I suppose you can consider this an early Christmas present. It's been quite a journey for almost...wow. Four years? And while the journey's not over yet, this chapter represents a milestone. Not only because my story exceeds one million total words, ignoring drafts and outlines, but I finally accomplished one of my primary objectives when I initially started this story. So, I hope you enjoy reading this chapter as much as I did writing it.
If you have any comments, feel free to send me a PM.
And, as always, check out this story on tvtropes.
Chapter 63 – It Has to be This Way
"Ichigo Kurosaki doesn't know the meaning of restraint."
Ira Gamagori felt uncharacteristically annoyed at the energy enveloping the No Star Slums. His brow furrowed when Honnou City, which already suffered extensive damage, trembled underneath the deluge. To know Kamui possessed such extraordinary strength was humbling. But where was Lady Satsuki? He was certain she would personally land the finishing blow against her mother. Unless, of course, circumstances granted Ichigo Kurosaki the opportunity. Grumbling with an overtone of annoyance, he once more raised the binoculars borrowed from Kisuke Urahara.
An adequate replacement for the pair stolen by Ichigo Kurosaki.
Ira Gamagori glowered at the roiling energy enveloping nearly half of Honnou City. His brow furrowed in rising discontent when the artificial island, which had suffered grievous and extensive damage over the previous few minutes, trembled, sending aftershocks rippling across Tokyo Bay. To know Matoi and Ichigo Kurosaki possessed such extraordinary strength was humbling. But where was Lady Satsuki? Surely, after everything they've experienced, she wouldn't allow Ichigo to land the finishing blow against her mother? Grumbling with an overtone of annoyance, he once more raised the binoculars borrowed from Kisuke Urahara.
A replacement for the pair stolen – and then broken – by Ichigo Kurosaki.
He unintentionally raised his voice despite the respectable teenager standing barely at arm's length, "Can you pinpoint Lady Satsuki's location?"
Chad's expression didn't change despite the throbbing pain from his bruised ribs. His fight against Jackie Tristan's clone hadn't be easier. But on the other hand, thanks to Nudist Beach passing along information to Kisuke, it could have been worse. Humming at the reminder of Moe Shishigawara, he watched Ichigo's improved Getsuga Tenshou dissipate before shaking his head, "Sorry. All this spiritual pressure makes sensing anything difficult. And Aizen isn't helping. But it's quite strength, if you think about it."
Gamagori lowered the binoculars, one eyebrow quirked, "What do you mean?"
"One minute Ragyo Kiryuin was winning…and then she wasn't," Chad mulled over his words, "Something happened. It's puzzling, but something gave Ichigo and Ryuko the chance to win."
"I see your point," Gamagori conceded the argument before staring through the binoculars, hoping to witness any sign of Lady Satsuki. His spiritual prowess might be atrocious, limited to interacting with supernatural beings, but he had experienced the overwhelming presence of Ragyo Kiryuin. And the sensation of his Shackle Regalia seizing around his body. Which would have left him paralyzed if not for his tempered will and implacable determination.
And how could he have missed the other attacks during the interim?
"Nevertheless, we should not look a gift horse in the mouth."
He lowered the binoculars once it became obvious locating Lady Satsuki would be difficult, if not impossible, from their position, "Whatever series of unfortunate events befell Ragyo Kiryuin is irrelevant. Right now, our priority is reestablishing communications with Lady Satsuki and –"
A violent burst of pinkish energy exploded in close proximity to Gamagori's face when Nonon Jakuzure cleared the skyline, sending gusts of wind across the rooftop and rustling their clothing. Yet he remained unflinching when his fellow member of the Student Council circled around the building he and Yasutora Sado stood upon. It would take more than an ample display of flight capabilities to elicit surprise from him! But his brow nevertheless furrowed at Jakuzure's showboating. He had never known her to willingly showcase her abilities with such abandon.
Frowning at the errant thrusting of her Symphony Regalia Mark III as Jakuzure pivoted erratically while gripping at something wrapped around her throat, his jaw nearly dropped when he saw what, or rather who, was sitting on her shoulders.
"Get the hell off, underachiever!"
Nonon didn't appreciate the underachiever's lack of respect for her betters. She disliked the teenager squeezing her neck while laughing like an idiot! And she hated humiliating herself in such a degrading manner! Digging her fingers between the underachiever's hands and her neck, which only caused the No-Star student to squeeze harder, she resisted the temptation to turn her Symphony Regalia's weapons in the opposite direction, "That spot's reserved for Satsuki!"
Gamagori experienced the familiar twinge of annoyance pulling at his eyebrow when Mankanshoku vaulted off Jakuzure's shoulders before landing in a three-point stance that would have made the captain of the Football Club proud, "Sitting upon the shoulders of any member of the Student Council is against Honnouji Academy regulations! Explain yourself!"
"I was helping Uryu!"
Mako clapped her hands and pointed towards Nonon, completely ignoring Gamagori's imposing tone in the process, "There were so many fancy suits throwing themselves in his general direction that he didn't notice that weird clone sneaking out of the shadows! Which seemed strange since it was riding a large, fire-breathing dragon! So, I decided to help! But the clone was super tough. And then Jakuzure appeared out of nowhere!"
She bobbed her head before sliding next to the diminutive pinkette, who was visibly annoyed at being addressed so informally, "She blasted the clone to smithereens with the awesome power of her uniform! But when she ignored Uryu's appreciation for saving his life, I decided to make sure proper manners were exchanged! Just as you taught me, Gamagori! But one thing led to another and here I am!"
"Manners are important, Mankanshoku," Gamagori pondered the unrelenting stream of consciousness and free thought spilling from Mankanshoku before turning his growing ire upon Jakuzure, "Jakuzure! You are a member of Honnouji Academy's Student Council! If someone graciously thanks you for saving their life, you acknowledge their gesture with a sincere and heart-felt compliment! Is that understood!?"
"Hey! The four-eyed bastard was perfectly fine when I left," Nonon couldn't believe Gamagori was siding with the underachiever after everything they've been through, "There wasn't a scratch on –"
"Sorry I'm late."
Uryu appeared next to Gamagori accompanied by the familiar swish of Hirenkyaku. Once the world shifted back to focus, he suppressed the inclination to respond to the specific string of curses leaving Jakuzure's mouth, "I ran into your father on the way over."
Any notions of admonishing Jakuzure for her foul language and abject rudeness were brushed aside at the unexpected comment, which granted Uryu Ishida leeway to continue without interruption, "Your aunt ordered a full-scale nudist retreat. With Ichigo and Ryuko fighting Ragyo Kiryuin, she doesn't see the point of sticking around. And Aizen's arrival only made things worse. And there's the other problem.
Gamagori squashed the treacherous twinge of nervousness mimicking Uryu Ishida's apprehension. His brow furrowing into an irritated glower, he spared a piercing glare at the Original Life Fiber ominously hovering over the western outskirts of Tokyo, "My senses might not be as sharp as yours, but even I feel its daunting power. Defeating such a monstrous creature will be problematic."
"We can focus on that later."
Uryu swallowed the bile rising in his throat. It hadn't taken long to understand the most efficient method to avoid feeling nauseous around Ichigo, Ryuko or their Kamui was to simply not try sensing their spiritual pressure. But the Original Life Fiber was impossible to ignore. Its presence saturated everything. Even after focusing his senses inward, its eldritch power made his head swim, "Right now we should rendezvous with Nudist Beach. They might have information on what happened to Ragyo Kiryuin."
"You mean, why her spiritual pressure suddenly vanished," Chad glanced towards Honnou City, "Right?"
"As much as it pains me to admit it, they shouldn't have won. Ragyo Kiryuin's power was too great," Uryu grimaced as the nausea continued spreading through his system. Turning his stomach inside out and making him lightheaded, "For all intents and purposes, she was toying with them. But after Seras and Kinue arrived, her overwhelming advantaged disappeared."
The permanent furrowed across Gamagori's brow deepened, "You believe the events are connected?"
"I don't know."
Uryu cupped his chin, "Ragyo Kiryuin was weakened. And a few minutes later her spiritual pressure dropped significantly right before Ichigo's attack. But it's too early to assume she's dead. Her presence might be gone, but something doesn't feel right."
"The possibility such a vile woman survived is troubling. Doubly given Ichigo Kurosaki's enthusiasm. But I REFUSE to abandon Lady Satsuki!"
Despite his indignation, Gamagori conceded the logic behind his aunt's decision. A strategic retreat against overwhelming force was prudent. His Goku Uniform was formidable. Under different circumstances, he would have agreed without hesitation. It was, after all, pragmatism worthy of Lady Satsuki's taciturn approval. But these weren't normal circumstances.
"However, assuming that's indeed the case, our priority should be ensuring Lady Satsuki's safety," he stroked his chin before turning bodily towards Uryu, "But with communications down and my spiritual prowess woefully lacking, it's impossible to pinpoint her location."
The annoyance in Nonon's voice was nearly palpable, "Hat-and-clogs claimed you can sense spiritual pressure better than four-eyes here. So, make yourself useful and find Satsuki."
"That's easy! I know exactly where Lady Satsuki's hanging out!"
Mako spun around Nonon, earning the ill-tempered teenager's frustration. Tapping a closed fist against her hand, she puffed her cheeks before pointing at Honnouji Academy, "Ryuko and Lady Satsuki are sisters! Which automatically makes them super best friends! I've seen it myself! Whenever Ichigo's not around, they talk about him! I can tell they're quite happy to talk about Ichigo, even if some of the things Ryuko says are quite embarrassing!"
Nonon's eye twitched with increasing ferocity, "Get on with it already!"
"But I could always tell whenever Ryuko was hanging out with Ichigo," Mako ignored Nonon's interruption without missing a beat, "And since Lady Satsuki is her sister, it's twice as easy to find Ryuko. Which is why unless Lady Satsuki is wearing Senketsu, she's most definitely walking down from Honnouji Academy!"
"Hmm…even with Junketsu's extraordinary power, Lady Satsuki wouldn't take such a substantial risk," Gamagori nodded alongside Mankanshoku's train of thought. While Jakuzure and Yasutora Sado seemed confused, and Uryu Ishida befuddled, he understood the underlying meaning with flawless accuracy, "Perhaps Ragyo Kiryuin truly is defeated."
"Even if she's not, Ichigo's father is powerful. Especially in her current condition," Uryu paused, frowning, before suspiciously adding, "Not to mention Aizen. I could feel his spiritual pressure. He must have released his Bankai against Ragyo Kiryuin."
Chad stared at Honnou City before glancing upwards, "Yeah…I felt that too. But if Ragyo Kiryuin's dead, why hasn't everyone been freed?"
Gamagori craned his neck until the obnoxious blanket of Life Fibers, and the full moon above Honnouji Academy, filled his view, "Perhaps it requires time after Ragyo Kiryuin's death for the effects to reverse? But we'll have time to discuss appropriate countermeasures when Inumuta and –"
"Hey! Does anyone hear that funny noise?"
Nonon grumbled under her breath, "Hear what, underachiever?"
"That strange rumbling that sounds a lot like Ryuko's stomach whenever mom makes her mystery croquettes," Mako held a hand against her ear, "And it's getting louder."
"I can't hear anything, underachiever," Nonon snapped back, "Are you making stuff up again?"
"No…I hear it too," Chad cupped his ear, "It's almost like –"
Tokyo, and the surrounding landscape, shook when the Original Life Fiber transformed. Sheets of Life Fibers glowing bright enough to hurt the eyes split apart, exposing rows of fangs the size of buildings. Barely keeping himself standing while Uryu collapsed onto his hands and knees, retching onto the roof as the creature's presence washed over them, filling every nook and cranny, Chad grimaced, "What's happening?"
"And why the hell does it sound so pissed!?"
A single spot of blood trickled from Nonon's split lips as she picked herself off the roof. Keeping a perfectly annoyed expression despite the growing trembling in her arms, she watched the Original Life Fiber liquefy into a sea of Life Fibers, flowing through the city and demolishing everything in their path, before ignoring them, "Damn it! It's heading for Satsuki!"
The overbearing spiritual pressure making it difficult to move immediately fell to the wayside at Jakuzure's announcement. Lady Satsuki was in danger? He would not allow something as idiotic as the Original Life Fiber stand between him and his duty! Thus, when Mankanshoku tripped over her own feet, momentarily hovering over the edge of the building, Gamagori was prepared. With all the strength he could muster, a physical testament to his family's lineage, he grabbed her Goku Uniform before she fell into the torrential sea of Life Fibers. His brow creasing as he pulled Mankanshoku to safety, he looked away from the ecstatic girl when she wrapped her arms around his neck, choosing instead to focus on the more important matter at hand.
"That could only mean Ragyo Kiryuin is still alive!"
Ichigo vaulted away from the hurricane of spiritual energy. He breathed heavily, in panting, gasping gulps of air, when the last traces of Ragyo Kiryuin disappeared into their Getsuga Jūjishō. He didn't expect this level of exhaustion. It was worse than the first time they used Getsuga Tenshou against Sanageyama. But as sweat trickled down his face, Tournesol and his old man's sword ready for whatever might happen, he nevertheless cracked a smirk, "We finally got her, Mugetsu."
Mugetsu grumbled at the dirt and dust trapped in her threading. She acknowledged the putrid smoke emanating from the impact of their Getsuga Jūjishō against Ragyo Kiryuin with a disturbed shudder, "I can't sense her presence. Or Shinra Koketsu's. Either she survived and went into hiding. Or we managed to finish the job."
He swung Tournesol, dispelling the smoke surrounding Ragyo Kiryuin. If Mugetsu was right, and she survived their attack, he wanted to have a clear shot, "That was our best chance at taking her down. But if Ragyo Kiryuin survived, we need to be ready for anything. Even another Getsuga Jūjishō."
"I'm still suffering from the extensive damage to my stitching," she growled when Ichigo chose to ignore her long-term suffering. The patchwork fabric functioning as her eye narrowed at her wearer's betrayal. At his lack of empathy concerning what might be permanent damage to her Life Fibers, "But you're right. We don't have a choice if Getsuga Jijusho wasn't enough. Even if that means straining our Life –"
Ryuko almost barreled into Ichigo when she hit the ground and slipped. Wincing when her head bounced off the ground, she filed away Mugetsu's laughter before noticing what, or rather who, was laying in front of them.
Her mom was dead. Or as close to dead as humanly possible. She didn't know if they could actually die considering she, personally, had most of her body repeatedly disintegrated by that undead shinigami bitch in London. And had her leg shot off by the vampire bastard. But she noticed Shinra Koketsu was barely more than tattered scraps of Life Fibers. Hardly resembling the once annoyingly bright – and ugly – dress that had kicked their asses. Taking a tentative step closer, Scissor Blade at the ready, she realized the reason Ragyo Kiryuin looked so damn strange was because her arm was lying in a pool of blood while the lower half of her body – legs and all – were attached by a few glowing Life Fibers.
"Is she dead?"
The question immediately sounded strange. And stupid. Glaring into her mom's empty eyes, she watched blood trickle from Ragyo's unmoving lips before asking the same question in a slightly different way, "You don't think she's going to get back up, do you?"
"I don't know."
Ichigo stared at the corpse. Defeating Ragyo Kiryuin had been too easy. Too simple. But he couldn't sense her spiritual pressure. The overwhelming presence that caused Mugetsu and Senketsu endless agitation had vanished. And she wasn't breathing. So, as far as he could tell, Ryuko's mom was dead. Yet there was sinking feeling in the back of his mind. A notion they were forgetting something important, "When I used Getsuga Jijusho, I sliced through the same part of her body. That should have prevented her Life Fibers from regenerating."
A punch to his shoulder was Ryuko's immediate answer, "Then why the hell do you sound so damn gloomy?"
He frowned when Ryuko leaned forward, her faces inches away from his own, "I'm not gloomy!"
"Yes, you are," she punched him again, just hard enough to get the point across, before pointing at Ragyo's corpse, "You always have this 'faraway' look whenever you get depressed or upset! And right now, you look like my mom's playing dead. So, unless you tell me what's wrong, I'm going to keep punching you!"
Ichigo dodged to Ryuko's right when she tried punching him in the stomach. As she recovered, a sly but smug grin pulling on her lips, he looked around upon finally realizing what was bugging him, "Wait! Where's Orihime?"
"Orihime Inoue's perfectly safe, Ichigo Kurosaki."
Using Shunpo, Aizen appeared near the teenagers, slightly startling Ryuko Matoi in the process. Despite his unkempt appearance, blood staining the tattered remains of the upper portion of his uniform, he was cheerful. Almost enthusiastic. Which translated into a grin upon seeing the Ragyo Kiryuin's decimated corpse scattered across the ground, "She's unconscious but suffered no lasting consequences from her involuntary synchronization with Shinra Koketsu."
He acknowledged Tessai Tsukabishi's arrival – and warranted suspicion – with a curt but respectful smirk. There was no need for further interactions. While Kisuke Urahara's associate played a role in weakening Ragyo Kiryuin, allowing the extraction of Orihime Inoue from Shinra Koketsu entirely through chance, it was Seras Victoria's eldritch nature which allowed the vampire to bypass Absolute Domination. And it was Ichigo's realization of the weakness of Life Fiber regeneration that enabled their victory, "But Ragyo Kiryuin's defeat was only the first step. To reverse the Celestial Cocoon Seed Planet, we need to wait for Orihime Inoue to regain consciousness."
Ryuko glowered as Senketsu voiced the question on the tip of her tongue, "How the hell's that going to work? In case you haven't noticed, Ichigo tore Shinra Koketsu to shreds!"
"Satsuki Kiryuin's analysis of Shinra Koketsu's strengths and weaknesses was reasonable. Almost commendable. But she overlooked an obvious alternative."
Aizen observed Ichigo's reaction. He noted the matching suspicion in Mugetsu's expression, which was made simpler by the Kamui's constantly shifting eyes, "One cannot doubt Shinra Koketsu's power is formidable, even unbeatable. However, Absolute Domination's radiance of influence falters beyond a radius of several kilometers. Which is just large enough for her to encompass Honnou City and the surrounding area. To spread Shinra Koketsu's signal across the World of the Living, Ragyo Kiryuin required an amplifier."
"The transmitter," Ichigo remembered the machine in the middle of Honnouji Academy's courtyard, "She sent a signal through the transmitter at the school. It was the first thing she did after using Absolute Domination. But that's not what you're getting at, is it?"
"You know better than anyone, perhaps even myself, that Orihime Inoue's abilities are capable of miraculous feats," Aizen acknowledged the teenager's responses with a smirk, "Including reversing causality through rejection of reality. But her effectiveness is limited by her pacifistic nature, something I observed after you rescued Rukia Kuchiki. However, in the hands of someone lacking that restraint, whose sole purpose is the proliferation and domination of Life Fibers, Absolute Domination achieves full effectiveness. And that is where Satsuki Kiryuin overestimated her mother's relevance. Call it what you will – Shun Shun Rikka or Absolute Domination – but they are one and same."
"Even if what you're saying is true…"
Ichigo had the sinking suspicion Aizen was holding something back, "Ragyo waited until Shinra Koketsu was finished. If Orihime could do all that, she wouldn't have waited until we were knocking on her doorstep."
"When you learned what you presumed was Bankai – or realized how to properly control your 'Hollow' powers – did you fret about failing to unleash that power? Of course not. You instinctively understood how to utilize that power."
The treacherous captain shrugged nonchalantly, "The same principle applies to Orihime Inoue."
"What you're saying is, we don't need Shinra Koketsu," Ryuko felt Senketsu's confusion, "Just Orihime?"
"The memory of her Shun Shun Rikka evolving into Absolute Domination has been stitched into her Life Fibers," Aizen's smile tightened. His knowledge concerning Life Fibers was extensive. Beyond Kisuke Urahara's in some regards. The Hogyoku was proof of that. Yet the deeper, more disturbing secrets remained elusive, "Derailing the Celestial Cocoon Seed Planet will simply require Orihime Inoue channeling her spiritual energy through the transmitter. And to assuage your concerns, Ichigo Kurosaki, nothing else is necessary. If everything goes according to plan, she'll be perfectly fine, free to return to Karakura Town."
"You better hope so…"
Ryuko glared at the smug bastard. He was hiding something…or maybe he wasn't. It was hard to tell. And his obnoxious way of speaking pissed her off. But when he didn't say anything else, she collapsed to the ground, arms and legs spread as the tension washed away with a single, obnoxiously loud groan. She was exhausted. After two days of constant fighting, finally winning felt great. With another sigh, she stared at the full moon, blinking as bangs of dual-colored hair shifted across her eyes.
"I need a vacation," she leaned her head backwards and huffed, "A real vacation. Someplace where I'm not freaking blindsided by a vampire in the first five minutes!"
"Ryuko, when we return to Karakura Town, I request a through hand washing."
Senketsu tried ignoring the dirt caught in his Life Fibers. It had been relative easy to ignore the grime when their lives were on the line. When every moment was spent trying to survive against Shinra Koketsu's nightmarish power. But with Ragyo Kiryuin lying in literal pieces on the grounds, there was no better time to address the growing problem, "And an ironing to smooth out my threading. You might not have noticed, but since we fought Nui Harime, there's been a persistent wrinkle on my neckerchief. It's quite uncomfortable."
"Sure, Senketsu," Ryuko scoffed at Mugetsu's jealousy. Why the hell was she upset? With a shrug, she ignored the Kamui's stupidity, "I'll even use your favorite detergent. But there's still one last thing we gotta do…"
"The Original Life Fiber."
Ichigo grimaced at the name. Even out here, he could sense the Original Life Fiber's monstrous spiritual pressure. It was unbelievable. No wonder Senketsu was nervous. Or Mugetsu was staring at everything but the Original Life Fiber. She was putting up a stoic front, but he knew her better than anyone else, "We need to stop that thing. Once and for all. But there's no question it's strong. And if it survived Aizen's Bankai, it probably has a trick or two up its sleeves."
"I say we slice it into pieces!"
Ryuko sat up with an annoyed huff, "So what if it's powerful? It's still made of Life Fibers. And it doesn't have Absolute Domination! There's no way we can't cut through the damn thing!"
"A straightforward plan," Aizen found Ryuko Matoi's blunt manner of addressing her problems cathartic. Almost, for a lack of a better word, amusing. Because she was correct. There was only one way to defeat the Original Life Fiber, "Nevertheless, we should wait for Isshin Kurosaki. His expertise on the Original Life Fiber will prove invaluable if we wish to –"
He interrupted himself when an overwhelmingly powerful spiritual pressure blanketed the landscape.
For a brief and incalculably short moment, far longer than any other point in his existence, Aizen experienced the sensation of a superior presence. His shoulders hunched forward, one knee reflexively tensing while his breathing hastened. Shifting Kyouka Suigetsu into an offensive guard upon acclimating himself to the spiritual pressure, he watched, almost stricken speechless, the Original Life Fiber liquefy. Falling onto Tokyo and prompting an understandable outburst from Ichigo Kurosaki.
"What the hell…"
Ryuko's anger towards the shinigami was replaced by fear. This was bad! Mako and everyone were still in the city! There was no telling what that monster would do to them! Her heel clacked as she leapt off the roof, ignoring Ichigo's shouting and Senketsu's warning. She could apologize to everyone later. And maybe allow Ichigo to punch her in the face. Because right now, she needed to end things once and for all! Before anyone else got hurt!
Her breath hitched when the Original Life Fiber, instead of attacking Mako and her friends, made a ninety-degree turn, crashing into Tokyo Bay before flowing over the water.
Directly towards them.
She pivoted mid-step, throwing herself sideways as the Original Life Fiber reached Honnou City. Her heels clacked with every backpedal, each awkward stride taking her farther away from the tidal wave of Life Fibers. Damn it! She could deal with the overwhelming presence making it difficult to breath. And the terror rippling through their connection from Senketsu wasn't too bad. But the awful screaming in the back of her mind was giving her a migraine.
"Don't tell me it's pissed Ichigo killed my mom!"
"Defeating Ragyo must have been the final straw," Senketsu tried – and failed – to hide his trembling from Ryuko, "Its power is tremendous! There's no telling what it plans to do!"
"That's why we're gonna kick its ass, Senketsu!"
Energy roared from Senketsu as Ryuko boosted herself higher into the sky. If the Original Life Fiber wanted to fight, then she was going to tear the damn thing apart! One Life Fiber at a time! With a snarl, she spun the Scissor Blade around her wrist, the hardened Life Fiber weapon emitting a metallic ting when she gripped its handle. If she wanted to cut through the alien ball of yard, she needed leverage. Hefting her dad's weapon overhead, fully prepared to meet the creature head-on, her eye twitched when it suddenly changed direction.
Straight towards her mom's corpse.
With a flash of crimson light, Senketsu contorted around her body. Life Fibers shifted and snapped into place as she blasted towards the Original Life Fiber. She didn't give a crap why it was going after Ragyo Kiryuin, but like hell was she going to let that oversized monster get what it wanted! Her mom was dead and she was going to STAY dead! Spinning the Scissor Blade into a reverse grip, she spiraled downwards, ready to slice through the Original Life Fiber using all of Senketsu's power, only to be pulled backwards when someone grabbed her wrist.
The sudden change in scenery when she was dragged – kicking and screaming – halfway across the No-Star Slums caused her to stumble forward, nearly falling off the roof. Growling at Sosuke Aizen, she swung the Scissor Blade until it was inches from his throat, "What the hell was that for!?"
Aizen brushed aside Ryuko Matoi's resentment. He didn't have time to explain himself. Nor was there time to properly address the situation. This was the worst-case scenario. An event unfolding both impossible to anticipate and implausible to calculate. For how could he have predicted the Original Life Fiber deciding on this course of action? That it would, above all else, choose the least likely scenario? Kisuke Urahara had surmised it would react hostilely to Ragyo Kiryuin's death. A conjecture he'd agreed with. They concluded the Original Life Fiber might lash out in a futile act of revenge.
But without Absolute Domination, their combined offensive capabilities were more than a match for its immeasurable spiritual pressure.
To think this was the Original Life Fiber's strategy.
His smile tightened into a grimace when the innumerable Life Fibers composing the eldritch creature began flowing into the Kiryuin matriarch's corpse, folding upon themselves until the ground was covered in writhing threads, "Orihime Inoue is concealed within a spiritual barrier approximately three hundred meters to our north. I presume you're already aware of her location?"
Tournesol emitted a faint ting as the blade shifted in Ichigo's grip, "Why? What are you planning?"
"It's likely Ragyo Kiryuin will attempt to recover Orihime Inoue," Aizen observed the shrinking Original Life Fiber with mounting concern, "If that's the case, I'll stall for time while you and Ryuko Matoi will bring her to safety. Whatever happens, her freedom is paramount if we wish to reverse the Celestial Cocoon Seed Planet."
Ichigo frowned. He wanted to say something, anything, to Aizen, but the words just didn't come together. The guy was right. Locking eyes with Ryuko, who seemed hesitant to blindly trust Aizen despite the man's goal, he nodded, "Alright. But tell me something. Why is the Original Life Fiber going after Ragyo? Why does it need her?"
"Because you succeeded beyond my greatest expectations."
A barrier shimmered into existence around Ragyo Kiryuin when Aizen stepped in front of the teenagers. Placing himself in the fallen matriarch's line-of-sight, he raised Kyouka Suigetsu into an overhanded grip, "While you were recovering, I confirmed, to the best of my abilities, that Ragyo Kiryuin was no longer alive."
"Then what the hell's happening!?"
His mouth tightened at Ryuko's blustering confusion. It was almost palpable. The steady maelstrom of spiritual pressure radiating from the Kiryuin matriarch's corpse was electrifying the atmosphere, "Something beyond the human insidiousness of your mother. So, do not drop your guard, Ryuko Matoi. Stay alert. Transform your Kamui into his advanced configuration without delay. Don't get distracted for a single moment. For if you do…"
Their surroundings rippled as Seirei-no-Makoto Kyouka Suigetsu's influence deepened, "…you will not survive."
"Forced to dirty my hands against such insignificant beings…"
The voice sent shivers down Ryuko's spine when the last trace of the Original Life Fiber disappeared into her mom's body. As the strange tension building in the air grew palpable, and Honnou City began shaking underneath Ragyo Kiryuin's spiritual presence, Ichigo felt a bead of sweat trickle down his cheek, pooling against the underside of his chin. It was slightly different – a little higher pitched and possessing far more malevolence – but he knew that inhuman echo.
"…it's absolutely insulting."
Ragyo remained ignorant of the turbulent thoughts plaguing Isshin Shiba's son as she placed one hand upon the ground. With nary a sound besides her noticeable contempt, the wounds adorning her flesh and Shinra Koketsu regenerated. Severed limbs stitched themselves back onto her body. The wet squish of Life Fibers reconnecting, life and power flowing through the dying threads, animated her movements. Giving rise to the breathless sigh, more reminiscent of venomous hate than arrogance, escaping her lips when she opened her eyes.
Multicolored bands of radiant colors replacing maroon.
"No freaking way…"
Existence itself trembled underneath the weight of her divine presence as Shinra Koketsu regained its majestic luster. Life Fibers constricted around her body as the flagrant denial reached her ears. She raised her hand, examining the perfectly manicured fingernails while Ichigo Kurosaki and Ryuko Matoi voiced their disbelief, slowly but surely accepting the situation. And then, once their murmuring ceased, she faced the shinigami. The corners of her mouth curled downwards at his defiance. As Shinra Koketsu rustled, the ultimate Kamui's eyes narrowed in vicious hatred matching her own, she did not hesitate. Did not falter. Before they could regroup – as the shinigami prepared another paltry technique, she flicked her wrist.
Releasing a sphere of kaleidoscopic energy that shattered his pathetic barrier.
"Her irrational affection for Isshin Shiba weakened her resolve."
She brushed aside the monumental explosion rippling across the horizon. Nor did the subsequent shockwave slamming into Honnou City faster than the speed of sound, rushing through the decimated fortress, garner the slightest portion of her attention. Only when her surroundings flickered like ripples upon a lake that she glanced at the multicolored eruption illuminating Honnouji Academy. And her glower twisted into a grimace. To redirect her divine strength without suffering any consequences necessitated arrogance befitting such a sacrilegious being.
But it made no difference.
"It was an unnecessary distraction. Once I could not ignore."
In a single movement, she appeared behind those gathered to oppose Life Fibers. To oppose her, "His presence during that most sacred of events was not anticipated. Every setback and delay…the knowledge of Kamui falling into undeserving hands…can be traced back to that night. YOUR interference comes from his original sin. And now…"
A clang of metal against flesh disturbed the tranquility when she stopped the shinigami's zanpakuto from touching Shinra Koketsu. Blocking the weapon that gave her prophet so much trouble with nothing more than the palm of her hand, "…you use my own power against me!? Tainted and corrupted by your blasphemous hands!?"
The building shattering underneath Shinra Koketsu was the only indication of damage as the shimmer of polished metal against moonlight flickered in the corner of vision. Unencumbered by the necessity of blocking Ryuko Matoi's insignificant and pathetic attack when her mere presence – grandiose and divine – halted the Scissor Blade inches from Shinra Koketsu, she nevertheless snarled at the teenager's impudence, "And to think Kamui would dare throw themselves against that which granted them existence!"
With a defiant roar, crimson energy blasted from Senketsu, exploding against her back in turbulent and chaotic pulses that left her fingers tingling. And yet it wasn't enough! No matter how much spiritual energy she pushed through the Scissor Blade, the stupid barrier surrounding Ragyo Kiryuin wasn't budging! Damn it! What the hell was going on? There was no way in hell Shinra Koketsu was this powerful without Orihime! It didn't even have Absolute Domination! So, how was her bitch of a mom…
"…stopping your Scissor Blade?"
"What the –?"
"I am the beginning and end of ALL things," her gaze swept across the Kamui adorning Ryuko Matoi. For divine clothing woven by the hands of inferior beings, she could not argue its strength. A simple examination of its Life Fibers proved Senketsu was formidable. Worthy of being called Kamui. And that, above all else, soured her mood.
"Your existence began with me. And by these hands, it shall end."
She was tempted to pursue the shinigami when he retreated. Her memories of his insurmountable arrogance and intelligence hadn't faded. There was no doubt he was planning something against Shinra Koketsu. Against herself. The prudent decision would be dealing with his Bankai. Punishing him for every indiscretion and sacrilegious action against Life Fibers. Before he acquired enough time to pose a slight risk.
But that would be playing into his hands.
"Senketsu's advanced gestalts. The name you shall choose to call his fashion week apparel. Everything that began with Life Fibers – all things that end with Life Fibers – does not escape my grasp."
In a blur, far too quickly for the teenager or her Kamui to follow, she wrapped her slender fingers around Ryuko Matoi's throat. Effortlessly bypassing the Kamui's defensive capabilities and driving the air from her lungs, "Ryuko Matoi, your thoughts are akin to an open book. I know what your Life Fibers will do before YOU do. Something Ragyo Kiryuin could never accomplish, even with my essence flowing through her threading."
With a sickening squelch, she stabbed her hand through Ryuko Matoi's chest, grasping the teenager's heart as Ichigo Kurosaki took his first step forward, "But her incompetence won't save you. My plans for this miserable planet cannot be stopped. It's only a matter of time before every lesser being – human and shinigami alike – is devoured by my children."
Ichigo never saw Ragyo move. Even wearing Zangetsu, it appeared as if the Kiryuin matriarch flashed between positions. Reacting before the signal reached his brain. One moment the woman was gripping Ryuko's heart, seemingly oblivious to his attack, and the next her fist was lodged squarely against his cheek, snapping his neck sideways and shattering the energy wrapped around Tournesol.
"Were you not listening, Ichigo Kurosaki?"
Her lips twisted into a sneer when the impertinent hybrid recovered his bearings. Barely arresting his momentum using the appropriated weapon. Glaring with veiled contempt at the blue sword clasped in his left hand, its ambiguous origins not lost to her, she watched Ichigo cough violently, blood trickling from the corner of his mouth.
"Don't make me repeat myself."
It was only through her magnanimity that Ryuko Matoi was afforded the opportunity to regain her composure. Flicking the blood from her fingers, she acknowledged the youth's mature regeneration. Kaleidoscopic eyes, both her own and Shinra Koketsu's, observed the teenager's wound stitch itself shut dozens of Life Fiber at a time before her heel clacked against the ground, bringing her within inches of Ichigo Kurosaki. Grasping the appropriated blade without concern, pulling the youth onto his feet through the sheer weight of her power, her mouth curled into a menacing smirked as she squeezed.
Shattering the hardened Life Fiber weapon and preventing a repeat of Ragyo Kiryuin's pathetic defeat.
"It was through my will that humanity evolved from their primitive state."
Her patience reached its limit when Ryuko Matoi discarded the notion she should stay down. That her Kamui was a match for Shinra Koketsu. As the youth cursed, blood spewing from painful cuts along her hands and arms, she snarled at the Scissor Blade posed overhead, "Only by my humble generosity did the Kiryuin's grow powerful enough to dominate all of humanity. Each generation feasting upon my essence before sacrificing mind, body and soul unto me."
"Now Kamui believe themselves capable of opposing me?"
An imperceptible twitch of her mouth was the only warning Ichigo and Ryuko before Shinra Koketsu screamed and everything exploded. Turbulent waves of superheated spiritual energy erupted from Ragyo, cascading outwards in billowing sheets that disintegrated the ground underneath their feet. Turning concrete into ash that dissolved in the ensuing firestorm. Ichigo felt Mugetsu's discomfort as he instinctively leapt away from Ragyo, leaving the shattered remains of his old man's weapon behind. The very air burned in his lungs as the heat scorched his face, drying out his mouth and leaving him gasping for breath.
Ryuko covered her eyes as Ragyo's overwhelming power literally threw her across the No-Star Slums. Cursing at the blinding display, she launched herself away from her mom, jumping far enough away from the superheated energy that the cool, autumn breeze left her shivering, "The hell's going on, Senketsu?"
"I don't know," Senketsu flinched at the smoke rising from his Life Fibers, "But it's safe to say we're no longer dealing with Ragyo Kiryuin."
She hefted the Scissor Blade with both hands as the monster, who was floating in the center of an enormous crater, shimmered like a damn Christmas tree, "Crap, this might get rough."
"Be careful, Ryuko," Senketsu quivered when the primordial creature's attention shift towards them, "She's completely different from –"
"And you DARE align yourselves with that shinigami!?"
That Ichigo Kurosaki and Ryuko Matoi, mere children blind to the truth of existence, believed themselves capable of laying a finger upon Shinra Koketsu was incomprehensible! Even without Absolute Domination, Kamui paled in comparison to its divinity! There was nothing they could do – now or in the future – that she did not know! Their techniques and advanced gestalts, even the possibility of Senketsu and Mugetsu evolving into fashion week apparel, was known! And yet they chose to stand in her path, in the path of all Life Fibers, for the good of a lesser, primitive species? One destined to be nothing more than sustenance for Life Fibers?
An animalistic snarl escaped between clenched lips. Multicolored light danced across manicured fingers as Shinra Koketsu reacted to her divine will. Sheets of pristine white Life Fibers contorted around her body. Billowing sleeves unfurled, contours and hems tightened against flesh, as the ultimate Kamui transformed from an elegant wedding dress, reminiscent of her prophet's unnecessary affection for Isshin Shiba, into a shoulderless gown.
"For that you MUST suffer!"
The landscape – Honnou City, Tokyo and even Karakura Town – trembled beneath her spiritual pressure. With nothing more than a subconscious thought, Shinra Koketsu was surrounded by dozens of eyes, each focusing on the Life Fiber hybrids posed to interfere once more. Multicolored energy oozed from the ultimate Kamui as her solidified presence, flowing in radiant streams against her skin. Twisting monstrously until her fingers were gripping the evidence of her superior threading.
"This contemptible academy…"
It didn't matter if they begged for mercy. It was too late. She had already made up her mind.
"…and all those dwelling within…"
Her anger flared when something flickered in the distance. All but ignoring the shinigami's defiance and arrogance, she allowed Sosuke Aizen to finish the incantation, ten pink spheres coalesced around his body. Scoffing with audible derision when he thrust his hand forward, she turned aside and allowed the technique to harmlessly impact Shinra Koketsu.
The impacts and subsequent explosion doing little more than caressing her Life Fibers.
"…will be wiped from existence! All of you shall perish!"
As Shinra Koketsu perforated Ryuko Matoi's disrespectful flesh, she sent Isshin Shiba's offspring careening in the opposite direction, blooding pouring from his chest, with naught but a glance. For a moment, her eyebrow twitched. Their arrogance in assuming themselves able to match her divine power was infuriating. Insulting! For a moment, far longer than believed necessary, she contemplated, wondered, how many lesser beings were required to get the point across. Two? Three? A dozen? Some of them would undoubtedly escape her retribution like cowards. But tonight their charade of a rebellion would end.
One way or another, they would be slaughtered.
Her fingers tore trenches of multicolored light through the fabric of reality, "Even the portion of my essence flowing through Isshin Shiba's threading won't save him from –"
She paused, more from astonishment than pain or discomfort, when something tore its way through her Life Fibers. Cutting through threading and flesh before bursting forth from her chest. As she stared at the blood dripping from the blade emerging from Shinra Koketsu, it took a moment for her mind to process the impossibility. But as reality established itself, and the familiar purple weapon didn't vanish, indignation swelled through her soul. With more force than necessary, she gripped the razor-sharp blade stabbed through her heart and glared over her shoulder.
"What is the meaning of this?"
Nui couldn't hear the question as she forced the Scissor Blade deeper into Shinra Koketsu, tears dripping down her cheeks, "You're not Lady Ragyo! G-Give her back!"
"And why does something like you care?"
With a squelch, the Original Life Fiber removed the blade piercing Shinra Koketsu. As her Life Fibers stitched themselves together, she dismissed the energy gathered upon the tips of her fingers. That one of her chosen heirs would demean themselves in such a debasing and humiliating manner was abhorrent. Bewildering on its own merits. But for the single offspring Ragyo Kiryuin didn't misplace – raised from conception to worship Life Fibers and view humanity as fattened cattle – to act with such flagrant treachery was incomprehensible! It made no sense!
"You are nothing more than a marionette."
She curled a finger through the Scissor Blade, ensuring the weapon didn't move an inch. Aware not only of Ichigo Kurosaki's close proximity, but also the apprehension tracing familiar patterns through his Life Fibers, her lips slowly curled into a maniac smirk, "That you believe yourself capable of love…of feeling emotions like a lesser being…is abhorrent. It's not why you were created. But such a catastrophic defect is not your fault."
In the same moment she removed the Scissor Blade from the Grand Couturier's unworthy grasp, she drove her knee into the impudent teenager's stomach. Eliciting a pained gasp that brought a hint of righteous satisfaction to her soul. And as Nui gagged on blood and bile, she thrust the hardened Life Fiber weapon into the pavement before reaching forward, clenching a handful of the teenager's disheveled hair, "There was only supposed to be one of you. A single marionette loyal to Life Fibers. Created to stitch Shinra Koketsu and then, upon completion, sacrifice their existence unto it."
Her tone hardened as she struck Nui Harime, driving her fist into the teenager's face. Basking in the pained screams accompanying every impact of flesh against flesh, the Original Life Fiber eventually relented, allowing the Grand Couturier to collapse to the ground, "But something went wrong. Instead of one daughter, my prophet had three. Each possessing a fraction of my essence. That was a mistake."
Nui tried crawling away from the Original Life Fiber, each inch more agonizing than the last. Blood dripped from her nose and mouth as she tried ignoring the creature's words about Amu and Orihime. But a hand clasped around her throat before she realized the thing wearing Lady Ragyo had moved. Manicured fingers that once caressed her with love and affection squeezed tightly, forcing the air from the lungs as she was pulled upwards, "Just look at you."
The Original Life Fiber glared at the Grand Couturier's disheveled appearance, "You're incomplete. Without your other half to stabilize your emotions – without the medium for Absolute Domination synchronizing them – you're unbalanced. It's a miracle my prophet found any use for you in the first place."
"But don't delude yourself."
A malicious smirk plucked against her lips. There. That was it. The single thought radiating through the Grand Couturier's threading. The one thing guaranteed to shatter her delusions of grandeur. With Shinra Koketsu's eyes focusing upon Ichigo Kurosaki and Ryuko Matoi, daring them to interfere, she tightened her hold, "You could never have a family. Ragyo Kiryuin and Isshin Shiba granted you existence. But your only purpose was weaving Shinra Koketsu. And you succeeded. Spectacularly. You've outlived your usefulness. So now I believe it's time your Life Fibers returned to me."
Tournesol nearly slipped through Ichigo's fingers at the Original Life Fiber's insinuation. What the hell? His old man and Ragyo were Nui's parents? That couldn't be true! There was no way his dad would consider cheating! The guy couldn't even watch romantic movies without bailing halfway through the opening credits. But if it was true, Nui's constant insistence on being his cousin made sense. And he never heard her lie, not even once.
"There has to be another explanation," he brushed aside Mugetsu's concern. Now wasn't the time to worry. He could get the answers from the old goat after the Original Life Fiber was stopped, "My old man's an idiot, but he would never –"
Nui felt…nothing…at Ichigo's reaction. And that bothered her. She should have been upset or angry the creature wearing Lady Ragyo spoiled the surprise. She wanted to surprise him about the old goat once they stopped fighting over the pigs in human clothing. When they could finally be a family without any distractions. It would have been perfect. But then Ryuko rejected her. Her sister rejected Lady Ragyo. Then Lady Ragyo was replaced by this thing wearing her body. Nothing mattered anymore. Not even Amu.
So, why didn't Ichigo seem to hate her? Why was he looking at her with such a strange expression?
"Amu did most of the work. S-She was the smart one," her tears stopped when the fingers grasping her throat tightened, "She made sure there weren't any mistakes. I-If we messed any of the stitching, I was the one who fixed it."
The Original Life Fiber paused over the Grand Couturier's heart. With her fingers inches from the beating organ, fractions of a second from dissolving the marionette, her multicolored eyes narrowed, "Do you intend to garner sympathy with something I already know?"
"B-But when Lady Ragyo made me finish Shinra Koketsu," Nui slouched in the creature's grasp as her vision blurred, "I-I realized something important."
She latched a finger between the ultimate Kamui's threading and pulled, "That I could take it apart if I really wanted to!"
The progenitor of Life Fibers smashed her fist against the Grand Couturier. But it was too late. As her head twisted awkwardly, spittle and blood spewing from her lips, Nui curled her finger. With a taut pluck, bundles of Banshi unfurled from Shinra Koketsu, caught upon the teenager's fingernail. Gasping incoherently from the pain when she smashed face-first into the ground, Nui listened to the ultimate Kamui scream. She heard its agony as the blood dripping from her mouth slowed, and then stopped. She watched the Original Life Fiber attempt to regain control, only to fail. And even though she had wanted to unravel Shinra Koketsu, she couldn't find any pleasure in watching her pride and joy – the best and most perfect dress in the world – suffer.
"I-It's painful," Nui struggled off the ground. Her voice was little more than a strained whisper as energy burst from Shinra Koketsu. She twitched from the superheated steam erupting from the divine fabric, mimicking the Original Life Fiber's astonishment, "But I made Shinra Koketsu for Lady Ragyo! Y-You don't deserve to wear it!"
"You treacherous piece of scrap!"
Her anger was palpable, nearly physical, as the ultimate Kamui's strength waned. She watched, disbelief twisting into shock, when the Banshi snapped out of the stitching, permanently rendering Shinra Koketsu nothing more than a pale imitation of the divine gown meant to usher humanity to their destiny. But she kept her composure. Even as energy oozed from the ultimate Kamui's threading, she refused to grant the lesser beings an advantage! With an indignant snarl, her eyes swiveled downwards, focusing on the marionette who dared raise her hand against Life Fibers. That believed itself capable of betraying the source of her existence and purpose!
In a flash of rainbow light, the Needle Blades spun into her waiting fingers.
"You DARE raise your hand against me!?"
Moonlight twisted off their polished edges as she swung downwards, the identical blades posed to sever the Life Fibers connecting the Grand Couturier's head and shoulders.
Only to miss when writhing darkness intercepted the Needle Blades, forming a protective barrier in front of Nui Harime. Tracing the source of the interruption backwards, focusing on the familiar blonde above her prophet's errant offspring, the corners of her mouth twitched erratically. Recognition and hatred coiled through her threading at the vampire. Half-formed memories bubbled to the forefront of her mind. Her divine presence flared as she tore through the burning shadows oozing from the vampire's shoulder. Shattering the barrier preventing her from destroying the treacherous marionette.
But it was too late. With fury bubbling in her soul, she watched the vampire retreat with the Grand Couturier.
Seras winced at the blood gushed from the cross-shaped wound across Nui Harime's face. As the soles of her boots dug into the ground for purchase, fighting against the immense force accompanying Ragyo Kiryuin's attack, she found herself confused. Something wasn't right. She remembered the Grand Couturier brushing off Master and that Quincy's attacks without breaking her unnerving smile. So, what was different about this attack? The damage seemed worse with every passing second. And the blood touching her skin felt wrong. Like it wasn't really blood but something else.
"Don't worry. I got you."
She launched herself towards Ichigo at the first opportunity, using Ragyo Kiryuin's frustration to place as much distance between them as possible. Despite being completely in the dark about everything, something must have happened after Pip thrust the bullet into the woman's heart. Something that caused the Grand Couturier, who had a body count in the hundreds to thousands, to betray her mother, "But you seem to have pissed her off quite badly."
"S-She destroyed my eye…"
Nui didn't care about the vampire. The blood spewing from the wound – so intimately familiar and painful – didn't matter. She remembered Ryuko's dad doing the same thing. Cutting open her face. Damaging her perfect body with those contemptible second-hand blades. But with her mouth stretching into an impossibly wide smile, blood dribbling from the glowing wound across the left half of her face, she grinned at the Original Life Fiber, "B-But I fixed Shinra Koketsu!"
"What did you say!?"
The reprehensible creature's astonishment at something so simple was music to her ears, "Gosh, are you stupid? Don't you remember? I-I'm the Grand Couturier!"
Her voice deepened with every word, alternating between infuriation and shrill barking, "S-So, it makes sense I can adjust its dress patterns!"
Hatred flashed through her remaining eye, "N-Now you can't use Shinra Koketsu! You're nothing more than Life Fibers squeezed into clothing!"
"You impudent little…"
Astonishment at the Grand Couturier devolved into vitriolic hatred. She was done granted those standing against Life Fibers – standing against her – mercy! Shinra Koketsu was already responding lethargically to her orders. Its strength was already fading. And soon, it would vanish entirely. But even without the ultimate Kamui, her power was more than sufficient for dealing with the shinigami. And Isshin Shiba, when the traitorous man emerged from the shadows in a few short moments, "I will no longer tolerate your belligerence!"
Through divine superiority, she extracted what little power remained within Shinra Koketsu's threading, "Your rebellion ends NOW!"
"Like hell it does!"
The flickers of spiritual energy surrounding Senketsu evolved into a cacophonous explosion as Ryuko met the Original Life Fiber head on, closing the distance between herself and the creature in the blink of an eye, "I'm not through kicking your glowing ass!"
"How long do you expect this charade to continue!?"
Her hatred bubbled at the impertinent hybrid's delusions of grandeur. That Ryuko Matoi refused to acknowledge the insurmountable difference between their power was one thing. But the arrogance infecting her threading was insulting! Did the Kamui gracing her flesh believe its strength sufficient to mount a challenge? Absurd! The concept of strength meant nothing to her! And so, with a swift downwards strike, she intercepted the Scissor Blade. In a titanic eruption of clashing spiritual pressure, she repulsed Ryuko Matoi's assault, sending the girl tumbling head over heels.
"Your Kamui stands no chance! It's nothing more than Life Fibers sewn into clothing!"
"That's what you think!"
Ryuko spat at the Original Life Fiber. Did the bitch think something that dull and boring would bother Senketsu? They heard worse from Mugetsu! With a snort, she flipped back onto her feet, waiting until Ichigo's signal before darting forward, "Because Senketsu's gonna beat the shit out of you!"
She caught Ichigo Kurosaki's tempered blade before the youth finished sneaking through her guard. She clasped Tournesol between her thumb and finger, holding the hardened sword before parrying the Scissor Blade with a callous backhand, "There is nothing you can do that I do not already know!"
A crack echoed across the ruined slums as her fist impacted Ryuko Matoi's face, sending the surprised teenager careening into – and through – several buildings. Yet a suppressed snarl escaped her lips. If not for the Grand Couturier's treachery, that attack would have taken Ryuko's head clean off her shoulders! Pirouetting at the subtle movement accompanying Ichigo Kurosaki's determined efforts, she pulled the Needle Blade from its impromptu perch. In a series of strikes too rapid for lesser beings to follow, she shattered the youth's guard. Blood sprayed through the air, missing Shinra Koketsu by scant millimeters, when the Needle Blade carved through Isshin Shiba's offspring from waist to shoulder.
It was a wound that should have inconvenienced the impertinent hybrid.
But in her present, weakened condition, nearly bisecting Ichigo Kurosaki wasn't enough.
"So throw yourselves at me!"
With an audible crinkle of clothing, she thrust her arm upwards, fingers clenching the celestial sphere hovering over Honnouji Academy, "But without that satellite, it won't matter if you recover Absolute Domination's vessel! You'll perish one way or another!"
"On the contrary, that's quite an unlikely scenario."
Aizen took pleasure at the Original Life Fiber's reaction. For a creature whose arrogance exceeded its unwarranted notion of superiority over humanity, the subtle quivering of its body at the otherwise innocuous statement betrayed its apprehension, "During our confrontation, I fired a Kido into Shinra Koketsu. Hado Number Ninety One, to be exact. However, we can agree my efforts lacked effectiveness."
Whether the eldritch creature found the information helpful wasn't information. Its surprise. The astonishment dictating its actions. That was important. Raising Kyouka Suigetsu, Aizen waited until his words sunk into the Original Life Fiber before taking another step closer, "When attacking, one must focus upon exploiting their opponent's weaknesses. Which raises an interesting question. When I fought Raygo Kiryuin, I verified Kido are ineffective against Life Fibers. It's an aspect of your biology independently deduced by Kisuke Urahara. Your Life Fibers absorb spiritual energy. Thus, attacking in such a manner requires excessive sacrifice of one's stamina. So, knowing that, why did I waste energy on something that does not work?"
"You're referring to the trap hidden within your attack?"
In a flicker of movement, she thrust her hand through the shinigami, blood and viscera erupting from his back, "An interesting tactic. But pointless."
"Of course it was."
The blood trailing from Aizen's mouth didn't impede his words as he smirked. Amiably and without arrogance. An attack possessing such ferocity was indeed fatal. Someone with less preparations would have certainly died. But as the Original Life Fiber stiffened, its other hand reaching forward to finish the job, reality twisted upon itself. His corpse vanished into an illusion, leaving the creature surprised until he reappeared behind it, "It was nothing more than a distraction. A trick to lull you into a false sense of security. But, if anything, you should thank the Grand Couturier."
"Her interference weakened your control over the World of the Living," he tapped the empty space behind the creatures, searching for the specific frequency of spiritual particles. With a flicker, darkness erupted as jagged, teeth-like tears appeared in the barrier separating the dimensions, "Without her sabotage, you could have easily negated what I'm about to do."
"How dare you!"
She shouted with failing restraint when the shinigami ducked beneath the Needle Blade. Her eyes narrowed at the hand planted against the ground. At the fingers lightly gripping crushed concrete. A perturbed twitch of hatred rippled from her stomach when he raised a finger, silently releasing a burst of kinetic energy that thrust her towards the congealed darkness. But with significant effort, she arrested her momentum inches from the portal. Damn it! Damn him to hell! This arrogant…despicable…shinigami believed himself her equal!
No, he thought himself her better!
She would deny him the satisfaction of victory!
"I don't think so!"
The spiritual energy around the Original Life Fiber's fingers shattered with a sharp crack when Ryuko smashed her fist into the bitch's nose. Something that surprised the thing wearing her mom like a suit. Which gave her the perfect opening! Using every scrap of power available to Senketsu – and then some – Ryuko pivoted, heel clacking against the ground, before driving her knee into Shinra Koketsu.
Forcing the ugly outfit – and the creature wearing it – into the closing portal.
"Damn it, how'd she get in here!?"
Contrary to popular belief, Emilou Apacci wasn't short-tempered or rude. No matter how much Mila Rose or Sung-Sun complained. She just couldn't stand idiotic shinigami and anyone who dared raised their sword against Lady Harribel. Especially that white-haired midget. It was that simple. But she wasn't someone who rushed into battle without thinking. Not after getting her ass burned by that old geezer. She wasn't stupid. Not anymore.
"You sound scared, Apacci."
Franceska Mila Rose scoffed at her fellow arrancar's lack of courage, "You're sweating. And your teeth are chattering loudly enough to disturb Lady Harribel. If you're going to stand around pissing your pants, you might as well run away and save us the effort of rescuing your ass later."
"You wanna say that to my face!?"
Apacci forgot about the woman – at least it looked like a woman – and that creepy uniform for a moment. A biting retort was on the tip of her tongue, something witty enough to screw with her fellow arrancar's sense of self-esteem, until another pulse of spiritual pressure slammed into Las Noches. Taken aback by the malevolence, which made even Ulquiorrra seem tame, she grinned despite the sweat trickling down her cheek, "If I'm scared, then I guess you're trembling from excitement! Hey, if you want to be the first one to fight that bitch, be my guest!"
Mila Rose's eye twitched as her fingers twitched towards Leona, "Since when has that stopped you?"
"What the hell did you say!?"
Tier Harribel's eyes narrowed at the woman – no, this creature was anything but human – intruding within Las Noches. She could not blame Apacci for her apprehension. Nor was Mila Rose's adamant refusal to confess her nervousness a sign of weakness. On the contrary, she expected nothing less. Despite having regained a semblance of their former humanity, they were still Hollows. And as such, their instincts were predominant. And those same instincts shouted warnings about the intruder. Her masked lips pursed from primal tension every time another burst of spiritual pressure covered Las Noches.
It was no wonder Apacci, Mila Rose and, yes, even Sung-Sun, appeared anxious.
"Do not underestimate this creature."
She hooked a finger through one of the holes adorning Tiburón's guard. Something else troubled her. This creature arrived within Las Noches through a Garganta. But only arrancar or those associated with Sosuke Aizen could bypass the structure's defenses using Descorrer. Her thoughts hardened at the insinuation. The latter was impossible. That man was imprisoned by the shinigami, sealed after his ignominious defeat at Ichigo Kurosaki's hands, "The primal fear influencing your thoughts is understandable."
With a careful, relaxed flick of her wrist, she unsheathed the zanpakuto, golden-yellow sparks accompanying the motion, "Her spiritual pressure is catastrophic. Abhorrent beyond even the most repugnant Hollow. I have never experienced anything remotely this malevolent and reprehensible. It's unnerving. And yet, despite the obnoxious pressure, I cannot wonder if this is but a fraction of her true power."
"So, what do we do?"
Mila Rose glowered as apprehension twisted her expression, "There's no telling what she has planned."
"You're acting like a fool again. Weren't you paying attention?"
Cyan Sung-Sun waited until Mila Rose growled like a primate before covering her mouth. Sometimes it was too easy getting under her skin. One would think after countless years spent together under Lady Harribel, they would try ignoring her taunts. For a moment, she contemplated pushing the issue. Perhaps mocking Apacci's nervousness. But the creature's terrifying spiritual pressure superseded any desires outside of survival.
"Our mysterious intruder stumbled through a Garganta like a rank amateur. Almost as if someone pushed her," she momentarily mocked Mila Rose's ignorance on something considered basic by arrancar standards before glancing towards the source of their worry, "Lady Harribel likely already realized this, but someone could not defeat this woman. Therefore, they did the next best thing."
"What!? Why'd they send her here!?"
"You shouldn't lose your temper over something as trivial as criticism," Sung-Sun rolled her eyes at Apacci's characteristic response to the slightest hint of bad news, "Getting worked up is a great way to get this creature's attention."
"Damn you –"
"Calm yourself, Apacci."
She did not raise her voice. The situation didn't warrant anything other than prudent, careful analysis. Allowing one's emotions to run rampant increased the probability of making fatal mistakes, "Sung-Sun is correct. However, her arrival is not the problem at hand."
A faint hum trembled through Harribel's hand as Tiburón spun around her finger, streams of golden energy trailing from the zanpakuto's edge, "This creature is a threat to the tranquility we've painstakingly established. Which is why I shall deal with this intruder myself. Before she becomes a threat to Las Noches and Hueco Mundo."
"There's no reason to risk your life, Lady Harribel!"
Mila Rose glared at the creature staring at Las Noches like she owned the damn place. There was no question Lady Harribel was more than powerful enough to win. With every Espada except Grimmjow dead, and Aizen imprisoned by the shinigami, she was the strongest being in Hueco Mundo. But something about the woman's strange clothing was unnerving, almost to the point she was considering working alongside Apacci and Sung-Sun without complaint, "Please! Let us summon Ayon! Even if that thing kills him without breaking a sweat, I'm confident you'll learn enough about her abilities to win!"
"No. I cannot allow you to sacrifice yourselves for my benefit."
Another twist of her wrist brought Tiburón into her waiting grasp. The familiar sensation of her zanpakuto brought comfort. Assuaging a portion of the tension and discontent coursing through her veins, "This woman is beyond your capabilities. Ayon would find itself overwhelmed not only in terms of spiritual pressure, but sheer vindictiveness and malevolence. Do you recall the mass exodus of Hollows?"
Apacci frowned. She remembered that day. Five months ago, out of the middle of nowhere, every Hollow in Japan returned to Hueco Mundo. The bastards possessing enough intelligence to talk, and smart enough not to pick a fight with Lady Harribel, claimed two monsters had awakened. Inhuman creatures unlike shinigami, Quincy or arrancar. Each with terrifying and monstrous spiritual pressure that threatened to crush their souls.
"You think this…woman…is one of those monsters?"
"I do not know. Now go. Observe from a safe distance. If I cannot defeat her, retreat and do not look back. There is no need for any of you to lose your lives saving mine."
Her tone was blunt, almost apathetic. Yet Harribel waited until Apacci, Mila Rose and Sung-Sun retreated to an appreciably safe distance before releasing the restraints upon her spiritual pressure. She could not fault their reluctance. The arrogance behind throwing oneself against an unknown, powerful opponent went against the basic principles of combat. But she had little choice. The spiritual pressure radiating from the white-clad figure felt…wrong. More disturbing with each passing second. Inhuman, in the sense the woman, unlike Hollows and arrancar, wasn't created through humanity's sorrow or despair.
Yet there was the overwhelming, growing notion, born not from rational thought but primal instinct, that she was being watched. That this creature already knew her location and was waiting, patiently and sadistically, to see what she'd do.
Golden-yellow spiritual pressure cascaded from her soul at the soft utterance. If the advantage was lost, wasting time analyzing an already terrible scenario was unacceptable. Frowning as the front of her uniform unzipped, revealing the bones covering the lower portion of her face and ample bosom, Harribel breathed through the condensing moisture, "Tiburón."
Las Noches trembled beneath the weight of her spiritual pressure. The damaged dome and artificial skies cracked – then broke – as her power increased, eventually collapsing upon the white sands. She felt Apacci, Mila Rose and Sung-Sun retreat nearly to Grimmjow's extended quarters before destroying the cyclone of water enveloping her body with a single slash.
"I wonder, was that enough?"
As beads of water pooled along the contours of her skin, dripping from Tiburón only to suspend themselves midair, she frowned. Using her resurrección against an unknown, powerful opponent was a double-edged sword. The spiritual pressure released was substantial. If Ulquiorra's confrontation against Ichigo Kurosaki hadn't already destroyed most of Las Noches' ceiling, the shockwave accompanying her resurrección would have destroyed the structure. But that was a small sacrifice. She was not fighting a shinigami who required time and effort to release their zanpakuto. This creature was a monster unlikely to grant her the opportunity to release Tiburón in the midst of battle.
And yet, the woman – no, the creature – appeared disinterested.
Was the resurrección of an Espada insufficient to warrant even the slightest concern?
Golden-energy energy gathered upon Tiburón until the intensity flickered across her olive-colored skin. Her fingers trailed down the blade as she pressed forward, halving the distance between herself and the woman, "I see…"
Harribel stopped beyond what she presumed the creature's effective range. She could not see a blade or weapon. Yet that did not preclude the possibility of ranged techniques or other attacks. And the billowing sleeves and layered fabric could easily conceal weapons. Such audacious and abhorrent clothing seemed excessive, inefficient. But her fingers tightened upon Tiburón, aqua eyes narrowed at the eerie, almost independent movement of the strange uniform. Something wasn't right. For a moment, she thought the eye-like patterns floating above the woman shifted.
But with some reluctance, she discarded the rampant instincts. Choosing instead to focus upon the present. Upon defeating the woman. Hefting Tiburón overhead, gripping her zanpakuto as the golden-yellow flames roared to life, she swung downwards, releasing the wave of high-pressure energy.
Moisture dripped from her hair as she observed the technique slice towards the woman.
Her breath hitched when the woman effortlessly caught the energy between her fingers.
"To think that blasphemous abomination's influence spread this far…"
She threw herself away from the woman without hesitation. Without worrying about embarrassment or cowardice. That echoing voice…the warbling tone accentuating each and every syllable…awoke a flash of primal terror. Instincts long thought buried. Presumed to have been replaced with rational thought and humanity. Flashing across the skies above Las Noches, bursts of pressurized water erupted from Tiburón in rapid, fear succession. Moisture condensed from her spiritual energy. Water flowed from the gill-like protrusions on her zanpakuto, coalescing before firing towards the woman.
No, calling this creature a woman was wrong. She might resemble a human. Or perhaps bore vague similarities to shinigami or even Quincy. But she had never been human. The lustrous silver hair shimmering with nauseating rainbow light. The pale, alabaster skin. Those eyes, rings of alternating colors. There was no question. No doubts remaining in her mind.
This woman was an inhuman monster.
"You're one of that shinigami's subordinates, aren't you?"
A hand clamped around her throat. Fingers too dainty and delicate bypassed her Hierro, squeezing the air from her lungs, when the woman crossed Las Noches. In a flicker of rainbow light, she was slammed against one of the buildings erupting from the dunes, cracking then shattering the blue façade, "I can sense that thing's influence on your soul."
The Original Life Fiber ignored the fingers desperately attempting to loosen her grip. She paid little, if any, attention to the oversized zanpakuto, treating the unique weapon as nothing more than a nuisance, a problem rectified by tightening her grip, cutting off what remained of the arrancar's oxygen, "He achieved a temporary victory through cowardice, but such tricks only work once. Because I will find my way back. I will wipe Honnou City – and the lesser beings hiding within its walls – from existence."
Despite her unbridled hatred for the Grand Couturier, she focused on the matter at hand. Pushing the marionette's punishment for siding with humanity until later. With a subconscious flicker of intent, the surrounding landscape disintegrated. Sand, buildings and even the very moisture oozing from the arrancar decayed. Mote of spiritual particles streamed into Shinra Koketsu, rejuvenating her weakened Life Fibers.
Bringing a grin, cold and calculating, to her features.
"And once I've accomplished that, everything connected to the planet will perish."
She adjusted her hold upon the creature, moving her fingers upwards until they were gripping its jaw. Yet its aqua eyes remained defiant. Unaware of its station as something significantly inferior to Life Fibers, let alone herself. But she allowed the arrancar that delusion. Granting it a moment's reprieve before raising her other hand, "But you?"
Light danced between her fingers, "You won't have the fortune of living that long."
"This is Hueco Mundo, huh?"
"It's not what I expected, Ryuko."
"You're telling me, Senketsu," Ryuko snorted under her breath, "It looks like a stupid, boring desert. Where's all the doom and gloom?"
"Boring isn't necessarily bad. And there's a good chance Orihime was exaggerating some of the details," Senketsu was troubled. And it wasn't the first time. If he remembered those remedial foreign language courses Ryuko was forced to endure under penalty of expulsion, everything about Hueco Mundo was Spanish. Entirely different from the Soul Society, which not only made little sense, but caused his threading to twitch, "At least we passed through unscathed. That Garganta wasn't the most pleasant experience."
Her heels clacked against the obnoxiously bright red pillar. The coldness in the air, something impossible since Senketsu hadn't broken into goosebumps, was barely noticeable as she stared across Las Noches. Rubbing the kink between her shoulder and neck, she grunted in visible – and growing – annoyance at the hazy structures stretching beyond the horizon. God damn it, she couldn't even see where the freaking place started! And who the hell builds a fortress with a desert on the inside?
"And who the hell thought breaking through dimensions required knowing Spanish?"
She tensed at a faint shift in the wind. In fact, her hands reflexively tightened around the Scissor Blades at the disturbing feeling trickling down her spine. Only an idiot wouldn't sense that powerful and familiar spiritual pressure. Scoffing out of the side of her mouth, she spat onto the pillar. Satsuki's nerdy friend might find the freaky moon interesting, but she didn't care about stupid and pointless crap! All that mattered was kicking the Original Life Fiber's ass!
"But we made it through in one piece," Ryuko grinned maliciously, "And this time, we're gonna finish that ugly scrap of clothing once and for all!"
"Huh? What's wrong, Senketsu?"
The Kamui gave his best impression of a deep, thoughtful frown. Difficult considering he did not possess a face. Everything appeared normal. There was sand blowing in the wind that threatened to get inside his threading. And strange, angled buildings stretching into the sky. And yet, neither explained the subtle trembling of his Life Fibers, "I don't know. But there's something in the air, Ryuko."
Ryuko stiffened, then looked straight into her Kamui's eye, "You're saying there's something wrong with this place?"
"I'm not entirely certain," he watched faint specks of light removing themselves from the pillar underneath Ryuko. As the glowing energy entered his threading, instantly relieving the exhaustion, his eye twisted upwards, "But I feel refreshed. Full of energy. The complete opposite of how I felt two minutes ago, when Sosuke Aizen was explaining what happened."
"You feel refreshed?"
She blinked once – then twice – in confusion, "What the hell does that mean?"
"Were you not paying attention, Ryuko?"
Strands of darkness clung to Junketsu as Satsuki emerged from the Garganta without breaking her stride. Not a hair was out of place as calculating steel-blue eyes focused on the bleak and desolate landscape stretching kilometers in every direction. Her mouth curled into a scowl at the strange bitterness in the air. Junketsu instinctively tightened against her skin when a presence inundated Sosuke Aizen's former seat of power. With a hollow clack, she pivoted towards Ryuko, "Life Fibers sustain themselves on blood and spiritual energy. Unlike our world, Hueco Mundo is composed of spiritual particles. To our Kamui, this world is akin to an endless buffet."
"I guess that makes sense…"
The wind rushing through Las Noches faded into the background as Ryuko frowned at Satsuki's explanation. She remembered Aizen saying something similar before they entered the Garganta. But he phrased it differently, with a lot more flowery language. And she'd been too busy worrying about Ichigo to care what the guy said about Senketsu, "So, does that mean Senketsu's gonna get stronger or something?"
"Perhaps. Or rather, the spiritual density of Hueco Mundo will allow our Kamui to fight without worrying about straining their Life Fibers."
From the moment she stepped through the Garganta into Las Noches, she could sense the creature's presence. That encompassing, vile spiritual pressure was unmistakable. The monster controlling Ragyo Kiryuin's corpse was somewhere over the horizon to the north. Precisely where Sosuke Aizen claimed, "Still, we mustn't lower our guards. What's applicable toward our Kamui, also affects our opponent. It's more than likely the Original Life Fiber is gathering its strength. Recovering what Nui Harime took away."
"Then there's no time to lose!"
"Agreed. However, we need to proceed carefully, Ryuko."
The comfort of Junketsu minimized her trepidation. The apprehension mixed with cheerful enthusiasm sung through her Kamui's threading, coming across as a faint whisper within her mind. Yet her brow furrowed, more from experience than concern, "Our opponent can predict Life Fibers. It can read your thoughts. Therefore, it stands to reason there's nothing you nor I can accomplish that it doesn't already know. We must assume the Original Life Fiber is not only aware of Senketsu, Junketsu and Mugetsu's techniques, but is more than capable of countering them."
"I already knew that!"
Ryuko stomped her heel against the pillar, leaving a large, ugly crack. Jabbing her thumb against Senketsu, she snarled, "But that's not going to stop us! If that thing can tell the future, then we'll just need to be so damn unpredictable it won't know what's happening!"
"More unpredictable than usual, Ryuko?"
"That's right, Senketsu!"
Her grin twisted viciously, "Predicting the future means shit if we don't know what we're doing until we're doing it!"
"Are you sure that will work? If the Original Life Fiber can predict our Life Fibers, then it should know what we're doing. Or rather, what we're not doing."
"You're correct about one thing, Ryuko. The Original Life Fiber's precognition is NOT absolute!"
Satsuki addressed her emphasis not towards Ryuko, but Ichigo, who finally emerged from the Garganta. The last to arrive given Yoruichi Shihoin's wish to speak privately. For a brief, moment, she observed the stabilized tear between dimensions. Watching with discerning eyes as the gateway sealed shut, reality correcting itself until the only method of departing Las Noches vanished. It appeared Kinue Kinagase was not participating against the monster puppetting her mother's corpse. But she could not fault the woman's reluctance. Unlike Ichigo and Ryuko's relationship with Mugetsu and Senketsu, Danketsu had been stitched into Kinue's skin. They were, for lack of better vernacular, a single being.
The negative consequences from Absolute Domination ripping them apart couldn't be estimated.
"Our mother's demise, Orihime Inoue's rescues and the Grand Couturier's treachery were events it did NOT foresee," Junketsu crinkled beneath the weight of her passion. With a loud thud, Bakuzan slammed against the pillar, "If the Original Life Fiber precognition was flawless, we would not be having this conversation! It would have predicted Nui Harime's actions and reacted accordingly!"
"Then we shouldn't stand around talking."
Ichigo found himself grimacing, almost involuntarily, at the familiar landscape. He never imagined returning to Hueco Mundo. And Aizen was right. Mugetsu was reacting to the high concentration of spiritual particles. His Life Fibers were responding, "The Original Life Fiber's pissed. And it's getting stronger every second. If we're going to stop that thing, we need to do it now. Before it recovers."
"We should cut that excuse for clothing apart. It worked last time!"
The bitter, almost supernaturally dry, wind throughout Las Noches felt strange against her Life Fibers. And the energy she was passively absorbing from the environment, which never happened in recent memory, was invigorating. Like an exceptionally bad ironing after Ichigo forgot her favorite detergent. With her mood irrevocably soured at the comparison between Hueco Mundo and her favorite activity, Mugetsu glared at the blade in Ichigo's left hand, "Of course, she's stronger than Ragyo Kiryuin. And faster. But not as fast as us! Or enough to make a difference."
"Whether we like it or not, that thing's smart," Ichigo frowned. There was someone else with the Original Life Fiber. A presence identical to an arrancar's. It was faint but still stronger than Grimmjow, "The Original Life Fiber's pissed, but it can stall for time. It doesn't need to win, just keep us busy long enough for the Celestial Cocoon Seed Planet to finish. Even if it doesn't see into the future, hitting that thing with another Getsuga Jūjishō's going to be tricky."
"I'll distract mom for ya, Ichigo!"
Satsuki's scowl hardened at the unprompted declaration, "What?"
"I'm tough enough to take a few love taps!"
Ryuko hissed out of the corner of her mouth, "And while the bitch is busy kicking my ass, Ichigo and Mugetsu will attack from behind! But that probably won't work. So, while she's shouting some bullshit about Senketsu being inferior, and maybe beating the crap out of us, you'll hit her with everything Junketsu's got!"
"Keeping the Original Life Fiber's attention that long will be tricky, Ryuko," the plan was passable, if a little dangerous. It could certain work. But one wrong move, if Ryuko couldn't avoid an attack, would be disastrous. For the both of them. There was no way Satsuki Kiryuin would accept a strategy this –"
"Is that your plan, Ryuko?"
A furrowed brow, unrelenting in its familiarity, was Satsuki's response. But her attention was focused upon Ichigo. Seeking his reaction. Her sister's strategy was straightforward. But feasible, nevertheless. Against the Original Life Fiber, complex strategies and complicated plans would falter. In the interest of time, it was pragmatic and necessary to keep everything simple, allowing one to easily modify their strategy.
And from Ichigo's reaction, his train of thought was similar to her own.
"If you got a better plan, I'm all ears," Ryuko grumbled, more irritated at doing nothing than Satsuki criticizing her half-assed plan.
"No. It's acceptable. And considering its source, almost brilliant."
Satsuki accepted the annoyance without yielding the conversation, "Given our limited resources, I doubt I could devise anything better."
"I'm not stupid," Ryuko tried ignored the insult. She could deal with Satsuki's annoying habit after kicking that ball of yarn's glowing ass, "I actually studied at your crappy school. It would have sucked getting expelled before beating answers out of ya!"
"Why did you choose me, Ryuko?"
The sharp, almost surgically precise, question interrupted her sister, causing Ryuko's final words to fade into a whisper. When she didn't receive an answer, Satsuki added, "Junketsu's power is formidable. However, Mugetsu and Ichigo are equally powerful. So, answer my question. Why did you choose me to land the finishing blow on our mother's corpse?"
"Do I have to explain everything?"
Her tone hardened into subtle mockery at the look on Satsuki's face. That smug arrogance. But it was Mugetsu's laughter, with Ichigo doing his best not to look in her direction, which caused the tension to abruptly deflate, "Because I remember that cocky look on your face! The one where you have some super-secret plan!"
"Your confidence is inspiring, Ryuko," Satsuki restrained herself to a sly, almost amused, smirk at her sister's enthusiasm, "I assume Senketsu's already commented upon the weaknesses of your plan?"
"Of course. It's an exceedingly dangerous strategy," for a moment, Senketsu forgot Satsuki could not hear his voice, "But we don't have much of a choice, do we, Ryuko? The longer we waste time talking, the more time the Original Life Fiber has to recover its power. And while I find our plan incredibly dangerous, I'll help you every step of the way. We're in this together!"
"Heh…now you're speaking my language, Senketsu!"
Ryuko leapt into the air. The pillar cracked underneath her heels, splinters expanding outwards in spider web patterns. This was perfect! She could fight that damn pile of scrap clothing without holding back! No more worrying about anyone getting caught in the crossfire! Spinning midair, grinning wildly as crimson light shone from her dual-colored hair, she shouted at the top of her lungs, "Let's do this! Senketsu Shippu!"
Satsuki watched with cold, focused eyes as the crimson pulsing from Senketsu disappeared towards the horizon. A moment passed in absolute silence, the only sound coming from the wind upon the bone-white dunes. As the seconds dragged onwards and the last traces of her sister's presence vanished, she frowned, consternation visible upon her brow, before finally speaking.
"I heard about the Grand Couturier."
"It's not important."
"Is it not?"
An eyebrow quirked at Ichigo's sharp denial. As much as she wished otherwise, she couldn't blame his reluctance to discuss the matter. Whatever happened between her Isshin Kurosaki and her mother was open to interpretation. But considering Nui Harime's vehement disdain towards lying – which resulted in more than one of Ragyo Kiryuin's middle managers falling victim to her wild emotions – the evidence was nearly overwhelming, "Do you remember what you said to me after saving Junketsu?"
Her heel clacked as she faced Ichigo, steel-blue eyes boring into brown, "You claimed not to understand my problems. Nevertheless, you offered assistance. Ensuring that I did not need to shoulder the burden of my mother's actions alone. So, please. Allow me to offer you the same proposition."
"Thanks. I appreciate that. But this is…different…than what Ragyo did to you."
"Perhaps," she conceded as her expression tightened, "Nothing can match her depravity. But I am here, Ichigo. And so is Ryuko. If you wish to talk about it."
"I know you're worried, Satsuki. And Ryuko…before leaving Honnou City, I know she wanted to say something."
Ichigo couldn't look Satsuki in the eye. But he wasn't upset. Despite everything, he appreciated her efforts to help. And maybe, if only for a moment, he was being selfish. But no matter how hard his tried, knowing Nui Harime was his half-sister was shocking. Weeks ago – hours ago - if anyone claimed his old man cheated on his mom, he would have kicked in their teeth. Then ask Orihime to heal their wounds before doing it again. The old goat was a moron. But nobody could question how much he loved – and missed – their mom.
"But there's only one person with answers."
He stared at the sword in his left hand, identical in all aspects to the blade in Satsuki's possession, "There's a lot of things he hasn't explained. Not just about Ragyo, but about everything that happened between them. There's a lot I want to ask him. Maybe more than he knows. But that will have to wait until after we stop the Original Life Fiber."
"…I trust you, Ichigo."
When he offered her Bakuzan, she accepted the weapon without hesitation. Her fingers clenched around the familiar, yet different, hilt, Junketsu crinkling as the sapphire hue reverted to golden-yellow. Her brow furrowed, not from consternation, but worry, when Ichigo stepped forward, prepared to help Ryuko before anything happened. And for a moment, the proper words remained elusive. Ichigo's explanation was valid. Yet she could not accept it.
It wasn't right.
"My mother was a manipulative, vindictive and arrogant woman."
A hint of her former position as Student Council President of Honnouji Academy gave the otherwise concerned statement a sense of passion and unyielding emphasis. Which doubled when Ichigo turned around, their gazes meeting, "I've known Isshin Kurosaki for only a few weeks, but that man would never betray your mother. His loyalty is unquestionable. If your father denied Ragyo Kiryuin's advances, I do not doubt she took measures ensuring her efforts were not wasted. She had years to gain his trust. She would not allow anyone – not even Isshin Kurosaki – stand in her way."
"Now is not the time to declare oneself right or wrong," a deep breath escaped her lips as Junketsu's power filled every fiber of her being. The Kamui's unrestrained eagerness was not dissimilar to a child seeking approval. But she was neither Junketsu's parent nor superior. Merely a partner, equal in every way, "We have a mission to complete. I'm assuming Mugetsu is competent enough to act as a distraction?"
"Competent!? A distraction!? How dare –"
"We'll be fine," Ichigo ignored Mugetsu's sputtering indignation, "What about you?"
"You needn't worry about me, Ichigo. Junketsu might not possess Mugetsu's speed or Senketsu's raw power. But I wouldn't trade her for anything," faint traces of a smile pulled upon Satsuki's mouth before vanishing just as quickly, "Now go! Ryuko cannot fight the Original Life Fiber by herself!"
"…she has a point, Ichigo. Senketsu's not nearly powerful enough to take down something that monstrous. But since when was Junketsu better than me?"
"You can argue with Junketsu later," he stepped off the pillar, falling several inches before leaping forward, "Because there's no time to waste! Mugetsu Gufū!"
The Original Life Fiber frowned at the presence. A trilling, almost majestic, spiritual pressure that strummed her Life Fibers. Plucking at the depths of her soul. Turning what minimal enjoyment obtained from torturing the arrancar into disdain. With noticeable annoyance, her eyes swiveled rightwards while the creature in her grasp, an insect believing itself capable of standing in her presence, continued struggling. Its desperate attempts to escape requiring more than a fraction of her attention.
Her fingers tightened around Tier Harribel's mouth. All but tearing apart the arrancar's lackluster hierro as she focused upon Ryuko Matoi. The frown adorning her features deepened at the teenager's thoughts and intentions. Which quickly twisted into a disappointed glower upon understanding every aspect of the foolhardy girl's primitive strategy. Its thousands of twists and turns. Mistakes and unintentional advantages.
And everything that occurred after her embarrassing arrival to this spiritual realm.
She contemplated ignoring Ryuko Matoi. At least for the moment. That abominable shinigami sending reinforcements was anticipated. Nay, predicted. But she would not underestimate Sosuke Aizen's intelligence. Not again. Never again. Still, this was interesting. She expected him to choose Isshin Kurosaki as their vanguard. But to send Ryuko Matoi, Ichigo Kurosaki and Satsuki Kiryuin? It was absurd. And yet, she was suspicious. Not because of their power. But from the shinigami's confidence in their abilities.
Eliciting a pained gasp from the arrancar was her vice-like grip tightened.
Did that reprehensible shinigami – that contemptible, blasphemous man – believe they possessed an infinitesimal chance of surviving her wrath?
Her spiritual pressure blanketed Las Noches at the implausible – no, impossible – notion. The atmosphere warped underneath her divine presence, threatening to suffocate the arrancar's existence at Sosuke Aizen's true objective.
She was enraged. Infuriated beyond any concept created by humanity. Hatred dripped from every word passing through her clenched teeth. Shinra Koketsu twisted furiously around her marionette's corpse. Plucking the information from Ryuko Matoi's unaware threading, she watched Sosuke Aizen speak about forcing Absolute Domination's medium to acquiesce to awaken. If he was successful. If that incomplete marionette utilized Absolute Domination while she was trapped in this forsaken realm? Every fiber of her being trembled at the growing possibility of her prophet's inability – no, absolute failure – to kill Sosuke Aizen and pathetic infatuation for Isshin Kurosaki jeopardizing the Celestial Cocoon Seed Planet.
A gurgling choke returned the Original Life Fiber to the matter at hand.
Turning her gaze onto the dark skinned Espada, she focused on the minuscule fraction of her essence circulating through the being's soul, "As that shinigami's subordinate, you know a method of returning to the World of the Living, don't you?"
The arrancar didn't answer. Or rather, the pressure around her mouth, suffocating her lungs of oxygen and forcing her mouth shut, prevented her from speaking. Staring at the defiance in the aqua eyes peering over her fingers, aware but unbothered by the normally bone-breaking punches landing against her stomach, she scoffed, more to herself than annoyance. The creature's power was appreciable. Perhaps enough to destroy the Grand Couturier if she had time to weave Marionette Threads into what function as her mind. And watching the insect tear herself apart taking down that failed marionette, limbs breaking and flesh tearing, would have been amusing.
At least until the Celestial Cocoon Seed Planet reached fruition.
But with a casual, almost admonishing, backhand, she dispersed the golden-yellow energy coalescing around the insect's weapon.
Her fingers slipped away from the arrancar, allowing the insignificant creature to pull herself from the brink of unconsciousness with each gasping, pathetic breath.
"…I didn't expect you to answer."
Blood dribbled from the arrancar's mouth when she thrust the Needle Blade between her ribs. Cracking, and then shattering, the structure behind them. Its paltry construction unable to withstand her strength. Tapping her fingers around the weapon's handle, she watched the creature gasp for breath with something akin to satisfaction. The question was redundant. She didn't need an answer from the insect. Her Life Fibers remembered the shinigami's technique. All she needed was time to replicate the spiritual pathway. To return to Honnouji Academy before Sosuke Aizen awakened Absolute Domination's medium.
And finally destroy those standing against Life Fibers.
With her fingers caressing the Needle Blade, she haphazardly tore the weapon from the arrancar, carving a bloody gash across Tier Harribel's stomach. She was careful not to allow any of the liquid spurting from the arrancar land upon Shinra Koketsu. Moving carefully – and just enough – to avoid the crimson spray. Turning with a sharp, resounding clack as the insect collapsed to the ground, she listened to the obscene curses on the breeze. Her ears perked at the power rushing from Senketsu's engines. Taut, pert lips twisted into a snarl at the delusions of grandeur filtering through Ryuko Matoi's mind.
And yet, she waited. Patiently and stoically. Blood dripping from the Needle Blade resting in her fingers. As the impertinent hybrid grew closer.
Disturbing bands of shifting colors narrowed as the Scissor Blades – reunited after the Grand Couturier's treachery – carved crimson paths towards her neck.
A resounding clang of metal screeched against her ears when she thrust the Needle Blade between the Scissor Blades.
"God damn it!"
The curse came out a little forced. Almost fake. But Ryuko knew – from the Original Life Fiber's arrogant snarl – that the creature believed she was pissed. That she honestly expected Senketsu's awesome, overwhelming strength to slice through Shinra Koketsu without some effort. For a second, she believed the ball of yarn wearing Ragyo Kiryuin's body like a cheap suit realized it was an act. That maybe she saw the future or something. Making everything they were doing pointless.
But then the Needle Blade moved. Pushing towards the Original Life Fiber less than an inch, maybe nothing more than a trick of the eye.
And then the trembling weapon shifted another inch.
"What do you hope to accomplish!?"
Her anger was palpable at Ryuko Matoi's arrogance. Even if it did not speak – no, refused to speak in her presence, perhaps fearful of her divinity – she could sense the Kamui's false optimism. She would not tolerate blasphemy from lowly, rebellious threading! With an animalistic, almost barbaric, snarl, she pushed back. Wiping the smugness from the impertinent hybrid's face when the Scissor Blades stopped inches from her marionette's neck. Overwhelming and reversing their momentary victory in the blink of an eye.
"I thought we would kick your ass!"
Sweat dripped between Ryuko's eyes as Senketsu transformed from Shippu to Senkou. Shifting configuration in a flash of crimson light. And immediately giving her enough power to force the Needle Blade – and her Scissor Blades – towards the Original Life Fiber's throat, "Because thanks to Nui Harime, Senketsu has a shot of taking you down!"
"Is that what you told Ichigo Kurosaki? Satsuki Kiryuin?"
Her attention swiveled to the Scissor Blade in Ryuko Matoi's right hand. The razor-sharp, hardened Life Fibers trembling inches from her neck. And then towards the familiar weapon in the petulance hybrid's other hand.
"Or your delusions?"
A hint of hatred perforated the question. She already knew the answer. She knew what Ryuko Matoi would say. How she would phrase the response. And the emotions passing through her Life Fibers during each moment. Even the Kamui's reaction – its blunt honesty towards Shinra Koketsu and caution – was known! Despite the youth's best efforts, their Life Fibers were akin to an open book! Everything they know – will know – cannot be concealed from her!
Metal screeched when she thrust the Needle Blade downwards, releasing a shockwave of kaleidoscopic spiritual pressure that flattened the desert underneath them. With an exaggerated flourish, she repulsed Ryuko Matoi's counterattack. Her arm blurred, the only traces of movement the rustling of Shinra Koketsu's sleeve, as dozens of strikes were blocked. And then dozens turned into hundreds.
Until reality itself crackled from their clashing presences.
"Did you presume your Kamui could stand against me!?"
A twist of her wrist diverted the Needle Blade mid-swing. The abrupt shift in the weapon's angle of approach, the changed curvature of the razor-sharp edge when the Scissor Blade in Ryuko Matoi's left hand swung towards her shoulder, forced the treacherous hybrid's guard open. Sending her staggering backwards, throw off balance by the subsequent explosion of spiritual energy. And in the next fraction of a second, she stabbed the Needle Blade through the teenager's stomach. And then her chest and throat. Again. And Again.
"Against ALL Life Fibers!?"
"I am the beginning and end of all things! For all your strength, you're nothing more than an insect!"
A final thrust sent Ryuko Matoi careening across the desert. Smoke drifted from the hybrid's decimated body. Burns covered every exposed inch of flesh. Yet it wasn't enough. Despite regaining some of her strength, the consequences of the Grand Couturier's treacherous refitting of Shinra Koketsu remained. She meant – no, desired – killing Ryuko Matoi using Shinra Koketsu. Ending this farce of a battle before Ichigo Kurosaki's arrival. Yet at the moment of impact, when the teenager's guard was lowered, her Life Fibers faltered. The strain disrupted her concentration. Turning an attack meant to disintegrate every fiber of Ryuko Matoi's being into something merely powerful.
And that wasn't good enough.
"Damn it! She's still tough as hell! I'll give her that!"
Through one half-opened eye, Ryuko watched the Original Life Fiber shrink into a pinpoint on the horizon. Damn it! What the hell happened? Weakened or not, the thing was stronger than anything they'd fought. Even the undead bastard couldn't hold a candle to the monster wearing her mom's corpse like a cheap, second-hand suit. As the wind whipped through her hair, she pushed aside the mild discomfort from the Needle Blade stabbing her body. Wincing as the damage regenerated, "But it's nothing we can't handle!"
"Be careful, Ryuko. Nui Harime may have weakened its threading, but the Original Life Fiber is still quite formidable," Senketsu couldn't suppress the tremble rippling throughout his threading. The sense of existential dread radiating from the Original Life Fiber was almost instinctual, "And it's rather angry with us."
With an obnoxious clack, she slammed her heels against the air, creating twin trails of smoke before flipping into a kneeling crouch. As the rushing wind died, and the deafening silence filling Las Noches rang in her ears, she spat a glob of blood over her shoulder. It sucked getting stabbed in the chest! She would never get used to the sensation of her Life Fibers sewing themselves back together. It wasn't painful. Just freaky. And disturbing.
"I really want to piss this thing off, Senketsu," she tossed the Scissor Blades until their curved handles rested in the palms of her hands, "Because the angrier we make it, the more likely it won't see what's coming!"
For the first time in weeks, Senketsu vehemently disagreed with Ryuko. That was not to say he didn't understand the plan. On the contrary, it was sound logic. And despite his concerns about being a distraction alongside Ichigo and Mugetsu, stopping the Original Life Fiber was important. More important than anything. He accepted that. But Ryuko was taking things too far! She might not have sensed it, but Nui Harime's sabotage saved their lives. If the Grand Couturier hadn't adjusted Shinra Koketsu's threading, that last attack would have killed them.
"Ichigo and Mugetsu are still too far away! If the Original Life Fiber decides to –"
"I know, Senketsu."
Ryuko smudged the blood leaking from the corner of her mouth onto Senketsu. He was right. Whether she liked it or not, Senketsu always knew the right thing to say. But did he think she enjoyed throwing herself at the Original Life Fiber? Hell no! The thing could read their Life Fibers! It said so itself! It probably knew her plan from the moment they arrived! Which meant pissing the damn thing off…making sure it was so freaking upset and annoyed that it wanted nothing more than to kick her ass…was the only way to get around something able to predict the damn future!
"But this thing can read our thoughts."
The crimson undertone in her feathery hair softened as she glared at the kaleidoscopic light on the horizon, "So being reckless and stupid is the only –"
With a disconcerting lurch, her head snapped sideways. The bones in her neck almost breaking when the Original Life Fiber teleported thousands of feet in the blink of eye. Half-formed thoughts flickered across the edges of her consciousness at the manicured fingers clasping her face. Spittle trailed from her lips when the talon-like fingernails pierced her skin, drawing blood as the Original Life Fiber flickered into view.
Ryuko screamed when the multicolored explosion detonated point-blank against her face. She heard the Original Life Fiber's arrogant satisfaction as the energy threatened to overwhelm her and Senketsu. The pain was excruciating. Almost unbearable. Far worse than her bitch of a mom's cheap shot back at Honnouji Academy. And from the power pushing against her body, the piece of scrap clothing wanted to end things with one final, cheap-as-hell, shot! And that pissed her off!
If the Original Life Fiber thought she couldn't stand a little 'tough love,' she was more than happy to prove it wrong!
"Like hell I'm gonna…"
She threw her shoulders forward, pushing back against the Original Life Fiber's attack. A wince – then curse – tore from her throat when she smashed through one of the weird buildings sticking out of the desert. But that was nothing more than a tickle! She didn't feel a goddamn thing! With an enraged snarl, her heels clacked against the air. Her knees flexed when she stopped the technique in its tracks, Senketsu glowing with a vibrant, crimson light.
"…let this stupid attack…"
Senketsu's voice faded into the background as she thrust the Scissor Blades into the chaotic mess. Throwing caution to the wind by stabbing directly into the middle of the Original Life Fiber's attack. Her vision swam beneath the blinding light as the only sound reaching her ears was the constant, deafening roar. Shit! This was hard! But she wasn't going to die without putting up a fight! Roaring over the cacophony as energy burst from Senketsu, she pushed against the turbulent, almost physical, light. The Scissor Blades vanished into the multicolored energy as the attack bent, inch by freaking inch, away from her body.
"…take me down!"
With one final curse, she sliced through the technique. And then several more times for good measure. Until nothing remained but shards of rainbow light drifting around them like rain.
The corner of her mouth twitched long before Senketsu shouted in her ears, "Yeah! I know!"
She barely finished speaking before the creature wearing her mom like a cheap, secondhand dress attempted to grab Senketsu. The initial surprise from watching the Original Life Fiber teleport across Las Noches quickly shifted into an annoyed snarl at the energy gathering above the manicured fingers inches from her throat. It was more than enough power to destroy Senketsu.
And then, at the last possible moment, with her heart beating a mile a minute, she leaned backwards.
"You can predict the future, right?"
Ryuko didn't blink beneath the Original Life Fiber's withering glare. Damn it! Just looking into the creature's pissed expression was nerve-wracking! But why would something capable of seeing into the future get pissed about a stupid question? Unless…there were limits to its powers! Bolstered by that knowledge, and with Senketsu helping every step of the way, she twisted her wrists. At this range, there was no way the creature could dodge! Even with predicting the future! That thought – that flicker of confidence – raised her spirits as the Scissor Blade in her right hand extended into Decapitation Mode. Immediately getting the Original Life Fiber's attention.
Until the Scissor Blade in her left hand did the same thing.
"Well, try predicting this!"
An afterimage lagged behind their movements when she drove both knees into the Original Life Fiber, giving them more than enough breathing room, "Because I just freaking made it up!"
Time slowed to a crawl when she flipped the Scissor Blades until both edges were facing Shinra Koketsu. Her arms trembled not from exhaustion but sheer determination to finally kick Ragyo Kiryuin's ass. The crimson undertone in her hair, one of the only signs of what her mom did, shimmered brightly as power flowed through Senketsu. Causing him to tighten and push more spiritual energy into the Scissor Blades. Her smirk turned sinister, a single tooth falling over the edge of her lips when the swords were covered in crackling, buzzing torrents of energy. And at the last possible moment, when the ugly ball of yarn finally realized what she had planned, she swung using every scrap of power in her body.
She immediately grimaced underneath the stronger-than-expected backlash of energy splashing against the Original Life Fiber. And all she could see, all she could sense, was Senketsu's power. Damn it! It felt like she was standing in Honnouji Academy's sauna. Or Mako's bathroom when Satsuki made them super rich.
But thinking about Mako only made her push harder.
With the intense heat burning her skin, and causing Senketsu to grumble, she finished swinging the Scissor Blades. Crossing them over each other while the massive crimson explosion enveloped the creature wearing Ragyo Kiryuin like a cheap suit. She stared into the cross-shaped eruption of Senketsu's power rippling across Las Noches, her grin widening when the energy blasted through the remains of Aizen's former base. Electrifying the atmosphere. Making her fingers tingle right before she felt Senketsu's threading strain from using something so damn powerful.
But feeling a little tired was worth it if…
"…it did some damage?"
Ryuko gasped alongside Senketsu when the Original Life Fiber emerged from Senjin Genkai. Her most powerful attack, something designed with both Scissor Blades in mind, shattered with a single wave of her mom's hand. Leaving the monster unharmed as the spiritual energy dispersed into nothingness. Or, nearly unharmed. Because the only damage she could spot on Shinra Koketsu, the sole piece of evidence suggesting her efforts amounted to something, was a small-cross-shaped tear across the ultimate Kamui. A blemish that was regenerating before her eyes.
"What the –"
The air was dragged from her lungs when cold fingers latched around her throat, "Don't be ridiculous."
Contempt dripped at the asinine question spewing from Ryuko Matoi's lips. Then again, witnessing one's most powerful technique, forged from their Life Fibers and created under the encompassing guise of desperation, shattered couldn't be ignored. She could already see the emotions synchronizing between Kamui and hybrid. The concern meeting worry, twisting into suppressed frustration, was exhilarating. If only the teenager realized the hopelessness of their situation, "Before you arrived…before you spewed incessant drivel…before you imagined the technique…I knew you would decide upon Senjin Genkai as a desperate, pathetic coup de grâce."
She tightened her hold upon Ryuko, "All I needed to do was play along. And then, at your moment of triumph, negate the damage through synchronization. It was that simple."
Ryuko coughed when the pressure around her neck worsened, "You were fucking with us this whole time!?"
"On the contrary, my disdain towards your actions…"
Accompanied by the sound of crinkling fabric, the Original Life Fiber smashed her fist into Ryuko Matoi's stomach. The taut muscles caved beneath her strength. Spittle flew from the obnoxious teenager's mouth. A snarling frown twisted her features when she punched the youth once more, breaking several ribs and inducing a painful gasp, "…wasn't acting!"
The third, and subsequent, strikes returned the damage sustained by her prophet. Each punch expression what humanity, in their limited wisdom and intelligence, defined as hatred. But was she, a greater and more divine existence, knew as retribution, "You raised your hands against me! Your Kamui had the audacity to believe itself my equal! And you worked alongside those seeking my destruction!"
She wasn't shouting. No, allowing herself to lose control would only grant Ryuko Matoi a modicum of satisfaction. As the teenager's blood dripped from her fingers, flowing from the smooth, perfect skin like water, she relented. Allowing the hybrid to catch her breath. But, as expected, the anger in Ryuko's determined eyes was palpable. And for that, she once more smashed her fist against the teenager's cheek.
With the sickening cracking of bones shattering beneath her knuckles, she ended the hybrid's insult before she opened her mouth.
"But don't get me wrong."
She traced the contours of Ryuko Matoi's chin, feeling each and every Life Fiber along the way, "Although it won't save you, I am impressed by your ingenuity."
Ryuko spat the blood filling her mouth onto Shinra Koketsu, "The hell are you talking about?"
"It took two seconds for you to imagine Senjin Genkai. One second for your Kamui to incorporate the information. And another three seconds to properly synchronize your Life Fibers. Against any other being, it likely would have succeeded."
It was pathetic, almost lamentable, that Ryuko Matoi believed her attention would lapse even for a moment. That answering such a trifling question would split her attention. As a matter of fact, Ryuko already had a working strategy. An escape plan that, against anyone other than herself, had a significant chance of success. So, without warning, she shattered every bone in the teenager's arm with a disturbing, yet satisfying, crack.
Intercepting the Scissor Blade before the notion crossed the annoyingly resilient hybrid's mind.
"But I already know everything you will say or do! Your existence began with me! And through these hand, I shall unravel it one Life Fiber at a time!"
Ryuko spat at the Original Life Fiber's cocky…bitchy…smirk. There was no doubt about it. The monster wearing her mom's ragged corpse was enjoying watching her body pull itself together one Life Fiber at a time, "You keep yapping about predicting the future! But you're bluffing! If that was true, you would have already kicked Senketsu and me halfway across this stupid place before we knew what happened!"
"Are you trying to sew doubt into my mind?"
The strangled gasp from Ryuko Matoi was cathartic. Almost poetic given her treachery against Life Fibers, "Even if that was true, what can you hope to accomplish? Do you plan on waiting until the perfect moment to lash out with the Scissor Blades? Or, perhaps you're thinking of shifting your Kamui's gestalt in some desperate hope of escaping. Or maybe, despite knowing everything you do, everything you try, will amount to nothing, you're actually a distraction…"
A smirk pulled on her lips as she slowly, almost deliberately so, glanced over her shoulder, "…isn't that right, Ichigo Kurosaki?"
Even without using precognition, it was almost pathetically easy sensing the youth's approach. He hadn't made any effort concealing his presence. And despite standing a few feet away from Shinra Koketsu, Tournesol gripped overhead with both hands, spiritual energy thrumming along the blade until it sung, she knew how Ichigo Kurosaki would act. How he intended to swing his weapon. That he was using the knowledge gleaned from the Grand Couturier and his own observations, astute they may be, to strike while she was preoccupied with Ryuko Matoi's insolence.
She stopped Tournesol with a backhanded swing.
Her fingers plucked against the Life Fibers composing the Needle Blade as she intercepted Ichigo's attack. Tightening subtly, imperceptibly, as the hardened Life Fiber weapon froze inches above her neck. The edges of their respective weapons fought for dominance. A battle she quickly – and effortlessly – won. Emerging victorious before the youth realized he had already lost. Yet she was frustrated. Infuriated. And that divine desire for retribution made itself known when she shattered the energy surrounding Tournesol. With nothing more than a flick of her wrist, she dismantled the teenager's technique one threading at a time.
Once more demonstrating her superiority.
"You really shouldn't have given Bakuzan to Satsuki Kiryuin."
The hybrid's grip upon Tournesol tightened at the truth. Just as she knew it would. Precognition or not, even without knowing Satsuki Kiryuin's ulterior motives, only a naïve inferior being wouldn't realize the teenager's plans, "That was a fatal mistake."
With a sharp, ear-wrenching clang of metal upon metal, she swung the Needle Blade clockwise in a half-arc. Forcing Tournesol outwards. Breaking through Ichigo Kurosaki's defenses alongside an outpouring of Shinra Koketsu's spiritual pressure. And, just as expected, he leaned backwards at the first opportunity. When her index finger momentarily slipped against the Needle Blade. A minor inconvenience. Something that would allow him, under normal circumstances and against an equal foe, to turn things to his advantage. A strategy implemented when Ichigo's shoulders stiffened. When his gaze hardened, energy thrumming through his Life Fibers.
But against her, anything he, or Ryuko Matoi, attempted, amounted to naught.
In a single, fractured moment, as Ichigo Kurosaki stepped forward, intent on breaking her guard, she callously discarded Ryuko Matoi. Her fingers twisted against the Kamui's smooth surface before an explosion of power trickled from Shinra Koketsu, sending the impudent teenager crashing to the ground. During that same fraction of time, when the traitor's offspring began responding to her actions, she swung the Needle Blade against Tournesol.
"…that STILL wouldn't have been enough!"
She witnessed the frustration etched upon the teenager's expression. The trembling of his muscles when the Needle Blade slid along Tournesol before halting against the foreign blade's guard, the relatively minor impact sending waves of spiritual pressure echoing across Las Noches, was pathetic. And then she pushed. Using more than enough power – and her intimate knowledge of Ichigo's planned counter – to overwhelm his efforts. Turning his counterattack into a desperate defense as his own sword's razor-sharp edge inches towards his face. And then, with a casual twist of her fingers, she completely shattered his guard.
Only for her following strike to sever, not his head as expected, but a few strands of orange hair when he ducked. Granting him the opportunity, with her arm extended and body posed overhead, to return the favor.
When the Needle Blade reached its apogee above Ichigo Kurosaki's shoulders, she flipped the multicolored blade into a reverse hold. Another being would react to the weapon thrusting towards their heart. They would try to avoid such an attack. But her smirk, already manic, widened as she moved just enough for Tournesol to miss Shinra Koketsu, "But you already knew that, didn't you?"
Blood and viscera mixed within glowing sapphire as the Needle Blade carved a path of destruction across Ichigo Kurosaki's upper body. With a flick, she removed the blood from the Needle Blade, her attention already focused on the other problem while his body crashed to the ground.
"As for you…"
She halted the Scissor Blades by gripping Ryuko Matoi's right wrist once the teenager came within arm's length and pulling sideways, forcing both weapons away from her body. The subsequent flicker of multicolored energy and subtle fluttering from Shinra Koketsu when she parried the next attack wasn't required. Not to prevent Ryuko from escaping nor to have the hybrid realize nothing she did amounted to anything. But to infuriate the girl. With every interaction between their weapons, she observed Ryuko's expression. She peered into the future. Witnessing the girl's infinite reactions in the time required for her nervous heart to beat a single time.
If she shifted to the right, Ryuko would attempt another Senjin Genkai.
Retreating across Las Noches would force Ryuko to prepare Niban Genkai with both Scissor Blades. And, of course, drawing Ichigo back into the fray.
If she struck first, Ryuko would discard one of the Scissor Blades to grab the Needle Blade. Giving her enough purchase to slam a knee into Shinra Koketsu. Which she would avoid by shifting her center of balance.
It was almost too easy.
When the teenager pivoted with a sharp clack, the Scissor Blade in her left hand arcing downwards, aiming at the junction of her neck and shoulders, she thrust the Needle Blade through the hole near the weapon's edge. Flexing her wrist, she then pulled the shocked hybrid forward until their faces nearly touched. The fear radiating through Ryuko's Life Fibers beneath her pompous, arrogant bluster exhilarating.
"…you shouldn't make me repeat myself."
With a sickening squelch, the Needle Blade perforated Ryuko's stomach. A gasp – then curse – forced its way through her lips at the sensation. At the feeling of metal digging its way into her body. But it was the Original Life Fiber's grin that raised warning bells. She knew that smirk. It was Ragyo Kiryuin's. Right down to the evil glint in their eyes. But that didn't help when the ball of yarn suddenly sliced through half of her body before she could grab the damn weapon.
And then punched her nose.
Ichigo forced himself onto one knee, and then onto stumbling feet, when Ryuko crashed head-first into the sand. He panted, heavily and deeply, while sweat dripped down his face. As flesh and Life Fibers stitched together until nothing remained of the Original Life Fiber's attack but painful memories, "I knew it wouldn't be easy. But…damn it! How the hell are we supposed to keep it busy when it's messing with us?"
"This is getting dangerous, Ichigo."
Mugetsu disliked the sensation of the Needle Blade carving through her threading. While regenerating the damage from a single hardened Life Fiber weapon wasn't difficult, it wasn't something she preferred experiencing. Especially since Ryuko and Senketsu, not Ichigo, should function as distraction. Since it was their plan to rush the Original Life Fiber like a pair of idiots, "It's toying with us. And Senketsu. How can we stop something when it already knows what we're going to do?"
"I don't know."
He grimaced at the question, "But giving up? We don't have that option, Mugetsu. I know you don't like it, but if we don't stop the Original Life Fiber, there's no way Aizen or Kisuke would stand a chance. You feel it, right? It's getting stronger. Fixing whatever Nui did to Shinra Koketsu. If we don't take this thing down, Yuzu, Karin and everyone else will die!"
"Like hell we're going to lose!"
A trembling fist smashed into Las Noches as Ryuko seethed at the Original Life Fiber. She didn't need to hear Mugetsu to know things were bad! That was obvious! Unless they figured out a way around the stupid ball of yarn's story-breaking power, they wouldn't last long enough for Satsuki's plan to work. Whatever it was! And the monster knew they were stalling for time! Her eyes narrowing when the Original Life Fiber didn't immediately beat them senseless, she cautiously yanked the Scissor Blades out of the sand, never taking her attention away from the rainbow bitch in the sky.
"Shit! What's it waiting for? A freaking invitation?"
The answer didn't feel right. But even as he stood at Ryuko's side, Ichigo couldn't escape the notion something was strange. It was a theory. But with everything riding on their shoulders and the Original Life Fiber's sudden hesitation, it was the only explanation that made sense, "The Original Life Fiber can read our thoughts. It can predict the future. But Satsuki didn't tell us what she planned to do. She didn't say anything. We're flying blind. Hoping she has something up her sleeves to beat this thing. And since we don't know anything…"
Senketsu's eyes widened, "…the Original Life Fiber's also clueless!"
"So, the bitch is worried, huh?"
"No wonder she's pissed," Ryuko grinned, "She's probably going crazy trying to figure out what Satsuki's planning."
"Be careful, Ryuko," Senketsu knew that confident smirk. Months spent being worn, dozens of comfortable hand-washings and ironings afforded him a measure of knowledge matched only by Ichigo's relationship with Mugetsu, "Rushing into battle without thinking is highly dangerous. Besides, the longer we wait down here, the more likely she'll come to us. We ARE a distraction, after all."
"Don't remind me."
She would never admit it. And painfully kick anyone's ass who claimed otherwise. But in hindsight, throwing herself at the Original Life Fiber as a distraction was a stupid plan, "But we've been through worse, Senketsu. So, we ain't giving up! Not until we take down this thing!"
"Is that so?"
It was the Grand Couturier's unwarranted refitting of Shinra Koketsu that prevented Tournesol and the Scissor Blade from shattering. Despite squeezing the hardened Life Fiber blades between her fingers, they were unyielding. But she didn't announce that frustration. She didn't give Ichigo Kurosaki and Ryuko Matoi a single trace of hope, "You still believe Satsuki Kiryuin capable of defeating me?"
She observed Ichigo responding to her sudden appearance by kicking Shinra Koketsu. Then, when the youth actually attacked, she raised her forearm, blocking the feeble attack while the spiritual energy circulating through his Life Fibers and Kamui exploded harmlessly across Las Noches.
At the same time Ichigo used her hold upon Tournesol as a fulcrum, her attention shifted towards Ryuko. Before the former raised his foot, sapphire energy thrumming through his Life Fibers, she observed her prophet's daughter taking advantage of the distraction. Both the successful strike on Shinra Koketsu and the countered failure. And countless other alternatives that would never come to pass.
Her eyes tracked the hardened Life Fiber weapon as Ryuko Matoi stepped backwards with the sharp clack of one heel against air.
She twisted, gently and purposely, counterclockwise around Ichigo's surprise attack. A flicker of motion accentuated her avoidance of the Scissor Blades when Ryuko recovered from her ignominious failure. She pivoted sharply, tracking the paths – present and future – of both hybrid and Kamui, before blocking their weapons with the Needle Blade. A single swing downwards, angled away from Shinra Koketsu, instantly shattered their collective guard.
"It is because of ME that humanity exists!"
Her body danced above the bone-white dunes.
Every movement…every subtle motion…was guided by the changing future. Nothing was purposeless. And they followed. Throwing everything at Shinra Koketsu. At herself. Knowing their world's existence hung in the balance. As she knew they would. And she met their challenges without faltering. With precision surpassing instinct, she countered their increasingly desperate attacks.
In a flash of multicolored light, another Needle Blade spun from Shinra Koketsu into her waiting fingers.
The once amiable expression adorning her features furrowed when Ichigo and Ryuko struck from opposite directions. Her eyes narrowed at the hardened Life Fiber weapons fervently inching towards Shinra Koketsu, spiritual energy flowing upon their razor-sharp edges, "And you believe – truly believe – Satsuki Kiryuin, an arrogant, pathetic human, can stand against ME!?"
Shinra Koketsu rippled alongside the metallic clang of hardened Life Fibers upon each other. Her fingers tightened against the slim handles of the Needle Blades as the accompanying eruption of clashing spiritual pressures illuminated Las Noches with flashes of crimson, sapphire and other colors, "How absurd!"
A snarl – hateful and inhuman – pulled upon her sneering lips as, with naught but a subconscious desire, she overpowered their Kamui, "Your reliance on Satsuki Kiryuin is nothing more than a feeble, desperate dream!"
The flutter of fabric whispered into her ears when she crossed her arms, catching Tournesol and the Scissor Blades upon her own weapons, "You believe you're distracting me!?"
She allowed one Needle Blade to slip from her fingers. With a purposely vague expression of frustration, she allowed the sword blocking Tournesol to falter. And, as expected, it drew Ichigo Kurosaki's attention. His well-honed instincts forcing him to respond. Which all but earned the subsequent grunt when she grabbed his throat, cracking his Kamui's armor in the process, and slammed them into Ryuko, "Past! Present! Future! Nothing you do is concealed from me! Your efforts are forfeit! So perish with the knowledge all you accomplished amounted to nothing!"
Ichigo knew, beyond any shadow of a doubt, the Original Life Fiber was toying with them. It was angry. It hated Ryuko and his existences. And given the chance, it would like nothing more than killing them. That much he knew. And the moment Satsuki arrived, it would use Shinra Koketsu's remaining strength to slaughter her. But still, he mentally begged Mugetsu for power.
Just enough to last a few more minutes.
"You probably already know this, but I've spent the last few minutes trying to figure a way around your precognition. Nothing's perfect. I thought I could find a weakness. Something that would take you down. But you were right. The way you are now, it's impossible to catch you off guard. Not when you can predict the future."
"But we WILL kick your glowing, bitchy ass!"
The anger flowing through her veins was unlike anything she'd felt. But Ryuko's mind was clear. As the Scissor Blades shimmered beneath crimson mirages, Senketsu's power covering her dad's weapons with enough energy to take down Nui Harime, she spat at the Original Life Fiber, "Because failing isn't an option! Everyone's counting on us! Mako! Orihime! And even Ichigo's old man! They'll be pissed if we lose to a pathetic ball of yarn! So, like it or not, take your precognition and shove it up your ass!"
She crossed the Scissor Blades, purposely holding them in front of Senketsu, "It's that fucking simple!"
"Enough of this charade!"
Every last scrap of Shinra Koketsu's remaining power – what she recovered since the Grand Couturier's betrayal – thrummed at her fingers. The Needle Blades quivered as the ultimate Kamui flared. Rows upon rows of multicolored eyes, various shades of crimson, orange and yellow, opened. As she forced the betrayed fabric underneath her divine will. Enough was enough! She could sense Junketsu. But the Kamui was perched upon a building in the distance. Waiting alongside Satsuki Kiryuin.
But if the human deigned not to interfere with Ichigo Kurosaki and Ryuko Matoi, she would no longer wait!
Las Noches trembled beneath the unrestricted weight of her divine presence. The impertinent hybrids stumbled, but did not kneel, as reality itself bent to her whims. Power flowed from the spiritual realm into Shinra Koketsu. The pure energy flowed through her Life Fibers into the Needle Blades. Saturating the multicolored swords as a facsimile of the ultimate Kamui's former grace illuminated the silent desert.
"So perish knowing Satsuki Kiryuin never –"
Blood sprayed from her chest when two swords – one midnight black and the other golden – thrust through Shinra Koketsu. Her mouth opened in a silent scream, confusion transforming into vitriolic hatred at their familiarity.
How was this possible!?
With her teeth stained crimson, the Original Life Fiber felt the energy she so painstakingly gathered dissipate. Severed, physically and metaphorically, by the hardened Life Fiber blades propelling her forward. Gasping, she turned trembling eyes towards the source of her shock. To Satsuki Kiryuin standing behind her.
Bereft of Kamui and clothing.
For once, Satsuki was proud of Ragyo Kiryuin's tutelage as she crossed her wrists, forcing both iterations of Bakuzan into a form reminiscent of the Scissor Blades. Not a trace of anger slipped through the stoic façade. The only expression the Original Life Fiber recognized through her mother's corpse was confidence. Certainty. And everything representing humanity when she tore Bakuzan in opposite directions, shimmers of blue-white energy flowing upon the blades.
"KOUKI SEN'I SŌSHITSU!"