Chapter 58: Principles
"Wh-what the hell is this?!"
Ichigo and the rest found themselves gaping at the sheer horror that greeted them down below. There was so much to look at, none of them were looking at the same thing as the others. And there were simply no words to be shared amongst them. At first, it was only Uryu, Yuzu and with some fine tuning, Karin, who sensed the massive spirit energies that led them where they stood currently. But even before they reached the now burning and razed Beacon Academy, everyone had started sensing other spiritual energies around them; of humans, hollows, and impossibly enough, the denizens of Hell. They were weak however, compared to the massive reishi in the distance. But the fact that they could even sense it was puzzling. That however, would be a far cry from the REAL surprise that was waiting for them in store.
"Wait..!" cautioned Uryu "That spiritual pressure….I can't believe it, that's definitely Quincy reishi!"
In the end, they simply pushed past until they reached the chaotic grounds of Beacon.
Team WBY and JNPR never did quite feel as small as they did now. It felt as if their very presence amounted to practically nothing compared to everything going on around them. The vicious beasts clad in metal, grime, flames and dust and the warriors clad in white and blue put their meager frames to shame. It was true that Ruby's own feats from before and her past already shifted their gears in said direction. Even so, that was just one person. It was an exception of exceptions. It had been hard to swallow completely, yes. But it was not completely implausible. But now, their entire world felt puny compared to the might of forces they could not hope to reach. Like they were the aliens, not the intruders clad in white, blue, red and black.
There was no question that hunters such as Qrow, Amber, Glynda and even Ozpin numbered in the hundreds, if not fewer. Hunters who usually got such a reputation only after exploring every corner of their world, facing off against threats and situations that most could only hypothesize. And so, it was completely natural that one prided themselves on their abilities and skills that made it possible. And yet, it was all they could do but sit simply and watch the world around them burn, while completely alien entities around them razed their home to the ground, while paying no attention to them whatsoever. To be ignored like ants on the ground. It hurt, in more ways than one. Their only respite was that despite all, they had still fought to the best of their abilities, until they really couldn't. And that Beacon Academy and its staff had no doubt been saved by these strange intruders in blue and white.
Still, nothing seemed familiar anymore; their broken school grounds, the lush atmosphere of the grounds replaced by death and decay, creatures and beings from worlds beyond, as well as the orange haired woman in front of them. Even the familiar no longer felt real.
"I-told-you-to-stay-quiet!" she snapped, banging her head with her hand every time. For whatever reason, it made a metallic thud when it did. Her eyes were still flashing red and blue, and she seemed more irritated at herself than the adversaries around her. One of the 'Grimm' charged at her, but Brunhilde merely shredded it to ribbons using what appeared to be floating swords controlled by thin, almost invisible threads of blue energy coming from her back. "I-need-to-save-them-for-Ruby!" she repeated frantically, clutching her head. "Temporarily reclassify as Soul Reapers!"
Brunhilde's almost robotic musings however, were not in the minds of anyone, despite the fact that teams JNPR and WBY were right next to her. Nay, it was all overshadowed by the man overlooking them from the sky, delivering what was no doubt some sort of accord to the world below him. It was a declaration of war against the creatures of the night, as well as one of salvation for those that sought after it. And his men, it would appear, were doing exactly that.
Executing and delivering utter annihilation of the creatures of black, who fought with no less ferocity as the Quincy did. It was fay madness; like the wailing tempest of a million souls, neither side let up the damage they were dishing out on the other, with the Quincy laying bare their macabre emotions of utter disgust, hate and animosity towards the transformed Grimm and the Queen of Hell. At the moment, even though none of the denizens of Beacon could tell what was happening in the battlefield, they did notice the creatures of the night reducing in number while the warriors of white did not. What was stranger still were the weapons these newcomers used; they were strikingly similar to the robotic vehicles and weapons that belonged to Atlas but far superior.
"You!" rasped Mila-Rose angrily, pointing her sword at Brunhilde "Get the hell away from Harribel-sama and Ruby!" Apacci and Sung-sun followed, their weapons pointed at the long haired woman, their eyes glaring daggers. Brunhilde however, paid little attention to them, and continued to frantically shake her head and talk to herself.
"That's it!" snapped Apacci, and charged in with a sweeping slash at the woman's head. Her twin chakram-like Zanpakuto, which the orange haired woman blocked using her own floating swords rather absentmindedly.
"Please stop, the more you present yourself as a threat, the harder it is for me to change my internal directives'' she requested with a tense expression, as her eyes flashed red with increasing frequency. "Let me state clearly that I do not trust any of you. You were supposed to be her friends, her family, and yet this is the state she ends up in. But I am not your enemy, not today at the very least. I am only trying to save my dear friend. And you are her friends, whom she wanted to save. I'm not a medic, but I have been implanted with medical knowledge and training. While applying my knowledge in reality is a different matter compared to knowing about it, I can atleast bring them out of danger"
"Directives? Implanted? What the hell do you-?" thundered Apacci, before Blake interrupted her.
"Their wounds….they're being closed up" she observed. Thin, fine lines of what appeared to be blue colored reishi, the same as the ones controlling the woman's floating swords, were stitching up the wounds of Tier Harribel. But they stopped every other second, and Brunhilde would wince whenever they did. And when the final strands of the thin, thread-like reishi sealed up Tier Harribel's wounds, a soft light emanated from Ruby's body. Her dark fur disappeared, along with her claws. Her hair retracted to its regular length. All in all, her body seemed to have returned to her faunus self, except for her mask, which remained on her face.
"Wh-what just happened?!" asked Weiss.
Sung-sun narrowed her eyes intently. "She has the reishi of a human, but also hollow reishi.."
"That seems to be well within calculations" added Brunhilde, sounding rather unconcerned "She is exhausted, in both body and soul. Her spirit energy reserves are completely depleted. A semblance is the manifestation of the true nature of one's soul that exudes outward. But it is not infinite. Similar to how a resurreccion depends on one having the spirit energy reserves to support it, without aura, she too, cannot maintain her hollow self. And thus, she merely reverted back to her faunus self"
The orange haired woman then went back to clutching her head, going completely still while her eyes continued to flash, this time in an irregular manner.
"Then….what about that mask? She didn't have that before'' questioned Weiss, but she got no further response from the enigmatic woman. "Hey…!" called out Weiss, but Brunhilde remained motionless.
Tier Harribel stirred, a pained expression on her face. The Tres Bestias gently supported her, while the Tres Espada squinted her eyes to make sense of her surroundings and the multitude of different spiritual pressures, both familiar and unfamiliar around her.
"Harribel-sama! Are you alright?!" asked the trio, and the blonde Espada gave them a nod. She instinctively reached for her sword, only to find it was nowhere to be found. But her next immediate reaction was to turn towards the direction where Ruby's spirit energy was coming from.
"Little one…!" she called out, looking at the masked faunus. She shook her weakly, getting no response from the latter.
They were interrupted again when a bright, blue light illuminated them from their left.
"Damn, watch out!" shouted Glynda.
The bright blue flash grew in intensity, and it was clear it was heading towards Yang.
The blonde brawler instinctively raised her stubby arms, only for her to feel slack of warmth from her hands that should have covered her face.
Her eyes would twitch in confusion a second later, when they went from searing bright to cool dark. In fact, it was darker than it had before the bright flash made its way towards her. When she slowly opened her purple eyes, she could see the silhouette of a man with spiky hair, two swords held in his hand. By his side was the figure of a shorter girl with dark hair reaching up to her lower back, two younger girls with wheat colored hair tied in pigtails and dark black hair in a bun, as well as another teen garbed in the same white as that of the other Quincy.
The ones nearby whelped in surprise, not expecting an unfamiliar presence to appear right next to them without any warning whatsoever.
"Oh great, just what we needed. More overpowered, god-like clowns whose appearances don't match the nasty things they hide inside. You know it's bad when goddamn little girls in pigtails show up wielding weapons bigger than they can hold" groaned Roman, rolling his eyes. Karin threw a dirty look at the criminal mastermind, while Yuzu felt her pigtails with a downcast look, asking herself whether her current hairstyle and appearance were really that unbecoming and uncute of someone her age.
Beaten, tired and repulsed as Neo was about the situation as a whole, she couldn't help but raise her eyes amused at her partner's witty remarks, even at their current predicament.
"Ichigo boya!" exclaimed Sung-sun, "What in the world are you all doing here?!"
"Are you alright?" asked Ichigo first, observing Yang, only to flinch when he noticed the stumps in place of her hands. He continued to stare at her with an expression of pity, until the blonde noticed the gaze of her savior.
"That…" he continued, his eyes looking at her arms, or what was left of them.
"Oh…it's not..it's not from now.." she replied, "Thanks for saving me.."
"Don't mention it" he replied, turning back to Sung-sun. "It's a long story. But what's going on here Sung-sun-san?" he questioned, wide eyed, looking confused and for answers "We thought..we sensed your spiritual pressure here and rushed over to investigate but it's like….it's like all Hell broke loose….this is worse than anything I've ever seen"
His first thoughts were that he now regretted bringing his sisters and Tatsuki to a place like this. Though not as much as his sister and his friends, he had been in battlefields before. They were macabre, grim places to be in. And his human friends and family had no doubt seen horrors far worse than any their own age. And yet, had he known the place they were going to was in the state it was in now, he would've done anything he could to keep them away.
The pungent scent of blood was so thick in the air, that he had to forcibly cover his nose for the first few seconds to even focus. In a sort of odd trance, Ichigo found himself invigorated by the scene all the same. Like he'd just received a shot of adrenaline. No doubt the influence of his inner hollow wanting to participate in the carnage.
His view and perspective of his inner hollow had changed a lot over the past few years, no doubt. If not for his sister, Ichigo doubted he would be as accepting of his inner hollow as he was now. And while he was fine granting his inner hollow the occasional request to fight one of the Espada or two, this was a separate matter altogether. Once he voiced the same to himself, he could feel a rather disappointed and unamused grunt from within, but he did feel the bloodlust toning down afterwards.
"You alright?" asked Tatsuki, sensing his discomfort. Ichigo nodded.
"Yeah, he's fine, don't worry" he assured her rather nonchalantly. "You know how he can be, especially with the stuff going on around here. But I handled things"
Tatsuki's expression softened, but she did raise an eye at her childhood friend's tone. He sounded bothered at best, as if this was nothing more than an errand he'd been told to handle, one that he didn't feel like taking care of at the moment. The topic about his inner hollow had been a difficult one in the past, but now, it was something he'd just taken for granted; a part of his life that was a minor inconvenience at best, and a reliable asset at other times.
"That's Tier-oneechan…! And….is that Ruby-oneechan..?!" came Yuzu's surprised voice. Her expression turned to one of disgust when she too couldn't help but cover her nose and mouth from everything going on around her. It reminded her of the time 2 years ago when she and her twin had gone to the Soul Society, wherein they met the deranged soul reaper scientist who sacrificed his own men right in front of them in a bloody, gory mess. Her stomach turned rather strongly.
"How the hell are you both here?!" exclaimed a similarly baffled Apacci, Brunhilde vanishing from her thoughts. "Don't tell me those two runts are here too"
"That's what I'd like to know" replied Ichigo in return. "What the hell's happening here, Apacci?! Is this really nee-san's world? Why are you and the other Espada here? And…..is that….really Nee-san…?!"
"It's a long story, boya" replied Sung-sun in a similar manner. "I don't know how or why you're here, but this is a godsend. Harribel-sama and the other Espada were barely holding it out against an army of immortal Hollows and revived Arrancars using strange abilities, not to mention the Quincies"
"So those guys really are Quincies.." repeated Ichigo, in a state of prolonged disbelief. "I was a bit skeptical when that damned four eyes and Karin kept insisting, but….it was the Quincies who were responsible for sending us here too..the hell is really happening?"
"That's what I'd like to know" added Apacci bitterly. "Those quincy bastards got to you too?!"
"I realize that none of us seems to be aware of the bigger picture here, but that's a rather strong reaction to the Quincies, wouldn't you say? From here atleast, it looks as if they are fighting on the right side. And while I won't deny that they are probably the ones who sent us here, it did bring us to you. And you look like you need our help" interjected Uryu.
Apacci, Mila-Rose and Sung-sun started at the teens for a whole second with odd, questioning looks, before Apacci frowned at Uryu "That 'bigger picture' you're talking about is stupidly big, you damn four eyes…you have no idea just what the hell we all had to put up with when they-"
Yet another, bigger stray cero blast headed their way, and just as Yang was about to warn Ichigo, the latter simply batted it away with his Zanpakuto, dispersing the blast.
The blonde brawler couldn't help but stare at how casual the orange haired teen was about handling such a powerful attack, atleast to her eyes. And yet, she could feel the tension drain from her body. It was as if the teen exuded the same protective aura over her as Ruby did, as if she was enveloped in a warm, safe cocoon. It was a feeling that was still fresh and alien in her mind, one that she definitely needed time to get used to.
No sooner had that happened, Nel, Grimmjow, Ulquiorra, Starrk and by extension, Lilynette joined the Tres Bestias.
"Darlings~~! I thought I sensed your spiritual pressure, what are you doing here?~~" cooed the teal haired Espada, her face breaking out a goofy grin as she bear hugged Ichigo, Karin and Yuzu, much to their embarrassment. It didn't help that Nel was injured to the point that there wasn't a single place they looked at that wasn't covered in red. "Oh, you're up, Tia. I'm guessing our mystery Quincy friend patched you and Ruby up? Or was it one of you guys?" she asked, still hugging (and in the Kurosaki siblings' opinion, squeezing and suffocating) them and looking at the group from Remnant.
The contrast between her actions and her condition only sought to make Ozpin, Glynda, Amber, Roman, Neo, Teams WBY and JNPR look with dumbfounded looks on their faces. And it was a lot many more people for them to process alongside the things they were already digesting.
Ozpin narrowed his eyes at Ichigo curiously "Pardon me for interrupting your….heartfelt reunion, but just who might you be, young ma-"
"Ichigo!" called out Brunhilde, a hint of urgency in her tone, springing back to life and surprising the rest. Her flashing eyes almost seemed to be begging the orange haired teen. "Ichigo! Please, I need you to hit me with your hollowfied spirit energy! I cannot find another way to solve this predicament. A tiny amount should suffice! Make haste!"
Freeing himself and his sisters from Nel's grasp (with the latter letting out a rather disappointed groan), Ichigo blinked at the woman next to Tier and Ruby. He could tell she seemed to be stressed about something, and the flashing blue and red eyes certainly conveyed the same. What didn't make sense in that case, was her request.
"...What do you mean?" he asked, staring at her with an odd expression.
Her expression grew grave, and she really appeared frantic and desperate. "Please, it will make sense soon, but you must hurry! I cannot ask your arrancar allies, my self defense systems will automatically retaliate against those that are marked as enemies. But you aren't. So even a lethal attack from you won't register as one unless I acknowledge it. I need a particularly unique source of opposite spirit energy to short some of my reishi channels and reset some of my logical reasoning subroutines. I'm only trying to help Ruby and her friends here. Please!"
Who was she? Why did she know his name? Why was he feeling such a unique spiritual pressure coming off from her; that of a human's but also that of a Quincy's? In fact, when he looked closer, he could feel that her spiritual pressure was ever so similar to his mother but still notably different. And the way she called out his name earlier conveyed stood out to him as odd as well. It held a hint of familiarity, as well as an alien 'coldness', one that he couldn't quite put into words. It was as if she was a doll, one that was unmistakably human, both in spirit and in flesh, and yet, something, something that he could not comprehend, told him otherwise. Maybe it was the expression in her eyes, or her overall body language in general.
"Trust me, it will take a lot of effort, even at your current level, for me to incur significant damage. I might be stunned for 4 seconds, but I should have no lasting effects. But you don't need to go that far. Just hit me with a small amount of your hollow reishi" she urged, further perplexing Ichigo.
"What do you mean, 'help Ruby'?" inquired Tier cautiously. "I can tell from your spirit energy that you are a Quincy. Leaving aside the fact that we have no reason to trust you and your kind, a hollow's spirit energy is lethal to you. Why would you ask such a thing? Unless there is something else that you are not telling us. Especially since you openly expressed your mistrust of us just minutes ago"
"Wait, hold on, you said Quincy, right?" interrupted Ren. "But that can't be. I'm not sure exactly what's going on, but she is a citizen of Atlas, a human. Atleast from what Ruby told us. Meaning that she's from here, not the world you guys are from. So there's no way she can be a Quincy or whatever else it is. But then again, that's what we thought about Ruby, so I can't say I'm all that sure"
"Hmm I dunno Renny, she's a bit too loony for me to think she's a human. And that's saying something" argued Nora. "I mean, with all of her talk about self-defense systems, being implanted with skills and stuff makes me think she's probably one of those cyborgs or something"
The Tres Bestias, the Kurosaki siblings, the Espada, Uryu and Tatsuki looked at Ren and Nora with doubting expressions.
"She is clearly a Quincy, there's no mistaking that. The spiritual pressure coming off of her is definitely that of a Quincy. Although, now that you mention it, there does seem to be some slight difference. It doesn't feel as robust as that of a pure Quincy's spirit energy" observed Uryu. "However, going by what you said earlier, it is definitely strange that she is a denizen of this world and gives off Quincy reishi. If we were to assume that humans of this world are akin to Quincies back home, it wouldn't make sense because none of you give off such reishi, only her. Which makes her all the more suspicious"
"Yeah. You even know stuff about Ichi-nii and the rest of us even though we've never seen you. Hard pass, lady. Just leave Ruby-nee to us and start explaining things first" added Karin, holding her zanpakuto defensively.
Brunhilde narrowed her eyes further, the expression on her face becoming graver. "Please, I really mean you no harm. There are no hidden traps or tricks, just my intention to stop myself from hurting you all. If I really meant any harm, I would not have healed Ruby and Tier Harribel as someone who has been designated with eliminating Hollows, Arrancars and those foul beasts from Hell"
Yuzu seemed to have second thoughts "Onii-chan…maybe we should listen to her after all. Maybe she really means it….none of us here can use healing Kido. If onee-chan was injured and she helped her, then maybe we should…"
"I'd say you take her up on her offer, partner" agreed his hollow self's confident voice from within. "Who the hell cares what she's planning? If she starts putting up a fight, we just carve her up. Heh, who would've thought someone would ACTUALLY ask you to use my powers. If that's what she wants, you should just do that. And you wouldn't need to feel guilty about it either, since she's asking for it. If she's really like the rest of them around here, it might be a good idea to see just how much she can handle, and if any of them are worth fighting"
His Quincy self however, had no such advice to offer when Ichigo probed him. As if he was saying 'This is a call you should be able to make on your own'.
Grimmjow scowled, pushing aside Apacci and Mila-Rose, going up to Brunhilde with a charged cero. No sooner had he approached her, with lightning fast reflexes, the orange haired woman sliced into his hand with her floating swords, dispersing the Cero and even cutting into the blue jaguar Espada's hand. Grimmjow hadn't been completely caught off guard however, for he pulled back his hand just as Brunhilde countered him. But the thin red line on his palm didn't give the Espada any satisfaction.
"You little shit, you actually cut my hierro..!" he growled, going in to retaliate, but found himself being stopped by Ulquiorra.
"Her strength is clearly a cut above the rest, like the other 4 fighting out there. If you had your pesquisa active, you would have known to act better. She has even shown that she is easily capable of cutting past an Espada's hierro. Are you letting your impatience and concern for Ruby Rose cloud your battle instincts, Grimmjow?"
"Piss off…" muttered Grimmjow angrily, but held his hand nonetheless. The flashing lights on Brunhilde's eyes however, grew in intensity and frequency. Her expression contorted into one that was half-deathly cold and half-persevering.
"...you sure this won't hurt you?" asked Ichigo, stepping forward. He had his zanpakuto's shikai drawn out, which exuded his signature hollow reishi. "Truth be told, my control over my reishi isn't all that great. I might hit you with something a lot stronger than you expect"
"I-it's fine..!" she insisted. "Just do it.., please! I don't want to end up recognizing my dear friend as a target to eliminate!"
Ichigo stared at her for a second, before he tightened the grip on his Zanpakuto and swung down while channeling his hollow reishi. The attack sent a small crescent shaped wave, just barely as big as himself, towards the mysterious woman.
"If there is something in your mind, you only need to ask. To commit such immature acts is NOT the reason I brought you here by my side"
A figure appeared right in between the attack and Brunhilde, dispersing into tiny, tiny wisps the moment it made contact. Just moments ago, he had been atop Beacon Academy, proclaiming his intent to the world below him. So occupied the Espada and the others had been, that none had particularly paid attention to the fact that the sounds of battle had died down. The area around them was now completely under the control of the warriors in white, with each group of soldiers maintaining some kind of barrier over the enemies. Though there were some small conflicts here and there, for the most part, it was obvious that the Quincy had the situation completely under control.
"Headmaster….isn't that..?!" asked Glynda, just as surprised. Both her and Ozpin's attention were focused not on the Quincy King but rather on the person behind him.
The Queen of the Grimm remained transfixed atop a floating, glowing cross right beside the Quincy King. She had a very pensive look on her face, as if she didn't really care about her current condition, or that she didn't acknowledge it. Ozpin looked at the scene with surprise and shock, to see his lifelong nemesis of several millennia reduced to such a state. He couldn't see any wounds on her, but she was immobile and captured all the same. What he couldn't accomplish over several lifetimes, this man had done so in a matter of minutes. And while he had died several times over trying to accomplish his mission unsuccessfully, putting the lives of others on the line, this man had done so all by himself.
And all that he had to show for injuries were minor injuries and scuffs, as if taking care of cursed immortal witches and an army of Hellish creatures was just next Tuesday.
What did he feel? Seeing that a millenia's worth of anxiety and responsibility had just been lifted off of him, was this the salvation he had been looking for? In all honesty, Ozpin could not say. Not only had the events leading up to the conclusion he was observing been so abrupt, he had been nothing more than a spectator rather than playing any kind of active role. He neither felt relief nor frustration; only emptiness. As if the purpose he was entrusted with by the gods themselves had been stolen from him by this enigmatic outworlder.
He did, however, know her better than anyone. Even if she was a very different being compared to the one he knew. Fundamentally, her actions and her way of fighting the warriors in white and blue had been so very similar. While it appeared as though she had simply given up, he knew she was just biding her time, waiting until her opponent let down their guard. Immortality had its perks, after all.
"Yo..your Majesty..! I was only..!" fumbled Brunhilde, dwindling her thumbs looking side to side. Her eyes, which were still flashing red and blue, only accentuated her flustered expression. "Ruby…! I was only saving her!"
"And how does 'saving someone' involve asking this young man here to attack you with poisonous reishi?" he asked, looking at her sternly. Brunhilde's guilty gaze remained firmly affixed to the ground.
"And you too, young man. Just because she asks you, it hardly means you need to go along with her. She is but a child who does not know about the dangers of the outside world. But you are a grown up young man, aren't you? Shouldn't you know better?" he asked, disappointment clearly evident in his voice.
"B-but I am not a child, Your Majesty! I have been learning and improving quite exponentially every day!" she protested "I calculated precisely the amount of damage I would incur and triple checked if they will be within acceptable limits! If I didn't ask Ichigo…"
"I will hear no more excuses, Brunhilde. You still do not understand the importance of the role I have entrusted you with, as well as the true repercussions of what you were just trying to do" he cut in, causing the orange haired woman to whimper and slowly nod in obedience.
It was such an odd scene to witness, especially for the Espada and the folk from Remnant who had witnessed his previous actions first hand. Here he was, the leader of an entire race of beings, an archangel of their world, as well as someone who single handedly brought the greatest threat to Remnant under his control, reprimanding a grown woman and a teenage boy like they were his children. As if this was nothing more than another regular day at work and at home.
That however, did not mean the Espada viewed the man in front of him any differently, considering that the memory of recent events was still fresh on their minds and their bodies.
The Espada confronted the Quincy King, their stance portraying high alert. Nel stepped in front of the Kurosaki siblings protectively, bearing an especially serious expression that didn't suit her normally docile and soft features. Tier protectively covered over Ruby.
Having been with the Espada for the last 2 years, the Kurosaki siblings, Uryu and Tatsuki were more surprised than usual when it was Nel and Tier, of all the present Espada, that questioned the Quincy King.
"You've involved enough innocent people in your madness for one day, haven't you? Sorry, but we're not letting you have them. Leave us be, we'll be on our way and you on yours" proclaimed Nel.
"As bad as I feel for the folks here, it hardly means anything if she dies. In the end, we'd rather have her back with us than meddle in your affairs or in the affairs of this world. She may consider this world her home, but that doesn't mean it's her only one. As long as Hueco Mundo exists with her in it, that's all that we need. So as Nelliel here said, how about you leave us be and we'll do the same. For all your talk of peace and disdain of conflict, you couldn't ask for a better deal, now could you?" asked Starrk.
"Shush" he cut in, his towering presence, spiritual pressure and words silencing the Espada. "I am in the middle of talking to my children. Savages and brutes you may be, but I expected those under Aizen's rule to possess better manners than to cut in and raise your blade when having a conversation. No matter, I will not be interrupted again"
As if on cue, similar blue-white reishi restraints bound the Espada in place, similar to a kido spell. Try as they might, the Espada couldn't so much as move an inch or break free from their bonds.
As much as the children wanted to raise their voice against the man, they couldn't. It was as if they were subject to this force, this 'authority' that would not allow them to rise up against this man. For Uryu and the Kurosaki siblings, something deep within their unconscious mind made this man, this presence tremble. With obedience and with fear. Like a creation that instinctively recognized and acknowledges its creator.
"Now, as I was saying," he said, looking at Brunhilde and the children. "Making mistakes, especially for children like you, is expected. I do not expect you to know everything either. And the responsibility to ensure that the younger generation does not go astray does indeed fall upon the parent. However, you are no longer mere children completely unwise of the outside world" he said, looking at the Kurosaki siblings, Uryu and Tatsuki. "And you young lady, have been instructed not to take any actions that might harm yourself or your peers. Especially for the sake of a mere hollow" he finished, with a tone of distaste towards the end, his gaze momentarily falling upon Ruby.
"Who are you calling a hollow?!" Tatsuki burst out angrily.
"Then what else should I call her? She is a hollow, is she not? What surprises me, is why the four of you are with her to begin with. Haven't you learnt enough from what happened to your mother?" asked Yhwach calmly.
This time, it was the Kurosaki sibling's turn to be surprised. "Our…mother..?" asked Ichigo. He then remembered the picture he found in the shack of his mother's old home, alongside the very same man standing in front of him.
"Such a shame. To this day, I find what happened with your mother regrettable. Such as shame, such a shame indeed…." he trailed off, his eyes staring off into the distance. He sounded genuinely regretful, and Ichigo could feel a deep sense of longing, of sadness coming from the man. He then looked straight at the Kurosaki siblings and at Uryu. The kids shuddered under his gaze, their bodies feeling naked. It was as if his eyes could see through their very souls, scanning them as they shifted from one person to the next.
Although the chaos had settled for the moment, and several onlookers from both worlds had more questions to ask with each passing moment, it felt as if they could do naught but hold their tongue and their thoughts, until the man in front of them permitted them to do so.
"So young of age and already as proficient in the arts as your mother was at her age. Battling the Soul Reapers at the Soul Society, your battles following that against Aizen Sosuke and his army of Hollows, Menos and Espada, not to mention Aizen himself. Even having to endure the poisonous reishi of Hueco Mundo" he said, looking tenderly at Karin and then at Yuzu. "In the art of battle, there is no doubt that you two have surpassed your mother at her age. And yet, the two of you still lack the charisma and ability to lead our great race she possessed, even at her age all those years ago. But that is only a matter of time and proper guidance. After all, you are her children"
He then went over to Karin, lifting her face by her chin, as if observing her closely. HIs expression was one of minor distaste. As if everything was going well so far, until he discovered something unpleasant that soured the perfect, happy moment just a bit. "Such rough, hardened features and those onyx colored eyes. Striking features of the Shiba Clan. Lacking in class and possessing the manners just short of barbarians, but possessing ample skill and strength in battle to make up for it. It is said that the women of the Shiba clan are strong and fierce, both in battle and in their loyalty to their people. Both of which are commendable traits, even for Soul Reapers. The influence of your father, no doubt. But even so, if one peers within, one can see your mother's grace, just shy of the surface"
Karin looked away in defiance, shying her face away from the man's grasp. She hated it. Be it in her school whenever they saw a picture of her family or whenever Ryuken spoke about it time and time again while he trained her. Whenever someone brought up how different she looked from her mother, it left a bitter aftertaste in her mouth. Not just because it was irritating to be invalidated by complete strangers who knew nothing of her, her mother and her family, but also because she knew exactly what followed immediately after. And it was something Yuzu herself found distasteful, even for someone as non-confrontational as her.
"You on the other hand" began Yhwach, holding Yuzu's face in a similar manner "Look just like her when she was your age. However, there is meekness within your eyes that she lacked, but one that does not belie the kindness and strength that lies within. Indeed, it would seem the foibles of the Shiba Clan escape you, while gracing you with their gifts. A most covetable facet indeed. There is no doubt you possess the stellar qualities of a prime Quincy, an Übermensch. Both of you. Nothing makes a parent more proud than seeing his own children grow and develop, even in his absence"
Karin had no particular qualms about the Quincy, especially considering that her own mother whom she loved and adored was one of them. Yuzu too, despite being down to earth and humble, felt proud at the fact. However, if there was one thing they disliked in common, it was the fact that the Quincy always seemed to put down one twin over the other simply based on their appearances and affinity for Quincy abilities. The Soul Reapers, for all of their disassociation with the Quincy, never belittled them for possessing Quincy abilities nor did they make one twin feel ashamed over the other for their preference and affinity for Soul Reaper powers.
"I don't know who the hell you think you are, but for a complete stranger, don't you think you're talking about her a little too familiarly?" frowned Ichigo. "And for the record, we're not your 'children', and neither is mom"
"Oh, but that you are" he replied, calmly looking at Ichigo. As confident as Ichigo was, he couldn't help but shudder under the man's gaze. It was the same kind of gaze that Aizen looked at him with. As if he was a unique specimen being studied.
"And so are your sisters, and that young man over there" he said, pointing to Uryu. "I know more about you than anyone you know ever knows about you. But even if you do not know about me, you surely feel it. A certain likeness, a familiarity. An instinct, if you will" As with Yuzu and Karin, Ichigo and Uryu could feel a chill pass down their spines. The man's browless, brown eyes scanning them, peering into their very souls.
"But the two of you are different. From the rest of your brothers and sisters. You possess gifts of our kind while harboring the wretched stench of the hollows. You possess your father's instincts and knack for battle and the Shiba clan's constitution while possessing your mother's steadfast nature, and her innate gift of maintaining harmony and resonance. While you, on the other hand" he said, looking at Uryu. "Have done some deplorable things that stains our honor as Quincy, such as associating yourself with the Soul Reapers, despite knowing what they did to your grandfather and the rest of our people. You even made allies with the likes of Arrancars. Needless to say, I am not pleased, young man"
Uryu felt a surge of fear the likes of which he had never felt before; it was inexplicable and primal. He knew nothing of the man, and who he was. The only thing he, Ichigo and the rest had observed as they arrived at the scene, was this man, along with the rest of the others who were Quincy, decimating and rounding up the strange hollow like creatures of this world. Fear towards hollows was something he'd experienced before, and still did, but the fear he felt now was different. Like that of an infant facing its parent. Wherein there was a sense of familiarity and yet, a sense of fear when that sense of familiarity was broken. Uryu wondered why the term 'God fearing' popped into his mind, because to him, that fit his emotions harrowingly well.
"But even so, you never strayed from the path of the Quincy. You would rebel, oppose and bend the rules to suit your whims, and yet, your heart never lost its way, while most others would have fallen prey to corruption. And the same goes to you too, young man" he said, looking at Ichigo. "It is that rebellious nature that makes you two stand out from the rest of your brothers and sisters. Not your skill for battle, not your loyalty to our cause, not your intentions towards the other races, but rather the very fact that you can find it in yourself to oppose my will. If Karin and Yuzu are worthy to be the elite members of our race, then the two of you are worthy candidates to be my successor" he spoke.
Ichigo and Uryu looked at the man and then at each other, confused, whereas Brunhilde appeared rather shocked.
"What…do you mean?" demanded Ichigo. "I dont get what you're talking about"
Yhwach raised his eyes. "Ah, but of course. Neither of you would know. You may know the gist of things from Ruby Rose or Summer Rose, but they never did go into the details, now did they? Regardless, it is of little consequence. You could even say that it is refreshing to see such a thing. I would not get this perspective from anyone else but you four. However, it doesnt change the fact that you are but infants, mere children who have been left unsupervised for far too long. A little bit of freedom does come a long way in helping someone develop and grow, but at the same time, it is the duty of a parent to draw a line when necessary"
A glow emanated from his hands, and the Kurosaki siblings and Uryu could feel a numbing, cold sensation. And then, it was gone. The whole action took no longer than the blink of an eye, but the consequences of it would be felt even after the day's events.
"Wh-what is this?!" exclaimed Ichigo, with a shocked expression. "M-my body..! I can't feel anything….!" Uryu had a similar expression of astonishment.
"I-I…Shingetsu…!" said Karin. "She's….so far away!"
"I can't sense Mangetsu…!" said Yuzu similarly. "No…it's like his presence disappeared behind a fog.."
"Time and time again, the four of you continue to meddle in the affairs that don't pertain to you, even going so far as to put yourself in danger for the sake of mere Arrancars and Soul Reapers. Not to mention her" said Yhwach, lifting the unconscious Ruby with a single hand as the Espada watched helplessly. "Therefore, I have temporarily taken away your Quincy powers. I have decided that you are not ready yet to carry on the legacy of our race. In time, you will be, once I have ensured that you have the right guidance and education. Both of which I shall impart on you, one breadcrumb at a time. But for now, I will not have you misbehave any longer. As a parent, this is my responsibility. Use this chance to learn and reflect. As for you Ichigo, I have taken the liberty to seal away your hollow powers as well. As my son, you don't need such a barbaric, filthy power. I have, of course, still left you with enough to defend yourself should you need it. But it is exactly enough for just that. Try anything reckless, and you will certainly die. The only thing left to do, is to weed out the one remaining negative influence in your life" He held Ruby's face by his hand, blue light emanating from it ominously.
Ichigo almost immediately rushed at Yhwach in an attempt to stop it, but Brunhilde was quicker to spring up on her knees and bow down.
"Your Majesty, please…" begged Brunhilde, "Ruby is very dear to me. Please, I know she is a hollow and must be destroyed, as you have stated before. But I also want nothing more than to keep my dear friend safe. I promise I will never try to inflict self-harm or go against my directives. I won't ever ask for anything else again. Please just grant me this one wish.."
"And yet, putting her before your own self is exactly what you are doing at this very moment" he said, perplexed. "Why do you continue to hold on to her?" he asked, narrowing his eyes. "She is a hollow. A being that can and will kill you. Just being touched by her spiritual pressure can completely break you down. How does it seem logical to you to continue to linger close to her? What does she bring you that you cannot get otherwise? Is it companionship? Our people have been nothing but kind and loving to you. Your homeland is safe under my rule, as are its people. I have given you the freedom to lead whatever life you please. And you still continue to hang on to her, despite her pitiful state. Why?"
"She's not pitiful!" growled Ichigo, glaring at Yhwach. "Nor is she a negative influence in our lives. I don't care who you think you are, but I won't let you do anything to my sister. And I don't care what you were to my mother, but you sure as hell aren't my parent. She's been there for us despite the condition she was in. And we've been doing just fine until now. So just stay the hell out of our lives!"
"And while you're at it, you better reverse what you did to Ichi-nii, Yuzu and me!" demanded Karin, joining alongside her brother.
"Shush" he interrupted them with a low, deadly tone, slamming Ichigo and the others with an intense wave of reishi. "A child you may be, but there is a limit to my patience. However, do not be too presumptuous, boy. You may be someone of worth to our race, but that does not mean I will bend to your every whim and tantrum. The same goes for you, young lady" he said, looking at Brunhilde, who could only turn away submissively.
"There are still things you will never comprehend, things that you are too young to even see. And this defiant behavior will soon change as well, along with this world. However, for now, this is as good a time as any, to show you the true consequences of the blood you carry, as well as the significance of the power you were granted"
He held up Ruby in his hand, but appeared to do nothing else. Neither did he have any of his weapons out, nor did Ichigo and the others sense any kind of spiritual pressure coming off from him. The moment however, innate bloodlust filled within Ichigo, and the urge to stab his sword through his sister overcame any and every emotion he it felt far more uncontrollable compared to the times he lost control of his hollow powers. It felt as if he wanted nothing more than to see her dead. His thoughts were still fully his own, and hence, he could feel his own surprise and astonishment at the bloodlust and urge to kill his beloved sister. And yet, those thoughts felt just as validated as his thoughts of adoration for his sister.
Before he could evaluate himself any further, his hands reached out for his now powerless Zanpakuto, his bloodlust and intentions clearly reflecting on his face, and lunged towards Ruby. The Espada and his sisters only had enough time to acknowledge his actions, but not enough time to act on it. Brunhilde on the other hand, did attempt to stop the orange haired teen's blade, but she herself found herself unable to act on her thoughts either, her mind being compelled to just watch the scene in front of her as if unfolded.
Ichigo's sword however, never did reach its intended target. For the blade and Ichigo were numerous black tendrils wrapping around Ichigo, sword and all, holding the teen at bay. While Ichigo continued to try and push against the force holding him back, there was also an expression of confusion on his face, followed by relief, after seeing that his blade was still short of piercing through flesh.
"What is the meaning of this?" he asked, looking back at his captive. She had a single hand free from her restraints, which was raised towards Ichigo.
"Their lives in exchange for hers. That was the contract. As long as Ruby Rose is within my gaze on this day, her life shalln't be forfeit. Through myself or another" spoke Salem.
"Wh-what the hell did you do?!" demanded Ichigo, frantically pulling away his Zanpakuto from the direction Ruby was. The bloodlust welling up within him disappeared, but Ichigo could still clearly feel the sensation, as if it was still present within him, just waiting to spring up at the right moment. He averted his eyes away from Ruby, in fear that the foreign bloodlust would once again return. There was clear fright on the teenager's face, and he almost threw away his Zanpakuto out of fear of stabbing his sister again.
Yhwach let out another sigh. His expression was dismissive one of disappointment "Even here you would be the ever so diligent slave of the gods, won't you Galathea? Even in a world that isn't yours to govern" he said, speaking to Salem.
"You were the one who summoned me here, Yhwach" she replied "I shall fulfill my purpose, wherever I exist. That is my role. Impartially and without exception, I shall continue to carry out judgment on those that turn their backs on the principles by which the world turns"
"There you go, with the rest of the others with your 'purpose'. Principles, you say..?" he scoffed. "Principles that are clearly as human as those that live on these worlds, despite being the product of God's will? Doesn't that strike you as flawed, sister mine? Why are some actions deemed as irredeemable, whereas others acceptable? A human who kills another is deemed a sinner, sentenced to the furthest pits of your adobe whereas an animal or a hollow is deemed innocent despite taking the lives of others just because that is how the world works? Because God intended it to be so? Why are the gods, who don't even live amongst the creations that they created, get to decide the laws and morals of said creations? Humans are but animals too, or they should be, in the eyes of God. If all life is truly fair and equal, as with your judgments, then should you not cast every soul into the deepest pits of Hell for daring to sacrifice another's life just to sustain themselves? Or what about this young man? He was, for all intents and purposes, innocent. And yet, souls like his and many others fall prey to the principles set by the gods"
"What do you…?" asked Ichigo.
"That was to show two things, and I pray you will remember it well, Ichigo" advised Yhwach. "You asked me why your sister was the worst possible influence for someone like you or your sisters. And you have seen it yourself, the consequences of your blood. Your Quincy blood. Blood and in turn, my will, that comes from me, the ruler of all Quincy kind. And my will reflects in those that carry my blood, my soul, like ripples in a pond. And there is no way those that carry my blood can ever forgive the existence of something like her" he said, holding up Ruby once more.
"Wh-what…?!" stammered Ichigo, Uryu, Karin and Yuzu.
"Her being a Hollow is not the reason why I showed you this. It was merely to show you how unfair the rules and principles of this world can be, as well as the gods themselves" he explained. "The other thing, of course, pertains to the principles of our world and this one. You nearly killed your sister, your family, and yet, in the eyes of the gods, and to my sister's eyes, you would be nothing but another sinner who committed fratricide"
He then walked up to Ozpin, Glynda, Qrow and the rest of the members of Beacon Academy. "You have walked amongst the very gods, and continue to do their bidding even to this day, Ozma. One could even say that you have lived through the ages akin to myself and her. As if mocking irony, my sister now inhabits the only other being in this world to have walked the path of the Gods as you have. And yet, your paths couldn't be further apart. For humans, it is simply instinct to revere and fear their creators. They would not dare to question the morals and principles upon which their world was built. For it is from those very principles that they are born. But you, I and your betrothed are different. We are not tied to those principles and our instincts. Have you never in your years of devotion to those you call your creators, ever wondered? That the principles upon which the world was built was just as flawed as the gods themselves? You are cursed to live each life, devouring the soul of others while holding the impending doom of the entire world itself in your very hands. Your Gods abandoned your world, and you had the freedom to lead this world, free of their influence as you please, away from their mortal rules. You could have continued to lead your people down a peaceful existence or a destructive one, but away from divine influence. Yet you continue to seek them out, in an attempt to unite your people in harmony. Why? Is it perhaps in an attempt to spite the gods, to show how foolish they were in abandoning their creations? Or is it perhaps to curry favor with them, in hopes that you and your people gain redemption? Or do you simply respect and fear their existence as unfathomable beings of unreachable power because they nearly drove this world to its ruin?"
Ozpin paused for a moment to take in the words of the man standing in front of him, gauging the best response to reply with. On one hand, the headmaster wanted nothing more than to subvert the current situation and ensure the safety of his school, his city and those around him, out of the grasp of the outworlders in front of him. But something inside him wanted to answer back with his true thoughts, for it wasn't often that he met others who have had grievances and dealings with the gods as he and Salem had. He was one who explored and reached out to every possible answer to the quest he had been tasked with. And this, in his opinion, was an opportunity to understand the man who now held the majority of Remnant in his grasp.
"It is my purpose," he replied finally. "I exist because of the purpose I was given by the gods to lead humanity down a different path, one that does not end with their extinction. When that day arrives, I will finally get that chance to fulfill the purpose for which I was brought to this world"
"So you are toiling away just so you can be done with your purpose and fade away once the time comes. Is that it?" Yhwach sported a somewhat disappointed look on his face. "Then you are no different from her, from any of my other kin. You are chained down by your purpose, blinded by it and define your existence by your purpose. Despite the many millenia you have walked this world, you never once sought to rise above the things chaining you down. You do what you do simply because you know of nothing else. In that regard, you are no different from your betrothed. The way I see it, you are merely wasting away your soul and your life, with nothing to gain in return. A man of your caliber and insight could do so well in fighting against those principles. It is pitiful, really"
"You have no doubt saved us and the students, and for that, I am eternally grateful. But even so, I must ask. Why is that so wrong?" asked Glynda, gathering the courage to speak up to the towering man. "If one is satisfied by their purpose, and in following it, why does it matter who imparts us with purpose?"
"It matters not, not at the moment at the very least. The point of this is not to change your mind or to explain myself. I was merely curious to know how different the man who spent centuries in serving the gods' wills was to myself. However, this world will be under my watchful eyes and thus, proclaiming my thoughts was not without meaning. All that matters is that the gods that you revere are not as almighty as you think they are, nor are their principles. And I refuse to bend to their whims, especially when it decides the fate of my people. For example, surely you recognize this?" asked the King of the Quincy, reaching out to the inside of this cape and drawing an ornate looking sword with a golden hilt encrusted with teal colored gems and a similarly teal colored crystalline blade.
"Th-that's…!" exclaimed Ozpin, his eyes wide. "Why do you have that…?!"
The white witch raised her eyes as well, but more out of curiosity rather than surprise. "So that's what it was. I pondered why I could feel such a curious presence from you. One that felt like it belonged to my domain, and why I could feel such an energy from you. So you took the great creator's relic from within the vault"
"One of the gifts to humanity, from the gods to you, is it not, Ozma?" asked Yhwach "An artifact that is a personification of one of the ideals of human nature, that of destruction. That alone speaks volumes about the gods. And yet" he said, holding the sword in front of Salem. With swift movement, he plunged the crystalline blade straight through Salem's heart. Visually, Salem didn't so much as flinch, and yet, they could make out that the blade was indeed running right through her chest. There was no blood or any indication that she had been cut, however, it wasn't sure if that was due to the witch's regenerative abilities or something else.
Yhwach then drew out the blade. "Nimuae"
Ozpin instantly recognized it as the name of the spirit that dwelled within the relic of destruction, and sure enough, the moment the Quincy King spoke her name, blue smoke materialized out of the sword's gems, engulfing the area around it. And from within, a feminine humanoid figure materialized. The spirit's body was covered by a translucent, blue veil of sorts that appeared to be more like a cloak than a veil. It did not do anything to hide her body however, and while the spirit appeared to be human, she lacked features that made it clear she was not. The translucent veil covered the spirit's head and her body, giving her the appearance of a nun. Even so, one could make out the spirit's long, light teal hair swept back and tied in a long braid with a golden ornament. A peculiar looking golden chained necklace could be seen on her chest, with a rosary that resembled the hilt of the relic of destruction. Along with that, she also possessed bracelets on her hands which were also golden. The spirit herself had her hands joined in prayer like a nun. The most noticeable feature however, were her light blue angelic wings that matched the color of her hair, and one that was a stark contrast to the jet black wings that Salem possessed.
Everything around them seemed to come to a dead stop, as if time itself had come to a standstill except for them. The fires, ash and debris from the battle froze in mid air, preserving the scene like an artistic depiction of an event from the annals of history.
The Espada, the Kurosaki siblings and Uryu watched her in awe. Her form looked serene and pristine, and she gave off an aura that could almost be described as 'divine'. The spiritual pressure, if it could even be called that, felt otherworldly.
"Hear my wish, Nimuae, spirit that resides within the Sword of Destruction. I wish to destroy my sister, Galathea, and her accursed kin" demanded the Quincy King.
The spirit slowly opened her blue eyes, looking straight at Yhwach. She looked perplexed, and her face was flushed with anger. Her hands were no longer joined in serene prayer. "I am not here to help you make a statement, Yhwach. You called me out once before, and I made myself clear about what I can destroy and the rules for doing so. I can only destroy something that you have no conscious desire to destroy. And destruction of that object will also result in the creation of something that you wished did not exist. She is not one such thing to you. And besides, the Lord cursed her with endless life. I'm just a fragment of that power. I don't have the right to undo that. Don't expect my help the next time you call me. You're free to harbor whatever thoughts you wish regarding the Lord, but such words won't come from me. I was listening to that big speech of yours. This only goes to show that you don't understand anything about the relics, the Lord and the reasons for why they all exist. All of the relics were intended to represent humanity's ideals, not as a source of god-like power as you expect them to be. Don't blame others for your own lack of insight and incompetence, Quincy, especially me or my kin. I'll be taking my leave now. Don't expect to see me or any of my kin anytime soon. On the other hand, it's nice to see you again, Ozma, Salem. Or do you go by Ozpin and Galathea now? Regardless, call me out again when you need me to destroy something" she said, giving a small nod with the slightest smile etched on her face.
And with that, the spirit disappeared with another literal puff of blue smoke. Time resumed for the rest of the world. Yhwach held the sword in his other hand, with a dismayed look.
"How utterly disappointing. This is a relic created by the gods? A sword should act like a sword, not preach like a scholar. And yet, even a broken sword is more useful than this. This only accentuates the fact that the creations and principles of the gods are just as underwhelming as the gods themselves" he said, casually throwing the sword to the ground in an uncaring manner. The crystalline blade hit the ground with a metallic klang, buried among the hellish landscape amidst dust and debris, making a sorry sight for the eyes to see.
"But it would appear that we have gotten a bit off track" stated Yhwach, drawing up more restraints on Salem.
"You should have stayed in Hell where you belong, Galathea. You were always one who never stepped outside of her bounds. It was something that I could acknowledge, even if it was misguided in its own way. But that was why you were one to fear. Within your own limits, you were absolute. Your word was law. After all, father made you to be that way. And yet, you would even go against the decree that was set against by your creator just so you could deny me and my ambitions. Victory truly favors the righteous, it would seem. For despite the measures you took, going so far as to bond with this cursed witch just to reach me, this is where we stand" he declared confidently, sparing but a single glance at Salem.
BG9, who had been broadcasting the macabre scene of Beacon Academy landed next to the Quincy King, on its knees.
"Your Majesty..! You are injured!" said the mechanoloid, with a surprising amount of emotion in its mechanical voice.
"She IS one of the arch angels of our world, and the ruler of Hell itself. Not to mention her soul being fused with an immortal witch cursed by the gods. She may not be a fighter, but minor scuffs and bruises are a very small price to pay if it means the defeat of one of our greatest enemies" he replied. "Focus on the mission you were given, BG9. That is all that you need to do. After all, now, we have an audience to address"
"It will be done, your Majesty" he replied, putting distance between himself and the Quincy king to get the most optimal angle, his single mechanical eye focusing on Yhwach and Salem.
"Do you see now, people of Remnant? The calamity that plagued your world is but another obstacle in my path to a brighter future. A path that I now share with you. An obstacle that I have removed from your path. An obstacle that was kept secret from your eyes and ears, but was the source of your suffering and pain for time immemorial. The creatures of the night are but a forgotten nightmare in front of the might of the Quincy. A peaceful world, free of the influence of arrogant gods, evil witches and the terrors of the night. Where mothers can cradle their babes in their arms, safe within their bosoms, ignorant of the nightmares that plagued their forefathers. A world where fathers and brothers know not the horrors of war, and always have a place to return to, called home. A world not within tomes, books and legend, but right here, in front of your eyes"
All throughout the world with the shattered moon, the Quincy King's words resonated with power, conviction and promise. And they could see their world, the four Kingdoms and the sights that backed up that promise. Sights of warriors clad in white, raining down certain death upon the creatures of the night, their obsidian stain slowly disappearing from the landscape, like ink being washed away, leaving the unblemished, pure white canvas beneath it for the world to see. In Vacuo, in Atlas, Menagerie, in Mistral and then in Vale. And they could see the people, huddling over the ground whenever one of the creatures of the night got too close, and moments later, staring at one of the many robots of the Atlas Army or at one of the warriors in white, with relief and surprise washing over their faces.
And Teams WBY and JNPR could see it as well. The faces of their families, friends and those they grew up with, being protected from the creatures of the night as they took cover while the Quincy fought in their stead. It did not take long however, for the situation to come under control. Before long, cries of relief filled the streets, amongst silent whispers and hushed gossip. Some eyes were cast upon the men in blue and white with curiosity, some with apprehension, some with relief and gratitude, while others looked upon them warily. But overall, just from the fact that looks of relief were spreading as more and more of the Grimm were felled, it was only a matter of time before such apprehensive and wary looks faded away from the minds of the people.
"What now…?" asked Glynda, still watching the entire thing with mixed feelings. Ozpin seemed to mirror her thoughts, which was a rarity in and among itself. He usually seemed to have all the answers, and thus the blonde disciplinarian never bothered to question if the man himself would ever find himself in a tight spot. This time however, she could tell that her headmaster was just as lost as she was.
BG9 then stepped away from the Quincy King, the lights around his 'face' dimming.
"Tend to Brunhilde, and allow exceptions for Ruby Rose" Yhwach ordered BG9. The orange haired woman's face lit up like a christmas tree, and her blue eyes literally began to emit a strong glow.
"Oh, your Majesty, thank you!" she chimed.
"Now don't get your expectations up too high, young lady" he warned her. "Today is a day to celebrate, and this is just a small gesture towards my own kin, as well as my reward for you in leading your mission and the way you handled the situation. However, you have also shown me that you are yet to learn responsibility for your actions and the actions of others. Which is why, it will be your responsibility, and yours alone, to tend to the one you want to hold by your side. You want to be with her despite my wishes, and the wishes of others. In which case, you will learn to defend that with your life, regardless of who may oppose you. And you will receive no help for it"
"I..I dont understand what you mean, your Majesty.." she stammered, blinking her eyes.
"I mean that Ruby Rose is now your responsibility, Brunhilde. You may keep her by your side, fight her, kill her, release her, whatever it is that pleases you. But, if your actions end up incurring the ire of those that she loves, or those that she hates, then you alone shall be responsible for it. I will not come to your aid, nor will any of our brethren. And the same applies to you as well. Do you still want her by your side?" he asked her. Once again, the orange haired woman's eyes lit up, and she nodded confidently.
"I will protect her with my life, your Majesty! And I won't let anyone else take responsibility for her. I won't let her suffer and I won't cause any problems for anyone else because of her!" she declared, standing upright in attention.
"Very well" he replied, handing over Ruby to Brunhilde, who then gently put her arms around the cheetah faunus. "If you've made peace with that, it is time to return"
"Hey! You can't just give her away like that!" protested Tatsuki. "She's not a damn pet for her to take care of!"
"Give her back" demanded Ichigo, joined by Karin and Yuzu.
"Please don't" warned Brunhilde with an uncomfortable expression. "I know she means a lot to you. But the way you are now, you won't be able to protect her if something happens to her. After all, His Majesty sealed away a part of your powers. And Ruby has just lost her mother and daughter. I promise I won't let anything happen to her. Remnant is also her home. So please, just go back"
"Like hell I will" retorted the orange haired teen. "You're keeping her against her will, how the hell should I just be ok with that?"
Suddenly, before Brunhilde could retort, the area around them was filled with intense, nauseating reishi. The force of it made Ichigo and the others stumble on their feet, and it felt vile on their senses.
"Wh-what the hell-?!"
"I feel sick…"
They could hear sounds of squirming flesh and moving as well as bones creaking. When they looked, they could see the visage of the White Witch reforming from a black puddle of fleshy mass. Whatever had happened, it was obvious that she had freed herself from the restraints Yhwach put on her.
The rest of the battlefield around them was stirring and shifting. They could see the shapes around them shifting in resonance with Salem. Shapes made out of white, black and a myriad of other colors that were taking form.
"You shalln't keep me from delivering that which is due to you and your kin, Yhwach. Judgment awaits" she declared.
"Irritably stubborn, sister mine. I tire of this matter. With nothing else to discuss here, this time, I shall make sure your presence stains my realm and my people no longer" he thundered, his own spiritual pressure soaring. The rest of the Quincy in the battlefield did the same, alongwith BG9. Brunhilde wrapped her hand protectively around Ruby and took off, far away from Yhwach and Salem and into the distance. "Your Majesty, with your permission, I shall take off for the Wandenreich and give Ruby the rest and care she needs first" she said before she did.
"H-hey!" called out Ichigo, but to no avail. Not only had the orange haired woman disappeared in the blink of an eye, the clash of spiritual energies between Yhwach and Salem was much more intense than it had been. And for some reason, they felt it infinitely harder to resist the spiritual pressure crashing down on them.
"Guh…! It's like my lungs are squeezed shut..!" groaned Uryu. "If what he said is really true, if he really sealed our abilities, then we just lost our means to fight back against any kind of hostile force or reishi thrown at us..!"
"I can't get these restraints off of them..!" grunted Yuzu as she clenched her teeth and tried to free the bound Espada. "Even using my Zanpakuto doesnt work…"
Another powerful shockwave of spiritual energy came their way, and it sent the rest of the observers around them stumbling back.
"At this rate….we're going to be caught up in their clash.." stated a worried Ozpin, looking over the horizon to gauge the status of the school and the remaining students inside the academy buildings. "All of us are weary and tired, not to mention injured from the battle"
"Those are some rather unpleasant faces the two of you are making, for a reunion between siblings, isn't it? I couldnt help but step in" came a feminine voice, seemingly from right beside Yhwach and Galathea. And where there was nothing at first, was now a regal looking woman with long black hair in the attire of a shrine priestess. She was holding Yhwach and Galathea's hands with each of her own.
"...!" Yhwach's eyes widened in surprise, as were Galathea's
"Kyouka.." acknowledged Yhwach. "How are you here? Weren't you supposed to be sealed up by Kisuke Urahara? Have you been standing there all along?"
"Who knows?" she answered with a sly smile. "Maybe I was, maybe I wasn't. Does it really matter? Shouldn't we rejoice that we have an opportunity to meet like this, dear brother and sister?"
"You have your own sins to answer for, Kyouka" said Galathea. "Knowing your abilities, I am not surprised you are here. Though your reasons for doing so escapes me. It matters not. You and Yhwach can face judgment together"
"That's a rather pleasant look, Thea" complimented Kyouka, her eyes scanning Salem's form. "I rather prefer this new form of yours. It rather fits your name too. And I never thought I would see you make that face, or any kind of expression really. It would appear even you, the most stagnant one of us all, can change and evolve too. It pleases me to no end, and I mean that"
"Enough banter, Kyouka" cut in Yhwach. "Why are you here? This world should mean nothing to you. You should only have a vague awareness of it, let alone how and where to find it. And if you are here, does that mean Aizen…"
Kyouka returned another curt smile. "Mhm hmm. He's aware. I trusted him enough to tell him. And as for how I know…, I have to say that this time, even our reclusive sister is more knowledgeable than you. With this in my hand, do you really think I wouldn't have my own means of finding my way here?" She then extended her hand, and held within it was a dimly glowing blue orb. "But well, you know how it goes. Sosuke being here wouldn't really make much sense now would it? And that's why I asked him to let me handle our little reunion in his place"
"And what is it that you want to 'handle'?" asked Yhwach, narrowing his eyes. "As I mentioned before, you have no business here. Don't tell me you're here to save them. Is that it? Did you strike a deal with Kisuke Urahara to rescue the boy and his companions in return for your freedom? Or was it something they did? Now that would be rather uncharacteristic of you, Kyouka"
"What about another possibility, that I am here just to see the two of you?" she retorted with a playful and sly smile. "Is it really that strange that I wouldn't be curious to see what my brethren are up to after so many millennia? But I can already tell neither of you are convinced by that. Regardless, I really dont see why you both are at odds with each other. As you said, I don't really know much about this world, but I was listening in for a while. If you ask me, you both have always rejected each other's existence since time immemorial, but in my perspective, your own existence would be meaningless and stale without the other. Like a scale that is unbalanced. While I would love to explain myself, this is hardly the time to debate such worldly subjects. Nor am I in the mood for it. Still, when you speak of the 'boy', pray tell me, brother. Of whom do you speak?" she asked.
Yhwach raised his eyes questioningly. "Surely you don't need me to-"
Before he completed his sentence, the realization hit like a tidal wave. His eyes flew wide open, and his hands automatically reached for his sword and slashed at the visage of Kyoukasuigetsu. He could feel his sword cutting into her flesh, her body being cut and blood being drawn, but he knew none of what he was experiencing reflected the truth.
"I commend you for catching on. However, I expected you to have realized a lot sooner than that, considering that no one knows me better than the two of you" came Kyouka's voice, and her form was disappearing like mist being dispersed.
When he turned, he could still see the forms of the Kurosaki siblings, as well as the other denizens of Remnant. But he knew all that was likely just for show.
"To think you would deceive even me. My domain is one where all truth is laid bare to be judged. And yet…even I cannot tell just how much of our conversation was true and how much lay in falsities" admitted Galathea.
"Oh, don't be mistaken, Thea" assured Kyouka's voice, though this time, her form itself was nowhere to be seen. "Our encounter was very real. It would be crude of me to greet the two of you as an illusion. And I meant every single word I uttered. I simply didn't speak it all, which does not make it any less real or untrue. As for the rest, who knows? Perhaps I was around longer than you think. Or perhaps not. Perhaps Ichigo and the others really were illusions. Or somewhere in between, I replaced them with illusions using my abilities while I escorted them back to the World of the Living. What's to say if the person in front of you is real or not? Or how much of it I have encased in illusions and how much of it I have cast away. I left several clues, after all. For example, didn't you notice how quite the children were becoming? How no one seemed to be talking to the other as time passed on? But what part of your interactions with them was real, what part of it wasn't, I'll leave you two to ponder over. This won't be the last time we see each other anyway, nor is it the last time for the children. My business for the time being is done. What happens here isn't my concern, atleast for now"
"Don't be so presumptuous, Kyouka! As you said, now that I know, it won't take me more than a second to find-" started Yhwach, but her entire presence disappeared, as if swallowed by the void. And sure enough, several figures within the battlefield disappeared, shattering like glass, along with the figures of some of the 'Grimm' corpses as well as other features of the battlefield itself.
One moment they were in the hallowed grounds of Beacon Academy, and in the next, before anyone knew it, they were in a completely different landscape. One that looked, felt, sounded and smelt vastly different from the one they were in. The moment 'it' happened. The first thing that each individual did, was to look around, to try and make sense of their surroundings. And said individuals included the Espada, the Kurosaki siblings, Tatsuki, Uryu, Team WBY, JNPR, Amber, Qrow and Ozpin.
To some, the underground training hall under Kisuke Urahara's candy store was a familiar sight, though currently, it was a confusing one. And for the others, it was a completely alien one, but just as confusing.
The other thing that they noticed collectively was that they weren't alone. There were figures, both near and far, some dressed in robes of black, while others dressed in more familiar clothes. Some were sitting, some were kneeling by the rocks, and others were talking to those around them. All of their attention however, turned on them the moment they realized they had new company. The one closest to them sported a striped hat, worn out, pale green robes and a dull brown coat, complete with a wooden cane and sandals.
"Th-the underground training hall…!?" exclaimed Nel curiously. "Why are we here..?"
"And with that, all the players have been assembled" came the unfamiliar voice of a woman. Standing right beside them, in front of a large gate or sorts, was Kyouka, with a satisfied smirk on her face.
Author's note: I'm really happy I finally got to release another chapter, but damn did it take this long. I've been continuously held up by a number of different things, both personal and at work that made it almost impossible to write stuff. But here we are finally. Thanks a lot for being so supportive, and I hope you continue reading!
Response to reviews:
Monster King: Thanks!
Lucian Naruto: Yeah, no doubt they both have things to say to the other.
Argorok: Thanks as always!
Xeno01: Yeah things are indeed not looking so good, especially with so many soul reapers deceased. Not to mention the situation at Beacon. Well, some more unexpected developments happened, didnt it? And yeah, the other part of it was to throw some light on the thoughts and ideologies of different characters, which will be a continued theme in the future chapters as well.
Fezzgator: Thank you so much! I am really honored by your thoughts and am happy that you found them to be well done! I'll continue to try and better myself with each chapter, including how often I am able to write. I am loosely following canon, but the main changes I am making are more in terms of character motivations for certain characters, but I won't deny that I've made huge changes to the plot events here and there as well. Thanks for the continued support, and I really, really hope I can write more often!