19 – Recruitment Pitch

"Being able to see the future…is cruel…Your Majesty…" A tired voice said.

The room was covered in darkness when the door opened slightly ajar, revealing a woman in a white uniform and what appeared similar to a nurse's cap with a stern expression, who stood at attention with her hands behind her back.

"You summoned me, Lord [-]?"

There was a long moment of silence, as the shadows of the room seemed to dance.

"…when this war ends…you must save as many as you can…"

"…?" The expression on the woman's face was one of clear confusion.

"…and preserve the future of the Quincies."

"Lord [-], are you suggesting that the Quincies will lose the war?"

Again, there was a long silence.

His vision turned slightly to the side, and gazed into a small desk mirror, revealing eyes with three irises in each eyeball, and the rest of the body covered by the shadows of the barely lit room.

"No. The prophecy shall be complete as foretold, and sealed king shall regain the world before the nine day's end. But the new world is not the promised paradise, and its price is unbearably cruel."

"…!"

"Save the all Quincies who survive the end of this world, so that they may have a chance to live on to aid His Majesty's chosen heir in the world to come."

"The heir? That [-] boy? But it should have been you—"

He turned back to the woman.

"Thank you [-], for serving me loyally all these years. This is my final order. I pray for all our sakes…that the tilted scales can be rebalanced, even if only by a little bit…"

O O O

When they got back to Karakura Town, Ichigo's first instinct was to find Uryu, but Ryuken informed him that Uryu had decided to enter secluded training a few days ago.

His mind was still largely on the strange dream he had before waking up. Who were the people in it? He didn't recognize them all or what they were talking about, and the figure sitting in the shadows was barely even visible.

Was it another vision of the future? Or maybe of the past, considering it was about a Quincy war?

But particularly strange was how the vision seemed to be through the perspective of someone else, rather than himself. All his other visions, excluding the one about the Soul King's original sealing, had been from his own perspective.

At least, he didn't think the man in the dream was Ichigo himself…

Shaking his head, he decided to go just keep going about his day until he had reason to suspect the dream was more than just a dream and actually relevant to his life.

Just as he was on his way out from the Ishida hospital, he saw Bambietta in a casual blouse and skirt at the front desk, and went up to greet her.

The receptionist was handing the girl some informational sheets and booklets when she noticed Ichigo.

"Ichigo! Hi! What're you doing here?" She asked with a friendly, but slightly concerned smile. "You're not…sick, are you?"

"Nah, I'm fine. I was just looking for my friend, his father runs this hospital," he said. "What about you, Bambietta?"

"Oh, I was just getting familiar with the area. I want to make sure I know where to go in case there's a problem."

"That's a good idea. You know, my family owns a clinic as well. If you ever need medical help, you can also come to us too. We live there so we stay open longer than most places. The hospital gets really busy sometimes, and people go there more for emergencies."

She made an interested expression. "Can you show me to your family's clinic then?"

"Sure."

"Growing up in a clinic, you must see sick people all the time? Do you ever feel uncomfortable being so near to death? Or are you used to it?" asked Bambietta as they walked out to the streets of Karakura.

"It's not that bad, the clinic is generally for regular care, the real bad cases we refer to the hospital or a specialist. I don't remember anybody actually dying in the clinic, and it's not like I'm the one seeing patients, given that I don't have any qualifications. At most, I help out with some admin work every once in a while."

But in a way, he probably did get used to it, Ichigo privately added to himself. Although the clinic itself rarely had dying people, Ichigo had been surrounded by ghosts, and was even now an active participant in the affairs of the afterlife.

Like this, they chatted about nothing in particular as they made their way to the Kurosaki home.

O O O

"This is it," said Ichigo.

The clinic was fairly busy today as well thanks to a backlog of patients that built up while they were away.

"Bambietta?" Rukia was serving as the receptionist when they arrived.

"Rukia? You work here?" Bambietta asked.

"I'm just helping out a bit because the Kurosaki family is kind enough to let me stay with them," said Rukia.

"You live here? Are you and Ichigo dating?"

"N-no, I just have some circumstances and don't have anywhere else to stay," said Rukia.

"Oh, okay. I won't pry then," Bambietta said, giving her a look of pity. "And I thought I had it bad."

"It's fine, really. The Kurosaki family are very nice people and I'm happy here."

"Excuse me, I have an appointment," a patient interrupted them.

Bambietta moved out of the way apologetically.

"Thanks for bringing me here. So, you got any plans for the rest of the day?" She asked Ichigo.

The orange-haired teen thought for a moment. He had planned to help out a bit at the clinic, but Rukia had that covered, so he was free to do some training by himself. Although he wouldn't have a sparring partner, he couldn't put off training any longer.

"Yeah, I've got to catch up on a bunch of stuff that I put off because of the beach trip," he said.

"Alright, I'll get out of your hair then. See ya later," she said before walking away and waving goodbye.

As she walked away, he idly noted that even though she was supposed to be transferring in next term, he couldn't recall ever meeting Bambietta in his visions. He hadn't gone on the beach trip in that timeline either though, so he supposed he probably just didn't notice her. He was a loner at school most of the time, especially during the time that he had to deal with the threat of the Arrancar, so he shouldn't be surprised that he missed something like that.

'Unless something happened to her just before school started in September?'

He frowned at the thought. Maybe he would need to keep an eye out for that. With all the Hollow attacks and her potential spiritual awareness…

'How many people died and I never even noticed? And if Bambietta is a High-Spec human, then she'd be another prime target for Hollows.'

He quickly caught up to her, and got her attention with a hand on her shoulder.

"Huh? Ichigo?" She turned with a confused expression.

"Sorry, Bambietta, I forgot to mention this earlier, but there are a lot of…strange things that happen in this town. If you ever find yourself in a…paranormal situation…." said Ichigo with a very serious face. "I can help out."

Bambietta looked incredulous at his words. "Are you serious?"

"Ah…I know not everyone believes in that stuff, but there are a lot of um…hauntings around here. So just in case, you know…if anything happens, you can come to me for help."

She covered her mouth with a hand and tried and failed to hide her laughter. "Okay, okay. You got a phone? Let's exchange numbers, then I can call you if something interesting happens."

"Hey, this isn't something to take lightly, you know. it could be dangerous," said Ichigo, but he did as she suggested and exchanged numbers.

"Oh, and I suppose you have experience with it?" asked Bambietta.

Ichigo tried to think of a way to convince her that it was serious, without revealing his actual powers.

"Yeah, I even helped Don Kanonji with an exorcism a while back," said Ichigo.

"Don Kanonji? Is that the guy that does the popular ghost show? You know him?"

"We have a mutual understanding. He does the flashy stuff for the show, but I help out when there's something serious going on."

Bambietta smirked with one hand on her waist and the other wagging her phone at him.

"I'm sure we can find plenty of excuses to hang out if you want. But if you're into that kind of thing, I'll keep an eye out for it."

"Wait, don't get the wrong idea, I'm not saying to go looking for it! You could get hurt."

"Are you so protective of everyone you meet, Ichi-Go?" Bambietta asked with a wide grin, in reference to a perceived pun on Ichigo's name which meant Number One Guardian. "Or am I special in your eyes?" She followed up by clasping her hands together with a doe-eyed expression.

"Uh—I—um," Kurosaki stammered out uselessly, doubly stunned by her correct reading of his name when most people assumed it was strawberry, and the flirtatious act.

Bambietta didn't bother to wait for a coherent response. "Don't worry, I'll be fine. I'm a strong girl, I can handle some ghosts," she said, waving him off and turning to leave. "See ya."

Ichigo sighed and went back home, shaking his head at the girl's attitude. Unfortunately a lot of people were like that in modern times, he couldn't expect everyone he met to just believe that ghosts were actually real or that they were dangerous.

Hopefully she wouldn't have to learn the hard way what monsters lurked unseen.

After checking on Yuzu and Karin, Ichigo entrusted Kon with his body and left the clinic.

O O O

"Enshroud, Gesshokuro." The sword in his left hand turned black, and his dark brown cloak similarly turned pitch black, then he flashed to the tree in front of him, making three precise slashes.

Then time reversed, and he was back in his previous standing position, the three marks on the tree disappeared as if they had never been made in the first place.

Gesshokuro dissolved into smoke, together with the new cloak he'd acquired since first discovering Shoku Zangetsu's true name.

The mass of shadows surrounded him, then squeezed into his shadow and disappeared into a point.

He re-appeared in the shadow of the tree, then reformed the sword of Gesshokuro along with the cloak into solid cloth. The button of his cloak manifested again and shone with the light of the Quincy Zeicchen emblazoned on it, before spinning and fastening the cloak over him, then the Quincy symbol faded away.

The abilities of Shoku Zangetsu amazed him again even though he was already aware of them.

Both abilities were impossible to train while in Jinzen, so this was his first time using them since the fight against Byakuya.

Shoku could not be used in his own Inner World, even if he could trigger it by releasing from within his Inner World, as his own soul—including both Gesshokuro and Shiro—was unaffected by the time reversal.

The shadow teleportation technique required actual shadows to use, and there weren't any shadows in his Inner World.

Old Man Gesshokuro manifested beside him as he contemplated the two techniques.

"Remember Ichigo, Shoku requires an immense amount of spirit energy and can only be maintained in my condensed Gesshokuro form. The cloak and the sword are both part of my release and both must be solid to keep Shoku active."

"Yeah. And I can't use it with Shiro or the mask either, right? They use too much Shinigami and Hollow spirit pressure, disrupting Shoku. So if I want to play it safe and keep a save point, I can't go all out."

"Good, you have remembered the lesson well."

Ichigo then reached behind his back to grasp the handle of his other sword with his right hand.

This time, Ichigo had learned how to actually seal his Zanpaktou, thanks to the extensive training he did on controlling his spirit pressure for his Quincy techniques.

As a result, Shiro Zangetsu took the form of an almost normal-sized asauchi that was only slightly longer and thicker than the average asauchi. It was still long enough to be awkward to be affixed to his waist, so he carried it on his back wrapped in cloth.

"Engrave the earth, Shiro Zangetsu!"

Its true form returned, along with all of its Shinigami spirit pressure, the blade enlarging and the cloth morphing into chains. The dispersion effect on spirit particles was even greater than when he used the fake Gesshokuro Zangetsu release.

The left shoulder guard and bone armor on his wrists, left forearm, legs, and boots also appeared.

But without the mask, the spirit pressure was still Shinigami-type rather than Hollow-type, which didn't make it impossible to use Quincy techniques. It was just a lot harder.

On the other hand, his Quincy abilities had also grown significantly, allowing him to keep Gesshokuro released. He just couldn't activate Shoku with Shiro out.

"Heilig Klinge: Kuro Zangetsu."

In his left hand, the pitch-black form of Gesshokuro lit up with a blue-white energy, which grew to hide the blade inside a Heilig Klinge.

This was the true form of Kuro Zangetsu, powered by Quincy spirit pressure and spirit particles, rather than the fake Gesshokuro Zangetsu cleaver version that he made with Shinigami spirit pressure, which meant that it wouldn't interfere with his Quincy techniques.

Observing the two zanpaktou in his hands, he thought it was ironic that the Kuro blade looked white while covered in energy, while the Shiro blade was a smooth black on the surface.

Dual-wielding the Kuro-Shiro blades allowed him to use a balance of Quincy and Shinigami powers, giving him all-round versatility and high output.

He tested a number of swings and ran through some katas, paying careful attention to how the swords differed from using Heilig Klinge.

Finally, he returned Kuro Zangetsu back into its asauchi form, and sheathed it on the right side of his waist. He previously kept it clasped on the left because he preferred using his right hand, but now he was more likely to draw it with his left hand instead.

For his last test, he raised his left hand to his face, and pulled down the mask.

His spirit pressure rose higher and took on a Hollow nature. A red aura surrounded Shiro Zangetsu as energy flooded into it.

"Getsuga Tenshou!" He shouted with a slightly distorted voice.

A dark red blast erupted from Shiro into the sky.

This masked form had the most raw power out of all his forms, and so currently, this red Getsuga Tenshou was also the strongest of the different versions of Getsuga.

Done with his tests, he allowed the mask to dissipate, then stabbed Shiro into the ground before sitting down to meditate on his current skills and options in battle.

He knew now that he had a single pool of spirit energy, which he could express as different types of spirit pressure and abilities.

He could allocate his spirit energy among his different powers, but there was only so much in total.

He could also build a secondary reserve by working towards a Bankai.

Old Man Gesshokuro was already capable of manifesting in the real world, even if only as an illusion rather than a physical form. This normally meant that he was relatively close to Bankai already, as crazy as that was, considering how little time he'd had with the asauchi.

Gesshokuro's asauchi was a Shinigami base though, and to achieve Bankai he would need to focus on Shinigami spirit pressure instead of Quincy. It wasn't possible to advance its Quincy form to a Bankai, and he wanted to keep its Quincy nature.

Changing to Shinigami spirit pressure in pursuit of a Bankai would mean discarding the abilities Shoku Zangetsu currently granted him, an unappealing trade considering how powerful Shoku's time power was. There was no guarantee that a Shinigami version would retain similar properties, despite being borne of the same soul.

So Shiro Zangetsu's sword was the only real option for a Bankai, at least until he found a way to convert Gesshokuro's base into Quincy nature.

He thought back to his discussion with his zanpaktou spirits in his Inner World.

"This Tensa Zangetsu you described…or something similar to it, is a form that we can achieve again in time with Shiro's blade. However, that requires a high degree of cooperation between Shiro and myself, so you will not be able to maintain my own blade's release at the same time," said Gesshokuro.

"What about a Bankai based only on Shiro's powers?"

"I'm not sure ya'd like that, king, and me neither. Do you really want to draw on the powers of a Hollow without any help from the Old Man? Maybe we'd get a different Bankai, or ya might turn yourself into a Hollow straightaway. Not including the Old Man means cutting off half our Shinigami reiatsu too, not just the Quincy part, leaving lil' ol' me with too much Hollow reiatsu and not enough Shinigami reiatsu to balance it and stay sane," said Shiro.

"Why's that? The Arrancar manage to stay sane as Hollows even after using Resurreccion and fully releasing themselves," Ichigo asked. "Even a lot of the non-Arrancar Hollows seem pretty sane to me."

Shiro shrugged. "That's them, we're us. If instead of a Bankai we get a Resurreccion, maybe we can regain sanity if we train it enough but I ain't betting on it. I don't know what happened to it, but the Hollow part of us wasn't evolved past the mindless Gillian stage the normal way when it merged with us. Besides, those guys are used to being full Hollows all the time. We're not."

Unfortunately, achieving a Bankai wasn't practical at the moment.

When he had first woken up from the visions, he had been optimistic that he could achieve Bankai even faster than he did before. But then reality had poured a bucket of cold water over him.

Last time, he had Yoruichi's help using Urahara's special method to force the materialization of his zanpaktou spirit.

This time, he couldn't exactly go up to Urahara and demand to use that method, considering that he wasn't supposed to even know about it, and Urahara might well just pretend that he didn't have anything like that, because Rukia wasn't captured yet, the same way he didn't bother helping Ichigo fight against Byakuya the first time around.

If he didn't want to raise suspicions as to knowledge he wasn't supposed to have—and he certainly did not trust Urahara enough to reveal his future knowledge at this point—then he had to wait until Urahara or Yoruichi offered it on their own.

And while Gesshokuro could appear in the real world, it was just an illusion that only he could see. He couldn't yet take on a tangible form that he could fight against, which is what Bankai training required. Even if he was "close", that was only in relative terms, when comparing to Shinigami that took decades to master Bankai. There was no telling how long it would take before one of his Zanpaktou spirits could manifest completely.

In the meantime, he needed to develop a strategy for using his different Shikai abilities in the most efficient way.

Using Gesshokuro or Kuro Zangetsu, he had access to Shoku, the ability to see up to nine minutes into the future, or to turn back time, depending on one's metaphysical perspective. He wasn't quite sure which one it was, but either way it was an ability that was practically a cheat. The only downside was that he couldn't use his full power when Shoku was active. Most of the time, this would be the strong and the safe choice.

With Shoku Zangetsu released in shadow form, he could use all of his Quincy powers at their maximum, but in the Living World, he would still be at a disadvantage due to the low concentration of spirit particles available. In a prolonged fight, it would get stronger over time as the combatants released more spirit pressure, so Shoku Zangetsu would ideally be kept in reserve only to be used at the end of a battle.

Shiro Zangetsu prevented him from using Shoku, but was powerful and still allowed him to use regular Quincy abilities, even if it was more difficult. He wouldn't get much benefit out of advanced techniques like Blut, but he could still absorb spirit particles quickly enough to support his healing Kido. Dual-wielding it with Kuro Zangetsu was a possibility, but tactically he thought it didn't offer much more to dual-wield compared to focusing on Shiro Zangetsu in a more fluid two-handed style and forming temporary Heilig Klinge at will. Shiro Zangetsu was large and unbalanced enough that trying to dual wield it was cumbersome, compared to his typical double Heilig Klinge style. Nevertheless, this was the most versatile option,

Lastly, he could bring out the mask, which prevented him from using any Quincy techniques at all, but offered the most power, as well as high speed regeneration. He didn't remember being able to use high speed regeneration in his visions when he used the mask consciously, but he was able to do it now. Gesshokuro suggested that it might have been because Ichigo had trained a lot with self-healing using Kido, so he was more instinctually aware of and able to access that regeneration ability.

Opening his eyes again, he grasped onto Shiro Zangetsu and resealed it.

Having had the time to thoroughly think about the fight with Byakuya, and the way he fought in his visions, he decided that he needed to learn to adopt a more conservative style of fighting.

He remembered being in Bankai nearly all the time after he learned it, which might have been an impressive feat considering the spirit pressure that would have required, but he also realized now that it was also reflected his lack of discipline and mastery over his own core abilities, and was wasteful since he couldn't store up spirit energy in reserve.

He had been under so much pressure, constantly fighting opponents far beyond him, and whenever he trained, the focus had always been on letting his body gain experience and drawing out his fighting instinct. So his strategy amounted to just bringing out as much power as possible.

That just wouldn't cut it anymore.

Now he'd had almost a month of real training with Rukia and Gesshokuro, and he grew disciplined as he learned the Quincy arts. He was in tune with his fighting instincts, but didn't need to rely solely on them.

He recalled most of the more powerful captains fighting with sealed Zanpaktous and they used their releases sparingly. He didn't even remember seeing half the Captains' Bankai at all. And then there was Aizen, who was so absurdly powerful even as a normal Shinigami, that he had stopped Ichigo's Bankai with a finger, without any release whatsoever. That was one of the things that inspired Ichigo to block Renji's first strike with only a finger himself.

The battle with Renji and Byakuya was a clear testament to the need to keep cards up his sleeve. By only revealing additional powers and forms at critical moments, he could unbalance and surprise his opponents, make the opponent think he was more powerful than he actually was, and ultimately turn the tide of battle.

Against Renji, he had unbalanced the poor lieutenant captain so much with Zaraki's trick that, even though Ichigo was already at full power as a Quincy in his human body, when he seemingly released "more" power upon entering soul form, releasing a zanpaktou and stopped containing as much of his spirit pressure tightly around his body, Renji had lost most of his will to fight already.

Ichigo had felt it when their blades crossed, and no doubt Byakuya noticed the same, which is why he had intervened after a measly one clash when Renji didn't even have any serious injuries yet.

A battle between Shinigami is a battle between spirit pressure. And the strength of one's spirit pressure was dependent not only on one's spirit energy, but also one's resolve to fight.

Byakuya had made an error in holding back too long out of arrogance and possibly hesitation to actually hurt Rukia, but if Ichigo himself had gone all out from the beginning, he'd likely have been crushed without a contest. It was only because Byakuya repeatedly allowed himself to be wounded whenever Ichigo and Rukia pulled out a new trick that prolonged the battle to the point where they had a chance.

Conversely, if Byakuya hadn't held back at all, Ichigo probably wouldn't have been so shaken each time the Captain's spirit pressure reached a new level. It was psychologically difficult to maintain calm after an exhausting battle and the opponent suddenly reveals that they hadn't been fighting with their all.

A spike of Hollow spirit pressure disturbed him from his thoughts. It seemed that his activities here had attracted Hollows with the spirit pressure released.

He flashed away in the direction where he sensed the Hollow, and prepared to follow through on his new battle philosophy.

He would use as much power as necessary, and no more, seeking a clean victory with minimal waste.

O O O

It was late afternoon by the time he purified the last of the Hollows that had appeared using nothing but a sealed sword and Kido.

Just then, a strong but tightly controlled spirit pressure sped towards him.

He turned and blocked an incoming sword strike with a loud clang, only to see a familiar face with an too-wide toothy smile.

It was Shinji, the leader of the Visored. Though he showed up unexpectedly way too early.

Was it because he used the Hollow mask in the fight against Byakuya? Did they feel his Hollow spirit pressure back then?

He carefully controlled his expression from the shock that it was showing. Hopefully Shinji would just assume he was just surprised at being attacked, rather than recognition.

"Who are you? Why are you attacking me?" Ichigo asked, while pushing Shinji away and jumping back with a guarded stance.

"I should be asking you that…you're pretty strange, aren't you? You don't have the uniform of a Shinigami, yet you're out here doing their job and you've even got a soul cutter," said Shinji.

"Well, what about you? How do you have a zanpaktou? You don't look like a Shinigami either," said Ichigo, referring to Shinji's casual clothing, a dress shirt and jeans.

"At least you have decent control of your spirit pressure. I was worried that you'd get yourself found out easily and attract all sorts of bad attention," said Shinji.

"Seems like I've already attracted the wrong sort of attention, if random guys like you are stalking me," said Ichigo with a snort.

"Do you have to be so rude?" The former Shinigami facepalmed.

"Hey, I'm not the guy that randomly attacked somebody else out of nowhere, and you still haven't told me who you are," said Ichigo.

"Alright, I'll make this easier. Here, take a look at this." Shinji drew down his hand from his forehead, and dragged a Hollow mask into existence along with a powerful spirit pressure. "Do you know what this is?"

Ichigo watched the Visored leader pull out a mask without first unsealing his sword. That was also one of those things he'd never practiced. He'd had always treated the mask as an additional power up after already being in Bankai, though in reality, the shift from Shinigami to Hollow spirit pressure should have been something he could do at any time.

"A Hollow mask…" said Ichigo.

"That's right. A soul cutter and a Hollow mask, you get it now? I'm a Soul Reaper who has crossed into the domain of Hollows. So let's be friends. I am a Visored, the same type of being as you," Shinji declared, and then held out his hand as if waiting for a handshake.

"Join us. You don't belong with them, the Shinigami. You've realized it yourself, haven't you? Isn't that why you got rid of your Soul Reaper uniform?"

That wasn't quite what happened, but Ichigo didn't bother to correct him. He was not about to tell people he was Quincy if they didn't figure it out on their own.

Then he considered the pros and cons of going to the Visored now.

They could give him some good training as they were all quite powerful, but could he trust them? It didn't seem like they were particularly close to Urahara, preferring to isolate themselves, and they did have a mutual enemy in Aizen.

On the other hand, he no longer needed the Visored's method of controlling their Inner Hollows by drawing it out and fighting it. So long as his Quincy side was dominant, he could control the Inner Hollow. Conversely, if he developed his Hollows powers too far using the Visored's methods, he might actually lose control of it when it overwhelms his Quincy powers.

And fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how he looked at it, developing his Hollow powers was much easier than his Quincy powers. To strengthen his Hollow, he merely needed to given in to its base urges and allow it to run free fighting strong opponents over and over and it would just naturally get stronger as his spirit energy grew, whereas developing his Quincy powers required skillful training and intense mental concentration to achieve a higher level of control and self-discipline in proportion to his growing spirit energy.

This meant that, if he carelessly drew too much on his Hollow powers, it might outpace the development of his Quincy powers and eventually grow out of control. Just because Shiro cooperated with him didn't mean that the spirit had any more control than he did over the mindless Hollow aspect of themselves that came out when they fully Hollowfied. With the strength of his Quincy abilities now, and much better control over his spirit pressure that he had, such an outcome didn't seem likely, but it remained a risk he acknowledged.

But the Visored didn't know any of that…and he wasn't about to tell them either. So they'd assume he was like them, and would try their usual methods to pressure him into releasing the Hollow completely, unless he could convince them that he had full control of it.

The silence while Shinji waited for an answer began to grow awkward, so Ichigo started to speak.

"I don't know about joining you…but you're right that I don't belong with the Shinigami. If you want to be friends, I wouldn't mind getting to know you better, but are you sure you want to associate with me? You might make enemies of Soul Society," said Ichigo, trying to feel Shinji out for how sympathetic the Visoreds would be in a conflict against the Shinigami.

"Enemies is too strong a word, don't you think? We have a truce of sorts with Soul Society. If you stop getting in the way of their business, I'm sure they could be convinced to leave you alone," said Shinji.

"By stop getting in the way of their business, you mean let them take my friend? I can't do that," said Ichigo. "As long as they keep sending people to take her back, I'll keep fighting them."

"You don't have any idea what you're up against, do you? Just let it go, kid. Why do you care so much about that Shinigami woman anyways?"

"She saved my life and the lives of my family by giving me the strength to fight. She's only in trouble because Soul Society thinks that's a crime. I just can't accept that. I owe her," said Ichigo.

"I sensed your battle last week from across the city. It was an impressive showing, but don't get a big head just because you fought off a Captain. You know that guy was taking it easy on you, right? He didn't even use Bankai, which would've made him ten times stronger. But I suppose you wouldn't know about that…"

"For your information, I do know about Bankai. Byakuya was too arrogant to use it even after I told him to bring it out, so I defeated him before he could regret it," said Ichigo with a smirk.

"You're kinda arrogant yourself, kid," said Shinji, pointing his sword at Ichigo. "Look, the point is, that guy obviously wasn't trying very hard to kill you. The next Shinigami that comes after you, they aren't going to be so nice."

"Let them come. That just means I'll have to get stronger," said Ichigo.

Shinji sighed. "Suit yourself. Anyways, I came to give you a warning. You're gonna need help to get these powers under control. If you don't want to lose your mind to it and wind up hurting those around you," he said, holding up his Hollow mask. "We can give you that help. So, if you decide to join us…come find us. If you can, that is."

The Visored flashed away and left Ichigo to his thoughts.

O O O

A/N: No this story's not dead. This chapter was actually done a long time ago, but I did not want to post while I'd been stuck a few chapters down and there was a possibility of wanting to change it. Anyways, it's been long enough and I made enough progress that it's back.

Emrys Akayuki: Neither the Vizard training arc nor the Ulqiuorra fight seem to support the idea that hybrids are stronger IMO. When Ichigo got back to the real world, his Bankai was so much weaker than it was in Soul Society it was a bit ridiculous. Even if we excluded the anime portions and only looked at manga, it didn't make much sense. He suddenly needed to "power up" with a mask, when in Shikai he drew with Zaraki and his Bankai did pretty well against Byakuya's bankai, and then those guys later wrecked the Espada. My understanding, at least based on the anime, is that Ichigo "feared" his own power after the mask came out in the Byakuya's fight, and he was never able to reach the level of strength he had before because of it. So the Vizard training didn't make him stronger due to hybridization, but merely to stop him from fearing his own strength, since the Hollow WAS his Zanpaktou. I already discussed the Ultiquorra fight before-he was almost pure Hollow at the end, so that supports the "express 1 whole as a choice of powers" argument.

MojoBlack: There will be some interesting developments with Bambietta in this arc to look forward to!

Chronolocked: Haha yes, that's going to become a permanent part of his fighting style.

XXX Chaos Breaker XXX: Orihime's power is a bit of a cop out but it's convenient for plot when necessary.

DarthGhengis: We got to see a little bit of his thinking in regards to the "sides" in this chapter, laying the groundwork to introduce the last two sides he'll find out about in this arc. The Quincy angle should be interesting since I'm sure it's never been done before.

reesen555: Thanks for the specific compliment. Doing my best.

Terumi Calamity: I think White was actually made from Hollowfied dead Shinigami souls or something strange like that. Because it clearly wasn't the normal process used to make Zanpaktou and resulted in a Hollow. At that point, Aizen already had his own Hougyoku, after all, so he could do something like that. As for Masaki, I will answer that in detail at the end of this A/N.

As for Masaki,

Guest: Bambietta was intended to be introduced as just a random background character like that, since it happened in "normal" society. However, there will be much more on her later.

Guessing Soul: I'm probably going to use some of that other stuff as inspiration. Probably not full adaptations, but I might take parts of it that fit the overall ideas in the story to add content.

Guest: I hope the differences between Shiro and Shoku were explained clearly this chapter, but feel free to ask if you are still confused on any point.

Write Your Wrongs: Yeah that's a big trope, I think it's nice occasionally, but should at least introduce a clear mechanic that is relevant later if it does get executed. Which is what I've done with the Byakuya fight. It's an actual time/fate power like Yhwach's, not just a random asspull.

: Yep, that's one reason why Uryu is out of the picture for a while.

Pyroclastic flow: Just did in this chapter.

guestinator: I mean those things are pretty clearly explained aren't they? He never actually reached Captain level reiatsu or any Bankai, they were all tricks, and even then that's a bit of a nebulous thing in the manga which doesn't really mean much. If you just skip past and don't bother the read the details of course you'll come to the wrong conclusions.

Mr. Nobody: Yes, it's explained that his current Zanpaktou isn't really stable, and has properties of both Shinigami and Quincy. Shoku can't be used to achieve Bankai because of that. It can purify souls, but only when it's not in the advanced Quincy forms (Heilig Klinge, or released Shoku), but this part hasn't been explained. If he kills a Hollow with it while it's in the released Shoku Zangetsu form the Hollow is going to be erased. Soul Burial/Purification only works for it while it's in the sealed form, or the fake Gesshokuro Zangetsu form that looks like his canon Shikai.

Glorilian: Fair enough, good points. I'm probably not going to do much more of those comic elements, at least not in an overt way.

Guest: Yes, Shoku also does mean eating. I wonder if that means anything for Shoku Zangetsu...? Well, aren't all Quincies sort of eating spirit particles? Haha.

Masaki and Kubo's Retcon

The stuff Urahara/Isshin said isn't necessary really full of holes, but I dislike the way it was revealed, and there happens to be an actual plothole that goes back to the very earliest chapters-which is why I'd rather interpret it a different way. Tbh I'm sure Kubo intended for the explanation to be correct. But if you go way back, you can see that the timeline is wrong. Ichigo's age and the date of Masaki's death was given in the early chapters, so for it to not match up with the Quincy prophecy and Yhwach's 9 year revival song later, that is obviously a retcon...made to give Ichigo a convenient reason to hate Yhwach. From a Doylist perspective, I'm almost certain that Kubo originally wanted to write the final twist of Yhwach being the good guy, but probably got too much pushback from his editors and the Shinigami ended up being the protagonists in the end. Anyways, I won't derail this by going too much in depth about what exactly is wrong with the explanation we're given, but I will explain this now since I intended to make an extended post on it and never got around to posting that or my essay on hybrids.

The timeline given during the death anniversary chapters was narratively given (in narration boxes), not character-given. Therefore, we have to assume that that information is 100% accurate and supercedes character-given information later.

Ichigo's birthday is in July, in the year Masaki died, and he was narrated to be 9 years old, so he'd have been turning 10, or 9. He was 15 at series start, so at most 5 years between the death and start. Winter War finished at the end of the year, then 17 months until TYBW arc, his final year in high school. So exactly 2 years passed. Adding it all up, there was an absolute maximum of 8 years that passed between Masaki's death and Yhwach's invasion, if we're being generous and assume that Ichigo's "9" years old referred to the womb age that Asian countries sometimes use adding 1 extra. That would still be just 6 and 2 years, making 8.

However, the Quincy song says that Yhwach took 9 years to revive after Aushwalen. Then regains the world in 9 days. Therefore, it isn't possible for Aushwalen to have hit during the year of Masaki's death if the Kaiser Gesang is accurate. One of these two claims by the characters must be wrong, and considering that Urahara/Isshin RELIED on the Kaiser Gesang as part of their explanation...unless it was a retcon, this means they KNEW they were lying (except maybe Isshin, since he seems like the type that would get tricked without analyzing it deeper).