Chapter 46

Shuzen Castle-the present

Ichigo was falling into a dark abyss he knew that he will not be able to crawl out of this time. After all, that bastard Grimmjow just blew a hole in his chest and the strawberry knew he was at the point of no return. He was aware of floating down but he didn't know where this journey will take him. He was just tired...so tired! No one could blame him if he succumbed to his wounds and just let it all go. The Shinigami has been fighting for so long, didn't he at least deserve to rest? Regardless, he knew death was claiming him and he was almost tempted to welcome its cold embrace. However, he heard a voice from somewhere within the depths of the void. It sounded just like Orihime...

"She's...calling for me!"

"HELP ME KUROSAKI-KUN!" Orihime screamed. "PLEASE HELP US!"

"She's calling and I can hear her!"

"PLEASE ICHIGO HELP ME!"

"Stand...Stand...STAND UP!"

"I-I WILL PROTECT HER!"

With that declaration, Ichigo underwent a bizarre transformation. His spiritual energy momentarily flared and suddenly everyone in the battlefield including the inhabitants of the castle could feel the immensely strong tsunami of spiritual pressure that he released. The strawberry stood up, his orange hair suddenly grew so long that it now stops at his waist line. A new Hollow Mask that formed around his face resembled a skull with an intricate red lines that ran through his eyes, down his cheeks, continued on to his chin and then meets at the tattoo like markings on his torso. A pair of black horns curbed forward, adorned the side of the mask. The hole was still prominent in the middle of his broad chest. Tufts of red hair flared around his neck and shoulders as well the ankles and wrists. His pale complexion stood in contrast to the greenery of his surroundings. The newly Hollowfied Ichigo stood quietly, almost growling softly like a wild beast as his long orange hair billowed in the wind.

Orihime looked back in shock as she felt massive spiritual pressure unlike anything she has felt before. Her eyes widened, as her brain tried to process what it is that she is seeing. She knew in her heart that this beast-no this man-that stood not far away from her is the man that she has declared her love to...Well at least not out loud to him anyway! She thought the transformation has stabilized but it would seem it was not over as Ichigo's body transmogrify some more. Right before her eyes, strange red tribal tattoos began to appear in his arms, his back, his abs, and finally his legs. The mask now has an intricate red markings that runs down the middle of Ichigo's face and two of his canines grew out and slightly elongated. The familiar thin and toned build that Ichigo had suddenly swelled and became heavily muscled, compact, and tightly chiseled. Large bone-like growth protruded from the outside and ran the outline of his spine. Razor sharp bone extensions grew along his collar bone, forearms, elbows, knees, and shins and covered the vulnerable areas like armor. If the first transformation was scary, then in Orihime's opinion, this current one is even more fearsome and down right frightening!

A few yards away, Kahlua eyes widened at Ichigo's sudden and all together unexpected transformation. The beautiful assassin knew the blood that she gave to the strawberry to save his life must have mutated the evolutionary process within the Hollow of the Substitute Shinigami's soul. Indeed, she can smell the Vampire in him but it was faint as if it was being subdued somehow. Perhaps the Hollow is absorbing the vampiric essence at this moment and simultaneously combining and evolving into a being of unimaginable power. Her theory might have a little bit of merit, considering that she gave Ichigo enough blood to turn two dozen people into full pledged Vampires and he isn't even exhibiting the tell tale signs of her kind. If her blood could give him a power boost of this magnitude, she wonders what would happen when Ichigo is given the blood of the Shinzo? How much power will Ichigo gain when he ingests the blood that ran through Aunt Akasha and Moka-chan's veins? How close will the strawberry's enormous power will be in comparison to the might of the gods?

Kahlua blushed as she purred in even more pleasure and enjoyed the constant crushing sensation of Ichigo's enormously powerful Yokai energy. If there were any doubts to his potential to surpass all of them in strength and power; this creature before her is proof of that indisputable fact. If she had a huge crush with the strawberry before, now she thinks she's in love with him! It is true that about half the reason that she came to that conclusion was his power. However, the rest of it is because she likes his caring personality, his fierce pride in protecting the people he cares about, his courage and fearlessness in battle, and the cute little quark that has him screaming like a little girl whenever he gets teased! Now she is truly certain that her search for that perfect mate is finally over! Now all she has to do is snatch him from under Orihime's arms (even though she likes the girl somewhat), earn his love in return, and everything should be all right, shouldn't it?

Grimmjow looked a little slacked jawed as his eyes widened at the bizarre transformation that transpired before him. Vampire blood is certainly very potent stuff indeed if Ichigo's Hollowfication transformed the strawberry into this thing that highly resembles a Vasto Lorde but only in it's appearance. Oh he has heard rumors about how powerful they were but the former Espada couldn't quite comprehend the vast amount of power that this Hollow is generating. Still he was sent here on a mission and he will fulfill it, provided that he survives of course!

"Impossible you can't have survived!"

The beast then lowered it's muscular arm low as if reaching out and suddenly Tensa Zangetsu flew into its right hand, caught it, and slashed low behind him. At first nothing happened but suddenly a giant 200 foot trench carved itself as the ground easily crumbled under his enormous power. All the forcefully displaced earth and rock rose into the air almost 1000 feet into the air. The massive shockwave this simple move caused blew Orihime away and if it wasn't for Kahlua who caught her, the healer would have been seriously injured. Then the beast let out an angry, loud, and all together bestial roar that chilled everyone's spines cold to the bone...

"GYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHWOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

Then it lowered it's head and an ominous glow in between its horns begins to gather massive amounts of spiritual power and then summarily fired without warning! Grimmjow tried to counter with a hasty Grand Rey Cero of his own however, that proved futile as the enormous and powerful energy attack completely overwhelmed and snuffed his Cero out of existence and the former Espada was forced to evade with all the power he had into his Sonido and blurred away and barely escaped. However, the obsidian power beam continued causing massive damage in its path before it continued on to a mountain range miles away and simply obliterated the entire thing to dust! More massive shockwaves rocked the area. Orihime, Kahlua, and Grimmjow's eyes widened at the wicked power of this beast as they saw the massive and ominous mushroom cloud that rose several miles into the air and dominated the valley's skyline!

Then Grimmjow sensed someone behind and instinctively ducked as the razor sharp blade of Tensa Zangetsu passed above him but not before it went through a hill and carving up one quarter of it's material to nothingness and the rest fell down and crumbled to rubble. The former espada emerged from the massive cloud of dust Ichigo has kicked up. Then he felt someone behind him...

"What the hell, the bastard just used Sonido on me!"

Grimmjow strained again to evade the attack that annihilated the very ground he stood on and reappeared about 200 yards away. This is insane, how the hell can this creature have so much power! He has no choice then but to use Desgarrón, his strongest attack in his arsenal or face extinction! His spiritual pressure momentarily rises as blue solidified blades of light emerged from each of his fingers. Then the former Espada anticipated where Ichigo would appear next and unleashed the full might of his attack that buried the Hollowfied Shinigami in dust and debris as it hit him. When the dust cleared, Grimmjow's eyes widened as the beast not only stopped his most powerful attack with just his forearm but with a simple movement of his shoulder, his Desgarrón, shattered like glass. Still shocked from all the insanity, he barely registered the fact that Ichigo has reappeared behind him. Instinct kicked in and he countered but the Hollow caught his artificial arm and ripped it easily enough. Ignoring his injury, he fired a Grand Rey Cero at close range and an enormous explosion occurred. The injured Grimmjow emerged from the smoke and waited. Not surprisingly, the beast also emerged unscathed...

"FIRE ANOTHER ONE GRIMMJOW-SAN!"

The former Espada complied and as the Cero hit him, another powerful beam met his own and a titanic explosion occurred. Grimmjow, stood up and saw Midou with an unconscious Orihime in tow...

"We have what we came for let's get the hell out of here!"

Grimmjow hated to run but his associate had a point, it was futile to fight the beast in his condition anyway and their mission has been accomplished. Time enough to heal and fight another day as the power of the Vampire has clearly opened his eyes this day. He was eager to get his arm back and now that they have plenty of samples he knows he could probably get an upgrade. Then the very ground shook as a tsunami of spiritual pressure threatened to crush them to the didn't have to be told twice...he vows to settle the score with Ichigo when he gets stronger.

"Let's go!" Grimmjow replied.

"GRRAAAGGGGHHHHH YOOOOOHH AAAAHHHHHHHHHH!"

They used a Garganta to make their escape but before it could close the Hollow forcefully got the gate to open back up. Recognizing that they have taken his hime, seething anger begins to fester within him as he growled softly. He knew that wasting his energy on a tantrum now will not help her so he had the maw widened, entered, and followed his enemies into the void where ever they will go...

Yokai Academy-underground basement

The fight with Hakuto for the life of the school and perhaps the whole world is at stake. However, right now he is scratching the back of his head as he looked back and forth at the Moka and his Hollow trade screaming insults at each other. Certainly Hakuto stopped attacking for a moment and comically stared at the two beauties as they argued amongst the other. Tsukune sighed and the president sweat dropped. Then surprised at what they were doing, their fight continued on...but they paused for a moment as the screaming leveled up to screeching. Moka will certainly have his hide if she finds out that he's thinking unflattering thoughts about her...

The pink haired Hollow couldn't stand it anymore and she watched her beloved gets beaten to a pulp and left half for dead. She certainly do not understand why he is hesitating when before he fought with all his heart and soul. She's sure that it was Nee-chan and this girl's fault so she decided that she was going to give this pompous, arrogant bitch a piece of her mind and settle things with her sister conclusively in a later time! The Hollow didn't need to forcefully take control of beloved but she knew she could have if she wanted to do so. She finds that this method of manifesting herself into reality was faster and less messier.

When Moka saw her for the first time, she didn't like this pale imitation of her one bit. The Vampire's eyes narrowed dangerously as she came close to Tsukune and trapped him in a hug as he helplessly tried to fend her off. She looked liked Omote for some reason but this one was not meek, shy, nor sweet like her in the least. This "Omote" was far more arrogant, smug, and prideful...like a Vampire. She may look beautiful but she does not have the assets that she has which Moka secretly liked because that's one advantage she got on her and she can't wait to point out this shortcoming of hers! However, she certainly will not cling to Tsukune like this woman had: going up behind him, whispering to his ear, and putting her hand boldly into his kimono and Moka tried to hide a blush of embarrassment at this girl's audacity! What irked the hell out of her was even though Tsukune was trying to fend her off; it looked to her he wasn't doing a very good job of it and he lets her do as she pleased! The "Omote" clone found out she was staring and smirked at her to Moka's irritation. Then of course the fireworks started to fly when the pink haired woman came up to her and started talking to the Vampire. It was surprising that the two women haven't come to blows yet...but they were certainly close. Tsukune again sweat dropped as his head comically followed the insults of one to the other like a tennis match...

"U-um e-excuse me!"

Both of them turned around and glared at him comically. Tsukune backed up and sweat dropped again as the women continued their war of words...

"They're certainly a feisty bunch aren't they?" Hakuto said casually.

"Ya it's like mixing oil to water you know?"

They turned around and sweat dropped and then realized that they were supposed to be fighting so they continued. However, Tsukune was still holding back for some reason and Hakuto easily sent him flying and he found himself buried in one of the massive columns under the basement.

"My this is too easy...Is that all the strength that your Shinigami power has granted you?"

Tsukune knew he was right, he didn't really know why he's holding back for this long but perhaps yesterday's events would explain his actions...

Flashback yesterday night...

Tsukune and the others ran immediately outside the courtyard as they felt Ichigo's power spike tremendously. They saw a massive wave of Ichigo's Getsuga Tenshou hit an individual as he got swallowed in it's black depths. After the explosion that almost took out the entire courtyard and singeing the outer walls of the castle, the fight was already over. Passing a comical carcass of Ichigo's opponent; Tsukune looked back and saw the worried Orihime hurry and then see her stop abruptly. Puzzled at her behavior, he looked at her line of sight and had to stop and gape at wha the saw...Kahlua-san it seemed was on top of Ichigo for some reason.

"Oh my that's going to be trouble!" Moka exclaimed.

"Yup, his ass is grass!" Kurumu commented.

"Uh huh, uh huh..." Yukari nodded.

"Wow, didn't expect Ichigo to be...such a player!" Mizore added.

"I didn't know Kurosaki-san could be so...bold!" Ruby said blushing.

Tsukune looked at all of them and sweat dropped at their commentary...

Indeed his assessment of the situation was accurate as he saw the normally sweet Orihime turned into a green eyed jealous monster. If he ever had a girlfriend, he hopes he never does anything stupid to upset her as much as Inoue-san is at the moment. She walked towards her boyfriend who was slowly moving still unaware the deep trouble that he's in. When Ichigo opened his eyes, he was welcomed by a very upset Orihime tapping her foot right beside his face, her arms on her hips, and had the most un-Orihime like scowl that rivaled her boyfriend's infamous one.

"Oh Inoue, it's you..."

"Don't 'oh Inoue' me! Here I thought that I'm supposed to hear you out for your side of the story and now I find you were having fun with Kahlua-san instead!"

Ichigo looked at her puzzled. He realized that there was someone on top of him and when he looked down did a comical double take as Kahlua was resting comfortably on his chest! Then Kahlua woke up and when she saw him, an angelic smile crossed her face. Obviously she was very happy to see him. Then of course she realized that someone was trying to bore a hole on her with their gaze and looked up and recognized a very upset Inoue-san...

"Umm, hi?" Kahlua said lamely.

"Kahlua-san, if you don't mind. Please get off MY boyfriend!"

"Inoue-san don't look at this the wrong way but it's not what you think!" the Vampire said as she stood up.

"Ya Inoue there's a perfectly good explanation to what happened!"

"Oh really, PLEASE do tell!"

"I went to go rescue Kahlua from one of her annoying suitors and..."

"I got carried away and I glomped him in thanks..." Kahlua added.

"So I lost my balance..."

"Ichigo being the gentleman that he is turned me around in mid air..."

"She fell on me...so you see it's all a misunderstanding really..."

As the two both tried to explain, Orihime's temper began to swelter and her ire was tweaked beyond recovery. It was plucking the last of her nerves seeing Kahlua so close to Ichigo and the aforementioned strawberry didn't seem to mind the Vampire's proximity to him either and that got her as Akasha-san likes to say: hot and bothered! Orihime wasn't a jealous person but what is this knife twisting feeling that she felt inside her? Is it too much to ask that when she finally had the courage to confess to her beloved Ichigo her feelings and that they have made their first steps as a couple that the boyfriend stealing harpies get a clue and LAY OFF her man!

Orihime looked at them, her wild imagination running amuck and picturing those two as a couple. A tick mark appeared when she saw them in one of her musings as they walked holding hands. She would like to think that Kurosaki-kun likes her daintily smooth hands as it fits perfectly with his massive strong ones and would rather enjoy holding hers instead of Kahlua-san's! Then the little movie in her head continued to the two embracing and the fact that vile imaginary Kahlua-san was putting her filthy paws on Kurosaki-kun's oh-so-yummy muscular body and to her dismay, he didn't seem to mind as he purred in pleasure to her ministrations. Next they kissed...of course Orihime prides herself that she can twist her boyfriend on her little finger because of her kisses as he makes her breathless with his. Maybe when she has the opportunity to make up and taste those luscious lips of his again, she'll give him some tongue next time. That sounds like fun...then she realized what she was thinking and blushed in embarrassment. At this point she's willing to do anything! He is her boyfriend after all and she's sure that he's more than ready for that stage in their relationship.

Back to her bizarre little daydream, her imaginary Kurosaki-kun and Kahlua-san began to get into their kissing way too much and to her deep shock, they started stripping and continued to...Orihime didn't even want to imagine that part as she comically started to reach out and block the picture while she started to flap her arms as the rated NC-17 image in her head faded to nothing. Kahlua and Ichigo looked at her then at each other and wondered what the hell she was thinking. The others who witnessed the really weird behavior wondered in astonishment as they looked at the scene with morbid curiosity.

Anyway, when they first discussed the "S" word to both of their chagrin and even more embarrassment, they promised each other that they were going to wait until they were both ready for it. The act itself would be the symbol of their love and tarnishing its purity just for the sake of some cheap thrills and satiating each other's lust wasn't the outcome that they wanted. Whether it happens or not depends on how they as a couple ride through the up and downs and the bumps in the road that gets in the way.

Snapping out of her little world, the very fuming and angry Orihime dragged Ichigo far away so they could talk. However, the gossip mongers among the group (Kurumu and to a lesser degree Yukari) couldn't help their curiosity and comically started to inch their way towards the arguing couple. Moka's effort to stop them was alas in vain and of course her own curiosity got the best of her and she ended up agreeing with it. Mizore and Ruby TRIED to stay out of the mess but they too succumbed to their gossiping instincts. The only one left who wasn't affected by it all was Tsukune and surprisingly Kahlua herself. As much as she didn't want to interfere and watch the drama unfold, her sharp hearing could hear every word that was said...

"Damn accursed hearing!" She cursed to herself.

Then they all witnessed scream in frustration and then disappear only for them to feel the strawberry's spiritual pressure crushing them to the ground. Kahlua was the only one who was able to withstand the oppressive aura. Then she looked up and her eyes widened as her sharp eyes focused on Ichigo who was perhaps almost two miles above them...

"He's that far away and yet we can still feel his power from down here?" she said amazed.

Suddenly Ichigo went back to the ground right where he left off. Then she was even more shocked when he said...

"If you can't find it in yourself to trust me then maybe we should just call it quits and break up..."

"I-is that what you want?"

The strawberry sighed...

"To tell you the truth Orihime..."

Orihime knew he was serious when she mentions her by her given name...

"I really don't want to at all. Look I care about you Inoue and the thing that we have going was the best thing that happened to me...No it's more like you are the best thing that happened to me. If you won't listen to what I have to say or even trust that I won't betray you; then what's the point in being together?" Ichigo asked her. "I think you and I need a little space...to think things through."

"F-fine if that's what you want I can't stop you!"

Ichigo with sadness in his eyes and with a heavy heart didn't have anything to say to her. So he tucked in Tensa Zangetsu underneath the length of his right arm, it's razor sharp blade facing downward and walked away from her...maybe forever. As he walked though, his signature scowl returned and marred his face and when he looked at them as he walked by, they all comically parted in fear at the fierce and menacing killing intent that it held. He walked towards Kahlua and the Vampire without thinking reached out and grabbed the sleeve of his kimono. Ichigo stopped but he did not turn to face her. It certainly did not agree with her pride but she felt she needed to apologize to him somehow...

"I-I'm sorry Ichigo...I d-didn't mean to cause you guys some trouble!" she stammered.

When he finally looked back at her, his forbidding sour countenance softened somewhat but barely. Then he replied...

"It's not your fault Kahlua. This is a problem that Orihime and I need to resolve on our own. You need not worry about it. Now if you excuse me, I think I need to be alone for a while."

"O-okay..."

"Tsukune..."

"Y-yes..."

"Look after her for me will ya? Obviously I can't do that for her right now."

"You got it brother, leave it to me."

"Thanks, I appreciate it..."

Then Ichigo vanished before Kahlua's eyes...

It really wasn't Kahlua's business nor should she care whether the couple will ride their stormy relationship. If they break up that means they weren't meant to be and therefore she will be in good shape to go after Ichigo guilt free without being seen as the manipulative boyfriend stealer or something along those lines. She will be the one who will be what Orihime failed to be, a loving, caring girlfriend who will do everything for the man that she loves. Kahlua should be glad but what is this feeling? She should be jumping for joy for her opportunity to land Ichigo but why does it feel like she's the one who lost? Why does it feel like she's the villainess here?

Then she wiped her cheeks and was surprised that she was crying! It was the first time that she had shed tears for someone without the sudden urge to kill. Does this mean that she is sad that they are breaking up? That's absurd! The objective was to get Ichigo TO BE her husband after all! That was the whole damn point of doing all the absurd and rather embarrassing things that she have been doing for the last few hours! Still there was this heaviness in her soul that just wouldn't go away. It's like deep down this was not fair and that her pride as a Vampire and ultimately a woman will not let this happen! Kahlua's resolve hardened went up to Orihime and slapped her in the face. The brown haired girl put a hand on her soar cheek and looked at the Vampire in puzzlement.

"So is that it? You're just going to give him up just like that? You're not going to go after him are you?" Kahlua said sternly.

"H-he said that he wanted to have some space so I'm going to give it to him!" Orihime replied.

"You're an idiot!"

"Wha..."

"That's right you heard me...an idiot. What Ichigo said to you was true! He did save me from some annoying suitors. I did run up to him and got carried away with the hug, we tripped, and I ended up being on top of him. I swear to you that nothing happened after that but the way you're acting like a spoiled child maybe I wanted something to happen...Aww dammit that wasn't supposed to come out!"

"S-so you do have feelings for Kurosaki-kun?"

"Well, there's no denying it is there? Maybe I do maybe I don't...I really have no clue just yet. Never mind me, so what are you going to do with your situation?"

"Why should you care it's none of your business!"

"It IS my business when someone whom I care about is suffering! I will not tolerate anyone hurting Ichigo even if you are his girlfriend."

"Do you I think I wanted it to be this way? I care for him too you know! Do you know how hard it is pining for someone and finally have the courage to tell that person how you feel? I have waited years to be with Kurosaki-kun and I sure as hell I'm not going to give him up easily. If you want Ichigo so badly you're going to have to go through me first!"

"Good then we can both agree on something then. So what are you waiting for? Go after him! If you don't you will regret it and I will be the one who'll comfort him when you guys are through!"

"W-why are you letting me go if you have feeling for him too?" Orihime asked.

"I don't know...I guess my Vampire pride and the woman in me wants to win Ichigo from you."

"Kahlua-san..."

"Don't misunderstand me...from now on it's open warfare on Ichigo's heart understand? May the best woman win!"

"Please you're so out of contention it's not even fair! I am called his girlfriend for a reason you know..."

"Well, see if you're still smug about it when I snatch him from under you and my name is the one he's calling every night!" Kahlua said embarrassed.

"Ya well...I already got him moaning every time I get my hands on him...s-so so there!" Orihime said blushing.

Both of the girls glared at each other and sparks began to fly between them...

Orihime then left, glaring at her new rival for Ichigo's affections and went after the said strawberry. She needed to apologize and she will admit that all of this was a gross misunderstanding. Of course that and she wanted to be as far ahead of Kahlua-san as possible in Ichigo's eyes and only she will not be satisfied until she has total victory! First she needed to find him! It should be easy considering the vast wells of spiritual energy that the strawberry generates but to her surprise and growing concern, for some reason it was fading!

She panicked and she ran into Moka who decided to follow her it seemed. The Vampire explained that she was worried about her and that she wanted to see that she was all right. She also wanted to apologize for Kahlua's bizarre behavior earlier. The healer smiled at the pink haired girl and said it was okay. She wanted to thank her because if it wasn't for her nudging; she herself wouldn't have the courage to go after him just now. Regardless, Orihime asked Moka to help her track her wayward boyfriend's disappearing spiritual pressure. It took them awhile but they both saw Ichigo and Akasha-san disappearing in what looked like some kind of gate. The healer called the strawberry's name but it seemed that he didn't hear her. Without thinking she ran as fast as she could with Moka close behind. Then they too entered the gate and they too disappeared from it's depths. However, before the makeshift Garganta could close, Tsukune in his Shinigami form flashed stepped just in time and entered. Kahlua and the rest of the girls followed but were too late as the gate's maw slowly closed and disappeared.

The girls were already sick with worry as they all comically over react to the situation. However, the only calm person among them was Kahlua. The people who entered the gate were some of the strongest people that she knew so where ever the destination that gateway has taken them; she had faith that they could take care of themselves. So she will be patient and will wait for her sister and Ichigo to come back to her in one peace and preferably in her arms quite frankly. Though not necessarily in that order...

Hueco Mundo...

Akasha was surprised when Ichigo walked up to her and voluntarily asked to go to Hueco Mundo with her tonight. Well, she was keeping tabs with the children and she knew that Ichigo was in a very foul mood when he "broke" up with Orihime-chan. Now that was some first rate entertaining drama that was better than all the soap operas she's been watching on cable! She didn't want to exasperate the strawberry more than necessary, that would just be rude on her part. Besides she can always tease him when things cool down later!

So she played along but she was pleased that he came with her. To tell the honest truth, she wanted him to go and for good reason. Her "master" plan hinged on the fact that Ichigo will get stronger with every fight and so far the results were right on the money. It was true that on the surface, she was being selfish trying to satisfy her instinctual need for a good brawl. Okay so she wasn't going to deny it; she wanted to scratch that fighting itch but that was not her only objective.

The point of all the nightly Hueco Mundo visits were to get Tsukune and Ichigo stronger and the Hollow world served as their training ground as it were. She knew that the war this coming winter will be an ugly brutal affair. Akasha knows only too well and had first hand expertise on the matter because after all; she led the Dark Lords in a final battle against Alucard some 500 years ago. Underneath all the pretenses and hidden agendas; of course her ultimate goal was to acquire the power of the Hollow. Certainly the latter objective has been a miserable failure as they have not met a Vasto Lorde in the couple of sessions they have been traveling into this dismal world. The former however, was very promising as both her companions Yoki powers have increased dramatically.

It was a shame that Tsukune-kun wasn't able to come considering Ichigo literally dragged her to the gate in a hurry! She recognized that it was the typical male response to blow off steam when they're angry. She has been dealing with the same thing with a certain hard headed Vampire of a spouse for millennia after all! Akasha thought that gesture was rather sweet of him and she saw that he would rather destroy something tangible rather than hurt his beloved girlfriend. Now she feels guilty that she pushed Kahlua-chan into pursuing the strawberry...okay maybe a just a tiny bit. She had to admit that little drama was rather entertaining but she wasn't too low that she would enjoy someone suffering like that unless they piss her off!

Anyway, at this very moment Ichigo was generating so much Yoki energy that he has attracted armies of Hollows but they were being annihilated like lambs to the slaughter. She didn't realize that he was so angry and the argument with Orihime-chan certainly affected him so much that he would cause so much devastation around her. Ah young love! The romantic in her started to gush as it reminded her of her own romance so many, many, many years ago!

Ichigo Kurosaki has never been so angry in his life! He had so much pent up rage that he volunteered to go with Akasha-san to Hueco Mundo to relieve that pressure building inside him. This probably ranks up there when that bastard King Fisher killed his mother but he has had no recollection in the 15 years he has live in this world being so pissed! Oh he is aware that he may attract some unneeded attention but right now he really doesn't give a damn! Why can't he relate to Orihime? Why is it so damn hard for them to communicate? Why the HELL will she not LISTEN to him? The more he asked the rhetorical questions, the more it made his already volatile temper rise further making him even more irritable and madder than before!

"Why the hell is it so hard maintaing a damn relationship!" he said angrily.

"Calm down Ichigo, you are not thinking strait!" Zangetsu interjected.

"Dammit old man how the hell can I think strait when she won't listen to me!"

"That is something you and Orihime will have to work out on your own. Relationships are like battles, they have an ebb and flow into them that you have to follow. Just like in battles, you will have to adjust your tactics to accommodate the ever changing rhythm of the enemy. In order for you to win against your opponent you must study them, find their weaknesses and then exploit it. It is the same with relationships, you have to get to know Orihime, find what she likes and dislikes, and then use that knowledge to make her happy. You have to get to know her better. Even if the conversation was about nothing at least you are communicating, exchanging ideas, and observing the other's view point.If you really care about this girl then you owe it to her and yourself to start openly discussing what it is that both of you want now and perhaps your future together should you choose her. Remember Ichigo battles may have a conclusion meaning a winner and a loser. Relationships however, are battles that you will fight from now till the day you die.That is all I have to say..."

"That's something that I need to think about..."

"That's all I'm asking of you, to think things through if YOU want to be in this relationship. Well, do you want to be with Orihime?"

Without hesitation Ichigo answered...

"Yes, I do..."

"Then there's your answer..."

"Thanks old man..."

"Anything so that it would stop raining in here..." He said chuckling.

"Heh, sorry about that! You do have a point that I need to contemplate..."

Ichigo wasn't able to complete that thought before he was almost flattened by a vast spiritual pressure that engulfed the battlefield. Even the remaining Hollows that survived retreated in what looked to the strawberry as fear. Barely keeping himself from falling to the ground, he saw someone on top of a sand dune not far away from him. Ichigo's scowl returned as he readied himself for an inevitable fight in his hands. From the looks of things, the person or rather the Hollow in question was not an Espada. He didn't have their distinctive uniform nor did he have a zanpakuto. However, his spiritual pressure was equal to or maybe even more powerful than Grimmjow by several levels. Which means that this Hollow is one of those Vasto Lordes that he has heard about? Great just his luck to come across one of the bastards when he was thinking about stuff! Then he felt someone next to him and he wasn't surprised that Akasha was right beside him with a comical starry eyed looked and jumping for joy because of her excitement. He looked at her and sweat dropped...

The Vasto Lorde was perhaps about 7 foot tall with a very muscular build that looked like segmented armor. His upper half was humanoid while his lower torso was like the Minotaurs of Greek mythology. He had long black hair that stopped to his shoulders and his face was covered with a Hollow mask with horns located on his lower jaw that pointed forward in an angle and then curved slightly upward. For someone who has not been turned to an Espada yet, his spiritual pressure is very impressive and very strong. Ichigo will have to use his all for this fight...

"Finally, you show yourself Vasto Lorde-san." Akasha said in a scolding manner. "How rude of you for keeping a woman waiting!"

"..."

"Cat got your tongue eh? No matter, I came here for one reason and one reason only, so I can consume and absorb your powers so they can be my own! So prepare yourself..."

"Akasha-san wait..."

"You can't stop me this time Ichigo. I've been waiting for this for the last couple of days. You can help me if you want but in the end his power will be mine understand?"

Ichigo sighed...

"Good boy...That's what I like about you. You're so easy going! Orihime-chan is a lucky girl to have you." She said caressing his cheek. Ichigo blushed and she stifled a giggle. "Now it's time for me to get my Hollow powers..."

Suddenly the Vasto Lorde appeared between them surprising both the Substitute Shinigami and the Vampire with his speed and then an enormous explosion rocked the dessert...

Meanwhile...

Tsukune, Moka, and Orihime emerged from the makeshift Garganta and immediately they all felt Ichigo's enormous spiritual pressure and something else entirely. Then they all saw the enormous explosion upon the horizon. Something crashed a few yards away from them and they realized that it was Ichigo. Orihime eyes watered as she saw the injuries that he has sustained. Blood flowed down his forehead and had nicks and scratches here and there. His entire left sleeve is gone and his entire Shinigami uniform had large tears on them. Otherwise he still had the fierce countenance of an undaunted warrior which made her proud of him. Then he looked their way and was surprised that they followed him...

"Tsukune what the hell are you guys doing here?"

Orihime immediately interjected and saved Tsukune from explaining...

"I followed you here Ichigo and they just happen to come along." Orihime replied.

"Then you have to go back! Akasha-san and I are dealing with a Vasto Lorde and she is having a fine time keeping it at bay."

"You mean they weren't joking about those things?" Tsukune asked.

"You can feel it's spiritual pressure can you? Do you think you will be able to defeat something like that with your current condition?" Ichigo said.

"I...I think that it would be better to tackle it in numbers. One of us is bound to get a lucky shot!"

"I-if i-it's to help then Ura-chan and I are willing to try!"

"How about you Inoue?"

Orihime was silent and when their eyes met both of them tried to look away. She knows it wasn't the time to address the issue but with that big monkey on his back he won't be able to fight effectively because of the little problem between them. She might as well say something so he won't be distracted and they will discuss the matter later...

"What and expect my boyfriend to save us again while he bears the burdens of the world on his shoulders? I don't think so. Whether you like it or not Kurosaki Ichigo, you and I have started something beautiful and I don't want to lose it just because of some petty jealousy on my part. I want you to know that I believe in you and I might not like it very much but go and fight for our sakes. Promise me that you're going to come back alive, understand?"

For the first time in his entire shitty day, he smiled at her...

"Yes, ma'am..."

" Don't think you're out of the woods yet because we have many things to discuss later!"

The Orihime gave him a fierce embrace that surprised the strawberry. While doing so, she had her Shun Shun Rikka's golden light surround them until all the injuries he sustained so far disappeared.

"Wait I thought we were going to take it easy for a while?" Ichigo said.

"Well, I think the time you left me and the time we met is a break enough don't you?

With that Orihime type of logic, Ichigo couldn't think of a counter argument so he simply nodded.

"Just promise me Ichigo, j-just come back to me okay?"

"Have ever broken a promise to you before?" Ichigo asked.

"No..."

"Then there's your answer. You're right once we get this mess straightened up, we do need to talk. Before that, if you would excuse me..."

Then without preamble, she pulled his shirt and gave him a kiss. Ichigo was surprised because he never expected that from her and is she giving him some tongue as well? Seeing nothing wrong with it she hungrily explored his mouth as he looked on in shock. Then she reluctantly let him go..."

"Go get 'em Kurosaki-kun..."

Then he disappeared...

When Ichigo was gone, she turned around and noticed Moka and Tsukune gawking at her and had blushing faces when their gazes met. Then she realized what she did and her cheeks turned crimson as well...

"I think we should go help Ichigo don't you?" Tsukune said rather awkwardly.

"Y-ya w-why t-that's a great idea Tsukune if I do say so myself!" Moka added.

Then both of them comically turned around and stiffly walked away like a group of robots.

"Hey you guys wait up!"

When they finally arrived, all three of them eyes widened at the devastation that they saw. The surrounded dessert had craters that pock marked the area like swish cheese. One particular massive one punched through to the Menos Forest below and made a particularly deep hole on the ground level as well. Then they saw Akasha clashed with the Vasto Lorde and they disappeared in a white light that blinded them and were almost blown away from the shockwave that occurred thereafter.

Tsukune was daunted at the task at hand and wondered if he would be able to match the intense ferocity this fight below them. Well, he couldn't doubt Yamazakura now because after all he has come a long way. Surely his trust in his zanpakuto can win them the day? Without hesitation he unsheathed his zanpakuto and without even releasing it he uttered the word...

"BANKAI!

As Tsukune transformed and his Shinigami uniform disappeared and was replaced with a a tight black shirt, loose pants, armored boots, and a trench coat. He swung his zanpakuto downward and his sword changed into a 4 foot blade with a jewel at the oversized collar. The weapon was wider that it was in Shikai and more angular that it was in that form. The base of the blade tapered outward before widening the rest of the way.

"Yamazakura,TsuruginoTokoyonokuni!" (cherry blossom blade of the heavens)

Tsukune was about to leave but Moka took a hold of his sleeve and stopped him. Surprised at her behavior, he looked at the pink haired Vampire in question...

"Wait, Tsukune I have a request for you." Moka said. "W-well it's from Ura-chan."

"Okay..."

"She wanted you to take the Rosario and release her. Before you protest, she insists upon it!"

"Is this what she really want?"

"Yes, and she tells me if you stall any longer she's going to kick your butt when you release her!"

Tsukune looks at her dumbfounded and sweat dropped...

"Ah what the hell the more the merrier I guess!" Tsukune deadpanned.

Tsukune took a hold of the Rosario and gave it a yank. It easily snapped off and Moka transformed into her true self and her Yoki increased dramatically. Without saying a word, the Vampire jumped into the fray with Tsukune coming close behind. As they arrive at ground zero, Akasha crashed right beside them. The older Vampire stood up slowly and emerged from the crater she landed from. Her ghastly wounds that would have killed an ordinary human outright mended instantaneously to Tsukune's utter fascination. She finally noticed the kids and acknowledged her daughter formally.

"It is nice to see you again daughter..."

"Mother, it has been awhile..." Moka replied.

"I would give you a hug and all but I'd rather not ruin that beautiful dress you're wearing. Your father will have a fit and will probably accuse me of wasting his money or something."

"I doubt Chichiue will care if I use it in battle."

"Hmm, maybe you're right..."

Then Akasha turned to Tsukune...

"Oh Tsukune-kun, see something that you like?" she teased.

"Yes, Tsukune what is it about my Mother that's fascinating you to no end?" Moka said rather dangerously.

"N-no it's nothing like that Moka-san!"

Akasha giggled and Moka who tried her best to look stern couldn't help but smile. Then suddenly they felt Ichigo's Yoki skyrocket so much that they could hardly stand strait. Black Yoki exploded from the strawberry as they felt him don the mask...

"Oh my, it looks like Ichigo-kun finally removed all the restraints..." Akasha noted. "Mmm it feels so good being in the middle of all that power..."

"Umm you call being squashed like a pancake quite relaxing?" Tsukune said drily.

"Enough Tsukune, Mother what can you tell us about this opponent?" Moka said.

"He's a Vasto Lorde...there is nothing left to be said."

"A-are you serious? You have been fighting one of those things all this time?" Tsukune asked.

"Yes, and it felt so marvelous!" Akasha said dramatically. "I'm sure that you will enjoy it too Moka-chan. It's just so exhilarating..."

"Hmm, I'm looking forward to it then..." Moka said as she cracked her knuckles.

"Let's hurry Moka-chan before Ichigo-kun hogs all the fun!"

"I couldn't agree more Mother!"

Tsukune looked at the two Vampires and sweat dropped. Then they both disappear to get in all the action. He sighed and said something about "hard headed" Vampires from under his breath and followed the two women. He didn't know how he will fare against this beast but he trusts his zanpakuto so he can't afford to doubt Yamazakura now. When he arrived at ground zero, Tsukune was surrounded in mass chaos. Without hesitation he joined the fray...

"Ichigo, DUCK!" Tsukune shouted.

The strawberry complied as the razor sharp blade of the brown haired boy's zanpakuto whizzed by his head but not before he kicked the Vasto Lorde in the gut with a kick that sent him backwards some 120 feet and kicking up sand about 200 feet high. Incandescent crimson energy flared and trailed the swing of his sword and with all his might; Tsukune used shunpo to catch up with his enemy and released a humongous Juuman that swallowed the Hollow and annihilated 300 feet of the surrounding area and a massive plume of crimson raw energy rising nearly 1000 feet into the air. Shockwaves blew away sand for miles away and it nearly sent Moka and Orihime flying away. Akasha however, stood proudly and relished the raw and pure energy that is making her dizzy with excitement and it stoked her lust for battle even more. The healer managed to put up a barrier between them, shielding themselves from the total chaos outside her shield. When the tremors stopped, Moka told her to stay put with her Mother and disappeared as she was eager to want a crack at this so called Vasto Lorde.

With the massive explosion blowing tons upon tons of sand nearly several miles away, the resulting crater dug deep enough through the desert ground and reached the Menos Forest below. Still the Juuman had so much power that it punch through an additional 100 feet and carved the semi-soft earth of the ground into a humongous crater. The shockwave that slammed below destroyed the petrified forest and reduced about a five mile radius to smoldering wasteland and turning several thousand Menos Grande into dust. Tsukune has retreated and stood on the air observing the carnage. He knew that the Juuman probably did some damage but not significant enough to end the fight. Still he was surprised how strong the technique has gotten in the last few days. Was it because of the "training" that Akasha-san insists on having in Hueco Mundo made the difference? Perhaps it's true but Tsukune knew that it will take all his powers and more to defeat this foe. He was right as he barely dodged a humongous Cero from above that added to the carnage below.

Instinct saved him as he turned around and blocked an attack from above. However the strength behind the blow was enormous as the brown haired boy felt himself plummeting from the air and wiped out an entire sand dune and kicking up sand about a thousand feet into the air. Still Tsukune emerged from the giant column of sand with minimal damage except for a sleeve on his right forearm from wrist to elbow was in tatters. Otherwise, his entire trench coat was still intact with a few tears here and there. Again the Vasto Lorde attacked but this time it came from behind and Tsukune countered using shunpo to sidestep to its right, swinging his energy engorged zanpakuto to the head in which the Hollow expertly blocked. They exchanged a few blows causing massive shockwaves of pressurized air that crackled into the eternal night sky of Hueco Mundo. In the midst of defending himself from the Hollow's overhand strike, Tsukune was suddenly exposed to face full of underwear as Akasha blocked its sword arm with a splits kick upward and hitting its enormous wrist. Then Moka came running from his left side, grabbed her mother's outstretched arms and with sheer brute strength alone, lifted her daughter up while the younger Akashiya used her mother's upraised palm as a platform to spin around and hit the Hollow squarely on the side of the head with a swift and powerful kick that rocked the enemy. Not done with her attack, jumped up and somersaulted a couple of times and as she fell Moka then smashed both of her feet into its face. Her objective was to obviously smash through the mask. However the Vasto Lorde did not live this long just to die now. It easily blocked Moka's powerful attack but the Vampire's kick made a slight crack in its hierro armor of its arm. Then with brutal strength of it's own, it transitioned from defense to offense immediately as he smashed the blocking arm downward into the ground and blowing them several hundred feet forward with a powerful shockwave. Their forward momentum alone and their coincidental luck saved the trio as they never saw the attack nor did they expect its swift and savage counter attack.

Tsukune tumbled head over heels several feet before he hit something that cushioned his fall. That was strange, for some reason he couldn't see and now that he thought about it, the thing that saved him was rather soft to the touch with a spongy consistency and for some reason...very warm. He grabbed an handful and squeezed and to his ever increasing nervousness, he heard a squeal of delight...

"Why Tsukune-kun, you dirty little boy!" Akasha seductively said. "What would Moka-chan say when she sees you trying to molest me hmm?"

"GAH! I'M SO SORRY AKASHA-SAN!" Tsukune screamed comically.

"Tsu-ku-ne!" Moka said dangerously. "I suggest that you unhand my mother immediately or I'll make you sorry you were ever born a man!"

"Oh my, if I didn't know you any better Moka-chan, I think you're jealous!"

"S-shut up Mother...what do I care about t-this idiot!"

"Aww she's blushing!" Akasha said teasing. "Doesn't she look so adorable Tsukune-kun?"

"You'll forgive me if I don't dignify that with an answer." Tsukune deadpanned.

"MOTHER STOP TALKING NONSENSE!"

"I'm sorry dear but you make yourself such an easy target..."

They felt a massive explosion not far from where they were arguing. When the smoke dissipated, the eerie yellow eyes of Ichigo seemed to glare at them even though if it wasn't the strawberry's intention. Apparently, the Vasto Lorde fired a Cero at the trio while they were busy with their shenanigans and the Vizard instinctively blocked the high energy projectile with his entire body sustaining minor but significantly no major damage on his person.

"Are you guys done yet? Wouldn't want to hog the glory and all..."

"Ichigo is right mother. Is this not the challenge you've been craving for?"

"Aww you kids are no fun!" Akasha said pouting. "But you're right Moka-chan, this is the fight that I've been waiting for since I entered Hueco Mundo. So what do you say daughter, why don't we have some fun now..."

"I couldn't have articulated it better Mother." Moka said. Then she turned to Tsukune and glared at him. "When this fight is done, you and I will have a talk about what happened earlier. So don't think you got away with it understand?"

"Yes ma'am..."

"Now I don't know if any of you have some kind of strategy in mind but my Mother and I plan to attack this Vasto Lorde like any other Vampire would: head on!"

"Fair enough, but if I see an opening that will take it out for good; I will take it, just so you know."

"Let's go Moka-chan..." Akasha said.

"Right..."

The two Vampires disappeared, located their prey, and engaged it in battle. The fierce ensuing fight generated enough kinetic energy to light up the night sky. However, when it seemed like they were making headway then quite suddenly the Hollow became stronger and begins to overwhelm them with its power. Still the two women valiantly fought on but eventually the Vasto Lorde's strength was too much even for two S-class Vampires. Moka found herself kicked into orbit and if it wasn't for Tsukune's quick thinking, she would have sustained even greater damage had he not caught her and he himself took the brunt of the fall crashing through a dune and then the ground. She should be annoyed at him for interfering like that but for some reason she found herself blushing madly. It was very frustrating to say the least! Whether it was because she never got close to Tsukune like this before-Outer Moka did after all interacted with him more- or maybe she was just more embarrassed that a Hollow was beating her butt and that was besides the point! Her pride is being trampled upon somehow and if she didn't get back into the fray to teach this "Vasto Lorde" not to look down upon Vampires, she will die of shame for being beaten so easily! She was about to enter the fight once again when Tsukune stopped her...

"Moka where do you think you're going?" Tsukune asked.

"If you want to keep your arm," Moka said dangerously. "I suggest that you unhand me this instant!"

"No way not with you looking like that." he pointed out.

"What are you babbling..."

Then she noticed her left shoulder was throbbing rather painfully and looked astonishingly at her bare left arm bleeding rather profusely and dangling uselessly. It would seem that she had dislocated her shoulder and the nasty gash has already soaked what's left of her dress as that was shredded during the fight. Still her stubborn streak was in rare form today and she may have snapped at him unintentionally...

"If I needed help-which I don't-I would have asked for it, understand?"

"Perfectly Moka but you're still not going to go out there looking like that."

"He does have a point Moka-chan." Orihime pointed out. "At least have your arm reseted so you can use it properly and have me heal you first before going back to the fight."

"Or you can have some of my blood too if you want. Either way you are going AFTER you get patched up and not before." Tsukune said sternly.

Moka looked at Tsukune and was surprised at his remark. She remembered he has never in past talked to her-rather rudely she thought-this way! But she knows that she is the one to blame for turning him into a Vampire and it is her blood that now runs through his veins. It would be only natural for him to act appropriately in the Vampire manner. Whether or not she's pleased with the results is another subject entirely. Still she thought his attitude needs a little work...

"I do not recall ever needing your help before..." she retorted glaring at him. "And I sure as hell do not need it now!"

"So says the mighty Vampire whose ass is getting handed to her!"

Orihime looked shocked but she was decent enough trying not to snort in an un-lady like manner...

"Tsu-ku-ne...My other half may worship you and I may tolerate you for her sake but you are dangerously crossing the line..."

"Good so are you going to shut up now and let Orihime-san heal you or do you prefer taking some of my blood?"

"DO not get fresh with me human!"

"I assure you I'm not Moka-san but the only thing I'm concerned with is keeping you safe because you are important to me and because your mother and Ichigo really needs our help..."

At this Moka looked up indignantly but not before she could hide her blush and Orihime looked at them and sweat dropped. Seriously are they having some kind of lover's spat in the middle of a fight?

"Umm I'm s-sorry for uh interrupting this little intimate time you're having." Orihime began to say.

Then Moka looked at her horrified and tried to make light of the situation...

"It's not like that Orihime! Tsukune and I are just friends...ya that's it!"

When Tsukune heard this he only sighed...

"Uh huh...I see...Well I'll go on top of that dune and leave you two some "friend" time ok?" Orihime said rather cheerfully. Then she hummed and skipped along as she made her way to the spot that she indicated...

"See this is all your FAULT!"

"Ah ha ha...I'm so sorry Moka I thought that you needed the time to heal so I tried to stall you. If it sounded like I insulted you in anyway then I apologize for my behavior..."

Touched that he care about her well being, Moka was able to let his bizarre remarks slide this time...

"I accept your apology..." Moka said. "If you really want to make it up to me though, I think I'll take you up on your offer and take some of your blood..."

Tsukune chuckled and moved his head sideways so that she has better access to his neck. Then in without saying a word and with a teasing seductive manner, she bit not too gently and started taking in her fill. The minute that his spiritually charged blood flowed down her throat, she felt ecstasy like no other. The quality of his blood was much sweeter but it had a lot of power contained within it. Already the numerous wounds that she sustained started healing instantaneously and the arm that Tsukune popped back in her socket felt normal as if she never dislocated it in the first place. Stranger still, as she drank she felt stronger than she was a minute ago. A strong tingling sensation enveloped her entire being and it felt so damn good that she wanted to keep on drinking forever. Tsukune then gently but firmly took her shoulders and slowly pushed her away. Still dazed like a drunken sailor, she felt disappointed that pleasant tingly feeling stopped and she so wanted desperately to feel it again...

"Come on Moka let's go help the others and end this already, ok?"

Moka smiled goofily at him and nodded in agreement. Tsukune sweat dropped and wondered what's gotten into her...

Meanwhile...

Akasha was faring well but no better than her daughter did. No creature otherwise has pushed her to the very limits of her Vampire strength in all the countless centuries she had lived except for Alucard of course. And even then she had help from her adopted grandfather, Yamamoto and her fellow Dark Lords. Compared to the ordeals she had to go through to defeat him, this should have been a peace of cake. The Vasto Lorde proved to be more powerful than the circulated rumors she heard from Soul Society when she stayed there so many lifetimes ago. Despite some setbacks though, she's having the time of her life! She always wanted an opponent that would push her almost to the brink of death with only her vast knowledge and countless centuries of battle experience and power to rely on to defeat her opponent and it's the only thing that's keeping her from getting slaughtered. She dodged a supersonic attack by the hair of her chin yet again.

Akasha always did like living in the edge and the prospect of milking this fight for what it's worth and the prospect of adding it's strength to her own and thereby making her stronger as well is the only motivation she needed to keep going. The Vampire felt a rapid Yoki build up from the Hollow and seconds later it released a massive Cero towards her. For some reason she just stood there transfixed on the malevolent black aura of the projectile. She could have defended herself in a number of ways but she decided to stand her ground and looking at it with utter professional fascination. When the 50 foot Cero dwarfed her field of vision as it ominously barreled it's way towards her, time seem to stop for the Vampire as her very keen senses were on very high alert. Then she found herself about several hundred feet to the right and on top of a dune as the Cero moved on and annihilated the desert several miles away. She smirked as she felt strong arms disengage from her curvaceous waist and found herself subjected to the eerie glare of Ichigo's mask.

"Why thank you Ichigo-kun." Akasha said sweetly. "Always have to play the hero why don't 'cha?"

"What the hell were you doing standing there like that?" Ichigo demanded. Then turning towards the devastation that the Cero had wrought, she would have sustained massive damage or altogether gotten herself turned to ashes if he didn't acted in time.

"I knew you were going to save me..." Akasha replied.

Ichigo looked at her and the serious matter of fact expression greeted him. He sighed, it was typical Vampire behavior and he wasn't surprised at all because he knew she was going to say that. The Vizard shook his head, he's been hanging around Vampires too much!

"...my hero!" she continued grinning.

The strawberry was glad he was hiding behind his mask as he found himself blushing...

"Ya, ya, don't make a habit of it! I'm sure Moka will have my hide if I don't look after you so..."

"Aww that's rather sweet of you Ichigo-kun!"

"Can we do this later, I think it's coming!"

Akasha couldn't slip in a clever reply as Ichigo suddenly used shunpo to reappear in front of her about some 20 yards away. She noticed that vast amounts of Yoki energy began to surround his zanpakuto and without saying a word he used Getsuga to block another incoming Cero. A massive explosion occurred and Ichigo with minimal damage emerged from the humongous, voluminous smoke unscathed. However, with one of his arms blocking his face, he didn't see the Vasto Lorde appear behind him but she knew that with Ichigo's battle instincts, he has an idea that something was behind him. Without hesitation, she payed her debt for saving her life by saving his own as she blurred and hit the Hollow with a jaw shattering blow on the side of the face sending it flying then sliding and kicking up sand hundreds of feet into the air and then crashing hundreds of yards away, causing a massive plume of smoke and debris flying high. However, Ichigo didn't have enough time to thank Akasha as another Cero was fired as a counter and both of them were forced to dodge. With incredible speed on the part of the Vasto Lorde, it was able to anticipate where they appeared and seemingly hit them both simultaneously from behind. Akasha wasn't fast enough to react but was able to block as she was sent flying away. Ichigo on the other hand was able to block at the last minute, slid several yards backward and block another attack as he recovered. They quickly exchanged blows, bright sparks lighting up the air as zanpakuto and claws crash into each other like two speeding freight trains and causing rapidly moving shockwaves from seemingly everywhere. The Vasto Lorde however, overestimated it's reached and Ichigo was able to shunpo out of the way. Seconds later, he capitalized on his opportunity and appeared from behind it, his zanpakuto full of incandescent spiritual energy trailing a mighty arc towards the Hollows back...

"GETSUGA..."

Ichigo fired the first volley from point blank range, however, Ichigo wasn't finished yet as the Vasto Lorde's yellow eyes widen in surprise to suddenly see its enemy face to face and unleashed another Getsuga right in front of it...

"TENSHO!"

The eternal night sky lit up like a supernova as titanic explosion rocked the desert. The beginnings of a mushroom cloud rose thousands of feet into the air. The shockwave from the explosion traveled miles upon miles into the endless desert, blowing away debris, sand, and a few hapless Hollow turned to dust as a tsunami of sand and rampaging spiritual energy engulfed them like a maelstrom. Orihime and Moka looked down in astonishment at the devastation that Ichigo attack had wrought as the two women were swept up with the help of Tsukune into the air to save them from being either buried alive or in many cases annihilated by the gale force shockwaves charged with pure spiritual energy as black as the night rampaging through the desert like so much like a mindless beast of destruction.

Then from there, everything seem to slow down as Orihime cried out in agony and Moka hissing in anger. For down below, the two women witnessed as Ichigo withdrew his zanpakuto buried deeply into the Hollow's left shoulder shove it away suddenly and impaled the surprised Shinigami with it's foot long claws and essentially ran him through. Blood dribbled down the strawberry's mouth and his mask shattered into a million pieces. He looked down dumbfounded and realized that he was gravely injured. The Vasto Lorde callously took a hold of his hair and ran him through again and then suddenly kicked Ichigo away as he went sprawling on the ground head over heels and then stopped unmoving.

While Orihime was so shocked that she didn't realize a waterfall of tears cascading down her pained visage, Moka snapped and demanded that Tsukune let go of her. When he finally relented, she let herself free fall towards the Vasto Lorde and driven both her feet with such tremendous impact that she has driven it all the way down to the Menos forest below and she still had enough power to bury it some 400 feet into the ground and causing a 350 foot crater from the impact. In fact, Moka was so royally pissed that this bastard did something so despicable and so dishonorable in her eyes that she let's loose an earth shattering punch that destroyed the ground, unearth the Vasto Lorde and then kicked him so hard with a bone crunching hit that the shockwave that it generated turned all the loose debris inside the crater to dust and sending it flying high and then clearing the roof of the forest towards the surface above.

Tsukune and Orihime made there way to Ichigo and when they got there, the strawberry had his face buried in sand and the surrounding area pooling with his blood. He immediately let the brunette go and she deployed her Shun Shun Rikka and had her boyfriend's body sealed in it's healing light. Then he saw a disturbance not too far away from him as a giant plume of sand erupt into the air and then the Vasto Lorde coming thereafter. He too was angry that Ichigo went down like he did but he was more upset with himself because he couldn't do anything to prevent it! Losing his own cool, he shunpo away from Orihime so she could concentrate on healing the strawberry while he took advantage and prepared himself to attack. His zanpakuto began to separate and in the middle of the newly formed three pronged blade, massive amounts of spiritual power began to coalesce in it's center. He only had time for one shot so he decided to use one of his trump cards...even though he just learned it quite he had the helpless Hollow in his sights, he unleashed all the pent up energy gathering in his sword...

"Kurenai Shuuha Taiho!" (Crimson Wave Cannon)

Tsukune's zanpakuto generated a massive and powerful lance of crimson energy towards the Hollow. He elected to use 50 percent of it's true strength to finish it off for good and since it was the first time he used this much power output into the technique. The brown haired boy was surprised as he was blown away because he didn't expect it to have so much recoil! As a result, his aim was slightly off. Instead of hitting it dead on, the Hollow was only grazed but still the Cannon was able to take it's entire left arm. Then Tsukune felt so drained and tired all of the sudden that he fell down towards the desert below. He tried to get up and managed to stand on rather mushy legs but he knew he couldn't move from that spot even if he tried. Then he groggily looked up the sky and sensed a Cero coming his way. He looked helplessly as the obsidian energy projectile made his way towards him.

"Sothisit?ThisisallthepowerthatIcouldachieve?That'sreallypatheticTsukune!" he though bitterly.

Meanwhile inside Tsukune's inner world...

Yamazakura was at her wits end as she knew that Tsukune has foolishly used a level 2 Cannon attack without proper training. Not only was she exasperated that he would do something stupid like that and disobey her warnings not to use something dangerous but she also knew that the technique has drained him of 94 percent of his spiritual energy and dearest was out there like a sitting duck. She knew he might die this time and she couldn't do a damn thing to save his life...

"So Sakura-chan are you going to let dearest die like a dog without giving him a chance?" Tokoyonokuni asked.

"Hell no...I just haven't figured out what to do yet that's all!" she replied stubbornly.

"You know that he is standing there alone and helpless. Would you have me believe we as his zanpakuto will let our beloved master die?"

"No..."

"So what are you going to do Sakura-chan?"

"I DON'T KNOW!" Yamazakura admitted.

"There is one option you know..."

"What to merge with you, no thanks I'd rather solve this alone thanks!"

Then she heard Tsukune's voice and she heard bitterness and doubt tinged within. She felt tears running down her cheeks. How could she fail her dearest so much that he would feel this way? Where was his stubborn pride? What happened to that goofy smile and that pleasantly nice young man that she has pledged to protect and sworn an oath of eternal loyalty to? Where has this cynical, bitter man, who doubted the power that he wielded. It didn't sit well with her that he would feel this way. If he doubted his power, then that would mean he has lost his faith in her and that alone was breaking her heart...

"We can still make him believe in us Sakura-chan. It is not too late!"

"D-do-do y-you think so? she said sniffing.

"I know so...once we are whole, I know that dearest will never doubt us again..."

Yamazakura let that sink in for awhile...

"Hurry up and make you're decision, we do not have time...Dearest has no time!"

"Ok, don't be so pushy..."

Seeing her lack of options, it did make sense and the idea was getting better by the minute. What is there left to lose right?

"Ah dammit what the hell, let's do it!" Yamazakura declared. Then quite hesitantly she asked her older self. "Umm is it going to hurt?"

Tokoyonokuni looked at her self and chuckled...

"No Sakura-chan I assure you that you won't feel a thing..."

"Ok fine...hurry up then and get it over with!"

"You drive such a hard bargain my dear!"

"And once we save dearest, I'm going to give him a piece of my mind for making me worry so much! He's going to receive the Yamazakura boot camp from hell as punishment. Uh hmm!"

"Heh, that's nice Sakura-chan. Now close your eyes and it will be over soon..."

Then both of them began to glow, break apart into pieces of light and then reform again...

Back to the present...

When he came to, he was already wrapped in bandages and was at the castle. He vaguely remembered what happened when the Cero hit. Hell he doesn't understand how he survived in the first place! He knew he was drained of spiritual energy. He knows for a fact that he couldn't move a finger when the attack descended upon him. And he also remembered with shame that at that moment he began to doubt himself and his powers and yet he is alive. Then he felt his mind retreat into his inner world. When he realized this he looked wildly at his surroundings and couldn't see a thing. It was as if he was standing all alone in the darkness...

"Moka-san where are you?" Tsukune called out. "And what happened to the place?"

There was silence...

"Hello!"

Something was wrong, not only did the Island disappear, he couldn't sense Yamazakura anywhere. It's as if she has vanished completely from his soul. But that's impossible, how could his zanpakuto spirit disappear if he had her in his hand.. To his astonishment, his sword began to fade as well. What was going on here?

"Poor beloved, still trying to look for nee-chan I see!"

"You didn't disappear with her? And aren't you arguing with Moka right now?"

"Now now beloved be nice! For I am the only thing that's keeping you from getting slaughtered out there since for some reason my sister has disappeared. As for talking with Her, the being she's having a very animated conversation with is but a mere shadow that I have constructed. Yes I know, aren't you proud how very talented I am?"

"What do you mean she disappeared!" he demanded.

"Like I said,she just went up and turned to dust along with the older nee-chan.I didn't understand it myself but I was enjoying her fretting too much at the time so I really wasn't paying attention and all." the pink haired hollow said. "Oh and before you start accusing me that I tried to get rid of her I had nothing to do with it! I promised you that I won't interfere with her business unless I deem it necessary. Were you not the one who began to doubt Nee-chan's power, beloved? Maybe it was because YOU wanted her to disappear!"

"N-no I-I d-didn't mean to..."

"But you did and now that she's gone what are you going to do? Are you going to let this Hakuto have his way and let him bring war upon the World of the Living?"

"I...I-I"

The Hollow sidled up to the shocked Tsukune and ran her fingers on his broad chest...

"It's ok beloved even if my sister has gone up in smoke (and good riddance) I am still here and I will not fail you like she miserably did..."

Tsukune looked at her wide eyed...

"At last I will be the center of your power like how it should have been in the first place. Now all you have to do is open yourself to me and accept me with your whole heart! I will promise you that there will be no secret between us and I will let you have all the power you've been craving to protect those who you hold so dear! All of you have to do...is accept me!"

"Oh for crying out loud! Can't a zanpakuto spirit put herself together in peace?"someone said annoyed.

"Moka-san is that you?"

"Oh come on I was so close!" the hollow exasperatedly said. "You're gonna go ahead and spoil it why don't you nee-chan?"

"Ha and leave dearest in your filthy hands?" Yamazakura replied. "Like I would let you do that!"

Tsukune was so glad that his zanpakuto spirit has not disappeared but for some reason he thought her voice was a little strange. It wasn't as rich and vibrant as before. Instead it was a little high pitched in quality. Then the light suddenly returned to the Island and there before them was his Yamazakura...as a child. She still had silver hair, crimson eyes, and the attitude to match. However, she looked how Moka would look like when she was just a little girl. His poor zanpakuto spirit shrank quite a bit as her height barely passed his waist. She had the chubbiest cheeks and she looks so cute in the simple white dress that she was wearing that Tsukune couldn't help but pinch them! Then he realized what he was doing and immediately stopped...

"Moka-san?"

"Yes, it's me dearest!"

"Why the hell did you turn into uh...that?" he asked sweat dropping.

"Oh you mean what I look like? I didn't expect this form when I merged with my older self! I figured I would at least have kept my sexy figure or something but alas it was not to be. Well do you like the new look? I'm so kawaii right?

"Uh don't be mad if I don't answer that..."

"Sigh, it's to be expected. If I knew this was going to happen I would thought things through a little more but you were in danger and my older self was pushing to merge to save your life. So..."

"Ah I see..."

"Oh and dearest, can you do me a favor and bend down for me please?"

"Umm ok..."

"You're such a dear. Thanks!"

Then without warning a big knot appeared on her forehead and with a balled fist, she hit her master on the back of the head causing a Tsukune sized crater on the ground.

"Oww what the hell did you do that for?" Tsukune protested.

"That was for making me worry about you jerk and "this" was for you ever doubting me!"

The now diminutive zanpakuto spirit kicked him hard in the shin and she watched in satisfaction as he comically hopped up and down while he cursed like a sailor. Then with surprising strength that belied her size she grabbed a hold of his head in her hands and looked him deep into his eyes.

"I'm sorry Dearest because I have failed you that time. I was too stubborn to see reason and my carelessness has almost caused my most dearest's life. But now that I am whole I will never ever let that happen again! So please trust in yourself and trust in me?"

"I apologize to you as well because I doubted myself and thereby I doubted you. I'm sorry. It was my fault that I didn't listen to you and this time I will be more an apt pupil in the future. I promise that I will be stronger and with you by my side I know there is nothing that I can accomplish."

The master and zanpakuto spirit gave one another a hug and the brief rift between them has been repaired and all was aright again...

"Aww isn't that so sweet. But tell me nee-chan what can you do in that state?"

Tsukune signed. It was a miracle that these two hadn't torn each other apart being in close proximity and all. He noticed his pink haired Hollow with her arms crossed under her bosom while her right foot tapped impatiently. From the look of things she looked rather annoyed but out of respect for him, she held her ground. But it seemed that she had enough and she had to open her big mouth to force a confrontation...like she always did.

"Why don't you get your big butt here and find out!" Yamazakura challenged. "And yes now that I think about it what have you been doing the last few days because that wide load of yours is huge!"

"Whatever you're just jealous you don't have an ass like mine anymore because yours are non-existent, so nyaah!"

To further illustrate her point, the Hollow turned around bend over slightly and squeezed deliberately. Tsukune's nose comically exploded with blood and fell over unconscious. A huge knot tightened on the zanpakuto spirit's forehead...

"Well too bad you don't realize that the best things comes in small packages..."

"Unless of course the packages belong to me..."

Again to prove her overall physical advantage, she held her breath and squeezed her buxom chest that caused the confines of her shirt to tighten and threaten to explode while it emphasized her assets. Again Tsukune fainted while fountains of blood sprayed everywhere and another knot this time even bigger than the first one appeared on the other side of Yamazakura's head...

"Ugh...you are such a pain!"

"Beloved, what is that little girl babblin about?" the Hollow said pouting. "Do you still want to get stuck with a little shrimp like her when all the woman you need is standing here in front you?"

"Uh you don't expect me to answer that do you?"

"That's what I like about you so much, you're so nice!"

"I but humbly try..." Tsukune replied trying to break the tension.

"Tsu-ku-ne...why are you prattling with the enemy?"

"See she's showing her colors already! Still wanna hang around a jealous busy body?"

"Well you know what how about this jealous busy body kick your cow udder ass?"

"Bring it on nee-chan!" The Hollow replied. Then with a slow deliberate lingering touch on his chest and face, she told Tsukune. "Why don't you wait here beloved, I'm don't want you getting hurt this time, since a certain somebody, whom I won't mention, failed to protect you and all."

"Ya I like to see you do a better job..."

"Ladies, ladies, please can we all just get along?"

Both of them turned and glared at him gave him a baleful "no" in reply. He sighed and let them do what they want...

The women glared at each other and sparks began to fly. As Yamazakura predicted, the Hollow unsheathed her blade and attacked first. The zanpakuto spirit watched in fascination as the sword descended upon her in an overhand arc. To her perspective, it was in slow motion for some reason and all she had to do was either dodge left or right to avoid it. To the Hollow's and Tsukune's perspective however, it looked like she didn't move and yet her attacker missed. This happened several times before the little spirit caught the sword bare handed. The pink haired Hollow tried to pry it away but it wouldn't budge no matter how much power she exerted. The only time she was able to retrieve her blade was because her sister decided to let it go. Losing what amount of patience she had, her sword ignited in dense spiritual power and attacked with another over hand strike. Before Tsukune could let out a word of protest, the Juuman that the Hollow used against the spirit exploded with extreme force causing him to tumble unceremoniously to the ground. When the substantial smoke cleared, the pink haired Hollow look in disbelief as not only did her sister survived her attack, she blocked her sword with what looked like an invisible weapon!

"Was that all you've got? Here let me show you how to use a Juuman properly!"

Yamazakura kicked her younger sister which such force that the Hollow looked at her in amazement. Her invisible zanpakuto became a gleaming white-hot sword of destruction as a massive arc of energy was traced into the air and her sword slammed into the ground and causing a 1500 foot explosion that looked like a shark's tooth. The width of the energy blast was thin up front and then gradually widen to about 500 feet. The power of the shockwave alone blew the Hollow away. She went through several trees then continued to go through and then pulverizing a nearby hill to rubble and then finally skidding to the ground carving a trench that sent debris flying 200 feet into the air. When her little trip across The Island finally seized, she couldn't even get up as she looked astonished as she found Onee-chan's zanpakuto on her face...

"Wha...when did Nee-san get here?" She thought bewildered.

"Do you yield?"

However, the Hollow's pride did not let her give up so easily and she batted her sister's sword away and kicked her that sent her reeling backwards. With great agility, she flipped and stood up only to find her neck against Nee-chan's invisible blade. With a swift motion, she set the blade aside but the younger spirit somehow got behind the Hollow and again her delicate neck met cold steel...

"I could have killed you 3 times already but I stayed my hand. Let me give you some friendly advice sister, give it up! You are far too outmatched and you know it!"

"Ha as if I'm going to lose to the likes of you!"

"You still don't get it do you? Fine I'm going to have to show you then..."

The diminutive zanpakuto spirit simply thrusted her invisible weapon as the Hollow quickly got up and retreated about a couple of yards. The pink haired Hollow was furious as she had never backed down nor ever retreat before as her mantra was always attack, attack, attack. Still although Nee-chan looks physically different, she's still the same annoying person! However, when the two versions of herself merged into one then perhaps her powers probably changed as well and that is dangerous. She cannot prepare if she doesn't know how her enemy has transformed. One thing is certain, her older sister is stronger and faster by a wider margin when they first clashed blades. That is not a good sign. Then she sensed an attack coming from behind and used sonido to get away but when she reappeared she had to duck as somehow the little spirit has anticipated where she was going to land next. Furious that she was being underestimated, she released her zanpakuto into the familiar tuning fork like blade and made a counter attack of her own. The Hollow too can play this little game of tag and she waited until her sister reappears and made her move charging her sword all the while and attacked. Somehow, as her sister sank about 5 feet on the ground which attest to the Hollow's own raw power, the attack was deflected and most of the force was wasted behind her. The ground erupted and tons of rocks and debris flew 1200 feet into the air.

"Nice try, sister but this has gone long enough..." Yamazakura whispered to her ear.

The little spirit simply slashed her from behind and the Hollow felt like she was attacked in all directions. Flashes of white light left trails of blood and cloth as the omni-directional attack shredded her clothes and penetrated her hierro. After what it felt like eternity, the attacked seized and the Hollow was about to fall down but her stubborn pride wouldn't let her be humiliated even further by tasting the ground. She could barely stand but she still had enough power to glare at her sister at this latest setback...

"Don't think that you have seen the last of me Nee-chan because this isn't over..."

The Hollow then vanished without a trace as she retreated deep into Tsukune's psyche. Yamazakura blew a sigh of relief and turned around to see her master stupidly gawking at her. She sweat dropped. The zanpakuto spirit will probably have to talk to him soon but he has a task to do...

"I will explain later dearest, you have a job to do remember?"

Then Tsukune fell down unconscious and she was already there to catch his falling body and easily laid him to the ground. She sat on the ground with his head on her lap and she fondly traced a finger on the contours of his face. The spirit look at her shrunken hand and this is definitely something she will have to adjust and get used to. Hopefully, she'll get her supermodel looks back when she "grows up" or maybe revert back to her normal self when she uses bankai. For now she smiled and as Tsukune disappeared back to reality, she felt better for the first time since she was born...

"So this what it feels like being whole huh? I kinda like it..." she said to no one in particular

A/N I truly apologize for the very long wait...Stuff happened and trying to end this arc is a big pain in the ass. As I ended this chapter I have already clocked in at 32 pages and would have continued to write more but I figured I was making you guys wait long enough so I cut my loses and here's the chapter...Can't promise that I will be able to end the arc on the next chapter either coz I'll probably ended up doing more too...Talk about overkill huh...Anyway hopefully I got something of a rhythm going since I'm literally working on 4 stories simultaneously...As for my old stories, I'll get to them eventually one of these days...

-So how do you like me turning Yamazakura into a shrimp...lol... I figured I might as well give her a face lift since she's been the same when she debut so many chapters ago...Anyway, blame it on the Vampire Bund's influence...lol

-So what do you guys think...Read and Review as usual

-Happy Holidays to you'll and I'll cya kiddies in the next chapter