Hey friends and fans, Kairomaru is bringing you another chapter of Force of Souls! Tatsuki and Orihime are doing their best to lay low, but how long will that last? Chad and Ganju are making their way through Seireitei pretty much blind…so maybe they need to ask someone for directions? Ichigo knows where Rukia is, so he's heading there straight away, regardless of who or what gets in his path.

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Chapter 28 – Casualties, Meetings, and Growth

Light a fire to the fang that cannot be reached,
So that I do not have to see that star,
So that I do not slit this throat

BOOM

Chad's outstretched fist let off a thin cloud of steam from his latest attack. Before him, a group of Shinigami were laid out on the ground.

"Where do all of these guys keep coming from?!" Ganju panted, having finished slugging it out with three other Shinigami behind Chad.

"They said that they're from the Eleventh Squad…" Chad shared the information that the attacking Shinigami had freely given away.

"Wait… What did Sis say about the Squads again?" Ganju took up a thinking pose and mumbled under his breath for a long moment. "Eleventh Squad…the melee-loving battle junkies…" He blinked and suddenly looked around warily. "Shit… We must've landed in the patrol territory of the Eleventh Squad! No wonder we're being constantly attacked!"

Chad looked around, but didn't sense, see, or hear anyone approaching them right now. "Do you have any idea where we should go from here?"

Ganju pulled out a hand-drawn map and looked it over. "Let's see…" He perused the paper but didn't look like he was making any progress.

Chad moved over to look at the map…only to deadpan at what he saw. The map was hand-drawn by Ganju himself, as evidenced by the cartoonish drawing of Ganju giving a 'v for victory' pose in the bottom corner. The map was little more than a circle on the paper that was labeled 'Seireitei' with a circle inside that was labeled as 'Company Station'.

"I'm not sure which road to take to get further into the Seireitei and find this Shinigami woman that we're supposed to be rescuing." Ganju admitted as he looked up from his 'map'.

"There aren't any roads drawn on the map." Chad couldn't help but comment on the poor quality.

Ganju looked up at Chad with a grimace. "Hey! I did my best with the information that I had!" He grumbled a little before rolling up the map and sticking it back into the inner pocket of his outfit. "We can't just go charging straight into the center of the Seireitei. We're trying to avoid the Captains… If only there was a way to know where they were, we could avoid them easier."

Chad agreed that they couldn't just charge straight through. Yoruichi had been very insistent that they avoid the Captains at all cost. "We should still move though. Or we're just going to keep being attacked."

"Right!" Ganju agreed and started running down the street in the direction that they'd been traveling before being jumped by the last group from Squad Eleven. "Let's try and find some higher ground and see if we can figure out where to go from there!"

Chad followed after Ganju, not having any better plan right now. 'Getting a look around from a higher vantage point couldn't hurt.' As it was, they were currently running around blind.

The two men rounded one corner and rushed down a straight road. They took the next left turn, and then a right turn before Ganju came to a screeching halt. Chad stopped as well and turned to put them back-to-back as he sensed others approaching from behind.

"The ryoka!"

"Found you!"

"You thought you could get away?!"

"It's the intruders!"

"Kill 'em!"

The calls from the two groups of Squad Eleven Shinigami were filled with violence as Ganju and Chad were surrounded. Every Shinigami had their Zanpakutō drawn and pointed at the two ryoka.

"Whoa!"

A softer voice yelped from within the crowd of Shinigami. A few of the men stumbled, as if hit from behind. Chad and Ganju blinked at the sudden change in the situation.

"Hey!"

"I'm sorry!"

"Who are you, kid?!"

"I'm just-!"

"Get out of here!"

"I'm trying!"

"Don't touch me! You wanna die?!"

"No sir!"

A shorter boy suddenly fell flat on his face between the crowd of Shinigami and the two ryoka. He was clearly a Shinigami as well, judging by the shihakushō and the Zanpakutō on his hip. But he had a strap around his torso attached to a relief bag on his back.

"Huh?" The teen looked up at Chad and Ganju. He had semi-long, black hair, a soft face, and blue eyes.

"Hey, Chad…" Ganju had a smirk on his face as he looked down at the smaller Shinigami. "I think I just figured out a way out of this."

"Mm." Chad gave a nod, not liking it, but willing to go along with it for now.

"H-Hello?" The Shinigami on the ground was nervous as he saw the look that Ganju was giving him. "Y-You two…wouldn't happen to be…the ryoka?" He tried to slowly back away. "You're not, right? Are you?!"

Chad grabbed the Shinigami by his shihakushō and dragged him to his feet. Ganju drew his cleaver-like sword and held it to the teen's neck.

"Okay! Outta our way! Or your little friend here gets it!" Ganju declared loudly.

"Waah!" The captured Shinigami panicked at being taken hostage.

The blank looks on the faces of the Squad Eleven members weren't what Chad or Ganju expected though.

"What're you doing?" One of the Shinigami asked.

"W-We took a hostage…" Ganju answered, looking confused by the lack of concern being shown.

"Do we look like we're his friends?" Another member of the Eleventh Squad questioned.

"You're not friends?" Ganju looked down at the younger Shinigami.

The teen had a strained smile as he looked up at Ganju. "I-I'm from Fourth Squad…and they're from Squad Eleven." He said, as if that explained everything.

"We of the Eleventh Squad are the ultimate combat unit!"

"Fourth Squad are weaklings that're only good for relief work!"

"They're dead weight in a fight!"

"SO WE HATE THEM!" The entirety of the Eleventh Squad Shinigami laughed at the situation.

"Go ahead and kill him! That's like a bonus for us!"

"NO!" The captured Shinigami cried out in fear.

Ganju recoiled a bit at the harshness. "What the hell?! That's totally heartless!"

Chad clenched his fist at the way the Eleventh Squad was laughing and encouraging the death of the smaller Shinigami.

"Come on! We can kill all three of them in five minutes!"

Woosh

Reiryoku blasted off Chad's transformed arm, startling everyone around them.

"Sorry, I've gotta disappoint you." Chad spoke coldly to the Eleventh Squad members.

"Huh?!"

"What'd you say?!"

"This'll be over in two minutes." Chad promised right before he threw his fist forward.

BOOM

The torrent of Reiryoku blasted apart the densely packed Shinigami, sending them flying through the air.

The Shinigami all gaped at the sudden, explosive power that Chad had unleashed. None of them were expecting such an ability as the normally gentle giant turned to face the group of Shinigami at his back. A stream of blue Reiryoku flared at the back of Chad's transformed arm as he brought his right fist around again.

BOOM

In the confusion and thick clouds of dust and debris kicked up by Chad's attacks, Ganju grabbed their 'hostage' and ran. Chad was following right after him as they left behind a damaged street filled with injured Squad Eleven members.

-Ichigo-

"You guys are in my way." Ichigo looked at the group of Shinigami that stood in his path. He'd followed Ikkaku's directions and had spotted the white tower that the bald Shinigami had mentioned. But as he tried to make his way forward, multiple Shinigami had done their best to impede him.

"You aren't getting away from Squad Eleven alive!" The largest Shinigami in the group declared.

"Yaaahhh!" The group of Shinigami charged towards Ichigo with their Zanpakutō drawn and ready.

Ichigo knew he didn't have time to fight each of these guys individually, nor were they going to let him do so with the way they were all coming at once. 'None of these guys have even attempted any Kidō either.' Ichigo had noticed the complete lack of spells used against him since the group had landed in Seireitei. "Well, that doesn't mean that I can't use it." He drew Shingetsu and then held his left arm to the side, a glow of wispy Reiryoku formed on the tips of his fingers. "Rise up, fall still, silent end. Warring field, northern point, the march continues on. Hadō #29: Yūreiha (Phantom Blade)!" Ichigo swiped his left hand through the air in front of him, leaving a trail of the wispy Reiryoku behind.

From the smoke-like Reiryoku, ten straight double-edged blades formed in the air. With but a thought, Ichigo sent the blades rocketing towards the charging Shinigami.

"Gah!"

"Ack!"

"Hah!"

"Argh!"

"Like that'll work!"

Ichigo noticed that he'd managed to take down about six of the men coming at him, stabbing them with the spectral blades of his Hadō spell. The other four blades had been blocked and dispersed by the Zanpakutō of the other attacking Shinigami. Wind swirled around Shingetsu's blade as Ichigo formed Hadō #18: Kaze Kiru and poured a decent amount of his Reiryoku into the spell. "Hyah!" With a swing of his sword, the arc of cutting wind was unleashed and the still standing Shinigami were forced to block the overpowered Hadō spell.

"Aaaauuuhhh!"

"Graaauhh!"

"Shiiiitttt!"

"Ooouuhhhh!"

The last six men tried to block with their Zanpakutō, which did prevent them from being sliced in two, but sent them flying backwards from the force of the spell. They slammed into a far wall and the Kaze Kiru slashed cleanly through the stone and wood. The wall collapsed on top of the injured Shinigami, burying them and taking them out of the fight.

The Squad Eleven members that were still conscious, those that hadn't passed out when they'd been stabbed by the phantom blades, growled and tried to get back to their feet. Of the three that managed to stand up, one was shaking, barely able to support his weight on his bleeding leg, while the other two could barely hold their Zanpakutō due to their injuries.

Ichigo vanished into a blur of Shunpo and cracked the first man upside the head with a punch. The Shinigami dropped like a sack of rocks and hit the paved street unconscious. The next two got the same treatment as Ichigo vanished again, the closest man getting hit in the head with the kashira of Shingetsu, while the last Squad Eleven member's eyes widened before Ichigo's foot slammed into his face. Ichigo was gone before the final man hit the ground, using his best Shunpo to clear a great distance in only two steps.

"I'm coming to get you, Rukia." Ichigo had his eyes locked on the white tower in the distance, his eyes burning with determination to save the one he loved.

-Lieutenant's Meeting Room-

Iemura Yasochika, the Third Seat of Squad Four, was a blonde man that wore squared glasses and had an angular face. He had come to the Lieutenant's Meeting Room to deliver an update on the current situation with the Ryoka incursion within the Seireitei. He bowed once to the gathered Lieutenants before opening the report to start reading off the compiled information.

"Squad Eleven, Third Seat, Madarame Ikkaku…as well as Squad Eleven, Fifth Seat, Ayasegawa Yumichika…have both been incapacitated due to their injuries sustained in battle with the ryoka." Iemura read off the report, drawing some stunned looks from the various Lieutenants. "Individual reports are being compiled for each Squad, but as of this first report's completion, it appears that nearly all of Squad Eleven has been wiped out."

"Squad Eleven?!" The Lieutenant of Squad Three, Kira Izuru, looked like he could barely believe what he'd just heard. He had dark blue eyes; and, shoulder-length, blond hair that was combed into three points, with two in the back, and a third combed to cover his left eye. He had his Lieutenant's badge on his left arm.

"N-No…" Hinamori gasped, her hand covering her mouth.

"How could these ryoka cause so much damage in such a short time?" Hisagi Shūhei, Lieutenant of Squad Nine, questioned Iemura with narrowed eyes. It didn't make sense that the Squad that specialized in melee combat would be taken down by a handful of ryoka.

Renji perked up slightly as he listened to the report. Something about this rapid defeat of the Eleventh Squad seemed off. The only way that would be possible was if the ryoka were all close to the strength of Seated Officers. 'Rukia didn't tell me much of anything when I asked; but it would make sense that the ones that survived that Hollow incursion upon the Jūreichi would have to be fairly strong.' But to take out an entire Squad in only a matter of hours?! That would be strength that normally took years or even decades to develop.

"We've confirmed that three ryoka were the ones responsible for taking down Squad Eleven. It appears that two of them have taken a member of my Fourth Squad hostage and were last seen heading in this general direction."

Iba looked to Iemura, both men familiar with each other as part of the Shinigami Men's Association, and spoke up. "Actually, I haven't heard anything from my Fourth Seat since just before the ryoka broke in. If he'd taken any of them down, we definitely would've heard about it by now. Maybe they got him too?" Iba didn't like to think like that, but in this situation, he had to prepare for the worst. "Could you check in the area of twenty west? That's where he was assigned to patrol." He requested a search for his Squad's missing Officer.

"Fourth Seat? Isn't that Jirōbō? The 'Kamaitachi'?" Hitsugaya narrowed his eyes as he recalled the large man. If the invaders were capable of taking down multiple Seated Officers like this, they weren't just any average ryoka.

"Yes." Hisagi confirmed with a sharp nod. "Jidanbō's little brother."

"What's going on? Who are these ryoka?" Ōmaeda Marechiyo questioned with a grimace. He was the physically largest of all the Lieutenants, standing at 210cm tall. He was also the heaviest, his considerable bulk making him a far cry from the more lean and toned physiques of his fellow Lieutenants. He had black hair, though it appeared to be receding, and sideburns down to his jaw. He wore the standard Shinigami shihakushō, but had added a large, puffy, purple collar made of silk. He had noticeably expensive, personalized jewelry on his wrists and around his neck as well; but that was expected of a member of the very wealthy Ōmaeda Clan, one of the minor Noble Clans within the Seireitei.

"What are we looking at in terms of deaths?" Ise Nanao, Lieutenant of Squad Eight, asked the question that no one had wanted to broach. She was a slim and youthful woman with long black hair that she normally kept pinned back, with flat bangs that hung to the right side of her face. Nanao also wore the standard Shinigami shihakushō properly, without any additions or alterations. Her blue/violet eyes, behind her oval-shaped glasses, were focused and serious.

"That's the one spot of good news." Iemura nodded to Nanao's question. "While we've had several dozen severe injuries, we haven't had a single death."

"What?" Almost all of the present Lieutenants asked at the same time.

Iemura straightened up and repeated himself. "We've had no deaths from the ryoka incursion, so far. Many injuries ranging from minor cuts and contusions, to more severe injuries like broken bones, concussions, and internal bleeding, but not a single death has been reported yet."

"That seems…odd." Iba said with a puzzled expression that not even his sunglasses could hide.

"Very odd." Hisagi agreed. "It's like they're purposefully avoiding killing anyone…"

"But they're the ones that are invading." Izuru looked at his friend and fellow Lieutenant in confusion.

"Th-Things are getting crazy…huh, Renji?" Hinamori turned to get Renji's opinion, only to find him missing and the window near where the red-haired Lieutenant had been opened. "Renji?"

-Fourth Squad General Relief Station ~ Room One-

BANG

A perfectly circular hole in the wall was made with a silent Hadō spell.

"So? You refuse to talk, eh?" Kurotsuchi Mayuri looked down at the bedridden Ikkaku. "Madarame?"

"P-Please, Captain Kurotsuchi… These kinds of post-battle interrogations aren't allowed within the relief stations!" A nurse of the Fourth Company spoke up in defense of their current patient.

BANG

"Shut up!" Kurotsuchi snapped at the nurse after putting another perfectly circular hole in the wall beside her head. The nurse recoiled in terror and quickly rushed to get her superior.

"Mayuri-sama…" Nemu spoke up.

"You shut up too, Nemu!" Kurotsuchi barked at his Lieutenant and 'daughter'. "Do you want to be punished?"

"No, Mayuri-sama. Forgive me." Nemu bowed her head once.

"I swear…why did I incorporate a full mental growth and development process?" Kurotsuchi grumbled under his breath lowly. As much as he was happy with his creation's success, he still wondered about some of his own choices when it came to Nemu's 'birth' and growth over the years. Shaking his head, the Captain of the Twelfth Squad turned his attention back on Ikkaku.

"I'm not refusing to talk." Ikkaku looked over at Kurotsuchi. "I just don't know anything. I don't know the ryoka's objectives or destination. I know nothing."

Kurotsuchi didn't look like he believed Ikkaku in the slightest. "So that's it? You lost and then came here without obtaining any intelligence?"

"That's right." Ikkaku said plainly. "I only have a description of the ryoka, and I'm told it matches the description already provided by Captain Ichimaru. So I have nothing to tell you."

"Very well! Then your punishment shall be commensurate with your disgrace!" Kurotsuchi raised his hand, preparing to strike Ikkaku.

He never got the chance though.

A nearly crushing grip closed around Kurotsuchi's wrist and the Captain turned, only to have to look up to see the scarred face of Kenpachi Zaraki.

"This is odd." Kenpachi looked down at Kurotsuchi. "Since when were you given authority to punish men from my Squad? Huh, Kurotsuchi?"

"Zaraki!" Kurotsuchi jerked his wrist free from the other Captain's grip. "What can I do if his Captain forbids it?" Kurotsuchi's sarcasm was nearly toxic. "We're leaving, Nemu! Hurry up!" He stalked towards the door.

"Coming, Mayuri-sama." Nemu dutifully followed him.

Everyone in the room went still as the Captain of the Fourth Division, Unohana Retsu, appeared in the doorway. She was a slender and very beautiful woman with dark blue eyes and black hair. She wore the standard Shinigami shihakushō, apart from using an obi instead of the normal sash, which helped hide her well-endowed bosom from many centuries of leering patients, along with her Captain's haori. Her hair was long and always worn as a large braid down the front of her body. Captain Unohana often exuded a calm, caring, almost motherly aura with a gentle smile on her face. But right now, anyone that wasn't blind, deaf, and dumb could see the danger lurking in her eyes.

"Captain Kurotsuchi, might I have a word with you about these two holes in my walls?" Unohana requested, though it clearly wasn't a request at all. "I know you must be busy with this ryoka invasion happening, but I assure you, this won't take long."

Kurotsuchi nearly winced, but followed after the more senior Captain anyway, Nemu obediently following behind him.

With everyone else gone, Kenpachi turned to look at Ikkaku.

"Captain." Ikkaku greeted with the best nod he could give while lying down.

"Boo!" Yachiru popped up over her Captain's shoulder with a grin, having been hanging from his back the whole time.

"Lieutenant." Ikkaku looked at Yachiru flatly. The girl was a rambunctious handful that he'd had to deal with for a long, long time now.

"Are you alright? We were worried about you, baldy!" Yachiru smiled at Ikkaku.

Ikkaku's eye twitched. "I told you not to call me that, brat."

He was promptly ignored by the pink-haired girl.

"It appears you lost." Kenpachi said as he looked at Ikkaku's current state.

"I'm sorry." Ikkaku apologized to his Captain immediately. "I know it was shameful to lose and return alive, but…"

"Is he that good?" Kenpachi interrupted, knowing Ikkaku's thoughts and beliefs when it came to combat already.

"He is." Ikkaku confirmed.

"Which one was it? Describe him." Kenpachi ordered, the barest hint of a grin forming on his scarred face.

"He has orange hair, and his Zanpakutō is slightly longer than a standard katana. He was headed for the Senzaikyū ." Ikkaku said, relaying all the information that he had.

"The condemned Kuchiki girl?" Kenpachi almost raised an eyebrow at the ryoka's obvious goal, given his destination.

Ikkaku gave a short nod. "I warned him to be wary of you. If he remembers my words, then you should enjoy a great fight when you meet him." Ikkaku turned his head to look his Captain directly in the eye. "He's strong. And his strength is still growing. By the time you meet him, Captain, he should be quite the prize."

"Is that so?" Kenpachi now had a downright smile, terrifying as it was, on his face. "What's his name?"

"Kurosaki Ichigo." Ikkaku could feel Kenpachi's Reiatsu nearly buzzing in the air.

-Base of the Senzaiky ū-

Ichigo looked around and extended his awareness as far as he possibly could to check for threats. He'd been suppressing his Reiatsu as much as possible on his way here, both to hide his presence and to allow his ability to sense the Reiatsu of others to expand without having to fight through his own Reiatsu. He'd managed to get this far without having to fight after the last group of Shinigami from Squad Eleven.

'The others seem to be causing some distractions whenever they have to fight. I have to hope that they're okay.' Ichigo had no chance of sensing someone that was purposefully hiding their Reiatsu, especially not across such a large distance. For now though, the distraction was proving to be a boon for Ichigo as he stepped out into the open area between the stairs leading up the hill that the Senzaikyū stood upon and the path that he'd taken to get here.

He'd barely made it to the halfway point when he felt it.

Reiatsu.

Someone had been concealing their presence and only now were they revealing themselves.

Walking down the final few steps was a red-haired Shinigami with a strange looking headband. Ichigo briefly wondered if it wasn't a pair of goggles, given that it appeared to have roughly the same shape. What caught his attention immediately after, was the Lieutenant's badge strapped to the Shinigami's left arm. Yoruichi had told them how to recognize both Captains and Lieutenants before they'd left Kūkaku's home.

"You're the one, right?" The redheaded Shinigami asked, looking at Ichigo with narrowed eyes as his feet touched the paved ground.

"The one…what?" Ichigo asked the man, feeling the still rising Reiatsu.

"The one that took Rukia's powers! The one that's responsible for her fate!" He drew his Zanpakutō and held it at the ready.

Ichigo drew Shingetsu and his gaze sharpened on the Shinigami that seemed to know Rukia. "I'm the one that was able to save his family thanks to Rukia. The one that she willingly shared her power with so that we'd all have a chance to survive."

"I'm Abarai Renji, Lieutenant of Squad Six of the Thirteen Court Guard Squads!" Renji introduced himself with a burning glare. "And I'm going to make you pay for what you've caused!"

"What do you care?!" Ichigo stopped suppressing his Reiatsu, letting it rapidly climb to match Renji's swelling power. "You're not doing a damn thing to save her!"

"Come!" Renji shifted into an odd stance, his Zanpakutō gripped in his right hand, held next to his head, and with the edge facing the sky and the tip of the blade aimed at Ichigo. His left hand was down by his waist, fingers loose, while his right foot moved back and he lowered his center of gravity. "We'll let strength decide!"

"You're gonna let me pass!" Ichigo stated with finality, the air getting heavy from the two clashing Reiatsu.

"Or you're gonna have to kill me…" Renji glared fiercely at Ichigo.

Klang

The sound of the two Zanpakutō meeting was loud.

Ichigo and Renji pushed against each other's sword with all of their strength. Renji broke the deadlock and slashed at Ichigo again.

Klang

Ichigo blocked the swing with his own, his considerable Reiatsu pushing back against Renji's. With a heave, Ichigo started pushing Renji backwards, the redhead's sandals sliding across the paved ground until Renji's back hit the rock that made up the hill that the Senzaikyū sat upon.

Renji clenched his jaw from the pressure that Ichigo was putting on his sword. He increased his Reiatsu to counter and placed his left hand on the back of his blade to hold back Ichigo's Zanpakutō. "Tell me something, Kurosaki Ichigo." Renji revealed that he knew Ichigo's name as he glared into his opponent's eyes. "How do you intend to save Rukia?"

"How?" Ichigo looked at Renji like the other man was stupid. They were literally fighting so that he could rescue Rukia right now! The answer was obvious.

"Even if you could defeat me. There are still eleven more Lieutenants and thirteen Captains for you to face." Renji was able to speak almost normally as he held back Ichigo's blade, something that Ichigo was quick to pick up on. "If you want to save Rukia…you'll have to defeat us all. Do you really believe that you can do that?" He started to push Ichigo's sword back, revealing that he still had strength to spare.

"I have to!" Ichigo's declaration was accompanied by a large increase in his Reiatsu, pushing back Renji's sword noticeably. "Captains?! Lieutenants?! It doesn't matter! I'll crush you all!" The pressure increased further, making a screech of metal on metal as Shingetsu applied greater and greater pressure to the other sword. "Anybody that gets in my way is going down!"

"What?" Renji looked at Ichigo with disdain. "Where does this bravado come from? You may have been lucky up until now, but don't delude yourself." He stopped Shingetsu's advance no matter how hard Ichigo tried to force it. "Just because you have some strength, don't think you're stronger than me!" Renji swung his Zanpakutō forward and sent Ichigo flying backwards across the large empty space between the hill and the street that led to this place. Renji held his sword above his head, the edge facing the sky again, and ran his hand along the spine of the blade. "Howl, Zabimaru!"

The katana glowed red before its form shifted, becoming a much larger sword with large pick-like protrusions coming from the blade. "Rah!" With a swing, the sword extended rapidly towards Ichigo, each of the segments having a single pick at the top end of the blade.

"A whip sword?!" Ichigo brought Shingetsu in front of him and blocked the sharp edge at the front of Zabimaru from cutting into him. His feet hit the ground and he braced himself against the force, but to his surprise he was still sliding backwards. 'I…can't counter it?!'

"Hah!" Renji thrusted the hilt of his Zanpakutō forward and the extended blade shot forward in response, stretching to incredible lengths.

Ichigo's feet left the ground as the force transferred through Zabimaru and he was driven through the wall far behind him with a loud crash.

Renji pulled back the hilt of his sword and the sections rapidly came back and clicked together with the hilt. The large sword was once more the huge blade with multiple pick-like blades along the edge. Seeing blood on the blade, Renji looked towards the broken wall that he'd sent Ichigo through. "I don't know how you beat Ikkaku, but I'm not going to hold back, Kurosaki Ichigo! I'll use my full power to end you right here!"

"Oh." Ichigo's voice came from the shattered wall. "So then, this is your full strength?" Ichigo emerged from the rubble with a strong stomp on the ground, a bit of blood was on his shihakushō from a tear near the shoulder. "Well, it's not enough! Not even close!" Ichigo held Shingetsu in his right hand, the tip of his blade pointed straight upward. "But thanks for the information. If the rest of the Lieutenants are like you, then I should be able to manage."

"Fool." Renji glared at Ichigo. "You talk big, but I'm ending this!" He leapt into the air and whipped Zabimaru around, the blade extending and picking up incredible speed from the large swing. The power behind the whip sword would cleave Ichigo (and the entire wall behind him) in half with ease.

"Bring down the empty heavens, Shingetsu." Ichigo activated his Shikai. His Zanpakutō changed once more, the tsuba turning silvery while the stylized arrows pointing towards the base of the blade turned black. The blade itself lost its luster and turned jet-black as well.

Renji felt it before his vision caught up.

Pressure.

Renji slammed into the ground so hard and so fast that the tiles cracked. The extended Zabimaru fared no better, stuck to the ground just like its owner. It was like the weight of an elephant was on top of Renji as he struggled to even breathe as his body suffered under the crushing effects of the increased gravity.

"This is how I'll save Rukia." Ichigo spoke as if everything around him wasn't being crushed into the ground. The Substitute Shinigami was clearly not adversely affected by his own Zanpakutō. "I'll crush anyone that gets in my way."

"You…think this is…enough?" Renji demanded as his Reiatsu skyrocketed, a visible, deep red aura forming close to his body. He leapt up and Zabimaru was swung again, as if the gravity was normal. The whip sword screamed through the heavy air, the largest pick heading for Ichigo's head.

Klang

Shingetsu deflected the sharp spike as Ichigo blocked the attack. He lunged forward, aiming to cut Renji down, only for Zabimaru to retract back into its sword form and block his slash, catching his blade against one of the many picks along the length of the weapon.

"You're too green!" Renji forced Zabimaru upwards, knocking Shingetsu high. Without bothering to extend his sword, Renji swung straight at Ichigo's torso. The swing connected, and Ichigo was knocked off his feet and sent bouncing across the ground.

"Grrrnnn, damn it." Ichigo growled as he got to his feet, seeing his shihakushō torn and cut in multiple spots. The swing had been strong enough to bat him aside, but he wasn't bleeding from the edge of the sword.

"Yah!" Renji swung Zabimaru down on Ichigo, the whip sword extending to reach the downed Substitute. Ichigo threw himself to the side and watched the ground split before being shredded as Renji whipped his Zanpakutō around for another swing. Ichigo ducked under the horizontal swing, feeling the wind ruffle his hair. Behind him, the wall was cleaved in half and collapsed as it shattered into pieces. "Rah!" A third swing came down on Ichigo, but a quick Shunpo got him out of the line of attack. Zabimaru shot back towards Renji and reformed the sword.

'Can he only swing it three times?' Ichigo wondered as he held Shingetsu at the ready again. He remembered Urahara's ten days of lessons well, how could he not after having them literally beaten into him?

"The more powerful the attack, the fewer times it can be employed in succession." Urahara told Ichigo as they sparred in the massive underground room beneath his shop. "A revolver fires six times…a missile, only once." He held up a single finger while blocking Ichigo's swing with Benihime. "The maximum number of consecutive attacks is always predetermined." He knocked Ichigo's sword to the side and thrust Benihime straight at Ichigo's chest. "The number of attacks may vary, so you need to determine the maximum number. If they become desperate…your opponent will always strike the maximum number of times."

Ichigo pressured Renji, feinting a charge.

Renji swung Zabimaru in a wide arc and Ichigo Shunpo-ed backwards to get out of range.

'One.'

"Hah!" Renji swung again, Zabimaru tearing through the ground where Ichigo had been standing a split second ago.

'Two.'

Renji increased the speed of the next swing, sweat clearly forming on his face. The whip sword went straight for Ichigo's head, but was dodged as he ducked beneath the slash. The extended blade shot backwards, beginning to reform the sword again.

'Three.' Ichigo now knew the maximum number of consecutive attacks.

"If you can determine the maximum number of attacks, then you'll know when your opponent is vulnerable." Urahara sidestepped Ichigo's swing. "After the last attack of a series…and before the first attack of the next…your enemy will be defenseless." Urahara demonstrated as he kicked Ichigo in the stomach and sent the Substitute Shinigami bouncing across the dirt of the training room.

"It's over, Renji!" Ichigo blurred forward and brought Shingetsu down in a perfect Suikawari overhead strike.

Renji grit his teeth and blurred to the side, just enough to dodge the downward swing. His Shunpo, while not his greatest skill, had only been able to move him this far under the intense gravity of Shingetsu. Ichigo's eyes widened as his strike was dodged.

"I told you, you're not stronger than me!" Renji slashed Ichigo with Zabimaru and blood flew through the air.

Ichigo hacked out a painful cough from the sharp pain of the largest spike on Zabimaru cutting into his shoulder. He now realized that Renji's Reiatsu was focused along the edge of his Shikai and most especially the picks for greater penetrating power.

"You're tough.' Renji admitted as Ichigo remained standing. "So you really want to save Rukia, eh?"

"You idiot." Ichigo breathed out as he looked at Renji. "I don't want to save her; I'm going to save her!"

"Silence!' Renji increased the pressure he was applying with Zabimaru, digging the spike into Ichigo further. "Rukia was condemned because of you taking her power! Don't you realize that?! Rukia is going to die because of you! And you have the audacity to show your face here and say that you're going to save her?! IT'S ALL YOUR FAULT!"

"I know that Rukia was sentenced to death because of me!" Ichigo grabbed Zabimaru's blade with his bare hand and yanked the spike straight up and out of his flesh. "That's why I'm here to SAVE HER!"

"What?!" Renji exclaimed in shock as he saw Ichigo remove Zabimaru's blade from himself with his bare hand. With his Shikai out of the way it was obvious that the wound wasn't even close to as deep as it should've been. It was only then that Renji realized that despite the cuts and tears in Ichigo's shihakushō, the other man wasn't bleeding from any other wounds aside from the very first one that he'd inflicted. Renji leapt backwards as Ichigo thrust Shingetsu towards his stomach, the heavy gravity cut the distance of his leap considerably, but Renji was still able to dodge.

"Shingetsu doesn't just increase gravity." Ichigo stood up to his full height and took hold of his Zanpakutō with both hands. "It also draws my Reiatsu closer to my body, compressing it and making it denser." He recalled what Shingetsu had called this 'side effect' of his gravity. "Jūryoku Yoroi (Gravity Armor)."

"When two spiritual bodies strike each other…the weaker one gets hurt." Urahara demonstrated by knocking Shingetsu aside with Benihime, leaving a small chunk of Ichigo's blade missing where the two swords had collided. "If your opponent is significantly more powerful than you are, then you'll find them almost impossible to cut. Only by focusing your Reiryoku into a single point will you be able to breach their Reiatsu and land a meaningful blow."

"No way…you can't have that much Reiatsu…you've not even been a Shinigami for a year!" Renji denied Ichigo's words, even after having experienced it.

"Nothing is born from fear, Ichigo. When you evade, it's not 'I'm afraid I'll be killed', it's 'I won't be killed'! When you attack, it's never 'I'm afraid to kill', it's 'Kill'! When you're trying to protect someone, it can't be 'I'm afraid they'll die', it's always 'I won't let them die'!" Urahara had Benihime raised, his Reiryoku making the sword vibrate and emit a keening sound that filled the air just as much as Urahara's Reiatsu. "That is what we call resolve!"

"I've resolved to kill you, Renji." Ichigo said, his eyes boring into Renji's as his Reiryoku flared and his Reiatsu increased, almost becoming visible around his body. Shingetsu appeared to vibrate slightly even as the gravity grew more intense and Renji nearly felt his legs buckle as he struggled to stay standing, even as he countered by increasing his own Reiryoku output.

"Damn you!" Renji tried to swing Zabimaru at Ichigo, but with the gravity only becoming more intense, his every action was a struggle.

"Ichigo… Every technique you possess has a name. And through that name, it gains strength and individuality." Shingetsu told Ichigo during Jinzen. "What I will show you now also has a name, and it will be more powerful if you know it."

"Jūryokuga (Gravity Fang)!" Ichigo swung Shingetsu down and unleashed a colossal wave of gravity in an arc of navy blue with a black core.

Renji watched as Zabimaru warped and shattered the instant it touched the wave. He felt his own body nearly coming apart just from being close to the attack. His skin split open and his muscles tore, blood was nearly sucked out of the massive wounds that had been torn open on his torso and left arm. The next thing he knew was the wind screaming in his ears as he flew backwards. He didn't even register the walls and buildings he was smashing through, his nerves already overtaxed and his mind fading to darkness.

When Renji finally came to a stop, he was lying almost three hundred meters from where he'd been, at the end of a long trench in the ground. Every building and wall that he'd smashed through was also bisected by this trench, the ground not cleaved apart, but compressed into a smooth indentation in the earth. Had Renji been weaker than he was, he'd be dead right now. As it was, thanks to his strength and resilience, he was barely breathing and covered in serious injuries, his blood covered the ground around his unconscious body.

Ichigo staggered a step forward, grimacing at the injury to his shoulder. The spike from Zabimaru hadn't gone as deep as it should have thanks to his Jūryoku Yoroi…but it had still pierced him pretty badly. The black shihakushō was soaked in his blood on the one side already. "Shit…" Ichigo sealed Shingetsu, returning the katana to its normal looking form. He sheathed his Zanpakutō and managed to walk towards the steps leading up the hill to the Senzaiky ū.

But with his own Reiatsu now suppressed again, he felt the dozens and dozens of Reiatsu signatures approaching the area at speed.

"Damn it." Ichigo looked up at the long staircase with a burning gaze. "Rukia."

"Ichigo!" Chad was suddenly at his best friend's side. "Are you alright?"

"Chad?" Ichigo blinked as he was supported by his closest friend. "Where did you…?" He tried to ask, but Chad shook his head.

In a blur of Chad's bastardized version of a Shunpo, the two were next to an open flagstone in the ground. A metal ladder led down below ground and Ichigo saw Ganju smiling up at him.

"Come on, Ichigo! We need to disappear! Like now!" Ganju slid down the ladder to make room and Ichigo was nearly shoved onto the ladder by Chad.

Ichigo descended the metal ladder as best as he could with his messed up shoulder. Chad followed him down and closed the flagstone door above them. Once they reached the bottom of the ladder, Ichigo realized they were in what amounted to a sewer.

"Who're you?" Ichigo looked at the unfamiliar Shinigami that was with Ganju and Chad.

"My name's Yamada Hanatarō , your friends have told me about your mission to rescue Rukia-san." Hanatarō introduced himself with a polite bow and a small smile. "I'd like to help you save her!" He said with resolve. "Ah! You're injured!" He pointed at Ichigo's shoulder. "Oh, wait, you fought with Lieutenant Abarai, of course you'd be injured." He bowed in apology. "I'm from Squad Four, I'm well-versed in Kaidō and can treat you, Kurosaki-san."

"Can we trust this guy?" Ichigo looked at Chad, trusting his best friend's judgement.

"He seems genuine." Chad replied with a nod.

Ichigo pulled the sheathed Shingetsu from his waist and sat down, leaning against the wall. He rested his Zanpakutō across his lap and with a grimace, he managed to shrug the sleeve of his shihakushō off to expose his bloody shoulder.

Hanatarō proved his professional skill as he quickly opened his relief bag and got out the necessary supplies to disinfect Ichigo's wound. Once the wound was cleaned, Hanatar ō seemed to mumble something under his breath before his hand glowed with the familiar gentle green light of Kaidō.

Ichigo leaned his head back against the wall as the pain faded and his injury began to heal. He just needed to recover and let the commotion above die down. Then he could get up to the white tower and rescue Rukia.

-Aboveground-

"Isn't that…?" One Shinigami questioned as dozens of them arrived at the scene of what could only have been a battle.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa… No way!" A younger Shinigami couldn't believe what he was seeing.

"Lieutenant Abarai!" Renji's body was quickly surrounded by half a dozen Shinigami.

"Is he breathing?!' One Shinigami knelt down to check Renji's pulse. "It's shallow, but he's breathing!"

"What could do this to Lieutenant Abarai?" One of the Shinigami questioned as a stretcher was brought over to take Renji to the nearest Squad Four relief station.

The mass of torn skin and muscle that made up Renji's left arm and the left side of his torso was a gruesome sight. The right side of his body wasn't much better, covered in blue-black bruises and cooler than it should be, probably from the loss of blood.

"Renji…was defeated?" Izuru looked at his former classmate from the Shin'o Academy. Renji had worked his way all the way up to the Lieutenant position through sheer hard work and merit, without taking any help from being adopted by a vassal house of the Noble Kuchiki Clan. His combat skills were high, even when compared to his fellow Lieutenants. "A ryoka did this?"

"Hurry up and grab the other side!"

"I know what to do! Stop panicking!"

"Carefully… Lift him as gently as possible."

"It seems the one that Lieutenant Abarai was fighting has fled somewhere. Should we pursue, Lieutenant Izuru?" One of the Shinigami asked Izuru for orders as the highest ranked Officer at the scene.

"No." Izuru shook his head and focused on what needed to be done. "Our priority right now is saving Renji! We'll be heading to the Fourth Division as soon as I provide first aid treatment." For the first time in a while, Izuru was glad that he'd been part of the Fourth Division long enough to learn some Kaidō. He was at Renji's side with his hands glowing a soft green a moment later. He just needed to stabilize Renji so that they could transport him safely.

-Orihime and Tatsuki-

"That was Ichigo." Orihime looked worried, wondering what could've forced Ichigo to fight so hard that they could feel his Reiatsu from such a distance.

"Damn it… What's going on?" Tatsuki cursed at not knowing the situation.

The two young women had been doing everything they could to lay low after dealing with Jirōbō earlier. As it was, they still had a couple of hours before nightfall, when they planned to move under cover of darkness.

"We still don't know where Rukia is being kept either." Orihime mumbled, looking down until Tatsuki pulled her into a gentle embrace.

"We'll find her, Orihime." Tatsuki smiled confidently at her girlfriend. "But we won't be able to help the others if we get caught. So, for now, we have to lay low for a bit longer."

"You're right, Tatsuki!" Orihime perked up, a smile returning to her face. "Once night falls, then we'll find someone to ask about Rukia!" She threw a punch forward, silently declaring that they would ask with force if necessary!

Tatsuki smirked at Orihime, loving the fire that the bubbly airhead could bring out when she was determined. "Hell yeah, we will!" She punched her right fist into her left palm.

"I kinda wish we had something to do though." Orihime looked around the storage shed that they were hiding in the back of, completely hidden from view by the stacks of various supplies between them and the door.

"It's boring, but necessary right now." Tatsuki agreed, wanting to search for their friends and find Rukia, but not wanting to run afoul of a Captain like they'd almost done earlier. Yoruichi-sensei had been VERY clear and insistent that they not fight a Captain. Fleeing was the only real option if they wanted to survive in that scenario.

So, for now, the two girls bided their time as the sun slowly headed for the horizon.

-End Chapter-

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Well damn…

Ichigo unveils some of his progress with both Kidō and Shingetsu from his crash course training with Urahara!

Having a fuck ton of Reiryoku is good for a Shinigami. It means you'll have a proportional amount of Reiatsu. The stronger your Reiatsu, the harder it is for others to harm you.

But when you combined a fuck ton of Reiatsu with the powerful attraction and compression of gravity, you increase its effectiveness even further!

Renji found that out the hard way when his attacks, even with his Shikai, didn't do much damage to Ichigo, until he put everything into his last counter attack.

Then he was hit with the equivalent of a gravitational wave that nearly tore him apart before rocketing him three hundred meters in the opposite direction!

Chad and Ganju kidnap Hanatar ō!

The Fourth Division member has become acquainted with Rukia though! He wants to help them rescue her! Having led them through the underground sewer system, they arrive at Ichigo and Renji's battleground! That gives Chad a chance to grab the injured Ichigo and disappear before the rest of the Shinigami showed up!

The first day of the 'invasion' is coming to a close. What will await our ryoka then?

Keep reading to find out!

Until I get your reviews, later!