I do not own either One Piece or Bleach.

-0-0-0-

Beta read by the wonderful lincoln time, and MasterQwertster, whose own stories and art you should definitely check out!

-0-0-0-

Guest Review answers :-D

Odette

Since Brook does not really remember his past life, I was not planning for any Soul King jokes. Do you have any recommendations?

Here is the newest chapter, and I hope it was worth it! Really looking forward to hearing your newest thoughts! :-D

Thank you for your review and awesome support! :-D

.

Creation Teller

Glad to see you like this story too :-)

The placement in the storyline will be made clear as of chapter 4, but until then I want to keep it as a surprise. Also, I am following the manga, not the anime. While, I may draw elements from the fillers, for the most part I am ignoring them. You are right though, and I do clarify this down below.

Your part about the Arrancar will be addressed below ;-)

I do have some pairing possibilities in mind, but what do you recommend for Brook?

Glad you like the pictures of the Straw Hats, I have let MasterQwertster know :-)

Some Straw Hats will have their original powers, and some will not. Other abilities I feel translate well in regards to using what is available already in the Bleach-verse. You will see what I mean since there is no way life is going to stay peaceful ;-)

No, no, I *enjoy* seeing your reviews! I appreciate seeing how much effort you are putting into my story, and your suggestions!

Here is the newest chapter, and I hope it was worth it! *Really* looking forward to hearing your newest thoughts! :-D

Thank you for your Review and awesome Support! :-D

-0-0-0-

Seas of Souls

-0-0-0-

Chapter 2: New Friends

-0-0-0-

Mountains of corpses.

A testament to death, power, and the bond they share.

Again and again Adjuchas, sometimes dozens at a time, came to this region to pit themselves against the ones who made their home here. Hoping to kill the inhabitants so as to take their strength for their own.

All of them pointlessly dying.

Why couldn't they be stronger? wondered Coyote Starrk, with an expression dangerously bordering on being empty.

Beside him, Lilynette Gingerbuck shifted a little nervously. Despite her fiery temperament, she was also depressed.

They were both highly unusual for Hollows. Possibly unique.

For one, they were both Arrancar.

They both looked more Human than Hollow.

Starrk's tall and lanky body was wrapped up in only a long rag, wearing it like a cloak. Long locks of greasy, brown hair fell over a face stained by blood and grime.

Despite this, his slumped posture could not hide how his frame was that of a warrior. His muscles were wiry and strong, and his skin was unblemished by any scarring despite the harshness of this desert. His mouth hid surprisingly sharp canines. Most of all, surrounding his neck was his mask fragment: a lower jaw, with sharp teeth.

The person beside him looked like a young girl, although as a Spirit born from a Hollow, it was anyone's guess how old she really was. Regardless, she resembled a pubescent teenager, with green hair reaching shoulder-level like Starrk. Clothed in a large rag too (which he had given to her before covering himself), her mask fragment was a bone-white helmet that covered her head and left eye. On the right of her head a single horn curved up, while there was the stub of another on the other side.

Distantly they heard the sound of someone slowly approaching through the sand. Uncharacteristically, the newcomer was neither making any effort to be discrete, nor trying to blitz attack them.

*Scrunch*

Maybe someone strong?

That was their hope.

For the weak died before them.

Leaving them alone.

What else made them possibly unique?

Once there had been a Vasto Lorde, the highest evolution of Hollow, and possibly the mightiest of their race. And so, he or she despaired.

So immense was their power that no other Hollow could live alongside them without dying.

All they wanted was to escape their oppressive solitude. To fill in the suffocating silence with the sounds of life. To know that people cared for them, and they in turn had people to care about. To no longer be . . . lonely.

In desperation, that being had broken their mask, hoping it would cripple themselves into being weak enough others could safely stay with them. Instead, becoming an Arrancar only raised their might to even greater absurd levels.

So they took a step further that was unfathomable.

They had split their soul.

One had become two.

Coyote Starrk and Lilynette Gingerbuck, with no idea of who the 'original' was, and who was the 'new one.'

Not that they wanted to remember what their lives had been before.

At last they were no longer totally alone, as they had each other. Except now it was the two of them, who were isolated from everyone else.

*Scrunch*

*Crunch*

*Scrunch*

"Ugh, nasty. Why leave this lying about?"

The corpse of a Hollow was flung away into the air.

*Scrunch*

Finally the newcomer came over a dune to face Starrk and Lilynette.

Like them he was dressed in rags, except his only covered his pelvis and thighs, leaving the rest bare. His build was similar to Starrk's, except he was much shorter, and with a large red 'X' over his chest, with his Hollow hole right in the center. Surprisingly, he was an Arrancar too, with his mask fragment being a white horizontal line curved under his left eye, with three smaller vertical lines bisecting it. His skin was tanned despite the endless nights, with messy black hair, and sharp features. Overall he looked like a young man, with some sort of hat on his head.

"Yo!"

Expression empty, Starrk said nothing. Lilynette on the other hand felt a familiar spark rising back within her. "Yo," she managed.

The young man –although like Lilynette, there was no telling his actual age— looked around briefly, before plopping down to sit in front of them. Neither attacking them nor dying.

This was all so different that Starrk's interest was rising.

All Hollow's gained special abilities when 'born,' although as far as Starrk could tell his was simply power.

Pure, unadulterated power.

Raw, overflowing Reiryoku that crushed and killed anyone who got too close. Only Lilynette was exempt, and that was less because of her own reserves and more because of the connection they still shared.

This stranger was relaxed. Acting as if they did not have a care in the world. Not dying.

Could he stay with us? Be our friend?

"You seem strong," croaked out Starrk. An invitation.

"You seem weak," the teen cheerfully rejoined.

.

.

.

Stunned beyond words, Starrk could not react, while Lilynette jumped up with tears in her eyes. "We're not weak!" she screamed. "Look around us! All of these people could've been friends but we killed them just by being alive! How is that weak!? We want to be weak! How could you even say that!? "

Sticking a pinky in his ear to clean it out, the newcomer just seemed bored. "Because you can't control your power. That makes you weak."

"We've done everything we can to learn how!" cried Starrk. "Expending as much as we can to lower our reserves, trying to learn how to meditate, focusing our Reiatsu, and more!"

"Those do seem like good ideas," allowed Luffy. "Still, you must've been doing something wrong."

"Well what other ways are there!?" barked Lilynette, only for Starrk to put a placating hand on her shoulder.

" . . . Can you teach us?" Starrk begged with naked desperation. "Teach us to control our power? If you're with us and not dying, then you're strong, and you can control your strength already"

"Sure. When I first became a Vasto Lorde, I nearly killed my nakama. So I had to run away, until I learnt how to be safe around them."

"Nakama?" Lilynette softly asked.

"Oh, like friends who are family. Those people who are a part of you and can't live without." He cocked his head. "I'm Luffy by the way. You can join us if you want, but you've got to find a dream you're willing to fight for."

"Are friends okay to fight for?" Starrk checked, still sitting down in the sand. If he had friends, he would do all he could so as to not lose a single one. His burdensome power would finally be put to a good use.

"Sure!"

"Then yes," Starrk said, rising up tall. "I'm Coyote Starrk, but you can call me Starrk."

"Lilynette Gingerbuck! Call me Lilynette!" cheered the young girl. "As for my dream," she stopped to tap her chin, and then shot Luffy a long look before blushing. Coughing into her fist, she looked away. "Uhm, yeah, keep people I care about safe."

Glancing back, she saw both Luffy and Starrk giving her confused looks, so she quickly said, "How long until you've got Starrk and me up to snuff enough to go see the others?"

"Eh, hopefully not long. Some of them might come by to check in, but they'll know it's all alright since they can tell if I'm fighting or not."

"And if we were fighting?" Starrk asked curiously.

"Then they'd have all come to kill you."

"So they'd all be able to stand up to our Reiatsu long enough to kill us," he grinned at the confirmation. "Good."

"Not good! You'd be dead! And besides, for friends you get as strong as you need to be!"

"Why?" asked a befuddled Starrk. "With my power and yours, surely that'll be enough to keep everyone safe?"

For the first time Luffy looked grim, and restlessly scratched a little at the 'X' on his chest. "There's always strong guys out there who're willing to hurt those precious to you. You can't just assume that you're the strongest. Also, there's a lot of tricky ones out there with weird abilities." Seeing how they still did not get it, he started scratching his head instead as he thought about it, before lighting up with inspiration. "Alright, how about this! Say you've got a fire ability, alright, and you can burn everyone you fight? Well I'm pretty much immune to fire, so it doesn't hurt me. So with that sorta trick, if you hadn't trained up your other skills you'd probably lose, despite being able to beat anybody else. Understand?"

Starrk slowly nodded as he got the point. Lilynette was looking at him with even greater admiration. "Why're you immune to fire though?"

Luffy shrugged. "I don't really remember much of when I was alive, but I do remember that my brother was fire, and he would never hurt me."

—Seas of Souls—

Later

It was hard to measure time in Hueco Mundo, yet eventually Starrk and Lilynette got to meet the rest of the 'Straw Hats.'

They were a motely group.

The first thing Starrk realized was how abnormally normal they all looked.

In a land of monsters, they looked and acted Human. Granted, Starrk had only a fuzzy idea of what Humans were supposed to be like while alive, yet it was still pretty clear to him. Honestly, he should have realized this with just Luffy, if not for the sheer novelty of having someone else to talk to, keeping it from sinking in. It was only when he was confronted with nine more people that he recognized it.

Like him and Lilynette, they were all wearing some sort of clothing. Where the two of them had ragged cloaks though, these people wore pieces of fur, hide, or armour from Hollows.

Also, where Starrk and his other half were covered in grime, these people (except Luffy) were largely clean. In fact, one of them was wringing water out of his massive afro.

Water, in the desert?

The man in question with the afro caught Starrk starring, and stood up to his impressive height. He was a little over nine feet tall, with a skull mask covering most of his face. A cane balanced him as he leaned over in a bow, "Brook at your service~" he said with a musical touch. Some sort of black hide covered his lanky frame.

"Franky!" boomed a large man with blue hair, linking his arms together with fists thrusting into the air. A gear-shaped pattern was around his left eye, with a small drill came out of his forehead.

"Robin," smiled a busty woman. Her Hollow-mask fragment was three, white feather-like protrusions behind each ear. A flower-like tattoo was also on her right cheek. Her outfit was some sort of armour over her breasts, and fur that went from her waist down to her knees.

The only other woman had red hair, with horizontal dollar-signs on her cheeks. Her mask fragment was similar to Robin's except it looked like a pinwheel.

"I'm Nami," she said. "Say, want to trade?"

"Pardon?" Starrk asked.

"Your clothes for mine," she clarified, a greedy gleam in her eyes.

Feeling a little more cautious than usual, Lilynette took a more discrete approach. :Why does she care about our cloaks?: she asked through their mental link.

:Because she wants to make something better out of them for herself,: he simply answered. :Look at her. She's using some sort of crab armour to hold her breasts in place, and fur like that must be itchy. They're probably all uncomfortable.:

: . . . Explains why that guy's only covering his crotch then.: Which unfortunately Franky was only wearing. Seemed like two pieces of armour on his front and back, tied together barely by some string, thingy. Yeah.

Belatedly they realized that Luffy was staring right into Starrk's face. "Are you guys having some sort of conversation in your minds?"

". . . Yes?"

"Cool!" The other Vasto Lorde spun around to wave his arms at the others. "They can talk in each other's heads! How awesome is that!?"

"Pretty awesome!" agreed one with a long nose, with others chiming in enthusiastically. "How do you do it?"

Feeling her old confidence now, Lilynette puffed out her chest. "We used to be the same being before we split in two."

Of course, given how lonely they had been, usually the preferred to communicate aloud. Silence could be oppressive.

Besides, being in each other's heads pretty much defeated the point of being two separate people, so Starrk and Lilynette preferred to skip using telepathy as much as possible. However this new and unusual situation seemed to warrant it.

"Why'd you do that?" said another one. He looked as young as Lilynette, and was as small as her too, looking her age. He had two, stubby antlers sticking out of his wavy hair, and markings like cherry-blossoms under each eye, and an 'X' on each forearm. Frankly, he was all sorts of adorable. "Oh, I'm Chopper by the way!"

"We were so . . ." Lilynette hesitated at the still-alien thought, yet continued, "weak. Our previous self couldn't control their power, so we killed everyone around us, and lived totally alone."

"I think the original you could control it better than you guys," mused Luffy. "It was just that they still intimidated people too much. They thought you meant to hurt them." Eat them, went unsaid. "You don't get that strong without some idea of what you're doing."

"Geez, Luffy," sighed the one with the nose. "Way to kill the mood." He held up a hand, which Starrk (after some hesitation and a kick from Lilynette) shook in turn. "Name's Usopp," he grinned while jerking his other hand's thumb at himself. His right eye was covered by a Hollow-mask fragment that looked like a goggle lens while also hiding the entire eye. Around his other way was what looked like a target reticle for a scope (no, Starrk was not sure where exactly that knowledge came from to recognize that, only that he had it). "Don't you worry, with a little training, you'll be nearly as strong as me!" His companions rolled their eyes at the boast.

"Sanji," one of the last three said, also coming forward to shake hands, although for Lilynette he kissed the back of her hand too. He had two small, goat-like horns rising out of his blonde hair, and was dressed in black hides like Brook, albeit with a slight yet noticeable amount of extra care to seem formal. "Happy to meet you two."

"Jinbe," rumbled the large man who came over, and gave a slight bow of greeting. In truth, he appeared the most inhuman, and not because of his size. He had curly black hair going down his back, and a topknot on his head. The jawbone of some predator covered his chin, while over his right eye was a tattoo mark that was reminiscent of a sun. Altogether it gave him a fearsome appearance in contrast with his gentle words. "It is good to meet new friends in the desert."

Everyone turned to the last one, who was just lying down in the sand, hands behind his head and apparently napping. At first it appeared like he had no remaining piece of his mask, yet when Starrk took another step for a closer look he saw three white objects like earrings in his left ear. A mark like a scar also went vertically down his left eye, with the kanji for 'sword' right underneath. Strangely he had three swords with him, and now Starrk took note of how several of the others had visible weapons too. Strange.

"That's Zoro," Luffy said with exasperation. He walked over, cupped his hands over his mouth, and hollered, "HEY ZORO! WAKE UP!"

"I'm awake," grumbled the man, yet he did nothing more.

"Then say hello!"

"Hello."

"Not like that! Show some enthusiasm!"

"Hello," he repeated in that same flat voice.

Now Chopper and Usopp joined in, waving their arms and yelling at Zoro to show some manners.

"Don't bother," snorted Sanji. "Mosshead's too braindead to show some basic courtesy."

Now the man was up and active. "What was that twirly-brow!?" A reference to the unusual curves to Sanji's eyebrows.

"What'd you say!?" Sanji roared back.

In an instant both men were exchanging glare's a hairsbreadth away from each other, only for Nami to lean over and slam both heads together. "Cool off guys."

The rest either laughed or sighed as was their inclination at a scene they had all seen play through time and time again.

Starrk and Lilynette grinned. They were perfect!

—Seas of Souls—

Later

It was a shallow valley within the desert, made up of rock and sands. Walking through there narrowed the movement of the twelve figures making their way through it, making them vulnerable—

"DIE!" roared the lion Adjuchas as it leaped down to attack.

Out from a dune struck a snake with jaws wide to bite before strangling, while a deer appeared at high-speeds behind their prey to box them in.

Starrk raised an eyebrow, and the deer's knees buckled under the sheer presence of his targeted Reiatsu.

The snake was grabbed beneath the head by someone who they had not even sensed there, as Robin stared with chilling curiosity at her catch.

The lion snarled in pain as their forehead was held tight in Jinbe's hand, claws skittering uselessly off his hardened skin.

"NO!" cried a fourth voice. A Vasto Lorde.

Humanoid and covered almost entirely in white armour, their right arm was merged into a large shark-tooth shaped sword. Luffy kicked it aside and punched her away in one smooth twisting leap. Unhurt, their last attacker slid upright back through the sand before regaining traction beneath their feet, cold eyes glaring at them beneath messy blonde hair. From her figure, she was obviously a woman, and only now did it register that the rest of the attackers had feminine voices as well.

"How dare you hit Lady Halibell!" growled the lion despite their pain, and the other two redoubled their efforts.

Cocking his head, Luffy frowned for a moment before saying, "Let 'im go."

His friends did so instantly, although Starrk was more surprised than the others. Instantly the three Adjuchas retreated back, and regrouped behind the flummoxed Vasto Lorde. Then she visibly regained her composure, holding her sword steady, her Reiatsu rising in anticipation for further reprisal.

Without looking back, Luffy resumed walking away from the site of the ambush, and the others followed. Although they made sure to keep an eye on their former attackers. Oh, and to savour the ladies' total and utter confusion.

Nice to see others suffer it for once.

—Seas of Souls—

Carefully Tier Halibel reflected on what happened, while her daughters and followers did so aloud behind her.

Very loudly.

"—And what did you say about how many and how strong they were!? You said nine of them, and only three had the Reiryoku to barely threaten us! Well guess what, there were twelve, and they beat us without trying, and one knocked Lady Halibel away!"

"Well I didn't see you saying anything differently!"

"Appachi, Mila Rose, blaming each other is useless," Cyan Sung-Sun predictably said in her condescending tone, while the deer and lion respectively turned to glare at her.

Before they could snap at her, she simply said, "They were hiding their Reiatsu. Obviously."

The other two paused as they thought about it. Frankly it was impressive that three of their supposed prey had been able to do so to the point they had gone undetected. Actually, it was outright terrifying, since Lady Halibel was an expert sensor, detecting even the slightest fluctuation in Reiatsu even in the heat of battle. For their protector and leader to miss something like that was almost blasphemous to them.

Moreover, one of those three who had hidden their Reiatsu so perfectly, had also been the ones to stop Apacci and their mistress . . .

"The guy who stopped me," Emilou Apacci muttered in confusion. "He was too strong. He only used Reiatsu to pin me down."

It took a moment for all three of them to connect the dots.

Another Vasto Lorde.

Halibel was able to hide her presence to an extent, so she would not be a beacon to similar powerhouses, yet this one had taken it to an entirely new level, making himself all but disappear. From there, it was a simple deduction to realize all twelve had been hiding how dangerous they were, if to varying degrees.

"The one who stopped Lady Halibel, an Adjuchas, not matter how strong . . ." she trailed off.

A second enemy Vasto Lorde. One who was less successful at hiding who he was, if still enough to disguise his true nature.

"Why didn't they kill us?" wondered Franceska Mila Rose in utter confusion.

Tellingly, none of the others yelled at her some variant of 'how should we know?' They were all too stunned themselves.

The leader of their group had already considered all this, and was now reflecting on other details. When they had set up their little ambush, she they had seen from afar that their so-called 'prey' had been made up of Arrancar. Halibel had encountered a natural one in the past, and eaten him, so she knew a little about them. So many together was a little surprising, except not enough for her to defer providing her daughters with a rich meal.

(Halibel herself refused to eat her fellow Hollows ever since becoming a Vasto Lorde.)

Replaying her memories however, she realized something they had overlooked at the time.

First was how the man who defeated, Apacci had already been perfectly placed so that he was between her and the one who looked like a young girl.

The redheaded woman had been covered by the blonde man.

While the raven-haired woman had casually captured Sung-Sun, the large blue-haired man had been right beside her.

Finally, the one who had stopped her had been right in front to meet her, with the one with green-hair right behind him, two swords drawn. In fact, the blonde man had been casually close enough to act as support there as well.

The group had known they would be attacked, and had been prepared, if confident of success. Two confirmed Vasto Lordes guarding both the front and rear.

More importantly, they had been protecting each other. Covering them from any surprises. Including the women.

While all Hollows preyed upon each other, due to being born from the worst emotions of Humanity, females were in the minority in this desert. Not because ladies were inherently born, and died, without sin, but because they were the preferred prey of men. Males regularly targeted them in (temporary) packs, and even the stronger ones would take the time to seek out female Hollows –even those too weak to provide any useful nourishment— for sport. Thus women very few women had the opportunity to gain any meaningful strength.

Halibel was the only female Hollow she knew to have banded together with others of her gender. That was simply the sort of life all living Hollows had to accept: you had to kill and eat anyone you might meet, even if they could be a good friend, or risk losing your sense of self forever as you either kill in turn, or you devolved into mindlessness.

She knew of only two exceptions to the rule against forming packs: herself, and Baraggan Louisenbairn, the God-King of Las Noches. Although in his case it was more of an expression of his ego.

Halibel had been powerful, ruthless, and fortunate enough to reach the level of Vasto Lorde. Upon doing so, and gaining enough strength so that she no longer needed to feed as much, she had turned her energies towards helping others like her. To be a protector.

Like this group had done . . .

She did not know how to express the thoughts bubbling inside of her now. The concept there might be others who believed in defending other Hollows, especially women . . .

That there were people within this blood-soaked dessert who might, just possibly, be like her and believe in making this world a better place.

While Halibel did not know the words to express this . . . emotion, she did know one thing: she had to learn more about them.

—Seas of Souls—

Later

Once Halibel finished calming down her followers, her daughters, they went hunting for a different Hollows to eat and replenish themselves with.

Afterwards, they set out to track down the pack which had let them go.

With another burst of speed, she appeared before them, her shark-tooth sword half raised, and the other three right behind her, wary yet not attacking.

Obviously they had been expected, as their 'hosts' were on guard.

They had all stopped for a rest, and were in a loose semi-circle facing the ladies who had followed them. Of particular interest to Halibel were the two likely Vasto Lordes.

At first glance the taller, brown-haired man was unremarkable (aside from being an Arrancar), especially while slouched over, yet Halibel caught the keen attentiveness in his eyes. Like the others, he was strangely clean, despite living in this vicious desert, with locks of wavy hair coming down over his pristine face. Rough, white furs covered his body.

His posture was more interesting however, for while he was slumped over and had no discernable fighting stance, he was subtly in front of the young girl beside him. Despite her small size, cleanliness, and own furs, she clearly had spunk, and she was so focused on glaring at Halibel it was possible she did not even notice how her partner was standing slighting in front of her.

Like before, he was protecting her.

Very unusual.

The other one, the one who had kicked Halibel away, was even more harmless looking, simply sitting with his forearms on his knees. For some reason, he was the only member of his pack who seemed totally at ease. "Hey there," he said with a little smile. "Why'd you come back?"

"Why'd you let us go?" she demanded instead.

He shrugged. "Why not? It's not like we need you for food, and that's why you attacked us. Honestly, we only let you get so far so we could test ourselves a little. You just attacked before Nami, Chopper, and Usopp got their chance at fighting the other three." Suddenly his face became unreadable. "Eh, and when you attacked, you showed how much you cared about them, and they cared about you. We don't see that much here, and I didn't think we should lose any of it."

A part of Halibel wanted to reject his words, condemn him as a lying male only claiming to care for others, except she could not deny his earlier actions. He had let them go. He was surrounded by people he seemed to genuinely look after.

Both groups just stared at each other, and she realized her mind had blanked on what to say next. This was just too unprecedented.

"Want to join us?"

She blinked in shock, before fully registering his words. "I beg your pardon?"

"Your group. You guys seem pretty cool, so d'you want to join us on our adventure?"

Usually Apacci and Mila Rose would be yelling something about how neither they nor their Lady needed anyone else like him, except they were equally surprised. Sung-Sun kept her head a little though. "What is your adventure?" she asked.

"We're travelling to Las Noches! Oh, and I'm Luffy by the way!"

"Las Noches!" the shark woman said in surprise. "Why there?"

"You know it?"

"Yes," she grimaced. "It is ruled by Baraggan. He once tried to make me one of his vassals, existed I refused to submit, and left." Truthfully, "fled" was more accurate. While his fearsome power could not 'age' water, the raw power of the King of Las Noches remained more than enough to overwhelm hers. In addition, he could still influence time so her own attacks became too slow to reach him.

"Well," Robin spoke up, "he's no longer in power there anymore. Someone else rules now." Halibel only gave a light frown in reply.

"Then that is more reason to stay away. Baraggan's power was fearsome. The strength of whoever replaced him must be immense." Although, she privately admitted, having at least two additional Vasto Lordes present would certainly help.

"That just makes it more fun," grinned Luffy. "We're going there because there's nothing better to do here."

Feeling now she had made a mistake coming here, Halibel looked at him in contempt. "So you're risking the lives of those beneath you because you're bored?"

"No," and now Luffy became deathly calm. "Because this is no way to live. Constantly eating each other to survive? Even as Arrancar when we don't need to feed upon others, we are still under attack every moment. Maybe at Las Noches it'll be different. If not, then we'll just have to figure out something new from there."

He stared unfazed deep into Halibel's cold, piercing eyes. "Is this the type of life you want for your followers, or do you want something better?"

For a solid minute they traded looks in a battle of wills before she dipped her head once in a shallow nod.

She was in.

—Seas of Souls—

"Just leave me alone!" screeched Apacci.

"But, but," whimpered Chopper. "You're so pretty!"

With a sigh, Robin walked over and herded a distraught Chopper away, throwing a warning look at Apacci over her shoulder.

Coughing into his fist, Franky stepped up to explain. "It's a problem some of us had to deal with when we took off our masks. All the old feelings, emotions, and even hormones all rushing back to us. Chopper used to be a reindeer Adjuchas, so seeing another deer Adjuchas . . ." he trailed off awkwardly.

Apacci, Mila Rose, and Sung-Sun (all of whom still had their masks on) did not get it, and just wrote it off as a 'weird male thing.' Except they all knew deep down it had to be more than that.

"You mean he wants a relationship with her," Halibel severely said, coldly glaring at Franky. While Hollows with masks might not have such feelings, she could remember other . . . urges Human men could have, and she suspected that Arrancar regained those.

He shrugged. "Yeah, but my bro's not going to push it if she's not interested."

"Of course I'm not!" bit out Apacci. "This is Hueco Mundo! That sort of nonsense will get you killed!"

The man snorted. "Yeah, and if you believed that, you four wouldn't be working, living, and fighting together." Franky turned serious next. "Honestly though, you won't really get if you don't take your masks off. If you don't want to, we understand, and we'll help you find food."

"Wait," and now Apacci sounded a tad vulnerable, and Mila Rose paced forward.

"You guys really don't have to eat other Hollows? Ever?"

It was Sanji who answered that. "Yes, and no. Like Vasto Lordes, we still need Reishi to survive. The air is saturated with those particles though, so that helps sustain us. Unfortunately, that isn't enough if we exert ourselves through training or fighting. In which case, we live on stuff like this."

He pulled out of his clothing what was a familiar sight in Hueco Mundo: what seemed like withered trees, except were really made of a sort of quartz. Down below the sands, larger versions could be found in the Forest of Menos.

"You eat that stuff!?" scoffed Apachi. "Pffh, you guys are as lame as Mila Rose!"

"What did you say!?" snarled the lion.

"Clever."

The two turned to look at the snake, who was peering intently at the 'tree branch.' "Everything here is made of Reishi, which means that is made up of a concentrated spiritual energy. Not enough to compare to a Hollow, yet if they can sate their hunger with it, and draw in enough from the air itself, then they can get by." Even Lady Halibel had to eat occasionally, even if she limited herself to the worst of the worst Hollows, removing them from Hueco Mundo.

"It's not enough," Sanji admitted. "It's sustaining us, but frankly Chopper and I think we might be missing something more since our biology isn't purely Hollow anymore."

"Not that I've been able to do any proper tests," grumbles the little guy in question, now distracted from his crush on Apacci.

"It's worth it though," Nami spoke up. "Becoming an Arrancar. Not only do you get a massive power boost, you also become in control of yourself once more."

Their new friends all seemed to be considering this.

In unison, Appachi, Mila Rose, and Sung-Sun all turned to stare at each other, a look of understanding passing by, followed by one brutal motion as a hoof, paw, and tail each clenched their own masks and ripped them off.

"Girls!" cried Halibel just before being thrown back by three erupting columns of spiritual energy.

"All guys get out of sight!" barked Nami, rustling through one of their improvised sacks for what remained of the ragged cloaks that Starrk and Lilynette used to wear. She and Robin had managed to fashion some short outfits for themselves out of them, giving them both privacy and comfort. Now however there were about to be three freshly naked women in front of them.

Sure enough, as the smoke cleared, there were brand new Arrancar in the world, panting at the indescribable emotional strain they had just endured.

"Girls, why?" demanded Halibel. "You couldn't have known—"

"So you don't have to keep risking yourself for us," rasped Mila Rose, adjusting to her new body. "You're willing to sacrifice everything for us, so we'll do the same for you."

"No sacrifice, no victory," Apacci weakly grinned.

Sung-Sun was trying to figure out what to do now that she had hands and legs, and opted to cover her mouth with one palm. "And we all feel the difference already." She frowned. "I also think there's some sort of connection between the three of us that wasn't there before."

The other two stopped to look inwards and test their instincts, and grimaced as they confirmed it. "Great," they both muttered as one. "What? What's that supposed to mean!? Why're you copying me!?"

Cutting them off, Halibel reached for her own mask, and an instant later a far more massive tower of yellow spiritual energy lit up the desert.

When it was settled, and the clothing was given, Nami called the guys back.

Sanji was the first to arrive, drooling over the sight of the new beauties until Nami gave him a haymaker.

When Chopper waddled up, Apacci found herself blushing red and suddenly finding something else to do elsewhere.

—Seas of Souls—

A little later

"Okay," Luffy beamed as he addressed his newest friends. "Now that that's all out of the way, we've got to show you guys how to fight right!"

"Oh yeah," sneered Apacci. "What could you guys teach us!?"

"Hate to agree with her," nodded Mila Rose. "We were doing fine before." While Sung-Sun did not say anything, neither did she chastise the other two.

"Well," Luffy rubbed his head, "I guess a demonstration is in order. Brook?"

"Yes?"

"Race Halibel."

The woman turned an impassive face towards the thin man in question. "What will that demonstrate?"

"Well, Brook's pretty weak compared to you. He was just an Adjuchas," Luffy said, to which the skull-faced man only lightly hummed. "He's probably still faster than you though."

Apacci and Mila Rose nearly started screaming at Luffy's 'insult,' except Halibel silenced them with a simple nod. She would observe and then assess. At Luffy's instruction, both she and Brook walked several hundred meters away, and then Luffy drew a line in the sand with his foot, raised his hand up, and then dropped it fast.

Brook crossed the line first.

A full second later Halibel was beside him, dimly surprised. In no way should an Adjuchas be able to outclass a Vasto Lorde in anything. "How?"

Brook gave a cheery shrug. "Skill. I'll tell you how if you show me your panties."

The Vasto Lorde and her followers were too stupefied to take off his head (they were not even sure what 'panties' were), leading to someone else intervening.

Sanji dug the heel of his foot into the other man's head. "Be nice to a lady." Then he elaborated more seriously, "Sonido, Pesquisa, Hierro, Cero, Bala, they're all skills we get as an Arrancar. The better you are at them, the better the results. Brook's pretty darn good at Sonido, so he's able to use his Reiryoku properly to get maximum results. Your Reiryoku is far, far greater than his, so you can use it to power your Sonido to still be very fast, even if you're using it less than perfectly."

Franky smirked a large grin. "My Super Hierro's actually tougher than anyone besides Luffy and Jinbe's! And even then, not by much!"

"Well, not that we were really trying in terms of trying to hurt you," deadpanned Usopp.

"Still counts!"

Jinbe took that moment to raise a hand to get Halibel and her daughters' attention, and then silently fired a Bala at Luffy's unguarded back.

Smoothly Luffy stepped around it.

"How'd he do that!?" gasped Apacci.

"Obviously they were already planning that, so he was watching out for it!" snapped Mila Rose.

"With his back still turned?" Sung-Sun critically pointed out, face still impassive.

"Pesquisa," beamed Luffy.

"Luffy's the best at it," Jinbe remarked. "He so sensitive to spiritual particles that he always knows where other spiritual beings are, as well as their attacks."

"So," Zoro spoke up for the first time that session, "in theory, an experienced Adjuchas-class Arrancar who has fully mastered their abilities, could beat a Vasto Lorde who has not. If they've got the will to go that far."

"Very well," Halibel nodded. "It appears we have much to learn."

"Don't worry," Luffy continued to grin, "you'll catch up." He turned to Robin. "Can you spar with those three? It should give us a better idea of what they can do already."

"Yes, Senchou," she demurely said.

Without another word she fired a Bala into Apacci's stomach, used Sonido to appear behind Mila Rose and locked both her arms with only one of her own, and charged a Cero right in front of Sung-Sun's face. "Rule #1: Don't let your guard down."

With those words, she blurred out of sight.

"Wh-where'd she go!?" gasped Apacci as she caught her breath. "What's she thinking attacking us like that!?"

"Training," Robin called out. "Also, this is a good way to find out how good your Regeneration is." All three ladies turned in the direction of her voice, only for Robin to appear behind them, Reiatsu perfectly suppressed.

Surprisingly, while Apacci was too distracted to notice, her minor injuries from that Bala were already healing.

The rest of the Straw Hats turned their attention to their own sparring sessions, deciding to spare the newbies the added humiliation of an audience.

Expecting her own instructor, Halibel was surprised to find Luffy was sitting cross-legged and meditating.

"He's further fine-tuning his Pesquisa, by using it to observe the fight," Nami said, ambling up to Halibel.

"You are not training with the others," observed the blonde.

"Nah," the redhead ruefully admitted. "Not my favourite thing. Besides, not only do I figure you'll settle in better talking to another woman, it's a relief to have another lady to talk to!"

"I'm a lady!" screeched Lilynette.

"No you're not, you're just some kid!" Nami roared back.

"Am not!"

"Then learn to fire a Cero properly!" With that, Nami turned her back on Lilynette, and turned back to Halibel. "Honestly though, we're not sure how fast you guys are going to pick up on this. For Luffy and some of the other guys, it was less learning something new, or how to use their instincts right, but more of re-learning something they already knew but forgot. Like how we all figured out Pesquisa and Hierro in a snap, yet really struggled learning how to suppress Reiatsu, and Ceros and Balas were really a drag for a while. We could use them of course, just not with the same kind of skill as the rest for, like, ages."

"I see," Halibel slowly nodded. "So Lilynette is having similar trouble with Cero, while picking up the rest easily?"

"Uhm," Nami scratched her head, "no. Y'see, she and Starrk joined us a while back, and they're a bit different. They used to be one person, and she's split off from Starrk, with some of his power, if a very little part. Except it's still some from a very, very powerful Vasto Lorde. So she's probably about Adjuchas level, except even she doesn't really know what to do with what she's got. 'Cause she has no idea how to fight."

This broke Halibel's composure. "What!? This is Hueco Mundo, how could she not know how to fight!?"

Nami just pointed at Starrk.

Who was sparring with Zoro.

"Because she had him as a protector. Plus neither of them were their own individuals until after the split, and don't really remember much from before. When they were divided in two, it wasn't done equally. So Starrk got the bulk of their power, fighting instincts, and intelligence. Although I'll deny it if you repeat me, but that doesn't mean she's an idiot. Lilynette's also got the aggression and general will to fight though, so we have to keep motivating Starrk."

Dully, Halibel nodded, even if she was surprisingly thrown off by this revelation.

Although now that the blonde was paying closer attention to the fight between Zoro and Starrk, she realized that yes, Starrk did appear strangely inexperienced.

It was just that his raw talent was so massive.

"Stop trying to fight me with swords!" bellowed Zoro. "That's my specialty, while yours is ranged fighting! We're doing a free-style spar, not improving skills!"

Blinking, Starrk stopped swinging his two katana –He didn't have those before. Where'd they come from? wondered Halibel— and leapt back to make some space.

Despite his advice, Zoro pursued him, not letting the other man have it easy.

Yes, Halibel observed. Maybe you'd have been able to match him for a while, but eventually you'd have made a mistake. You're powerful, except that very power means you don't appreciate your strengths and limitations. And they . . . She threw another evaluative look around to look at everyone else practicing their moves against each other. They work to help you find them, and overcome them.

"Besides," Zoro continued to yell out, "you'd think a guy as lazy as you would prefer just shooting over swinging a blade! Get with it man!"

With a sigh, Starrk shot a single Cero. Except it was charged and fired in the blink of an eye with a large radius, and even packed some serious punch as well. Halibel was genuinely stunned at the display, knowing it would her require her a precious second or two to pull off a feat of equal strength.

"Use your imagination!" Zoro snapped, cutting in half so it sailed past him, and continuing to close the distance. "And don't stop shooting!"

To Halibel's surprise, the apparently supposedly lazy man was starting to look a bit irritated. "Very well then." A Cero over his chest, hands, and feet all fired an instant later, with the center one going straight for Zoro, while the hand ones went above him to bracket him in from dodging. When Zoro cut the center Cero in half like before, the ones from his feet impacted the hands and all three detonated at once, while the above ones meant he could not escape.

"There," Starrk called out to the billowing plume of smoke, back to looking disinterested. "Can we call it a break now?"

Curious, Halibel appeared beside him. "Do you dislike fighting?"

"Pretty much," he said, not bothering to look at her. Both of them could still feel Zoro's Reiatsu still alive and well down below.

Sure enough, the slightly-singed man waded out of the smoke with a bloodthirsty grin on his face. "That's more like it!"

Starrk promptly began firing more Ceros, while Zoro was dodging more now while also cutting through some still. "Yes," he answered her as he multitasked. "I dislike fighting. I only fight to protect myself and the pack. The others feel however that I need to be fully ready to fight if I'm ever really pressed, so they make me go against Zoro. He has no compunction cutting me up a bit if he feels it would motivate me. Also, he seems to feel he's getting stronger fighting me, and he's forbidden from sparring with Sanji anymore."

Halibel digested this, and reached the obvious conclusion. "Zoro and Sanji are Vasto Lordes too?" she asked, hiding her shock.

"Yes," Starrk answered as if discussing the relative merits of one sand dune to the next (what, they did not have weather in Hueco Mundo, just endless desert and occasional windstorms). "As is Jinbe."

Without another word, Halibel descended back to the ground, thanking her lucky stars that the Straw Hats had been merciful when they first met. Five Vasto Lordes!? Who knows what they could accomplish!?

Her eyes hardened in thought.

Six now. And I'd better get training.

With that in mind, she sought out Sanji to practice against.

By the end of the day she was also barred from sparring against the man for reasons of 'trying to flood the whole desert while trying to get him to fight back.'

Her daughters were not amused.

Luffy, Chopper, and Usopp found it all hilarious.

So Nami hit them all over the head, which made Apacci, Mila Rose, and Sung-Sun adopt her as a big sister.

Zoro, Sanji, Jinbe, Robin, Brook, Franky, Starrk, and Lilynette were all happy to see that their new friends would indeed be great new nakama.

For certain, the new ladies would not be boring!

—Seas of Souls—

Following her failed attempt to draw out Sanji's power to force him to retaliate, Halibel sat on a dune in thought.

She had thrown everything she had at Sanji, calling upon her greatest techniques, yet he had escaped them all. At first glance it was infuriating (and remained so), yet despite this Halibel maintained her cool calculation which had made it possible for her to survive Hueco Mundo. The fact that Sanji emerged unscathed from everything she threw at him, as well as the lack of concern his comrades had shown for his health, was a testament to his strength.

Especially since at the same time he had even been calling out advice to her, helping her rapidly achieve greater control over her new abilities.

When Halibel had first joined this larger pack, she had been elated. However she had also done so under the assumption that if worse came to worse and they were betrayed, her strength was sufficient to protect her daughters while they escaped. Now she was having second thoughts as she realized that she may very well be the weakest Vasto Lorde. So for the sake of her girls, she had to learn where she stood.

Steeling her resolve, she went to confront the apparent leader.

Rising over a sand-dune she saw him—

—being repeatedly hit over the head by Nami.

"It's not funny!" Nami was yelling. "Now we have to move on because other Hollows will be trying to figure out who just flooded a good part of the desert! And you!" she jabbed a finger at Halibel. "Think before you do something like that again!"

Calmly Halibel looked back. "Were you an Adjuchas before?"

Surprised, Nami just nodded. "Yeah. Why?"

The absurdity of the question, the very need to ask it, made Halibel hesitate, letting Luffy speak up. "Ah, c'mon Nami! She made part of the desert different and interesting! We should do it more often!"

"No!"

Halibel was about to speak up, when she sensed another presence. Spinning around, she realized Starrk had come up beside her. "Sorry for startling you," he apologized. "And I get where you're coming from, I should've said something earlier. When I first saw it, I didn't realize the power disparity until later." The lazy man gestured at Luffy, who was rubbing his aching head. "Those weaker are not punished by the strong for doing stuff like that."

"That is not the Senchou's way, nor the rest of us," rumbled another voice. Turning, Halibel saw that Jinbe had arrived. Upon reflection, she realized he had always been standing in the background until now, silently assessing her and her daughters. Now she knew he was also a Vasto Lorde . . .

"Why do you follow him?" demanded Halibel. "You are a Vasto Lorde in your own right, and could command others if you desired too. What sets him," she jabbed a finger at Luffy who was picking his nose, "apart from you? Power? And what do you mean by Senchou?"

"I will answer your last question first, as it is the easiest," Jinbe said with calm reserve. "Our earliest memories as Hollows was all of us waking up together as Adjuchas, and yes, we are well aware by now how unlikely that is. We had only the vaguest recollection of our past lives, and that Luffy was our leader, with the title of Senchou, was one of them. Upon removing our masks, we remembered that we used to sail a ship together, and that 'senchou' means 'a ship's captain.'"

While it was definitely puzzling, Halibel still nodded. "Strength is part of the reason he's in charge," Nami pipped up as she came to join them. She shrugged without concern. "Luffy, Sanji, Zoro, and Jinbe are all monsters."

Everyone else had gathered around now, and it was a nervous Apacci who asked, "What do you mean by monsters?"

"You'll get what she means when you see them fight for real," deadpanned Usopp.

"Yeah," Lilynette agreed. "Starrk's too lazy otherwise."

"And you're not afraid of that strength?" clarified Mila Rose. She remained confident in Lady Halibel's might, yet she was becoming increasingly wary.

The Straw Hats were frankly rife with Alpha Male personalities. Franky oozed it and testosterone, while Brook had a calm assurance when he was being serious, which made them think of veteran leader, and warrior in his own right.

As for the other Vasto Lordes, Sanji was quick and powerful, while his advances were deeply disconcerting. His seeming polar opposite, Jinbe, was quiet and steady, while moving and speaking with the authority of one used to command.

And Zoro . . . Zoro was dangerous. They had all seen and felt the savagery that he had let loose against Starrk (who had indeed received a few cuts). Except as soon as the spar was complete, the bloodlust was leashed as the man sheathed his blades, and settled down for a nap. Right now he was standing just behind Luffy's shoulder, as a clear display of support.

"No," every member of the non-Vasto Lordes answered Mila Rose.

"What you have to understand," Robin said, "is that for us, above all else, we have learnt to believe in and trust each other, and Luffy most of all." She smiled beatifically. "It's something you have to experience, to truly appreciate."

"So you're always safe around each other?" clarified Sung-Sun, throwing Sanji a significant glance.

"I'd slit my own throat before pushing you too far," the man resolutely said in a voice full of both conviction and horror at the very suggestion he would do otherwise.

"Alright," Halibel said. "I apologize for any offensive given."

Despite her words, she drew her Zanpakuto, noting how Zoro tensed, ready to defend his Senchou if necessary. "That said, I wish to have a measure of your strength. To judge for myself how much of a 'monster' you truly are. Without our Resurreccións, so as to not escalate matters, or draw in other Hollows."

"Alright," Luffy grinned, and she saw a love of battle in his eyes as he clenched his fists at his side. "Show me what you've got."

Without another word, she impaled him. Shockingly, he faded away, even as his voice spoke from behind her. "Speed clone. Try an' keep up."

Whirling around, Halibel brought her blade down against his fists.

—Seas of Souls—

Later

Panting, Halibel impaled her Zanpakuto in the ground to try and use it to heft herself up, yet her knees were too weak. To think . . . that there would be . . . such a difference.

Something entered her field of vision, and she looked up to see Luffy offering her a hand. "Good fight," he grinned. A few scratches and scruff marks were on him, but overall he was unharmed. "Give it some more time, and you'll be even better," he promised.

Halibel measured his eyes and words, and nodded while reaching without reservation to accept her Senchou's hand and friendship.

—Seas of Souls—

For the newly expanded Straw Hats, finding their way to Las Noches was much easier now. After all, Halibel had gone to considerable effort to stay away from Baraggan, which meant in turn that she knew exactly where he was. Using her to help them navigate by the moon and a few landmarks to head in the right direction, they made great progress.

Truthfully, Halibel would not have minded more of a delay, as she and her daughters were still struggling a little to master their new bodies. While the powers of an Arrancar were coming quickly to them, the girls were all having trouble properly suppressing their Reiatsu to the same degree as the rest. Despite this, she was reassured by the knowledge Luffy and the rest were aware of the issue, and assumed they would take it into consideration.

(It was only later to her consternation she learnt that if she had simply asked, they would have stopped a few weeks for more training. Something that may possibly have avoided a few awkward confrontations.)

(Or made them worse; who could say?)

—Seas of Souls—

Later

"So there it is!" beamed Luffy (he did that a lot when around his friends, or new and exciting things). "Las Noches!"

A massive fortress dominated the skyline. Ridiculously massive even.

"How far away is it?" squinted Zoro with his one good eye.

"Incredibly far. It's just that big," Usopp said authoritatively with his superior eyesight, with Nami dumbly nodding in agreement. The rest trusted their judgment on distance, yet with the target of the journey in sight, they remained elated.

So they set off for the final stretch of reaching Las Noches!

—Seas of Souls—

Later

What seemed like ages later, they were still heading straight for Las Noches, with nothing to show for it. They were frankly all increasingly frustrated at how they seemed to be making no headway at getting closer, despite how it was right there in front of them!

It was just that incredibly large that all sense of scale as to how close it was, got messed up.

"Times like this I wish that we could use some ability to just teleport there," groaned Usopp. "Maybe like making a portal through space we could just walk through."

"Oh stop your bellyaching!" barked Mila Rose. "You don't see us complaining!"

"That's only because you're afraid of Apacci mocking you," sniffed Usopp.

"What'd you say you long-nosed freak! You take that back!"

"He's right though," sneered Apacci.

"We're not alone."

At Luffy's words, everyone cut themselves off, and started concentrating with their Pesquisa. Their leader (and not even Halibel's daughters contested that status, especially once they had seen the scale of power contained within his unassuming frame) was the only one who could unconsciously maintain it with such precision. Once they started looking, they quickly found three Hollows heading their direction at high speeds. No, wait—

"Is that four Hollows?" muttered Nami, eyes squeezed shut.

"No," Sanji said. "It feels like four, but two of them have similar Reiatsu signatures. I think one of them is part of the other, just not like Starrk and Lilynette."

Curious, they all waited. It was always nice to have a new distraction.

Only for them to all frown when they saw a young girl being chased by three others behind her, laughing and cackling.

Furious, Zoro and Halibel leapt at the foremost two attackers. Neither of them deigning to use their full speed as they judged the little girl had enough lead, and frankly the duo preferred to let the more sadistic Hollows have that precious moment to see their own deaths coming.

What happened next was a surprise.

The one with a stag beetle-like mask suddenly blurred with a Sonido and grabbed the little girl and jumped back, even while the large one with a tiki mask pulled out a massive mace from his mouth and swung it at the two Straw Hats. What was really surprising, was how he managed to block Zoro's sword swing. It was an obvious strain, and Zoro had not bothered to use his full strength, yet pulling off even that feat meant tiki-mask was also hiding his power.

"Not bad," grinned Zoro with a bloodthirsty leer. "You've got some impressive strength behind you." His own arm flexed, and the burly figure was knocked back to skid upright across the ground.

"Dondochakka!" screamed the little girl in horror. "Why're you bullies hurtin' 'im!? We never done nothing tah you!"

"Wait," Halibel said with an uplifted eyebrow. "We?"

"Yeah, thethe're my brotherth!"

"Oh? Why were they chasing you?"

"That wath eternal tag!" Then the kid (seriously, she seemed younger than Lilynette, and even less mature somehow) went on to explain how the three of them (and their pet, giant worm) liked to have fun running wildly through the desert.

"Why were you screaming?" Robin asked with a maternal tone, kneeling down in front of the green-haired girl.

"Because Nel's a mathochitht!"

"I see," Robin gently said. "And Nel's your name, yes?"

"Thath right!"

"I see," repeated Robin, gently patting Nel on the head. "Just a moment please." She stood up, walked past Nel, and suddenly the girls 'brothers' were confronted with the dark specters of all the ladies, along with Sanji and Zoro, glaring death at them.

"What're you teaching this kid!?" growled Sanji.

"Gaaaaaaaaaaaah!" screamed the duo in terror.

"Please oh please," whined the purple beetle, with a white mask and loincloth. "I'm Pesche and this," pointing at the one in yellow with black polka dots, "is Dondochakka, and we mean you no harm, oh violent strangers!"

With that little piece of drama over, the rest of the Straw Hats noted further oddities here. The fourth Hollow was a massive snake or worm with horns, and its Reiatsu matched that of Dondochakka. As for the other three, they were all humanoid looking, which was definitely unusual.

"Where did your Zanpakuto go?" Everyone turned to look at Starrk was ambled over, covering his mouth as he yawned. "That was a zanpakto you used against Zoro, despite what it looked like. Which means you're all Arrancar."

Indeed, Dondochakka's weapon in question had mysteriously disappeared when they were distracted by Nel, with him now furiously looking around as if he had dropped it. "Wha!? Where'd it go! I just found it and now it's gone!"

He was fooling nobody.

Even a single Arrancar in the desert was unusual in itself, never mind three. Not to mention Dondoschakka had already demonstrated some unusual abilities given his apparent connection with the horned snake (which was being oddly passive despites its own notable Reiatsu signature), and actually earning a compliment from Zoro about his strength. Plus, Nel appeared too weak to survive the blood-soaked sands of Hueco Mundo, which meant that either she was really hiding how strong she was, or her 'brothers' were secretly her protectors. Extremely unusual, with the possibility of finding more Hollows like the Straw Hats!

They still considered it insulting, using such pathetic lies.

A scowling Zoro was about to call them out on the duplicity, when someone else spoke up. "Don't worry!" declared Luffy. "We'll help you find your sword!" With that, he started digging through the sands alongside Dondochakka, Pesche, and Nel, with Chopper right behind his senchou.

Alright, maybe some of the Straw Hats were fooled.

The upside of it was that Nel had so much fun with Luffy as they played what evolved into 'Hide and Go Seek,' that the three of them completely forgot what they were originally trying to do.

"Really?" facepalmed Zoro. He threw a stern look at the 'brothers.' "You're looking after her?"

Now serious, the duo nodded once, sensing how that honesty was the best policy.

"Good. Keep it up."

"Very well," Pesche said, a slightly different tone to his voice. "That said, we'll be going our separate ways now, oh violent strangers."

"Fair enough." Zoro and the others were not going to force the siblings to stay.

"Hey Pesche! Dondochakka!" called out Nel.

"That's a stupid name," interrupted Luffy. "I'm calling him Dondo."

"That's not hith name, and Dondochakka ain't thtupid!"

"Yes it is!"

"No it'th not!"

"Yes it is!"

"They're acting as childish as Mila Rose and Apacci," observed Sung-Sun, face still covered by just the palm of her hand, as there was barely enough cloth available to cover her decency.

"What'd you say!?" roared Mila Rose.

"How dare you say I'm like either of 'em!" screeched Apacci.

Nel broke out laughing. "You're right, Luffy! They're fun! It'll be great with you guyth!"

For the briefest moment Pesche and 'Dondo' slumped in resignation, before straightening up and taking on ridiculous poses. "Alright then!" declared Pesche. "The Three Desert Bros will accompany you weaklings on your quest!"

Mila Rose and Apacci almost started another yelling fest, only to realize that neither Zoro nor Halibel were fazed. Behaving as if such words were beneath their notice.

Then Chopper pointed out, "But Nel's a girl. She can't be a brother."

"Whaaaaaaat!?" cried out Dondo as if he only realized that for the first time.

"Where we goin' anywayth?" asked Nel.

"Las Noches!" said Luffy with delight.

"Lath Nocheth?" Nel repeated with both fear and anticipation.

Pesche and Dondo kept themselves still with no reaction . . . unaware that to the sharp-eyed members of the ever-expanding Straw Hats, that lack of reaction was as demonstrative as if they had danced around screaming.

—Seas of Souls—

"Meeting you and your brothers was a stroke of luck," Luffy smiled at Nel.

"Yeah, Bawabawa'th great tah ride on tah get tah placeth quick," she grinned back, patting the back of the giant worm they were all riding on.

Frankly, everyone was enjoying the chance to just sit back and relax for once.

Especially Zoro and Starrk who were just napping away. Lilynette was distracted having fun with Pesche and Dondo, who she found hilariously high-strung.

Before they knew it (barring a brief altercation with a giant made of sand they handled with minimal effort given some of the powers their group had), they were at the base of the wall of Las Noches.

Now for the next, great step of their adventure!

—Seas of Souls—

Author Notes:

For whatever reason, while most Bleach characters are done surname-given name, for Arrancar, it is given name-surname. Basically switching up East and West. While this does help in terms of differentiating the two sides, personally find it confusing. Especially since for some reason, Starrk, Halibel, and the members of her Fraccion, are always referred to by their surnames, even by those closest to them.

.

So while many One Piece abilities have been lost, others have transferred through. For instance, while the Straw Hats can neither perform haki, nor really remember about it, Hierro and Pesquisa are fairly similar enough to Armament and Observation Haki respectively, and they remember enough intuitively to help them hone them to a level beyond the majority of Hollows

.

While Ulquiorra retained the greatest amount of Regeneration, Apacci demonstrated some noteworthy use of it too. Her injuries from Rangiku's Zanpakuto were all gone by the next scene we saw with them.

.

Surprisingly, Dondochakka's strength really is nothing to laugh at. He easily knocked away the same goons of Szayel's that were unfazed by a strike by Renji's bankai. Zoro is still stronger of course.

.

To head off any questions about filler arcs from the anime, no I am not planning to use them. There might be a few details I will adapt in, but that is it.

If any of you come up with some pretty good suggestions though, I may change my mind.

Thus this is going to be following the manga all the way to the end.

Where this is in the timeline will be answered next chapter.

-0-

Next Chapter: "Las Noches"

-0-

Please Review, and I will get back to you!