Disclaimer: All right to the Bleach franchise are monopolised by that magnificent asshole, Tite Kubo.



[Mugetsu talking]

"Attack Names"


Chapter 6: Prelude to War

It's been a relatively peaceful five months for Ichigo since his encounter with the Fullbringers and things have been going well for him. He had a long time to think about what he had done that night. It was something that he looked back on in shame. Not that he regretted removing the Fullbringers from the equation. It was more the way he went about it that disappointed him. He realised that he went too far and that he was so caught up in his anger that he crossed the line. It was something that was hard to reconcile with himself. He knows that he has issues and that he needs to find a healthy way to deal with them. It also put into perspective how easy it is for him to get lost within his power and the power he had over others. It took a lot of counselling from Mugetsu to understand that having this much power wasn't wrong…it was how he chose to use that power that decided it. At the end of the day, that's what it is all about. Choice. It made him realise that he isn't the same teenager who could bust into Soul Society, sword swinging, and do whatever he wanted. He was a lot more powerful now hence a much larger target was painted on his back. Not to mention…right now…he had the power to tip the balance. His choices may very well decide the outcome of wars. His choices could decide the direction of the world. It was a sobering thought to know that you had the power to change the world. Normally, it wouldn't have bothered Ichigo, but after what happened when he lost it with the Fullbringers…Ichigo was scared. He was afraid that he would become drunk on his power. Afraid that he would make the wrong choices. But most importantly…afraid that he would end up becoming somebody like Aizen.

He spent a lot of time thinking over five months. He had a lot of time to put things into perspective. He was thankful for the advice and encouragement that Mugetsu offered him. She truly was his rock when he felt like he was being swept away by the current of life. He never told his sisters what happened that night, for he was too ashamed. He knew they wouldn't hold it against him…but he was selfish in that he didn't want his sisters to know that he had such large character flaws. He didn't want them to stop looking at him the way they did. Again, it was selfish of him but he felt that it was okay to be a little selfish sometimes.

The most important thing that happened though, and the thing that really made him feel like he was on the right path once again…were his friendships with the Arrancar

His relationship with the Arrancar has deepened greatly since their first meeting and he has become quite protective of them. For him, it's his personal slice of paradise. His getaway from the mundane world where he can just kick back and let himself go. Something that allows him to anchor himself. They welcomed him with open arms and made him feel at home. Not once did they care about him not being an Arrancar or think of him as an outsider. No…he was their friend.

None of them were closer to him then Nel, of course, and even Ichigo would admit that he had a soft spot for the green haired Arrancar. All she needed to do was pout cutely or give him the puppy-dog-eyes and he would cave in to her demands. Not that he would ever complain about that. He valued his bond with Nel and was thankful for everything she had done for him.

Surprisingly, it was the duo of Starrk and Lilynette that were closest to him after Nel. In Starrk, Ichigo found a guy friend and one with the same motivations that he has. They were both protectors by nature and loners due to circumstances out of their control. They quickly bonded over their kinship and forged a solid friendship and understanding with one another.

Lilynette was someone that Ichigo viewed as his third sister. She was cute, bubbly, friendly and always ready to pull some pranks on the rest of the Arrancar. Something that Ichigo had no problem helping her with, provided that he was never implicated. Their favourite targets were the Tres Bestias…those girls were just too easy to rile up. She was always ready to greet him with a hug and a smile, endearing herself to Ichigo and before he knew it, she had wormed her way into his heart.

Harribel, though, was a tougher nut to crack. While she was polite to him, he wouldn't regard her as friendly. She did her best to keep him at arm's length for as much as possible. Their conversations amounted to a neutral greeting here or an odd question there. While he wanted to break down those walls around her he understood, from the titbits that Starrk told him, that she had some serious trust issues since she took Aizen's betrayal particularly hard. He knew though, that he would eventually melt that ice around her heart…he just needed to be patient.

It was these friendships that allowed Ichigo to once again find his way. For he was at his best, when he was surrounded by his friends. The bonds developed with the Arrancar grounded him these last few months and helped him to realise that he needed people in his life, no matter how much of a loner her regarded himself to be, to allow him to hang on to the traits that made him who he was. He is a protector…and they were a part of his anchor. For that, he would forever be thankful.

It was also thanks to his influence that Las Noches had become quite a colourful place over the last few months. Before, it was drab and dreary with not much to do. Now though, there is always something being done. Whether it's the Tres Bestias arguing over a game of Monopoly, which Sung-Sun always wins by egging Apacci and Mila-Rose on and taking advantage of their focus on each other, or its Nel being engrossed in Shoujo Manga and light novels. Pesche and Dondochakka, being the goofballs that they are, started their own little 'underground casino' when Ichigo explained Blackjack and Poker to them and they tried to emulate the Yakuza. Of course they used fake, plastic chips that Ichigo bought and ended up always being taken for all they were worth, which just made their misfortune funnier to the rest. Ichigo had also come to realise that behind his lazy attitude and unkempt demeanour…Starrk was a freaking genius. He was also surprisingly competitive when something caught his interest. When it came to Chess, Battleships, card games or even the speed it takes to solve a Rubik's Cube…Starrk and Ichigo were always competing with each other, trying to one up the other. Their friendly rivalry was also a source of entertainment for the others as well as a good foil for Pesche and Dondochakka's 'bookmaking' operation that, once again, was a complete failure. Of course Lilynette would always be there cheering them both on. She had her own love of Shōnen Jump manga and became fascinated with the different stories being told. She loved to lose herself in the pages of her manga. Harribel, as one might expect, preferred paperback novels. Whether they were action, drama, suspense or even the occasional comedy…she could be found relaxing in their conference room, engrossed in a novel.

The laughter and joy that Ichigo brought to them was something that they would forever be thankful for. He came into their lives and, in a whirlwind of chaos, pulled them in with his kindness, his compassion and his warmth. He brightened up their dreary lives and, though Ichigo was still too slow to realise, they would follow him to the ends of the Earth. In them, he made friends for life and companions that would always have his back. Just as they knew he would have theirs.

They both, Ichigo and the Arrancar, brought a new happiness to the other and they would both hold on to that happiness as best as they could. They would protect it against those that wished to harm them and they would never let anyone take away their newfound way of life.

Ichigo smiled as he looked up at the clouds from his perch on the school roof. It was currently lunch break and he decided to enjoy a bit of time in the solitude that this place offered him. He smiled at the thought of his friends. He wondered what kind of hijinks they were getting up to at this very moment. Probably something unnecessarily over-the-top. He smirked at that thought.

"So this is where you were." A familiar voice called out from behind him. He shifted his eyes and spotted his old friend walking towards him.

"Hey Tatsuki, what's up?" He questioned.

"Not much. I was just looking for you."

"Why? Is there something wrong?"

"Does there have to be something wrong for me to want to talk to my childhood friend?" She asked with a raised eyebrow. He just smiled and shook his head.

"No, no there doesn't. And don't say things like 'childhood friends'. It's embarrassing." He retorted. She just gave him her trademark smirk in response.

"Oh? Is the big bad Ichigo ashamed to be childhood friends with my? Haaa…where did the time go? You used to be such a cute kid. You used to look so adorable when you were crying after I kicked your ass in Karate. Now look at you. You're a grown…overgrown, delinquent" Tatsuki complained with faux sadness, much to Ichigo's annoyance.

"Firstly, do you know how creepy it sounds when you say that? Did you enjoy my tears that much? You know that it makes you sound like some sadist, right?" Ichigo pointed out, causing her to huff at him and cross her arms. "Secondly, and most importantly…I'm not a delinquent! I'm in the Top 5 for academic performance, you know!" Ichigo shouted at her, much to her amusement. Ichigo himself felt a moment of horror as he unconsciously mimicked Dondochakka's annoying verbal tick.

'Fuck! I'm was spending too much time with those crazy bastards.' He thought with dread.

"Really? You could have fooled me. Look at you, you're what? 6'1? 6'2? You have bright orange hair and ominous red eyes. The only thing you're missing is a few tattoos and maybe a piercing and you're good to go." She said, giving him a cheesy thumbs up. He had a tick mark on his forehead at her teasing.

"You certainly have gotten ballsy to say that to my face, haven't you?" Ichigo threatened, his red eyes glowing menacingly as he tried to intimidate Tatsuki. She wasn't even fazed though as she scoffed at him.

"Please, save it for whatever local gang you plan on beating up after school. There's nothing you can do to intimidate a girl who saw you burst into tears after you lost your first karate spar." She said mockingly. Her smile widened when she heard Ichigo growling next to her. It was so easy to rile him up. She sobered up though when she thought about what she wanted to ask him. "Are you doing okay?"

Ichigo looked at her out of the corner of his eyes, sensing the weight of her question. Her face showed that she was quite serious. He read between the few lines that she provided him to know that she was referring to him not being involved in the supernatural world. He found it strange that she asked him this after almost 15 months, but he realised that she was never one to be big on the whole emotional crap. She was a woman of action. But, it seems that she's also doing a bit of growing up.

Ichigo gave her a smirk in response.

"You don't need to worry about me. Things are just as they always have been and I don't plan on changing." He told her, his answer riddled with double meanings that completely went over her head.

"I see. That's good." She said with a small smile as she joined him in looking out into the city, enjoying the soft breeze blowing through the air.

Nothing else was said as the two friends enjoyed the silence and the presence of the other. That silence was broken though, by a beeping coming from Ichigo's pocket.

His eye's widened when he heard that sound. He realised that it was from his personal communications device. The only people who had its frequency were the Arrancar since Ichigo told them to give him a call if they were ever in trouble. They knew he was at school right now and knew not to call him unnecessarily. Meaning it must have been really important. His blood chilled as the worst case scenario played out in his mind.

He hurriedly pulled out the device, flipped it open and held it to his ear. He had noticed that it wasn't a regular call but a three-way-call.

"This is Ichigo." He said, before the frantic sounds of a woman's voice could be heard from the other line. The more she spoke the deeper his frown became, until he was glowering with rage. "Okay. Just hold on, I'll be on my way." He replied before he shut the device and taking off.

"Ichigo! Wait! What's happening?" Tatsuki asked worriedly, having picked up the general tone of the conversation. Ichigo paused before turning to look at her.

"A friend of mine is in trouble and she needs my help. I'm going to her. Tell my sisters the situation. They'll understand." He replied before breaking into a sprint, ignoring her pleas to wait.

Tatsuki frowned, having a sense of Deja-vu. She remembered something similar happening all those months ago. But it couldn't be…right?

(Scene Change)

Ichigo never stopped as he broke into a sprint that would have made Olympic runners jealous. He passed the school gates, sped down the street and into an alley. He looked around him, spreading his senses. When he found no trace of anyone around him, he slipped into his personal dimension. Once the world turned red, Ichigo vanished in a blur of Shunpo. Instead of heading to the Kurosaki household, he headed to the other side of town. He stopped in front of a set of apartment buildings, before entering then one labelled 3B. He bought this apartment with the money he got from Yukio, not just to have his own place once he eventually move out of his old home, but also in case of situations like this when he couldn't afford to just leave his body lying at home. He didn't know how long he was going to be and there was only so much that his sisters could cover up for him until it got suspicious.

Ichigo slipped back into the 'real world', hurriedly ejected his soul from his body, before slipping back into his personal dimension. He wasted no time in opening a Garganta and making his way towards Hueco Mundo.

He was deposited on sands of Hueco Mundo as he exited the Garganta. After touching down, he concentrated and spread his senses as far as he could. He got the 'ping' he was looking for as he located the familiar reiatsu.

He burst into action with his Shunpo once again, heading to what he remembered as the Menos Forest, as he felt one of the signatures slowly fading. It took him only a few seconds but he eventually got there in time to see a man dressed in a white military ensemble about to bring his sword down on the bloody and torn up Harribel. She was barely able to stand and her legs were trembling. Behind her lay the bleeding forms of her Fracción, each clearly having taken severe damage.

That wasn't what worried him though. No. It was the defeated posture that Harribel was currently sporting. Her shoulders were hunched, her sword was hanging limply from her hands and her face showed resignation and acceptance. Ichigo didn't like it at all.

In a fraction of a second, before anyone could so much as blink, Ichigo was between the man and Harribel, catching the sword with his bare hand and his eyes drilled a hole into the shocked visage of the man.

"I would appreciate it if you didn't swing such a dangerous weapon at my friend." Ichigo warned as he backhanded the man into one of the large quartz trees. Behind him, Ichigo could hear Harribel sigh in relief. "Take it easy, Tier. I'll handle it from here." He commanded.


Minutes Prior…

"You've put up an admirable fight, Miss Espada. Taking me on while protecting those three behind you is nothing to be ashamed about. Which is why I want to propose that you surrender. You can rest assured that I have no doubt you will be of great use to His Majesty. I can assure you that there is no greater joy in serving our Lord."

The man who spoke was of above average height and was fully decked out in a white double breasted trench coat with a small white cape hanging from his shoulders and stopping mid-torso. He also wore white trousers and boots along with a black belt on his waist. He had a white military cap with a black visor on his head along with circular framed sunglasses. His hair was black and straight as it stopped just above his ear on his right side while the left seemed to be shorter.

Harribel was knowledgeable enough to know that this man was a Quincy. He introduced himself as the Captain of the Jagdamee and Sternritter 'J' of His Majesty's Wandenreich, Quilge Opie. She wasn't sure what his titles were supposed to mean, but she knew he was strong. He was obviously someone high up on the chain of whatever army he was part of. He was easily at the level of someone like Grimmjow in his sealed state. In a one-on-one fight, Harribel knew that she could defeat him. It didn't help that he received a huge boost in power when he removed his glove before suddenly sprouting glowing blue wings and a halo. His power increased exponentially from that point on. But still not to the point that would trouble her. The problem was that he seemed to know her weakness as he kept targeting her Fracción, forcing her to intercept and take the damage instead. It also didn't help that he had a lot of foot soldiers with him that he didn't mind throwing at her, not caring if they died or not if it meant giving him a small opening in her defences.

She was stuck fighting a battle of attrition. She was perceptive enough to know that she would not win. But she had to try to hold out for as long as possible. She didn't care if she were to die here today, but if it meant that her Fracción were to be endangered…then she would hold out as long as possible.

Seeing the defiance in her eyes, Quilge smiled thinly. He knew just the thing to take the fight out of here.

"If possible, I would prefer not to kill you. Your skill, intelligence and strength would all greatly benefit His Majesty. Which is why I wish to offer you a proposition." He said with a single finger raised. Harribel felt a chill down her spine at the look he was giving her. "Surrender yourself to the Wandenreich, and I will spare your companions and allow them to walk away."

Harribel froze on the spot as her mind processed what she just heard. She was now positive that this man knew exactly who she was and that everything he did until this point was for this very moment. It frustrated her to think that she so easily played into the enemy's hand, but she knew that there was only one choice. It was one that she would make without hesitation.

"Very well. I surrender." She replied softly, her sword falling limply in her hands and her body sagged in defeat. She knew that she had made the right choice and she wasn't afraid of the consequences of it. Her aspect of death was 'Sacrifice'. It was something that she took pride in and even in this moment, she took pride in knowing that her sacrifice will allow her beloved Fracción to live on. She only regretted that she wouldn't be able to be with them any longer. That she wouldn't be able to enjoy the colourful days at Las Noches. It was natural to feel that way. She could only hope they didn't try to avenge her. But knowing how stubborn her girls were, that was exactly what they were going to do.

She waited, listening to his footsteps growing closer, to be incapacitated. Her head was bowed and she felt her strength leave her. She saw the steel of his sword glint as he brought it down on her. She had resigned herself to her fate…but it seemed that it wasn't to be.

She felt a slight breeze between her and the man, Quilge. She looked up to see the back of a dark grey trench coat and a mop of bright orange hair as its owner caught the sword meant to cut her down with his bare hands.

"I would appreciate it if you didn't swing such a dangerous weapon at my friend." Ichigo warned as he backhanded the man into one of the large quartz trees. Harribel sighed in relief as she took in the visage of the orange-haired enigma that often plagued her thoughts. It seems that the once feared Tercera Espada has been reduced to nothing but a damsel in distress, similar to those in the books she reads. She didn't like it one bit. She regards herself as a proud and formidable warrior. Which is why it was so mortifying to be rescued like this. She wouldn't complain though, for who know what would have happened to her, or if the man would even keep his promise about her Fracción. She was definitely going to train if they get out of this. She's been getting a bit slack in her training these last few months and she needs to change that. "Take it easy, Tier. I'll handle it from here." Ichigo commanded her. Normally, she wouldn't ever take orders from a man…especially considering her past. But having gotten to know Ichigo over these months and understanding him a little better…she decided that the least she could do was give him the benefit of the doubt. It annoyed her though, that he called her by her first name so casually. It was all Nelliel's fault.

Current time…

Ichigo's analytical gaze swept across the opponents before him. They were all dressed in the same white military uniform with nothing else to distinguish them. If what he felt from their power levels, they were most probably common foot soldiers. Unlike the man he backhanded into one of the 'trees'. He had quite a few distinguishing badges pinned on his uniform, signifying him as the superior of the rest of them. His power was nothing to sneeze at either. Ichigo would put him at the level of one of the lower tier captains. The sound of rubble moving drew his attention.

"What a rare sight. A Shinigami coming to the rescue of an Arrancar." Quilge said as he walked out of the rubble, calmly dusting off his uniform as he turned his attention to Ichigo. "Then again, you always have been a bit of an enigma, Kurosaki Ichigo." He said as he pushed his glasses up with his index finger.

"I would like to say I'm surprised that you know who I am, but I'm not. It seems that everyone in the spiritual world has an unhealthy interest in me and it's honestly creepy as fuck. So let's skip all the pointless banter and get to the point where you tell me what you want and who's the big boss in charge of your sorry ass." Ichigo drawled out, his eyes showing clearly that he was in no mood to mess around. He was extremely upset at the condition that Tier was in and he was looking for some retribution.

"Hahaha! I'm impressed. It seems that the Daten was grossly misleading. We were told that you were currently just and ordinary human. I must congratulate you on pulling the wool over everyone's eyes. Please, allow me to introduce myself. Captain of the Jagdamee and Sternritter 'J' of His Majesty's army, The Wandenreich, Quilge Opie" He introduced himself with a short bow, before snapping to attention. "We were told of how dangerous you were before you supposedly lost your power. Seeing as we were misinformed, I'm going to operate under the impression that you are just as powerful, if not more compared to the time you fought Aizen Souske. As such, I will treat you as a Special War Potential." He said before raising his hand and pointing his finger at Ichigo. "Soldat!" At his command, a large chunk of the foot soldiers behind him charged forward, intent on taking Ichigo out.

Ichigo just looked on with bored eyes. He didn't even bother to defend himself, as he didn't need to. Just as the Soldat were closing in on him, a royal blue Cero tore through their ranks. Those fortunate Soldat that survived the blast were introduced to another world of pain as a green and white blur decimated them in close combat. As the last of them fell, Ichigo heard the distinctive static sound of Sonído as two figures landed beside him.

"Looks like we've got some unpleasant company. Thing are never boring with you around, Ichigo." Starrk said languidly from his position at Ichigo's right as he sent a small smirk at his friend.

"It's not my fault that all these weirdo's are drawn to me. It must be my sparkling personality." Ichigo shot back.

"Tier! You're a mess." Nel called out as she went to Harribel's side, offering her shoulder as support.

"Nelliel…Starrk as well. How?" She managed to get out, obviously not in the best condition.

"You can thank Sung-Sun for that. She was smart enough to secretly use her communications device and place it on a three-way-call, to us at Las Noches and to Ichi. We got the gist of the situation and rushed over her as soon as we could. It seems like Ichi beat us here though." Nel explained to her, though she did finish her sentence with a pout. Harribel just let out a sigh in relief. It seems her girls came through for her when she was in a pinch. She would make sure to thank them when they got out of this. "It seems that we now have the answer as to what the strange disturbances in the Menos Forest were. There sure are a lot of them." Nel pointed out.

"Most of them are weak though. They won't be much of a problem. It's the one with the wings who's in charge here. I'll take him on and extract as much information out of him as possible. Starrk, you take care of the foot soldiers around him and keep them out of my fight. Leave at least one of them alive though. And Nel, you watch over Tier and her Fracción, make sure they aren't caught up in our battles." Ichigo ordered. Starrk and Nel didn't even hesitate to carry out his orders, having no problems with deferring to him as their leader. Ichigo didn't even realise it, but he had quite the commanding presence. It was one of the reasons that, as Hollow's, they had no problem following the obviously more powerful teen. The other, and most important, was that they trusted Ichigo with their lives and knew that he would always do his best for them. Where he would lead…they would happily follow.

Without anything else needing to be said, Starrk disappeared in a buzz of Sonído before situating himself within the circle of the Soldat. He could have easily used his Cero and vaporised the lot of them but he decided that it was a good time as any to stretch his muscles a bit. Plus, Ichigo wanted one of these guys alive so he wouldn't take any chances and accidentally kill them all.

"This is most displeasing. Not only were we misinformed about you, Kurosaki Ichigo, but also about the fact the Primera Espada is still alive. Not to mention the former Tercera Espada seems to have regained her original form. This is unacceptable. His Majesty will no doubt be furious at the lacklustre work that seems to have gone into constructing the Daten." He said before swinging his sword in front of him, rapidly gathering the reishi particles around him in the form of a large blue arrow. With a flick of his wrist, the arrow went careening towards Ichigo, who disinterestedly smacked it away with the back of his hand. Instead of being upset, Quilge seemed pleased. "Marvellous! For you to so casually bat away my Heilig Pfeil, you truly are a dangerous individual." He said before looking at Ichigo with a dangerous smirk. "Which is why I can't allow you to live. You are a danger to His Majesty's plans. I will give my life here today so that his glorious crusade will go on unimpeded!" He shouted before charging at Ichigo with impressive speeds.

Ichigo was a little weirded out by the guy's seemingly fanatical loyalty. He knew he would need to take him on seriously though. He didn't seem to mind dying as long as it meant that he took Ichigo with him. Those were the worst, and most dangerous kinds of opponents to have. He would need to be on the lookout for any kamikaze attacks. Not to mention, this was his first real fight since his battle with Aizen. Sure, he trained with his sisters and some of the Arrancar but that wasn't the same as a life and death battle. He would need to shake off the rust and get into the swing of things once again.

As Quilge sped towards him, Ichigo intercepted him with his Zanpakutō, locking them in a stalemate. They continued at that pace for a few minutes. Neither putting too much effort into it as they tried to get a feel for the other and find any gaps in their technique. As they locked blades once again, Ichigo took one hand off his sword, using his superior power to hold his opponent in place, before lifting up his free hand and pointed his finger at Quilge's heart.

"Hado #4: Byakurai"

It was only the instinctual use of Hirenkyaku that prevented his heart from being pierced. He didn't escape unscathed though as his right shoulder was pierced by the beam of lightning. Ichigo didn't stop to admire his work though. As soon as Quilge vanished and avoided the fatal applications of his Byakurai, Ichigo blurred from his spot and came to a stop right next to Quilge just a fraction of a second after the man appeared in that spot. It shocked him greatly that Ichigo outstripped him in speed by such a large margin which was why he could do nothing to defend himself against the oncoming attack.

Ichigo rapidly swung his blade across Quilge's chest, opening a large cut going diagonally across his torso, blood bursting from the cut. He didn't allow Quilge to dwell on the pain though as he kicked him in the stomach sending him flying back and crashing into one of the quartz trees, kicking up quite a bit of dust.

As Ichigo lowered his leg, he frowned deeply at what he had just seen. Quilge didn't notice it, as Ichigo's blade speed was too fast for his eyes to follow, but he was actually cut twice in rapid succession…only the second cut drew blood though. With the first cut, Ichigo activated the ability he took from Tsukishima, and 'read' the past of Quilge. Needless to say, he was not pleased in the slightest. He had known that this day would eventually come…but he didn't think that Yhwach would be making his move so soon. If what he 'read' was any indication…if a war were to break out between the Quincy and the Shinigami right now….the Shinigami would be annihilated.

The technological breakthroughs made by the Quincy coupled with the stagnant nature of the Gotei 13, who refused to give up their old ways, would ensure that the Quincy would come out on top. While he had no particular love for the Gotei 13, he wouldn't allow them to be slaughtered. He understood their necessity and would therefore try to ensure that they at least had a fighting chance against their age old enemy.

Not to mention, he had his own bone to pick with Yhwach. He knew that he would eventually join this war, destroying his hope of anonymity. But it was inevitable. He knew that he couldn't remain hidden forever and that something would eventually draw him out. He was okay with that, for he would do it on his own terms. He would fight because he wanted to and not because Soul Society needed him to. His friends were also targeted and that was a sure-fire way to get yourself to the top of Ichigo's shit list.

He put those thoughts out of his mind though as a hail of blue arrows raced towards him, intent on poking him full of more holes than Swiss cheese. He didn't flinch though.

"Bakudo #81: Danku"

A rectangular wall sprung up in front of Ichigo, preventing the arrows from reaching him. The barrier stayed firm even as the arrows continuously battered into them.

It seemed that Quilge used the attack as a distraction though as a glowing blue cage encased Ichigo. He looked around curiously, inspecting the integrity of the structure.

"I am impressed that you managed to penetrate my Blut. But it was all for naught in the end. I was gifted the letter 'J' by His Majesty. I am 'The Jail'. That jail is indestructible! No Shinigami will be able to escape my prison, Kurosaki Ichigo! Be grateful. You have shown me your impressive power therefore I will take you to my Lord. He will be most interested in meeting you." Quilge bragged as he used his Blut abilities to stem the flow of blood to his wound.

Ichigo didn't look particularly bothered as he analysed the cage, curious as to how powerful it was. When he was done he turned his disinterested gaze to Quilge.

"It seems you really are horribly misinformed. I'm surprised that Yhwach didn't tell you everything you needed to know about me. It certainly put you at a disadvantage."

"Silence, you mongrel! How dare you so casually speak His Majesty's name!" Quilge admonished fiercely.

"I'm always having to do this and it's honestly becoming kind of annoying. I'm actually considering having a T-shirt made just to skip that part where I have to clarify this. Open your ears and listen carefully Mr Sternritter…I. Am. Not. A. Shinigami." Ichigo said, punctuating each word of his last sentence as he casually swept his arm to the side, destroying the prison as easily as one would shatter glass.

Quilge felt his eyes widen at the casual display of power. Unfortunately for him, Ichigo was done playing around and got all that he needed to from the man. While Quilge was still frozen in disbelief Ichigo pointed the index and middle finger of his left hand at the Quincy, a dark purple orb of energy coalescing at the tip. Quilge only had enough time for his eyes to widen in fear before it was all over.


The doom blast tore through the ground as it reached him, vaporising his head and a portion of his upper torso. His body was still for a moment, before it dropped to the ground like a sack of potatoes.

Ichigo breathed a sigh of relief before shaking his head to rid himself of unnecessary thoughts. He heard footsteps approaching him and looked to see Starrk walk over to him, not a speck of dust on him. He pointed his thumb over his shoulder as he looked at Ichigo.

"I left one alive like you asked. I knocked him unconscious though." He informed Ichigo lazily.

Ichigo just nodded in response before walking over to Quilge's body. He put his hand in the man's left pocket and pulled out the medallion he was looking for. It was a palm-sized white medallion with a black 5 pointed star on the face of it. After he pocketed it, he turned his attention to the corpse.

"Hado #54: Haien"

A burst of purple flames shot towards the corpse covering it completely, slowly incinerating it.

Once his work was done Ichigo walked back to Starrk, giving him a nod.

"Good work you lazy bastard." He jibed. Starrk just flipped him the bird in response. As they passed the bodies of the Soldat that Starrk disposed of, Ichigo found the one that was left alive.

"Bakudo #63: Sajo Sabaku"

Chains of light wrapped around the Soldat, tightly binding him in place as Ichigo moved onto a more priority target.

He came to a stop in front of Harribel and her Fracción, with Nel diligently watching over them. Harribel was still conscious and seemed to be fine for the most part. The blood from her wounds had stopped and she was just fighting fatigue at this point. Her Fracción were still unconscious though. Ichigo decided that it was time to get to work. He drew his Zanpakutō and held it to his side.

"Fade to Black, Mugetsu"

Unlike when he first released it in front of them, he skipped the flashy display and focused on simply releasing his sword. Once that was done, he focused his power on the four of them. A large translucent purple dome covered all of them as his ability took effect.

"Temporal Reversion"

Harribel closed her eyes as Ichigo worked his magic on them. In a matter of seconds their wounds had vanished and they were at full strength once again. After he was done, Ichigo released the dome and silently resealed his sword. He gave a nod to Harribel who silently conveyed her gratefulness to him with her eyes. Nothing needed to be said as he understood what was left unsaid.

Once he was done, he walked over to the Soldat who was still unconscious and bound. Ichigo swung his sword through him, drawing absolutely no blood and leaving no mark. He released his Bakudo and moved back to the rest.

"Our work here is done, let's go." Ichigo ordered. The others were in no mood to argue even though they were curious to know what he did. The each took a hold of one of Harribel's Fracción before using Sonído to move towards Las Noches, Ichigo gliding right next to them with Shunpo.

By the time they got back to Las Noches, Harribel's Fracción had awakened. They gathered the rest of the Arrancar and called for a meeting in the conference room. Ichigo unconsciously sat at the head of the table, with none of the others even making a single move of protest against it. He looked at the rest of them as they took their seat and got the meeting started.

"First off, how did the four of you end up in the Menos Forest?" He asked Harribel. His face was devoid of its usual warmth as it showed that he meant business right now.

"There were disturbing reports from some of the lesser Hollow's of strange activity happening in the Menos Forest. We were a bit sceptical at first, but we asked Pesche to check the scanners just in case." Harribel stated, before passing the initiative over the stern looking Pesche.

"The scanners and surveillance devices located at the most important parts of Hueco Mundo are still very much operational, despite Aizen not being here anymore. Through the use of these systems, we found that the number of Hollow's in the Menos Forest were dropping at an alarming rate. At first we thought it may have been a newly evolved Vasto Lorde, but quickly dismissed that thought as the largest signature we could pick up didn't belong to a Hollow. It was on this basis that it was decided that Harribel-sama and her Fracción would go in to investigate the root of the problem." He explained with military precision. If the situation wasn't so serious, Ichigo was positive his jaw would be hitting the ground. It was suddenly becoming clear to Ichigo why Nel chose him as her Fracción. Behind his goofball exterior was a highly intelligent and analytical mind.

"When we first entered the forest, it was quiet. Too quiet for my liking. The nature of the forest makes it hard to pick up reiatsu signatures if you're not already familiar with them. As such, the deeper we went, the more unsettled I began to feel. I was about to give the order to turn around and head back to Las Noches, when we surrounded. As you saw earlier, they were soldiers dressed in all white with that man, Quilge Opie leading them." Ichigo and the others nodded at her explanation. "We didn't feel their presence until it was too late. Normally, I wouldn't have much of a problem with the man. I estimated his power being somewhere between Zommari and Grimmjow. I knew I could defeat him in a one-on-one battle, but he seemed to have the measure of me as he took advantage of my weak point. He continuously targeted the girls, forcing me to defend them after which he would land hits on me." Apacci, Mila-Rose and Sung-Sun looked down in shame. "He didn't have much regard for the soldiers around him either as he used them in kamikaze attacks to make an opening in my guard. I still managed to hold them off until that point, but the situation changed when he activated his ability. When removed his glove, his reiatsu rose exponentially. He grew those large blue wings and a halo appeared on his head. He called it Vollständig. It seems to operate similarly to our Resurreccion or the Shinigami Bankai. At that point, things became more difficult and I was steadily sustaining more damage. I realised that I would eventually lose the longer the battle went on. I was resigned to fight to the end, but the man seemed to have information on me, as he made an offer I couldn't refuse. He offered to allow my Fracción to go free if I surrendered. I of course took the offer. He was about to cut me down when you arrived, Kurosaki Ichigo." Harribel finished. Ichigo closed his eyes, digesting the information. The Tres Bestias were in tears as they heard the sacrifice their mistress was willing to make for them. It only solidified their resolve to follow her till the end.

"That was quick thinking on your part, Sung-Sun. Your excellent grasp of the situation saved the lives of your comrades. Good job." Ichigo praised, causing the girl to hide her blush behind her sleeve as all attention moved to her. "The enemy was a Quincy. I'm sure you have gathered that much. From what I extracted from him, he was part of the Wandenreich, the personal army of the Quincy Emperor, Yhwach. They are based in a fortress they call Silbern. Quilge referred to himself as a 'Sternritter'. Those refer to the top generals in the Wandenreich. There are 26 of them, one for each letter of the alphabet. Each of them is a Captain-class fighter. As Harribel stated, they have an ability called Vollständig which is an improved version of the Letz Stil. It grants them an exponential boost in power. That isn't the most concerning thing though." He stated as he pulled out the medallion he took from Quilge and placed it on the table for all to see. "Using this device, they apparently have the ability to steal a Bankai"

There was shocked silence in the room at that piece of information.

"Is that even possible?" Nel questioned dubiously.

"Apparently, it is." Ichigo answered grimly. "What's more…Yhwach intends to start a war. He seeks the destruction of the Soul Society." There were grave faces as they understood the ramifications of such a thing happening. "Now, I have no love for the Soul Society, but if Yhwach succeeds and supplants the Gotei 13 with his Wandenreich…then the entire balance of the world will collapse. What's more, he seems to want to have a foothold in Hueco Mundo. That's why he sent Quilge. He was meant to capture you Harribel, the current Queen of Hueco Mundo, and use you as an example to draft Arrancar into his army as kamikaze soldiers."

Harribel furrowed her brow in annoyance while the Tres Bestias look murderous. There were a lot of worried looks passed around the table.

"I know what you are thinking, and I don't like it either…But it looks like we will be drawn into this war whether we like it or not." He informed them. The three former Espada looked resigned to it, having expected as much. Lilynette looked a little worried while the Tres Bestias seemed to be itching to get their hands on the Quincy. "However, just because it is inevitable, doesn't mean that we have to just go with the flow. We will fight this war on our own terms." He added with a smirk, getting interested looks from the rest. "Firstly, nobody should leave the confines of Las Noches for the foreseeable future. Pesche, what kind of security measure does Las Noches have? I'm hoping that Aizen's OCD ensured that he installed a force field generator into the schematics." He asked.

"He did. There is a function that allows a powerful force field to envelop the entirety of Las Noches. However, it needs an obscenely large amount of reiatsu to activate it. It also needs to be fed reiatsu every five days to keep it solid." Pesche stated.

"Excellent. Starrk you're in charge of powering that force field." Ichigo ordered.

"Eh? Why me? You could easily power it." Starrk pointed out

"I could. But with you powering it, the force field will be a far more powerful deterrent against any Quincy. A little known fact is that Hollow reiatsu is absolutely poisonous to any Quincy. As such, a force field powered by the reiatsu of the most powerful Hollow will be something that will be extremely difficult for any of them to overcome." Ichigo explained. Starrk nodded in acceptance, seeing the wisdom behind the decision. "I plan on anonymously tipping off the Gotei 13 to the threat. Whether they take it seriously or not doesn't matter to us. But for the next few months…you guys are going to be training your asses off."

That got him a few skeptical looks, as they were unsure why he was suggesting it.

"Err…Ichi. Not to argue with you or anything…but…why would we need to train?" Nel asked as she cutely tilted her head.

"As you are now, I have no doubt you can take a few of the Sternritter down. However, there are a few of them who can overpower you as you currently are. Not to mention the strange abilities they seem to possess. I mean no offence, but currently only Starrk has any chance of taking on any of the Sternritter and be sure he would come out alive." Ichigo said bluntly. "So you guys will be training, you as well Starrk, to reach the next level." Ichigo finished with a smirk.

"Next level?" Harribel questioned with a quirked eyebrow.

"Yup. Let me ask you a question. Amongst the Espada, both current and former…who was the most powerful?" Ichigo questioned Harribel. She looked exasperated at his roundabout way of answering her question but complied nonetheless.

"It was stated that Yammy was the most powerful, as he had the most reiatsu. But everyone knew that Starrk was really the strongest of all of us." She answered dutifully.

"Wrong!" He answered. "No offence buddy, but you're the second strongest Arrancar that I've ever met." Ichigo said to Starrk, getting an interested look from the man. "The most powerful of you lot, was Ulquiorra."

"Really?" Lilynette asked curiously. Ichigo looked around the table to see a lot of curious faces looking at him. They all knew that he wouldn't make stuff up and believed what he said. They wanted to know the motivation he provided though.

"Yes. In your base form, you outstrip him by miles. I've seen both of you in Resurreccion, and your power is still greater than his at that point. But that's where he has you beat. He achieved a higher level of power which, according to him, no other Arrancar achieved. He called it Resurreccion: Segunda Etapa. A second release that bolstered his power astronomically, putting him at higher level than you in your Resurreccion Starrk." Ichigo explained to them, getting shocked looks.

"No way!"

"A second release?"

"Is that even possible?"

The Tres Bestias reacted while the others looked contemplative.

"It is possible, and I want you guys to spend the next few months trying to unlock it in preparation of the war that's sure to come." He informed them. He got nods of acceptance from them showing that, despite their outward appearance, they were quite eager to explore this next level of power. "Of course, I will help you out in your efforts. I know that you former Espada are normally prohibited from releasing your swords within Las Noches but we can disregard that rule in light of the circumstances. Try to minimize the energy exerted outwards from your releases as much as possible and I will repair whatever damage is done to Las Noches with my powers." He said, getting relieved looks from the former Espada. "Plus, thanks to my Zanpakutō's ability, I will be able to erect a time dilation field around you guys, allowing you more time to train whenever I'm here." There were a lot of excited looks at the thought of that. He picked up the medallion and tossed it to Pesche and Dondochakka. "I want you two to analyse that and tell me as much as you can about it." He ordered.

"You got it, boss." Pesche saluted comically, getting a sweat-drop from Ichigo at his return to his normal personality.

"Hold on a second, Ichigo." Starrk called out, drawing Ichigo's attention to him. "Why did you allow that one soldier to live? More importantly, you obviously altered his memories. So what's the deal?" Starrk questioned, getting looks of recognition from Nel and Harribel.

"Well, if we had killed them all…who knows how many more reinforcements they would have sent to scout the cause? They could have even sent a handful of Sternritter. You guys aren't prepared for that just yet. So I left one of them alive to report back to his superiors. They obviously didn't know that you were still alive Starrk, plus he also saw Nel. Hopefully that will be enough to serve as a deterrent to them as I doubt they would want to storm this place to take you guys on knowing that there are 3 former Espada still here, including the Primera. The casualties they are sure to take could prove a detriment to their war efforts. Hence, I allowed him to go. I also altered his memory of my involvement. They obviously don't know that I still have my powers and we can use that to our advantage. So I removed any memory he had of me." Ichigo explained, getting an impressed look from Harribel and a nod of acceptance from Starrk.

"But Ichi, if you removed yourself from his memory…who will he tell defeated Quilge Opie?" Nel asked curiously. Ichigo gave her an evil looking grin in response, something that made her shudder in pleasure.

"I removed myself and inserted someone else." He stated with a smirk. "Someone that owes a long overdue debt. I'm sure he won't mind me cashing it in."

(Scene Change)

Ichigo let out a yawn as he stretched his body. He was currently walking down the street, heading towards the Kurosaki household. He had finished up his business in Hueco Mundo and decided that it was time to get home. He left them to carry out their training in whatever ways they were comfortable with. He would be sure to stop by tomorrow to help them out.

After returning from Hueco Mundo, he picked up his human body from his apartment and decided to take a night time stroll home to help organise his thought of a pretty eventful day. It was currently just after eight and the cool night time breeze felt quite pleasant on his skin.

Ichigo's thoughts inevitably turned toward the Wandenreich. According the timetable that Quilge Opie was given, there was at least four months left till their first offensive on Soul Society. Ichigo knew it would be enough time for his friends to get ready. He was positive that the former Espada at the very least could awaken their Segunda Etapa, especially with his ability aiding them. The problem was that there was no concrete method to go about it. Ulquiorra was very secretive about his ability to the point that Ichigo was the only person who had witnessed it. Ichigo suggested trying Jinzen, but he wasn't sure if Arrancar had what can be considered an Inner World. For now, it was the best that he could offer. He would need to do a bit more research and dig through whatever archives Aizen kept at Las Noches to see what he could gather about Arrancar. For now though, he would just allow them to try on their own and see if they could get even a sliver of results.

He kept his word when he spoke about informing the Gotei 13 about the threat to their organisation. Whether they took his warning to heart or brushed it off was not his business. He knew that the Sou-taicho would just scoff at the warning, that old bastard was far too stubborn to take advice from anybody. Given that he provided the information was given as an anonymous tip only compounded the possibility of him ignoring it. He knew the possibility of that happening was high, but he didn't care. He was positive the more sensible Captains like Kyōraku, Ukitake or Unohona at least take the warning seriously enough to do their own investigations to determine the validity of the information. That was enough for him. Those three would discreetly pass on the information to their Lieutenants and tighten up the training schedules of their squads. They are not as rigid as the Sou-taicho and if that gave them even a 0.1% greater chance of winning…then his work was done. It may not have helped that he wasn't as serious he could be in his writing style. Oh well…

He discreetly slipped the 'letter' in while they were in the middle of a Captains meeting. Surprisingly, the Lieutenants were present as well which made his objective easier. It was laughably easy to break in and get out without being detected. He felt like face-palming at their lax behaviour.

He was happy to see that Rukia finally got promoted. While he may not be their biggest fan at the moment, Ichigo was never one to hold a pointless grudge and he was happy that his former friend was moving up in the world.

Ichigo was surprised to spot his Vizard friends, Shinji, Kensei and Rose standing in the lineup along with Mashiro. It seemed as though they had finally taken back their positions. He was happy for them. He didn't know whether the Sou-taicho pulled some strings to get them re-instated or whether the Central 46 were terrified about the bad publicity they were no doubt getting once the truth behind Aizen's actions and his role in the experiments done to the former Captains were spread amongst the common people. Giving them back their positions was probably a way to take some of the heat off themselves and soothe a few tempers. In any event, this worked out even better. He was positive those three would take the treat seriously as well, for they knew better than anyone else the consequences of underestimating valuable intelligence and the trouble it could possibly bring.

Ichigo put those thoughts out of his mind as he stopped at a vending machine, hoping to get a sports drink. He reached for his wallet and cursed when he took a peek inside.

"Damn. I'm out of change." He cursed. He sighed in annoyance and decided to just leave it be…when a small red pouch with pink hearts suddenly landed on the ground next to him.

Ichigo started blankly at the pouch with half-lidded eyes, wondering if he was really seeing this. He saw a flash of magenta out of the corner of his eye and sighed in exasperation. He knew exactly where this came from. Honestly, he didn't know why she was following him around…but she was absolutely horrible at it.

He noticed her a few days after the Fullbringer incident. There were times that his pencil broke or he needed a towel or he would forget his lunch…and those very things would mysteriously appear next to him. His friends at school were a bit freaked out when it first happened, but now it was just a part of life. They chalked it up to a strange quirk of Ichigo's.

At first he was confused as to what she was doing. But it eventually became clear that she was stalking him. He felt a headache appear at that thought. He would have been worried, but he knew that the girl was completely harmless…for the most part. He wanted to call her out many times on it, but in the end he decided to leave it be. He didn't want to embarrass her. He would allow her to continue doing…whatever the hell she was doing and hope that she would finally gather up the courage to confront him with whatever she wanted. He would be lying if he said it wasn't entertaining though. At times he had to try so hard to be oblivious, but she made it difficult when she was so blatant with her actions. Yuzu thought it was adorable that he had an admirer while Karin mentioned that he needed to be careful she didn't drug him in his sleep and kidnap him and lock him in her basement. Ichigo laughed her off at first, but then he remembered her ability and his face paled rapidly. He decided that it was best not to think about it.

"Oh my. A pouch of change just appeared before me. It must me my lucky day. I must have a guardian angel." Ichigo spoke out loud, his voice bland and robotic as his face was set in a dead-pan. He could have sworn he heard a happy sigh from behind one of the light poles.

He put the money in and bought two sports drinks. He also pocketed the pouch, deciding to keep it as a souvenir. He drank his sports drink as he continued on his way, leaving the other on the bench next to the vending machine. He was sure she was thirsty and it was the least that he could do. He heard a muffled squeal from behind him but decided that he was better off not knowing.

'I wonder what Yuzu made for dinner.' He thought.

(Scene Change)

Earlier in Soul Society…

It was a regular Captains meeting as the full assembly of the most powerful assets of the Gotei 13 lined up across from one another. The Sou-taicho was once again droning on about the importance of the Gotei 13 and the need to be solid in these times of peace.

Most of the Captains were tuning him out, already having grown tired of the same old speech. People like Shinji and Kyōraku were hoping something interesting would happen while some of the others just wanted this to be over so they could leave. It was only those like Komamura and Soi-Fon that were giving the Sou-taicho their full attention. The Lieutenants were doing their best to look attentive, except Rangiku and Yachiru, but were starting to crack under the sheer boredom and monotony of the meeting

Shinji and Kyōraku would get their wish though, as halfway into the meeting…a paper plane came gliding through one of the open windows. It was such an out of place sight that the entire meeting came to a halt as the Captains watched the strange contraption as it circled the room before heading straight to the Sou-taicho…crashing into his forehead.

There were a few snickers from the less mature Captains and Kenpachi didn't even try to hide his laughter. The Lieutenants knew better than to laugh…even though they really wanted to.

The Sou-taicho's impressive eyebrows twitched in annoyance before grabbing the letter and opening it up. He started reading out loud.

Dear members of the illustrious Gotei 13

I Am Zero!

No seriously, that's what you should call me. I know what you're thinking…

'This guy is totally ripping off Code Geass!'

Right? Right?!

Don't worry, I understand your feelings regarding that. I just couldn't come up with an original alias that was both cool and mysterious so I settled on this…please don't judge me.

Anyway, being the concerned and co-operative citizen that I am…I thought it my duty to pass on this bit of information that I happened to come across. You see, I was taking a stroll through the woods the other day and this weird looking pervert blocked my path. He called himself a Sternritter. Now, I know what you're thinking…

'That sounds gay as shit.'

I totally agree with you! Anyway he identified himself as being a part of 'His Majesty's personal army, The Wandenreich'. Suffice to say, it became obvious that the guy was a Quincy with the amount of unnecessary German he was throwing around. It was actually kind of painful to listen to…especially considering he was actually speaking in Japanese. It made me want to rip my ears off. Which is a strange thing to feel as I'm quite attached to my ears. I was told that my earlobes are quite soft and attractive. Kaa-chan said it's one of my charm points.

Sorry, I digressed a bit there. So yeah, back to the German pervert. We fought a bit and it became apparent that he was at the least on the level of some of your weaker Captains. Like Komamura or Byakuya or Toshiro or that frigid bitch Soi-Fon.

It was quite distressing to my young and impressionable mind. It was compounded by the fact that he actually sprouted wings and a halo. I know! It was the craziest thing. I was like 'No fucking way!'

But I'm serious! You have to believe me, Dumbledore! Apparently the 'real' Quincy, as he referred to himself and his comrades, have found a way to improve their Letz Stil so that they could use it without the unfortunate side effect. He referred to it as Vollständig. Pretty pretentious, I know. But the boost he got from it was nothing to sneeze at either. Apparently there were 25 other guys that were just as strong, if not stronger than him. Each representing a letter of the alphabet and each with a unique and deadly ability.

But the most important thing that he said…and the part that would interest you the most was the he bragged about being able to…


Steal a Bankai!

Insert shocked face

Scary right? He had this medallion with him that apparently was the medium that was used to steal them. I want to make it very clear right now…I do not condone stealing. It' wrong and totally not cool.

Anyway, I thought that it imperative that I pass this on considering that this idiot wouldn't shut up about the glorious conquest of the Gotei 13 that would happen in the next few months were the Wandenreich would storm Soul Society and massacre the Shinigami…led by their Emperor, Yhwach.

I thought the guy was joking…but when he looked so serious…I couldn't help but crack up. I couldn't believe how obnoxious this Emperor was. I mean, his name was similar to that of the Biblical God and I was like…really? But the guy was disturbingly fanatical towards his Emperor. It honestly creeped me the fuck out. I could have sworn the guy came in his pants as he spoke about how his glorious Emperor would slay that 'monster' Yamamoto Genryūsai Shigekuni and lay waste to the 'accursed Shinigami'.

Hey don't be mad at me! I'm just repeating what he said. Anyway, I've enclosed some more details about the techniques he used at the back of this letter. Take what you will from what I said, but I assure you that this threat is real.

Anyway…that's all for me. I've got to be going. My favourite soap opera starts at four and I want to see whether Kimiko really is a man and has been pretending to be Kyouske's wife all this time when in reality he is his long lost twin brother. I was shocked when they revealed that at the end of last week episode. I'm burning to know more.



Gossip girl…

Sorry, wrong show…I'm probably going to get fined for some copyright infringement because of that.

Yours in good faith

Zero (Number One Neko-Mimi lover!)

PS: How long did it take you to grow that motherfucking beard?! That shit is crazy!

PPS: I think Lieutenant Isane is really sexy!

You could almost count the number of tick marks on the Sou-taicho's forehead as he finished reading the letter. He was barely containing his temper but the rest of the room could feel the temperature rise.

Isane, for her part, blushed furiously at the comment regarding her. It didn't help that Rangiku was nudging her with her elbow with a sly look on her face.

There were a few grins and sniggers as the Sou-taicho was reading but now nobody thought it was funny if they were left to face his wrath. As the crux of the letter became more apparent to them, there were a few grave faces in the room. If what was said was true…then there was a great danger on the horizon.

The room exploded in discussion afterward as the Captains discussed the validity of the information and the possibility of the Quincy attacking.

(Scene Change)

The room was dimly lit as a badly beat up Soldat limped into the room, terrified of the consequences he was about to face. He got to the middle of the room took a knee and bowed towards the throne that was concealed by the shadows of the room.

"Speak Soldat. Why are you here alone? Where is Sternritter J?" The man sitting on the throne asked.

"Your Majesty, It was a travesty. The Daten was horribly misleading. We cornered the former Tercera Espada, Tier Harribel, just as you had ordered. Captain Quilge was in the process of capturing her when we were interrupted by a Shinigami. He claimed to be friends with the Arrancar. Not long after he arrived, the former Primera Espada, Coyote Starrk and former Tercera Espada Nelliel Tu Odelschwanck arrived as well. Both looked to be in perfect health. We were outnumbered and outgunned. The Primera Espada took out our Soldat and the Shinigami effortlessly defeated Captain Quilge. He didn't even use his Bankai. When I saw the tide turn in their favour, I used the cover of the fight and barely escaped with my life. I knew I had to get this information to you." The soldier explained. He was terrified for his life and was barely able to make it through his explanation. It was only the fear of him Emperor's wrath if he wasn't clear enough that helped him speak out properly.

There was no reply for a few moments and the man on the throne seemingly digested the information. The soldier started sweating uncontrollably the longer the silence went on.

"I see. This news is displeasing. It looks like I will have to look at this from a different angle." The man said. The soldier sighed in relief. That relief was short lived though as he was asked another question. "This Shinigami. Did he give you a name?"

"Yes. He identified himself as the former Substitute Shinigami…Kugo Ginjo." Those were the last words the soldier said as his body was bisected.

A toothy grin could be seen from the shadows of the throne.

"How amusing."


Author Note:

Phew, that was a bit of a slog. There was quite a few different things happening in this chapter and a bit of foreshadowing for the coming chapters. I tried making this a bit lighter after the heavy themes of the last chapter.

As you can see, we are getting into the Thousand Year Blood War. Now, there wasn't a definitive timeline that was used but I'm going to make my own timeline.

As it stands, we are still two more months until the '17 month' period where Ichigo encountered the Fullbringers in canon.

I'm not sure how much time passed since that point and the start of the final arc. I'm going with the assumption of two months. So we've got about 4 months till the war starts on a full scale.

As you can see, since Ichigo is already a badass motherfucker…I'll try to focus the training efforts on our beloved Arrancar. As it stands, I have some rudimentary ideas for their second releases but some help in this area will be greatly appreciated. PM me if you have any suggestions.

As you may have noticed, I decided to make Pesche and Dondochakka the 'science officers' of the group. I don't know why but it just felt right to me. Especially considering that Nel was shown to be the most intellectual Espada (I'm not counting Szayel cause that fucker was annoying) so it makes sense that her Fracción possess a higher level of intelligence.

I'm unsure when Harribel when was captured because that point was never made clear in the manga, but I'm going with some time before the actual war. I'm not sure whether Haschwalth or Yhwach himself defeated her…as once again it was never clarified. But if Quilge was the one that took her out, considering he was the vanguard in Hueco Mundo…I can see him using a method like this.

Ichigo's behaviour last chapter: As a Guest reviewer and Cyboshi pointed out in their review…Ichigo's was out of character and cringe worthy in his resemblance to Aizen making it difficult to read….I want to say 'Thank you'…because that was exactly the reaction I was looking for.

Last chapter was meant to be introspective in terms of Ichigo's struggles. It was meant to show us Ichigo facing the reality of his actions. That it is all well and good to be willing to do what needs to be done…but actually taking action is far more difficult. Maybe my point was missed in my shitty writing…but I wanted to show that Ichigo…was so caught up in his anger and his rage that he took things a bit too far. Even if one is willing to do anything to protect what one wants to protect…there are certain lines that shouldn't ever be crossed. That's what I tried to show. Ichigo got so caught up in the moment, a bit drunk on his power that he 'played' with his victims. It would have been a different story if he had just killed them…he could somewhat accept the necessity of that…but he physically and psychologically tortured them. That was completely unlike him and afterwards he realised that…hence he referred to himself as a 'monster'. He unconsciously mimicked the guy who he sees as the biggest monster and the one who played the biggest role in his dealings in the spiritual world. It was once the adrenaline wore off and he stopped to look at himself that he realised what he had done…hence his little breakdown.

Being a young teen with the power to destroy the world at your fingertips…it's hard to lose perspective of the little things and get caught up in your own desires. As pointed out in Chapter 4, the world isn't all black and white…there are varying shades of grey…as such…Ichigo needs to find his 'grey'…that is…he needs to find his middle ground while staying true to his beliefs and convictions. Because at the end of the day…this is a story about Ichigo's journey to find his place in the world more than anything else. There may be a lot more struggles in the future that he may have to overcome. He may make more mistakes in the future. He is not a 'perfect' character. He has flaws and is trying to come to terms with them in his own way.

Anyway…I'm sorry if my writing didn't make that clear…I'll have to try a little better next time.

PS: To the Guest reviewer…yes I am non-Japanese…but I'm familiar with the way honorifics were meant to be used. Ichigo adding 'kun' to the end of Ginjo's name was meant to be condescending and mocking. He was speaking down to the guy and wanted him to know it. It was also meant to make you draw parallels with Aizen and see that Ichigo was a bit too caught up in the moment and realise that he was going too far. That he was so immersed in the act that he momentarily lost sight of himself.

Anyway, I have a few questions that I'm wondering if any of you readers would be so kind as to answer. It's surprising what you think of when you're actually writing a story…

Is Ichigo actually dead? During the Shattered Shaft training…Tessai severed his Chain of Fate i.e. He severed Ichigo's link with his human body…meaning that Ichigo no longer has an anchor to the living world. Is he really just a dead guy now that is using his human body as a Gigai? What would happen if he were to be killed in his human body?

Where is Silbern located? I remember reading somewhere that it was located in the shadow of the Seireitei…but what does that even mean?

Are the Quincy in the Wandenreich still living humans or are they actually spirits? If so…where did they come from? Were they recruited from Soul Society when they passed on? Where do Quincy go if they die?

I would appreciate it if anyone could answer these burning questions for me.

Updates will be a lot slower from now on as I switch my focus to my other stories which I've been neglecting. I'll try to do at least a chapter a week or so. If not…oh well…but I'll try not to leave it for too long.

Anyway, thanks for reading this chapter and leaving your wonderful reviews which have helped keep me motivated.

Till next time…

Lionheart021 out!