Thanks for your support and feedback, its good motivation for me to continue writing, especially after the long, long pause I had since the last time I wrote! I started this story because I wanted to envision this scenario and thought it would be cool to read. The fact that others want to see it too makes me really happy and motivated. Do check out the Q&A session at the end of the chapter that explains some of your queries and addresses your reviews/feedback, for which I'm really grateful!
I'm not sure if adjuchas is plural or singular, so in the way I'm using it is:
Adjuchas – Singular
Adjucha – Plural
Chapter 1: Little one
Tier Harribel had never been perplexed before. Her way of living and ideologies had provided her such clarity that she never felt the need to question anything that she did. It just seemed so right to her, especially since she detested killing. Often, she would question herself about it; why did a hollow like herself have such an aversion to killing? Was it because of her immense strength as a vasto lorde, which meant fewer enemies? She could not tell. However, the fact remained that she would never sacrifice another just so she can ascend higher for that was just the way she was. Thanks to her strength, it wasn't an impossible notion to go by. Perhaps one might consider her way of living quite sad, having to live all by herself with all that power and nobody who dared to challenge her. But she was even able to cut that loneliness of hers by using her strength to her advantage, by gathering those weaker and less fortunate than her and taking them under her wing.
The weaker ones depended on her to face adversaries that they couldn't by themselves, thus enabling them to survive. And they in return helped her abide by her principles; if there was an enemy she couldn't beat alone, she would do so as a group instead of relying on increasing her strength by devouring others. It also gave her a sense of satisfaction when she saved another female adjuchas being preyed upon by a pack of male ones. And that was how she first met Sung-sun, a snake type adjuchas who was being chased by a pack of 4 other male ones. This was the first time in probably decades that Harribel made any attempt at communicating with another sentient being in this desolate land, adjucha or otherwise. Naturally, being the weaker being, Sung-sun was scared to her wits at first. Harribel too made it tense by just staring at her and not saying anything.
"Come along" she said, turning away from her and dropping her battle stance. Sung-sun had her uncertainties about following her, but she did save her life. The vasto lorde's reasons for doing so be damned, she thought to herself. If she could live another day thanks to her, she really didn't see a problem, and so she followed along. The two neither spoke nor looked at each other the whole time. And on and on they went, until finally they reached a massive rock formation with an entrance leading inside. Sung-sun could see a dim light emanating from inside. They walked along the narrow passage descending down from the entrance, their way lit by torches propped up on the walls, presumably by Harribel. How did these things burn anyways? Its not like there was oil or wood here in Hueco Mundo to make torches in the first place, perhaps they burned spirit matter?
Finally, they reached a small, lit room with few indents and circular depressions in the walls that roughly could be used to keep things in. So, this vasto lorde lived here then, told Sung-sun to herself. Harribel made herself comfortable, sitting down and stretching her legs, propping herself against the nearby wall.
"I'm known as Tier Harribel. Tell me, what is your name?" she asked.
"Cyan Sung-sun" came the reply, still visibly cautious. Harribel let out a small sigh.
"Don't worry. I didn't bring you here to kill you." Said Harribel "If anything, I want to make you an offer. Instead of hunting falling prey to other adjucha who go after females like us, why don't we work together?"
Sung-sun was confused. Why does a powerful vasto lorde like harribel want to take in weak adjuchas like herself? It didn't make any sense. If anything, she'd only slow down harribel. She didn't even devour her to gain strength which should have been the way things worked here. She got her answer before she could ask the question.
"Is it not better to work as a group and survive? I understand that as an adjuchas one must consume others of their kind if they want to stop regressing back into a Gillian. Although I condone the notion of sacrificing others to rise above others, I understand its not the same for you. But if I cannot gain strength by consuming others, then I will do so by working with others. Does it not also benefit you to work in a group? There will be fewer casualties this way and it would also be far easier to find sustenance as a group. Plus, I suppose the company isn't all that bad" she said, trailing off. Harribel herself had never considered the thought that some company might be nice every now and then.
Sung-sun was deep in thought. The words Harribel spoke did not have any hints of deception in them. It was also a tempting offer. Back then, when she was being chased around by those adjucha, she was ready to just give in. Just being given a second chance like this was more than she could ask for.
"Alright. The words you speak do hold true. And you also saved my life back then. By natural law, I'm yours from today. If you want to work together, then that is what I shall do, Harribel-sama" she said, making a small bow with her head.
Things went quite smoothly for a while. Though their conversations were minimal and short, it proved enough to kindle a bond between them. Sung-sun's quite nature also worked well for Tier, who wasn't much of a speaker either. Many days had passed in relative peace. Tier was so unnaturally strong, most adjucha didn't last more than a single attack from her. Of course, Sung-sun did get to fight too, for she didn't want to get comfortable relying on Tier all the time. But it was comforting to know that should the tables turn on her, Tier would be there to protect her. And soon enough, the pair met another pair of female adjucha fighting each other. From the looks of it and the insults being thrown at each other, it seems that the lioness adjuchas had her prey stolen from the deer adjuchas. They didn't notice sung-sun at first, for they were too engrossed in their fight. The snake adjuchas simply gave a haughty laugh, mocking them for acting so petty. Which was when she got dragged into it as well, and Tier finally had enough, stepping in to break them apart. Her mere presence and spiritual energy froze the lioness and deer adjuchas where they stood.
And things that followed, were simply a repeat of what had happened before with few key differences, noted Harribel. These two adjucha, called Franceska Mila rose and Emilou Apacci were nothing like the calm and composed Sung-sun. Mila rose was brutish and angered very easily. Apacci, on the other hand, was a bundle of trouble. Rude, impulsive, confrontational and way more short-tempered than Mila-rose. Just leaving either one of them with the other was just asking for a storm to pass through.
This kind of noise was not something Harribel had ever experienced in her long life as a vasto lorde. She had mixed feelings about it; sometimes, it brought her some solace in knowing that she wasn't alone, and that it was nice to have others to talk to. Other times, especially when they were fighting together, she was forced to step in to resolve their internal conflict first, lest it got in their way. But overall, with the group she had, she was happy. Eventually, the 3 of them were comfortable around Harribel and even around each other to some extent. Even if they fought, for the most part, they were inseparable. Occasionally Harribel would go out scouting or having to deal with the King of Hueco Mundo, Barragan, when he summoned her. The two had their differences in opinions and ideologies but both of them knew that nothing good would come out from fighting each other. And so, things remained neutral.
And it was on one of these scouting missions that Tier came across the little one in front of her. She saw her struggle to move, literally dragging herself through the sands. It looked like the little one hadn't eaten in quite a while. No one should have to die out of starvation all by themselves, she thought to herself bitterly. What surprised her most however, was that despite her terrible condition, the little one carried what looked like a body wrapped in a black and red cloak.
"The body of a human here…?" she thought to herself puzzled. Normally, any normal human would be instantly vaporized by the dense, reishi heavy atmosphere of Hueco Mundo. And besides, where did this human even come from? But the body itself had decomposed to the point of nearly being bones. That human had been dead for a long time, and it was also surprising that after dying, the body didn't just disappear in Hueco Mundo without a live soul to support it and resist against the reishi atmosphere. Whoever that body belonged to was clearly important to the little one, for she simply carried it in her mouth like a female cat would carry its litter.
There wasn't any time to waste. She dashed away, looking for any adjucha that might be in the vicinity whom she could hunt. Normally, she would never actively seek out and engage other hollows. It went against her principles. And yet, looking at that child from before, her will wavered. For some reason, she couldn't bring herself to imagine leaving her out to die of starvation. And hence why she was perplexed. A minute or 2 later, she found a group. Good, she told herself. She approached the horde, and made quick work of them but making sure to leave one of them alive so that the adjuchas didn't disintegrate and disappear. She grabbed that one and immediately dashed off to the little one. For the first time in a long, long while, she worried.
Back at the scene, she saw that the little one had just collapsed onto the sand, the body she'd been carrying lying in front of her. She slowly raised her head just enough to barely open her eyes.
"Y…yang…?" she called out, before finally collapsing. Startled, Harribel rushed to her.
"Little one..!" she said, gently raising her head. Things were looking bad. The little adjuchas was too worn out to get up and eat. She was also unconscious and looked like she would perish any moment now. Biting her lips, Harribel knew there was only one thing she could do. Going to the body of the other adjuchas that she had hunted earlier, she bit off a chunk from its flesh, chewed it in her mouth, gently opened the little one's mouth to orally feed her, like how a mother bird would feed its young. Tier could only hope the little one would swallow. A huge sigh of relief escaped from her. But this wouldn't be enough. And so, she repeated the process a couple of times, after which the little one finally stirred, slightly opening her eyes. She blinked once, twice, trying to focus on the scene before her. But then those eyes closed once more, but this time out of fatigue. Knowing that she was ok for the time being, she finished off the almost dead adjuchas, and hoisted Ruby's petite body over her shoulders. She wasn't sure whether she wanted to bring along the body that the little one was carrying, but considering it was something important to her, she 'picked' it up with her sword hand, suspending it over the edge of her sword and carrying it like a sling. It was then that she noticed. The body had traces of reiatsu, specifically on the clothes, which were identical to the little one. Nay, it WAS the little one's reiatsu. But, Tier just wrote it off thinking that it might have been present because the little one was carrying it around with her for so long. While on her way back, the little one would stir every once in a while, but never fully awaken.
Harribel could not understand. Why did she go so out of her way to help this one out? Normally, she wouldn't bother trying this hard to save an almost dying hollow to the point that she had to orally feed it. That's not how things worked in Hueco Mundo and more importantly, that's not how she did things, even if she did have her own sense of values. With anyone else, she would rather have finished off the dying hollow to put it out of its misery. Perhaps taking care of those 3 had rubbed off on her, she thought. Maybe she developed a maternal instinct, for the 3 under her do tend to behave like children often. Or perhaps it was the childlike and innocent aura this one gave off that made harribel want to save this particular adjuchas. That's when she remembered.
She called out to me as 'yang', she told herself. Did she mistake me for someone else?
Once back in her lair, she noticed that Apacci, Mila-rose and Sung-sun were having another petty argument as usual, but stopped immediately and greeted her with a 'Welcome back, Harribel-sama'. They also noticed that she was carrying a petite looking adjuchas on her shoulder as well as a piece of clothing on her sword. Harribel went over and gently placed her on the floor. Her minions already had questioning looks on their faces. She sighed, and faced them to explain what had happened.
Well, it's shorter than I thought it would be, but I want to split the chapter here for the next part when Ruby actually interacts with everyone. Anyways, I thought I'd explain a couple of things and also address some questions asked in the reviews/feedback as well. But, thank you so much for everyone reading this story and for all your feedback, I'll try my best to make this an interesting tale.
Q. Why did I focus initially on Harribel and her future fraccion?
A. Rather than the fraccion, I did this mainly to give some emphasis on Harribel's character and personality. She will be a key part in Ruby's tale, so this is kinda needed.
Q. Ruby is called 'little one', so how big is her adjuchas form?
A. About the size of a young cheetah, which would be about as big as a normal sized dog. In adjuchas terms, she really is little.
Q. Why did I choose adjuchas Ruby to have a body like that of a Cheetah?
A. Simple really. I just felt it really suited her overall character and personality. Contrary to popular belief, cheetahs are actually quite timid and their first response to a threat is never to be aggressive. They're also light in frame and sprinters, going for speed rather than power. Compared to other big cats such as pumas, jaguars and leopards, cheetahs are actually gentler and timid. Kinda like Ruby. She's small, agile and quick, but not physically strong. She's also a gentle and innocent person in her core but can be quite fierce if the situation called for it. A lot of people associate wolves to Ruby, but I didn't do so because 1: I wanted to do something different, befitting her character and 2: Some fics have already done this, and even in the bleach verse, you have Starrk, so yeah.
Q. Will Ruby become a Vasto Lorde?
A. I wish I could say something, but anything I say would spoil what I have in mind. You'll just have to wait and see. One thing I can say, is that I did not want her to be 'special' like so many other fics just because she's a main character. Hence why she gradually goes from a simple soul, to a Gillian and then to an adjuchas. Even as an adjuchas, she's not particularly strong or OP. In essence, I want to gradually build her up as a character.
Q. How long is part 1?
A. I cant really give an accurate number on the number of chapters now, but it will encompass the whole of Aizen arc for sure.
Q. In the part where we are first described the part in which Ruby takes control of the gillian, she refers to her prey as gillian, even though she only comes to learn about them being gillians on the next section. So, should I just chalk it up to the story being in third person?
A. Well, not the entire story is in 3rd person as you may have noticed. But in that particular part, I used the word Gillian to describe what Ruby was seeing to the readers. In her perspective, she would merely refer to them as prey, since at the time, her awareness wasn't developed enough to know what exactly they are. But if I used the word 'prey' there, it would have been confusing. Hence I put 'Gillian' there to tell the readers what exactly she was dealing with.