AN: The author does not claim ownership of Bleach or Highschool DxD; they are the property of their respective owners. The author has no desire to profit off of the publication of this fan work and does not endorse any attempts to do so. Preliminary notes:
Thanks to all of those who have been favoriting, following, and reviewing. Your metaphorical pizza rolls have been sent in the mail, those living in the United States should expect them in a few days; for anyone outside the country it may take longer. Previous notes from Chapter 1 remain in effect.
Happy New Year's readers!
Everyone go thank general zargon for being a beta this chapter. In addition, this author has been a great idea-bouncer. Go check out his/her Bleach/DxD/Gamer crossover, Game of Life and Devils, which I had the pleasure of helping out on!
Issei was vaguely aware of the dimension of Hell, and had expected to enter a portal in the middle of a street somewhere the Shinigami called home. What he had not expected was to come out of a portal that the crazy shopkeeper had decided to have open several stories up in the air. This posed a unique problem for Issei, since he still had some difficulties with flying. Sure he'd been practicing and had gotten better, but he wasn't ready for this just yet.
It was a relief for the young Devil, then, that a set of arms wrapped around his chest and pulled him up. Issei looked up, and relaxed as he saw the reassuring face of Rias Gremory. The Occult Research Club president guided them in for a smooth landing, and as Issei looked around he saw that Asia had thankfully been secured by Kiba while Akeno and Koneko flew by themselves.
"Where are we?" he asked Rias.
The group of Devils scanned the horizon, but found nothing except what they were already standing on: a sea of sand. It seemed to be night time wherever they were, and as far as they could tell there were no signs of civilization or life. Issei decided that the shopkeeper was going to get a little payback for the trick he had just pulled.
"Akeno, fly up and tell me what you see," Rias ordered.
The Devil followed the command, jumping up towards the heavens and flapping her wings furiously to gain altitude. Issei watched, entranced, as the Devil searched the surrounding area from her better vantage point. The portal that they had taken in was gone, but the darkness would better illuminate something like a city or town where they could get directions from. Eventually Akeno returned, and the other members of the ORC gathered around her for a report on what she had seen.
"There's something in the distance, like a dome of light. Other than that I saw some movement, but it's too dark to tell what it was," Akeno said.
"Which way?" Koneko asked, and Akeno brought her arm up and pointed it at an angle behind her.
"I suppose that this is the best way to go," Rias noted, and Issei and the others nodded in agreement.
Climbing up over a sand dune, Issei had a feeling that this was going to be a long journey…
Ichigo wasn't mad at Urahara. No, Ichigo was enraged, and the word mad did not do justice to the intensity of the anger he felt towards the man. He led a tired-looking trio to the Urahara Shop, with Kalawarner, Viser, and Raynare barely keeping pace with his purposeful stride.
"What is this Hueco Mundo place?" Viser asked.
"It's the home of the Hollows. The last thing I need is for them to get devoured there," Ichigo explained, and the group of four turned the corner to the shop.
Scowling as he practically kicked the door down, Ichigo noted that Urahara was his usual, nonchalant self. Storming over to the shopkeeper, Ichigo noted that Urahara seemed unfazed by the display. The Shinigami scientist was annoying with the fact that looking death in the face seemed to not scare him.
"Ah, Ichigo. Thank you for being so prompt," Urahara said.
"Well, you did just send them to Hueco Mundo!" Ichigo protested. "What were you thinking!?"
"I was thinking that perhaps they could use a vacation. It's a great place for exercise, not to mention there are sights there you simply can't see here in the mortal world," Urahara replied, a faint smile on his face as Ichigo's anger went from ten to eleven. More or less Ichigo defused himself by facepalming, and he managed to form a sentence that did not involve him calling for Urahara's violent (and painful) death.
"Where. Is. The. Portal?" he growled.
"My Garganta equipment is right this way," Urahara said, and he led them deeper into the shop.
Ichigo and the scientist were often forced to slow down and wait since the currently present Peerage members were very interested in the experiments that filled the numerous rooms and chambers in the more off-limits area of the shop. Having seen some of the experiments, inventions, and devices in action had worn off the mystique for Ichigo, but he wasn't surprised that the girls were so curious.
"Come on you three," Ichigo said after being forced to stop for the eighth time. The three reluctantly complied, and they finally arrived at the room they were looking for.
That was when Ichigo saw it: a creature of darkness, something that had haunted his dreams. Specifically, it was a black cat that looked rather content with itself. Curled up in a ball near the middle of the room, Ichigo knew this was no ordinary cat. It was a demon that enjoyed taking the appearance of a particularly attractive woman.
"Ah, they finally arrived," the cat said, causing a jump for Viser, Kalawarner, and Raynare. The three hadn't expected for the cat to speak.
"Would you please move, Yoruichi?" Urahara asked. "The Garganta will be opening around where you are now."
Yoruichi got to her little cat-feet, and stretched before finally moving out of the way. Unfortunately for Ichigo this meant that her attention could be turned from the favorite activity of cats (sleeping) and now she was going to wind up teasing him. The yellow-eyed, black-furred menace wasted no time and began rubbing his calves, demanding his attention.
"Hello, Yoruichi," Ichigo said, finally caving. Urahara seemed to be taking his sweet time preparing everything, and Ichigo reminded himself to keep calm and not fight the Shinigami.
"That's all you give to your favorite teacher?" the cat chastised, and Ichigo almost recoiled at the voice he was unused to. In cat form Yoruichi's voice became that of a man's and it was part of the reason he had been so shocked by her real form (not to mention she had been naked at the time, that didn't help either).
Ichigo decided that there was no way he was going to cuddle with Yoruichi, since he knew the cat hated that type of treatment. But Raynare didn't know that, and as the Fallen Angel (or was it Angel now? He had no idea as to what the color of her wings were at the moment) stooped and reached out Ichigo decided to save her from a decidedly painful experience and started talking to the hell-cat.
"Well, I haven't seen you in a while, Yoruichi," Ichigo lamely answered. "You aren't coming with us, are you?"
"Only if you want me to," the transformed Shinigami teased, and as Raynare moved to pick up the cat Ichigo intervened, grabbing one of her wrists and shaking his head. She got the message, and the Fallen Angel/Angel backed off.
"Garganta's ready," Urahara announced.
"I'm pretty sure you'd like it here more, Yoruichi," Ichigo said. The woman would embarrass him to the ends of the Earth if she came along.
"Are you sure?"
"Very," Ichigo said, and he stepped over her carefully to avoid trampling the cat.
"Good luck!" Urahara said.
The cavernous mouth-like portal appeared, and Ichigo brought out his substitute badge, using it to exit his human body. He turned quickly and eased the limp pile of flesh and bones to the floor, and then walked to the Garganta. He and the three Faction members of his Peerage stepped inside, and as he did this Ichigo realized he had forgotten something very important: Urahara liked to open his portals in a very specific way. This thought came a little late, and Ichigo realized he was falling from a particularly high up spot in a sunny sky…
Issei at this point wished he could fly. Since he had no idea as to what time it was, the Pawn had no idea how long they had traveled. He had to estimate it had been about half an hour since they had begun the trek, and they still seemed to be far away from their destination. Part of the issue was that he and Asia weren't accomplished fliers yet, and this meant that they were stuck on the ground while Rias, Akeno, Kiba, and Koneko could simply fly.
Of course, some of the particularly difficult dunes and sand hills were scaled with some help, but Issei was acutely aware of his limitations. He led Asia, and in turn Issei followed the flying members of the group. It was pretty boring, to be honest, and the Devil wished he could have something interesting happen to break the boredom.
As soon as he had thought this Issei regretted it, for the ground began to rumble. Steadying himself, Issei checked on Asia, who had fallen to her knees. Issei looked back to the skies, and saw that the four fliers had circled around him and Asia. Jumping to Asia, Issei lost his balance and was forced onto his hands and knees. He quickly moved to Asia, and stood up. He then helped bring her to her feet, and the two teenagers looked around in a bid to find the source of the earthquake.
Then, with a howl something exploded from the ground, sending rubble flying into the air. The force of the creature's appearance coupled with the fragments of rock and sand sent Issei and Asia falling backwards, and the two backed away as the dust cleared. What was revealed was a large creature that looked like a cross between a beetle and a mole, which promptly gave another howl.
"What is that, Issei?" a nervous Asia asked.
"I don't know Asia," he replied, and the two edged away again.
The creature's body was like that of a mole, but it was pitch black and appeared to be glossy, as though it had more of a carapace than fur. The snout was like a white drill, with a mask-like covering that had no eyeholes extending back to the neck. The claws had changed as well, with the creature's claws having elongated and becoming more like an insect's leg.
The back also was like a beetle's, with carapace split along where a pine might be, and the underside of the snout had a jaw-like section with a pair of wicked-looking mandibles. Issei had a bad feeling about this, which was only confirmed when the monster attacked, striking at the area near the two Devils with one of its front legs. Issei and Asia scrambled to their feet, and begun to sprint for the hills. The creature had missed them, but its attack had almost hit Asia's leg.
A red glow in the night sky alerted Issei to Rias using her powers, and he turned away from looking over his shoulder as an explosion from beautiful Devil's Power of Destruction erupted on the creature's carapace.
"Asia, take cover," Issei yelled, and he ran back to rejoin the battle. The healer was not much of a fighter, and Issei would be distraught if she was injured.
The familiar 'boost' came as Issei activated his Sacred Gear, the armored gauntlet appearing on his right hand. A lightning strike came down as he neared the creature, most likely Akeno providing support. Right now, however, Issei knew he had to wait. Boosted Gear took time to build up, and he wanted to finish this creature in one shot, if the others couldn't kill it first.
In the meantime the others were content to take potshots at the creature, which seemed to be blind. It knew the attacks came from above, but it seemed unable to pinpoint the exact source. Unfurling his wings and using them to get a look at the creature's back, Issei noted that the carapace was charred and pockmarked, but ultimately did not seem to cave to the attacks of his fellow Devils.
Issei, tired of being out of the battle, finally decided to use Explosion. With the target unable to see the green glow did not attract any attention, and Issei leisurely lined up his shot. The practice with the gear he'd had after the church, despite being so small, was certainly paying off here. The explosion collided with the creature's side, and it gave a bellow of pain, turning to face Issei. Realizing he had provided it with a new target it was confident about finding, Issei ran for his life as the monster lumbered over towards him, moving its massive bulk and quickly gaining on him.
Another bellow sounded, this one from a combined strike courtesy of Koneko and Kiba. The swordsman had used his blade to stab down into the creature, and it made a disturbing noise of pain that combined roar with whine. Koneko had hit the creature's back, and Issei knew that the Devil's strength had most likely made a dent in the protective shell on top. That was when the sonic boom happened.
Covering his ears from the loud, harsh noise, Issei noted a spray of sand to the creature's left, with Issei to its front. Another boom sounded, and a second, larger spray appeared. Something moved around the creature, and it gave a howl as something caused its face covering to split in two, and it began to dissipate into a stream of blue, glowing particles. The movement had been fast enough to send sand flying, and limited Issei's view of who or what had killed the first creature.
Sighing but not deactivating his gear, Issei looked for whoever had helped them out. It had been too fast to be seen, making him wonder if it was a Shinigami. The other Devils also began to lose altitude, slowly landing on the ground and waiting for whoever it was to make an appearance. The dust cleared to reveal something surprising: a small, very young girl with a skull mask and green hair, and two humanoid creatures that looked very different and quite freakish.
The first looked like it wore a Tiki mask, though clearly some young child had desecrated it and painted it over in bright yellows and oranges. The body was fat and looked off for someone trying to survive in the harsh environment that this desert had. The other looked more human, but the mask on its face reminded Issei of some insect, with a cloth-like covering over its eye.
Issei looked over his shoulder, noting Asia climbing over a dune and making her way towards him, and he turned back to the matter at hand. Rias and the others had clustered around him, and the two groups were currently involved in a stare down. The small child was making her way towards them, and the two other beings tentatively followed behind her. Now that the girl was closer Issei could see that she had a skull-like covering on her head, with a number of cracks suggesting that it had been through wear and tear.
"Who are you?" Rias asked, speaking on behalf of their group. Issei would have liked to ask the question himself, but the issue was that he didn't have the leader role (as much as Rias seemed to give him leeway).
"I would ask you the same question. You aren't Arrancar or Hollows, and most definitely you aren't Shinigami," the insect-like one replied.
"Who we are is none of your business. I have no idea as to what you are, where we are, and whether we can trust you. Either give me answers, or we'll resort to other means."
Issei was surprised Rias was being this serious, since it was only very rarely that she needed to do it. Of course, since being more polite and coy with the shopkeeper hadn't exactly gone well, apparently Rias had changed tactics and was now willing to go in guns blazing.
"How you don't know that this is Hueco Mundo means you're pretty ignorant! How do you not know where you are!" the Tiki-mask guy asked.
"Hueco Mundo…. Hollow World?" Rias muttered to herself, and Issei wondered how she knew what that was.
"Why is it called Hueco Mundo?" Rias asked.
"Because Hollows live here?" the masked one offered.
Now there was another question: what in Satan's name was a Hollow? Were they hollows? Or was the creature they had fought off earlier a Hollow? The problem was that with every question these creatures answered there were more questions forming in Issei's head, and no doubt the others had their own questions.
Issei was drawn from his thoughts by the little girl, who had wandered over him as her two followers had become more combative with Rias. The child wore a green dress, and now that she was closer Issei could see that she had strange tattoos on her face. She seemed to be bored, and after a cursory look at the Devils before waddling back to her companions.
"Can we go back to tag? Nel'th getting bored," the girl asked.
Issei couldn't help but give a small laugh at the sudden break in tension, and the two half-monster half-human guys that she seemed to have roped into playing the game with her looked a little irritated.
"Come on Nel, we need to deal with these guys before we go back to tag!" insect-head protested.
"We only have a few more questions," Rias said, and Issei was sure she was compromising to avoid having this source of information disappear without any more questions being answered.
"What precisely is a Hollow? And where can we find a Shinigami here?" Rias asked.
"Shinigami? Do you know Itsygo?" the little girl asked in reply, perking up.
If Issei had any idea he would guess the girl knew Ichigo, which meant she was incredibly valuable. Of course, her lisp meant she could be talking about someone else, so Issei decided to confirm who 'Itsygo' was.
"Do you mean Ichigo? Because we know him," Issei replied. "You could say we're acquaintances of his, and we could use a hand finding a way back home."
"Pesche! They know Itsygo! We need to help them!" the girl said, tugging on one of the companion's arms.
"Are you sure? Nel, we don't really know who-"
"We need to help Itsygo's friends!" the girl shouted.
The companion sighed and decided that it was better to go with the girl's wishes, since he beckoned for them to follow them.
"Come on, we'll take you to Las Noches…"
Ichigo and company were in big trouble. Since all three of the Peerage members he had brought with him could fly and Ichigo himself knew how to stand on air the drop from Urahara's portal had not been a problem. The shopkeeper at the least had been kind enough to put them in Las Noches and not in the middle of the desert, which would have been a problem considering his need to find Aizen's base and then get there before any Hollows devoured them.
So, what exactly was Ichigo's problem? Well, he had attracted quite the greeting party. Surrounding him, Kalawarner, Viser, and Raynare was a particularly large crowd of Arrancar, the remnants of the once-proud army Aizen had raised to fight the Soul Society. While Ichigo had missed the bulk of the fighting in Karakura Town, there were still at least a few dozen of the hybrids left.
"Who are you?" one asked, his mask fragments consisting of a grill-like mask over his lower face and blocking off his mouth from being touched.
"I'm Ichigo Kurosaki," Ichigo replied.
What happened next was something that he had not expected: laughter. Ichigo had been sure that his reputation as the guy who had sort of beaten the Arrancar's boss would have preceded him. Hollows and Arrancar liked power-based hierarchies, and since one-upmanship had occurred in the past he would have expected some respect.
"What's funny?" Viser asked, stealing the words out of Ichigo's mouth.
"Ichigo Kurosaki is dead, and trying to use his reputation to your advantage is rather stupid," another member of the crowd answered.
Ichigo drew his swords along with the others as the Arrancar crowd pressed in. The close quarters fighting and the sheer number of Arrancar was not exactly in Ichigo's favor, and he decided to play a different card to get them back down.
"You know that I am a Shinigami, right?" Ichigo said.
With the Arrancar Army having mostly surrendered to the Soul Society, killing a Shinigami would not be wise considering what had happened with the Quincy, Ichigo knew that baiting the Soul Society was not a good idea.
"Really now? What makes you think we like your kind lording over us?" a crocodile-like Arrancar asking.
Ichigo did not respond, and as something moved towards him he lashed out and sent an Arrancar flying. This was followed by a flare of Reiatsu, which caused everyone in the vicinity to flinch. While Ichigo was aware of the fact that he was restrained by the power limiter on his sword, it was going to be a challenge for an individual Arrancar to take him on.
"You are powerful…."
Murmurs like that resonated from the crowd, and Ichigo and the others close ranks while waiting for the Arrancar to make up their minds.
"I challenge you!"
Someone forced their way to the front of the crowd, an Arrancar female with a purple mane of messy hair and with a mask fragment that was like a lower part of some animal's jaw. She wore the usual Arrancar uniform, though one of the sleeves had been ripped off near the elbow. Drawing her sword, Ichigo sighed as the crowd parted and made a ring around them. Viser, Kalawarner, and Raynare backed away, not quite joining the group that made the circle, but at the same time not standing too close to Ichigo.
"Sure," Ichigo said. If a display of power could get the Arrancar to back down, he'd gladly take the challenge.
"I am Arrancar Number Ninety-six, and you are…" the Arrancar asked.
"Ichigo Kurosaki, Substitute Shinigami," Ichigo replied.
The two began to circle one another, swords drawn, and after a minute of sizing one another up and watching the other's movements, the Arrancar moved. A boom of Sonido did little to throw Ichigo off, and he responded with a burst of Shunpo. He quickly evaded the swing of his opponent, and responded by kicking her into the air. The Arrancar was sent flying over the heads of the crowd due to the force of the blow, and the sound of an impact could be heard in the distance.
"I challenge you, Ichigo Kurosaki!"
Cursing his show of force, Ichigo turned to yet another challenger, who rather than being intimidated by the display was instead emboldened by it.
The Arrancar muscled his way to the front, and after a brief introduction the two began their duel…
Issei was actually very glad that they had found Nel. Without the small child and her group there was no way he, Rias, and the others would have made it to the citadel they had seen in the distance as quickly as they had. The fat 'Arrancar' as they were called had produced a giant slug-like creature, and currently the six Devils and the three Arrancar were sitting on it as it ferried them to 'Las Noches'. This seemed to be an ironic term, as according to Rias 'Las Noches' meant 'the nights', and yet it seemed to be the only source of light in the shadowy desert that surrounded them. Either way, getting back to civilization sounded like a good idea, and for now they remained safe from any more of the beasts that prowled Hueco Mundo's wastes.
As they reached the outer walls of Las Noches Issei revealed that the appearance from afar were not a good indication of the fortress' status. The Arrancar named Pesche had let it slip that at one point it had been a base of sorts during the ride, but now it was merely a ruin. A damaged set of towers and punched-through walls were primarily illuminated by large torches and bonfires, and Issei wondered how it had avoided further destruction since its lights were such obvious targets for the prowling Hollows here.
"Okay, we brought you out here. Now if you'll excuse us we'll-" the fat one began.
His farewell address was cut short by the sound of something crumbling, and the entire group (even the slug creature) scanned the surrounding area for the source. In the distance a large crowd of humanoids, most likely other Arrancar, could be seen, and they primarily parted around two individuals. The roar of the crowd as the fight went on could be heard from where they were. It seemed to be a battle of some sort.
"This is new. Perhaps they want a hierarchy?" Pesche asked himself.
Nel in the meantime had stood up and was looking intently at the event in the distance. Eventually something went speeding out of the ring, followed by a sense of oppression and power. Clearly someone had just been knocked out.
"Itsygo?" Nel said, narrowing her small eyes and having a more serious expression.
The small, green-haired girl went ramrod straight, the eyeholes on her skull glowing. She began to float upwards, and her body became parallel with the ground. Everyone backed away, and when her body jetted towards the large group Issei couldn't help but reflexively move a few feet back, almost falling off the giant creature they were currently sitting on.
In the distance a puff of yellowish smoke could be seen, most likely from Nel. A larger object than that which had gone into it continued on its path to the match below…
Ichigo was a little tired. He had not had to fight as much as this in a long time, and since Arrancar had plenty of powers that matched his own it was harder to find non-lethal ways of defeating the opponents who kept volunteering for a beating. How stupid were they? Of course, there was also the fact that for all he knew they wanted to weaken him before killing him.
A cry in the distance alerted him to something coming from above. It was too fast for him to make out precisely what it was, and he didn't move as the object approached the battleground. The most obvious trait it had was that it had a mane of green hair that surrounded its front, and Ichigo's eyes widened as he heard it give a yell.
An 'Oh no' passed through Ichigo's mind as he put everything together, but as he tried to get out of the way he was too late, and the last thing that passed through his mind was that Nel must have been very happy to see him. Then her body struck his head, and he felt his feet leave the ground as he drifted into unconsciousness…
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