t know if he could get them from Arturo himself at the moment. He could sense, through the man’s reiatsu, that he was not conscious.
He stood in his own personal, windowless chamber, staring at nothing, simply thinking on these things, musing which path to take, should he take one at all. Should he just wait until Arturo awoke to go and question him again? Should he question someone else, or not go at all? Finally, sensing that enough time had passed to allow him to move about unnoticed by all the other Espada, he left his quarters and headed for the library that Aizen had put together since he arrived. Their great leader liked to read, stating that it was an excellent way to improve the mind, and a very good way to pass the time.
Deciding that he might find something about Arturo there, Ulquiorra quickly strode in that direction, choosing not to open a garganta so that nobody would be disturbed with spiritual activity. Instead, he simply walked as quickly as was necessary, making his way around various servants or other blockades, not making eye contact with anyone as he went. Soon enough, he arrived at the rather small-sized doors for such a place as Las Noches, which led into the library. First he closed his eyes and sensed if there was anyone was inside, and was relieved to find that no one was. Entering, he found the room dark and cold – like the rest of Heuco Mundo. It seemed empty and desolate, but also full of knowledge; and although he drew no parallel, it was a room that would have represented himself very well.
He walked along the rows of books until he came to the section that he wanted – about the history of the Soul Society. He figured that Aizen had kept these to continue to study what the Soul Reapers had done in the past, although he had probably already studied it for hours on end while he trained to become one of them. Ulquiorra knew it was always a good idea to refresh your mind on what you may have forgotten. He swiftly let his gaze fall over the rows of thickly-bound books, trying to find one with a title that might pertain to what he was looking for. All of them were beautiful, well-kept books, always ready for someone to open and discover secrets from. This fact didn’t occur to Ulquiorra, but he retained a certain respect for the knowledge that books contained nevertheless. That aside, he had finally found a very small, thin, paperback book about the Soul Society in its beginnings, titled: “3-Day War: The Rise and Fall of Arturo Plateado”. It was hidden away between two novel-sized books about how the Soul Society began. He would have raised his eyebrow, but the event didn’t call for it.
Taking this book to a nearby table, he set it on its back and flipped it open without taking a seat. He could read perfectly well standing up. He opened the book to its first pages, skipping all the Soul Society symbols that stated where the book had been printed. Finally reaching the few pages that he wanted to, he started to inform himself about Arturo’s past. It read:
“Over two thousand years in the history of the great Soul Society, our times were peaceful. Information of the newly-formed Arrancar race was obscure, and contained secrets far too advanced for those of our research and development team to unlock. The Arrancars kept to themselves in the vast desert of Heuco Mundo, very rarely appearing to the Soul Reapers, and full of wrath and anger when they did.
“At first, it was believed that Arrancars were merely a more advanced form of Hollows, until it was noted by some of the warriors who encountered them that they carried zanpakutos, just like they did. This led to more clues, such as only half a Hollow mask, that they were half Soul Reaper, and harbored the powers of both. To the young Soul Society, this threat seemed far too powerful to even comprehend, and the most knowledgeable of our kind were set to work to reveal their secrets and powers.”
Skipping a few more pages in the book that continued with information like this, since he was an Arrancar himself and knew everything about them, Ulquiorra finally found the chapter that started to talk about Arturo himself. Satisfied, he began to pick up reading again.
“Arturo Plateado was a wise Arrancar to mask his existence to all in the Soul Society while he built up his powers. These consisted of shapeshifting, and immense spiritual reiatsu, both, when combined, formed a deadly threat. Since he was a self-made Arrancar, he automatically was given a head start in training these powers of his.
“When he believed he was finally ready, this powerful Arrancar decided that, as a Hollow, he needed to eliminate as many of the Soul Reapers as was possible. Sensing that he was much more powerful than anything that the Soul Society had encountered before, he eventually decided that a direct attack on their armies was a good approach. When he first came to the Soul Society and proclaimed that he was going to eliminate it, he was met with much skepticism on the defenders’ behalf, but they were soon proved to be deathly wrong.
“Over the course of three days, Arturo Plateado plowed through roughly half of the Soul Society’s army, feeding off of the powers of those he defeated, only becoming more powerful as he won each battle. The fighting lasted for a long time, and the losses were heavy, before it was realized that this was not the way to win. Finally, holding a private, secret meeting, the remaining captains gathered together and decided that they needed to be rid of this threat in another way. Finally, tactics were applied.
“With the use of some warriors who appeared to be retreating in the face of his might, Arturo Plateado was lured into the depths of Central 46 with the Sôkyoku, where he became trapped in the great void that resides underneath. He remained there for millennia, not able to escape the immense power of the void where he was trapped.
“He only escaped from this prison when the Sokyoku was shattered when some ryoka invaded the Soul Society and he was allowed to escape, gathering the shards of the Sokyoku to make himself more powerful. Eventually, after making another, small attack on the Soul Society, he escaped and returned to Heuco Mundo. His whereabouts are currently unknown, and the search for him was abandoned when more current, important events occurred and the Soul Society was forced to focus on another front.”
Ulquiorra was surprised that this was all that the book contained about their prisoner. The rest of the book consisted mostly of lists of those who had lost their lives to the great warrior, and illustrations depicting him destroying the Soul Society. It occurred to him, almost in a humorous way that these illustrations would please Arturo, but somehow, the emotion didn’t cut through enough for him to find it as such.
Pocketing the small book, he turned and left the room, quite sure that Lord Aizen would have no need for something so trivial. As quickly and quietly as he had arrived, he left the room, taking care not to proclaim his whereabouts spiritually. Soon, he was gone from the hallway without a trace.
And not too soon, either, for just after he left, Aizen decided that he’d like to go and read something in the great library. He decided that since he’d just encountered Arturo again after a millennia or so, it would probably do him good to review exactly what it was that Arturo had accomplished in his relatively short lifetime. Knowing the whole time in the back of his mind that it was nearly pointless to research a dead man, but not really having anything else to do, he made his way slowly towards his personal library, taking his time.
Soon enough, he arrived at the doors and opened them, striding confidently in without hesitating or sensing if anyone was inside. He’d never seen one of the Espada with a book in their hands, and highly doubted that it would even occur to any one of them to pick one up and read it, so the only intrusions he need worry about were those of Gin, when he decided that he, too was bored. He didn’t think Tosen would want to attempt to read anything.
“Ahhh…” he said, strolling over to the bookshelf where he last remembered seeing anything about Arturo Plateado, eyeing the shelves in search of the short, informational book. Seeing nothing, he searched it again, but to no avail. He knew that he had at least one book on the subject, but… where was it? He searched up and down the bookshelf for hours, trying to locate the small thing, but he never saw a trace of it. Finally, frowning, he gave up the search, near infuriation that he hadn’t been able to locate it. Miffed, he left the room swiftly without what he’d come for.
During those hours that Aizen searched in futile for what he’d been looking for, Gin had finally managed to regenerate all the important bits that he needed for further work, and was casually walking around again, fully aware that he would receive no apology of any kind from Aizen. It was an accident, after all, although it was highly rare for Aizen to accidentally do something, and this was a particularly funny accident if you looked at it the right way. Even Gin found it mildly humorous after thinking it over a few times.
Chuckling to himself in a sly way, he walked along the halls, trying to locate where Aizen was, but not really wanting to. After the chuckling subsided, he gave in to a sigh and stopped in the middle of one of the hallways, looking around him in half boredom, wondering if there was anything that would serve as a valid excuse for distracting him in his search for their great leader. Finally, reaching out with his own spiritual energy, he attempted to locate the reiatsu of the intruder, wondering if he was still alive at this point or if Szayel had had his fill of fun and dissected him into various pieces for study. He was somewhat glad to find that the stranger wasn’t quite dead yet, and started to make his way towards Szayel’s lab, glad that he now had a good reason for being late. Not that he needed a good reason. He could just as well have turned up late and not given any reason at all, but… he was too bored to do just that. He made his slow and cat-like way towards his destination, slinking along like was usual for him to.
Finally, he made it to where he’d been heading to, and stopped himself from opening one of the great doors just in time to hear voices and sense familiar people inside. It seemed that not only Szayel and their guest were inside, but Ulquiorra, and for some, unexplainable and supernatural reason, Grimmjow was in there too.
“What?” he asked himself in his thoughts. Why on earth, or in Heuco Mundo, were they all in there? Strange. He decided to wait a moment before entering and see if he could possibly find out.
Actually, there was a perfectly explainable and natural reason as to why Grimmjow was in there too, after all. Ulquiorra had returned to his personal chambers after retrieving the book from Aizen’s library, and stayed there for a long time, staying in the Espada-equivalent state of sleep, waiting for a better time to come upon him. Upon “waking up”, he’d found that now was probably a better time than most to see Arturo, and exited into the Hallway of the Espada.
Grimmjow, however, had also deemed this a good time to exit his quarters and pester someone. He’d come out of his door and nearly ran right into Ulquiorra. Grinning and deciding that this was the perfect person to annoy, he’d tailed the 4th all the way to the laboratory where the stranger was being kept. Pretty soon, as he began to see where they were headed, Grimmjow stopped insulting his superior and instead started to ask questions about where they were going and why.
Ulquiorra then stated that he was going somewhere alone, and ‘we’ really wasn’t the proper term to use. Grimmjow, not in the least perturbed, kept tagging along and asking questions pertaining to the prisoner, those of which Ulquiorra remained silent about, and Grimmjow repeatedly asked, hoping to annoy the answer out of him. Still undeterred, the pantera followed Ulquiorra all the way to Szayel’s ‘playground’, and entered with him. They found Szayel at a desk somewhere nearby, bent over something and furiously writing something out that probably wasn’t important. (this wasn’t far from the truth. He was actually researching the brain power of Aaroniero Arrurueire’s heads, and whether or not they really mattered.) He looked up as they entered.
“Oh hello, Ulquiorra, Grimmjow,” he said as invitingly as he could. (which was more sinister than inviting) “Come right in! The prisoner is awake now.”
“Hm,” said Ulquiorra.
“Well good!” Grimmjow said loudly. “I’d like to see what all the commotion over him is about anyway.”
“I… wouldn’t have thought so,” Szayel replied, leading them both back towards the room where Arturo was being kept. “At any rate, here he is.” He motioned them along into the room, which was located just behind his laboratory, enclosed in even deeper shadows than the rest of Las Noches. Ulquiorra glanced around, feeling very much at home in a place such as this, and hoping that Arturo found it as such. Then he caught himself. Hoped that Arturo liked it as well?! What was getting into him? Why did he care about what other people felt? It was a fact that he didn’t. He reassured himself that he had no reason to care if anyone else was comfortable or not, or if they liked this place or thought that it was horrible.
By now, though, they had entered the room. It was relatively small compared to the rest of Las Noches, but still spacious and roomy compared to many of the rooms that were in human houses. At one end of the room, there was a small, patient’s bed, that of which was occupied by Arturo. He was sitting up this time, but leaning on the pillows to support himself, and he looked up as they walked in.
“Hello Arturo,” Szayel said in greeting, trying to sound lively. “It appears as if Ulquiorra and Grimmjow have come to… see you.” Arturo gave Grimmjow a suspicious glance.
“Hello,” he said, shifting his gaze to Ulquiorra, who responded;
“Hm.” Grimmjow, a little surprised, looked at Szayel, raising his eyebrow at him as he did. The pink-haired scientist merely gave him a big grin and shrugged. He mouthed ‘watch’, to the sixth Espada, and pulled him back a little. A little intrigued, he allowed himself to be placed in the background, to see what would happen. It started almost immediately.
“So what have you been doing, Ulquiorra?” Arturo asked, pronouncing the 4th Espada’s name a little strangely. Everyone did that the first time they met him. “Since the last time we met?” It took a moment for the emerald-eyed Espada to respond, but he did so truthfully.
“I have been researching you,” he said, surprising the turquoise-haired Arrancar a little.
“Really?” he asked.
“Yes,” said Ulquiorra. He pulled the book from his pocket slowly and handed it to Arturo, showing him what he meant. “Apparently what you stated was the truth.”
“Well I certainly hope so,” Arturo replied, taking the book and flipping it casually open. He scanned a page or two, and then looked back up at the stoic Espada. “You took the time to find this?”
“Yes,” replied the 4th. Arturo raised his eyebrow at him a little, surprised that his responses were limited.
Behind them both, Szayel was practically cackling with glee, hurriedly scribbling down more nonsense about what was happening. Grimmjow was staring, intently, at what was going on. Had he had less sense than he did have at that moment, his jaw probably would have been hanging open. What did this Arrancar have that got Ulquiorra’s attention?
At this point, Gin decided to enter the lab as well, cautiously and silently opening the door and then stalking his way towards where they were all gathered. Over the sound of their stunted conversation, not one of them noticed their sly superior sneak right over to them and stand directly in between and behind Grimmjow and Szayel, a wide grin on his face as he watched. He listened in on the part of the conversation that he’d missed, also a little surprised that Ulquiorra was talking this much.
“Is this all they could find to say about the ordeal?” Arturo asked, mostly to himself, as he looked the book up and down. “That’s a disappointment.” He looked back up at Ulquiorra, then back at the book. “Do you read often?” he asked.
“No,” replied the 4th Espada.
“Didn’t think so,” replied Arturo. He handed the book back to Ulquiorra, but he made no move to take it back.
“Keep it,” he said to the man. “I have no need of it.”
“Psh-WHAT?” Grimmjow burst out, unable to contain himself any longer. Everyone looked at him, including Gin. “You’re giving him a present?!”
“It sure looks like that, doesn’t it?” Gin suddenly said, from directly next to Grimmjow’s ear. The cat-like Espada jumped and whirled around, only to find the second-in-command of Las Noches standing right beside him. Everyone turned and came to attention, except for Arturo. His face twisted into a scowl as he recognized Gin.
“Oh, and hello to you too,” purred the latter, waving at the Arrancar. He made no move to respond. “What are you all doing in here, besides the obvious?” he asked.
“Um… well…” Szayel, said, quickly stashing his clipboard away in a safe place before turning back to Gin. “We were just asking the prisoner some questions.”
“’We’?” Gin asked, looking back and forth between the three of them. He looked at Arturo again. “And what about you, prisoner? What were you doing? And what is this?” he scooped up the book and looked at its cover, peering at its title with interest.
“This is from Lord Aizen’s personal library,” he stated, recognizing it as something he’d seen there before. “Who obtained this from there?”
“I did,” Ulquiorra said, monotone, with no expressional change. Gin raised his eyebrow at him, surprised to find that he was the one to get it.
“You? Really?” he asked. Ulquiorra made no effort to respond, finding it pointless to do so. Arturo glared daggers at Gin, but the lieutenant seemed not to notice. Instead, he tossed the book back towards the Arrancar, chuckling as he did so. “I think I shall see to it that Lord Aizen becomes aware of this little gathering.”
They all started, except Ulquiorra. Tell Aizen about it? That sure couldn’t end well. Szayel was about to say something, when suddenly the 4th started to speak.
“That will not be necessary,” he said, suddenly, surprising everyone. Gin seemed genuinely shocked that someone as low a rank as Ulquiorra would contradict him.
“Not necessary?” he asked, surprise leaking into his voice. Arturo, also, was surprised, and Szayel and Grimmjow were speechless.
“No,” continued Ulquiorra. “As he will be dead by tomorrow morning, there will be no need to inform Lord Aizen.” Gin looked him up and down suspiciously.
“Dead?” Gin asked. Ulquiorra nodded. He pondered on this thought for a few moments. “Hm. I guess it’s alright to let it slide… this time.”
“Whew,” thought Szayel. He was certainly glad that Ulquiorra had had a moment of quick thinking… if he wasn’t speaking the truth, that is. Grimmjow didn’t say anything, but he had a musing look on his face. Turning to leave, Gin looked back at them one more time.
“You’d better keep your word, Ulquiorra,” he said, slyly. “Or else Lord Aizen may have to find a new mission for you.” He then turned and left the laboratory with a chuckle, leaving everyone in the small room silent with shock. Arturo dared to glance at Ulquiorra’s slim, silent form. Dead by morning? Did he really mean that? He guessed the only way to find out was to wait….
A few moments passed, after Gin exited the lab, as the four of them stood in silence. Ulquiorra was the best at it, and was unmoving, not even blinking as time wore on, in contradiction to Grimmjow and Szayel, who were fidgeting and casting glances from side to side. Arturo still eyed the emerald-eyed Espada cautiously, his fingers silently drumming on the cover of the small book. Nobody made any move to say something. The moments turned to minutes until, suddenly, Ulquiorra turned and faced Arturo, looking him in the eye.
“You will have to leave Las Noches,” he stated solemnly. Arturo’s eyebrow came up as he looked the Arrancar up and down skeptically. Grimmjow and Szayel, eyes wide as well, watched with half interest and half shock.
“Leave this place?” Arturo asked. His expression turned sour and his tone turned to sarcasm. He glanced at Szayel, who shrugged. “Already? Really, I was just beginning to like this place and the way it’s run.”
“What?” Ulquiorra asked, the tiniest hint of confusion entering his voice. “Are you implying that you want to stay?”
“Ah, forget it,” Arturo said, waving his hand at the 4th. “It was sarcasm.”
“Oh yes,” Ulquiorra said, his gaze meeting the floor as he appeared to come to an answer. “A pointless human way of speech.”
“Pointless and human?” Grimmjow put in. His face twisted into a smirk. “I wouldn’t call it human, to say the least.” Szayel rolled his eyes.
“It’s clear that it’s not exactly limited to humans now, isn’t it?” he said, taking his hands out of his pockets and picking the clipboard up again. Arturo groaned.
“Can we stop arguing about it? I mean, this really isn’t doing me any good,” he said, rubbing his hand with his face.
“Oh, that’s right,” Grimmjow said, turning to Ulquiorra. “Mr. Emotionless here just sentenced you to death, didn’t he?”
“Incorrect,” Ulquiorra said, not bothering to make eye contact. “I took a creative liberty when addressing Lord Gin, and have already stated that Arturo should leave Las Noches as soon as possible.”
“Um…” said Szayel. “You mean, you lied?”
“Yes,” said Ulquiorra.
“Oh dear,” said Grimmjow, that sarcastic tone entering his voice again. “That’s forbidden here, you do know that, Ulquiorra?”
“Yes,” replied the 4th.
“It could get you kicked off the Espada,” mentioned Szayel, peering down at his paper with interest as he stated this.
“It could get you kicked out of this world, permanently,” Grimmjow said, referring to the death sentence. Ulquiorra merely flicked his gaze back and forth between them as they reminded him of the rules. Arturo rolled his eyes again.
“Look, I don’t know about the two of you, but I really appreciate something like that,” he said. “As un-Arrancar-like as it sounds.”
“Yup, sure does,” said Grimmjow. Everyone looked at him, and he shrugged. “What?”
“Szayel,” Ulquiorra said, turning to the pink-haired scientist. “I do not wish for either you or Grimmjow to be involved in this event, but I need you to inject Arturo with a healing ointment of much stronger capacity than the one you have already given him.”
“Uh,” replied Szayel, alarmed that Ulquiorra was actually going to go through with this crazy plan of his. “You… want me to… um…”
“I would appreciate it if you could get it done quickly, Szayel,” replied the 4th. Grimmjow gave him a skeptical look.
“Ulquiorra?” he asked. He instantly had the 4th’s attention.
“You do know that Lord Aizen is going to catch you, right?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. Ulquiorra did not respond. Instead, he turned back to Arturo.
“As soon as you are injected with the fluid, you must follow me to the gates of Las Noches,” he said his stoic, commanding voice. “From there I will open them for you, and you will be free to return to the desert of Hueco Mundo. I suggest that you do not return.”
“Wh-what?!” Arturo burst out. This plan didn’t fit in very well with his own. “Look, Ulquiorra, I came here to kill Aizen, not come only to be thrown out and told never to return. I’m not leaving this place until Aizen is dead.”
There was a silent pause. Then Ulquiorra spoke.
“I cannot let you do that,” he stated solemnly. “Since I am a loyal follower of Lord Aizen, it is within my duty to protect him. The same goes for Grimmjow and Szayel.”
“Really?” Arturo gave Ulquiorra a slightly surprised look. “You’re willing to research me, and then let me go when your master tried to kill me, but not willing to help me when I need the help?”
“Note to Arturo for later,” Szayel suddenly said from behind his clipboard, keeping it in front of his face so no one could see his expression. The turquoise-haired Arrancar shot him a look. “Ulquiorra is not the friendly type.” Arturo sighed, as Grimmjow chuckled to himself.
“’Friendly’, is not how anyone would describe you either, Szayel,” the half-cat Espada said, suppressing his laughter. Szayel darted him a glance.
“Or you,” he said. Ulquiorra gave them both a short look, and then closed his eyes in a gesture of brief frustration. He turned back to Arturo.
“I can not assist you in the murder of Lord Aizen,” he said, keeping his voice low. “But if you wish for any help from me, the most you will get is my lack of interference altogether.”
“Wh-what?!” Grimmjow asked, at the same time that Szayel burst out:
“Huh?!” and Arturo exclaimed:
“Yes,” responded Ulquiorra. “I could not bring myself to raise a sword against my master.” He turned to Grimmjow and Szayel. “But, I can not speak for you. I would strongly advise, however, that you take the same course of action as I have.”
“Yes,” they both muttered, knowing that whenever their superior ‘strongly advised’ something, they’d better listen. Ulquiorra turned back to Arturo, his emotionless face betrayed by the sliver of apprehension in his eyes.
“I can not afford to lie twice,” he said.
“Understood,” Arturo agreed. He gave Ulquiorra a meaningful look that the 4th couldn’t identify, since he was unfamiliar with the basic emotions altogether. Arturo knew it as appreciation and gratefulness. He extended his hand.
“Thanks,” he said. “For this.” Ulquiorra stared at his hand for a moment, appearing unsure of what to do with it. Arturo waited a moment, then gave up, waving his hand dismissively.
“Eh, whatever,” he said. “Now come on, let’s get moving. I want to get this done with as soon as possible.”
“Oh dear,” thought Gin to himself as he listened in on the conversation taking place inside the room behind him. He had been leaning on the door the whole time since he’d apparently ‘left’, the lab, and now he was glad that he’d stayed.
He had heard what he wanted to hear.
In a certain sense.
He pushed himself off the wall and started to hurriedly flash-step towards where he could sense Aizen’s resting reiatsu. He had many, many important things to retell to his master. Things that perhaps would not exactly please Aizen, but things that could give him a head start when he struck out for revenge on his mutinous Espada. Where would this little event lead? Would it leave them with three less Espada? That could be bad. Yes, this would definitely displease Aizen. Most definitely indeed…
“That’s it,” Szayel said, emptying the contents of the syringe he was holding into Arturo’s arm. “Hold still and I promise you won’t feel a thing. Aaaaand there!” Arturo glanced up at him with slight surprise. He took a glance at his arm where the injection had been performed, glad to find that the pink-haired Espada hadn’t decided to intentionally hit a nerve or something. He pulled his sleeve back down and then waited for a few moments.
As he did this, Grimmjow had ever-so-slowly started backing out of the room and across the main expanse of the lab. He cast his glance back and forth casually as he backpedaled, hoping that neither Ulquiorra or Szayel (and possibly Arturo) would not notice him. Maybe he could get out of this if he made it away before the plan started going into action? Maybe they wouldn’t even notice he had gone…
“Where are you going?” Ulquiorra’s voice suddenly cut across the room to him from where Arturo still lay. Grimmjow started abruptly and came to attention, his back snapping straight and a casual grin slapping itself on his face.
“Uh…. Nowhere,” he said, trying to sound convincing, but failing. Ulquiorra would have given him a dubious look, but instead, he remained expressionless and ordered him to come back immediately. Grumbling, Grimmjow shuffled back to the room.
“I wasn’t going to tell anyone,” he said, keeping his voice just barely on the edge of annoyed. “Heck, if I did that, I’d be sunk for life.”
“Mm-hm,” Szayel said, placing the shot back on the table where it belonged. “If anyone finds out about all this, we’re all sunk for life. However, unless there was some freak accident through time that allowed someone to overhear us lay out the whole plan; we are probably going to get away with it and get away with it cleanly and quietly.”
“Unless, of course, someone overheard us, as you pointed out,” Grimmjow reminded him. “In a place like this, you can never tell if someone’s listening or not. Watch, I’ll prove my point.” He strode over to Arturo and smacked him over the back of the head.
“HEY!” he yelled. “Are you listening?”
“What the-?!” Arturo spat out, righting himself instantly and turning to glare at Grimmjow unappreciatively.
“See?” said Grimmjow. He strode back to where he was standing before and resumed his bored stance. Arturo rolled his eyes at him, and then sat straighter upright as he put his legs over the side of the bed. Testing his weight, he slowly rose from his bed with no assistance. This movement, however, somehow caught Ulquiorra’s attention and he came over quickly.
“Do you feel strong enough to leave now?” the 4th asked of him as soon as Arturo became sure of his footing. The turquoise-haired Arrancar nodded.
“I feel strong enough to do anything right now, including battle,” he said, glancing at Szayel. “It’s kind of scary what you scientists can do.”
“Why thank you,” Szayel said, grinning in a pleased way. They all stayed in their place as Arturo suddenly started looking around, obviously under the impression that he had misplaced something. He scooped up the book after a moment, sticking it in his pocket, but still he seemed to believe that something was missing. He put his hand to his chin and gazed about for a moment.
“Szay-something,” he said, looking around. “Where did you put Fenix?”
“Fenix?” Szayel asked, looking bemused for a moment. “Oohh, you mean your zanpakuto? Well now, it’s right over here, where I left it, next to the ‘heads’ project…” He turned and started to stride for the other room, continuing murmur to himself as he went, poking around where he had been studying.
“Good,” stated Arturo with pleasure. As long as Fenix was safe, everything would go according to plan. Except for last time, that is… and possibly this time. There was so much that could go wrong, that he could see that even Ulquiorra had his doubts. Speaking of which, the 4th Espada was standing, eyes closed, hands in his pockets, as if he appeared to be listening to something. Grimmjow noticed this, and feared that Aizen might be mind-messaging him, but then Ulquiorra’s eyes snapped open, and he started talking in a quick, clipped voice.
“We have been discovered,” he said in monotone. “Quickly prepare to leave.”
“What?” Szayel asked, coming back into the room with Arturo’s sword. The Arrancar quickly scooped it out of his hands and attached it to his belt, and then turned to Ulquiorra.
“Discovered?” he asked. “How? By whom?”
“At the moment, Nnoitra and Yammy,” he said quickly. “They’re spiritual pressures have flared up, as they always do before battle.”
“Battle?” Grimmjow asked, eyes widening. He pushed himself off the wall and came over to the small group. “Who are they planning on battling?”
“Us?” Szayel asked. The two of them, along with Arturo, glanced at Ulquiorra for an explanation.
“Yes,” Ulquiorra said affirmatively. “Unfortunately, the only way that they could have known about this meeting is if someone of higher importance informed them of it and has assigned them to confronting us in battle.”
“Aizen?” Arturo asked, grasping his sword handle.
“Possibly,” Ulquiorra said. “It is more likely that Lord Ichimaru overheard our conversation, though, and then relayed the information to our master.”
“Darn him,” said Grimmjow. “We should have checked if he actually left or not.”
“He’s the spying type,” Szayel put in, as if finishing off the thought. They all glanced at each other quickly.
“If this is the case,” Arturo said suddenly. “I had better get a move on, shouldn’t I?”
“Good idea,” said Grimmjow. Szayel nodded in agreement.
“Grimmjow, Szayel,” he suddenly said. “Escort Arturo as far as he wants to go. Do not assist him with his task. I will stay here and hold back Nnoitra and Yammy until he has done what he needs to do. Understood?” There were a few surprised noises from the two former as his was said. Arturo raised his eyebrows significantly.
“I thought you weren’t going to help me?” he asked, a little bemused. Ulquiorra glanced at him briefly.
“I never said this was helping you,” he said. Arturo grinned, suddenly, as if getting the idea. He straightened his shoulders and motioned for them all to start heading for the door, which they immediately did.
“In that case,” he said. “I might as well wish you luck on that. Think you can hold them both off for long?”
“They are ranked under me,” Ulquiorra stated simply. “It should prove easy to defeat them.”
“Psh, right,” Grimmjow said. “Good luck anyway.”
“Yep,” said Szayel. “And what do you advise we do, should we encounter Gin?”
“You could probably beat him back,” Ulquiorra said as they reached the door. Arturo opened it a crack and scanned the hallways outside, glad to find that they were as of yet empty.
“And what do we do if we meet Aizen?” Grimmjow asked as they filtered out into the hall, splitting into two different groups. One started off down one hallway, and Ulquiorra stayed posted by the door. In a meaningful way, which was rather hard for him, he gave them the best advice that a warrior could.
“Oh boy, that’s REAL good news,” Grimmjow said sarcastically. “Actually, never mind. If it will confuse Mr. Emotionless, then I’d better say, that’s real BAD news.”
“Well put,” said Arturo as Szayel opened up a garganta. Without any more words, they all flash-stepped through it and started their quick journey through Las Noches.
Ulquiorra, sensing two beings approaching, purposefully turned away from his attackers.
“Hello,” he said in greeting. “Nnoitra and Yammy.”
“Well hi there,” Yammy said in an enthusiastically sarcastic way as he and their lanky, spoon-shaped-hat wearing companion came in through the hallway. “I hear you’ve got yourself into some trouble now, haven’t you, Ulquiorra? You’ve really disappointed me. I didn’t think you’d ever go rogue.”
“Oh, that’s all right,” Nnoitra cut in intrusively. “As long as he’s dead in the next ten minutes, we won’t have anything to worry about, Yammy.”
“Good point,” said the former.
“Please,” Ulquiorra said, still without turning. “Try.”
Szayel, Grimmjow and Arturo raced along the quickly-opened garganta, flash-stepping from point to point, hurrying along to get to where they were going, which was, Arturo pointed out, to Aizen. Sudden bursts of spiritual pressure suddenly exploded behind them where Ulquiorra had stayed, and they all paused to look back towards where they came. They saw nothing, since they were already far away from the spot, but they could still sense that it would be a furious battle.
“He’d better be careful,” Arturo stated, as they turned and started making their way once again through the darkness of Las Noches.
“He rarely isn’t,” pointed out Grimmjow, using some sort of twisted double negative without meaning to.
“As opposed to some people we know,” Szayel said, glancing at him through the corner of his eye as they dashed along. “But still, I have to agree with Arturo. If those two manage to get past him, or maybe even just one, we’d be in trouble.”
“Especially if it was that spoon head Nnoitra,” said Grimmjow distastefully. The only person he disliked as much as Ulquiorra rank-wise, was Nnoitra.
“Shut up you two, and concentrate on helping me find Aizen,” said Arturo sternly. He had masked his spiritual pressure the instant they had stepped from the lab, but he was sure that Aizen would still somehow be able to sense him coming with the others. As much as he liked to think how weak Aizen was, he couldn’t afford to underestimate the grand leader of this place.
“Right, right,” mumbled Grimmjow. “That should be the least of our problems. He’s the easiest person to sniff out in existence.”
“His reiatsu is so strong, that’s why,” Szayel added as they rounded another corner, still flash-stepping along the hallways. “I’ve always wanted to research why, in a certain sense.”
“Yech,” said Grimmjow, at the thought. Arturo stayed silent as he sensed for his now arch-enemy’s spiritual pressure, somehow not able to sense it as easily as the first time he had come here looking for him.
“Where are you, Aizen?” he thought to himself, as they used sonido to go down yet another hallway, and he still could not sense the great leader. He suddenly stopped, coming to an abrupt halt in the middle of one of the halls, right before he when around the corner before him. Szayel and Grimmjow stopped themselves in time, too, and came back to him.
“What, did you find him?” Grimmjow asked.
“No,” Arturo said, his eyes narrowing. The other two suddenly became aware of a familiar spiritual pressure just ahead of them. All three of them backed away from the corner, so as not to be surprised by who was coming around it.
“Oh this is great, just great,” Grimmjow pointed out as he became aware of who it was. “All we needed was for HIM to show up, didn’t we?”
“Hello,” came the voice that the reiatsu belonged to. It seemed to echo all around them, and the three of them suddenly diverted their attentions to different parts of the room, trying to locate where it was coming from. They couldn’t.
“Show yourself, coward!” Arturo said loudly, hoping to goad his opponent out by starting how he usually did.
“I have,” said the voice again. They all whirled around to see, standing behind them of all places, Tousen Kaname.
“Geez, not you again,” Grimmjow said, his hand already on his zanpakuto’s hilt. Szayel and Arturo did as well, all of them wondering if it was wise to unsheathe their swords at the same time in such a place. Tousen didn’t seem to be drawing his, but it was rather unlike him to fight unarmed – especially against three opponents.
“You cannot possible hope to defeat us all,” Arturo said confidently, making himself sound more warrior-like, “When you wouldn’t have been able to defeat one of us.”
“I will defeat you,” Tousen replied, his own hand suddenly drifting to the hilt of his sword. His face was almost as expressionless as Ulquiorra’s, but his lack of vision may have contributed to that. “I will defeat all of you, as Lord Aizen has commanded.”
“And what makes you think that you can?” Szayel asked, becoming brave enough to raise his voice against his superior.
“This is why,” stated another voice behind them. Whipping their heads around, they saw Gin, sneaky as ever, standing behind them, arms crossed, large smile across his face. It rather bothered Arturo that none of them had sensed him coming, and that he didn’t appear to be bothered slightly, as Tousen was, despite the former Soul Reaper’s confidence. This man truly was prepared for battle.
“Well then,” Arturo said, pulling Fenix half way out of the sheath with a swift movement. Instantly, everyone else had drawn their swords, readying them for battle with their individual stances. “Let us begin.”
Meanwhile, back in the hallway in front of Szayel’s lab, Ulquiorra, Nnoitra and Yammy had started their own little battle with flair. The moment that the two of them had drawn their swords, Ulquiorra had flash-stepped behind Yammy and hit him powerfully across the back, sending him sprawling without a chance to realize what hit him. Nnoitra, a little faster, whipped around quickly and brought his zanpakuto down where Ulquiorra was, the latter of whom blocked it with his bare hand.
Not wasting any time, Ulquiorra flash-stepped to the side and struck Nnoitra from there, sending him shooting backwards a few feet, leaving him trying to regain his footing. Yammy, having recovered from the last attack, brought his fist down on top of the short Espada, but it was deflected with a quick slashing action from Ulquiorra, sending the 10th’s hand into the wall and crumbling it significantly. Both of them were still undeterred, and continued to attack without stopping.
For a few moments, Ulquiorra was forced to do nothing but block the endless stream of attacks that was directed at him, luckily none of which that actually reached him. Both Nnoitra and Yammy refused to stop their barrage of moves, relentlessly beating upon the 4th and hoping that they had some results. Finally, unable to block all of the moves, Ulquiorra failed to notice when Nnoitra’s huge, double-sided weapon emerged from his right and smashed him into the adjacent wall.
Yammy, who was about to attack the Espada, was suddenly surprised to find that he disappeared rapidly, and unfortunately found himself unable to stop his extremely significant blow when Nnoitra appeared in his place, apparently having attacked Ulquiorra successfully. The 10th Esapda’s huge fist came smashing down on the lanky 5th Espada with G-force, crushing him into the ground.
“You idiot!” Nnoitra roared, pushing the fist back up towards where it came from. He leaped up and faced Yammy with an indignant expression of rage. “Watch what you’re doing next time!”
The huge, hulking figure did not finish his sentence because the addressee whom he was talking to disappeared from his line of vision as well, flying away and smashing into the wall on the other side of the hallway. Ulquiorra took the place of the taller one instantly, and Yammy’s face twisted into a frown.
“Why are you doing this?” He asked, flinging his fist down towards the slim Espada, only to have it deflected with a quick wrist movement on the latter’s part. He got no answer from his almost-friend.
“He’s a traitor!” Nnoitra roared as Yammy kept flinging his brute strength at Ulquiorra, driving him backwards down the hallway and away from the lab door. “Traitors don’t need to be questioned, they need to be killed!”
“Heh… right,” Yammy said, that killing gleam returning to his eye. “I guess this is bye-bye, Ulquiorra.” That being said, he landed a huge kick on his former superior, its mere force sending him backwards and farther away. Nnoitra gave a huge laugh as he leaped into view once more. Without waiting for the 4th to recover, he took his weapon by the chains and started swinging it around his head like a lasso. Yammy was obliged to step out of the way as the 5th Espada swung it once more, and then flung it in the direction that Ulquiorra had been thrown. The massive sharp weapon flew through the air, colliding with the 4th Espada, but stopping in mid-strike where it met him.
“Huh?” Nnoitra asked, peering through the cloud of dust that had been thrown up when he began his assault. The chain to his weapon stayed taut as it disappeared into the abyss, shivering with strain as it apparently made contact with what it had been aiming for. There was a pause as they both waited for something to happen, not sure of what to do.
Then, suddenly, unexpectedly, the chain that held the weapon to its handle snapped, sending Nnoitra stumbling backwards as the point of tension was severed, and he was thrown off balance. Yammy, not quite as startled, peered intently through the dust, trying to find their prey.
Without warning, the chain, and the sharp weapon attached to the other end of it, came flying out at them from the murk so fast that it was just a whizzing blur, whipping through the air with a terrifying swooshing sound. Making contact with its two targets before they could dodge, the chain snapped around Nnoitra and Yammy, slicing their torsos open and spurting blood out across the floor and walls of the hallway.
“Argh!” Nnoitra roared, collapsing to his knees. He was always bragging that nothing could puncture his skin, especially a shinigami sword, but apparently his own blade had as much effect on him as a hatchet would to a human. And… it hurt. Yammy was the easier of the two to cut, and it caused him much more displeasure than it did to his companion. As if accompanying his attack, Ulquiorra rushed out of the settling dust cloud, using sonido to appear before Nnoitra instantaneously and kick him over the head with a powerful strike.
This sent the lanky figure sprawling, but Yammy had gotten up and was already on top of the small figure. He literally grabbed Ulquiorra around the waist and then lifted him up before slamming him into the floor, sending the tiles scattering under the impact. Dust rose from where he had smashed the 4th Espada, but Yammy was unfinished. He repeated this action, each time making sure that the blow was sufficiently bone-shattering. Eventually Nnoitra came over and threw his weapon into the mess, hearing a satisfying slash, and then quickly retracted it as Yammy let go.
Ulquiorra dropped to the floor, much to the pleasure of his two attackers, and remained there unmoving. Nnoitra grinned widely and placed his other weapon across his shoulders in a finished gesture. Yammy flexed his hand. It seemed that Ulquiorra had been defeated.
Back in the other hallway with Gin, Tousen, Grimmjow, Szayel and Arturo, the fight had just been about to begin when Ulquiorra’s reiatsu regained its usual, low-power force, along with Nnoitra’s and Yammy’s. The three in the center all looked up sharply in partial surprise, having expected Ulquiorra to win the match fairly quickly. Arturo’s eyebrows furrowed in deep thought as he looked off down the hallway where he had left his… er… sort of friend. This did not please him.
“What’s the matter, Arturo Plateado?” Gin asked, purring, from behind him. Arturo turned lightly and glanced at him. “Did you expect him to do better than that?”
“Kind of,” Grimmjow said, almost uncaringly. Arturo and Szayel shot him dangerous glances. He shrugged.
“I bet you didn’t expect him to get defeated like that, did you?” Gin continued on, using his annoying voice to hopefully provoke Arturo into anger, which almost always leads to a weakness in the enemy. Arturo, however, kept his cool.
“His spiritual pressure is still there,” he pointed out calmly. “If he were dead, it would be gone.”
“Heh,” Tousen said, unexpectedly, from behind them all. “Let me tell you something about that spiritual pressure. It’s small. Smaller and weaker even than yours, Arturo, which I must say, compared to our own, is extremely insignificant. Ulquiorra didn’t stand a chance against them, because his reiatsu is too wea-,”
However, just as he was about to point out how little power Ulquiorra’s reiatsu contained, they all suddenly felt an immense wall of spiritual pressure slam into them with more force than a speeding train. Instantly, Grimmjow and Szayel were on their knees, hands clasping their heads in an attempt to get away from the pounding pressure, roaring in pain as their own reiatsus were smothered and threatened. Arturo, Gin, and Tousen were still standing in the least, and out of the three of them, Tousen was having the hardest time doing so. He strengthened his stance by placing both hands on his sword, and spreading his feet apart to keep his balance.
Arturo broke out in a sweat as he repelled the tremendous, spiritual attack, and found that he probably had enough energy for a short battle. What was foremost in his mind, though, was the fact that this reiatsu belonged to Ulquiorra, unmistakably. Occasional streaks of floating, emerald power floated along the hall towards, away from, and through them as it shot towards its master. The 4th Espada was apparently still up and fighting.
“You were saying…” he asked, glancing at Tousen. The blind, former Soul Reaper did not answer.
“That is a little surprising,” Gin admitted from the other side of him. Turning his head again, Arturo was a little disheartened to find the ex-captain standing as if at ease, his posture perfect and his hands behind his back. If anything, he seemed to be ENJOYING the experience. That was impossible.
“Oh, great,” Arturo managed to think to himself through the thickening blur of his mental state. “If his subordinate can withstand such pressure as this, then Aizen must be able to withstand much more than just a barricade of spiritual energy.” As if in answer to his thoughts, Gin placed his hand on his sword hilt and drew it, slowly, gracefully, as if mocking the turquoise-haired Arrancar.
“What’s wrong?” asked the silver-haired warrior. “Do I… intimidate you with my ability to withstand his waterfall of reiatsu? Is that why you look nervous?”
“I am not nervous!” Arturo shouted, turning to face Gin head on. Behind him, he heard Tousen give in to the pressure and fall to his knees alongside Szayel and Grimmjow, his sword clattering down beside him.
“Oh no?” Gin asked, his grin widening as the immense pressure, which showed no sign of stopping, started to wear his opponent down. “Then why, pray, do you sound as such?”
“Sound as such?!” Arturo burst out, starting to laugh. “You are one to talk, Ichimaru. Do you think you know everything about everyone inside and out of this wretched place?”
“Hm,” replied Gin, his gin toning down. “At least I know you enough to see that you are, under these circumstances, faltering.”
“Enough of this chatter!” Arturo roared, flinging himself at Gin. The former lieutenant and captain swiftly brought up his sword to counter, and the bright clang of metal was quickly diminished under the roaring, whooshing sound of the stream of reiatsu. Reacting like lightning, Gin forced his sword to the side, taking Arturo’s with it, and then bringing back up quickly in the place where the Arrancar was standing. It should have been able to make contact with him in time to slice him up the torso and neck, but instead, Arturo chose to flash-step out of the way and appear to the right of Gin.
However, flash-stepping through the murky density proved to be much, much more difficult that it was when just running through normal-pressured air. The thickness of it was like trying to run through deep water, forcing yourself to make normal movements, but slowed down tremendously by the mass of waves all around you. It was a frustrating experience, having to flash-step through Ulquiorra’s thick spiritual pressure, but at least his quick thinking allowed Arturo to escape the blow that Gin had started to give to him. This did now, however, allow him to deal his own blow before the grinning subordinate was obliged to dodge out of range.
Not willing to give up on this so fast, Arturo came back around with another blow ready, swinging Fenix with all his might towards his opponent, ready to smash him to bits with the mere force of his blow. Once again, however, his actions were slowed considerably by the water-like texture of the air around him, and by the time his blow reached where he wanted it to be landed, the ex-shinigami had brought his sword up again and blocked it with no effort at all. Gin then retaliated by leaping into action and planting a kick in Arturo’s middle, sending him stumbling a few feet away. Not letting him catch his breath, Gin rushed forward after him, sword tip at the ready, obviously planning to puncture him.
Arturo realized, as Gin came for him (for the reiatsu around them slowed them both down enough for Arturo to foresee his enemy’s actions) that he would not be able to dodge the attack that was coming his way. He could also tell that this puncture wound, which would be so well-placed in his body that it could prove fatal with only one blow, and that it wouldn’t be good if he died this early in the stages of his plan. In an act of last-moment panic, he decided on the only course of action that would actually make any sense.
Before Gin could reach him, and indeed before he could even come close, Arturo released the first wave of his OWN spiritual pressure, sending it in a concentrated stream directly at Gin. The silver-haired man didn’t see it coming, but when it hit, even he was no match for two layers of thick, dense reiatsu. For him, it was like being pummeled by, the first time, a speeding train, and the second time, all the cars behind it. Wave after wave rolled off of Arturo as he attempted to drive Gin to his knees, and it didn’t take long for the ex-captain to stop in mid-strike, stagger under the pressure, and then finally collapse to a much lower stance. Unable to contain it in a concentrated stream for any longer, Arturo let loose his constraints lest he injure himself, and in the process let the waves roar through Las Noches along with Ulquiorra’s.
The effect it had on Szayel and Grimmjow was instantaneous, knocking them out of consciousness immediately, and then it forced Tosen and Gin down farther to the floor was well. Arturo, overcome by all this spiritual activity, could not withstand it any longer when Ulquiorra’s reiatsu raised another notch. He fell to his knees as well, Feinx falling beside him soundlessly, it seemed. He placed his hand over his ears, trying to block out the roaring, screaming, screeching noise that filled his brain, filled his being. He fought it very hard, trying to force it away from and out of him as hard as he possibly could, but in the end it all proved to be too much. The horrifying amount of reiatsu in the room seemed to close in on him from all sides like a compressor, and then it all slammed into him at once. Without so much as a cry of internal pain, his warped line of vision faded out to a dull, toneless grey, and then to an emotionless black.
Back in the hallway before the great doors of the lab, the battle which had been prematurely deemed over abruptly started to explode, as could be felt by everyone in Las Noches. Ulquiorra’s body, limp in the crater that Yammy had created for it, had not moved for a good thirty seconds after the 10th Espada had smashed him into the floor. Nnoitra, triumphant already, had turned away from the scene, leaving Yammy to contemplate the events on his own.
“That was easier than I thought,” he said, putting his weapon back to his belt, and then lifting his hand to the wound inflicted by it. He frowned a little at the sight of his own blood, and wiped it off on the front of his shirt. “At any rate, we should report back to Lord Ai-,”
He didn’t get any farther than that, for at that moment, Ulquiorra unleashed a huge wave of his spiritual pressure, sending both of them reeling at the first sign of it. Instantly becoming the center of a literal spiritual tornado, the 4th Espada lifted himself up from the ground and faced his two opponents with a new strength, his emerald reiatsu tearing through the air around them, ripping at their clothes and hair, pressing in on their minds like a compressor. Yammy, unused to such dense amounts of spiritual pressure, fell to his knees and put his hands to his head. Nnoitra, the stronger of the two, remained on his feet, turning and drawing his weapon once more.
“What…. What’s this?!” he thought to himself in a spurt of panic. He had never known such thick and repressed reiatsu, and it was whirling about him on all sides, threatening his mind to the point of giving in. However, being only one rank behind the 4th, Nnoitra found the strength to turn and raise his weapon in an aggressive gesture.
“I’m surprised to see that Yammy has gone down so quickly,” Ulquiorra stated, motioning towards the 10th Espada’s cringing form. Nnoitra bared his teeth when he responded.
“So you think you can win just be using your spiritual pressure?!” he roared. “I’ll show you!” he lunged at Ulquiorra, moving through the thick, liquid-like atmosphere with much more accuracy and swiftness than one could have thought, and struck out at Ulquiorra with the tip of his huge, clover-shaped weapon. Blocking it neatly with his bare hand, the 4th Espada retaliated by taking advantage of Nnoitra’s reduced-concentration state and kicked him hard in the stomach, sending him reeling backwards back to where he started.
“RAAAAAHHHH!!!” Nnoitra nearly screamed, pushed to the limit when he was being suppressed. Holding his weapon aside, Nnoitra released a large wave of his own reiatsu directly at the 4th Espada, but concentrating it, preventing Las Noches from receiving the blow. It only seemed to affect Ulquiorra mildly, but it was still a spiritual pressure that couldn’t be ignored. As if to finish off his attack, Nnoitra stuck his tongue out straight at the 4th, his number 5 tattoo right where it should have been, and then started to form a large, golden cero on the end of it. Ulquiorra’s eyes widened ever-so-slightly as the huge stream of bright light and power slammed into him, crushing him backwards into the wall again. He fell back to his knees as the immense pressure threatened to throw him out of consciousness.
“How do ya like THAT, shorty?!” Nnoitra roared, screeching with laughter to see his opponent down once more. “I’ll give you a few more if you haven’t had enough!!!”
“That won’t be necessary,” Ulquiorra said, rising back to his feet, back still against the fractured wall. He raised his arm and pointed it straight out at his opponent. Not wasting a second of his time, he started to form his own, dark green cero on the tip of his finger and then sent it hurtling at Nnoitra with the force of a tornado colliding with the earth. The lanky Espada, unable to keep his balance, was flung backwards and to the ground, skidding along the rubble and acquiring many injuries on the way. Ulquiorra’s cero was much more powerful than his, and almost ripped the skin off of him, at least managing to remove his eye patch. Rising, slowly and staggeringly, the 5th roared in rage again, a huge Hollow hole where his eye should have been.
“You still haven’t won!” he panted, leaning heavily on his weapon, although he hated to do it in front of his enemy.
“Neither have you, Nnoitra,” replied Ulquiorra, monotone. It enraged Nnoitra even further to see the 4th Espada standing, hands in his pockets, his unruly black hair blowing carelessly around his face as the dense spiritual reiatsu whirled around them at dangerous speeds. The only evidence of any battle at all that he had was a shredded collar, and a small yet bloody cut down his arm from Nnoitra’s weapon. The 5th bared his huge teeth again, and with a burst of angry revenge, swung his weapon out by the chain again, this time accompanying it with a word that would probably cost Ulquiorra the battle.
“Tesra!” he roared, reining in his reiatsu as he did. “Strike him down!” There was a slight pause, in which Ulquiorra easily sidestepped the attack that Nnoitra had thrust upon him. For reasons unknown, he did not seem to hear Nnoitra’s call for his fraccion, but when the 5th pulled his reiatsu in, his also instinctively started to pull itself back to him, lessening the tension in all of Las Noches. In the moment, he also became distracted when Arturo and Gin’s reiatsus, previously unnoticed to him, became dwindling flames as they lost consciousness. It surprised even Ulquiorra that Gin had gone down under his spiritual pressure, but then it occurred to him that maybe Arturo had also been using his own, immense reiatsu, and that was what had probably smashed the second-in-command of Las Noches to go down.
“Hey shorty! Don’t let your guard down!” Nnoitra’s screeching voice cut through Ulquiorra’s musing thoughts. Turning quickly, but realizing his mistake too late, the 4th brought his arm up to block the quickly-flung weapon, but was not able to do so fast enough, and was thrown backwards into the opposite wall, this time crumbling it and sailing through it into the next room. It was empty, like a lot of the rooms in Las Noches, occupied only by a large, glassless window that cast the moon’s light down into the bare room. Quickly back on his feet, Ulquiorra prepared for an attack to his front as Nnoitra burst through the whole in the wall that had been created when he flew through it.
“Where you goin’?” he asked, chuckling. Waving his weapon high above his head, crazily through the air captured Ulquiorra’s attention long enough for Tesra to burst into the room, from a side door, and land a huge kick in the side of the 4th. Surprised, to say the least, the 4th stumbled under the blow, but did not fall. Instead, he retaliated quickly by swinging his arm at the blond-haired fraccion and whamming him in the stomach as hard as he could. Taking the blow hard, but still undeterred, Tesra hit Ulquiorra again in the ribs, but wasn’t able to do much damage. Nnoitra, taking advantage of the 4th Espada’s distraction, leaped into the fray and instantly brought his weapon down on top of the emerald eyed man as hard as he could. Seeing it coming, Ulquiorra dodged just in time, but it was a close call. As he skidded backwards across the tiled floor, a few strands of his black hair wafted to the ground away from Nnoitra’s blade.
Still not wasting any time, and willing with more than anything to protect his master, Tesra leaped in between the two of them and instantly whipped his sword out, bringing it up to bear with Ulquiorra and eyeing him with a look that dared him to attack his master. The 4th understood Tesra’s loyalty to Nnoitra, and what he would do to keep the 5th safe, but that did not deter him as he charged, building up energy behind him, straight at the fraccion. Tesra prepared himself for the hit by bracing himself, and Nnoitra, not exactly wanting Tesra to be crushed to dust in the wake of his superior, prepared a cero as Ulquiorra neared. In the bright golden light of it, Ulquiorra could suddenly sense a shift in the room. Not a shift of the tilt of the room, but a shift in the balance of powers that equalized themselves in the room.
When combined, Tesra’s and Nnoitra’s powers just about equaled his, give or take. Just a moment ago, an equilibrium had been reached in the room while Ulquiorra’s and Nnoitra’s reiatsus were not unleashed, but not one second later, that balance upset itself so horrifically and suddenly that everyone inside the room lurched and was thrown off balance. A reiatsu so strong, and so consuming, that in an instant, everyone was on their knees. Tesra was unconscious before he hit the ground, and Nnoitra was supporting himself with his hands both on the stone floor, his cero gone to nothing and destroyed. Even before he looked up, Ulquiorra, struggling to stay upright although he was on one of his knees, knew who had entered the room, and knew that he was angry to find his subordinates at battle.
“L-Lord Aizen,” Ulquiorra gasped, finally dropping to one hand on the tiled floor. Through his swimming vision, he could see the fuzzy outline of his grand master standing in the doorway, his face calm, but his spiritual pressure telling all otherwise. Slowly, ever-so-slowly, Aizen reeled his reiatsu back in, lessening the horrific amount of tension in the room, and slowly letting Nnoitra and Ulquiorra breathe again. The 5th Espada slowly brought his hands up and rested on both his knees, while Ulquiorra managed to shakily pull himself to his feet, bowing his head in his master’s direction. Upon looking up, he found a disappointed Aizen.
“Ulquiorra,” Aizen said, slowly, his eyes slightly narrowed. “What are you doing? Explain to me.”
“Lord… Aizen,” Ulquiorra said quietly, still catching his breath. “I was defending myself from an attack.”
“Darned right you were, you little creep!” Nnoitra said nastily, coming to his feet from Tesra’s side, after making sure his fraccion was not injured permanently. “I was under orders!”
“Orders?” Aizen asked, directing his gaze to the monstrous 5th Espada. “Who issued them?” Ulquiorra took the time to glance at Nnoitra as well, realizing that his reasoning had been untrue. Aizen must not have been aware of Arturo’s sparing, or his planned escape and, ultimately, his murder of the great lord. Aizen continued.
“I did not issue any order for you to attack Ulquiorra. Why did you?”
“It was Lord Ichimaru,” Nnoitra panted, finally pulling himself up to full height. “He’s the one who told us to attack. He said Ulquiorra, Grimmjow and Szayel had gone rogue, and that they were helping to plan your murder, Lord Aizen.” Ulquiorra did not tense up, or let his mind show any signs of guilt, or knowledge of what Nnoitra was talking about. Enacting his most used skill, he kept his expression passive, and his mouth closed. He waited for Aizen’s reaction, wondering and hoping on the inside.
“Heh,” Aizen said, unexpectedly. “Ha!” He went into a short spurt of laughter, and then cut himself short. He turned to Nnoitra with a grin still half-placed on his face, as if trying to break through but not wanted to.
“You think anyone could attempt to murder me?” he asked, still chuckling. “Even Gin could never hope to kill me, if he ever wished to try, and he is nearly as powerful as I.”
Nnoitra’s eyebrow lifted, and Ulquiorra felt a little tug of surprise at that.
“And if Gin could never hope to kill me, then none of those three, not even put together, could have a mere hope of a thread of a chance at even scratching me,” he boasted. He paused and looked over at Ulquiorra, a little sliver of suspicion in his eye. “Besides, why would my most trusted followers try to kill me?”
“I assure you, Lord Aizen,” Ulquiorra said, closing his eyes and bowing his head. “I would never dream of even opposing you.”
“Heh, you don’t dream much, do you?” Aizen asked, on the verge of chuckling again. He smothered his laughter and toned it down back to his serious face of leadership. He let his gaze waft back to Nnoitra, who was leaning down and shaking Tesra awake, who, upon seeing Aizen, quickly scrambled to his feet and half-bowed to Aizen in a traditional way. He nervously stood beside Nnoitra and awaited whatever it was that their great Lord might say. Aizen continued in a slightly sarcastic tone.
“Besides, whatever Gin might have said to you was most likely a joke,” he said. “He can be quite entertaining at times, but even this may have gotten too far.”
No sooner had he said this than they heard heavy footsteps, and all looked up to see Yammy enter the room sulkily. He bowed respectively to Aizen, and then walked into the room and stood beside Nnoitra, although keeping a noticeable distance from the 5th.
“Yammy,” Aizen said evenly. “What is your side of the story?”
“Hm?” Oh yes,” Yammy said. “Nnoitra came to me and said Lord Gin had ordered us to attack Ulquiorra and Grimmjow and Szayel. Said they went rogue or something.” He glanced at Ulquiorra, almost hopefully.
“Hm,” said Aizen. “All right, you may all go your separate ways. I do not want to see you three together until I call the next meeting, understood?”
“Yes, Lord Aizen,” they all chanted automatically.
“Good,” said their great leader. He turned and exited the room swiftly, without looking back. Ulquiorra, eager to find Arturo and the others before Aizen did, started to head after him, but a huge hand clamped down on his shoulder. Glancing back, he saw Yammy looking down on him with a slightly confused and curious expression.
“You really plan that, Ulquiorra?” he asked simply. The 4th turned away and closed his eyes, not able to bring himself to lie again in good conscience. The truth would suffice, at least.
“No,” he said. “I would never harm Lord Aizen.”
And with that, he strode as quickly as he dared out of the room and off down the hallway, until he could safely open a garganta.
Meanwhile, Arturo’s eyelids flickered open.
Where was he?
Upon lifting up his top half with his arms, he saw, spread around him, the disoriented figures of Szayel, Grimmjow, Tosen, and Gin. They were all still knocked out from his and Ulquiorra’s massive bursts of spiritual pressure. Forcing himself to clear his head and make himself stand, Arturo slowly made his way over to where Szayel and Grimmjow were sprawled out on the tiled floor. Crouching down beside them, he gently started to shake Szayel.
“Ugh…” muttered the pink-haired scientist. He moved slightly but didn’t wake up, Arturo shook him a little harder.
“Wake up,” he ordered. Szayel didn’t. Instead, Grimmjow popped his eyelids open.
“What the heck,” he said. He looked up, and then shifted himself to a sitting position. “I can’t remember what happened. What did happen?”
“Hm?” Arturo asked, looking up. “Oh, you and Szayel were conked out by Ulquiorra’s and my spiritual pressures.”
“For how long?” the 6th Espada asked, pulling himself up and stood, looking around him at the carnage that had resulted after their fight. “Wow. Tosen got all beat up too, eh?”
“Hm,” Arturo said again. He shook Szayel more harshly this time.
“Ack!” the scientist suddenly shouted, abruptly waking up. “What’s all this! Let go of me!” he pushed Arturo off of him and then stood, brushing himself off and grumbling. Arturo backed up and then turned away to look at Gin as Szayel inquired of Grimmjow what had occurred.
“We had better get out of here,” Arturo said, motioning at Gin and Tosen, who were barely beginning to stir. “I don’t want to be around when they wake up again.”
“Same for me,” Grimmjow put in. He inched away from Tosen, not willing to get anywhere near to his evil grasp. “Let’s scram.”
All agreeing, the three of them turned and left the hallway using soindo, disappearing away before anyone could even notice they were gone. Only seconds after they had departed, Gin’s eyes… did not open. Instead, he merely pulled himself up into a sitting position, resting with his elbows on his knees, looking around the hallway, and chuckling slightly. He knew that the rogues wouldn’t get far. Sooner or later, most probably sooner, he and Tosen would catch them, or even worse, Aizen would catch them, and they would all die. That’s simply how it would be.
Meanwhile, the three of them had opened a garganta, and run through it before anyone could get on their tails. They went along using flash step for a while, making sure that they were far enough away from everyone else before they finally came to a stop. It had occurred to them suddenly… they had no plan.
“We’re all freakin’ idiots,” Grimmjow said to them as they stopped. Szayel turned to him with an indignant expression, and Arturo looked at him with a look that spoke for itself. “I mean, we don’t even have a plan!” pointed out the panther king.
“Oh,” Szayel said, suddenly looking thoughtful. “Right.”
“Well, I have a plan,” Arturo said, crossing his arms at them and rolling his eyes sarcastically. He paused, and looked up and down the hallway. “I really don’t think either of you has to help me, if you don’t want to.”
“I was thinkin’ about that,” said Grimmjow. “I really don’t know why I’m here in the first place. I could be somewhere else, doin’ something I usually do, but now I’m a fugitive.”
“Because if you do go somewhere else, you’ll either get ordered to kill us or be killed yourself,” Szayel pointed out, shifting his glasses up his face. “It’s too late now, Grimmjow, you do realize that?”
“Psshh,” replied the 6th Espada. “Aizen was no fun anyway.”
“Good,” said Arturo. “It’s always good to have a little help. Still, though. I don’t know how any of you are going to fit into my plan.”
“What’s your plan?” Szayel asked. Arturo shrugged.
“Kill Aizen,” he said, shrugging.
“Some plan that is,” Grimmjow said, laughing. “How far do you think you’re gonna get, goin’ on just that?”
“Not very far,” Szayel said. “He’d have to go up against the higher Esapada.”
“If they wouldn’t join us, that is,” replied Grimmjow, randomly stretching. “I’m sure that some of them would be more than willing to join us now that Aizen’s started being the jerk that he is.”
“I wouldn’t count on it,” Arturo said.
“At any rate,” Szayel suddenly said, grinning. “I think I do have a real plan now. One that will satisfy everyone’s needs, whichever way it happens to go.”
“Huh?” Arturo and Grimmjow both asked at the same time. Szayel looked up at them with an evil smile plastered on his face.
“I have just the plan to make everything work, and whichever way it goes, then we’re going to win either way,” he said.
“What? How?” asked Arturo, instantly interested.
“Well,” said the 8th Espada, turning to the turquoise-haired Arrancar. “We’re going to need blood. Your blood.”
Ulquiorra used soindo to appear in the hallway where Arturo, Szayel, and Grimmjow had been, and upon finding it deserted, he instantly used the same technique of flash step to leave. He could still sense he wispy remains of Gin and Tosen’s spiritual pressure, and that they had only recently left the spot, and he could also sense Aizen coming this way in a slightly angry fashion, that probably wouldn’t end well. Seeing Ulquiorra so soon after telling him off would not please the Great Lord. He quickly disappeared after the trio as fast as possible to make himself scarce, just as Aizen arrived in the abandoned hallway.
The grand leader of Las Noches could also sense the remaining wisps of spiritual exhaustion on Gin and Tosen’s part, and he could just sense that someone had been here moments before, although he could not tell who. He looked up in the direction of that person’s retreating presence, and could tell that it was using soindo to get away quickly. Knowing that it could not be good for someone in his own home to be running away from him, Aizen quickly followed the figure using his own, faster flash-step. They played a short game of tag – about four or five seconds long – before he prey disappeared into a quickly-closing garganta.
Aizen stopped right in front of it as it closed in his face, but somehow managed to get a glimpse of the person inside via the quickly-blurred shadow it cast on the wall. There was no mistaking the strange protrusion on the left side of the person’s head. Only Ulquiorra’s helmet could produce such a shape, and instead of pursuing him further, Aizen merely allowed the garganta to close and then slowly frowned as it did. There were many things he could sense going on right now, and he knew that none of them were good. He would have to eliminate some important factors to those things if he wanted to figure out exactly what it was. He gazed at the empty wall where a garganta had been moments before. The image of Ulquiorra’s helmet shadowed against a wall still burned foremost in his mind.
“Well,” he said to himself. “What’s one pawn less among an army of them?”
Meanwhile, Szayel had already quickly produced a sharp object, most identifiable as a scalpel, and started closing in on Arturo before the turquoise-haired Arrancar had a chance to even ask him what he was doing.
“Hey! Back off!” Arturo roared, leaping backwards and out of the way of Szayel’s ominous weapon of choice. “You haven’t even told me what the plan is yet you pink-haired freak!”
“Hey!” Szayel said, stopping and pushing his glasses up farther on his face. “I’m the one who came up with the plan in the first place! It’s ingenious!”
“But what IS it, lunkhead?!” Grimmjow had to put in. Szayel glanced back and forth between them indignantly.
“It should be obvious,” he said. “We – Grimmjow and I – need to make it appear as if…”
He went on to explain his plan, piece by piece to the other two half-shinigami warriors, dissecting each piece of it for analyzation. The two in the audience listened, nodding their heads thoughtfully as they began to see the logic in Szayel’s reasoning. It could work perfectly, if they did it right, but if something went wrong, everything could go down the drain. Szayel’s statement about winning both ways only applied to the two Hollows indigenous to Las Noches, however, Arturo was disappointed to find. If the first plan failed, then only Szayel and Grimmjow could come out on top.
“That last part didn’t sound too good to me,” Arturo said, slightly indignant. “But the rest of it will probably work if we do this right.”
“Sure will,” Grimmjow said, thinking. “But if we want it to be convincing, we had better use a sword, and not a scalpel, Pink-head.” Szayel glared at him, pocketing his nifty tool. He instantly appeared less crazed.
“It was just a thought,” he said. Grimmjow snickered at him and then drew his own sword from its sheath.
“I think I could do the honors well enough, couldn’t I?” he asked. Arturo took a step backwards.
“Come to think of it,” he said. “I didn’t much like the first part of this plan either.”
“Don’t worry!” Szayel said reassuringly. “It will only last for a moment.”
“Oh, joy…” Arturo said. He shut his eyes tightly and awaited the first stage of the plan. Grimmjow grinned psychotically, raised his sword to eye-level height, prepared to charge, and then disappeared completely from view with a loud scuffling sound. His sword clattered to the ground.
“Wait a minute,” he said to himself. “Where did-?” Arturo opened his eyes and looked around, instantly noticing the pronounced lack of presence that the 6th had.
“Grimmjow?” he asked.
“Right…. Here… you idiot let go of me!” They heard, coming from the hallway far to their right. Glancing in that direction, they say the sexta Espada, pinned to the wall under the strength of the 4th, struggling to move. Ulquiorra didn’t appear to be allowing him to comply.
“Ulquiorra!” Szayel and Arturo said simultaneously. They quickly rushed over to the scene, quickly reassuring him that it was alright to release the pantera. The emerald-eyed Arrancar looked them over for a second, and then, realizing that they were telling the truth, finally eased his grip on Grimmjow and let him stumble back to his feet. Scowling, the blue-haired Espada retrieved his sword.
“Thanks a lot,” he said sarcastically. Everyone ignored him.
“This is all just part of my plan,” Szayel reassured the Espada, as if it was supposed to make him feel better.
“According to what I saw upon my arrival,” Ulquiorra said, placing his hands back inside his pockets. “Your plan includes killing Arturo.”
“No, not really,” they all said at once. Ulquiorra glanced at them all in succession.
“Then explain to me what you were planning to do,” he ordered. Szayel gladly piped up.
“Well,” he said enthusiastically. “We all want to get out of this cleanly, right? So we don’t want to appear as traitors, and Arturo wants to go ahead and kill Aizen, so how do we compromise?”
“There could be a hundred answers,” responded the 4th. Szayel waved his hand dismissively. He went on to explain the logic of his plan – again – to Ulquiorra, rubbing his hands with glee when he came to the bloody parts. The 4th was tempted to raise his eyebrow as he went on. Szayel finally finished, clapping both Grimmjow and Arturo on the backs at the same time for emphasis. They both cringed and stepped away as the pink-haired scientist issued the final stage of the plan.
“Well, what do you think?”
There was a pause.
“And?” Ulquiorra asked, suddenly. Szayel blinked.
“And what does Arturo do after that?” he asked, although he could already guess.
“I’m going to do what I came here for,” replied the Arrancar. He placed his hand on his sword hilt. “And this time I’m going to finish the job.”
They all glanced at each other.
“And if it fails?” Ulquiorra asked. For the first time since he arrived, Arturo noticed his tattered collar and sleeves, and the cut he had acquired during the fight he’d had. The golden-eyed Arrancar realized that he’d gotten them fighting for his sake, and that he’d had to go up against his own comrades – and Aizen too (for they had all sensed him for a brief moment when his reiatsu was released) – just for him. How could he repay the 4th?
“It won’t,” he said determinedly. He gritted his teeth again as he thought of what Ulquiorra had done to protect them in their flight. He just had to make this plan work.
“Well…. Now that it’s established, let’s get on with it, shall we?” Szayel asked, coming forward gleefully. Grimmjow also stepped up with him, sword at the ready, grinning like a crazy person.
“Here we go again…” Arturo closed his eyes again. This time, there was no interruption.
Aizen strode – slowly – down the hallways of his great mansion-like kingdom, reflecting on the events he’d just witnessed. Nnoitra, Yammy, and Ulquiorra… all battling in the middle of Las Noches unauthorized? And then all this talk of betrayal? His murder? Aizen would just love to call this all part of his plan, but somehow it didn’t come to him as to why they would conceive to do that. In his experience, it was never good to let something like this just slip by, like he had allowed the three (four) in the room to believe. Even if it was a joke all set up by Gin, he still wanted to make sure, just in case. Always be prepared, he thought.
As if on cue, Aizen thought, Gin rounded the corner and bumped straight into him.
“Aizen-sama!” Gin said, grinning like a goon and bowing respectively. Aizen immediately noticed that his hair was out of place, his shinigami robes were also tattered from the raw spiritual pressure he’d been through. If anything, Gin looked like he’d taken a roller coaster ride that was too fast and was ruffed up.
“Gin,” replied Aizen monotonically. His former lieutenant looked up at him with his ‘Gin’ expression.
“I trust you found Yammy, Nnoitra and Ulquiorra, Aizen-sama?” Gin asked, his voice still its usual mask of pleasure and slyness. “And I trust you were rather disappointed.”
“Very much so,” Aizen said, staring at Gin with a slightly lower angle than eye level. “I heard that you also had something to do with it, Gin,” he said, his tone gaining a razor edge.
“Oh, yes that is true, Aizen-sama,” replied the ex-soul reaper, almost happily. “I happened to come across Ulquiorra and his two friends plotting in Szayel’s laboratory only half an hour ago.”
There was a pause as Aizen declined to reply.
“Well, I’m sure you’re probably a little angry with me for authorizing their little brawl there, Aizen-sama,” Gin said.
“He’s overdoing that –sama thing,” Aizen thought bitterly.
“But!” continued his subordinate. “I did have a good reason. I hope you are able to agree with me on the point that we should all just double-check no doubt, right Aizen-sama?” he finished with a big smile. “Always be prepared.”
Aizen’s insides started when Gin said that, as he had just thought that moments ago. However, he kept an all-perfect aura about him, as always. Bored and charming is the way to go.
“Of course,” he said. “Bring Arturo and his friends to me in my throne room.”
“Excellent idea, sir,” said Gin almost respectively. “I’ll go do that… right now!”
“Hm.” Replied Aizen. He turned and stalked in the opposite direction as Gin walked in the other.
“See ya soon!” he heard his subordinate call. Not bothering to respond, Aizen headed for his throne room. His hand groped around his empty pocket, as if searching for something he didn’t have. Maybe he needed to trash someone, put them in a hard spot like he loved doing. Strategy’s the game, if anything else in a place like this. As he walked, a good old-fashioned evil grin spread over his face. He wanted to find out if the trio really had planned to betray and, ultimately, kill him. He supposed that if they were going to try, he’d better do just what he’d said and ‘be prepared’. He had just the right scheme. Just the right way to put this all in ‘his plan’.
He laughed as he walked down the whitewashed halls; laughed at his own genius and their lack of it. No matter which way they tried to come for him, he would get them. If they were going to try and kill him, he would be there, waiting, to make them pay. All of them.
“This had better work…” mumbled Arturo as he was dragged carelessly along. He was slung in between the arms of Szayel and Grimmjow as they walked, and blood from numerous cuts dripped onto the tiles as they did so. The first stage of the plan, as Szayel called it, had been completed by taking Grimmjow’s sword and giving the turquoise-haired Arrancar some strategically placed cuts that would produce the most amount of blood with the least amount of damage to his body. With this effect, it would appear to anyone watching them as they strode along that Arturo was their captive, and they had defeated him in a battle. If they were still questioned as to their motives, then they would say that they were delivering the prisoner – who had returned – to Lord Aizen for punishment. It would seem to everyone else that they were doing their job, and they were doing it well.
“Don’t worry, it will,” Szayel said smugly, absolutely sure of himself. The way that he’d placed those cuts made it look exactly like he’d wanted it to, as if Arturo had been struck at intervals during a real fight instead of having a sword slowly drawn across his wrists, throat and torso. Grimmjow still chuckled at the memory of graciously doing the honors as accurately as possible, trying to ignore the intent, staring, piercing eyes of Ulquiorra, who stood nearby, disapprovingly tracing his every move and ready to ‘correct’ him if he made any ‘mistakes’. It hadn’t taken the pantera Espada very long to finish the job – and he was rather disappointed that it had gone so quickly when it was done. During it, Arturo had kept his eyes tightly closed, and winced only slightly whenever the teal-haired wacko before him drew his weapon across his vital organs. Not exactly the safest feeling in the world, he thought. Though finally it was complete, and now they were all dragging (well, Grimmjow and Szayel were; Ulquiorra was walking a safe distance ahead) Arturo down the halls of Las Noches without – so far – any interference from any of the servants they encountered, and there were quite a few of them to speak of.
They walked on in silence for a while, glancing suspiciously around the halls for any signs of the other Espada. So far, there were none.
“…” said Grimmjow after while.
“Huh?” Szayel asked, looking at him suddenly.
“What?” asked Grimmjow.
“I thought you said something,” Szayel said after a moment.
“I didn’t,” replied the 6th, looking at the weird, pink-haired scientist.
“YOU are weird.”
“Pfft… I can’t be any weirder than you.”
“Ah, you can never match up to me, Mr. 8,” said Grimmjow superiorly. Arturo rolled his eyes dramatically, listening to them talk to each other in the weird way that they usually did. Ulquiorra, ahead of them, shook his head dismissively and kept his hands planted firmly in their pockets, unwilling even to turn his head to look at the idiots behind him. He felt a small tug of emotion that he could guess was pity for Arturo, for being hung in between the two of them.
“Are we there yet?” Arturo asked.
“No,” the two of them replied simultaneously. Ulquiorra’s shoulders became more hunched when they answered, and Arturo had to stifle a laugh as he witnessed the event. These two, when stuck together, could possibly create an equation for world destruction and not even realize it for a few years. Ulquiorra, on the other hand, he thought, would probably destroy the world singlehandedly if he found a good cause. Interesting person.
“Starrk,” Ulquiorra suddenly said. He was referring to the 1st Espada, whose aura he obviously had sensed ahead.
“Everyone relax,” Szayel quickly said. Grimmjow let his shoulders sag and his lengthened his stride into a saunter, obviously taking Szayel’s statement literally. “On second thought, everyone tense up.” They did this, which consisted of everyone straightening, shortening their steps to quick, short movements, and their eyes trained ahead of them, staring. As they neared the reiatsu in question, they all became more and more aware of themselves, tense and strained. Ulquiorra spared a glance behind him at them, and when he saw what was there, he gave an exasperated sigh.
“Act normal,” he said tersely, and then trained his gaze ahead as he walked. As they rounded the next corner in the hallways, their eyes all met with those of Coyote Starrk, their superior. Everyone except Arturo, that is. He feigned unconsciousness very well. The brown-haired, cowboy-looking Espada raised his head and looked them up and down in a bored manner.
“Hey, it’s Ulquiorra,” Starrk said from where he was leaning against the wall, Lilynette at his side, her arms crossed and staring at them suspiciously.
“Hm,” replied the 4th dismissively. He kept walking at his constant speed, not bothering to give Starrk or Lilynette a second glance as they walked by. It seemed as if they were about to make their getaway and just walk by them without any trouble, but suddenly Lilynette jumped out in the way of the troop.
“Hey, stop!” she said, pointing at Ulquiorra. The 4th did so, more due to because there was something in his way rather than listen to her because of her authority. She crossed her arms again and looked over them all suspiciously.
“Where are you all going?” she asked.
“Ah, give it a rest, Lily,” Starrk said from his post by the wall, casually inspecting his fingernails. “They’re taking the prisoner to Lord Aizen. Didn’t you feel that spiritual pressure they all released during those fights?”
“Yeah, I did lunkhead,” she replied, still giving them indignant stares. “But if that’s so then why was number ‘cuatro’ here fighting Nnoitra and Yammy then, huh?” This statement caused Starrk to look up at them for the first time. His gaze wafted over the four of them a little suspiciously. For a moment, they were all afraid that he would guess this part of their plan, but he finally just looked back down and closed his eyes again, much in a position that Ulquiorra would have taken.
“Don’t you trust Aizen-sama to take care of things that need to be taken care of?” he asked. “I’m sure that he would have dealt with the matter himself – if not ordered it in some way – since that’s what he’s best at.”
“Huh,” Lilynette replied, still suspicious. She looked Ulquiorra up and down, still not satisfied. The way that the 4th was standing and staring at her gave her no information whatsoever of any misconduct they may have been planning. She directed her line of sight back towards Szayel, Grimmjow, and their prisoner, hoping to see some sign of dissent there, or guilt. She found, amusingly, that Grimmjow was shifty-eyed and glancing around impatiently, while Szayel, that evil grin plastered from ear to ear, studied the blood dripping from Arturo intently. She strode over to the three, waltzing up to them casually and leaning down to inspect Arturo to see if he was alive or not. She heard Ulquiorra turn behind her and watch as she did so, and grinned a little. Apparently, she noted, by the way the Arrancar was hanging limp, and breathing, he had been beat up pretty bad, but was still alive to some degree. She stood up straight and looked at Starrk.
“Come on Coyote, this guy is alive!” she said. “If they’re taking him to Lord Aizen, then I’d like to see what he does with him.”
“Zzzz…” was Starrk’s initial response. He practically fell asleep leaning on the wall of Las Noches in the middle of a conversation. Rolling her eyes, Lilynette strode up to him and, studying him for a moment, finally decided on a way to wake him. Pouncing into the air, she kicked him as hard as she could over the head and sent him sprawling away down the hallway in the most embarrassing fashion, landing down where she started in an attitude-driven stance.
“…ow…” said Starrk, standing up and testing his back as he did. Grimmjow suppressed what laugh he might have had inside him with all his might, and Szayel allowed himself a small chuckle. Ulquiorra watched with no expressional change whatsoever, and was obviously not amused by this at all.
“Awake yet, sleepy head?” Lilynette asked of her other half. Starrk shuffled over without protesting.
“Yeah, fine, I’m awake now,” he said. “What were we doing? Who’s that?”
“Oh, you can be a real pain in the neck sometimes,” said the short, female Espada beside him through clenched teeth. “This is that prisoner that attacked Aizen a day or so ago, and this bunch of monkeys is taking him to the guy to await his punishment.”
“Whaddya mean, ‘oh’?!” Lilynette asked, giving him an indignant stare. “Let’s follow them and see what becomes of the ratty little piece of garbage!”
Nobody noticed Arturo twitch.
“Ah, fine,” Starrk said, patting his other half affectionately on the back. “If you say so. Lead on, Ulquiorra.”
Szayel and Grimmjow glanced at each other nervously as they started up their slow walk again, with the 4th Espada leading the way though the whitewashed halls in exactly the same way that he had before, only this time Szayel could tell, by the way his shoulders had hunched themselves again, that he was deep in thought. They had to plan of how to get rid of Starrk… otherwise, the plan would NEVER work, no matter how you looked at it.
“How to be rid of him?” Ulquiorra thought, trying desperately to find an answer before they reached Aizen’s throne room. His answer came in a different way than he expected. And not in a good one.
“Well hello there!” said a familiar voice, coming in to them in the form of a garganta. “I trust you’ve all had a nice little regrouping since I left you?” Everyone started and looked up.
“Oh, Gin-sama,” Starrk said in respect as their second-in-command entered the hall. “How nice to see you.”
“Hi,” was all Lilynette said, distracted by the blood trail Arturo was leaving. Gin took one glance at the whole group, resting his eyes on Arturo, and arched his eyebrow in an amusing way.
“What’s all this?” he asked.
“What does it look like?” Grimmjow asked sarcastically.
“Hmm….” Replied the ex-shinigami, putting his hand to his chin in a thoughtful manner. He wondered what sort of plan they could have conceived in the short time since he’d left them. What were they all going to do? No better way to find out than to play along!
“Ah, at any rate,” Gin said, walking over and poking at Arturo with his free hand, (the other one planted on his sword hilt). “I’m taking you all over to see Aizen-sama, especially this one here. Are you awake, silver one?”*
He received no reply.
“Didn’t think so,” he said. “Well, come along then!”
He turned and started back down the garganta, back towards Aizen. They all paused for a moment, excluding Starrk and Lilynette, glancing at each other in confusion and desperateness. Reaching no conclusion fast enough, they were all forced to follow their superiors down farther down the path of betrayal. Down farther through the path that could now only end in failure, or even worse… death.
*Arturo means ‘Silver Arthur’
“This is going to be the death of me,” Grimmjow thought as they approached Aizen’s chambers, slowly dragging their prisoner along behind them with a sluggish slowness. Why hadn’t he just stayed where he was, in his chambers, instead of following Ulquiorra in his own, stupid way? Why did he always have to get dragged into stuff that involved Aizen? And wouldn’t he have some sort of grudge against them now? Too quickly, it seemed, he and the others reached the monstrous, ominous doors – outlined in the blue darkness of Hueco Mundo’s moon – at a slow, ambling walk, silent only in voice; their thoughts shooting like bullets through their minds.
“Ahem,” Gin said, lifting his fist to the surface of the cold, hard door. “We are here.” He then proceeded to knock, three times, on the great barrier between them and their great lord, announcing their presence as formally as possible.
“Yes,” replied the voice of their leader. “Please enter.” Upon hearing their master’s voice, Gin grinned widely and pushed the door open slowly, letting it creak and shudder open in a sinister way, gradually revealing the huge, thick throne upon which Aizen sat. The grand leader was resting one elbow on the arm of his chair, casually resting his chin on his fingertips, watching them enter with a slight smile crawling up his face, and a cold, hard glint in his eyes.
“Welcome,” he said casually. He cast his eye over them with no change of emotion. “I see that you have ‘found’ the prisoner… again.” His gaze came to a rest on Arturo, his eyes narrowing at the sight of his turquoise-haired, former opponent.
“Why yes, Aizen-sama,” Gin said, bowing respectively once they had come up close enough to the great chair. “I brought them here as soon as I found them.”
“Good,” replied Aizen. His line of sight wafted towards Ulquiorra, and his smile widened by a half inch. The 4th acknowledged his stare with a bow of his head.
“Where would you like to deposit him, Aizen-sama?” asked his second-in-command, who was still standing in the front of the troop, at the base of the great chair. Aizen couldn’t help but notice this slight act of disrespect, since standing right next to the throne’s base caused the great lord to have to look quite far down to be able to see him. It didn’t exactly make him look dignified in his seat of power. He disregarded this at the thought of pleasurably answering Gin’s question.
“That is just it, Gin,” he replied, leaning back in his chair and staring out over the small crowd with indifference. “I don’t want him disposed of just yet. I’d like to ask him a few questions when he wakes up, and maybe even invite him to join us here.” He was pleased by the way everyone (excluding Arturo) started when he said this. Even Ulquiorra’s eyelids widened slightly.
“J-join us, Aizen-sama?” Szayel suddenly had the bravery to ask. At his voice, Aizen turned his head in the pink-haired Espada’s direction, slowly looking him over in a way that made one shiver.
“Yes, Szayel,” he said monotonically. “I would like this especially talented Arrancar to aide us in our quest for Kurakara town. I think he would be most helpful.”
“Even after he tried to kill you?” Grimmjow asked. “Now there’s a stupid idea.”
“Hm,” Aizen huffed, in an amused sort of way. “I’m sure that I can persuade him to come over to our side in time,” he said. “I’ll just have to learn a little something from him first.”
“Eh?” Gin asked. “What will you like to learn, Lord Aizen? I’m sure that I could do whatever it is that you could, and spare you the trouble.”
“No, that is alright, Gin,” replied Aizen coldly. He rose from his seat and made his way down towards them from his great height, keeping his gaze level and his appearance the same. “I think I can find out what I need to on my own.”
“Of course, sir,” consented his lieutenant, backing away from the throne as Aizen reached the floor level. His grin was toned down to a very small smile, with just the very corners of his mouth turned upwards, and one could tell that even he did not know of what their great leader had in mind. (and probably wasn’t happy about that either.)
“Arturo Plateado, then,” Aizen said, walking over to where Grimmjow and Szayel had him slung between them.
“This idiot had better act it up,” Grimmjow thought to himself as Aizen came face-to-face with them both, taking a casual glance at them – in the eye – before he turned his attention to Arturo, who was just beginning to “show the signs of consciousness”. The turquoise-haired Arrancar coughed, and was not at all surprised to see his own blood come up when he did. Szayel had made sure to place a strategic cut in his mouth as well (with the scalpel) because, as he said, Aizen was a clever person.
“Arturo,” Aizen said, coldly and harshly. “Wake up, someone important is here to see you.”
“Important?” hacked Arturo with displeasure. He opened his eyes and immediately cast his glance towards the right, where Starrk and Lilynette stood, the former nearly asleep and the latter watching him intently. What chance did their plan stand now?
“Yes,” replied the great lord. Arturo flicked his gaze at him.
“Oh,” he said. “It’s just you.”
“Starrk,” said the leader of Las Noches suddenly, looking up at his 1st Espada. “I want you and the others to go outside for a moment. I’d like to have a private moment with our guest.”
“Yep,” Starrk replied, pushing himself off the wall and starting to walk towards him. His hand shot out and grabbed Lilynette by the shoulder as he did, taking her along with him stumblingly.
“Get off,” she said, pushing his hand away. “Man I wish I could stay and see this. Come on, bozo,” she said, taking a hold on Szayel’s sleeve and dragging him towards the exit, not allowing him any room for protest. Starrk, taking a different approach, merely stared closely at Grimmjow until the pantera king decided it was time to leave. The 4th joined them as they all headed for the exit, although he didn’t seem to want to. Gin, hoping that he’d been forgotten, stayed in the shadow of the huge throne.
“Not you, Ulquiorra,” Aizen’s voice said, cutting coldly across the empty air to them as they were about to exit. The cuatro Espada cast his gaze towards his master, guessing why his presence was needed and then turned and started walking back, his hands still in his pockets.
“Yes, sir,” he said monotonically.
“Gin,” Aizen said, casting a glance behind him. His subordinate stayed rooted where he was, widening his grin as soon as Aizen cared to notice him. “Leave us too.”
“Sir?” asked his lieutenant, raising his eyebrow but still keeping his smile wide.
“I said you can leave us as well, Gin,” repeated his leader. His voice reached a dangerous tone as he continued. “Find Tosen, bring him here and wait outside for my command.”
“Yes,” was all that the former shinigami said, his own voice tight and his grin barely there. He turned and ambled for the huge door, taking his time and making sure that Szayel, Grimmjow, and Starrk were outside before he turned to close the door behind him. He took one last look at the small group, grinned wanly, and waved before shutting the enormous exit behind him. An echo resounded through the room as it clicked shut, its seemingly stone appearance resuming its stand.
There was a pause, full of silence except the ragged breathing of Arturo in his ‘plight’. No one spoke for a moment.
“Now,” Aizen said suddenly, taking the liberty to speak when everyone was off guard. “We shall begin.” He crouched down until he was on a level with the Arrancar, only inches from his face, staring into the bright golden eyes of his former adversary. He searched them, and found not only genuine pain, but genuine hatred. Maybe he wasn’t just playing it along, after all. If he just stayed there long enough, Arturo realized, maybe he could pull his plan off after all. However, what would Ulquiorra think? The 4th had stated back in the lab that he would never harm his master… but had his views changed? Hopefully, yes.
“Now….?” Arturo gasped, just about fed up with playing it weak. He cast his glance towards Ulquiorra, who was standing probably a little closer to the two of them than could have been normal, and his emerald eyes were trained sharply on Aizen, watching his master’s movements just in case he sensed part of their plan about to fail. Arturo’s hand slowly inched towards his sword hilt, not giving himself away with any sudden movements. He could sense that his ultimate plan was within reach now, and that it would just take the quick, flicking movement of his sword to complete it. With Starrk, Lilynette, and Gin gone, their chances of completing the plan successfully had returned to normal levels.
“Now,” repeated Aizen. “I’m going to do a little trick of mine, Arturo, that you really should learn. You know what it is?”
“You haven’t told me yet, you idiot,” was his sharp reply. Aizen remained calm, and continued without a change of attitude.
“It’s called mind messaging, if you’d like it in simple terms,” he said. “I use it to summon my Espada when they are needed instantly.” Arturo could see Ulquiorra tense beside him, his stance growing even more rigid than it was and his gaze becoming colder and harder. He was tempted to simply whip Fenix out now, but Aizen was still skilled enough to dodge or block if he wasn’t completely surprised. That was the most important element – surprise.
“And?” he asked, becoming just the tiniest bit nervous. With Aizen, one never knew what to expect.
“And I’m going to tell you to prepare,” he said. He glanced at the 4th. “Ulquiorra.”
“Yes, sir?” he asked, his voice tight.
“I want you to help me with this, since you’ve been summoned the most times with this technique,” commanded his leader. Ulquiorra was a little surprised, but at least relieved that the whole matter wouldn’t be trusted to Aizen.
“Use escudo to keep me from killing him accidentally,” he said, giving him a small smile, and then looking back at Arturo. “Plus, I think I could use some of that spiritual pressure to help me dig deep enough.”
Escudo, a technique used only very, very rarely in Las Noches, was a form of protection, keeping the mind that was being read from being killed by the reader. By introducing a third mind into the equation, that third mind would be able to act as a shield and protect the probed mind from being invaded too far. The meaning of the word, in fact, meant ‘shield’.
“Deep enough… for what?” asked Arturo, eyeing the brown-haired ex-soul reaper suspiciously. Ulquiorra also appeared to want to ask, but declined to do so.
“For you, Arturo,” he said, closing his eyes. “Don’t worry; this isn’t going to take very long.” He then proceeded to reach out with his reiatsu, carefully and slowly. Every time he did this with the Espada, he had to fight to keep it under control, for fear of crushing his follower’s minds without meaning to. Arturo, although his spiritual energy was like none he’d ever seen, was a level below the Espada, albeit not very far. Crushing a mind like this would be out of the question. He just needed to find the right tactics to be able to employ it.
The instant that Arturo felt a foreign spiritual energy enter his mind, his own fought back. It was a completely unreal sensation – like having someone else in your head (which is actually basically what it was) but they had complete access to everything in there, if they pushed far enough. He jerked away from the new leader of Heuco Mundo, trying to rid his mind of this alien presence, but it wouldn’t go away. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, Ulquiorra entered his mind at the same time, very slightly, and pulled on the reins of Aizen’s mind reading technique. At first he thought it might split open his skull, but the 4th’s efforts to keep the great spiritual pressure under control actually relaxed him a bit, knowing that someone powerful enough to do just that was in control. There was something oddly familiar as they both came into his mind, and it seemed haunting to him, for some reason, like he’d known this before.
“Just…. Relax…” Aizen said, pushing deeper into the Arrancar’s mind.
Although the great lord did not speak anymore, Arturo suddenly became aware, as did Ulquiorra, that he intended to go even farther than anyone had dared push before. He was so skilled with controlling himself, so prepared to make a move like this, that it would be no big problem for him to attain. It was such a big goal, however, and so unknown that the two of those who were with him were greatly surprised.
Aizen intended to discover Arturo’s past, and bring it to light. He intended to return the Arrancar’s mind to the world before this one – to his conscious life.
Before Ulquiorra could pull him back, though, knowing such a tactic could mentally push Arturo over the edge; Aizen had taken a firm hold in his mind, and was only going deeper.
It was a sunny, summer day, just like many of them were on the shores of this seaside town. The endless stretch of ocean beyond the edges of the beach rippled and dipped far into the horizon, disappearing only in the spot where the huge, burning sun had chosen to set down. Seagulls flew back and forth across the orange landscape, silhouetted against the light as they coasted to their destinations. Two figures walked slowly along in this dying light, casting glances around at the sun, the birds, and the water. One of them, the younger, shorter one, occasionally picked up a sea shell and turned it over in his palms before tossing it away at the ocean. The taller watched him and the landscape at the same time, gravitating his attention between the beauty of the moment and the carelessness of the small one.
The younger could have been no older than five or six, and had a head of careless black hair, as he split his attention between his brother and the sea. His brother as about ten or eleven, and his golden eyes and turquoise hair gave his identity away immediately. They both wore the normal, human clothes that two children their age would wear, and were the perfect picture of health as they strolled along. Together, although one could not clearly tell they were brothers through appearance, they shared the common aura-like presence that gave the information away.
“Where do they go?” the younger asked, pointing, suddenly intrigued by the flight path of the passing gulls. The young Arturo glanced up and watched them pass, humored that his brother had such a small attention span.
“I don’t know,” he said, taking his brother’s sudden outstretched hand. “I suppose they’re going back home, like we should be doing.”
“Oh,” replied the small one, leaning down and picking up yet another shell, and studying it before ridding himself of it presently. Arturo smiled down on him and then turned and started pulling him in the opposite direction, brushing his turquoise hair out of his eyes at the same time.
“Let’s go back now,” he said, pulling his brother along gently.
“But we didn’t see the sun go to sleep yet!” shouted the young one in protest, pointing at the silently retreating sun. Arturo looked up at it as well, just in time to see the sun start to slip away.
“Well, let’s watch,” he said. His brother gave a happy chuckle as they stood and faced the western ocean, watching excitedly as the great light in the world disappeared away beneath the ocean’s surface. It slowly sank, letting out the equivalent of a solar sigh, and then disappeared, its last rays of light casting themselves up onto the bottom sides of the clouds above them.
“Bye!” his brother called, waving his little hand intensely as it ‘went to sleep’. Arturo laughed.
“Come on now,” he said, pulling his brother along. “Time to go.”
“Ohh… ok,” he finally consented. They both turned and walked back in the direction that they’d come, heading homewards at a slow walk, happy to be together and reluctant to leave the moment behind.
A few years later; Arturo was now fifteen or sixteen, and was strong for his age, helping their sick mother with anything that she needed done just about by himself. After their father died, she’d been stricken with grief and was only just now starting to recover from it. The death had taken its toll on them all, and he was a little afraid for his brother’s well being. It seemed as if part of his energy had been taken away, or as if most of his sadness had revealed itself. This affected Arturo greatly, as he and his brother were still close.
It was the same beach, and the same time, around dusk, and the two of them were taking their evening walk like they always did, only this time it was more silent than talkative, and less energetic than normal. Trying to keep the mood positive, Arturo had his arm around his small brother’s shoulders, and was talking to him about normal things, like school and his friends. His brother smiled and tried to keep up the pleasant talk, but Arturo could see beneath the surface.
They both turned to watch the sun set, just like they always did, right at the last minute. Arturo laughed.
“Remember when you used to think it went to sleep right then?” he asked, just as the great fire disappeared beneath the waves. His brother watched it emptily, sticking close to his big brother as their point of warmth went away.
“Yeah,” he said, sadly.
“Still think that?” he asked, glancing at his brother, knowing it was a silly question. He was surprised to find him nodding.
“Sort of,” he replied. “Maybe it just dies when it disappears instead.” Arturo gave him a sharp look, more sadness in his golden eyes than anything.
“What?” he asked. His brother sighed as he looked out at the ocean, and then caught himself when he saw his brother’s expression.
“Nothing,” he said, smiling and hugging his brother with one arm. “Let’s go back now, eh?”
“Yeah… good idea,” replied Arturo, a little disheartened. He hated it when his brother said things like that. It went too far for a ten year old.
They turned and started heading back to their house, with Arturo going a little slow, still disappointed by his little brother’s words that evening. Seeing the pained look that was behind his brother’s golden eyes, his brother slipped out of his grasp and tapped him on the shoulder.
“Tag!” he called, and then shot away.
“Hey!” Arturo yelled, leaping after him immediately. They ran and laughed the whole way back, lifting the mood tremendously. For once in a long while, Arturo felt glad.
Even more years had passed than before. Arturo was around twenty-three years old, and his brother seventeen. Although he now lived in another place nearby to his home, he still saw his brother often – every day – and helped him through the beginning years of his new school and new home. After their mother had died and Arturo had found himself a place to live, his brother had been moved to another, foster home, that of which his older brother came to see daily. Of this, both were glad. But that last death had had even more of an effect than the last, and his younger brother was now even more transparent and silent than ever. Arturo was stricken by this turn of events, but he was forced to push it aside in his struggle to keep them both happy in their lives. Their evening walks were limited now, due to different schedules and things of the like, but they still managed to keep meeting each other there when convenient, to watch the sun settle over the horizon.
They were walking here, Arturo knew, for the hundred thousandth time in their lives, and it was still as beautiful and genuine as ever. As they walked, the sun shimmering off of his still bright turquoise hair, Arturo noticed his brother looked thinner than he should have and didn’t look rested. He gave a long sigh.
“Are you happy?” he asked of his brother, one arm slung around his shoulders, as they walked. The younger looked up at him with sad eyes and did his best to smile.
“Yeah,” was the reply. Arturo tightened his grip on the opposite shoulder.
“That’s not the truth, is it?” he asked, his voice turning serious. “You don’t like this.”
“Don’t like what?” asked his brother, although he kept his gaze pointed towards the sand when he did.
“You don’t like living there, do you?” he asked. “Why don’t you come stay with me?”
“You think that would help?” was the reply, and Arturo once again found himself staring into the empty eyes of his brother. He heaved a sigh.
“Probably not,” he said. “But maybe it’s just a change you need.”
“I think we both need one,” replied his younger brother. “You’re not looking too good yourself.” That was true, Arturo noticed. He hadn’t exactly been living it all up either. Both of them looked pretty worn out.
“Yeah, that’s what we need,” he said as they both stopped, watching the sun set like it did every evening. It shuddered and fell below the ocean as always, disappearing beneath the world and leaving them in semi darkness. His brother watched it go, and Arturo knew that he thought it died… again. He had a sudden thought as he watched his brother, and got a feeling of certainty and understanding.
“Hey,” he said, turning to his brother suddenly. “Let’s go someplace for the weekend or something.”
“Huh?” he asked in reply. His brother searched his face and found Arturo to be serious about it. “But… what about your job?”
“Nobody will miss me,” he said. “And besides, this is much more important. We’ll go to the countryside someplace, away from all the people.” He was thrilled to see a smile touch his brother’s face.
“Now THAT part sounds good,” he said, laughing. Arturo laughed along with him.
“What do you say?”
“Yeah, sounds good to me. Maybe things will straighten themselves out when we get back,” he said.
“Good,” replied Arturo. “Let’s go.”
“What, now?” asked his brother.
“Yeah, now,” he answered. “Let’s go run and get our stuff, and then head out first thing.”
“You’re crazy, you know?” his brother asked, although they were both already walking back towards where their car was parked. They reached it and entered, with Arturo driving, and then pulled away from the beach and started heading back towards the town. They talked about where they would go, and why or how.
“Nah, I don’t think we should go too far,” said Arturo’s brother in response to a suggestion of a far-away countryside place to stay. “Somewhere closer so we don’t have to drive for hours whenever we want to go back.”
“Good plan,” replied Arturo, turning onto the freeway that led back to their town. “Can you think of anywhere closer?”
“Yeah, kinda,” replied his brother. “How about somewhere not so far?”
“Ha ha,” replied Arturo. “Anything specific?”
“No, not in that sense, anyway,” replied his brother. “But I do have an idea for what-,”
Before Arturo knew what had happened, there was a large explosion. It threw him away from the driver’s controls and into the window beside him, throwing his head into the glass and jarring him to the bone, disorienting him instantly. The sound that came with the explosion met his ears as the sound of metal scraping metal, shattering glass, and tires screeching.
“No,” was all he got to think, before it continued. The world turned over several times, and jolt was followed by jolt as the car tumbled away from the road and slammed into the guard rail full force. He felt the bones in his leg and both arms snap, and his ribs shatter but without the pain. There was a sickening thud as they rolled to a stop and came to a rest half on top of the rail, teetering on its edge over the top of a large ravine. Through the daze, he noticed this, for some reason, and was grateful that they didn’t roll over the edge of it and down into the tree-filled abyss below.
He groaned out his brother’s name, opening his eyes to full width as he suddenly realized what had just happened. Darkness surrounded them, broken only by the glare of the car’s headlights into the night before them. The windshield was spiderweb-cracked all the way across, speckled with splatters of blood. But whose?
Turning his head to look, Arturo’s heart stopped. His brother hung limp in his seat, his safety strap keeping him where he was, as the car was tipped at an improbable angle. Spars of metal and twisted pieces of the car were scattered around him, but what caught his attention first and foremost, was the long piece of wreckage that was protruding from his throat, coated in blood and dripping. His eyes widened and he called out his brother’s name weakly. To his surprise, and, ultimately, horror, his brother’s eyes, still open, turned slowly in his direction, the life draining from them quickly.
“A… Artu…ro…,” his brother groaned, his breath horrifically ragged. Ultimate emotional pain struck him dead in the chest as he watched his brother struggle in his last moments of life. He watched, unable to look away, as the spark of life left his brother’s eyes and his head slowly fell and came to a rest on the very shard of metal that had killed him. His eyes were still open.
His brother was dead.
He didn’t even remember being taken away by emergency services, or the following weeks in which he was supposed to recover, but didn’t. His brother’s foster parents were the only ones who were able to see him, and they told him of the funeral they’d had for his brother. It didn’t make any difference to him now, at any rate. A month went by; two, in the small, white room, but every moment which passed kept Arturo from regaining what he’d lost, and drove him closer to his end. He could feel it coming halfway into the third month, slowly creeping up on him like a fog, wrapping around his core slowly but surely as time wore on. He lost interest in all things around him, not even bothering to sustain himself any longer, and with no will to urge himself into health.
Death found him at the beginning of the fourth month, killing him soundlessly in his sleep, cutting him off from the world in the middle of the night. His last thought was for his brother, trying to remember his name… Trying desperately to remember it.
“Enough,” Ulquiorra ordered, pulling Aizen’s mind probe out of Arturo completely. The turquoise-haired Arrancar slipped to the ground, panting heavily when all the memories that were suddenly pushed back into him without permission. He had a life before this? He had a BROTHER before this?! Each pulse of his blood caused his pounding headache he suddenly had to become worse, and the walls of the great throne room started to become less and less focused. His breathing became more ragged, and his wounds suddenly seemed more real than they actually were.
Aizen sat back on his heels, and then stood. He did not seem in the least perturbed by this… in fact, he seemed to have enjoyed it.
“That was nice,” said the great lord suddenly, earning a look of deep hatred from the half-conscious Arturo. “So much sunlight in those memories. I haven’t seen light in months.” He glanced about the darkened room with distaste.
Ulquiorra was, to say the least, disappointed that he’d let Aizen push so far into Arturo’s mind. Uncovering so many memories, so suddenly and horrifically, could drive anyone out of their minds, and this man was no exception. Why hadn’t he been able to pull his master back sooner? But something greater than that was bothering the mind of 4th at that moment. Why, he wondered, had Arturo’s vision seemed so FAMILIAR? Why did he feel as if he knew this?
“I… remember….” Arturo suddenly said, gasping, from where he was on the floor.
“Do you?” Aizen asked. He was staring intently at his 4th Espada, one hand on his chin, the other supporting his elbow. His gaze was curious, his words distant, as if in deep thought. “Now what are the chances…”
“I remember… my brother’s name…” Arturo said, pushing himself far enough upwards, fighting his pounding pain long enough to get the message through. Still confused, the slim 4th flicked his gaze in between the two of them, unable to comprehend what they were getting at. “I remember.”
“I can guess,” said Aizen, still thoughtful. He turned and looked down at Arturo, grinning down upon him superiorly; glad to find that this was the second time he’d been able to do this to the Arrancar. “Go ahead, say it.”
“It was… Ul… Ulquiorra….” He said, before falling down again into the world of unconsciousness.
Ulquiorra’s eyes snapped wide open in disbelief. Could Arturo be mistaken? He had to be… there was no conceivable way that he and the turquoise-haired warrior could be brothers; the odds against them that they both would end up disturbed enough to not be able to pass on, be consumed by hollows, rise to become Arrancars, and then meet again in Las Noches were astronomical. It just wasn’t realistic.
In the distance, however, Aizen had started up chuckling to himself and was now desperately trying to calm himself down with his ever-present cup of tea. The poor lord of Heuco Mundo couldn’t stop remembering the images of Arturo’s shocked, pained face, and Ulquiorra’s genuinely surprised, and unbelieving expression, and he was sure that they would never leave the humorous part of his mind. He’d actually gotten the passive 4th to feel an extreme emotion, and at the same time forced extremely important information out of one of his worst enemies/opponents. This, he knew, could prove very useful to him in the near future.
While he was busy chuckling to himself, Ulquiorra had slowly returned to Arturo’s side, leaning down and turning the Arrancar over to make sure that he wasn’t physically harmed to a certain extent. His observation concluded that Arturo’s body was alright, but he wasn’t so sure about his mind. Why had Aizen dug so deep, and so quickly? That kind of probing could kill someone, and he was lucky enough to find someone with a strong enough mind to read. Still unable to comprehend the recent information he’d discovered, and deciding to push it to the back of his mind, Ulquiorra proceeded to gently shake Arturo and get him to wake up. If he caught Aizen off guard now, then maybe this warrior could complete his plan without further confusion, if it was possible.
“Arturo,” he said, monotone, still unsure of how to act towards his supposed older brother.
“Ecchh…” Arturo coughed, opening his eyes a hair’s breadth, making instantaneous eye contact with Ulquiorra. Through the massive, pounding headache that now occupied his mind, he saw, for the first time in several millennia, his brother; physically present and talking to him.
“Are you unharmed?” Ulquiorra promptly asked of him when he saw the now familiar, golden retinas. Emotion had always escaped the stoic 4th Espada, but now there was actually a hint of concern – worry – in his calm voice. He was crouching directly beside the Arrancar’s head, supporting him with one arm to help him sit up. Arturo, through this quickly thickening haze, couldn’t suppress his ultimate feeling of happiness that suddenly welled up inside him. He had been forced to watch his brother die… but now he’d been granted the opportunity to be with him again for the first time in thousands of years… for eternity?! It was too good to be true, too exceptional to actually be happening.
“ULQUIORRA!” he roared, mustering all the strength he could possibly summon at the moment to sit up forcefully and wrap his little brother in the strongest hug he could. The 4th, completely unaccustomed to this type of behavior after several millennia of… not having a big brother, was caught totally off guard, and his eyes widened when Arturo grasped him in this strange, unexpected way. He awkwardly kept his arms at his sides. This outburst, however, caught the attention of their leader Aizen, who turned to see THE most improbable event of the year. Ulquiorra…. Hugging someone? Well, in the cuatro’s defense, he was being hugged by someone else, but it was still one of the most impossible events he’d ever witnessed. He straightened, regained his usual composure, and formed a plan on the spot.
An evil plan, at that.
“Why,” he thought to himself. “That is one of the best impromptu plans I’ve come up with yet. And what better way to force Arturo Plateado to serve me? This should turn out excellent….”
“Arturo, Ulquiorra,” he said aloud, his voice returning to its normal, less humored levels. They both turned their heads slightly to look at him, having forgotten about his less-than-comforting presence. The great leader started to stride up to them, and Ulquiorra, sensing that the grand master had something up his sleeve, gently placed Arturo back on the ground and stood to face him. Aizen stalked up to about speaking distance away, and then looked them both up and down.
“Yes, sir?” the 4th asked, slowly, a little uncertainly. He sounded unsure, and distracted. It would be perfect to fit into Aizen’s little act.
“I was about to offer you an opportunity, Arturo,” continued Aizen, moving his gaze downwards, to where the still panting warrior was struggling to keep himself upright, let alone keep an eye and ear on Aizen and Ulquiorra.
“Wh-why would you want… to offer me after THAT you monster!?” Arturo growled, making an effort to appear less helpless than he actually felt. This type of mental pressure wasn’t going to just leave him, and he was sure the memory of this pain was going to stay with him for quite a while afterwards. Through the density of his slowing thoughts, he could still quite clearly see that the great leader was trying to persuade him to become employed by said great leader. Mental exhaustion was wearing his consciousness thin, and he had better watch out for himself in case Aizen decided to try something behind their backs. There was no doubt in his mind that the mysterious man was not going to become his friend any time soon.
“Because, Arturo,” he replied, still keeping his eyes on the Arrancar. “Either way, you have no choice.” Ulquiorra tensed before him, his fists (for once outside his pockets) slowly clenching as his master continued to speak.
“What do you mean, either way?” the cuatro espada was inclined to inquire of his leader. Aizen glanced at him and shot him a look that told him to keep in line, sensing that this recent turn of events had had a startling effect on his soldier.
“He has two choices,” said his master, straightening his back and staring Ulquiorra in the eyes. “Either he comes and joins us willingly, or he refuses and becomes forced to join us willingly.”
“So now I ask you, Arturo,” Aizen said, interrupting Ulquiorra in mid-question. “Will you join me or will I have to force you to come to my side, and be ruled under my throne. I do not think you would take torture very well.”
“You…. Idiot…,” Arturo breathed, having pushed himself into a sitting position, and was clutching at his hollow mask in a vain, trying to stop this beating pain inside of his mind. It was starting to mess with his reasoning. “No amount of torture… could ever push me to your side! I already told you, I’m here to kill you, Aizen!”
“Is that so?” replied the white-clad leader, his voice still unchanging. Ulquiorra had now placed himself directly between the two, at the mention of torture, and was readily eyeing Aizen with a gleam of protectiveness in his emerald eye. Aizen raised his glance to meet his.
“Perhaps you will help me, Ulquiorra, in turning him to our side?” he asked calmly, and kindly, he thought. He was met with a hard expression.
“I cannot… could not… assist you in the torture of his man,” replied the 4th, keeping himself in between them, face to face with Aizen.
“Oh?” he asked. “I think that you could.”
There was a slight pause, broken only by Arturo’s ragged breathing.
“Is... that an order, sir?” Ulquiorra asked, suddenly seeming a little torn. The corners of Aizen’s mouth twitched upwards as he saw one of his cleverly most trusted followers deviating between his ultimate master and his older brother.
“Hmm,” replied his commander. “If you really want to take it that way, then yes. Arturo, this is your last chance. Come to my side or I will force your brother to help torture you.” Arturo glanced up sharply at the leader.
“You can’t… do… that…” he heaved defiantly. “Ulquiorra would never… hurt me…” Aizen frowned when Ulquiorra nodded in agreement.
“Well then,” he said. “I guess we’ll have to go with plan B.”
“Wh-what?” Arturo gasped, grasping his hollow mask as hard as was safely possible, trying to rid himself of the grinding headache radiating from it.
“Join your brother under me or else,” Aizen said. “You’ll pay.”
“Never,” was his reply.
“Fine,” said the master, giving a small, acting-it-up type of sigh. “I gave you your chance. Now I’d like you to think over what you’ve said. Ulquiorra!”
“Yes, sir?” the 4th immediately asked out of habit.
“Would you, Ulquiorra, ever raise your sword to me?” came the question.
“N-no… sir…” replied the cuatro Espada slowly. He desperately tried to find a place in his mind where he could rest, frantically tried to decide who he was going to follow in this case. His master, whom he could only remember from a certain point, or his brother, whom he only remembered through small visions in the past? His gaze met the floor and his brows furrowed very slightly as he tried to sort out his madly running thoughts.
“See there?” Aizen asked smiling and turning back to Arturo. “He would never hurt me.”
Swiftly, unexpectedly, Aizen’s arm shot out from his side, ramming Ulquiorra in the chest as hard as he could and sending him backwards a good five yards. Arturo’s head snapped up and his eyes widened.
“Which is why you’re going to come to my side whether you like it or not,” finished the great leader in a harsh tone, from between his teeth.
“You… You dirty SCOUNDREL!” Arturo roared at Aizen, still unable to rise and assist his brother. He was practically shaking with anger, and this did nothing to ease the pain that started spreading from the side of his head to the back of it. “You leave him alone!”
“Well, if you decide to come over to MY side…” Aizen said slyly. “Then maybe I will.”
“You… can’t… do this, Aizen!” Arturo gasped, now struggling with all his might to try and force himself to stand. This pain was blinding him, and it was getting harder and harder to see beyond the spots dancing behind his eyes. Nearby, Ulquiorra slowly rose to his feet, instantly seeing the logic in Aizen’s little plot, but knowing that it would eventually end up working. He couldn’t harm Aizen just like he couldn’t harm Arturo – Aizen had been smart enough to make himself a standing figure in his Espada’s lives. Ulquiorra had always been the easiest to rule over, seeing as his lack of emotion portrayed his lack of need for anything other than orders. The intense loyalty training that’s he’d pushed his Espada through after he had infected them with the Hôgyoku had proved to be a worthy pursuit.
“Watch me,” replied Aizen, raising his arm and striding over to where the 4th had just managed to make himself stand again.
“Ulquiorra run!” shouted Arturo desperately, although in the back of his mind he knew by the looks of it that his brother would never do such a thing. Was it really true, though, that Aizen was able to create an ultimately loyal SLAVE out of anyone that he chose? Was it also true that Ulquiorra, his brother, had become one of those unfortunate slaves?
He was forced to think this while watching Aizen stride directly in front of Ulquiorra, who then promptly took a hold around his throat, clenching it with his fingers, and then smashed the 4th to the ground without so much as a split-second pause. Arturo was grateful not to hear a cry of pain, but he was more than enraged when his brother merely stood back up again without a word. As Ulquiorra was doing this, Aizen turned his head and gazed at Arturo again.
“Change your mind yet?” he asked, almost kindly. Arturo stayed where he was, seething with anger, forcing his conscious thinking to push beyond this aura of torturous pounding.
“N… no,” he hissed. He placed both of his hands on the floor and with a great effort, pushed himself to his knees, still trying desperately to stay conscious.
“No?” Aizen asked. His arm shot out once again and his fist closed around the horn on Ulquiorra’s mask, flinging him down to the floor with crushing force, threatening to wrench the mask right off of his head.
“Stop!” Arturo shouted as loud as possible, pushing himself up even farther , coming slowly to his feet, and this time the pain started to push itself into the back of his mind. Arturo’s own consciousness began to push it out of his mind when these much more important events began to unfold.
“Then come to my side!” Aizen roared, starting to leak spiritual pressure out of his frustration with Arturo’s unwillingness. Keeping a hold on Ulquiorra’s horn, he placed his foot on the head of the non-resistant Espada, twisting the hollow mask at the same time that he unleashed his reiatsu one bit at a time. “Become a servant under me!”
“Never!” Arturo screeched, this time pushing himself to full height, having seemingly gotten past the pain. His eyes started to glow an ominous gold at the same time that his fists clenched and his gaze hardened. Aizen sensed a sudden burst of pressure from his soul.
“Is that so?” he asked, twisting the mask even further. This time, a small cry of pain escaped Ulquiorra as he felt the symbol of his hollowfication start to be pried loose. This seemed to fortify Arturo’s source of anger even more, and his eyes started to glow even brighter.
“Release him,” he ordered; all traces of pain and thick consciousness had become absent from his voice. There was something else that Aizen could sense, but it was very unfamiliar to him, as if Arturo had something hidden within him that he would very much like NOT to see.
“Become my slave!” Aizen roared, tightening his grip.
“Swear to me your loyalty!” cried Aizen loudly, twisting Ulquiorra’s helmet with each exclamation. The 4th’s cries of pain turned to much louder evidence of his agony, and with one, lasting effort, Aizen forced the horn of the cuatro’s helmet even farther away from him. A cracking could be heard coming from it in its strain, and this pushed Arturo over the edge.
“I told you to release him!” he roared, unable to control this unbearable rage for any longer. With a bright blast of blinding light, the turquoise-haired Arrancar released every bit of spiritual pressure that he contained at this stage, sending hundreds of pounds of pressure screaming through the room at unimaginable speeds. Aizen had prepared for the release of his spiritual reiatsu, but he hadn’t expected this. This was far beyond anything that any of the Espada below rank 4 could possess, and it was even bordering on surpassing Ulquiorra’s own immense spiritual pressure. The great lord was taken a little by surprise, and was forced to quickly accommodate himself and adjust his conscious level to fit this new catalyst that had been introduced. Upon his vision focusing, he was surprised to find Arturo in a slightly different form.
Not only were his eyes glowing even fiercer than before, but a pair of wispy, mixed blue-and-yellow spiritual wings had sprouted from his back and were angrily feeding the room more and more of this suffocating spiritual energy as time went on. Aizen cocked his eyebrow.
“Impressive!” he shouted over the din. “But you still cannot hope to defeat me, Arturo Plateado. I am the ruler of Las Noches! I am the King of Heuco Mundo!” He released the horn on Ulquiorra’s mask, letting the limp Espada lie where he was, having forced the 4th into unconsciousness when he released a barrage of his own reiatsu, filling the room with even more of a crushing sense. With the cuatro Espada already in his weakened state from having his mask half wrenched off, all the claustrophobia from these horrific mounts of energy had simply forced his mind to shut off for the time being. This suited Aizen just fine as he stepped away from his former standpoint, stalking slowly over to the Arrancar, whose attention was, at the moment captured by the state that his brother was in. He looked up as Aizen approached, all traces of fear or uncertainty having left his mind.
“I do not care who you think you are,” Arturo seethed, speaking slowly through clenched teeth. His wings shuddered and fluctuated from where they had sprung between the Arrancar’s shoulder blades as he continued. “I am going to kill you regardless.” Aizen stopped where he was and turned a little sideways, preparing by using his battle stance.
“You do not know my power,” he stated, evenly. He grinned at the thought of crushing Arturo to mere dust in just a few more seconds.
“And you do not know mine,” came the sinister reply. Arturo promptly went ahead to disappear.
“What?” Aizen asked himself, his eyes snapping open. He instantaneously started to dodge away from the spot where he was standing, but he could not escape the grinding feeling of a sword slicing cleanly through his shoulder, which fell to rest exactly where his chest had been only seconds before. He fell forwards off of the blade, stumbling away and drawing his own zanpakuto, Kyōka Suigetsu, and whirling around to face his opponent with exceptional speed. Arturo was already directly in front of him, quickly using sonido to ram his opponent on full force, running him backwards without letting him pause for a breath and smashing his back into the opposite wall behind them. Aizen felt the shock from the blast of the blow shoot through his arms and ram his arms and elbows into the wall behind him, weakening his grip on the hilt of his sword instantly.
Taking advantage of this, Arturo, eyes still flowing with rage, kicked Aizen hard in the stomach and proceeded to flip Kyōka right out of his hands and send it clattering into the background. Before the great leader even had time to react to that, he found himself smashed even farther into, and consequently out of the other side of, the wall. Huge blocks of stone and rubble tumbled down around him, crushing the tiles of the floor to dust, and also planting some of its smaller pieces directly on him, knocking him out cold.
“I can’t believe I lost to a mere Arrancar…” were his thoughts before passing out and staying under the rubble which had pinned him there. He had no more time to think about what would happen next – his mind seeped out of him and let him artificially sleep for the time being, the blood from his shoulder wound seeping out and creating a pool around him of reflective, shining red fluid. Watching this, Arturo’s eyes slowly started to tone down their amount of relative madness. He blinked several times, and the intense glowing of his golden eyes slowly seeping away and into the darkness around them. His reiatsu reined itself in and pulled back to its master, carefully wrapping itself back around his core as it entered through his wings. Said wings stayed planted on his back, and did not pull themselves back in, as Arturo had been protecting them through hiding them before. He had not intended to use them in killing Aizen, but since the plan had failed, he had had no other choice to but to produce them. At least, he thought, they hadn’t been damaged. He gave a satisfied sigh as he looked over his opponent’s ragged body before suddenly seeming to snap out of it.
“Ulquiorra?” he asked, quickly turning to scan the room for his brother. It took him a moment, but he finally spotted his crumbled body where it had fallen before, a few moments before he and Aizen had released their spiritual energies in preparation for battle. Quickly sheathing Fenix, he ran over to him as quickly as he could around the wreckage his brawl with Aizen had caused, and knelt down beside him, turning him over slowly and carefully.
He was definitely angered by what he saw. Ulquiorra’s Hollow mask had a large crack down the side of it, starting where the horn met the helmet and running down to the bottom where it ended. It was obvious that the strain of having it almost forcibly removed had pushed his consciousness over the edge and had left him drained.
“Curse you, Aizen…” Arturo muttered under his breath as he looked Ulquiorra over. He was about to deliver the 4th back to Szayel’s lab for medical purposes when suddenly the door started to shudder and creak. There was a slight pause - that of which was filled with silence - and then it suddenly busted itself down inwards, smashing into the ground with something around G-force. Arturo looked up sharply to see two very, very unpleasant-looking figures standing in the doorway.
“You’re not going anywhere,” said the one in front, his sword drawn. There was a slight pause before Arturo spoke his name with ragged contempt.
“Glad to know that my face is recognizable to you, Arrancar,” stated the ex-shinigami flatly and tonelessly. “I’m also glad to know that you will be dead within the next few moments. Tosen! Help me here.”
“Gladly,” replied his tall, foreboding, dark-skinned subordinate, coming forward in step with his commander and drawing his sword in synch with the silver-haired warrior. They both wore hardened expressions, and even Gin did not seem to have his usual, playful aura around him. His face sported a genuine frown for probably the first time in his life. Faced with both of them on his own, and with them both as angry as they were, Arturo was sure that a battle now could only end in defeat, since he would not only be preoccupied with dueling both of their immense rieatsus at once, but he would also be caught up in trying to protect Ulquiorra from them as well. He darted his glance around for a possible escape route, but his eyes met only the door through which they had entered, and the hole in the wall that he’d created using Aizen as a ram. Slowly, cautiously, he picked up the limp 4th Espada and stood, keeping himself poised to run just in case he was attacked or lunged at.
“Where are you thinking that you could go?” Gin asked, keeping his sword at the ready at a right angle in front of him as he walked. Tosen was keeping his sword angled towards them in a slightly less sharp way, but still keeping it poised to strike both of them dead if they dared to move.
“There is nowhere he can go to escape us,” stated the 3rd in command of Las Noches as they stalked up upon him and his brother. Arturo scowled at them both, tightening his grip on Ulquiorra, and continuously darting his gaze back and forth between his possible escape routes. He wouldn’t dare fight them with his brother unconscious, and he needed to get him away before he could beat them both back. But then…. Then there was Starrk, Lilynette, Nnoitra, Yammy… everyone. How was he going to get out of here after murdering Aizen? Just taking himself away would be easy enough, but would Ulquiorra even agree to go?
“I’m afraid your little mission ends here,” stated Gin emptily. “Now tell me, where is Aizen?”
“Aizen?” Arturo asked, getting a sudden idea and flicking his gaze towards the hole in the wall. “Can’t you guess?” Just as he’d planned, both of the warriors looked sideways at the gaping gap in the wall beside them, peering in to see their master lying in a pool of his own blood, the pool of which was expanding underneath him still. Taking full advantage of their distraction, Arturo made a bold dash, using sonido, straight between the two of them and headed straight for the wide, open door, not pausing for a second when they both turned with yells of surprise. He sped along with an all-out burn-up of his remaining energy, shooting away from the throne room with as much speed as was inhumanely possible, instantly covering his spiritual energy up the second he got far enough away to be located with ease.
Yet, still he ran. He had to absolutely make sure that he wasn’t going to get caught, or let his brother fall to the hands of these monsters… He just had to be absolutely sure. In the middle of tearing down what must have been the twentieth hallway, he finally heard a small groan escape the lips of his brother, and slowed gradually until he came to a full stop right beside the corner of two adjacent hallways, looking down to make sure that his unique cargo was alright.
“Ulquiorra?” he asked, his voice tight with concern, still panting heavily from his long run. Crouching, he placed his brother with his back against the wall, and then joined him in that position, beginning to realize that his head was still reeling from the mind probing he’d received earlier, and that he felt extremely weakened after releasing his first wing state while attacking Aizen. He just felt like he needed to close his eyes for a few minutes… to get some rest before getting up and running again. After a moment, it felt so far away, the thought of having to start moving again. He just wanted to fall to sleep – to regain the energy he had lost so that he could go farther and faster when he did have to start up this game of cat-and-mouse again. He just needed to wait a moment….
“Arturo?” he heard someone ask, in a voice just as tired as his. Re-opening his eyes a little, and looking to the right, he saw Ulquiorra giving him a slightly worried look. One of his slim, white hands was resting on Arturo’s shoulder; the other was wrapped around the base of the horn on his helmet. Seeing this, the turquoise-haired Arrancar gave a deep sigh.
“I’m sorry that had to happen to you, Ulquiorra,” he said resignedly. “I really am.” The hand grip on his shoulder tightened a little when he said this, and he looked up again to find his little brother with his eyes closed and shaking his head.
“You do not need to apologize, brother,” he said, addressing Arturo in that way for the first time since he’d become aware of their relation. “It would not have pleased either of us if you had let yourself become forced to serve under Aizen, and I am glad that you resisted the way you did.”
“Glad?” Arturo asked, still unsure. The world had started up reeling again, and he realized that it was getting harder and harder to keep this conversation up and make it still make sense. He shook his head to clear it of the swirling images it contained, and then opened his eyes again as he finished off his thought. “How can you be glad?”
“Hmm…” Ulquiorra said thoughtfully, pondering this for a moment. He thought it out before answering. “Emotion has become renewed to me, I am assuming, although not very much of it. I still can not understand much of it at this point, so I do not know how to answer your question directly.”
“No, that isn’t what I meant,” Arturo sighed, pressing one of his palms to his temple and leaning back on the wall. “I meant how can you be glad even though I managed to get you injured? It really doesn’t require much emotion.”
“I can still feel this way because I think I can accept the fact that you are my brother now,” Ulquiorra stated, his voice still sounding as lacking emotionally as it had before. “You managed to get us both out of there alive.”
“So what if I did?” asked Arturo, closing his eyes as he leaned on the wall, glad for a rest. “What can we do now, is the real question.”
“Are you alright, Arturo?” Ulquiorra asked, re-tightening the grip he had on his brother’s shoulder. “You do not look well. We should get away from here as soon as possible and find a safe place to rest.”
“I can agree with you on that…” Arturo said, now pressing on both sides of his head, trying to relieve the pain that had decided to return, pounding into his skull with just as much force as before. Thinking quickly before the pain got too bad, he sensed around for the spiritual pressures of Grimmjow and Szayel, trying to root out where the odd pair was. They turned out to be low, and strained, as if they had been put under restraint. He could sense Starrk and Lilynette’s satisfied reiatsus nearby, and could quickly guess what had happened.
“We need to free Szayel and Grimmjow,” Arturo said quietly. “They’ve been taken prisoner.”
“Free them?” Ulquiorra asked, looking up. “Why would we need to free them?” Arturo spared him a glance.
“Well, they did help me get to Aizen, which is where my plan SHOULD have been completed, but it went wrong,” Arturo continued. “I believe I owe them a favor like this.”
“To be honest,” said his brother in a low tone as well. “I do not know if they would like to leave this place with us. They have no reason to.”
“Us?” Arturo asked, a little surprised, before it occurred to him not to. “You mean… you’ve decided to come with me?”
“Yes,” Ulquiorra sighed lightly, re-directing his gaze to the floor. “It was a difficult decision for me, but… something odd occurred and I realized it would be better to follow you away from here. I am sure Aizen could easily replace me. The Espada do not ‘miss’ each other, so it would not be any harm to the others.”
“What was this… odd something?” asked his brother, who was beginning to realize that this was the last question he would have time to ask. This pain was getting too much to bear, and he could feel his breathing get subconsciously heavier. Ulquiorra darted a glance at him before he answered, also becoming aware that it would be time to move on.
“I had… a dream,” he said slowly. “After Aizen knocked me unconscious.”
“What?” his golden-eyed brother asked, giving him a strange look. “Really? I didn’t think you could dream without emotion.”
“That is why I deemed it odd,” replied his black-haired, slim younger brother. “I have not had any emotions since the time that I became a Hollow, and then an Arrancar, and then an Espada… up until now, all of it escaped me altogether.”
“I can sense something in you,” was the reply. “Of some emotion at least.”
“Yes, but the majority of it still makes no sense at all,” said Ulquiorra. “The point is that for me to have had a dream at this point, after so long… I believe it has something to do with you.”
“What… was… the dream?” Arturo asked raggedly, not able to contain he pain he was harboring any longer. He clenched his fist and closed his eyes tightly as the pain hit him full-on once again. Noticing this instantly, his brother rose unsteadily to his own feet and then helped to lift Arturo onto his.
“I will tell you another time,” he said, lifting one of his brother’s arms over his shoulders. “But for now we must find an exit to the desert outside, and find a place nearby where we can stay until we have recovered.”
“Good idea…” Arturo replied, his head sagging as his consciousness reduced itself to a small flicker. Closing his eyes, Ulquiorra took the time to mask both of their reiatsus even further, making sure that both of them became seemingly nonexistent to the rest of Las Noches.
“Come on, brother,” he said in monotone, carefully guiding his mostly limp older sibling down the hallway, constantly searching back and forth, front and back, to make sure that they were not being followed. Trying hard to ignore the quick-to-set-in pain that was starting to spread from underneath his Hollow mask, Ulquiorra found it harder than normal to use his exceptional strength to transport his older brother away from this place. Faltering every few steps, he cursed at himself for not being able to live up to his own standards. He also cursed at himself for not being able to clearly think long enough to come up with an adequate plan to get them out of there without being caught. They needed rest, but they also needed an escape. What was there to be done?
Finally, after going just two halls away from where they had been sitting before, Ulquiorra fell unceremoniously to his knees, quickly supporting Arturo so that he did not fall unguided. He gave a low sigh, trying to regain himself before attempting to move on. His breathing had become irregular by now, but he did not let that stop him from trying to reconstruct his composure again. Suddenly, there was a flicker. Snapping his eyes open, the 4th suddenly sensed an approaching spiritual presence, and recognized its strength as an Espada. He looked up sharply in the direction that it was coming, and then tried to lift Arturo up in the position they’d adopted earlier, so that they could make a getaway. His attempts to return to his feet as he tried were unsuccessful the first time, and when he tried a second time, he only managed to fall again – this time with his older brother half on top of him.
By now, the spiritual reiatsu was close enough to touch – too close for comfort – and Ulquiorra realized that this might be it, although his mind didn’t seem to process this information with the terror that was supposed to accompany it. Whether this was from his lack of fear altogether, or because his mind was far too tired to care, he did not know. Instead, he turned his back towards the attacker and placed himself between his brother and the new presence. If they were both going to be apprehended in their weakened state, then he was going to be the first to go. He could hear the footsteps now… they were coming closer and closer; thick, heavy footfalls that resounded of death and destruction, his clouded mind thought… coming closer to destroy him and his brother. He bent himself over Arturo in an attempt to make himself look alone in the great hallway, hoping that maybe their pursuer would leave Arturo for dead after killing him. The presence rounded the corner of the hallway, stopping when it came to and saw the sight before it. Ulquiorra tensed himself, keeping himself rigid and prepared, somewhat through a fog, for the final blow. He heard a low chuckle.
“Ulquiorra,” he heard a familiar, unusually calm voice say slowly. “Don’t worry… I’ll take you to safety you helpless dog.”
“Wh-?” the 4th could not help but mutter as he lifted his head, too curious to find out who this was to let it pass. Turning his head behind him, he saw the huge, hulking, (and now distorted, as the pain sank in) figure of the pushover 10th Espada, Yammy. The huge monster-like Arrancar had a huge grin on his face, showing off his even huger teeth, and was standing with his arms crossed in an almost parental manner as he stared at the barely conscious pair. The cuatro Espada could not help but feel relief at the sight – and the words – of the enormous beast.
“Th…thank you… Yammy…” he managed to breathe out. “But… why?”
“Because,” he heard the hulking figure reply. ULquiorra felt himself be taken by the arm and lifted from the ground and by a huge hand, and then watched gladly as the same happened to Arturo. “I can see that even though you tried to kill Aizen, it was for a good cause. Besides, I didn’t care much for that jerk anyways.”
“G…good…” he managed to say, before his eyes rolled back and he fell unconscious in the 10th’s grasp. Yammy frowned when this happened, but he did not let it affect him as he started up his walk towards the gates that opened up to the desert outside. Looking down at the slim, green-eyed Espada who he felt the most respect for among his comrades, Yammy silently told himself that he would go along with whatever the 4th had in mind. And this blue-haired one? He’d heard of and felt this prisoner’s attempts on Aizen’s life as well, but somehow, when he saw Ulquiorra hunched over him in that way before, he had guessed that the 4th had protective feelings over him, and heaven knew THAT was improbable. Yet, if anything – anything at all – could manage to get that emotionless shell to feel any sort of protective anything over something, then it was most likely a very highly emotional subject. What in Heuco Mundo could be the cause of the 4th’s attention to this Arrancar? He had no idea.
And frankly, as he delivered them both to the main gate the desert outside, he realized that he didn’t care. As far-fetched as it seemed, Ulquiorra had been the closest person to a friend he’d had inside these walls and out of them, and even that was enough to give him reason to help him and anyone else whose help was required by the 4th.
Darkness… thick, velvety darkness. It felt like he was resting inside of a coffin… like Aizen’s fabled Hado #90.
At these thoughts, Arturo’s eyes opened suddenly, when the feel of a light breeze touched him, and rustled through his clothes and hair to rouse him. The first thing he saw when he awoke was a huge, crescent-shaped moon hanging placidly in the sky, settled in the inky blackness deeply, and still managing to cast its meager light on the wind-swept lands below with an arid sense of cold warmth. A little confused, he realized he was lying on something soft and grainy, yet pleasant to the touch, and soft as silk. Where was he? Why was he here? Where… where was Ulquiorra?
Turning his head to the side, Arturo saw stretched out, the wide, sweeping white sands of Heuco Mundo, colored blue in the light of its moon. There was a huge, hulking shadow of a figure sitting nearby to him, facing the desert, and giving small sighs every so often as it did so, breathing the smell of the scentless wind each time a breeze passed them by. Who was THAT? Well, it didn’t matter. As long as he wasn’t being attacked, and Ulquiorra was alright, then he guessed it wasn’t a threat at the moment. Still staying silent, just in case, Arturo turned his head slowly to the other side, hoping to find his brother there. Immediately he saw Ulquiorra, looking paler than ever in the meager light, and breathing irregularly as well, lying on his back in the sand – either unconscious or sleeping. Judging from the size of the crack in the side of his mask, he was probably unconscious.
“Ulqui…orra…” he said quietly, pushing himself up onto his elbows and then breathing in deeply of the air around him. The pain from his head was gone, and now he felt more like a normal Arrancar should… with no feeling at all, except of the necessary things. His gaze still rested on his brother as he sat up easily this time, turning to get a better look to make sure that this new development of his brother’s Hollow mask would not be permanent. Behind him, Yammy heard him rise and turned around curiously. Seeing the turquoise-haired newcomer inspecting the 4th closely and carefully made him raise his eyebrow, and he instantly became confused in his inner mind.
“Who are you?” he asked in his unintentionally loud voice, at the conscious Hollow.
“GAH!” Arturo yelled, whipping around quickly with a surprised cry, even though he’d been expecting a greeting from the figure sooner or later. Upon seeing the stupid, confused look on the Espada’s face, he calmed himself and let his heart rate go back down to normal. Scowling, he turned away.
“I am Arturo,” he replied quietly, returning his attention back to Ulquiorra. “Arturo Plateado.”
“Oh?” Yammy asked, scratching his head. “I think I heard about you once a long time ago when I was a Hollow. Didn’t you attack the Soul Society and lose?”
“Heh,” Arturo huffed at the words. “No, I attacked the Soul Society and did so too well. They locked me in the chambers of Central 46 and then forgot all about me until I managed to break out and fight my way back here to restart.”
“Eh?” Yammy asked. “Restart what?” Arturo sighed.
“I’m on a quest to kill all Soul Reapers,” he stated flatly, disgusted even to have to speak the words. “I decided that maybe if I killed Aizen and his two subordinates first, the Soul Society would become even more aware of my skills and their fear for me would grow. I figured that maybe I could even gain a few allies out of the Espada.”
“Really?” asked Yammy, who had now turned to face the two of them since Arturo had begun to speak. “That is a very good plan. The Soul Society has much fear for Aizen.”
“So do the Espada,” the golden-eyed warrior could not help but add. He darted his glance back at Yammy a little cautiously. “And who are you? Another of Aizen’s pets?” A giant grin spread across his face when this question was asked.
“I am Yammy Riyalgo, 10th Esapda in Lord Aizen’s Arrancar army!” he said grandly, just as he would have before battle.
“Oh?” was Arturo’s response. Yammy began to notice the concern etched into the Arrancar’s features. He raised his other eyebrow.
“What’re your reasons for taking a fancy to Ulquiorra?” he asked, intrigued. The warrior glanced back at him slightly.
“He’s….” he paused. “My brother.”
“Whaaaa…?!” exclaimed Yammy, raising both eyebrows again, to another new level of highness. “You’re… his… what?”
“Brother,” said Arturo. “But look, that’s not important right now. I need you to look after him while I’m gone. Make sure he’s alright, and that he doesn’t follow me when he wakes up.”
“Eh?” asked Yammy inquisitively. “You’re going back?”
“Yes,” stated Arturo in a finalistic tone. “I have to free Szayel and Grimmjow – they helped me too much to just pass them up on this. Plus, I want to kill Aizen before I leave this place.”
“Haha!” Yammy suddenly started howling. “Hoo hoo! You idiot!” he roared.
“Wh-what?” Arturo asked, turning his head with a wild expression. “Who are you calling an idiot?! What’s your problem, Espada?!”
“Your plan!” Yammy hooted. “It’s idiotic!”
“And how is that?” asked Arturo plainly, his tone flat.
“Because, you can’t just walk in there, free two Espada from the prison section, and then stalk up and kill Aizen BY YOURSELF!” he cried, the tears nearly streaming down his face with so much laughter. “You’d be dead the instant you set your foot back inside that place!”
“Is that so?” Arturo asked indignantly. “And what makes you think I can’t do all that when I wiped out half soul reaper army singlehandedly?”
“Simple!” Yammy pointed out. “Because not even the WHOLE Soul Reaper army could stand up to one or two of us. The Espada have the power of the Hôgyoku, and that is why no one can beat us. It is that simple.”
“Hm…” Arturo mused. “Are you saying I should just wait for us all to recover before going back?”
“And why, may I ask, are you helping us when turning us in to Aizen could probably get you promoted within your ranks?” the turquoise-haired warrior could not help but ask, raising his eyebrow at the hulking figure. He eyed Yammy suspiciously, only to be greeted with an affectionate smile, but not for him. It was directed at his younger brother. Yammy motioned at the 4th as he spoke.
“He’s the only one who ever cared to check if I was still alive or not after my arm got cut off,” he said, not bothering to explain to the man why it had been removed in the first place. “He’s the closest thing to a friend I have around here.”
“Hmm…” said Arturo. “Good. So now all we have to do is wait?”
“But what about his mask? Can we fix it?”
“It will fix itself in time. Ulquiorra has quick regeneration. It won’t hold him back for long.”
“Good, then all we need to do is wait,” Arturo said. He looked up and clenched his fist as he saw the familiar cluster of white buildings in the distance beyond the few sand dunes that separated them and Las Noches.
“Look out Aizen,” he thought. “ I’m coming for you.”
Meanwhile, inside the now silent hallways of Las Noches, Starrk and Lilynette stood posted outside of the prison cell behind them, the elder of the two leaning casually on the wall as he always did, half in and half out of slumber. Lily, the more mischievous of the two by far, waited, tittering to herself while she waited for her older half to fall asleep. The prospect of waking him up in an unusual way, like she always did, appealed to her a little more than usual this time, because she had found something very unusual in the kitchens of the grand palace-like building earlier that day. She snickered as she held the round object in her hands, imagining all sorts of gruesome ways she could use it to awaken her counterpart. But what was it?
She cackled as insane ideas coursed through her mind, and she occupied herself with it just around the corner from where Starrk was reclining, rolling the smooth green fruit back and forth along the tiles for her own personal pleasure, amusing herself satisfactorily for a few more minutes until Starrk fell asleep. She peered around the corner at him mischievously, but was slightly disappointed to find him still blinking sleepily at the opposite wall, keeping his guard on the prisoners just like they had for the past day and a half.
Ever since the rogue Ulquiorra and the Arrancar Plateado had disappeared from Las Noches that period of time ago, she and the 1st Espada had been assigned – to pass the time – to guard the prisoners Grimmjow Jaggerjack and Szayel Apporo Granz, and to make sure that they did not escape or attempt to do just that. So far, the job was mind bogglingly boring to Lilynette, and the only relief that she found from this was constantly pulling her pranks on Starrk, those of which he tired easily. Then again, he tired of everything easily, it seemed.
Presently, as she watched him out the corner of her pink eye, waiting, watching to see when he would drift off into sleep, she saw his head nod. Once, twice… he blinked sleepily, and then his head nodded a final time before staying where it was with his chin on his chest. His breathing deepened, and his aura became silent and peaceful – the perfect signs of unwakefulness. Grinning evilly like she had a mastermind scheme below her belt, the tiny Espada disappeared around the corner for a split second before returning with the huge citrus cradled in her arms and braced against her own chest, before stalking up silently on her larger counterpart. Quietly, slowly, she tiptoed up to him, trying to push aside all the giggles she felt bubbling up inside of her, and then finally came to her spot a few feet directly in front of him. Lifting the watermelon high above her head, her smile widened and her brow lowered in a gesture of evilness.
“HEY COYOTE!” she roared, snapping her partner out of sleep. “HEADS UP!” Starrk looked up and started to ask ‘what’, but suddenly, into his line of vision, came the watermelon, shooting directly for his face.
“AAAAUGH!” he cried, trying desperately to dodge out of the way. However, it was all for naught. The huge fruit smashed into his face at sixty miles per hour, splattering all of its juicy contents everywhere across his features, Espada suit, and the wall behind him, consequently pummeling him backwards and smashing him into the wall.
“WHAT THE HELL LILY!” he roared, coming up sputtering. “What was THAT?!”
“Hahaha!” his other half screeched with laughter. “Hee hee! You should have SEEN your face! THAT WAS CLASSIC!”
Miffed, the 1st Espada wiped the sopping mess from his face, depositing it from his hand onto the head of the small teenager. She didn’t seem to notice it, only falling deeper into her pit of fits of giggling and laughter. Eventually, Starrk did have to smile at her humor, coming to see that he had, in fact, been plastered to the wall with a watermelon in the middle of Las Noches – and that it was funny. Soon, he was cracking up too, but not quite as hard as the light green-haired Arrancar… she couldn’t seem to get over it.
Inside the prison behind them, two prisoners, one with shocking blue hair and the other with an abnormal pink, were chained side by side to the wall, sitting in rather bored positions with their backs against the wall as they listened to the light havoc outside. One was most noticeably Grimmjow Jaggerjack, the 6th Espada, and the other, Szayel Apporo Granz happened to be the 8th. Together, they made a pretty odd pair, the former with a half-jacket and psychotic, laughing look as he heard the event outside take place, and the latter wearing a more serious expression as he furiously tried to use the tiniest spark of spiritual pressure that he could concentrate to melt the lock on his chains.
“Hoo hoo!” Grimmjow chuckled, slapping his knee as he heard Starrk’s surprised exclamation beyond the wall. “Did you hear that Szayel? That’s good stuff.”
“Mmmmm,” replied his cell mate, not looking up from what he was doing. The best feature lending to his concentration was probably the fact that his tongue was sticking out in his effort, and also the furrowing of his eyebrows as they knit closer together also let anyone watching know that he was very close to his goal. Beside him, Grimmjow kept on snickering.
“What a sucker,” he said through his wheezing, amused breaths. “I bet he wishes he doesn’t sleep so much, eh?”
“Ow!” Szayel whispered harshly when a stray spark of his reiatsu jumped to his fingers and burned them. He snapped his hands back quickly and sat back hard on the wall again, smashing his fist into the floor as he did with frustration. He gave the lock on the chain a look. “Damn.”
“Well what did you expect?” asked his partner casually, giving him a sideways glance as he picked at his nails. “That’s the fifth time you’ve tried that, genius, and you’re not getting anywhere.”
“Yes I am. I was even closer this time,” replied the pink-haired scientist, pushing his bone glasses back up the bridge of his nose. “This last time should do it.”
“Unless you burn yourself again and then say it’ll be the next time,” replied the sexta Espada slyly. He turned his head and put his ear to the wall, listening once again to the hoots of laughter outside and started to chuckle immediately. Szayel shook his head dismissively and turned back to his bonds, holding his hands as close to it as he dared, and then carefully warming up the smallest bit of reiatsu as was possible. It glowed in his hand, this small flare of pressure, and then he held the flame-like substance close to the chain, letting it simmer the links through carefully and slowly.
An eternity passed, it seemed to Szayel, while Grimmjow chuckled and he waited for the chain to heat up. Eventually, the metal started to glow a dull orange, and then even slower than before, changed to a bright red as it heated up and started to melt. Quietly, slowly, a tiny stream of molten metal started to run away from the links and trickle away towards the foot of an unsuspecting Grimmjow. While they made so much noise outside in relation to the watermelon incident, the distraction allowed Szayel to successfully snap the links in half and free himself. However, the snapping motion from it caused his wrist to snap back harshly and smack the sixth Espada right in the face.
“Psh-OW!!!” Grimmjow shouted, caught off guard as a fist whacked into his face forcefully and whammed his head off of the stone walls. “What was that for you half-minded jerk-faced-?!”
“Shut up!” Szayel hissed, clamping his now freed hand over Grimmjow’s mouth. Glaring into the Espada’s blue eyes, the pink-haired 8th brought his freed wrist up to eye level with him and cocked his eyebrow, making his point quite clear without words. The 6th’s eyes widened with surprise and he made a nodding motion, signaling the 8th to take his hand away. Szayel did so, and then started speaking with his voice low.
“Wait a moment,” he whispered, leaning down and starting to unshackle his ankle bonds with a simpler method, having used his freed hand and reached up and taken his ever-present hair clip out and picking the lock that way. Grimmjow gave him a strange look.
“You actually managed to do that?” he asked in a low voice. He gave a surprised snort.
“Yes, in case you were wondering,” replied the scientist indignantly. “It sometimes pays off to use your head and persist, you know.”
“Ah, of course,” said the pantera while rolling his eyes sarcastically and looking into the distance. Presently, Szayel stood up, cramped, and began stretching a little to loosen his joints.
“Never did anyone good to sit cross-legged for too many hours in a row,” he whispered to himself, cracking his knuckles enthusiastically as he twisted around and stretched his back muscles.
“Well you could let me out too, y’know,” Grimmjow put in, watching the scientist loosen himself with the glorious art of stretching.
“Oh, right,” Szayel reminded himself, turning and picking the lock on the 6th’s bonds as well. “Just hooooooollllddd itttt…. Riiiiighhtt theeerree aaaaaanddd… gotcha!” The chains that had held the sexta Espada down suddenly clicked, and Grimmjow quietly pulled his wrists and ankles out of the shackles gratefully. Standing, he started stretching and pulling his muscles to put himself back into fighting shape again.
“Ahh…” he said to himself, as if in ecstasy. “That feels good.”
“Of course it does,” pointed out the crazy scientist, as he slowly moved to the door and put his ear to it, listening closely to make sure that their captors were still making enough noise to cover up their movements. Watching him, Grimmjow saw a smile nearly as psychotic as his own creep over the pink-haired Espada’s face, and knew instantly that he had a plan of some sort.
“What you got?” he whispered, slinking over to where he was standing, also listening closely to the noise outside. The hilarious fits of giggles had obviously still been affecting Lilynette, and by now Starrk was telling her off about it, humorously, while complaining that now he was going to smell like watermelon for the rest of the week. Instantly, Grimmjow started up chuckling, and Szayel shot him an indignant look.
“We don’t have time to be amused,” he said in a quiet voice as he turned away from the wall. “I have a plan, and I need you to help me with it. First of all, I need you to go out there and try and beat up Starrk, ok?”
There was a pause.
“Eh?” the sixth asked appropriately.
“I said,” Szayel repeated. “I need you to go out there and beat Starrk and Lilynette up, alright? It won’t take much, I promise.”
“Y-you want… you want me to… you want…” stuttered the sexta Espada, staring wide-eyed and confused at his cell mate.
“Yes,” confirmed the 8th.
“But that’s suicide!” hissed Grimmjow, taking his hands out of his pockets and advancing on Szayel threateningly. “You want me to go out there and kill myself?!”
“No, no!” Szayel reassured him, backing away from him nevertheless. “It’s all part of my plan, believe me, it will work!”
“Oh, just like your last plan, eh?” countered the 6th slyly. “How did THAT one turn out, hm?”
“Look, I don’t know why that one didn’t work, ok?” the scientist muttered in his own defense. “Something happened and Arturo didn’t get his chance, alright? It’s not like that was my fault!”
“Yeah?” Grimmjow asked, backing off a little. “Then why did he and Ulquiorra head outta this place as fast as they could after they were done, huh?”
“I don’t know,” sighed the scientist, his shoulders sagging. “It just doesn’t… it doesn’t make a lick of sense.”
“Of course it doesn’t!” Grimmjow said louder than he probably should have. “I don’t care if that Arturo guy made it out of here alive or not, but why would that idiot try and follow him as well?!”
“I told you Grimmjow, I don’t know… I just don’t know,” replied the scientist a bit wearily. He looked at the 6th in a tired manner. “I’m sure that neither of them would leave us here for dead, though. You heard that turquoise-haired Arrancar say that he appreciated this.”
“And?” asked the pantera king, eyeing his cell mate up and down. “Do you really think he’d give a hoot as to what becomes of us?” There was a slight pause, in which Szayel shrugged.
“I don’t know,” he said. “But whatever became of them doesn’t matter. We need to get ourselves out of this before we’re shown before Aizen again. Maybe we can meet up with them wherever they are.”
“Yeah, and beat the crap out of them,” Grimmjow put in, an angry look crossing his face. “Feels like something I’d like to do right now.”
“Well good, because that’s what we’re going to do when we get out,” said the sly scientist, cracking his knuckles yet again, and taking on the same grin that Grimmjow had on earlier. “Now, as afore mentioned, I need you to go out and beat up Starrk and his other half, alright?”
“Oh… right… forgot about that part,” replied the blue-haired Espada, running his hand over his face in an unwilling manner. “Do we really have to do it this way?”
“Yes!” replied the pink-haired scientist enthusiastically. “It will go so much smoother if you just do this, alright? And don’t forget to unleash all your spiritual pressure when you get there, ok?”
“Fine… fine…” Grimmjow finally muttered. He turned and lightly stepped towards the door, putting his ear to it, and was glad to find that they were still laughing, although it had been toned down to chuckles and snorts. Rolling his blue eyes, he put his hand on the knob, quietly, and began slowly – very slowly – to turn it. Finally, the door slipped open a crack, and he paused, taking a glance around the hallway to get his bearings. Watching, Szayel saw him lift his right eyebrow dramatically, and guessed that whatever Starrk had been plastered with was either still on him, highly exotic, or both. Turns out, he was right with the last option.
“What the-?” Grimmjow started to ask, but didn’t get to finish his sentence. Striding up behind him, Szayel swiftly booted him in the backside and sent him stumbling out into the hallway, his arms waving wildly as he collided with the opposite wall. Behind him, the door clicked shut.
“Oof!” Grimmjow shouted as he tumbled into the hard wall. He stood and started rubbing his head after he pummeled into the obstruction. “Oww….” He stopped in mid-rub, and with his eyes wide, slowly turned his head towards the two guards.
“Uhhh…” they were both saying, with their own eyes wide, staring at him. Unsure of what else to do, Grimmjow, confused, looked back and forth through the hallway, and then put on the most innocent, happy face he could before waving.
“Hi,” he said.
There was a pause.
“Get ‘im!” Lily suddenly screeched, lunging out and running full speed at him, her elbow cocked and positioned right at his crotch.
“YIPE!” he roared, diving neatly out of the way before he lost some pretty important things. Starrk, yawning, could clearly see that Grimmjow had absolutely no plan for what happened after he broke out of his cell and with his hands in his pockets, strode over to where the ‘fight’ was taking place. Scared half to death by this point, the sexta Espada was leaping and diving around the hallway with all the agility he could muster, trying as hard as was possible to stay away from the dangerous elbow of the small girl. At the last moment, he remembered Szayel’s last order, and unleashed a huge wave of his spiritual energy, catching both of the 1st Espadas by surprise, and actually gaining him an advantage.
Meanwhile, inside, Szayel pulled his ear away from the door and stood, chuckling slightly.
“There,” he said to himself. “With them all worked up over THAT, they won’t even notice this!” Turning away and striding to the center of the room quietly and swiftly, taking a cautious glance around just in case he was being watched. Glad to find that he was not, the 8th Espada slowly, carefully, and gracefully pulled his zanpakuto out of its sheath, admiring its beauty just like he did every time he unleashed it to the world. Pulling it out and positioning it above his throat, he summoned it.
“Sip, Fornicarás,” he said quietly, thoroughly enjoying the feeling of wakefulness and life coursing through the hilt of his katana and, ultimately, his palm. Opening his mouth to accommodate his new ‘meal’, Szayel carefully drank in the sword as if it were a liquid, relishing its taste as he did so. His mouth started to glow strangely.
“And…” he said. “Here we go…”
Outside, in the hallway, nobody even sensed Szayel’s rise in spiritual pressure, as they were too preoccupied with the little battle they were all having. Grimmjow was tearing up and down the walls of the hallway, diving, dodging, scrambling to get away from the teenaged Arrancar, his attempts successful only because they were driven by a deep terror. Starrk, chuckling, walked after them and followed their progress, ready to strike in case the pantera got too far away. He didn’t become aware of anything unusual coming up behind him, or that it suddenly touched him on the back, and swiftly pulled away as soon as it had. A thick, purple liquid dripped off of said unusual object, and into the awaiting hand of Szayel.
If one were to see him full view, they would see him enclothed in a tight grey upper body outfit, and a white-sleeved, white-bottomed robe on top of that. His fingernails had transformed into long, purple-colored claws, and long, wing-like bones protruded from his back, appearing to drip with a liquid-like substance. Scary, to say the least.
Also managing to tap Lilynette on the shoulder unseen, Szayel reached out and grabbed the drip from the tip of his ‘wing’, watching it satisfactorily turn into a small doll – exactly in the likeness of the pink-eyed Espada. In his other hand, he held one that resembled Starrk, and chuckled at the absurdity of its appearance. Turning and glancing at the opposite wall, Szayel walked over to it carefully and, raising the dolls to shoulder height, smashed their heads against the wall by whacking them into it forcefully.
“YOUCH!” the two of the represented Espada yelled, losing their footing and clutching at their heads before crumpling to the ground with cries of pain in varying degrees of intensity. Surprised, relieved, and confused, Grimmjow let himself come down off the side of the wall and raised his eyebrow curiously.
“Wow,” he said to himself. “What was…?”
“That was me,” Szayel said grandly, striding out in front of Grimmjow’s face rather swiftly.
“GAH!” the 6th roared, leaping backwards out of range, his eyes nearly bugging out of his head as he tore away from the hideous beast before him. Had he had a tail, Szayel swore it would poof up bigger around than Renji’s Bankai. Before another word could be uttered, Grimmjow had disappeared and was tearing off down the hallways at unimaginable speeds, running to save his dear life and limb.
“G… Grimmjow?” Szayel asked, raising his eyebrow after the terrified Esapada. He hadn’t really expected to scare the 6th at all, but after that scuffle with the 1sts, he supposed that he’d been all worked up, and his cat instincts told him to run from the giant man-eating beast that suddenly popped up in his face.
“Heh,” said the pink-haired scientist, shrugging his shoulders and walking after the pantera king, slowly shifting back to his normal form and sheathing his zanpakuto again. “I guess I’d better go get him….”
While this entire escapade was taking place, Arturo stood aside worriedly and talked offhand to Yammy while he waited for Ulquiorra to awaken. As he and the 10th Espada conversed, though, his spirit was lifted when he began to see the crack in his younger brother’s mask slowly mend itself together, the bone substance’s particles pulling towards each other almost magnetically. After this started to occur, he moved from his place at Yammy’s side to go and sit beside his brother, waiting anxiously for the moment he would awaken. He was glad when Ulquiorra started to stir, thinking he was waking up, but soon became aware that he was merely starting to talk in his sleep, and slightly chuckled when he did so. Looking over, Yammy’s eyebrow raised to new heights for what Arturo was sure was the 200th time in the past hour.
“What, he dreamin’?” the huge Espada asked, as Ulquiorra mumbled something incoherent.
“Obviously,” Arutro said from his seat in the sand. “I remember now… he used to do it all the time. Usually pretty creepy.”
“Eh?” asked Yammy. “You mean he used to talk in his sleep when you and him were still alive?”
“Yes,” replied Arturo.
“Weird,” concluded the 10th. “I mean, I’ve had dreams before, but nobody ever told me I talked when I did. Does it reflect the dream?”
“Yeah, usually,” the golden-eyed Arrancar replied, glancing at the huge Espada. “I would tell him about it when he woke up, and then he would tell me the dream.” He ran his hand through his hair thoughtfully. “It’s so strange, suddenly remembering all of that. It’s… it’s…”
“New, yet old?” Yammy asked.
“Yeah… something like that,” was the reply. The 10th merely raised both his eyebrows at the same time, wondering what the heck both of them meant. His mind could never quite encompass such things as double meanings, or hard-to-imagine sequences of events like this. That was his way.
However, talking in his sleep could only mean that Ulquiorra was dreaming… again. The last dream had been riveting just on its own, depicting his brother Arturo and himself together once again on the beach of their previous life – only this time they were both Hollows. The dream had had something to do with escaping from something ominous… whether it was a being, human, or simply a raw feeling, he did not know. All he knew was that it was the first time he’d dreamt since he had become a Hollow, and that it must mean something important. At the moment, he was having another of the vivid, colorful, and confusing visions, and it didn’t appear to be a very good one either…
Seemingly, he snapped awake. The first thing he saw upon opening his eyes was a dark, night-filled sky, looming around him and touching the farthest reaches of the atmosphere. Empty, emotionless, quiet… rather like him. However, a sky could only mean that he was outdoors, and the only place that could be was the desert outside of Las Noches. Pushing himself into an upright position, he shook his head to clear it of any dizziness he might have, and looked around.
He was not, needless to say, in the desert. Instead, he found himself in a human place… somewhere bursting with noise, full of darkness and full light at the same time… Alternating flashes of red and blue rotated across him and the busy, scurrying living souls that surrounded something close by to him, cutting through the thick blackness with omnity. A loud, unsettling screeching noise came from somewhere behind the humans, and appeared to accompany the colorful lights. Thankfully, it retreated quickly into the distance, at amazing speeds for someone in the world of the living.
What was this place?
Why was he here?
He also noticed, with a sort of jolt, that all of his traces as an Espada had disappeared. His helmet, his Hollow hole, his rank tattoo… all gone. Instead, he appeared to be dressed in some sort of gigai. If that wasn’t strange enough, he realized that he still had his soul chain, and it was connected to the base of his throat. Confused, he put his hand around it, expecting to feel it vibrating with life, for that is what they were supposed to do – conduct life. However, his chain appeared to be silent, loose, and empty. Figures. It mirrored his personality.
Taking another, closer look around, his eyes fell on the hive where the swarm of humans were, and he suddenly noticed something familiar among them – a flash of turquoise. Was that… Arturo? Why was he here? WHERE was here, to be precise? Pushing himself to a standing position, shakily, Ulquiorra started to slowly walk towards where his brother was, almost instantly sensing that something was wrong.
“Arturo?” he asked, coming up behind the rows of humans that were surrounding his brother. They were trying to get the turquoise-haired Arrancar out of some sort of machine – something that one expected to see in Szayel’s laboratory – which appeared to be completely wrecked and mangled. From the looks of it, whatever experiment the 8th had been planning had gone completely wrong, at the cost of his brother.
But… why did something tell him he did not know Szayel yet? What was this feeling inside him that reminded him of what the other Espada had loosely defined as “anxiety”? Was it just that? Moving in closer to look at his brother, Ulquiorra was shocked to find huge, shocking patches of bright red blood spattered all over Arturo, mainly where his obviously fractured ribs were, staining the front of his human clothes beyond what measures he’d seen on Earth. What had happened here?
“Arturo!” he called out, as the humans lifted him onto a rolling stretcher. He slipped in between the living and came to Arturo’s side with a feeling inside him that could almost be described as fear. His hands gripped the cold, hard metal handles that were on both sides of the stretcher, and he looked down on his dying brother with a severe determination in his eyes. He had to make sure his brother was alright.
“Ul…Ulqui…orra…” choked the Arrancar, who also appeared to be missing his hollow hole and mask. The addressee placed his hand on top of his brother’s.
“I am here, Arturo,” he said reassuringly. His brother did not seem to register it though; his eyes wandering listlessly back towards the crushed machine. There was such a deep… sorrow in his eyes that the 4th could not even hope to comprehend it. It was as if the golden-eyed warrior had lost everything that he had – everything – including his own will to live. Whoever had caused him this pain was going to pay.
“I… can’t… believe…” Arturo started to say, but was interrupted when he gave a hacking cough, fresh blood spilling from his mouth and splashing onto Ulquiorra’s hand. His breath quickening, the emerald-eyed 4th Espada quickly moved his hand from his brother’s to Arturo’s chest, placing it over the place where his Hollow hole should be. He felt part of the rib sticking out in a way it shouldn’t have been, and resisted the urge to draw it back swiftly. Instead, he applied pressure to the wound, stemming the blood flow enough to keep his brother from bleeding to death. Not noticing, Arturo continued.
“Can’t… believe… I let you… die…” he whispered, his voice strained and pain-filled. His eyes suddenly glazed over and he lost consciousness, but Ulquiorra could somehow tell, with a sigh of relief, that he would live… for now. What bothered him, though, was his brother’s last comment about letting someone else die. His brother had never let anything bad happen to anyone… why would be admitting to a lie? Looking down, he saw that Arturo had been staring at the wrecked machine before he went unconscious, and curious, he directed his gaze there too as the white-clothed humans around him took his brother away, although he could tell they had good intentions.
It was an odd-looking contraption before him, mangled beyond any type of recognition, and it sported glass on all four sides around it, which he thought would be completely defeating the purpose if it was any type of safety device. It looked just the opposite. Behind the glass was darkness, and he could somehow sense that there was something bad about it. Something was in there, in that darkness, something he didn’t want to see.
But… if he didn’t want to see it, why was he moving towards it? Why did he suddenly have no control over his own actions? Everything inside of him, down to the last nerve, was savagely screaming at him to turn around and run, to follow Arturo to wherever they were taking him, but somehow none of that seemed to effect his mind, and he continued to walk slowly towards the dark box-like contrivance. Maybe he didn’t like because it reminded him of Aizen’s Hado #90.
Because it reminded him of a coffin.
Trying desperately to tear himself away from his current path but not succeeding, Ulquiorra took one step after another, closing the distance between himself and the coffin significantly. His foot gently collided with something that rattled, and when he looked down, he saw his trailing Hollow chain, leading from his throat to the inside of the dark machine. His eyes widened slightly as he looked up, following the line that the chain drew leading from him, cutting through one of the glass sheets in the contraption, into the side of the box that had a spear of ragged metal sticking straight through it. Was that bad?
Before he knew it, the emerald-eyed warrior was standing beside the shattered glass, staring apprehensively into the darkness within. He would have to lean down a little to see inside, see to where his chain led. Did he want to? Would he?
The latter question answered itself when he did so, lowering himself down slowly and coming to eye level with whatever was inside. His line of sight still following his chain, Ulquiorra was surprised when it suddenly came to a stop, having broken off so close to its origin. Leaving the broken, ragged links of the chain, his line of sight started to travel up. There was someone actually inside the coffin. They were covered in blood – more blood than Arturo had been covered in – although he could see no injuries. His eyes traveled upwards, moving closer to what he did not want to see. Only a few more inches… only one more second before he saw exactly who this was. It was…
Back in the quiet deserts of Hueco Mundo, Arturo and Yammy sat, listening to Ulquiorra utter strange things in his subconscious state, and making comments about it as he did. It had started off normal enough, but then things got a little less ordinary and a little more disturbing. As Arturo had said earlier, it started to get ‘creepy.’
“That was… odd,” said Yammy, sitting Indian-style beside his new, turquoise-haired friend as Ulquiorra finished saying something ominous. They had both moved back up to the base of a huge hill of sand.
“Yes… we’ll have to ask him what was in his dream that included ‘blood’,” he said quietly, sitting with his knees drawn up to his chest, leaning on the sand dune behind him.
“A…Arturo…” Ulquiorra continued. Both of the listener’s eyes widened and there was a slight pause.
“Oh boy,” stated the golden-eyed warrior. “Blood and myself in the same dream. Now that can’t be good.”
“I’ll say,” stated the 10th.
“Arturo!” the 4th suddenly shouted through the mist of his sleep. The two in his audience jumped a little, eyeing the slim Espada with a little suspicion.
“Why’s he yelling at me?” Arturo asked.
“Maybe you’re making him mad?” offered Yammy.
“I doubt it,” replied the Arrancar. “We never fought in the world of the living. I don’t think he’d have a dream about something that never happened.”
“Oh,” said Yammy. “Then why IS he yelling at you?”
“Maybe he’s yelling FOR me?” the turquoise-haired warrior said, his brow creasing in sudden worry. “I hope he’s not having a nightmare.”
“Nah,” said the 10th, waving his hand dismissively. “That emotionless shell wouldn’t let anything like that bother him.”
“Of course…” Arturo agreed, suddenly becoming silent. He wondered why, indeed, his brother had become what he was now.
“Whose…coffin…?” Ulquiorra asked himself in his sleep. The pair remained silent for a moment, and this time, Arturo got up and walked over to his younger brother, leaning down to shake him awake, only to have a huge hand pull him backwards.
“No, don’t wake him up,” said Yammy. “I wanna see how it ends.”
“What, do the words ‘blood’, ‘Arturo’, and ‘coffin’ seem like an appealing story to you!?” was the snappy reply, as the warrior eyed the Espada suspiciously.
“Yep,” he replied, smiling wanly. Arturo rolled his eyes.
“Figures.” He looked down upon the relatively young Espada, and suddenly frowned as his brother’s breaths began to quicken. He raised his eyebrow and wondered what sort of dream he could be having. Yammy raised his eyebrow too (again), and left it where it was, studying the scene with it as that.
“Wh…what?” Ulquiorra asked nobody, breathlessly. His breathing sped up another notch and his fingers clawed desperately at the sand around him, clawing for something solid to grab. Arturo rose to his feet.
“Alright, I’m waking him up,” he said firmly, taking steps towards his brother determinedly. Before Yammy could reach out and stop him, he made it to Ulquiorra’s side and crouched down beside him, reaching for his shoulder to shake him awake. However, right before he did, the 4th did so on his own, jerking himself into reality with a huge intake of breath, gasping loudly and grabbing Arturo’s wrist with a jolting suddenty. This jerking of himself into the state of awareness was accompanied by a loud cry of utter distress – something neither of them had ever expected to come out of the 4th Espada. Surprised, to say the least, both of them nearly jumped right out of their skin.
“Ul-Ulquiorra?” Arturo asked, looking down upon his brother with a worried expression. For a moment, all he saw was the horrified look in his brother’s deep green eyes, frantically searching nothing for anything other than what his mind had just forced him to experience. Those very eyes fell on Arturo’s face, and all of the fear melted away instantly. It was replaced by sheer relief. However, instead of reaching up and making physical contact with his brother in the way Arturo had done to him after his vision when Aizen mind probed him, he sat up stiffly and quickly averted his eyes to another part of the desert.
“Are you alright, Ulquiorra?” Arturo asked as his brother put his hand up to the side of his hollow mask, feeling for the break that had been there before. Much to both of their relief, it was completely gone, having ‘healed over’ within hours of it breaking.
“Yes,” was the emotionless reply. However, Arturo could see beyond what his brother was saying, and knew that he had been plagued by a nightmare… probably one in which he – Arturo – had died, judging from the content of his comments. But… why? There was a slight pause as he put his arm around his brother’s shoulders, and Ulquiorra released his wrist apologetically.
“So, shorty, what’d ya dream about?” Yammy’s loud voice asked as it cut through the silence. Ulquiorra nearly jumped out of his soul form, and, eyes wide, quickly snapped his head in Yammy’s direction.
“You’re… here?” he asked, a little surprised. Yammy chuckled.
“Yes, I brought you both here, remember?” he asked, cracking his knuckles like he was about to get started talking. “I was walking through Las Noches, wondering why everyone was suddenly releasing their spiritual pressures so recently, when suddenly I came across you both all huddled in the middle of the hallway like you were scared to death. (which would be weird) but anyway! I realized then that it had been YOU guys everyone was after, and at first I was gonna turn you in, but then I realized that you,” he pointed at Ulquiorra. “Were all folded over HIM,” he pointed at Arturo “Like you were about to be murdered. You just looked… different.”
Arturo glanced at his brother in a strange way. He thought Ulquiorra had turned into a warrior who had forgotten his emotions? From the stories Yammy had just recently been telling him, he could conclude that the 4th hadn’t felt anything in a long time. Had letting Ulquiorra use escudo on him let the emerald-eyed Espada see into their past life as well? Did that mean… he remembered too? Looking at Ulquiorra, who was trying his very hardest to pull himself together again and not look disturbed, it wasn’t hard to believe.
“Alright, now that you’re awake…” the 10th said, lifting his huge self up and standing, looking down upon the disheveled two with a small sense of authority. “You can finish explaining to me this plan of yours. So far as I know, it includes saving Szayel and Grimmjow, but I can sense there’s something else behind it.
“Something else?” Arturo asked as innocently as he could, looking up at Yammy slightly apprehensively.
“Yes,” said the 10th, crossing his arms. “Something to do with Aizen?”
Ulquiorra and Arturo spared each other a glance. Letting Yammy in on the plan may or may not be a wise idea. There was only one way to find out…
“Yeah…” Arturo said, rubbing the back of his head. “I was kind of planning to kill him.”
Aizen sat once again in his big throne, one hand supporting his chin, the other drumming its fingers on the armrest. He was thinking, and he was thinking deeply. After he had been smashed through the wall, he remembered nothing until he awoke later in his own personal chambers. Apparently, Gin and Tosen had given up chasing the two Arracnars to come back and make sure he was alright. He was glad that they had, although in the beginning he hadn’t been too sure of Gin. He gave a low sigh, and sat up straighter in his seat, glad that he had completely regenerated from the fight. Now that both of the traitors were gone, he didn’t know what to expect. Would they return with a killing intent? Could he trust Ulquiorra – one of his most trusted Espada – when he came back? Could he even trust him to come back at all?
He mused on these things for a while, staring at the opposite wall in the cold, hard manner that was usual for him when nobody else was around. There was something about this whole ordeal that made the great leader uncomfortable, and for a fleeting moment, he wondered if it could be beyond his reach.
He shook his head. The only reason it would be beyond him would be if he simply didn’t care about it. Sighing once again, he realized that if Ulquiorra never returned he would be at a loss of a 4th Espada. Replacing him wouldn’t be easy, and the only upside was that maybe Grimmjow would take a little more care in battle and not try to outdo the cuatro constantly. Shaking his head again, the great lord quietly resumed tapping his fingers on the arm rests of his chair. He glanced up at the door, suddenly sensing an approaching reiatsu, and said:
“Come in.” As soon as he was done, the large door cracked open a little, and Gin slipped through it.
“Ah, Aizen-sama,” Gin said purringly, as he slowly slunk his way towards the great chair. “I have a message for you.”
Aizen looked down on him coldly, waiting for him to continue. Gin waited for a moment, but when he received no response, he merely went on.
“I fear it may be bad news,” he said, a little slowly. He paused. “Yammy has gone missing along with Plateado and Cifer.” Aizen looked up sharply, his cold stare meeting Gin’s. He did not look in the least happy. He sat even straighter up in his chair, his aura becoming less and less pleasant in the seconds between when Gin spoke, and then he did.
“So the 10th is gone as well, then,” he said between his teeth. “That is unfortunate.”
“Gin,” Aizen said sternly, looking down on his trusted (or almost trusted) right-hand man. “Do you realize our situation?”
There was a slight pause.
“I suppose we’re at a disadvantage, Lord Aizen,” he replied.
“Much more than just a disadvantage,” replied the great lord monotonically. “Think, Gin. List off the Espada.”
“Um, well…” Gin said slowly. “There’s Yammy, Aaroneir-,”
“No,” Aizen interrupted. “List off the ones that are still loyal to me.”
“Ahh,” replied the sly man. “That would be Aaroneiro, Zommari, Nnoitra, Harribel, Barragan, and Starrk.”
“Zommari and Barragan are no longer with the Espada,” Aizen said, leaning back in his chair and putting his fingers to his mouth thoughtfully.
“Eh?” Gin asked, his eyebrows going up.
“I have discharged them,” replied the great lord. “For my own reasons.”*
“Oh have you, Aizen-sama?” Gin asked. This time, the great lord was surprised to find a slight tone of anger in his subordinate’s voice.
“You are displeased, Gin?” he asked slowly.
“Considering that that leaves only four Espada left that are still validly loyal to us, then yes sir,” replied the ex-shinigami, still with an edge to his voice.
“Hmm,” said Aizen. “I can see how that would displease you. That leaves six Espada for us to replace. Unless, of course, we can ‘convince’ Szayel and Grimmjow that they are still on our side.”
“That, at least should not be too hard,” replied Gin, although his voice was still hard.
“I shall give you that assignment, then,” said the king of Hueco Mundo. “It shall be in your list of new responsibilities.”
“Agreed, Aizen-sama,” said Gin.
“Good,” replied the lord of Las Noches. “I will appreciate your immediate undertaking of the job.”
“Of course, sir,” was the reply. The lieutenant turned and started making his way back towards the great door that separated the throne room from the hallways outside. As he left, Gin cast an amused glance at the still-under-repair wall that Aizen had been smashed into. Thinking suddenly, he turned back to speak again to his master.
“Sir?” he asked.
“If he does not return by tomorrow, then he too is discharged.”
“I see. Alright sir, I’ll be going now.”
As the second in command leader of Las Noches departed, and Aizen watched him leave, there was a small feeling of something tugging at the great leader’s insides. Apprehension.
“I shall destroy you, Aizen Souske,” Arturo’s words rang in his ears. Would he bring Ulquiorra back with him when he kept his promise?
“Hmph,” Aizen said aloud to the empty room. “If you return, Arturo, then you will face a prepared opponent.” He laughed to himself. “A potentially dangerous prepared opponent. A potentially fatal one.”
Meanwhile, out in the desert, Arturo and Ulquiorra had steeled themselves for any possible smashing-of-fist attacks when they informed Yammy of their plan. They watched the reaction pass over the 10th’s face. It changed from genuinely surprised, to confused, to utterly confused, to humored, and then, finally, very amused.
“Haha!” Yammy roared, falling into laughter again. He hooted with laughter, plopping down on the sand again so that he wouldn’t fall over from all the laughing he was doing. Ulquiorra raised his eyebrow, having never understood that particular action, while Arturo closed his eyes and sighted softly.
“I suppose you don’t think I can do it,” said the tall Arrancar. He opened his eyes and turned to look at Yammy coldly. The 10th Espada calmed his laughter down a little and then looked at Arturo a little more seriously at the grinding tone of his voice.
“Y-you can’t be SERIOUS,” replied the huge Espada, as Ulquiorra rose to his feet beside his brother, also facing Yammy.
“Why shouldn’t he be?” asked the 4th, to Yammy’s surprise. “He nearly defeated him singlehandedly only a day ago. He nearly managed to kill him with his first reiatsu level and sword alone, Yammy. Is that not enough to sway your opinion?”
“Wh-,” was the reply. The 10th looked up at the two of them and finding their expressions to hold complete truth, complete determination, he stopped laughing altogether. He gulped, sitting himself upright and looking at them in a very, very serious way.
“You are going to kill him, aren’t you?” he asked, quietly. Arturo only nodded, and Ulquiorra diverted his attention to some distant point on the horizon.
“That is why I came here,” said the golden-eyed Arrancar. His voice was so low that it was hard to hear what he was saying. “I’m not going to leave this place until one of us is dead.”
“And it won’t be you,” Ulquiorra stated, as if he knew it were a fact. Arturo spared him a glance.
“I’m aiming for just that.”
“Good,” said the 4th. With a satisfied feeling, Arturo then turned back to Yammy, who was sitting with his forearms resting on his knees, a deeply thoughtful look on his face as he stared at the sand upon which he sat.
“Now,” he said, addressing the 10th. “Either you can join us, or we will force you to stay out of the way.”
“Wh-you won’t kill me if I don’t join you?” he asked. “That’s kind of a dumb idea. I mean, if you left me alive I could come back for revenge or something! I think you should at least-,”
“Is that a yes or a no, Yammy?” Ulquiorra asked swiftly in interruption. His emerald gaze locked with the 10th’s and Yammy could see it meant business. It only took him a moment of thought to even out the odds.
“We’re all going to die,” he stated. He was only met with a silent stare. “But I guess I’d rather help you than head out into the desert.”
“Good,” Arturo said, letting out a little pent-up breath. He hadn’t really wanted to force Yammy away, and knew that an ally like him could prove useful. Now that he was joining them, he felt much more at ease. “We shall start our work immediately. I want to free Grimmjow and Szayel before they think we’ve abandoned them.”
“Good idea,” they both agreed. They all turned to face the white cluster of buildings and towers that were clumped in the distance, musing on what lay ahead of them. Violence. Destruction. Death. That was all guaranteed. More people would end up dead from this than any of them would have liked, but it was inevitable. Even if they all left, Arturo thought, then Aizen would hunt them down. He could not allow the 4th and 10th – both of which harbored not only the location of Las Noches, but several secrets about the Espadas themselves – to wander away from and simply leave him. It was unacceptable, and he would take it upon himself to kill them. Death was imminent. Both ways.
“Curse you, Szayel, curse you!” Grimmjow hissed as he came down off the wall that the pink-haired scientist had backed him onto. “You scared the living TAR out of me!”
“Hee hee,” Szayel chuckled, now that he was back in his normal, yet still as creepy form. “You cannot IMAGINE how priceless that look on your face was!”
“Shut up,” Grimmjow said, shaking Szayel’s hand off his shoulder when it rested there. He scowled at the opposite side of the hallway and then shuddered again to rid himself of all the adrenaline pumping through his blood at eighty miles an hour.
“Ahem, anyway,” the scientist said, coming up alongside the 6th with a more serious tone. “Let’s think now. We just broke out of our prison cell. We’re going to be pursued through Las Noches like dogs if we don’t get out of here soon.”
“Oh boy,” Jaggerjack said, running his hand through his hair. “Gee Szayel, what are we gonna do?”
“What do you mean, what are we gonna do?” asked the 8th. Grimmjow gave him a look.
“We just betrayed Aizen,” replied the sexta Espada. “Even I’m smart enough to know that we’re dead meat.”
“Hmm,” replied the pink-haired man, pushing his glasses up his nose in much the same way that Uryuu did. “I see.”
They both became silent after this, sobered by the thought of Aizen seeking revenge on them. They both knew that when it came to revenge, or any plot in general, their great leader would get what he wanted, and if he wanted them both dead, then he would see them both personally off into the nothingness that they would eventually become. This was not a pleasing thought, needless to say.
“We need a plan,” Szayel muttered. “And a good one.”
“Humph,” replied Grimmjow. “Before we do anything, we need to beat the living daylights out of those dull-witted idiots who left us here in the first place! They seriously need to die now.”
“I, for once, am inclined to agree,” Szayel said under his breath, clenching his white-gloved fists. “They had no right to just… go and leave us to our doom.”
“Well, I guess that’s what one must expect from an Arrancar,” Grimmjow sighed.
“Yeah but they were both the wacky kind,” stated Szayel, turning and sonido’ing off in the direction of the exit. Grimmjow followed. They ran swiftly along the corridors silently, staying well out of range of the other wandering reiatsus that were in the area, and safely reached the exit without any interaction with them. Before them lay the open desert.
“Here goes,” Grimmjow said as he started up a run for where the other’s spiritual pressures could be felt. Szayel quickly followed him, and they drew their swords simultaneously as they closed in on the unsuspecting trio, their spiritual pressures masked.
“Do you feel that?” Arturo suddenly asked, turning his head towards Las Noches again. He and his friends had just been starting to head towards the structures, when suddenly he sensed a little something. Ulquiorra looked up too.
“For a moment, yes,” he replied in his uncharacteristic voice. Yammy looked up, a little surprised.
“What?” he asked. Arturo ignored him and turned to face Las Noches full-on. He spotted two suspicious dust clouds approaching. He raised his eyebrow. “Company?”
“Grimmjow and Szayel,” replied the 4th, seeing past their poor attempts to mask their reiatsus easily. “They have escaped.”
“Oh, well that’s good, at least,” pointed out the Arrancar. “They can join us as we go back.”
“Um,” Yammy said. “What? They’re involved in this too?”
“Yes,” replied Arturo. “We were going to go rescue them when-,”
“Arturo?” Ulquiorra suddenly asked. Glancing at him, Arturo found his eyes still locked on the pair of dust clouds. His eyes were a little surprised.
“Yes?” he asked.
“I don’t think…” he said slowly. “I don’t think that they are coming to join us.”
“What?” he asked, turning and peering at the clouds once more. They were much closer now, and he could clearly see the flashing of zanpakutos in the moonlight. Within seconds, they would be here.
“Damn,” he said, quickly adopting a battle stance. Ulquiorra instantly did the same, and Yammy did so too, behind them, all bracing themselves for the first impact.
“You’re dead!” they heard Grimmjow yell as he sonido’d up to them.
“You don’t understand!” Arturo shouted in response. “We were just coming to-,” he was cut off, however, when Szayel’s sword crashed against his raised forearm with surprising force.
“Hi again,” the scientist hissed. He pulled back and slashed out again, but Arturo dodged easily, almost running into Yammy as he did. Szayel went after him, sword raised, his expression beyond what one could describe as angry.
“We didn’t abandon you!” he shouted loudly as Szayel swung madly out at him.
“Oh YEAH?!” Grimmjow roared as he viciously attacked Ulquiorra, the latter whom of which was calmly blocking and dodging with ease, doing nothing to soothe the 6th’s temper. “Then why did you run out here into the desert and hide while we were thrown into a prison cell, HUH!?”
“We didn’t intend to leave you there!” Arturo yelled, blocking Szayel’s sword again with his hands, leaping away deftly to keep from being slashed. The pink-haired Espada certainly did not seem to have a lack of interesting angles to come at him from, and he found himself attacked by pretty much all sides as he used sonido to go faster.
“Did you now?” Szayel asked, striking out at Arturo from behind. The Arrancar flash-stepped out of the way quickly and then appeared on top of the sand dune again, not in the least amused.
“It is true,” Ulquiorra said from where he quietly was fending off the pantera king. “We were coming back to let you out before you freed yourselves.”
“Oh, REALLY?” Grimmjow asked loudly, lunging again for the 4th in a wild attempt to beat the heck out of him. Ulquiorra merely nodded as he brought up his hand to block the sword’s vicious swipes.
“That is the truth.”
“Prove it!!” they both shouted at the same time.
“Enough!” Yammy suddenly yelled, scooping both of them up in his huge grasps. “Shut up already!”
“Hey let go of me you oversized excuse for an elephant!” Grimmjow was quick to protest. Szayel merely growled deep in his throat.
“If they were lying wouldn’t they be trying to kill you two?!” The 10th pointed out. “Boy, sometimes you really can be stupid.”
“Psshhh…” replied the two of them, as Yammy set them back onto the sand. Reluctantly, they sheathed their zanpakutos again, and shot glares at the defending party.
“We WERE trying to save you, you know,” Arturo put in. Ulquiorra and Yammy nodded their heads in agreement, and the two attackers, searching their faces for any traces of lying, found none. They both sighed.
“Fine,” Szayel said. “We believe you… this time.”
“Psshh,” Grimmjow said again. Arturo let out his breath in a relieved way.
“Good,” he said. Straightening, he thanked Yammy with a nod, and then turned back towards Las Noches. “Because we are going to need you for when we return.”
“R-return!?” they both yelped.
“Aizen’s going to be looking for our heads right around now!” protested the 8th. “We’ll never make it out alive!”
“Yes we will,” the turquoise-haired Arrancar replied in a steely voice. Grimmjow scoffed.
“You really think that?” he asked skeptically. Arturo spared a glance at Ulquiorra. The 4th’s gaze was trained on Las Noches, no fear whatsoever lingering in his eyes. In that moment, Arturo knew the answer.
“Yes,” he replied in a finalistic tone. “I believe we can do this.”
They all glanced at each other for a moment in silence.
“Well what are we waiting for?” Yammy asked. “Let’s go!”
*Actually, it’s for Author’s reasons. She doesn’t seem to want to write about them anyway.
The wind-swept sands of Hueco Mundo blew steadily in strange, thin sheets around the base of Las Noches, filling the cracks in its structure with grains of sand as it did so. Quietly, with much caution, five different figures approached the building from five different directions, all on a separate path, with a common rendezvous point. Aizen.
They could all sense him, even though they were quite a distance from him. He was upset – he could sense them coming. He was also apprehensive. As they ran, some from one point, some from another, some with spiritual pressures unmasked, some with theirs hidden, they could sense that a barrier was being formed. Between them and their target there stood the 9th, 5th, and 1st Espadas, all rearing for battle. (they all knew that Halibel had been murdered by Aizen not long ago) As he ran on his own, using sonido to quickly move through the desert, Arturo cleared his mind of any worries he may have had.
“It is a shame we did not have the chance to convince Starrk to come to our side,” he thought, speeding through yet another whirlwind of sand. “He could have proved useful to us, since he is the most powerful. I hope that I sent the four others on the right path.”
He had, indeed, seemingly taken charge of their little operation. Of course, Grimmjow had had the most objections to that, but eventually Arturo’s point had been made and he took control of their group. He had pointed out that even if they were to simply abandon Las Noches now, Aizen would have them sought out and murdered. Finally, reluctantly, the pantera king had given in, and let himself be commanded. There simply was no other choice.
And now, as he ran towards Las Noches, he was almost relieved that he’d had the chance to win them all over to his point of view. It was going to take a lot of effort for them all to come out on top of this one. Also, as he ran, he could sense that his path was quickly going to be intercepted, and soon, by a very powerful spirit.
“Heh,” he said to himself as he came upon the great white building quickly. “Compared to Aizen, this will be nothing.” Still using sonido, he disappeared from the ground and appeared on the sill of a giant window about two stories up. Taking a quick glance around, he cautiously stepped into the room, the spiritual reiatsu of the Espada suddenly fading away like it hadn’t even been there. Raising his eyebrow, the warrior glanced around the darkened room suspiciously. Keeping his hand on the hilt of his zanpakuto, he slowly started to step into the room.
“I know you’re here,” he said, slowly, his bright golden eyes searching the dark corners rapidly. “You can come out now.”
There was a slight pause.
“Can I?” a small, high-pitched voice suddenly squeaked somewhere off to his right.
“WH-?!” Arturo managed to splurt as he nearly jumped out of his skin, instinctively drawing his sword as the strange voice stopped speaking.
There was a slight pause, and Arturo carefully tried to hone in on where the spiritual pressure was radiating from. Most confusingly, it kept switching from one place to another, rapidly. Either that, or there were two people, swiftly turning their reiatsus on and off alternately as they ran. Swinging around to face one whenever it came close, Arturo realized that in the dark, he was very much at a disadvantage.
“Where are you, you coward?!” he finally roared at the darkness, swinging around once again as the spiritual pressure (or pressures) disappeared.
“I am not confusing you, am I?” asked another, much, MUCH lower voice, almost grating and slow because it was so deep. Arturo raised his eyebrow.
“Where are you two?” he asked, finally convinced that there was more than one person present.
“Over here!” shouted a much younger, less out-of-place voice to his right, way above him. Whirling around, he was dismayed to find that he could not see.
“Three of you?” he asked, turning with a suspicious look on his face from one point to another. “You mean they couldn’t find a warrior to match up to me?”
“Oh no,” said the young voice, still from up high above him, but this time from behind. “There were plenty of them. We just decided that you weren’t worth it.”
“Did you?” was the cold reply.
“In fact, yes,” said the first, squeaky voice once more.
“Excluding Ichimaru and Tosen, there are plenty of us who can destroy you,” stated the extremely deep voice calmly. Arturo suddenly realized both voices came from the same spot.
“That’s why there are only two of us here,” said the young voice, this time from directly behind him. He whirled around, suddenly spotting the owner of the younger voice.
A rather young boy, with lavender eyes and black hair, stood in a relaxed pose with one hand on his high-placed zanpakuto. A casual, slanted smile was hung on his face, and his eyes showed not a lick of fear.
“Luppi Antenor, Espada number 6, at your service,” the youth greeted, looking as if he were about to extend his hand. Arturo looked surprised.
“But I thought Grimmjow was-,”
“Oh no, not anymore,” Luppi replied, waving his hand. “And actually, this is the second time that I have replaced him. You see, even though he thought he killed me once, Aizen used the Hogyoku to regenerate me in case it ever happened again. It’s a good thing, too, because obviously everyone’s favorite housecat has gone rogue on us.”
“Is that so?” asked the turquoise-haired warrior. “In that case, I might leave you for him to kill.”
“Oh, I’ll be meeting up with him all right,” said the short Espada, waving his hand dismissively. “After we’ve killed you, of course.”
“Hmph,” said Arturo, turning. “Speaking of ‘we’, who might you be?” he asked, to the shadows.
“Lieutenant Kaien Shiba, 13th Division, at your service as well,” a black-haired man replied, suddenly stepping out of the shadows. His smile was much larger, and his eye had a stinging, excited look about it.
“A Soul Society Lieutenant?” Arturo asked, this time purely confused. “A Soul Reaper? Here, an Espada?”
“Long story,” Kaien replied, twirling his sword carelessly on his fingers, slowly starting to circle the unsuspecting Arrancar with Luppi. “But let’s just say my desired name is Aaroniero Arruerie, Espada number 9. Pleased to meet you.”
“So, the 6th and the 9th?” Arturo asked, relaxing and angling his blade down. “This will be easier than pushing aside a child.”
“I wouldn’t speak so highly, newcomer,” Luppi was quick to retort, drawing his own sword swiftly. He and Aaroniero were now closing their circle gradually, boxing the Arrancar in, cutting off the space he had to defend himself. Arturo merely closed his eyes and shook his head.
“I fear you are making a mistake,” he said, slowly. “This will be the shortest battle ever fought in this place.”
“Agreed,” said Aaroniero laughingly. “We’re going to kill you, and kill you quickly. You probably aren’t going to feel what we’ll do to you, it’ll be so fast.”
“And now,” Luppi said, pointing his sword dead at Arturo. “If you have any last words, say them, Arrancar.”
“We don’t need to hear his last words,” stated the 9th Espada with a cold tone. “It will probably be on his plot to kill Aizen.”
“Oh yes, that plot,” he said. “I heard it includes that emotionless bundle of joy Ulquiorra, doesn’t it? Him along with that pink-haired crazy scientist Szayel and my old friend Grimmjow.”
“And Yammy,” Aaroniero pointed out.
“Oh yes, and him,” said the boy. “How did you manage to get them all? Especially number 4. I heard he was Aizen’s favorite.”
“Ha,” said the 9th.
Luppi noticed that at the mention of Ulquiorra, Arturo was tensing. Touchy subject?
“And I was also wondering,” the 6th said swiftly, hoping to make his opponent angry by using an opening he’d been clever enough to spot. “Why the most loyal of us would go backstabbing all of a sudden? He’s a worthless traitor.”
“Worthless?” Arturo asked, darting a glance at him. His voice was clipped, and cold. Aaroniero spared Luppi an amused glance, and they exchanged a sly grin.
“Worse than that,” continued the 6th. “It’s sad, really. He doesn’t even really consider himself worth anything. He’s as empty as a box. And you know what I’m going to do when I’m done with you?” he smiled. “I’m going to rip his heart out, if he has one.”
Arturo’s fist clenched, and his eyes glowed for a moment.
“Mistake,” was all he said.
Without warning, he closed his eyes and concentrated such an enormous blast of spiritual pressure out of him that the whole structure shook. Energy instantly screamed through the room at bone-shattering speeds, ripping right through the Espada’s skin like it was tissue paper. The two attackers were thrown violently to the outermost walls, slamming into them and leaving spiderwebs of cracks where they had fallen. They both struggled to find their bearings in this claustrophobic mess.
“Y-you think that’s going to stop us?!” Luppi roared, his eyes glowing as he pushed himself upwards. He unleashed his own reiatsu, filling the room with even more pressure than before. Staggering, Aaroniero was barely clinging to consciousness.
Without answering, and without a pause, Arturo glanced in Luppi’s direction. His eyes glowed much, much brighter than one would think.
“Cero de Final,” he muttered, slowly.
“Wh-?!” Luppi’s eyes flew open. As he watched, a small, golden sphere began to form in front of Arturo’s two glowing eyes, and much to his horror, it began to grow larger, showing all the signs of being a full-fledged Cero. Before he could so much as move a muscle, a tremendous blast of white-golden light smashed into him, ripping off both of his arms and his head without so much as a slight ripple in its synchronized attack. Blood leapt away from the scene, splattering all over the room and its occupants. Aaroniero, eyes wide, could barely comprehend what he’d just seen.
“That guy just killed Luppi,” he thought, truly in terror for the first time in his life. “That cero barely used up any of his energy! Where did he attain so much power?!”
Much to the 9th’s dismay, the bright eyes of the Arrancar in question swiveled to rest their gaze on him. They stared, penetrating him deep to the core, reading his terrified expression easily. Slowly, they began to lose the overwhelming anger that had possessed them, and Arturo merely regarded Aaroniero with an almost pitying expression.
“You may live,” he said, casually, waving his hand in the 9th’s direction. The Espada heard a sickening snap as his weapon cracked into two halves before the spiritual might. “But you can no longer be an Espada.”
“N-… NO!” Aaroniero roared, as his zanpakuto lost its life. It shattered, after breaking, and its pieces scattered around the room, lost in the pools of Luppi’s blood. Without his sword, he was nothing. “YOU CAN’T DO THIS TO ME!” he screamed, in rage. His disguise, Kaien’s features, were dropped as he concentrated more on his dead zanpakuto spirit. Instead, a large vial of red liquid, sporting his two real heads – the owners of the high and low voices – was revealed. Arturo did not give it a second glance.
He merely strode away from the scene, without even a triumphant battle speech. He was filled with a cold victory – and walked away from the blood-coated room without even a smile. This was the way of the Arrancars, and although Arturo could be explicated from them in some ways, he would never truly be free of the thirst to kill. This, to him, was merely a small sip of the satisfying drink of victory. Your enemy’s blood first and foremost.
The room became wrapped in morbid silence, save only the dripping of Luppi’s blood from the high projections on the ceiling. Aaroniero was in shock that Glotoneria, his zanpakuto, had been snapped. He hadn’t even had the chance to release him… what had happened?! He panted where he lay, limp and with no remaining energy to move on. He was nothing without his sword, or its powers. What would happen to him now?
The minutes wore on as he lay there in a crumpled heap, trying to sort out his thoughts. Only a small portion of his mind even registered that he heard a door opening, and footsteps approaching.
“Ah, Aaroniero, is it?” he heard a familiar, snake-like voice say as it entered the room. One of the Espada’s heads floated around and got a better look at who had come, while the other kept its face towards the floor in sorrow for its lost zanpakuto spirit.
“L-Lord Ichimaru?” the deep voice asked.
“Yes,” said the tall, silver-haired man as he stood over the fallen 9th Espada, eyeing him coldly. “What are you doing down there? Get up.”
“S-sir…” he started to say, but right about then Gin noticed all the blood pooling around them both. His eyes nearly flew open wide when he noticed the former 6th’s decapitated corpse glued to the opposite wall, plastered there with sheer spiritual force and still dripping. Even the great master of illusions had to fight to keep his stomach from emptying its contents. Looking away, he took an intake of breath and directed his gaze back at Aaroniero. In doing so he noticed that his sword was gone, and indeed, shattered.
“Who did this to you both?” he asked in a clipped way. The 9th Espada took a moment in answering.
“The blue-haired one,” he said tiredly in his high-pitched voice. He sounded defeated. “The prisoner Arrancar.”
“Well,” replied Gin, sternly, to his fallen comrade. “I guess this makes you useless to us now then, doesn’t it?” he paused, but got no response. Aaroniero knew this was going to happen. “I guess you’re discharged, then.”
Quickly, and without a second thought, Gin whipped his sword out, flipped it around, and stabbed the tall Espada through the back until he felt its tip reach the floor. Aaroniero let out two yells, one high-pitched, one low, both full of agony. His face hard, the former lieutenant yanked his blade back out, quickly wiping it on his victim’s clothes, and then sheathing it again. Aaroniero’s fingers clutched at the floor, scraping his fingernails in as he fought through the pain, both sets of teeth grating.
“I…I am… honored…” he gasped through the pain, in his deep voice. “To have…. S-served… on the…. The… Espada…”
“Hm,” said Gin, as he watched the life fly out of the 9th. His body dropped, limp, and all the tension in the room dispersed. Indifferent, the second-in-command merely turned away (keeping his eyes averted from Luppi) and left the room by the way Arturo had. He wanted to catch up to the Arrancar, if he could. He would probably end up cleaning up after the turquoise-haired warrior as he went.
“Hm,” Ulquiorra said as he sonido’d down a hallway. He had sensed Arturo’s enormous blast of energy almost before it had been released, and by the feel of it, the Arrancar had been pretty annoyed. He had also recognized Luppi’s and Aaroniero’s spiritual pressures as they flicked on and off, probably trying to distract his brother, but he also sensed when they died. He snorted, never having cared for either of them. He supposed Grimmjow would be both glad and upset for Luppi’s second death. He guessed that the pantera king had wanted to kill his replacement himself.
Also as he ran, Ulquiorra sensed someone following him. Turning his eyes behind him as he traveled onwards, the 4th instantly recognized the reiatsus as belonging to Starrk and his other half Lilynette. They had sent the 1st after him? Even after they knew that both Arturo, and the combination of Szayel and Grimmjow were more of a threat than he was? He wondered what this could be about. Making it to the end of the hallway, he glanced quickly around to make sure no one was in the adjacent corridors, and then turned to face his opponent. Starrk made it there quickly, and Lilynette beside him.
“Hey,” Starrk said, raising his hand in greeting. “We’re here to kill you.”
“I expected as much,” replied the cuatro. He flicked his gaze between the two of them. “However, I cannot allow you to comply.”
“Psh, you can’t allow us to comply, eh?” Lilynette asked, cocking her hip and giving him a dubious look. “You think you’re all-powerful, huh?”
“No,” replied Ulquiorra. “I just cannot allow you to kill me.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t exactly want to kill you, either way,” said Starrk. He looked like he was fighting a yawn. “But, orders are orders.”
“Yeah,” said Lilynette. “Besides, what do you have to worry about? It’ll be quick, and only mostly painful.” Ulquiorra gave her a glance.
“I have to keep my word to my brother,” he said, as if they knew what he was talking about.
Needless to say, there was a pause.
“Your… brother?” Starrk asked at the same time as Lilynette. Ulquiorra closed his eyes and sighed like he always did when he found something slightly annoying.
“Yes,” he said. “Arturo Plateado is my brother from the world of the living. I discovered this while using escudo during Aizen’s mind probing.”
“WHAT?!?!” the two of them roared, leaping backwards, mouths agape. “What the heck?!”
“I am aware that it sounds unlikely, but it is the truth,” Ulquiorra replied quietly. He opened his eyes and directed his gaze back at them. “If you please, I would like to get this fight over with before I move on.”
“Um… sure?” Lilynette offered, since her partner was too flabbergasted to respond.
“Good,” said the 4th. As soon as he finished saying the words, he took his older brother’s example and sent multiple waves of his extremely thick, dense spiritual reiatsu roaring into them, taking them both by surprise and throwing them off their balance. They stumbled, trying to regain their footing, but while they were, Ulquiorra flash-stepped behind Starrk and kicked him fiercely in the back, sending the 1st Espada sprawling.
“Nope, not happening!” Lilynette laughed beside him. She appeared directly to his left and landed a huge punch in his side, throwing him straight through a nearby wall. Starrk, quickly recovering, leapt up and turned. Raising his hand and aiming carefully, he sent a bala hurtling through the air at the 4th Espada. Consequently, it reached its target – Since Ulquiorra didn’t have time to dodge – and slammed into him forcefully.
As powerful as he was, the 4th Espada could not quite reach the powers of the 1st. The bala that he’d just received hadn’t done anything too good to him. His eyes closed temporarily and he gritted his teeth in pain as he felt his shoulder take the brunt of the blow. Flowing, dark red, almost black blood instantly spurted from the wound and covered the entire right side of his Espada suit, dripping down onto the tiles and leaving a starkly out of place stain on the bright white.
“Heads up!” he heard Lily yell, and tried desperately to move away from where he was, but found himself unable to when her own bala slammed into his other arm. Blood spurted from that wound too, covering the other side of his suit and nearly drenching him in his own bodily liquid. Luckily, his high-speed generation skills quickly closed them, but he knew that he could not keep this up if he needed to.
“Damn,” he thought to himself, as he finally managed to use sonido to speed away from the spot before he could be crushed by another attack. “I was hoping to use this later on, but he has proved more powerful than I remember.”
Turning, Ulquiorra wisely placed an ample amount of space in between him and his opponents. He glanced up too meet their gazes once, and then swiftly drew his zanpakuto with one smooth movement. Acting upon instinct, both of his adversaries drew theirs as well, and they shot him cold, daring glances when he did so. Not wasting another moment of his time, the slim, black-haired Espada brought it up to bear with them, and then opened his mouth, uttering some very rarely-heard words.
“Did you feel that?” Szayel asked, pausing and turning in the direction of Arturo’s and, shortly following, Ulquiorra’s release of spiritual energies. Grimmjow, whom he had been paired with for their little excursion, stopped as well, but didn’t seem as fazed.
“Come on, pink head,” he said, in an irritated way. “We don’t have time to worry about them, remember? Arty boy sent us out to eliminate Nnoitra, and that’s what we’re gonna do. They can just die on their own if they want to.” The two of them started to run again, but this time Szayel was smirking.
“You did feel Luppi, right?” the scientist asked, shooting Grimmjow a sideways glance. The 6th gave him a dangerous look, but only nodded.
“Yeah? And?” he asked. “As long as that juvenile’s dead then I don’t care.”
“I see,” replied the 9th as they continued to use sonido.
“Just focus on current events, alright?” Grimmjow asked in a snarling voice. “I don’t really feel like lingering on the current subject very much.
“Alright, alright,” Szayel was swift to quip. “I didn’t say anything.”
“Hmph,” said the pantera. It was just as well that the conversation ended there, at least, because no sooner had the 6th said that, than they suddenly felt the sharp swing in the balance of spiritual pressures, and sensed the sudden presence of their old pal Nnoitra. Without warning, a huge, clover-shaped weapon swung down in between them, nearly slicing the tails off of their Espada suits, and creating a deadly tailwind.
“Hey there you two!” the 5th cackled, leaping down in front of them and swinging the chains of his weapon carelessly around in a wide circle. The two that he had attacked leaped to the side, suddenly wary. “What’s goin’ on?”
“Hey, Nnoitra buddy!” Grimmjow said, less-than-enthusiastically. “Nice to kill you.”
“Nice to kill you too,” replied the 5th, who then chuckled at their slightly humorous comments. Szayel sighed and rolled his eyes. He quietly drew Fornicarás out of its sheath, leveling it at Nnoitra confidently.
“Come now, Grimmjow,” he urged. “Let’s get this over with, shall we?”
“Sounds good to me,” replied the blue-haired warrior, grinning psychotically. He unsheathed Pantera, drawing him slowly and with precision, aiming it dead at Nnoitra’s throat with a superior air. “I think we should get started!”
“Me too,” the 5th stated slyly, licking his lips in anticipation. “Tesra! Help me take them down!”
Instantly, his fraccion appeared, hand on sword hilt, glaring angrily at whoever dare oppose his idol.
“Of course, Master Nnoitra,” he said, drawing his sword and steadying it at Szayel.
“Good,” replied the lanky, black-haired Espada. “This will go all the quicker.”
“Right then!” Grimmjow yelled. “Let’s get this thing started!”
Instantly upon shouting this, the 6th, 9th, 5th, and the only fraccion present all unleashed their spiritual reiatsus in one enormous blast, all trying to catch each other off guard. Unfortunately, it was all synchronized, and nobody got startled very much. Quickly seeing that this would not help him to a certain degree, Grimmjow lunged for Nnoitra and almost succeeded in slicing his neck clean open. Had the 5th not dodged fast enough, this is what would have happened.
Instead, he jumped to the side and slid backwards a few feet, taking the time to swing his zanpakuto around threateningly, and whip it back towards his attacker without missing a beat. Grimmjow expertly blocked, and then leaped forwards with a psychotic slash, decimating the cuff of his superior’s outfit with one hit, but not penetrating the skin. Nnoitra bared his teeth with a huge grin and used the chain on his weapon to snap back at the 6th and rip the entire sleeve off his Espada suit. Grimmjow leaped away just in time, but a large trickle of blood was already escaping the stinging wound in his arm.
“Say, isn’t that the arm you already lost to Tosen?” Nnoitra prodded, resting the weapon across his shoulders. “I guess it’s your unlucky limb.”
“Aw, shut up, Nnoitra,” said the blue-haired Espada evenly, testing out his arm just to prove it didn’t hurt. “Just ‘cause I lost it before doesn’t mean it ain’t useless!” he proceeded to use sonido to appear to Nnoitra’s left, and slash satisfyingly down his side with a long, sweeping cut. Blood leaped away from the wound and the 5th, eyes wide, leaped away as well.
“How did you do that, you little weakling?!” he shouted, amazed that someone had managed to puncture his hierro. Grimmjow smiled in response.
“I may be the 6th,” he replied. “But that doesn’t mean I’m weak.”
Meanwhile, Szayel had decided to face off against Tesra, hoping to kill him off quickly and then join Grimmjow in beating up Nnoitra. However, the fraccion had proved to be a little more powerful than he had first expected. The dirty-blond-haired man had made his move quickly upon the fight’s beginning, and went straight for Szayel’s blind side, attempting to make a cut in a good spot.
Although he wasn’t one for combat, the 8th had managed to dodge using sonido, and actually had the brains enough to think of appearing to the right of Tesra and landing a huge kick in his side. Surprised, the fraccion stumbled, but predicted the next move correctly. Quickly, he brought his sword up just to his left, which turned out to be where Szayel chose to appear. Unable to dodge something he ran right into, Szayel found himself cleverly sliced across the chest. He leaped backwards as if electrically shocked.
“I can read you like a book, Szayel Apporo,” Tesra smirked, allowing himself a small moment of victory and righting himself by pointing his sword at the slightly disoriented scientist.
“Is that so?” scowled the pink-haired Espada. “I guess I’ll just have to become unreadable.”
“Uh oh…” Tesra said, his eyes growing wide as Szayel lifted his zanpakuto to his mouth.
“Sip, Fornicarás,” Szayel said in a cold tone at the same moment that Tesra cried:
“Crush, Verruga!” Simultaneously, Grimmjow roared,
“Grind, Pantera!” and Nnoitra screeched:
“Pray, Santa Teresa!”
In one accord, all four of them unleashed their full battle potential; sending such a sheer amount of spiritual pressure roaring through Las Noches that even Aizen was pushed into a state of discomfort. Without a pause, they started to hack into each other anew, each one with their release forms activated.
Never before had the lonely, whitewashed halls witnessed such power.
Except, that is, for the battle going on in the corridors across the complex. For that is where Ulquiorra was battling it out with Starrk and Lilynette. Only moments ago, he had gone into his release form – which was forbidden – and started to attack the pair with a fresh sense of power. Now, instead of his normal, high-collar Espada suit and helmet, the 4th was enclothed in a sweeping, white robe of sorts, and his head was adorned with a full helmet sporting two magnificent, curving horns. The most intriguing aspect of his new form, however, were the two long, elegant black wings that had sprouted from his back, brushing the floor and opposite sides of the hallway with their size. Starrk and Lilynette’s eyebrows shot up and their eyes widened.
“And I thought I’d seen it all…” commented Starrk as the 4th turned to face them with new energy. Casually, slowly, he repositioned himself in a battle stance. “But we aren’t going to let that bother us, are we now, Lily?”
“’Course not!” she said, although there was a hint of uncertainty in her voice. This new form of Ulquiorra’s was different, but she already knew that upon the initiation of your release form, your reiatsu and speed were greatly enhanced. Already, the two of them could feel themselves being pressed down on as if gravity had increased by 50%. Taking the hint, Ulquiorra raised his sword and held it at a ninety degree angle to them.
“I prefer this battle end sooner than later,” he stated calmly. Promptly upon finishing that sentence, he disappeared, and without a moment’s pause, Lilynette suddenly let out a loud cry and collapsed into a heap on the ground. Whipping around, Starrk found the 4th standing behind her, his sword hilt having been driven into her skull. Blood started to pool around her small form, and Starrk instantly felt a twinge of anger grace his personality.
“You’re quicker than I thought,” he said through his teeth, coming around to bear with the 4th. “And smarter. You know that I can’t go into my release form without Lily, don’t you?”
“I have managed to deduce that, yes,” replied Ulquiorra stoically. “It would be as hopeless as going against a powerful opponent without your zanpakuto.”
“Now THAT, I’m not giving up,” stated Starrk calmly, tightening his hold on the hilt of his sword. He gritted his teeth again as he analyzed his knew strengths and weaknesses that came with Lily being out of the picture. By the looks of it, she wasn’t going to wake up by the time this was over, either.
“I did not think as much,” replied Ulquiorra, using sonido to put a little distance between him and the 1st. “I would not think of fighting an unarmed opponent.”
“That’s good, to say the least,” was the reply. “And here’s another good thing.” He went into sonido, dashing to the right of the 4th, but was a little too slow. Expecting this, Ulquiorra dodged the blow by stepping backwards one pace, and then making a stab for Starrk’s vital organs. In accordance, Coyote blocked expertly, forcing the green-hilted sword away from his own and then swiftly kicking his subordinate in the gut – hard. Ulquiorra stumbled away, and right into Starrk again as he appeared behind the cuatro using sonido.
“Sorry to do this, but…” Starrk said. Without a pause, he drove the blade of his sword straight through Ulquiorra from behind, slicing him through the ribs with one, swift movement. The 4th’s eyes grew wide as he felt the tip of the blade puncture his right lung, and then pass clean through him to the other side. Glancing down, the saw the front half of Starrk’s blade coated in blood as it started to retract.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to regenerate that…” he thought, as the 1st Espada swiftly drew out his sword, letting the 4th fall to his knees, coughing up more of his dark red blood onto the bright white floor than he would have liked. Regardless of this wound, Ulquiorra kept his hand clenched tightly around his zanpakuto hilt, not ready to give up in the least.
“Hey Lily, you ok?” he heard Starrk ask in the background. He knew that Lilynette would not be able to awaken at this point, but if Coyote used a kido spell on her, then he might be able to heal her enough – and then his fate was sealed. Disgusted with his failure so far, Ulquiorra saw only one way to finish this fight once in for all. Gathering up all the spiritual strength he had left, he closed his eyes slowly and then, still on his hands and knees, said quietly:
“Resureccion Segunda Etapa.”
“Now how do you feel, you insignificant kitten?” Nnoitra screeched, laughing at the bloody, weakened state that Grimmjow was now in. The blue-haired warrior, now in his half cat form, was practically dragging himself along, limping horrifically because of a major leg wound. Aside from that, and the fact that he was losing a lot of blood, he was infuriated by Nnoitra’s comment.
“Insignificant WHAT?!” he roared, panting. “I outta teach you a thing or two!”
“As if!” Nnoitra laughed, swinging Santa Teresa around on all four of his arms. “I don’t even know why you endeavored to fight me! You know it was a losing battle all along.”
“You wish!” Grimmjow spat back, sonidoing around and striking at the tall figure from the side. Expertly, three of the four arms knocked him away, Nnoitra kicked him swiftly in the chest, and then his fourth arm came around and attempted to spear him. Luckily, the 6th was able to dodge this, and slice Nnoitra’s arm clean off.
“Oh, come now, that’s the third time you’ve done this!” Nnoitra laughed, quickly pausing to let a new, regenerated arm push itself out of the severed stump. Flexing his new fingers, Nnoitra tipped back his head and laughed again. “You’re not getting anywhere, Grimmjow!”
“I will, you just got to give me a minute!” retorted the 6th breathlessly.
“You shall? Well, I might just wait then. I don’t favor fighting an opponent who’s at a disadvantage,” replied the tall Espada. He casually swung Santa Teresa around in circles in each of his hands as he waited for the pantera king to catch his breath. Just the sight of him, so relaxed, set Grimmjow’s blood boiling. He couldn’t possibly be that far beneath the 5th, could he?
Meanwhile, only six or seven yards from where the first duo was battling, Szayel was still fighting it out with Tesra. It angered the pink-haired scientist to some degree that a mere fraccion was able to withstand his attacks in its adjuchas form, while he was in his released one. Shouldn’t Fornicarás be able to beat him to a pulp without much effort? The 8th gritted his teeth, knowing that he had never been one for combat. Their fight had gone on, unperturbed by the two others, and they had occasionally spared glances at their battling partners, to make sure they didn’t kill each other. Tesra was especially on guard, but he was also clever enough to spot an opening when it became available to him.
“Are you just going to stand there while I attack you, Szayel Aporro?” shouted Nnoitra’s close follower as he saw Szayel get distracted by the battle to their side, bringing down his now amplified fist on top of the modified scientist. Szayel whipped his wing bones to protect himself, and was glad when they withheld against the attack.
“Of course not, you stupid fool,” he said, grinning psychotically, much in a way that Grimmjow would have. “And you just made a fatal mistake.”
“What?” Tesra asked, suddenly on guard. Without pausing, Szayel swiftly snapped his wing up and let it wrap snugly around Tesra’s arm. Szayel sneered as the huge adcjuchas shoved him aside.
“You’re doomed!” he laughed, as a large drop of purple substance dripped off of his wing and landed in his hand, instantly transforming into the shape of a small doll. This time, it was Tesra in his fraccion form.
“What… what is that?” Tesra asked, uncertainly. Without hesitating, Szayel quickly gave the doll a small prick, causing the fraccion to snap back into his smaller, more human-like appearing form.
“It’s you, my friend,” replied the psychotic scientist, smirking. He adored moments like this, when his enemy first realized what he held in his hand, and the fear and recognition that flooded their eyes. Without pausing, he took the doll in his palm and then quickly squeezed his hand into a fist, effectively crushing all of its internal ‘organs’. Tesra collapsed to the ground with a cry, clutching at where all of his real organs were, and letting his sword fall to the ground with a clatter.
This, of course, caught the attention of Nnoitra, who was still standing nearby waiting for Grimmjow to catch his breath.
“Tesra?” he asked, flicking his gaze in that direction. Both his and the 6th’s attentions were caught by this new development, but not in a good way, on Nnoitra’s part. They were just in time to witness Szayel take the doll’s tiny arm in his hand and twist it backwards, effectively breaking the real Tesra’s arm without any effort at all. The 5th’s eyes snapped open when his fraccion coughed up more blood that was safe for him.
“Wow,” Grimmjow said to himself. “Nifty.” However, this comment was quickly overpowered and drowned by Nnoitra’s loud, roaring voice.
“Tesra you idiot!” he screeched, leaping in between the two of them with sonido. Without missing a beat, he lifted Santa Teresa and smashed it down on top of the 8th, forcing him to the ground. The scientist’s poor attempt to block the blow was dashed away as the immense strength of his superior, combined with his reiatsu, crushed his inner spirit to near shreds. Striking again, the 5th easily sliced open the pink-haired warrior’s torso and severed off his right wing.
“Wh-!?” Szayel started to say as he felt and saw his own blood leave his body. Knowing that he could survive if only he could strike Nnoitra, he started to lash out with his long wing bone, but it was all for naught.
“This will teach you!” shouted the 5th Espada, opening his mouth wide, forming a quick cero on the tip of his tongue. Before anything could be done, he had shot it full-force straight into the scientist, smashing it into him with a bright ray of golden light. A moment too late, Grimmjow kicked the superior Espada away and into the adjacent wall, sending him straight through it and into the other side.
“Aw heck this can’t be good,” Grimmjow said as he looked left to where Szayel was lying. An extraordinarily large pool of blood was forming underneath him sickeningly quickly, and the 6th could clearly see that his other wing had been blown away from his body as well. He started to head towards him, but Nnoitra had reappeared in the hole in the wall, a beyond angry look on his face. Grimmjow prepared himself for an attack, but the 5th’s attention was all directed towards his fraccion.
“Tesra!” he called, dropping all four of his weapons at once and rushing to the small form’s side. Grimmjow’s eyebrows shot up, but he was paid no heed. Watching, still a little surprised, the 6th got an even bigger shock in a few moments.
“I-it’s ok, Master Nnoitra,” Tesra coughed, more of his blood spilling out of his mouth and onto his fraccion outfit. Nnoitra, a horrified look on his face, kneeled down next to him quickly supporting his head with his arm quickly slipped underneath it, something that Grimmjow had never seen him do – and it certainly turned backwards everything that he had previously thought of his untrustworthy, higher rank superior.
“But… Tesra… are you alright?” the 5th asked, although he sounded less that hopeful. Still stunned, the 6th stood nearby, unsure of what else to do as the fraccion reached up and grabbed the sleeve of his master.
“I’ll be fine, big brother,” whispered the fraccion hoarsely. Grimmjow’s eyebrows shot even higher up, his eyes snapped open, and his jaw hung slack in disbelief. Either he’d heard wrong, or he was crazy. He decided that he must have been even crazier after Nnoitra grasped Tesra’s hand tightly, and then spoke with emotion choking his throat.
“Tesra… don’t…” he started to say, but stopped. His fraccion gave him one, last, weak smile before his eyes closed, and he went limp all over, his hand falling out of his brother’s and onto his own chest. A tense moment went by, the 5th kneeling in disbelief where he was, unable to comprehend what he’d just seen. Grimmjow, needless to say, was also unable to comprehend what he’d just seen, but he instantly saw a chance, and decided to take it.
Striding up behind the 5th, he took his zanpakuto – for now he had reverted back to his original form – and drew it back, ready to strike. Just as he was about to slice him through, though, Nnoitra began to speak.
“He was my little brother,” the 5th said under his breath, in a way that one would never have expected him to say. Grimmjow paused, for reasons he did not know. “I remember waking up with him in Heuco Mundo – we were both fused as the same adjuchas Hollow.”
The 6th waited, but he did not lower his sword as his superior continued in his quiet, completely new voice. He watched, stone-faced, as the story went on.
“Eventually, we got separated when a Soul Reaper split us into two, but I ended up killing him and gaining his power,” he said. “After that, we both went around killing Hollows and consuming them, but Tesra always fell behind, until I was several levels higher. I was the one who first regained my reason, and then helped him along to regain his once I had reached Espada level. From then on, he decided to be my fraccion, and I his master, but… we never referred to each other as brothers again… until now,” the 5th finished. “I wish I had treated him as what he deserved…” his head bowed over his brother’s body in a sadness Grimmjow could hardly comprehend.
There was a slight pause, as Grimmjow comprehended this new information. He closed his eyes and shook his head slightly, as if to clear it.
“Sorry about all that,” said the 6th quietly, slowly, as he opened his eyes again. Without pausing, he thrust his sword forward and through the heart of his adversary, using his renewed spiritual energy to reinforce his blade as he did so, infesting Nnoitra’s body with his own presence, and killing him instantly. Not even with a last cry of pain, the 5th slowly dropped and fell over the body of his brother, both of them coldly dead.
After a pause, turning away from the scene, Grimmjow somehow felt at a loss. That all went to show how much he really knew about his fellow Espada… first Ulquiorra and that turquoise-haired stranger were brothers, and now Nnoitra and his fraccion? The world must have turned upside down when he became employed by Aizen. And speaking of his fellow Espada…
“Szayel?” he asked, suddenly remembering that the 8th had fallen in battle was well. Turning, his gaze fell upon the mangled body of his comrade, hoping to see him resting on his elbows, giving the scene a surprised, speechless expression, but… The instant he gave the pink-haired Espada a closer look, he knew that he wouldn’t be getting back up again. His feet slowly dragged themselves over to the body of his fallen friend, and his eyes looked emptily down upon it without much comprehension.
Szayel was lying on his back, blood slipping from his chest and mouth onto the floor, eyes closed as if he were merely sleeping. His glasses – the remnants of his Hollow mask – were gone, having completely fractured when Nnoitra struck him down. The remains of Fornicarás’s release state were still lying around him in broken pieces, becoming stained red in their master’s own blood, the power they had possessed gone. Szayel was dead.
Grimmjow clamped his jaw shut until his teeth hurt. He always told himself he never cared much for the other Espada, but after this, he wasn’t sure if he knew anything anymore. The bleak aftermath around him was a sudden and sharp stab in what remained of his subconscious mind, and he felt as though the images would never leave. Wordlessly, he set himself down beside the dead 8th Espada, staring off down the hallway where the brawl had taken place. Silently, he let his mind succumb to the wounds he had acquired in battle, and fell into unconsciousness with the strange feeling that he was going to be missing someone when he woke up.
Meanwhile, somewhere off in the deep, dark reaches of the west wing of Las Noches, the long-forgotten Yammy was simply walking around like nothing had happened. He whistled casually to himself, quietly, as he walked, waiting for someone to jump out and try to stop him. However, after a few more minutes of walking by himself, he realized that nobody knew he was even here, let alone the fact that they weren’t going to come for him. He sighed a deep sigh.
“I was sort of looking forward to pounding someone,” he said to himself remorsefully. He looked slowly up and down the hallway, hoping someone would suddenly leap out to scare him and then get beaten up.
“Oh come on!” Yammy yelled, fed up with being left out of all the action. For the past half hour he had sensed battles everywhere across the layout of his former home, and he was just itching to knock someone senseless. It had been too long since he’d done that, even IF it was only about two days ago. He narrowed his eyes just at the moment that Ulquiorra plunged deeper into his battle, after going into his second release form. Instead of being surprised, the 10th was just plain ticked off. Why couldn’t he have his share of the action?
“Well,” he said to himself as he started up walking again, down the hallway. “I’m going to get a part in this whether it comes looking for me or not!”
As if on cue, he looked up just as he felt Szayel’s spiritual pressure drop suddenly. He lifted his eyebrow.
“Good timing,” he noted, and sonido’d off in that direction. Maybe he could help those two – they probably needed it. He frowned, though, as he got closer. Why wasn’t Szayel’s reiatsu rising again? In fact, it seemingly faded away, slowly, as if it were…. Dying. Now that certainly wasn’t good. Sonidoing faster, he prepared a kido spell in his huge hands (and even though it was small in relation to HIM, it certainly wasn’t in relation to everyone else) and sped off towards the dueling duo. This would be a big help, but would he be too late?
“Ahh… if it isn’t Plateado again?” someone suddenly hissed to Arturo’s right. “How nice to see you.” The Arrancar stiffened at the sound of the purring voice, recognizing it instantly. The spiritual pressure of this man had been stalking him ever since he left the scene of Luppi’s destruction, and he had intentionally slowed down so that he could be caught up with.
“Hello again, Ichimaru,” he said, smiling politely and turning to face his new opponent, although he was still tense. He was met with the wide, happy grin of Las Noches’s second-in-command leader.
“I see that you’ve managed to kill off the 9th and 6th Espada without much effort, my friend,” Gin said, slowly drawing his sword as he strode up to Arturo from behind. The Arrancar turned, just as slowly, to face him, aware that this man alone was more powerful than the two he had just defeated. His golden eyes glinted dangerously, though, and pierced through the ex-lieutenant as if he wasn’t even there. He had no fear for this man, not a lick of it.
“So, shall we get straight to the point, then?” Gin asked, casting aside his usual string of statements and formalities. “I have a feeling I should be dealing with you sooner than later.”
“As do I,” said Arturo, casually. He rested his hand on the hilt of Fenix, hypothesizing that he would need to make use of the blade this time, and not just rely on his enormous reserve of spiritual reiatsu. His adversary had already stopped about battling distance from him, and was patiently waiting a few moments while his opponent readied himself for a fight. Arturo glanced up at him from the floor, a hint of enjoyment in his eyes.
“I’m going to like defeating you, Ichimaru,” he said quietly. “I’m going to give your master a little warning for what’s coming his way.”
“Is that so?” Gin asked, seemingly at perfect ease. “I don’t think I can allow you to go that far, my young friend. Your little journey is going to have to stop here.”
“No, it isn’t,” Arturo stated in a finalistic tone.
“Oh, I think it will,” replied Gin with a smirk. “Can’t you sense it?” he lifted his hand and spread out his fingers, letting the ever-present stream of reiatsu slip through his grasp. “Grimmjow is down, and even though Nnoitra is dead along with Tesra, I think we’re on the rise here.”
“Oh, you think that, do you?” he asked. “And just why would you jump to that conclusion?”
“Try and sense for Szayel, and you’ll know what I mean,” he purred devilishly. Arturo’s eyes snapped wide open when he said that, suddenly realizing what he meant.
“S-zayel?” he asked, slowly. He inched out with his mind, sensing for the 8th Espada, but no small spark of energy popped up where he expected it to, beside Grimmjow. Instead, there seemed to be nothing but an empty projection of the former warrior. Arturo was suddenly at a loss. Out of all of them, he had been hoping that nobody but himself would have to fall to another’s sword. But Szayel? Why did it have to be him?
“Yes, that half-witted excuse for a scientist is dead,” stated Gin flatly. “I actually expected someone else to die first – probably that careless one Grimmjow.” By now, Arturo had drawn his zanpakuto out of its sheath, and was grasping its hilt rather angrily, squeezing the handle with regret coursing through his veins.
“And you’re going to be next on the list!” the turquoise-haired warrior finally roared, flinging his sword tip upwards as he ran forwards at the ex-shinigami. Gin leaped backwards in the nick of time, but he could also feel the cold slick of a metal edge as it sliced along his face, running up from the bottom of his chin to directly beneath his eye. Scowling the best he could with this grin in place, he landed on his feet with blood dripping.
“Lucky hit,” he said, quick to smile again. “This is more like it now, isn’t it?”
“How very perceptive of you,” Arturo replied, slashing downwards towards Gin without a pause. The former soul reaper dodged expertly and then retaliated by making a stab for the Arrancar’s internal organs. Not letting him get the chance, Arturo blocked like the pro he was, and then fired a stream of his spiritual reiatsu, in the form of red x’s, at the man. This time, unprepared, Ichimaru found himself knocked off balance and backwards, landing on his back on the cold, hard tiles. Not wasting a second of his time, Arturo instantly leaped forward again and attempted to stab him through the heart while he was down, but Gin rolled out of the way and was on his feet before anything vital could be destroyed. Carelessly twirling Fenix on his fingertips, Arturo advanced upon him, slowly letting tiny streams of his reiatsu get free and charge at the former soul reaper, inflicting spiritual wounds on him invisibly.
“You think that is going to force me down?” Gin asked, just as casually, as if none of this were happening.
“Not exactly,” replied Arturo. “But it is always good to have a battle plan, to say the least.”
“Hm,” said Gin. He widened his grin, and then started to release some of his own reishi, slowly. Arturo barely flinched when the air pressure in the room went up a few notches. By now, after all the training he had accomplished on his own in the desert over the years, he was used to it. They circled each other in silence for a moment, heightening their own spiritual pressures bit by bit, trying to force the other into a state of over-discomfort, but neither got very far.
Finally realizing that this wasn’t going to get any better, Gin used shunpo to disappear from Arturo’s view, but the skilled Arrancar was faster. Using sonido, which far outran shunpo, the golden-eyed warrior leaped backwards from his previous standpoint and then blasted it instantly with more of his spiritual red x’s. Gin, who had been running for that very spot, could not stop himself fast enough to dodge, and once again got knocked backwards to the floor. Arturo was on top of him before he knew it, and raised his arm to strike. Gin, quick as lightning, did not move, but spoke.
“Shoot to kill,” he said swiftly, raising his sword as fast as possible before Arturo could spear him through. Even Arturo knew enough about the shinigami to know that this was Gin’s initiative phrase for his sword’s shikai state. Eyes widening, he leaped out of the way, but a moment too late. The extended blade of Gin’s sword sliced his upper arm, painfully cutting through his hierro without a hitch. Surprised, to say the least, Arturo leaped backwards and away from the attack as fast as he dared without tripping over his downed opponent. He skidded a few feet away, glancing down to inspect his arm with a quick look to assess the damage. He was glad to find that it wasn’t as bad as it felt, but that was simultaneously the problem. Although there was no permanent damage done, Arturo could feel that this would hold him back in the battle from now on. Gin must have severed an important tendon with his blind attack, and that certainly wasn’t going to help Arturo right now.
Without waiting for the Arrancar to give him a verbal response, Gin was already back up on his feet and heading for Arturo, his sword at the ready. Glancing up, Arturo was forced to forget about his wounds for now, and bring his sword up to bear with his opponent’s before he could be attacked. Their blades crashed together, letting them glare into each other’s faces for a split second before they forced each other away again and leaped in the opposite directions.
“Shoot to kill,” Gin quipped again, quickly, at the same time that Arturo fired yet another stream of his reiatsu x’s, leading to a collision between sword and spiritual pressure, and for a moment, there was nothing but a blinding flash of light in between them. The two warriors looked away and shielded their eyes for a moment, leaping away from where they had been standing and trying to find their adversary before he could do vice versa. When the dust cleared, however, they suddenly realized that they were standing right next to each other. With cries of surprise, they struck out at each other at the same time that they leaped away from the spot.
“Well now, this is just starting to get interesting,” Gin stated when he suddenly realized that he had another long, sweeping cut from his shoulder down his forearm. “You are better at fighting than the last time I saw you. Remember that? I believe I speared you straight through. What’s suddenly caused this… excellence?”
Arturo took a moment before answering, keeping his one free hand clamped over his injured arm while glaring at the reptile-like man with a certain look of satisfaction.
“How nice of you to inquire,” replied the turquoise-haired Hollow with a smirk. “It’s actually due to determination.”
“Oh dear,” said Gin, shaking his head. “Now even I should have known that you’d have some of that. It’s a dangerous thing when you have enough of it.”
“Well I’ve got plenty,” Arturo growled under his breath. “So either get out of the way or be defeated.”
“Orders are orders, you know,” replied the silver-haired warrior, shrugging dismissively. “And besides, I do believe I’ve been needing exercise as of late.” Arturo let out a snorting laugh.
“Well, let’s get on with it then!” he shouted.
Starrk couldn’t see. He couldn’t breathe. He had no bearings.
“What’s going on?” he thought to himself wildly as he tried to figure out where he was. His mind, which had been temporarily put out of context, suddenly remembered that he was still in the hallway in Las Noches, battling Ulquiorra. But hadn’t he put his sword through the 4th? It was true, he remembered noting how dark the thick red blood was. Then why was his reiatsu streaming – no, not streaming; more like triturating – through the room? He should be dead.
But, standing once again and turning his head to see behind him, it instantly became obvious to Starrk that the 4th wasn’t as close to death as he would have liked. At first, he wasn’t even sure if it was Ulquiorra who was standing before him, but those signature tear marks – although black now – were the giveaway.
Behind him, standing tall despite the heavily bleeding wound in his right side, was Ulquiorra in what appeared to be his second release form. He was covered from the waist down with a fine, black silky fur, which also enveloped his arms up the elbows. In addition to that, his wings had expanded in size, and he had accumulated a sweeping tail, a pair of real horns – his helmet was gone – and claws on all his limbs. Needless to say, Starrk’s eyes snapped open. Even he, the first espada, could not achieve a second release form, and this came as a complete surprise to him.
“Wh- what is this?” he heard himself asking the 4th. He needed an explanation for this phenomenon.
“This is my second release form, Segunda Etapa,” he said, confirming the 1st’s fears. “Until now, no one has seen it.”
“Is… is that s-so?” Starrk asked, stumbling over his words through the endless pressure. Once again, it felt as if he were listening to himself talking from far away, and a strange feeling was enveloping his mind, as if this really was the end, and he could not escape it. He hadn’t had this feeling since he died, and as he stood there, bending under both Ulquiorra’s and his own spiritual pressure, he searched desperately for the word.
“This is true despair,” continued Ulquiorra, once again finishing the other Espada’s thoughts with his words. He pulled himself to full height, spreading out his wings, and although it was clear his breathing was labored, he made an impressive and frightening sight.
“D-despair…” Starrk whispered to himself, trying not to give in to the overwhelming feeling of ultimate failure, and the knowledge of imminent death. He clenched his fist and looked up sternly at his younger subordinate, a glint of anger in his blue-gray eyes.
“I don’t think this is going to be enough to fight me,” he growled. “You’re only number four. I’m the Primera Espada.”
“I am aware of your rank,” Ulquiorra replied, closing his eyes, and angling his head downward. “And of why you were chosen for that, but I can not allow you to stop me.”
“I’m afraid I’ll have to let you down,” replied Starrk harshly. It wasn’t like him to express anger, but this was pushing it. Without Lily, he realized he was at a great disadvantage. He stood, facing Ulquiorra head-on, anger boiling in his veins. All the reishi in the room suddenly started to tremble, and Starrk’s spiritual pressure suddenly shot upwards.
“What’s this?” the cuatro thought to himself as the 1st faced him sternly. Before he could think anything else, Starrk spoke.
“Cero,” he said under his breath, and instantly, a huge sphere of light blue began to form on his chest, balling and quickly growing larger. Eyes widening, Ulquiorra thought faster than Coyote could have given him credit for.
“Cero Oscuras!” the slender Espada quickly shouted, raising his arm and pointing at the 1st Espada quickly, Instantaneously, a much larger, green, black-bordered cero formed on the tip of his finger.
At the same time, both of the ceros were released, and hurtled down the hallway’s length towards each other, colliding in the center with more force than even Aizen had thought possible. A fierce, overwhelming moment filled with nothing but raw power exploded through Las Noches, completely causing the walls that surrounded the two battling warriors to crumble and rocket away from the scene at unimaginable speeds, leaving them in a space roughly the size of a city block. The power screeched through the remaining building, causing its very structure to shudder and threaten to collapse. Countless servants and fraccions scattered, trying to escape this horrible feeling of impending doom, but were unable to do so.
A second later, the hallway became clear, and the results were obvious. Only one of them remained standing in the slowly clearing dust. Panting heavily, but still the winner nonetheless, it was the cuatro Espada who stood the victor over 1st, and the results of his immense spirit cero were clear. Starrk, along with Lilynette’s body, were completely out of view, having been blown away by the ultimate power that Ulquiorra possessed. Instantly, the ultra-strong, blue reiatsu that Starrk used to posses shrank away to nothing, quietly retreating back to its master’s bodies.
Standing shakily in the ruins, Ulquiorra stared listlessly after his defeated opponent through blood-stained surroundings, mildly surprised that he had actually defeated a warrior three ranks above him. He was also aware, though – imminently aware – that the Primera had not come out achieving nothing. His right lung was still bleeding heavily, and now that he thought about it, he realized that Starrk’s cero had slipped through his to a certain degree, and that his left arm was slowly regenerating itself after being ripped off. The pain was excruciating, but he did not let it show. It was a symbol of weakness to let pain seep through, and even though his adversary was dead, he wasn’t going to let any remnants of their past battle affect him.
Turning away from the scene unsteadily, Ulquiorra quietly let himself slip back into his original Arrancar form, his helmet returning along with his tattered Espada suit and zanpakuto. His wings disappeared, but he did not notice as he slowly started to limp in the direction that Arturo was fighting in. If he could call up the spiritual energy to sonido there, he could help his brother defeat Ichimaru. But when he tried, he found he was too exhausted to get there as fast as he wanted. He would have to travel there by simply calling on physical strength.
“Well that was pretty scary,” Yammy commented to himself as he sonido’d through the last hallway that separated him from his two fallen comrades. He had been hindered dramatically by Ulquiorra’s despairing second release, but he had managed to blindly struggle through the overwhelming massive pressure, and now that it was gone, he felt as if he could travel faster than anything alive… or dead.
However, as he rounded the last corner, all previous thoughts were dashed away. Before him there were clearly the remains battle scene, and there were more than enough dead souls to prove it. Casting his large eye over the hallway quickly, he deduced that Nnoitra and Tesra had been killed, but so had Szayel. Grimmjow’s pressure was alright, so he quickly ran over to the 8th’s side and knelt beside him, warming up the huge kido spell and holding it above his body carefully.
“This had better work…” he muttered to himself, as the healing spell started to take effect. A red, glowing light emanated from the scene, slowly drawing in all the broken pieces of Hollow mask and reishi that had been scattered upon the octava’s death. Breaking into his characteristic grin, Yammy was thrilled when all the shattered pieces started to reform themselves under his hand. Slowly, after a while, Szayel’s hand twitched, and his lips parted to inhale a quiet intake of breath. Knowing that his job was done, the 10th removed the huge kido and then sat back on his heels, glad to have been of some use.
“What a hectic day,” he pointed out.
Arturo and Gin leaped and crashed their way around the hallway, lunging at each other at varying intervals, smashing their swords together and unleashing immense amounts of spiritual pressure as they did so. The amazing racket it conjured up spread from just the clash of their zanpakutos to the cries and grunts of pain and concentration that their voices issued forth. The battle was starting to get intense, and as the silver-haired and turquoise-haired warriors constantly attacked each other, the pools of blood that were beginning to gather underneath them began to grow larger. Finally drawing apart swiftly, the two of them faced each other panting heavily.
“I do believe we’re closing in on the end, Plateado,” Gin pointed out, just after the golden-eyed Arrancar had managed to completely cut off the use of his arm. He had therefore switched his sword to the other hand and started fighting on the left side.
“I think I’m inclined to agree,” replied Arturo, whom had acquired a long, sweeping scar from above his right eye to the opposite side of his chin. As he blinked back the blood, though, he still felt confident. He allowed himself a sneaky little grin as he eyed his opponent. He let his spiritual pressure raise another notch. Gin’s eyebrow lifted.
“You still have more reiatsu in you?” he asked, giving Arturo a fake, mildly surprised look. “I supposed that you had reached a stalemate with me.”
“Apparently, you have more in you too,” Arturo replied, giving Gin a sly look. “I can sense that you have it in there somewhere. And we’re not going to get anywhere in this fight unless you let that out.”
“You think?” replied the snake-like warrior slowly. He let his grin widen. “Well then, I guess I should do as you advise.” He quickly let a few more levels of his reiatsu slip out, and wrap themselves around the turquoise haired warrior slowly. Forcing the pressure away with his own, apparently stronger reiatsu, he lifted his sword again and took several steps forward – lessening the distance between them with threatening footsteps. Gin simply raised his sword and grinned right along with his adversary.
“You’re ready for the final blow then?” he asked, referring to the end of the fight, which was becoming more and more imminent as they both became more and more battered and tired. Arturo merely nodded in response. Lifting his sword slowly, he began to call up the rest of his reiatsu that he wanted to use for this battle, summoning it to the blade of his sword, causing it to glow and vibrate slightly. Gin’s eyebrow went up.
“So you want to play a game with swords, do you?” he asked. Arturo did not reply, but simply kept directing his spiritual pressure into this blade, causing it to light up and vibrate even further. Gin laughed.
“Fine then,” he said, holding his sword up, facing Arturo. “If it’s a little sword battle you want, I’ll give you one.”
“How good of a one?” the Arrancar asked, giving Gin a suspicious look.
“Oh, I’m sure it will suffice your needs,” replied Ichimaru confidently. “This one’s a special trick of mine.”
“Well then, what is it?” Arturo asked, impatient. He searched the face of his opponent only to find it filled with ultimate confidence. Gin grinned widely.
“Bankai,” he said slowly in a cold, amused voice.
Ulquiorra, who had been stumbling along this whole time down the hallways, leaving a substantially thick blood trail behind him, looked up sharply when Gin’s spiritual pressure suddenly rocketed through the roof. His eyes widened slightly as he suddenly realized what this must mean.
“Lord Ichimaru has released his bankai,” he said quietly to himself between labored breaths. Gritting his teeth, the 4th willed himself to go faster, calling up enough of his wounded spiritual energy to run using sonido for a short distance. He stopped, panting, a few hallways away, and leaned on the wall in an attempt to catch his breath. He cursed at himself for not being able to arrive fast enough to help his brother. Furrowing his brow with determination in a renewed attempt to get there faster, he called upon his reiatsu again and built up enough from his depleting reserve to sonido another hallway or two from the place where he had been. Upon arriving at his new destination, the cuatro stumbled, though, and had to reach out with a hand on the wall to catch himself from falling. He growled inwardly. This was going to take too long.
He closed his eyes, still supported by the wall, he once again called upon the pool of spiritual energy he had welled up inside, and tried to use it. However, he became so wrapped up in trying to do so, that he remained unaware that he suddenly had company.
“Going somewhere?” a calm, even voice suddenly said from behind him. Ulquiorra’s eyes snapped open, but it was not a surprise to find that he knew who was there. Slowly turning his head to see over his bloody shoulder, the 4th’s emerald eyes were treated by the presence of the most unwanted man in existence at the moment.
“L-Lord Aizen,” he said, looking his former master directly in the eye. The lord of Las Noches’s manner was calm, and he appeared to be completely at ease. Smiling, Aizen reached out a hand and placed it on the shoulder over which Ulquiorra was looking, his entire façade friendly and innocent.
“Ulquiorra,” he said, his touch gentle, as if he knew that it would hurt the cuatro if he even placed his hand too hard upon his shoulder. “I hope you don’t think that we are on opposing sides, now.”
The fourth only stared suspiciously, eyes narrowing.
“You are still my fourth Espada, you know,” Aizen continued, his smile still warm. “I still have a lot of trust placed in you, and I would not like it if you betrayed that trust.”
“I do not believe that you have any trust in me anymore, Lord Aizen,” he replied, taking a deep breath to keep his speech supported. “I fear I have already gone too far to betray you.”
Aizen raised his eyebrow. Here the injured warrior was, fully at his mercy, and admitting to betrayal. Only someone like Ulquiorra could do something like that.
“And do you not believe that I am ready to forgive you?” asked the great leader. Ulquiorra’s eyelids widened a bit, but then quickly went back to being slightly suspicious slits.
“I do not wish to appear disrespectful, sir, but if I may say so, I do not believe that you will forgive me,” he said in a finalistic tone. As he spoke, he cleverly started building up an amount of spiritual energy in his core, unbeknownst to Aizen. “It was never in your intentions to forgive me from the moment you knew that I was no longer supporting you, Lord Aizen.”
“Is that so?” the great lord asked, keeping his voice calm and even, although his grip on the shoulder of his subordinate tightened. “Then I guess you already know the next step in this plan that I have?”
Ulquiorra merely nodded.
“Well then,” replied Aizen coldly, his friendly smile dropping and his face becoming hard. “I guess you must prepare yourself.”
“I apologize, Lord Aizen,” was all the 4th said, dropping his eyelids and closing his eyes.
“For what, betraying me?” Aizen replied. “I could only expect an answer like that from you.”
“No, for this,” replied Ulquiorra. Instantly upon finishing, he unleashed what remained of his spiritual reiatsu from deep inside, exploding the built-up pressure into a second-long maelstrom around him that consequently blew out the walls around them, and forced the unsuspecting Aizen away, leaving the great lord struggling under the immense gravitational stress falling down upon him. The emerald-colored spirit particles sped through the air around them, ultimately capturing the oxygen in it and robbing the great lord of Hueco Mundo of anything to breathe. Struggling, Aizen found it harder and harder to remain conscious as the seconds passed, and he felt himself losing it as time wore on. Then, almost as quickly as it had started, the whirlwind of horrifying claustrophobia wore away, gradually receding and disappearing into the air particles around it. Without anything to support him anymore, Ulquiorra fell to his hands and knees.
Slowly, the world around Aizen reconstructed itself. The swimming images of what used to be the hallway eventually regained their foothold in reality, and Aizen blinked, staying where he was as the dizziness wore off. Eventually, with his peace disturbed by Ulquiorra’s hitching breaths, the great lord lifted himself up and looked around him. The entire hallway had been blown away by the 4th’s spur-of-the-moment attack, and he could immediately see that it would take a lot of rebuilding to get it back into shape.
With the effects of the attack already wearing off, the great lord stood, steadying himself at first, but then removing his hands from any nearby supports and standing by himself. Amused, he started to chuckle.
“You think that a weak attack like that is going to keep me from carrying out the rest of my plan, Ulquiorra?” he asked, dusting himself off. He then slowly picked his way across the ruined corridor to where the 4th lay, standing tall over his former subordinate triumphantly. “That was just a poor attempt at slowing me down, even if it was temporarily effective.”
“It wasn’t just… to slow you,” the fallen warrior suddenly coughed. Aizen lifted his eyebrow.
“And what else was it for, then?” he inquired.
“You will… see…” was the only reply he got. Aizen frowned, a little disappointed with the answer. If he didn’t know something, it could be potentially dangerous.
Back at the fight between Arturo and Gin, the odds had been bumped up a bit when the latter released his bankai. The amount of spiritual pressure in the room jumped, and Ichimaru took advantage of this sudden burst to take immediate use of the powers that his special sword release possessed. Jutting the hilt of his sword forward, he grinned even wider as the blade of his zanpakuto zoomed forward faster than the eye could see, straight at his opponent. The only reason that it did not hit its target was because Arturo, being the highly attuned warrior that he was, sensed what was going to happen and dodged out of the way using sonido in the nick of time.
“Does this make things more to your liking?” Gin asked, as the blade retracted itself back onto the hilt at normal length.
“Possibly,” Arturo replied, keeping his eyes narrowed. He knew that if he let Gin’s enhanced zanpakuto cut him even once, it could have a crippling effect, if not a fatal one. Keeping himself on edge, the Arrancar carefully worked on circling Las Noches’s general, tallying the new advantages and disadvantages that he might have now. Gin, on the other hand, appeared completely at ease, simply watching his turquoise-haired adversary walk around him in an almost amused fashion. Twirling his sword around on his fingertips, the ex-lieutenant suddenly decided to try and catch his opponent off guard and shoot his sword outwards again. It was very similar to his sword in its shikai state, but greatly enhanced. So enhanced, in fact, that he knew he could completely decapitate the Arrancar if only he could hit him once or twice. But, always prepared, Arturo managed to dodge away from the sword’s point just in time.
“You have definitely gotten quicker,” noted the golden-eyed warrior when he noticed a small cut start to bleed on his upper arm. “You nearly got me.”
“Heh,” Gin scoffed. “You talk as if I will never be able to harm you.”
“That’s just the thing,” Arturo said, eyes flashing, a grin forming on his face. “You won’t.”
“That so?” asked the silver-haired shinigami. He smiled, and beckoned with his hand. “Why don’t you come and try to hit me then?”
“Don’t mind if I do,” replied Arturo. He disappeared using sonido, and appeared directly to the right of Gin instantaneously. Moving fast, the lieutenant was just in time to block it, sending sparks flying through the air around them when their swords clashed uncharacteristically hard. Gritting his teeth, Gin leaped away from him and skidded into the background, steadying himself quickly with his sword tip dug into the ground. Not wasting any time, Arturo disappeared again and reappeared behind his opponent delivering a hard kick to his back and actually sending him sprawling.
“Not a chance,” Gin thought as he heard Arturo coming up behind him. He rolled over quickly and aimed his sword at his opponent, once again shooting it directly at the Arrancar. Moving his sword to block, Arturo managed to keep the sword tip away from him, but got shot backwards along with the directional force of the blow, and smashed consequentially into the opposite wall.
“Didn’t think I could get you, eh?” Gin asked, retracting his blade and standing up. He swiftly aimed his sword once more at the spot where Arturo had been smashed, but right as he was about to unleash another attack, a large surge of familiar, yet disturbing spiritual pressure sped through the room at unforeseen speeds, catching him off guard and causing his sword to go off course and hit the wall beside his target.
“What was that?” he asked, straightening and looking in the direction of the source of the pressure. His brow pulled down when he recognized the reiatsu’s density. “What’s Ulquiorra doing now?”
“Ulquiorra?” Arturo asked, prying himself loose from the crater that he had formed in the wall. Luckily for him, his hierro had kept him from being injured by that attack, and he was allowed to turn in the direction of the spiritual reiatsu undeterred. But what was wrong with his little brother? He suddenly became worried when the blast wore away, leaving Ulquiorra’s spiritual pressure pulsing almost too weakly to be felt. Glancing at Gin, he noted that the ex-soul reaper was too preoccupied with searching for Aizen’s reiatsu – for they both sensed him as well – to be aware of his surroundings. Not only that, but his bankai had worn down and now he was back to his regular warrior state. Now was the time to make his move.
Letting out a finalistic battle cry, Arturo finally turned up all the heat he had and unleashed a massive, crushing wave of spiritual reiatsu, aiming it directly at Gin with all the force he could muster. The ex-lieutenant was knocked senseless almost instantly, and then, using sonido, Arturo appeared right in front of him. Trying to regain his sense of sight, Gin could only try and gasp in a breath of air when Arturo’s foot came down on his jugular. He felt a sharp sword tip pierce his wrist, and his fingers reflexively opened, dropping his sword with a clatter.
“This is goodbye, Gin Ichimaru,” Arturo said coldly. He lifted his sword, and then brought it slashing downwards without a pause, spearing the ex-lieutenant straight through the heart. Gin let out a grunt, of pain, but his spiritual pressure kept the wound from killing him instantly, much to both of their surprise. Most of Gin’s reishi all fled to the spot where he had been stabbed and started to fill it once again, trying to keep their master alive. But Arturo, not willing to let this be the mere cause of deflecting his attack, instantly started to form a cero before his two eyes.
“Cero de Final,” he whispered, and then took his foot off of his opponent to watch as the tornado of gold-white energy ripped through his opponent, smashing him into the floor and tearing through him effortlessly. The pressure screamed around them and all focused in a stream on the place where Gin’s body lay, roaring and pounding the spot relentlessly until the shreds of his form were gone, lost to what remained of the empty room, pulsing with energy.
Panting slightly, Arturo averted his eyes from the spot where Gin had been killed, and instantly started to sonido away from the room as fast as need be. He had to get to Ulquiorra before Aizen could do whatever it was he wanted to do. He couldn’t let his brother die to the hands of someone else… not again.
“So you think that will help YOU?” Aizen asked, looking down upon Ulquiorra’s crumpled body with distaste. “Helping your brother will not help you in this situation, although I must commend you for noticing he was in distress.” He placed his foot down on the back of his 4th Espada, pressing down onto his spine mercilessly. Ulquiorra bit back a gasp of pain when his former master placed his foot over the very spot where Starrk had stabbed him. He turned an emerald eye in the direction of his former master, making eye contact with his stern, cold, brown one. The only emotion he found was satisfaction.
“You are going to die here,” Aizen said matter-of-factly, as he stared into the listless eye of his former Espada. “And I am going to kill you.” He smiled when he suddenly noticed a sliver of acceptance grace the expression of Ulquiorra. The 4th realized that he could do nothing in this situation, and that this was the last. Pulling his own swiftly-unsheathed sword back, Aizen prepared to stab him straight through again.
“No you don’t!” a new voice suddenly cut through the air. Milliseconds later, a flash of turquoise and white shot into the room and smashed into Aizen full force, yanking him off of Ulquiorra unpleasantly fast and throwing him violently to the floor some distance away.
“What the-?!” Aizen started to ask, but he was forced to roll out of the way of a swiftly incoming sword blade.
“I’m not going to let you hurt my brother,” he heard a familiar voice snarl at him, and when he looked up, he saw no other than the famous Arrancar himself.
“Well if it isn’t Arturo Plateado again,” Aizen said, instantly pulling a calm expression down over his face. “How nice to see you again so soon.”
“Drop the pleasantries, Souske,” Arturo spat, his sword already to a level with the master of Hueco Mundo. “I’m here to kill you, not talk.”
“Is that so?” Aizen asked, still at a complete calm. He quickly, under the cover of Arturo’s anger, started to release levels of his spiritual pressure, raising the tension in the room by somewhere close to 50% without anyone noticing, except Ulquiorra. Working his jaw in anger, Arturo decided to put an end to Aizen’s calm outer shell.
“Of course I am,” he replied, speaking through his teeth. He smirked a little. “Where is your weapon, Souske?”
“What?!” Aizen exclaimed, suddenly realizing that Kyōka Suigetsu, was no longer within his grasp. He glanced wildly about until he realized that his sword was planted deeply in the wall of Las Noches, far out of his reach, and too deep in the wall for him to pull out in time anyway. He suddenly realized that this was very, very bad.
“Farewell,” Arturo said, from directly by his side. Aizen jumped backwards as soon as he became of a presence too close to him, and was not a moment too late, for as soon as he did this, then Arturo speared the place where he had just been standing. Swiftly swiveling to face him again, Arturo kept rapidly slashing his sword back and forth, driving the great lord back farther down the hallway, moving too fast for the great lord to keep up with at first, and shredding the front of his Arrancar outfit before Aizen even had the sense to leap out of the way sideways.
“You think you can defeat me with just your zanpakuto?!” he roared, more out of anger than because his opponent really did have an advantage. He leaped to the side once again as Arturo came for him, eyes glowing with anger, and was swift to whip his arm out, clamping his hand around Arturo’s wrist firmly. Not deterred, the winged warrior lashed out with his other hand, smashing it into Aizen in much the same way Ulquiorra did, and actually spearing him in the stomach. Shocked that someone had managed to impale him, let alone with their bare hand, Aizen forced the warrior away from him with a large kick, watching as Arturo extracted a hand coated up to the wrist in his own blood.
Not willing to get out of this without an advantage, Aizen also managed to twist the wrist of his Arrancar opponent far enough and fast enough to make the warrior’s grip on the hilt of his sword loosen, and therefore allowing the great lord to make a quick move and fling it from his grasp.
During this whole time, the two of them had been unleashing their spiritual pressures unchecked, and now the entire structure of Las Noches was shuddering and creaking. Already loose and weakened from Ulquiorra’s impressive display only fifteen minutes earlier, parts of the large building started to sway and crack under the immense pressure. It certainly was not going to end well for the building, if not for the people too.
“Wh-what the …”Grimmjow suddenly mumbled, as upon waking, he found himself not only upside down, but moving. “Where am I?” He blinked for a moment, remembering that he had lost consciousness after watching Szayel die, but that he himself was relatively unharmed. Twisting his upper body around and looking over himself in an odd way, he realized that he was being carried, slung over the shoulder of an on-the-run Yammy.
“Oh, hi,” said the 10th as he ran, dodging crashing chunks of ceiling as they came down around them. Instantly, Grimmjow could feel the pressing effects of two very extremely dangerous reiatsus battling it out across the complex.
“WHAT’S GOING ON?!” he roared loudly, this time right into Yammy’s ear. The 10th Espada winced.
“Sheesh, quiet down you impatient rat,” he gruffed, annoyed. He dumped the flustered 6th on the ground and stopped running just long enough for the blue-haired warrior to get back up on his feet. “Come on, we can’t stop,” he said. Grimmjow got up and started to follow, but he didn’t respond directly to his question. Instead, he caught sight of a limp Szayel slung over the huge warrior’s opposite shoulder.
“Wh-why the hell do you have Szayel with us?!” he sputtered, now completely at a loss of words.
“Huh?” Yammy asked, glancing at him over his shoulder.
“He’s DEAD you moron!” Grimmjow roared, clearly upset by the fact that Yammy would consider dragging a dead body along.
“Um…” responded the 10th, staring at Grimmjow in an odd way as he ran. He’d never seen the 6th all worked up about something like that before.
“So why is he WITH is?!” the pantera yelled as he kept up with the 10th, obviously frustrated by Yammy’s silence.
“B-because… because…” Yammy stuttered. He quickly was forced to look ahead of him again when a large chunk of dangerous ceiling almost came down on him.
“Just answer me!!!” Grimmjow shouted again, nearly losing his temper. He couldn’t conceive why the stupid, overgrown idiot couldn’t have just left Szayel where he was, and therefore spared Grimmjow the painful sight of his ragged, dead body.
“Ah! Yes!” Yammy cried, snapping his fingers. “I healed him! He ain’t dead anymore, you silly dog.”
“Wh…. Wah… what….?” Grimmjow stuttered, skidding and stumbling over a piece of rubble suddenly when his attention became momentarily diverted. He quickly picked himself up out of the dust and leaped to his feet, shooting after Yammy using sonido. “Not dead?!” he yelled.
“Yep,” replied Yammy, grinning from ear to ear. “I healed him up pretty good. Now come on, we have to get out of here. We’re almost to the exit.”
“Heh!” Grimmjow said loudly, not really listening. He merely kept running alongside the huge Espada without words. Inside, he was more relieved than he’d ever felt before, even if he didn’t quite know why. The only problem they faced now was getting out alive before those two battling idiots brought the whole place down on their heads…
Back at the battle scene, Arturo and Aizen had become wrapped up in the most intense, violent hand-to-hand combat brawl that anyone had ever witnessed. Both were highly skilled at what they were doing, and since neither was willing to lose the fight to the other at all costs, it was quickly turning into a bloody fight to the death. Each time one struck the other, either a fresh stream of blood would leap into the air, or the crack of a bone would grace their ears. Neither could afford to succumb to the wounds they were acquiring, and they continued to fight even though they were falling apart.
By now, Aizen was spattered in blood from head to toe, and his arm had been completely wrenched out of its socket. The wound in his stomach was hindering him greatly, and he was finding it harder and harder to concentrate on the insane-with-anger warrior before him. Arturo, though, was not doing much better. Aizen had managed to break two of his right ribs, and also snap his wrist. While he wasn’t losing quite as much blood as his adversary, he was also finding it hard to follow the movement of his opponent. They jumped back and forth around the hallway, alternating between using sonido and physical attacks, trying to get the other to fall.
As ruthless attack after ruthless attack fell on them both, Ulquiorra had managed to lift himself up just enough to see that although his brother had managed to reduce Aizen to a weaponless, bleeding enemy, he noted that Arturo himself was not doing too well either. Lifting himself up even farther, and pushing the pain aside, the young Espada forced himself to his feet and stood uncertainly in the spiritually vivid hallway as best as he could. Placing his hand on his sword hilt and grasping it firmly, he started to take tired steps towards the battling pair, determined to help his brother win.
As he approached them, they continued to tear into each other like wild animals, ditching all senses of self-preservation, and simply hacking into each other as harshly as need be to kill someone. With the passing of only a few seconds, Aizen felt all of the bones in his left arm shatter as Arturo smashed it into a nearby wall. Not pausing to gasp at the pain, though, he snatched the sleeve of his attacker and proceeded to gain a slight advantage by yanking him forward and then performing the same tactic that Arturo had used on him not long ago. Straightening his fingers, he lunged forwards and speared the Arrancar straight through the chest.
Instantly coughing up an ample amount of blood, the warrior was quick to retaliate and kicked Aizen hard enough in the stomach – on top of his wound – to make him stumble away. Both of them were almost doubled over by this point, blood dripping from their mouths and injuries, and yet still their spiritual pressures were rising, tearing through the air and into each other just as ferociously as they were. Without any intentions of letting it end now, they sonoido’d back at each other and brought their little fight back up. Aizen, though, managed to gain the upper hand once again by grabbing Arturo by the shoulders and sending him crashing into the nearest wall. Pinning the Arrancar under his good arm, Aizen brought his hand back again – this time aiming for the head.
“I believe this… is where it ends…” he panted, staring the turquoise-haired warrior in the eye, both of their eyes filled with hatred. Leaving no room for his opponent to respond, he pulled his arm back.
“Brother!” Ulquiorra’s voice suddenly cut through the thick, streaming air. Glancing in his direction, Arturo was lucky to be quick enough to catch what was suddenly thrown his way. The instant that he felt Murcielago’s hilt clamped in his palm, Arturo wasted no time in sending its blade forward… and straight into Aizen’s heart.
Aizen’s eyes snapped open.
He gasped in pain.
He saw his own blood leave his body, and he also felt himself falling.
He caught a glimpse of Arturo’s face, still hard with anger and unforgiving.
“You should have seen this coming from the moment you first saw me.”
That was the last thing that Aizen heard.
A huge, amazingly strong, hurricane-sized burst of spiritual pressure rocketed through Las Noches one, final time. The entire structure shivered, twisted, at this terrifying display of power. Each pillar felt the strain, and felt the pressure, and this made it once too many times in the past day. Giving one, last, huge groan, the entire building that was Las Noches collapsed, caving in wards and falling in on itself, completely destroying itself and falling to dust. The force of its collision with the desert below it was so tremendous that even Hollows far away beyond the dunes could hear it and feel its final shudder. A huge cloud of sand and dust rose from the spot where the large building had resided for all the years after it had been built, and it was the only, temporary monument that served as remembrance for it.
Las Noches was destroyed.
Inside, there was silence. All that remained of the great structure were great piles of broken stone, and the dust that rose from them issued forth no movement, no sound. All was quiet. Every servant that had been inside, every fraccion, now lay dead or dying, pinned underneath the huge chunks of rubble. In the hallway where Aizen, Arturo, and Ulquiorra had fought the final battle, the scenery was no different. The entire ceiling, constructed of giant arches, had completely fallen in on top of them, and had sufficiently crushed everything in the corridor.
Then, suddenly, there was a small movement. A small piece of rubble was suddenly pushed aside by a pale, bloodied hand, slowly, but also strong enough to allow the rest of the person it was attached to, to follow. The person who the arm belonged to heaved the rest of the rubble off of himself, and slowly pushed himself up, sitting up on his elbows as best he could to have a look around.
“A…Arturo?” the figure – Ulquiorra – asked. He cast his foggy gaze around the collapsed, ruined hallway. At first, there didn’t seem to be anything else around him except more destruction, but then he spotted an all-too-familiar shock of turquoise hair nearby. Forcing himself up farther, the 4th pushed the remaining chunks of stone off of him with an extraordinary amount of strength for someone as wounded as he was. Even though he could tell that nearly everything in his body was crushed, he somehow managed to push and pull himself along until he was close enough to his brother to unbury him as well. The chunks that covered the body of his older sibling were much larger than the ones that had covered him, and he began to fear for his brother, even though he told himself that he would be alright. As he was pushing away the rocks, though, his heart jumped to hear a small groan.
“Arturo?” he asked hopefully, brushing the smaller rocks away from where his brother’s head lay. “Are you alright… brother?” Arturo coughed, sending a few scattered drops of blood onto himself and Ulquiorra. His eyes opened a tiny slit, and fell upon the bloodstained face of his brother.
“Ul…quiorr…a?” he asked, slowly. It was clear to the younger of the two now, though, that this… this could be it. If he couldn’t get Arturo away from here in time, he might end up... dead. It was already clear to him that his brother was wounded severely, and that he might not survive if he didn’t move fast enough. He tensely let his eyes wander over the rest of his brother’s body, hoping that he wouldn’t find anything worse than there already was, but he was greatly disappointed, as well as shocked. Not only was his brother speared through several times, but he had also been crushed by the falling ceiling.
“Are you alright?” he asked, even though he knew it was a stupid question to ask. Surprisingly, Arturo gave him a smile.
“I’m fine,” he said, almost inaudibly. He reached out with his one good arm and grasped his brother’s hand tightly and widened his smile. “How about… you?”
“I am not as injured as you are, I fear,” Ulquiorra responded, just as quietly. Maddeningly, in contradiction to his statement, he could feel something creeping up on his mind, something dark, cold, and final. He had a bad feeling that he knew what it was, but he didn’t want to admit that he did. He couldn’t be overtaken by death. Not now, when Arturo needed him to be strong enough to get them away from this place. Gasping for his own breath, Ulquiorra felt Arturo’s grip loosen slightly. He glanced quickly at Arturo, hopeful that it didn’t mean what he thought it did, but knowing all along that it was true.
“I’ll be seeing… you…,” his older brother whispered. One, final smile, and Arturo was gone.
Silence engulfed the area around Ulquiorra as his brother’s hand slowly slipped out of his. The smile that graced his brother’s lips was still there when he died, but somehow, the emotion didn’t cause the 4th to become confused. Instead, he seemed, for the first time, to understand what it meant. Even though Arturo knew he was going to die, he knew he had seen Ulquiorra, or would see him again somewhere in the future, maybe if there was somewhere beyond the world of death. Was his brother actually… happy to let go? Knowing that he’d seen his brother again had set him at peace? Suddenly, this all seemingly made perfect sense.
“I will see you too,” he whispered, quietly. Then, as death crept upon him, too, he let his body lay limp over his brother’s, realizing that he had remembered his brother, and now always would.
And if anyone were to look closely enough, they would have a seen Ulquiorra smiling as well.
Two figures stood on the edge of a small dune of sand that faced a large, slowly, peacefully moving ocean. A huge, bright orange sun was slowly letting itself sink beneath the waves, disappearing from view with a joyous goodbye, letting the world know that it was going to sleep now. The two figures who stood watching this were brothers – one could tell by the aura they shared – with one 11 years old and the other six. They both smiled as the sun slipped away from view, casting its last rays over them with warmth, light, and happiness. The little one waved vigorously, and the older one, laughing, could not help but join in, bidding it goodbye. When it was finally gone, the younger turned to his older brother with a questionable expression.
“Do you think it’s going to come back?” he asked, not sure if he sun was going to wake up again. The elder of the two looked out across the ocean at the retreating light, contemplating the words. Eventually, he looked down at his younger brother with a small shrug.
“No,” he said a little slowly, placing his hand over his brother’s shoulder. “I don’t think so.”
“But is it happy?” the little boy asked, staring out, realizing that this was the last time he would be able to watch the amazing, beautiful display.
“Oh yes,” replied the older one surely. “It’s very happy.”
Then they both smiled and turned around, heading back home and into the darkness that awaited them in death.
It had seemed like hours to the lone three survivors of this long incident. Yammy, Grimmjow, and a now-conscious Szayel had managed to escape at the last second by using sonido to exit Las Noches only instants before it collapsed, and now they stood side-by-side on top of a sand dune and watched as the large cloud of dust and sand rose from the spot where their home had once stood. The only sound was silence as they looked on solemnly, knowing deep in their minds that Arturo and Ulquiorra had been inside. Were they dead? By the dimness of their reiatsus, the answer appeared to be yes. They were all deep in mortification, musing on how delicate the balance of life and death really was. Could it really only be three, four days since Arturo Plateado first attempted to infiltrate Las Noches, and had met Aizen face-to-face?
“How did this happen so quickly?” Szayel eventually asked quietly, as they stared at the crumbling form of their former base. “It only seems like yesterday that we were all just… the Espada. Now we’re only Vasto Lordes again, and with nowhere to go or nothing to do.” The scientist gave a deep sigh that practically voiced everything he was thinking at the moment.
“It happened so quickly because of fate, would be the best way to put it,” Grimmjow butted in with his loud, rough voice, upsetting the moment harshly.
“Fate?” Szayel asked, looking up at the 6th in mild surprise. “That doesn’t sound like something you’d believe in, Grimmjow.”
“I know,” replied the pantera gruffly without taking his eyes off what remained of the white building. “That’s how you know that that’s what it’s gotta be.”
“Huh?” Yammy asked, suddenly looking down at them in surprise because he hadn’t heard the first half of their conversation. “What you crazy dogs talking about?”
“Fate, Yam-Yam,” the 6th replied irritably.
“Eh?” replied the 10th.
“Yes, please do explain,” Szayel put in. Grimmjow snorted.
“Think about it,” he said roughly. “The only way that an upstart Arrancar that nobody’s ever heard about before can take out Aizen and three-fourths of his ten Espada in three days is if he’s Ulquiorra’s brother.”
Grimmjow glanced at him.
“Oh c’mon think about it!” he said loudly. “How else could they have BOTH ended up here after so long of being dead? I mean, the odds are way against impossible!”
“Um, well, I had a brother,” the pink-haired scientist pointed out.
“And so did Nnoitra, apparently,” replied the pantera in a slightly confused way, having just remembered the odd scene he’d witnessed just before the 5th’s death. “And I think that the 5th’s explanation for it was valid, too. You were probably fused to him as an Adjuchas when you both died.”
“That’s right!” the scientist yelped, leaping backwards and staring wide-eyed at the pantera king. “But how did you know?”
“Because Nnoitra told me,” he muttered, eyes still on the chalky white scene before him. “But look, the important thing is that Ulquiorra would have stuck with his brother if they’d been fused together, just like Nnoitra and his brother, or you and Yldo-something.”
“Yylfordt,” Szayel said.
“Whatever,” Grimmjow replied, waving his hand dismissively. “The main thing is that they obviously didn’t remember each other until Aizen did whatever it was that he did in the throne room while we were gone, which I’m guessing was mind probing.”
“Probably,” replied the 8th.
“And so then,” the 6th said. “It means that the only possible way they could have met up again in that time span was fate!”
“Eh…” said Szayel, giving them a long pause. “As much as I’d like to contradict you with scientific evidence that states otherwise, I think that your answer is the right one.”
All this time, however, that they had been talking amongst each other, Yammy had been staring off into the distance, apparently not taking any interest in the conversation they had been holding. He appeared to be in a deep thought of some sort, and was not paying attention to anyone around him. In fact, he was having a brief flashback….
“Yammy,” someone had said, to the 10th’s right, as they stood on the side of a sand dune and waited for Arturo to finish convincing Grimmjow and Szayel that they were still on the same side. Looking down, the huge Espada actually took a couple of seconds trying to locate the 4th in all the sand, but eventually found him standing directly next to his side and slightly behind him, as if trying to hide from sight.
“Yah?” he asked, turning to face the small figure questionably. The cuatro’s voice had been extraordinarily low, and hard to hear over the clanging din right across from them.
“We are going to go back and infiltrate Las Noches again,” Ulquiorra replied sternly, as he watched his brother and the two Espadas bicker. “I want you to promise something to me before we go.”
“Wha-?” Yammy asked. “Promise you what? And why?” The fourth glanced up at him with pleading emerald eyes, something that the 10th had never seen before.
“If anything happens to my brother,” Ulquiorra replied, motioning at Arturo solemnly. “I want you to try and heal him.”
“Wh-?!” exclaimed Yammy, a little flustered. “You want me to heal him? But… what if I can’t?”
“Then you can’t,” replied the cuatro, closing his eyes and looking away. “But I at least want you to try.”
Then the 4th had turned away and stepped forward to break up the fight before them without another word to the last Espada. Blinking, Yammy took this in like water, but didn’t really enjoy it. How was he supposed to heal a dead person? He shook his large head. For someone as logical as Ulquiorra, it was certainly a surprise to hear something like that coming from him. But, as he watched the slim Arrancar split the battling groups apart effortlessly, he realized that he had also been completely sincere, and that he truly meant what he had said.
Back on the sand dune, in the present, Yammy grinned a large grin. Without a word to his two fellow Espada, he started tromping down the side of the dune and casually strolling back towards his former home. The livid conversation behind him ground to a halt.
“Uh… Yammy?” Grimmjow asked as he and Szayel caught up with him. “Where are you going?”
“Over there,” the 10th said, pointing at Las Noches.
“Yeah, but WHY?” Szayel interrupted, trying not to trip over the shifting sand. “There’s nothing to go back to!”
“Oh, but there is!” he exclaimed, most confusingly. He realized now that Ulquiorra had requested this of him because he was aware that Yammy would have the biggest kido spell, and that he would indeed be the best one to ask for help in any situation like that. His grin widening, Yammy started up a small, glowing red ball in his palm as he walked, heading for the last spot he felt the two brothers’ spiritual pressures.
This was going to be gratifying, if nothing else. He couldn’t wait to see the looks on their faces when they woke up.