HELL WARS: The Deuce Devil Saga
By William Victor Speer III
The Dark Dimension was the Nexus of Evil, home of selfishness, cruelty and darkness in the Universe – in any Universe. Its unchallenged overlord was Dormammu, creator of the Netherworld and maker of all demons. His vast citadel stood as a bastion of fear and hate to all who beheld it. Armies of winged demons circled its spires ever searching for any fool who would dare challenge his eternal reign in the name of Good.
However, it was the forces of evil that troubled Dormammu the most. The heart of evil was the endless lust for power and control. With that reality came war, strife, and betrayal among the Dark Realms of the Multiverse. In order to move ahead with his latest plan to conquer all life, Dormammu needed for all of the Dark Realms armies to unite as one. Of course, each ruler wanted to be supreme – and so the war began.
Dormammu sat upon his grand throne brooding, as Mephisto, Ruler of the Netherworld laid out his plans for conquest. He stood looking over a viewing pool, the magic waters showing him any part of the Universe he wished with a wave of his red, clawed hand. He spoke with oozing charm to Dormammu. The two had fought for power in the past. Trust was an unforgivable weakness in the world of demons and dark beings.
The Lords of the Nine Hells had finally unified, invigorated by the promise of rule as the Devils of their own planets by joining in Dormammu's grand scheme. Magic and weapons were shared. Evil human beings gave them all the power they needed. Then, as is their nature, the Devils betrayed Dormammu, demanding he bow before their proclaimed Hellish Empire. Now Dormammu and Mephisto seek a way to kill Hell Lords and assume their empire for themselves.
"So you see, Master Dormammu," he said charmingly, "With this power Mammon's fate is sealed." In the viewing pool appeared the image of an orange-haired young man with a giant mummy-wrapped sword on his back walking with a cheerful girl with dark orange bangs walking by his side.
"You play a dangerous game, Mephistopheles," Dormammu addressed him by his full name as though he were a child to be scolded. "This boy is not from our world. The forces of Light will protect their precious balance at all costs. Do not forget that you owe me your very existence according to your own scrolls. Had I not found use for you, the angels would have scattered you across the cosmos!" He locked his fingers in disdain. He knew the deceitful Devil was holding something back. "What more can you offer me towards the ultimate goal of absolute power?"
Mephisto seethed. He hated being anything accept supreme. He planned to regain his place as lord of evil – he needed only to bide his time. Now that time had come. "I have these!" He revealed a glove studded with five jewels that glistened with unimaginable mystical power.
"It can't be!" Dormammu said stunned. "I have sought this power for aeons!"
"This is the Infinity Gauntlet! With this power, I shall break the barriers between worlds. All shall fall before the might of my Hellish Empire!" Mephisto said sending a blast of power into Dormammu flooring the flame-wreathed sorcerer.
"You dare defy me! It was we Ancients who forged the Gauntlet!" Magical force pulled the Infinity Gauntlet off of Mephisto's claw.
Mephisto cackled madly, his own magical streams of red lightning pulled the glove back towards him. "But it is I who will wield it!" The chamber shuddered as stray streams of lightning, magic, and hellfire struck the walls, sending demonic henchmen running from the smoldering rubble.
The two bastions of evil struggled and grunted. The Infinity Gauntlet was suspended in the air halfway between them.
Suddenly a flaming chain snatched the mystical glove from between them. The chain took the glove of power and pulled it over the skeletal hand of the Ghost Rider. He sat atop his flaming monstrous, motorcycle priming the supernatural engines. All around him were the smoking carcasses of vanquished winged demons. "Mammon had the same sick fantasy, Mephisto. It's not going to happen!"
"Insolence!" Dormammu shouted, his mystical body growing to fill the throne room. Ghost Rider rammed through the window with his hellish motorbike, driving along the walls of the unearthly castle. Dormammu's giant arms burst through the castle's walls reaching after him. "You fool! No mere human can command the power of the Infinity Gauntlet – even with the power of Zarathos within you!"
As Dormammu's gargantuan form loomed close to the Ghost Rider a sudden hail of green energy buffeted the Dark Lord from above. To his surprise, Dormammu is actually stunned by the blast. "Necroplasm?" He turned his giant face toward one of the many spires of his castle to see a black figure in a flowing red cape standing on top it. Dormammu's voice filled the air as he roared with anger. "SPAWN!" With an angry motion Dormammu smacked Spawn with a giant hand sending him flying out of the Ghost Rider's sight.
The Ghost Rider, consisting of the body and soul of Johnny Blaze and the spirit of Zarathos thought to himself, as he wrapped several chains around the Infinity Gauntlet, securing it tightly to his hand. "Just get out of here, Johnny," he said to himself, "Al Simmons is the Hell-Spawn. He'll be fine."
"Get moving!" The shrill voice of Zarathos said, "I didn't just crash Dormammu's world conquest party to be vaporized at the exit. At this rate we can punish every cosmic scumbag in existence. There must be some way to unlock the Infinity Gauntlet's powers!"
"I hate to admit it," Blaze said, "But Bonehead's got a point!" He revved his ride's engines and sped on, holding up the Infinity Gauntlet. "I can't use the Gauntlet, but it is already increasing my powers." He concentrated and with a flash they burst right out of the Dark Dimension, right into the Tokyo twilight.
Dormammu now towered over his castle. He searched ruined grounds for any sign of the Hell-Spawn. He could see nothing. His magical senses were still blind from the necroplasmic attack. The heroic damned had thwarted his plans once again. He blew into his throne room in a rush of magic flame, becoming human-sized again. He blasted Mephisto with dark magic lightning.
"You arrogant fool! You let the forces of Light into my dark sanctuary! Are you working with Lords of Hell? Tell me!"
"Arrrgh! No!" Mephisto grunted in agony. "No, Master. My plan to kill the Devil is already in the works. The young soul… Ichigo … Kurosaki. His sword is called a Soul Slayer… He can kill Mammon… He can kill them all! He is a Soul Reaper…ordained by the Universe to keep order. With a bit of coaxing he will serve me!"
Dormammu released him from his agonizing grip. "Very well, Mephisto. But do not try anything foolish. I will not hesitate to scatter your essence across ten galaxies if you dare defy me again!"
Mephisto vanished in a wave of flame.
A flash of flame erupted behind Dormammu near his throne. A hideous creature of pure cosmic evil stood there. He was a green-skinned, horned humanoid with a gaping, toothy mouth in his mid-section. "Begin as we discussed, Satannish. Mephisto must know nothing. The fool could still disrupt my plans with whatever betrayal he is planning."
"Yes, Lord Dormammu. Order is already falling to Chaos throughout the cosmos. Soon now, my armies will be large enough to storm the Higher Planes. Not even the angels will be able to prevail against the Hideous Ones."
"Then, go, my son. Begin your conquest with these… Soul Reapers. Destroy them without mercy – but, bring me the one who has the power to reject fate. Bring me the girl. Bring me Orihime Inoue."
Ichigo Kurosaki stood panting, his sweat-covered hands gripped tightly the hilt of the Zangetsu sword. His giant, black-bladed zanpakuto dripped with the black blood of demons. He battled monstrous creatures in downtown Tokyo from beneath the shield of spirit pressure that had been erected. To the people outside this was a normal Tuesday. Before him were a dozen hell fiends of various colors, shapes, and sizes that proved otherwise. A young girl with red-orange hair was in the grip of the furthest monster from him, screaming. It was Orihime of the Soul Society, easily the dearest person to Ichigo's heart.
Sitting in a withered tree above the battle was a hooded and cloaked figure with a cane. He smiled wickedly at the suffering below. "Come now, Ichigo," he chuckled smugly, "I can save her life with a snap of my fingers. A simple favor is all I'm asking. You wouldn't want your cute little friend to be eaten would you?"
"You bastard!" Ichigo barked as he sliced another demon in two. "If you're so powerful why don't just save her? She's a human being for Heaven's sake!"
The cloaked man laughed aloud, "My dear Ichigo, when you're good at something, you should never do it for free! It's just not good business. To save the life of young Orihime, I require… your soul!"
Ichigo felt a cold sick feeling inside himself. He spared the evil old man a glance. He wasn't human at all. The shadow he cast…had horns!
"NEVER!" Ichigo charged the beast holding Orihime with his giant black sword. A four-armed monster got in the way. The Zangetsu sliced through its horned skull and the creature dissipated from existence with an agonized howl. Three more large lumbering beasts surrounded Ichigo. Their large hands were tipped with blade-like fingers. Ichigo pressed against their bizarre blades with his zanpakuto desperately pushing his way towards his friend.
"Orihime!" he called to her, as he grunted and struggled against the crowd of hungry ghosts. "Don't give up! I'll… grrrr! I swear I'll get you out of this!"
"Ichigo! Help me!" Orihime screamed.
The giant demon holding Orihime opened its slobbering maw and began to force her inside even as she kicked and screamed.
"Tick-tock, Kurosaki!" the evil man mocked. "It's nearly lunch time for my pets!"
"Nooooo!" Ichigo saw the creature's mouth open. "Orihime!" Ichigo could barely think now. He was only flailing about in desperation with his sword. The fiends buffeted him horribly until their claws, fists, and fangs drew blood. Ichigo could not win. He could not save Orihime. He looked to the cloaked stranger, having one choice left.
The man in the cloak revealed an ornate scroll from beneath his robes. He floated down between Ichigo and the hellish horde assaulting him. To Ichigo's amazement, they knelt before the fiend in the cloak. "I swear by my rightful throne that neither I, nor any demon, shall harm Orihime if you agree to serve me."
As the cloaked demon's evil plot unfolded another hellish onlooker fast approached. His visage would be easy to mistake for some type of hollow if one did not know better. His flaming skull sat atop a brawny body in a spiked leather coat, crisscrossed with flaming chains. He sat like a proud king on his throne on a monstrous motorbike warped and empowered by the darkest magic. He was the Ghost Rider. As he sped up to the scene of the bizarre battle between the young orange-haired swordsman and the strange demons plaguing him with the girl in their grasp, three words let him know that he was too late.
"I'll do it!" Ichigo said, half-weeping. "Please, just save Orihime!"
"No!" The Ghost Rider yelled in his shrill ghostly voice, "Don't do it!"
Ichigo's bloody hand gripped the scroll that the cloaked figure held out for him. Time stopped around them. Orihime was frozen mid-scream, inches from the demon's hungry maw. Cherry blossoms spun in place in the air around them. Ichigo stood up to see all of his wounds healed. Things suddenly began moving again.
The demon set Orihime down and knelt. Ichigo ran towards her. An eerie red glow surrounded his body and lifted him into the air. He looked down to see the hollow holding an unconscious Orihime in its giant arms.
"Hey! You said you'd let Orihime go, you jerk!" Ichigo said struggling to no avail.
"You weren't listening, Kurosaki." The cloaked man transformed in a fiery flash before all of their eyes. In the decrepit old dark lord's place stood a red skinned, fire-wreathed, monstrous humanoid standing 13 feet tall. His cane had become an orange and gold pitchfork. "I, Lord Mephisto, never go back on a deal! I agreed that neither I, nor any demon should harm Orihime. No one said anything about letting her go anywhere."
"You bastard! What are you?"
"I am your master! That is all you need to know, Ichigo – or are you the real Ichigo?"
"What do you mean!?" Ichigo trembled. Could this maniac know about his hollow form?
"Yes…" Mephisto chuckled cruelly, "It's time for you to finally live up to your full potential!"
"NO!" Ichigo screamed. Fiery streaks of lightning from Mephisto's trident scepter ripped into Ichigo's body and soul. His visor formed and began to take over his face. His eyes became steely and yellow. Concern and care were wiped from his visage. Only a cold, manic bloodlust remained in his visible gaze.
At that moment a portal formed above the scene. From the vortex leapt Rukia Kuchiki and Chad – Ichigo's fellow Soul Reapers. They landed softly, taking fighting stances in the direction of the hollows.
Rukia's eyes widened as she beheld Ichigo. "No…" In the center of Ichigo's chest a hole had formed.
Chad, too, was breathless, "Oh man, Ichigo… what happened?"
"And who the Hell is this creep?" Rukia said drawing her sword.
"You shall serve as my assassin!" Mephisto declared, proudly. "You will go to the deepest layers of Hell and destroy all who would dare oppose my rule of the Dark Realms. Your Zangetsu will take the heads of Mammon and the Lords of Hell. Then I shall fulfill my destiny and become the one true Devil!"
Ichigo, now a hollow turned to Mephisto and bowed. "It will be done… my master." He walked through the shield, vanishing into the Tokyo night.
Rukia could take no more. "Ichigo!" she called out, "What are you doing!?" She looked around. She remembered the report from Tsubaki and Shun'o said both Orihime and Ichigo were in grave danger. "Where is –?"
"Orihime!" Chad yelled. He saw the girl unconscious in the monster's arms. He charged toward the hulking monster, cocking back his metal arm to strike the beast down. As Chad leapt up to the strangely sedated demon's face a red beam of power swatted him right out of the air.
Mephisto stood sneering, holding aloft his smoking pitchfork, "Pitiful mortals!" He turned to a large monster close to him. "Pets," he said bitterly, "Get them." At once Chad and Rukia stood back to back as the demons came alive and began to close in.
At that moment a chain wrapped around Mephisto's large neck. "Ichigo made a deal with you, Mephisto. But, the Soul Society is as much a part of the cosmos as you and I. Let the girl go!"
Mephisto chuckled. "Always the honest cop, eh, Zarathos?" He grabbed the Ghost Rider's chains with his large fist, "Fine then – MAKE ME!" He swung the Rider by his chains and smashed him into the ground, briefly dowsing the flames around his head.
"You really don't understand how this world works at all, do you, Zarathos?" Ghost Rider stood up, retracting his chains to his wrists, and put his dukes up. Mephisto held up his hand. "Ichigo Kurosaki raised this shield to keep this battle from hurting the poor innocent people outside..." Ghost Rider became uneasy. His eldritch motorbike, the Vicious Cycle, joined his side, its magical engines purring. "Say hello to downtown Tokyo!" Mephisto announced with wicked glee. He sent a red blast straight up into the sky. Reality itself seemed to crack like a mirror around them. Mephisto had broken Ichigo's Soul Society shield. Now, whatever damage they did to the city was real, deadly, and permanent.
With a flash the streets were filled with screaming people running from the sight of the demons, Mephisto, the Ghost Rider – and now a large muscular figure whose cape filled the air behind him. The cavalcade of monsters, Soul Reapers, and hellions now stood in the middle of a serene park at the center of a bustling intersection.
The Ghost Rider smiled at the sight of the caped figure, as he and Mephisto battled. The Rider's flaming chains became sharp whips of fire which sparked against Mephisto's three-bladed staff.
Spawn had no master. He had fought with angels and demons alike. His only goal was freedom. In life he was a tool of the government. In the afterlife he was the Hell-Spawn, the great shogun of the Devil's army. In his heart he was a protector of the world he had fought all of his life to save. Now he was determined to finally be free to be just that. Only two obstacles remained in the way of that freedom…
"Spawn!" Mephisto growled, twisting his pitchfork free of Ghost Rider's fire chains. "Dormammu smote you with his own hand! Your atoms should be scattered across the cosmos!"
Spawn cracked his fists, striding confidently toward the demons holding Orihime. "You hell-scum always did overestimate yourselves."
Firstly, Spawn was on a rescue mission. He had overheard the name Orihime being bantered about by Dormammu and Satannish. The dark sorcerer thought he had thrown him out of the Dark Dimension. Instead, Spawn overheard his plans for the Soul Society. The entire cosmos would fall to the Will of Evil if he failed to save her. Whatever Dormammu wanted with her – Spawn could not let him get it.
Spawn saw the two Soul Reapers had been badly battered by the horde of demons. He charged the bulbous lizard-beast holding the unconscious girl. His fists morphed into spikes mid-punch. The demon's skull smashed apart in a shower of green blood and its body melted into foul smelling goop. He impaled the second on his opposite spike-hand, lifted it up with his superhuman strength and slammed it into the pavement in a cloud of dust.
Orihime's body fell toward the ground only to be gently caught in Spawn's cape. Rukia approached the brooding armor of the Hell-Spawn, limping, as she drug her sword behind her. His cape handed Orihime to Rukia. "Keep her safe…" Spawn said, looking over his shoulder. The Ghost Rider and Mephisto had taken a break, both tattered and panting. "Go back to wherever it is you people come from. I have… unfinished business."
The Ghost Rider snapped a chain around Spawn's neck. Spawn's green gaze locked with the Riders smoldering sockets.
"You're soul…" Zarathos' shrill voice spoke with amazement. "It's still innocent…"
"So what's the problem, then?" Spawn said not flinching as the flaming chain tightened.
"No problem. We got separated. I thought Dormammu might have scrambled your brains and made you into one of his Mindless Ones."
A spike from Spawn's chest sliced off Ghost Rider's chain. "Don't baby me, Bonehead!" Spawn demanded. "The Dark Realms are growing. More demons than ever are making moves all over the place. Now there are two Devils that want us both dead and burning! So are you ready to roll – or what?"
"Justice will be served… but I wonder – do you have what is takes?" Ghost Rider chided with a wicked smile.
"You wanna say that again?" Spawn seethed raising a green brow.
"You're soul is as pure as it is guilty, Albert Francis Simmons. Now that I've looked into your soul I know that you are as brave as you are reckless; as much of a killer as you are a protector of life," the Ghost Rider said. "If we beat him you'll prove yourself a worthy soul to roam the worlds free. If we don't, then he'll lock us both in the Pit and throw away the keys!" Ghost Rider cocked a bony brow "Can you handle the pressure?"
Spawn took a fighting stance, his arms morphing into large serrated spike-claws, his cape hovered threateningly at his side like an animal ready to pounce. The second obstacle to his freedom was Mephisto and his power-hungry war with Mammon. The price of failure here was too high to imagine. Mephisto had to go. The Universe could not tolerate two Devils vying for power at once. "Let's find out, Bonehead," Spawn replied, turning toward Mephisto. "Let's do this!"
Lightning flashed and they stood atop a vacant helicopter landing pad, far above any innocent bystanders.
Mephisto chuckled, "How sweet! You brought me way up here to protect those filthy little mortals below. If I had a soul I'd spare you a sentimental tear!" He fired a blast at them.
They each charged the arch-demon, dodging the blast which exploded behind them. The battle had begun.
The medical sector of the Soul Society was far more peaceful than the demon-ridden Earth below it. Rukia, Chad, and Orihime lay healing. Byakuya watched over his little sister himself, amazed that she managed to be the only one of the three of them awake.
"This was very foolish of you, Rukia." Captain Byakuya Kuchiki was one of the most powerful spell casters the Soul Reapers had in their ranks. He was also Rukia's elder brother. He was fond of scolding the strong-willed Soul Reaper whenever she bit off more than she could chew. He hid his emotion as he looked on his little sister covered in bandages. "Though," he added, "I am certainly glad to see that you, Chad and Orihime are all right." Chad lay next to her on another stretcher.
"No problem, Brother," Rukia said lying on a medical bed. "I always… ugh… Get the job done…" Rukia drifted off to sleep.
"Take it easy, my pride. No more heroics. That's an order."
"Heroics indeed, Byakuya," added a young man with snow-white hair as he entered the room, "Did you read their report?" He was Captain Toshiro Hitsugaya of Division 10.
"Not completely, Toshiro." Byakuya answered without taking his eyes off of Rukia.
"Apparently whatever they were fighting controls demons like puppets."
"Control…? No one controls demons they are – "
"Like animals? Well this Mephisto person must be one hell of a trainer, then."
"The things they describe, what are they: hollows or what?" Byakuya puzzled.
"None of the above." Toshiro said. Byakuya's eyes widened. "If that shocks you… well let's talk outside."
Byakuya brushed Rukia's hair and tucked the covers around her before leaving the healing tent. "What can't you tell me in front of Rukia and Chad, Toshiro?" he said accusingly.
"Ichigo… has fallen." Toshiro said closing his eyes, stinging with inner agony.
"Fallen? Fallen how!?" Byakuya breathlessly whispered.
Toshiro took a deep breath and sat down, "Mephisto – whoever he is – turned Ichigo into a hollow."
"What!?" Byakuya remembered Ichigo's steadfastness to his friends. He would have broken the law to save Byakuya's own sister from his own blind obedience. How could such a man fall to corruption like this?
"Worse he sent him on a mission to kill someone named Malebogia … in Hell," Toshiro added. Byakuya could not bring himself to speak. "The law demands that Ichigo, and the other hell-beings on the scene, be terminated."
"No!" Byakuya was livid, "Ichigo can control himself! We all know it. And one of those beings saved Orihime's life! Has it really come to this? For mercy's sake the laws don't apply to this madness!" Byakuya gritted his teeth, remembering his own dogged enslavement to laws. "We've been wrong before…"
"It really isn't up to us, Byakuya." Another captain, a large brawny man with frayed black spikes for hair and a scarred eye said approached. It was Kenpachi Zaraki. "The other anomaly spirits are tearing up downtown Tokyo for the hell of it – fighting like damned dogs – in full view of the living and natural!" Byakuya was still tense. "Come now, Byakuya," Capt. Zaraki said, putting a hand on his shoulder, "You were the one who almost killed your sister to follow orders."
Byakuya looked at Zaraki as though he had stabbed him. "That was… a long time ago."
"Don't worry," Zaraki added with a chuckle. "Yachiru spied on them for me, observing the targets abilities and sizing them up. Based on their findings, Hitsugaya and I will handle this. You can stay and watch your sister. Make sure she doesn't try anything stupid. She's awfully close to Ichigo. She might let her emotions get the best of her. I know I can trust you not to make that mistake, Byakuya."
"… I see…" Byakuya dropped his head. He knew Zaraki wanted the pleasure of killing these demons for himself. The caped figure hand-delivered Orihime to Rukia and the flaming hollow seemed to genuinely want to stop the Mephisto. Zaraki would not care about any of that. He did not negotiate. He did not talk. He was a killer who loved his job.
"These guys aren't like Ichigo – or the hollow he's been turned into – that visored creep…" Zaraki said it with sad disgust. "These are 100 percent pure hellions, straight for the multiverse's worst pits of eternal punishment."
"Capt. Zaraki… Sir… Is it true?" Toshiro said. "Are the targets really… from the basement?"
"I'm afraid so, young Capt. Hitsugaya," Zaraki replied, "Even worse, these creatures come from different dimensions governed by different spiritual laws. If they aren't expelled or destroyed, the entire Universe could collapse." He chuckled, "Maybe now I can have some real fun."
The rooftop of the skyscraper rumbled under the dense weight of two killing machines forged in the fires of Hell battling one of their former masters. They leapt around with supernatural agility crunching the concrete beneath their feet each time they landed. Lightning flashes reflected off of Spawn's shiny black armor and drops of rain hissed and vaporized in Ghost Rider's flames.
Spawn's fists were in the shape of spiked clubs. He smashed his right hand into Mephisto's gut. The arch-demon coughed up lava-like blood which became steam in the rain. Spawn followed up with a double fisted shot to Mephisto's back. As he went down to his knees, the Ghost Rider began to choke him from behind with his chains. Mephisto's pitchfork formed a long spike which Ghost Rider through. With his free hand, Mephisto hit Spawn full in the chest with a fiery dark magic blast, smashing him over the side of the roof. His living cape caught the ledge by instinct.
The Ghost Rider screamed as Mephisto lifted him into the air above his head, letting his magma-blood leak down his ethereal body. "Is this enough proof, Ghost Rider? Am I worthy to be your master now!? Am I!?"
Ghost Rider's skull turned a full 180 degrees to face Mephisto. "Not yet Boss!" The Infinity Gauntlet glowed in a bright gold light on Ghost Rider's fists.
His hellfire-laced chains, became like ropes of gold light and snapped around Mephisto's neck, pulling tight. The demon spewed lava blood as he coughed and gagged. Ghost Rider lassoed his other light-chain around Mephisto's right ankle and whirled him around in a wide circle and then smashed him, face-first, into a wall.
While his former master was embedded in the concrete, dazed, the Ghost Rider whipped his chain around his head rapidly, sending flaming links of metal into Mephisto's body like ninja stars. Spawn leapt from over the ledge toward Mephisto, his cape morphing into his battleaxe in mid-air. The demon countered with a motion of his fist, firing a ball of hellfire into Spawn. It exploded, momentarily engulfing Spawn in flames. Spawn screamed in agony then fell to the floor, smoking and coughing up large globs of necroplasm, half of his ruined face exposed from beneath his burned mask.
Mephisto turned to Ghost Rider. "It would appear the Gauntlet has increased your powers, Johnny Blaze. Why not join me? Let me show you how to become more powerful than any human or demon!"
"How about… Not!" Ghost Rider whistled. The Vicious Cycle crawled up onto the roof with them, its engines roaring, threateningly. The beastly motorcycle took a position right in front of Spawn and Mephisto. "Incoming, Spawn!" Ghost Rider shouted. Mephisto fired lighting from his pitchfork into the Ghost Rider who writhed in agony, sensing the Rider was up to something.
The Vicious Cycle charged toward Spawn, leaving fire in its wake. The monstrous face on Ghost Rider's mount grew several bone-spikes, hungry for the kill. The bike came within 20 feet of Spawn. 15 feet… 5 feet…
At the last second Spawn's red cape wrapped around into the Vicious Cycle, tangling itself into the monster bike's wheels. Without moving, Spawn used his cape to swing the motorcycle around in the air as though it were weightless. Before he could recover, Spawn's cape sent the Vicious Cycle sailing, spikes-first into Mephisto. The Rider's mount smashed into the demon lord and exploded.
Spawn stood to his feet as his cape relaxed to normal length. Ghost Rider recovered, his body still smoking from the lightning attack. The undead motorcycle whimpered and sparked, chunks of Spawn's cape being stuck in its engines and gears. Ghost Rider began building up his power, drawing the Infinity Gauntlet's unlimited power into a gold energy ball in his hands. "You've pissed me off for the last time, Mephisto!"
Spawn followed suit, cupping his hands forming a green ball of power at his side, bending his knees karate style, focusing all of his energies. "It's over!"
They both opened fired at once. An orange cone of golden cosmic power careened toward a necroplasmic death ray. A bloody and tattered Mephisto stood right in the middle. A blinding explosion of bright purple resulted sending sparks, and lava in all directions. The Skyscraper they stood on caught fire. Glass in buildings around them began to shatter. The concrete beneath both the Ghost Rider and Spawn cracked underneath their density. Mephisto screamed one final time, his fiery form charring black and blowing apart in the blinding light.
The two beams exploded in shockwaves. The back draft of power threw the Ghost Rider over the edge of the helipad onto and adjacent rooftop. Spawn skidded backward on the skyscraper's helipad, making a huge gash in the concrete.
They both took a deep breath and lay back in exhaustion. Mephisto, who fancied himself the ultimate Devil of Hell, was no more – blasted out of existence by necroplasm and the all-powerful Infinity Gauntlet.
A long moment of quiet fell. It was interrupted by a man holding a long sword who stood over Spawn. His strange black hair-spikes were tipped with tiny, round, golden bells. He wore black and white kimono robes.
"So you're the ones causing all of this trouble," the large man said. "My compliments; I see you've already dealt with that troublesome 'Mephisto' character. Your spirit pressure tells me that you've already got the killer instinct. I won't have to coax any fun out of you."
Spawn recognized his dress and weaponry. He was one of the beings he and Ghost Rider had rescued earlier. "Listen to me," Spawn said as his armor finished regenerating his mask. "I'm not your enemy here. The Dark Dimension wants to wipe all of us out – and that girl I saved is the key!"
"Yes, you did, save Orihime, didn't you?" he said matter-of-factly, sheathing his sword. "But the laws of the Universe are absolute."
"There won't be any Universe if you don't get the hell out of my way. Who do you think you are, anyway? I'm nobody's errand boy, you understand? I am here to protect what matters to me. I saved your friend! Who are you to come to my world and judge me?"
"Apologies," he said bowing. "Introductions are in order. I am Captain Kenpachi Zaraki of the 11th Division of Soul Reapers."
"Soul Reapers… you sound like Zarathos," Spawn nodded in the direction of Ghost Rider who was still dazed by the explosion. "You're just another bunch of nuts trying to tell everybody what to do."
"Far from it; we exist to ensure that souls go where they belong – and to destroy the hollows and demons who feed upon the innocent."
"I am… I was Al Simmons, CIA Black Ops, Section A-6. Now, I am the Hell-Spawn, the so-called general of Hell's armies." Spawn's fist began to glow with green power. "And I have no master!" He shot Zaraki directly through the left shoulder with necroplasm. Blood spurted from Zaraki.
Zaraki only chuckled, "Good… That a boy!" Capt. Zaraki drew his long bladed katana ignoring the profusely bleeding damage to his body. "Now we'll see how much fun you're prepared to have!" He charged Spawn.
The necroplasmic cape flowing behind Spawn rolled itself lengthwise and morphed into a large battle axe. He parried Zaraki's zanpakuto with one hand, then spun around bringing the axe to Zaraki's chest. The Soul Reaper parried the axe with one hand and shoved Spawn back. They fenced elegantly, even with their large, clumsy death weapons, their superhuman strength making it possible to wield hundreds of pounds of magic steel with finesse.
They both stopped as the weather around the rooftops became snowy. "Ah," Zaraki smiled, "My colleague has arrived to cool off your fiery friend."
"He can handle himself," Spawn said taking his axe in both hands. "Let's see if you can handle me!" They charged each other full force, their auras glowing. They wielded their weapons two-handed now, shoving each other more than fencing. They brutally cut and slashed each other, sloshing red and green blood and necroplasm all over the place. No quarter was sought or given. Only primal bloodlust was in common between them.
In the Dark Dimension Dormammu watched the battle in the viewing pool. "Good…" he said coldly, "Mephisto has been taken care of. Now that the Soul Society thinks she is safe, I will send the universe's darkest madness to retrieve her, and become the Master of Fate!" He waved his hand over the pool. Satannish floated, in the air, high above the world of the Soul Society. "Son, Mephisto is vanquished. You are now ready to become the true Devil of the Dark Realms. Continue with our plans. Do what you will to the Soul Society, but you must bring Orihime Inoue to me!"
"As you command, Father."
On the adjacent rooftop, the Ghost Rider's Vicious Cycle joined him as snow began to form. He petted his living bike and took note of the sudden iciness. "Well, well, well," Ghost Rider chuckled, "Another cold day in Hell." He climbed onto his motorcycle. "Have fun, Spawn. I'm off to stop this Ichigo, before he tears the fabric of existence any further!" He cranked his bike's unnatural engines and began driving straight down the side of the skyscraper as the amazed denizens of Tokyo looked on below. "After Ichigo is dealt with, I'll find someway to put that miscreant Dormammu back is his place!"
Suddenly, several giant icicles pierced through his chest in rapid succession. The force of the impact smashed him through a window in the office building knocking him off of his Vicious Cycle which slowed down and parked on its own on the side of the building. Ghost Rider landed in a vacant boardroom, in a corner office near the top floor.
A young teenager with spiked white hair and black and white robes followed him in through the window. Wings of ice fell off of his back as he drew a samurai sword and a chain tipped with a moon-shaped sickle.
"I am Captain Toshiro Hitsugaya of the 10th Division of Soul Reapers. Return to the Lower Planes from whence you come… or face legal execution in the name of the Gods of Death!"
The Ghost Rider sat up. The icicles in his chest steamed and broke off of him one by one. "So it's you fools again…" he grumbled. "Can't you people see I'm busy!?" He slashed at the white haired swordsman with his chain. Toshiro sliced through the chain. To his surprise the broken, flaming chain links attacked him independently, like guided bullets. He parried them frantically with his own chain-sickle until one of them scarred his face with an orange-hot cut.
Toshiro leapt toward Ghost Rider, rapidly slashing with his zanpakuto, Ghost Rider struggled as his limbs began to freeze with each cut, "Taste the cold vengeance of Hyorinmaru!" When Toshiro stopped slashing only the Ghost Rider's flaming skull was left out of the ice. Toshiro pointed his sword between Ghost Rider's flaming eyes. "I'm taking you back to the Soul Society for judgment."
The Ghost Rider only laughed in his disturbing high-pitched squeal. "If you want vengeance, Boy…" Ghost Rider's eye-sockets glowed brightly, "Then, here's Johnny!" A solid blast of hellfire blasted the ice off of the Rider and sent Toshiro reeling into the far wall.
Unrelenting, Ghost Rider charged Toshiro, hellfire magic stiffened his chains into a pair of fiery, whip-like blades. Toshiro rolled forward, dodging the double slash. The wall had smoldering gashes in it behind him. Toshiro spun his chain-sickle over his head, slicing the Rider in two. The Ghost Rider's upper torso grunted. His skull-flames went out in a rush of air and he coughed cold breath.
Toshiro came down on the Rider's skull. His blade was stopped by a wall of fire-breath from Ghost Rider's mouth. They both strained until a cloud of hot steam choked them both out. Toshiro retreated several paces as Ghost Rider's head and torso re-attached to his waist with a flash of fire. Round one was a draw.
As they prepared for round two, the wall adjacent to them other them exploded in a hail of dust and debris, flooring them both. Standing in the gaping whole was a tall, lanky-limbed demon with three horns on its back and both sides of its tapering jaw.
"Give up the Infinity Gauntlet, Ghost Rider!"
Ghost Rider took a fighting stance, "You're from Mammon's Hell," he seethed, "Violator!"
Suddenly, all of Ichigo's jokes about having one hell of a day were no longer funny. He stood in a landscape that was utterly wrong, hanging precariously over a pit of deep flame. If that was not enough – he found himself unable to remember how he got in his present fix. All around him were giant, smoldering, decapitated demon corpses.
What he did know what that he was in a battle with two large, 10-foot-tall, horned, muscular giants. They had identified themselves as the Kings of the Eight Thrones of Darkness: Thamuz Lord of Torture and Mammon the Devil of Hell himself.
"You will suffer eternal torment for your arrogance." Thamuz roared. He was a large green monster with hoof-like feet and shiny armor. He wielded a large sword, slightly bigger than the Zangetsu, that resembled a giant sea shell warped into a saber of bone. "No one waltzes into Hell and challenges Lord Mammon, King of the Hellish Empire!"
Ichigo heard a pulse from within himself. "I can do it, Ichigo." It was his Visored self. "I can beat these guys!"
Ichigo listened to his hollow-self whole-heartedly. "To beat this guy," his aura began to glow, "I think you're right!" His eyes turned bright yellow. The skull-like visor formed on his face and he leapt into combat with the pair of deadly Hell Lords.
Suddenly, it all came back to him: Orihime, the deal with Mephistopheles, and being sent to this awful place like a puppet. "I'll get revenge on all of you bastards for trying to rule me!"
Mammon sat down smugly on a monstrous throne. He was satisfied that a Dark Lord such as Thamuz had become merely his bouncer. "Destroy this human upstart," he said to Thamuz.
"With pleasure, Lord Mammon!" Thamuz was too blinded by his sadism and bloodlust to care about station. The war would allow him thousand of souls to conquer and torture, which was reward enough for him.
"I'll show you pleasure, Goat Boy!" Hollow-Ichigo attacked Thamuz with vicious abandon. The Dark Lord parried his Zangetsu with his large ornate falchion. The tip of Thamuz wide-handled scimitar jabbed through Ichigo's chest. Instead of bleeding, Ichigo's body morphed into a bone-like substance, leaving only half of his face human.
Ichigo giggled wickedly through his visor as he spun around with an upward cut, slicing off Thamuz's right arm. The demon lord's twisted shell-like sword was thrown into the air. Ichigo caught it before it hit the ground, wielding a giant blade in each hand.
To his surprise Thamuz's arm regenerated instantly, bursting forth from the bloody stumb of the one he had just removed. To Ichigo's frustration, the demon lord attacked with more vigor. Each time he slashed him, even with his own shell-like sword, Mammon seemed to feed on the damage.
"Damn you! You over-grown goat-monkey," Hollow-Ichigo shrieked in rage, "Just die!"
Toshiro quickly realized that the situation was far more complicated than anyone could have imagined. He and the Ghost Rider soon found themselves beleaguered by Violator. The Ghost Rider was weary from his two previous fights and Toshiro was utterly unprepared to face such a ferocious fiend. As bizarre as it all had become, all Toshiro and the Ghost Rider had now was each other.
Toshiro ran interference slashing rapidly trying to slow the hulking beast down with frost. The Violator only swatted him aside with a punch from its giant fist. The Ghost Rider wrapped his chains around Violator's neck as the monster picked the Rider up and began slamming him mercilessly into the ground.
"Give me the Gauntlet!"
The Ghost Rider's rage activated the Infinity Gauntlet once agan. His chains became long, humming swords of light. "Go to Hell!" Ghost Rider shouted. Whipping his arms Ghost Rider sliced the Violator twice ripping him in to three pieces with a spray of lumpy blood. The creature's large head landed right next to Toshiro. Beheading a hell-demon instantly vanquished it.
"Well done…" Toshiro panted with a smile, "If not… unorthodox." To his horror, the decapitated monster head next to him began to talk.
"Fine, Rider…" Violator grunted, wheezing his last words, "Let's see you abandon an innocent soul to Hell!" He snapped his jaw around Toshiro as his body was being pulled back to the Pit. "You're coming along for the ride, Boy!"
"Aaah! Help meeee!" Toshiro was falling through the fiery portal forming beneath Violator's head and body, desperately smacking the monster head with the hilt of his sword.
"NO!" The Ghost Rider dove in after them, the Vicious Cycle following closely behind.
Zaraki and Spawn stopped as the explosion of hellfire caught their gaze. They were both bloody, each sporting large, open red or green gashes all over their torsos and shoulders.
Zaraki sensed the absence of Capt. Histugaya's spirit pressure. "Toshiro!" he exclaimed in horror.
"Now can you get it through that thick skull of yours? That was the Violator – a dirt bag from the pit of Hell! He's taken your boy back to Hell with him… and there ain't no snow down there!"
At that moment a small portal opened and a tiny girl with pink hair fell through it. She was bruised and battered. She had her sword tied to a string behind her. Her robes smelled of sulfur.
"Yachiru!" Zaraki lovingly scooped the girl up into his giant hands. Yachiru Kusajishi was Kenpachi Zaraki's lieutenant and his dearest friend in all of the Soul Society. "Who did this to you? Say something! Yachiru!"
"Monster…" Yachiru coughed, "Horrible monster… killing everything he sees. He… is a big green ogre with two mouths and horns… He's so powerful. I don't think Byakuya could handle him alone."
"It's Satannish," Spawn said, letting his axe morph back into his cape and reattach to the skull pendants on his shoulders.
"Who?" Zaraki grimaced.
"He's Dormammu's overgrown brat. He was sent to take Orihime to his Dark Dimension. He's working over the Soul Society. I thought I stopped that from happening, but apparently I've still got work to do."
"NO!" Zaraki barked, putting the battered Yachiru on his back. "This Satannish bastard is all mine to kill!"
"Listen to me, Zaraki," Spawn said clenching his mighty fists in rage, "Satannish is baiting you. It's what Devils do. He's too much for any one soul to –"
"If you want to help me, Spawn," Zaraki tore the patch off of his eye, revealing that it was a hideous monster, "Then stand aside!" He sliced opened a portal with his large sword and dashed through it, carrying Yachiru on his large shoulder.
Spawn stood alone on the burning rooftop. Police vehicles and helicopters were starting to circle the area. Ghost Rider was in the lowest Pit of Mammon's Hell with the Infinity Gauntlet. Satannish was destroying the Soul Society with his dark armies. None of that mattered at all as Spawn looked to the sky.
A large flaming vortex opened in the night sky, pushing aside the clouds. Wave after wave of winged demons carrying serrated staves and pitchforks poured into the Earth. There had to have been millions of them. They descended on the people below, killing and destroying at random. Cars and trucks exploded as they were hit by fireballs.
"It's Dormammu!" Spawn exclaimed. "The Dark Dimension is invading the Earth!" Spawn dove off of the skyscraper head first, onto the back of the biggest demon he saw below. He entered the fray using all of his powers, fighting demons of all kinds in all directions, knowing full well that he was the only thing on Earth that could stop the tide of darkness.
The Soul Society was in ruins. Rukia and Chad were in healing comas, and much of Soul Reaper Headquarters was in flames. Byakuya stood atop a half-crumpled building facing the most hideous abomination he had ever seen.
"I'll make you a deal," Satannish said, the mouth in his torso licking its teeth, "If you throw down your sword now, I'll kill you quick and clean. Otherwise…" A sword with blades at both ends appeared in his hands. "…I'll be forced to kill you by the inches!"
As he brought the sword down, another, larger katana caught the weapon.
"Captain Zaraki!" Byakuya exclaimed. "You're back, already?"
"We've been wrong about everything, Byakuya," he said shoving Satannish backward.
"What do you mean, Kenpachi?" Byakuya said parrying another few bold strikes from Satannish's double-blade.
"Think of those other two hellions, Spawn and the Ghost Rider, as reapers for their own worlds."
"I see," he replied. "So that caped creature Yachiru told us about is a Hell-Spawn, and that burning hollow is actually a reaper for hellions from its own dimension..." Satannish sent of bolt of fire his way. "What fascinating creatures!" He calmly deflected the blast with the flat side of his zanpakuto. "Spell number 45: Destroy!" He hit Satannish with a purple energy blast. The demon blocked it with his open palm without flinching.
Satannish charged with his double-sword, keeping Byakuya at bay, desperately parrying his lightning fast slashes, while unrelentingly cutting Zaraki dozens of times. Zaraki crumbled to his knees. "I told you you'd suffer if you resisted!" Satannish lurched forward with his midsection. The monstrous maw in his belly snapped closed on Zaraki. Blood sprayed.
"Arrgh! Eat this!" Defiantly, Zaraki stabbed Satannish in the eye with his sword.
Satannish screamed as blood leaked through his eye. The monster mouth let Zaraki fall to the ground coughing up blood. "Captain Zaraki!" Byakuya was incensed with rage. "Enough!" His sword began to glow purple. All around them giant sword blades began to grow out of the ground. "Now, Senbonzakura, scatter!" The sword scattered into thousands of razor-sharp energy petals which assaulted Satannish.
The monster roared in pain as Senbonzakura's petals crashed into his midsection. He roared in pain as his second mouth was destroyed. Only a leaking whole in his torso remained. The blast of energy petals also shattered Satannish's double-sword to peaces.
"That's what you get for underestimating humans, you monster!" Byakuya scolded. He suddenly went pale as Satannish began to laugh loudly. He recovered to a defensive stance and summoned more spirit pressure. "Sensbonzakura, prepare the final strike!" All around them purple swords materialized in the air.
"I hope you enjoyed yourself, Reaper," Satannish said as his wounds rapidly repaired themselves. The mouth in his stomach spoke, finishing his sentence, "Because now I'm going to feast on your soul!"
Satannish charged sending a barrage of fireballs at Byakuya. A second sword materialized in Byakuya's free hand. He wielded the two swords deflecting the demon's rain of hellfire. "He's so fast!" Byakuya exclaimed to himself. Satannish kicked Byakuya in the chest with his reptilian hoof. Byakuya spat blood. Satannish blasted him with a hellfire beam, sending him twenty feet where he crashed into the ground with a painful thud.
"Say goodbye, Soul Reaper!" Satannish sent another wave of large fireballs toward the floored and bleeding Byakuya. "You were a fool for opposing the coming darkness!"
"Rukia…" Byakuya wheezed, "Forgive me…"
At the last second a sword knocked aside the entire salvo with a loud clang. It was Kenpachi Zaraki, back on his feet and ready for more. "You were a fool for counting out a Soul Reaper Captain so easily!" He took a two-handed stance with his zanpakuto, "Come on, you hellion. I'm ready for round two!"
"So am I, Reaper… but you should know – I'm just the decoy for the real operation!"
Zaraki's eyes widened. He turned towards the medical tent to see several large giants made entirely of rock heading towards the tent, swatting aside Kido Corps ninjas as they went. "Orihime… Rukia… Yachiru!" He looked over his shoulder to his wounded comrade. "Byakuya, get your ass up!" he barked. "These bastards are going after the others!"
Byakuya struggled for a moment then got to his feet, "You can… count on me… Captain!"
Byakuya focused all of his spirit pressure to speed himself toward HQ. He saw large Cyclops-like men made of rock attacking the complex. He heard Orihime scream. Byakuya stopped cold in his tracks at the sight of Orihime in the hands of the rock-men. Rukia was out of bed battling them. Chad was against the wall, unconscious, moaning in pain.
Rukia had torn off her bandages and taken up her zanpakuto "Release her now!" Rukia slashed the rock-man in two. To her horror, the two halves briefly liquefied and reformed into two rock-men where one had been. She slashed the monsters desperately. The creatures multiplied around him as other rock-men grabbed Orihime.
"No you don't!" Orihime said, determined, "I reject!" Several of the monsters reaching for her were vaporized in a flash. Encouraged she tried it again – and again. The monsters came in faster than she could destroy them, until one struck her from behind at the base of her neck. "Ack! ... Not… again…" Orihime's nerves went numb and she fell limp. A dark vortex opened and a rock-creature dragged Orihime through it. "Help me!" she moaned, unable to move. "Help me! Byakuyaaaa!" Orihime vanished into the Dark Dimension with the creatures.
"NO!" Byakuya yelled.
Rukia screamed in rage running after the portal, slashing it as it closed in front of them. "Orihime!" She and Byakuya stood back-to-back surrounded by over a dozen 8-foot rock-minions.
Seeing the unrelenting trouble they were in, Zaraki swung on Satannish who caught his zanpakuto between his two bare hands. "What have you done you bastard!?" Zaraki demanded. "Where have you taken Orihime?"
Satannish chuckled "You've experienced the power of my father's associates… the Mindless Ones." He threw Zaraki who caught himself with a mid-air somersault. "She is the key to Master Dormammu's rule of fate itself – and my ascendancy to the Throne of Devil of All Hells!"
Toshiro Hitsugaya took a steady stance with Hyorinmaru. He stood back-to-back with Ghost Rider who wrapped his chains around his left fist. On his right fist was the all-powerful Infinity Gauntlet. The Gauntlet had easily slain the Violator, but now they were surrounded by four more creatures just like him: The Victimizer, the Vaporizer, the Vacillator and the Vindicator – the Phlebiacs.
The Vicious Cycle's engines purred behind them, its flames burning significantly cooler. Ghost Rider tried to summon the power of the Infinity Gauntlet, but its jewels only flashed briefly.
"What's the matter, Ghost Rider?" Vaporizer taunted, "Your pretty little Gauntlet out of gas?"
"Damn it, he's right!" Ghost Rider admitted to Toshiro, "This Hell… it's so different from the Netherworld… it's scrambling the Infinity Gems' molecules! It weakening the Gauntlet's powers!"
They both leapt past the large demons as the four of them attacked simultaneously, ripping through the brimstone beneath them. Toshiro slashed Victimizer as he went, only to be knocked down by the demon's clawed foot. Vacillator tried to catch him on the rebound delivering as swift, downward punch to crush the young Soul Reaper captain. Toshiro leapt out of the fist's way, letting Vacillator's hand get stuck in the brimstone ground beneath. He landed on Vacillator's back, wrapping his chain-sickle around the 10-foot tall hell beast's thick neck.
"Oh no, you don't!" Vacillator chuckled. He grabbed Toshiro one-handed and tossed him over a jagged rocky ledge. Toshiro's chain-sickle caught onto one of the jagged rocks and the young captain dangled high above a pit of naked lava for dear life.
Far below he saw a wide chuck of land floating above the flames. On it was a giant green, horned monster wielding a shell-shaped sword against his lost comrade.
"ICHIGO!" Toshiro called out at the top of his lungs. Ichigo could not hear him.
The Ghost Rider heard what Toshiro said. He slammed the Vaporizer into the Vindicator with his chains. They crashed into a jagged wall. The jagged pillars broke and the cave-like ceiling crashed down on top of the four Phlebiacs in a rock slide. The Ghost Rider swung over to Toshiro with his chains and began to pull him up by his chain-sickle.
"Ichigo is down there," Toshiro exclaimed breathlessly, "We must get him out of here! That thing will obliterate him!"
The rocks covering the demons erupted. Ghost Rider looked over. Lanky, clawed arms began to break free of the brimstone avalanche. "We've got our own, problems, Kid."
Thamuz's last punch had shattered most of Ichigo's visor. Hollow-Ichigo was weakening. He stood to his feet, panting wearily. Thamuz swaggered toward him, enjoying the Soul Reaper's sense of powerlessness against him.
"Oh, man…" Hollow-Ichigo worried aloud, "No matter how much punishment I dish out against this creep, he just keeps asking for more!"
"That's not how a Soul Reaper fights against the heart of darkness…" The voice was sagely and familiar. Ichigo recognized the voice inside his head instantly, "Master Zangetsu…?"
"Relinquish your bloodlust, Ichigo." The spirit of Zangetsu said appearing at the corners of Ichigo's periphery as a man with long black hair and a frayed, wraith-like, black coat. "Revenge will only make these Devils stronger. Only the justice of a pure Soul Reaper and his zanpakuto will achieve victory."
"What are you saying, Old Man?" Hollow-Ichigo retorted, taking a stance as Thamuz got nearer. "I'm supposed to just roll over and die!?"
"No, he's right," Ichigo said from inside Hollow-Ichigo. "Disappear." Ichigo grabbed the side of his hollow mask. "Zangetsu and I have to do this alone." He grunted as Hollow-Ichigo flailed about in protest. "Disappear!" The visor ripped off of Ichigo and Hollow-Ichigo vanished with a scream. Only Ichigo and his giant sword were left to stand before Thamuz.
Ichigo's aura began to glow. His confidence caused Thamuz to stop his approach. "I don't care about revenge. I wanna save Orihime!" Ichigo leapt directly at the gigantic demon lord, "I WANNA WIN!"
The Zangetsu sword shimmered with power as it came down upon Thamuz. With a mighty roar Dark Lord Thamuz was sliced in half by a sharp wave of black flame from Ichigo's bankai. His elaborate shell-like sword shattered into several large pieces. Huge metal chunks of it flew into the lava surrounding them on all sides. The two halves of Thamuz landed on either side of Ichigo. Ichigo and the entire mess lay at the feet of Mammon who stood from his smug thrown in horror and outrage.
"Is that…" Ichigo half-panted, "…all you hell-jerks got?"
"You impudent little mortal bastard!" Mammon roared. Suddenly, he opened fire on Ichigo with a beam of orange power. Ichigo caught the blast on the flat side of his zanpakuto. The force of the death ray pushed Ichigo to the very edge of the hot lava.
Mammon was coming for him, his hulking hands glowing with hellfire.
Above, Ghost Rider and Toshiro Hitsugaya fought a desperate battle against four of the Phlebiac Brothers. They were barely staying alive.
"Toshiro!" Ghost Rider called to the Soul Reaper as Vaporizer gripped his skeletal throat. "Use your ice powers!" He motioned to the very top of the Pit, a gaping hole covered over entirely in a thick wall of intense flame. "Dowsing the hellfire gate will give us a chance to get out of this flaming garbage dump!"
Toshiro ducked Vacillator's fist and sliced it off in one deft motion. The demon only laughed is it regenerated a few seconds later. "I would happily oblige, my friend," he replied to the Ghost Rider, raising his voice over the demons' guttural growls. "But I need water to unleash Hyorinmaru's bankai. A few cups or so would do the trick!"
Ghost Rider looked over at his Vicious Cycle, which was ramming the Victimizer, pinning the demon against the jagged brimstone wall. "Here," he said whipping his sharp fiery chains, "Try this!" he sliced open the Vicious Cycle's radiator tank. Victimizer shrieked as hot water spewed all over him.
Toshiro leapt high into the air, his zanpakuto glowing bright blue. The water was pulled on to his sword encasing the blade in ice. Icy angelic wings spread from Toshiro's back and he took flight upward toward the wall of flame that kept the Pit of Hell blocked from escape. Toshiro swung his sword with all of the spiritual pressure he could muster.
A beautiful dragon made entirely of crystals of ice flew from Toshiro's sword and crashed into the roiling wall of hellfire. The flames vanished in a gust of steam. The sides of the Pit's opened were iced over. The top of Hell was reveal to be a mere portal, much like the ones they used to travel between worlds. On the other side was a dark alley in Tokyo. The blast of hot steam shattered his wings. Toshiro threw his chain-sickle through to the other side, sticking the moon-shaped blade firmly into the asphalt on the other side.
"Rider, Come on!" he yelled back down to Ghost Rider, "My ice shields won't last very long!" He looked down to see Mammon pressing down on Ichigo's Zangetsu, precariously pressing him closer and closer to the lava behind him. "Rider!" he called down, desperately struggling to hang onto his chain-sickle, "Get Ichigo!"
Ghost Rider somersaulted backward, dodging a claw attack from the Vaporizer, landing on the saddle of the Vicious Cycle. His bike ground through the jagged rocks as it drove, full speed up the walls of Hell. Ghost Rider lassoed his chains. The hellfire links stretched themselves some 200 feet down wrapping around Ichigo's waist.
Ichigo screamed as he was snatched straight up the entire distance at incredible speed. Mammon roared angrily as he clawed after him. He landed on the back of the Vicious Cycle behind Ghost Rider. The Rider turned his head all the way around backwards to meet Ichigo face-to-face. "Greetings, Soul Reaper," he said.
"Uh… Hi…" Ichigo was as grateful as he was mortified.
"It is good to see that your soul is no longer bound to darkness. Mephisto won't be bothering us again." They sped upwards to the portal opening.
Toshiro came in to view. "Captain Hitsugaya!" Ichigo exclaimed. He grabbed him onto the bike. Toshiro was facing down toward the pit. Mammon had become a giant maw of hellfire rising up to chase them.
"Aaaaah!" Toshiro could feel the heat of Mammon's flames. "Guys… hurry they're gaining!"
The heat of Mammon's presence was right on their backs now. "Give me the Infinity Gauntlet! ROAAAR!"
The Vicious Cycle carrying the Ghost Rider, Ichigo Kurosaki, and Toshiro Hitsugaya burst up onto the streets of Tokyo in a flash of hellfire.
Before they could take a breather an explosion caught their attention. They looked to see the business sector of Tokyo in flames. Demons were flying all over, grabbing up innocent citizens in their talons and breathing fire into buildings. At the center of the action was Spawn, taking them all on, like a one man army.
"Oh no!" Toshiro cried. "Demons are all over the place! There's no shielding – they're destroying everything!"
"It's Dormammu's army," Ghost Rider informed. He looked down at the Infinity Gauntlet, "They will destroy the entire planet looking for this Gauntlet."
"What is with that thing?" Ichigo asked wearily, "Why is that stupid glove so damned important!?"
"This is the Infinity Gauntlet," Ghost Rider explained, "In the right hands it can change reality and turn a normal cosmic creature into a god – but only a few being's in the entire Universe have the power to reject fate. Most never realize their true power."
"Reject fate…" Toshiro echoed, "That means they'll be after …"
"Orihime!" Ichigo exclaimed.
"They've already… gotten her…" Rukia's voice came from behind her. "Buyakuya sent me here, Ichigo…" She was bleeding from multiple claw marks. Ichigo caught her as she fell forward. Her eyes were welling over. "The stubborn bastard wouldn't let me stay and help him. He and Zaraki are trying to defeat Satannish and those Mindless Ones on their own!"
Ichigo turned to the Ghost Rider. "Where are they taking Orihime? How do we stop all of this?"
"If we can defeat Dormammu, Satannish will lose his power." He looked up at the vortex spewing forth demons. "Dormammu is through there, where they've taken Orihime – in the Dark Dimension."
"Then what are we waiting for?" Ichigo said holding his zanpakuto at the ready.
"Who's going to defend the Earth if we go into that vortex?" Toshiro pointed out. "These monsters will destroy everything!"
At that moment another large portal opened. Through it poured several dozen Soul Reapers wielded large exotic swords. "The other Soul Reapers!" Ichigo smiled.
"They must have gotten past Satannish!" Rukia beamed, half-conscious.
Suddenly, a large, transparent energy barrier spread over them and all of the running screaming people vanished. "Good – The shields are going up. Now these demons won't be able to get to anymore people."
Toshiro looked up. "That might not be enough if we don't stop those demons from coming out of that vortex!"
"Come on," Ghost Rider climbed on to the Vicious Cycle, "We have to take this fight to Dormammu."
Ichigo climbed onto the bike behind Ghost Rider. "Stay with Rukia, Toshiro," he said handing his old friend to the snowy-haired captain.
Rukia looked Ichigo in the eyes. "Are you sure about this, Ichigo?" He could tell she wanted to say more.
"I have to save Orihime…" Ichigo said as Ghost Rider revved his bike, "…no matter what." Ichigo and the Ghost Rider sped off to the heart of town where Spawn held his on against the demonic hordes.
"Ichigo…" Rukia muttered, never taking her eyes off his flaming trail even as she lost sight of him in the crowds of demons and mayhem. "You'd better come back."
They sped towards Tokyo Tower leaving a trail of fire behind them. Without slowing down, the Vicious Cycle began to climb up the side of the tower. Down below, on the opposite side of the tower, Spawn was embroiled in vicious hellion-on-hellion combat.
"Come on, Spawn," Ghost Rider called down to him. "We'll need you to take down Dormammu!"
Spawn punched down a few more goblins. He looked up at the vortex in the sky. "Gimme a boost, Bonehead!" The Ghost Rider obliged, lashing with his chains, lassoing Spawn and throwing him into the Vortex as his motorbike climbed higher.
"Brace yourself, Ichigo," Ghost Rider said as they rapidly approached the top of Tokyo Tower, "I'm kicking in the nitro!" The Rider pulled a bony lever on the Vicious Cycle. Suddenly the hellish hog's exhaust spouted blue flame propelling Ghost Rider and Ichigo through the air and into the vortex.
Dormammu's flame-wreathed form stood over Orihime who was chained to a black stone table. Next to her was the viewing pool showing the battle between Byakuya, Zaraki, and Satannish and the Mindless Ones. The view shifted to the Earth where the rest of the Soul Reaper Gotei 13 battled Dormammu's hordes.
"Behold your pitiful friends, Orihime," Dormammu said, "Trying desperately to thwart my destiny."
"Why are you doing this?" Orihime demanded struggling with the chains. "What do you want with me?"
"My dear Orihime, this entire operation is about you!" Orihime was stunned speechless, "Once my minions bring me the Infinity Gauntlet, I will dissect your soul and take your power to reject fate as mine!" Dormammu cackled madly as the flames wreathing his head danced higher.
His laughter was interrupted by an explosion which knocked down the main door to his throne room, crushing his guard monsters beneath them.
"You want the Gauntlet, Dormammu?" Ghost Rider said, his flames shining through the cloud of smoke. He held up the Gauntlet on his clenched fist.
"Come and get it!" Spawn said holding his giant axe, standing next to him.
"Hang on Orihime!" Ichigo said as he leapt into the air slashing down two flying demons, landing between the both. "I'll protect you no matter what!"
"Insolent mortals!" Dormammu spat angrily. With a slight gesture, the table holding Orihime slid across the floor to the far wall. He walked across the viewing pool vaporizing it completely from the floor. "I will rip the Infinity Gauntlet from your smoldering carcasses!"
"Shut up you evil bastard!" Ichigo screamed charging with his sword. "Give me back Orihime!"
As Ichigo charged, Dormammu formed two large serrated scimitars from hellfire blocking Zangetsu's blade with one of them. With eons of skills and expertise Dormammu expertly fenced around Ichigo's zanpakuto, cutting him several times. Before the Soul Reaper could counter, Dormammu blasted him across the room with an orange beam of dark magic.
"No… Orihime…" Ichigo coughed blood, barely crawling towards Orihime.
Spawn charged with his battleaxe. He turned back to the Ghost Rider, "Get Orihime!" The Hell-Spawn lit into Dormammu without relenting. He forced his axe into Dormammu's swords, the metal clanging loudly as they fought. Spawn spun around into a power strike, snapping both swords in two slicing Dormammu in half. The dark sorcerer only stared coldly as his fiery body merged back together. He blasted Spawn into a wall, cracking the stones, covering him in the rubble.
He turned to The Ghost Rider who had torn the magical chains off of Orihime. He raised his fists towards the girl, his hands glowing brightly with power. "Very well, I will rip the power of your fate from your dead body!" He fired a wide death ray.
"NO! Orihime!" Ichigo screamed.
"Kid! Look out!" Spawn shouted, clutching a green leaking hole in his abdomen where Dormammu had shot him.
"Do it now Orihime!" Ghost Rider shouted.
He moved out from in front of Orihime to reveal that she was now wearing the Infinity Gauntlet. She held her gloved hand in front her face to cast her most powerful spell.
"I reject!" she shouted, just as the beam was about to crash into her. The beam bent around her blasting out the walls behind her. The Infinity Gauntlet glowed brightly. A shockwave exploded from her and ripped through Dormammu.
"No!" Dormammu said in panic, "It cannot be!"
Everyone shielded their eyes as Dormammu's castle was filled with light. Everything exploded in a flash.
Ichigo, Spawn, and the Ghost Rider found themselves back in Tokyo they looked around to see the demons fading away. Above them the vortex closed and the dark sky became daylight. In place of the Ghost Rider stood Johnny Blaze, his gentle, human alter-ego.
Ichigo ran over to Orihime. She lay unconscious in the middle of the park where this all started. She was unconscious still wearing the Infinity Gauntlet. She woke up as he picked her up. "Ichigo…" she opened her eyes, "Did we…?"
"You did it, Orihime," Ichigo told her, "You used the power of the Infinity Gauntlet. The demons are gone."
"Ichigo!" Rukia ran over to them beaming and smiling. Toshiro followed closely behind her. Rukia hugged Ichigo and Orihime tightly. "I can't believe it ! You actually did it!"
"Orihime deserves all the credit, this time," Ichigo said. His eyes suddenly widened, "Byakuya! What happened to him?"
Satannish roared with pain as orange lightning ripped through his warping body. "NO! It cannot be!" Satannish moaned. "Father's dark destiny… has been … rejected!"
Kenpachi Zaraki looked over at the battle between Byakuya and Satannish as he struggled against a crowd of Mindless One with his giant katana sword. "Something's happening… Ichigo must have found a way!"
Byakuya took hold of his zanpakuto with both hands. "They've done it!" he smiled. "Now then, Senbonzakura!" Bright purple wings extended from his sword, "Endgame!" He charged forward and slashed through Satannish with perfect form.
Satannish screamed and exploded in a bright shockwave of energy. All around Zaraki the Mindless Ones began to shriek and crumble into harmless chunks of stone.
The Soul Society was safe.
Johnny Blaze and Spawn sat on the floor cross-legged in Captain Byakuya Kuchiki's dojo-like office. Ichigo, Rukia, Toshiro, Zaraki, and Orihime sat on the sides of the room in observance.
"Hell-Spawn Al Simmons," Byakuya said holding up a shiny medal, "For your bravery, skill, and honor even in the face of our… misunderstanding – you have completely earned the right to be called a friend of Order – and of the Soul Society."
He placed the medal around Spawn's neck. His necroplasmic armor absorbed the medal into his chest. He bowed silently. Everyone applauded.
"John Blaze," he said turning to the Ghost Rider, now in his human form. "You carry a great burden, friend. You already now what it is to battle the guilty and ferry the dead. In the name of the Soul Society and the Gotei 13," Blaze bowed as he put the medal on him, "This belongs to you." Applause rang out again. "These medals function as your keys to our kingdom, gentlemen. You are always welcome in the gates of the Soul Society."
Twilight had fallen. A party had been thrown but the Ghost Rider left the reception early. Rukia caught him on the steps. "Being the strong silent type, Ghost Rider?"
He held up the Infinity Gauntlet. "Night is falling, and I have to find a safe place for this."
"C'mon, Bonehead," Spawn said silently emerging behind him. He openly bore his burnt face, sipping wine from a cup. "They accept people like us here. We're not monsters to these people."
"Sorry, Spawn," his voice became shrill as flames and skull took over his face. "Night's calling." The Vicious Cycle came up and he leapt onto it enthusiastically, "Gotta ride!" Its trail left flames as he bolted into the night and vanished.
Spawn sighed, "He's right," he handed the cup to Rukia who looked at him puzzled, as he reformed his mask. "Mammon's gonna be pissed, and I have to be there to stop whatever revenge he's planning."
Rukia looked down, "You know, Spawn, I could give your soul rest…"
"What?" Spawn was taken aback.
"You could be at peace … as Al Simmons – here in the Soul Society."
He thought for a long moment, tempted by the offer. He took a deep breath. "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." He shook his head, shaking her hand. "Not for me, kid." He walked away, his crimson cape flowing like a wide banner behind him.
Rukia sat down, thinking on the two condemned, heroic souls. "And so it is endless… this fight to find inner peace…"