Chapter 7: Hollow Hearts

Pushing aside the pain, Grimmjow turned his head to look over his shoulder at Ashido. He glared at him and choked out, "You really are scum...Shinigami."

Staring back coldly, Ashido said nothing. He twisted his blade in Grimmjow's back, before slashing out through his side.

Grimmjow grimaced in pain, barely keeping from crying out before the world went black and he fell.

x

The sudden disappearance of his teammate's reiatsu made Starrk falter and he was nearly hit by another of Sasakibe's lightning bolts. Grimmjow! Not again...We're losing friends again...I need to end this quick so I can go help the others.

It was time to set the plan in motion.

He sonidoed right in front of the lightning cage and fired a cero, sonidoing away to the side right before the lightning struck. The cage closed to block the cero, as expected. He quickly sonidoed to the opposite side of the cage and fired another cero. It closed again and he dodged away.

Keeping up the pattern, he moved faster and faster. He flickered all around the cage, firing ceros rapidly. All getting blocked with lightning crashing down after.

The cage was surrounded with his after images. Lightning would blast them away, only for them to be replaced moments later. Between the lightning and the ceros, the area was a storm of blue and yellow light.

Sasakibe appeared calm, but inside he was getting a little worried. "Do you really expect to outpace lightning? My shield is impenetrable. There may be gaps, but you will never reach them."

Starrk said nothing. He just kept the onslaught up. He began to tire, but when he saw parts of his ceros penetrating the cage, he knew it was paying off and it renewed his determination.

The Vice-Captain was starting to tire as well. His bankai took energy, and keeping it up this long and at this level was costly. And while none of the cero could hit him directly, they did graze him here and there, some more than others. Their sheer number was beginning to wear him down; his clothes were scorched and his sides were becoming burnt.

Soon enough, Starrk saw his opening and rushed forward. He blazed toward the gap with his sonido, just barely making it between the bolts before they closed, scorching his sides as he squeezed through.

Finally, the light show had stopped. The lightning bars of the cage were no longer moving to block attacks. No bolts came crashing from the sky. No ceros screamed through the air. Starrk stood within the cage with his sword blade to the back of Sasakibe's neck, and everything was still.

"How." Sasakibe stated calmly.

"If your bankai truly moved at the speed of light, I would not have been able to dodge." Starrk replied in a like tone, "The lightning may move that fast, but they are all controlled by you. And your reflexes are not."

Sasakibe sighed. "You are a worthy opponent. I can see how you gave Shunsui and Juushiro trouble."

"Will you surrender? I don't like doing things like the finishing blow."

"I cannot." The determination and confidence in his voice gave Starrk pause and made his eyes widen slightly in surprise. "I may have lost the battle, but I can still do my part to help the mission succeed."

Getting slightly worried now, Starrk glanced about for a hint of what he might mean. A slight crackling sound made Starrk raise his eyes to look up.

Then a large bolt of lightning emerged from the roof of the cage to crash down on the both of them with a flash.

When the light faded, the cage was gone and the two fighters lay on the ground unmoving. Their bodies smoked and their clothes were scorched and ragged.

"Starrk!" Lilynette rushed out from her hiding place. She had been watching the whole fight, wanting to help but knowing Starrk wouldn't let her. But the fight was done and she would not stay back any longer.

Upon reaching the pair, she immediately checked her partner. She could feel his reaitsu. He was still alive, if barely. Drawing her long, curved scimitar she turned to their downed opponent.

x

As Sado charged forward Hisagi tossed one of his scythes. It spun toward Sado viciously, but he knocked it away with his shielded right arm.

Getting close Sado closed his left hand into a fist, energy sparking from his fingertips as he dragged it in. Once he was in range he swung his hand down toward Hisagi.

Still retracting his first scythe, Hisagi brought up the other to block. Despite blocking the attack, the force of it still brought him to his knees and made the stone ground beneath him crack. He just barely managed to shunpo out from under the attack before he would have given way beneath it.

At his opponent's sudden absence, Sado's fist jerked forward and finished it's path to the ground with a resounding boom.

Seeing the crater where he had been standing Hisagi thought, That left arm is powerful. I have to avoid close quarters or I'm finished.

Sado looked around to find where his opponent had gone. He spotted Hisagi above him and to the side just in time to see the scythes spinning towards him.

"El Directo!" He shouted and punched his right fist toward them, sending his beam of spirit energy to blast the scythes aside and shoot toward Hisagi.

The Shinigami dodged to the side with a shunpo and wordlessly summoned the purplish rod of Hyapporankan and tossed it at Sado.

As it soared towards him it split into several more rods, but he was ready for it this time.

Sado turned and swiped his left hand toward the rods, his fingers trailing spirit energy that appeared like lightning. The swipe blasted the rods aside just before they reached him.

While Sado was distracted, Hisagi had shunpoed behind him. Sado turned to look at him, thinking he was unarmed until he noticed Hisagi tugging on the chains.

Before he could react, the pair of scythes crashed into Sado's back. He reeled forward in pain as the blades dug in but managed to keep his footing. Gritting his teeth he lifted his gaze to Hisagi and steeled himself.

Hisagi felt chilled by the other's stare. He is still going to continue after that?

Then to the Shinigami's surprise, Sado lifted his arms to grab the chains. With a mighty heave he yanked on them, causing Hisagi to fly toward him.

As Hisagi drew close Sado leaned back, then brought his head forward to slam it against Hisagi's in a headbutt.

Hisagi's eyes fluttered closed and he went limp, collapsing to the ground. With a shimmer of energy the scythes disappeared and his sealed zanpakuto reappeared in his hand.

Sado sighed and shivered in relief as the blades disappeared from his back. But the pain spiked and he nearly collapsed, catching himself in a kneel gasping at the pain. No, I can't fall now. Ichigo needs me. He struggled and managed to stand again with some effort. Ichigo...are you still fighting?

x

As he dodged and slashed away the sweeps of Senbonzakura, Ichigo was beginning to tire. The strain of the combat and all the regeneration he had done was draining him of his energy. But he had to press on. He would not allow himself to lose.

"You can not beat me Ichigo."

"I told you to shut it!" Ichigo growled in response as he launched one of his new getsugas at the Shinigami captain.

Byakuya simply dodged it with a sonido before sending another wave of Senbonzakura at the Hollow boy.

Let me help Ichigo. You know how we could win this.

I can handle this. He slashed an opening through the sakura-blade cloud and lunged at Byakuya, but he dodged Ichigo's blade and knocked him aside again with a palm strike.

And here I thought you had accepted this! His words got to you didn't they. Even if you try to pretend they didn't.

Trying to ignore his inner Hollow, Ichigo kept up his barrage of attacks but Byakuya managed to pull his petals closer and blocked all of them.

I am you! You are a Hollow! These powers are yours!

After deflecting another of Ichigo's attacks Byakuya side-stepped and moved his hand in a slashing motion. A group of the sakura-blades followed the motion and slashed across Ichigo's back, making him lurch forwards.

Ichigo stared at the ground, seething in anger and pain.

"You are a shade of your former self. Weak. Empty."

"You're right about one thing Byakuya...I'm empty..." The Shinigami paused at the boy's tone. Ichigo stood straight again and spoke, his voice like a growl. "I am Hollow." He turned back toward Byakuya, his dark eyes burning into Byakuya's steely gray one's.

The captain felt a surge in Ichigo's power and saw the dark circle in the middle of the markings on the boy's chest begin to melt away. A hollow hole opened up in his chest and his skin turned pale as the markings on his chest extended onto his arms and up over his face. Claws extended from his fingertips and toes while his teeth sharpened into razors. His muscles bulged and his shoulders broadened and grew spikes as he grew taller and hunched over. A thick tail snaked out from under his now torn clothes to stretch out behind him. Kougetsu dissolved into reiryoku, leaving him armed only with tooth and claw. A deep, echoey growl came from this new form.

"Resurrection; Sol Oscuro." [Dark Sun]

Before Byakuya could react Ichigo lunged forward, past the sakura-blades, and clawed the captain across the chest.

Byakuya was launched backward and struck a large rock, nearly splitting it. The blow shook him but he recovered quick enough make a shield of blades before the hollow struck again.

But Ichigo charged straight through the shield, taking a number of cuts but surging forward nonetheless. His fist flew forward but struck only rock as Byakuya shunpoed out of the way and slashed him across the back with the sakura blades.

Hardly noticing the cut, Ichigo quickly turned to face Byakuya again. As he turned his black-tipped tail flew like a whip and struck Byakuya across the face, knocking him off his feet.

Not wanting to give the Hollow another opening, Byakuya shunpoed back to his feet a distance away. I can't underestimate him. He is faster and stronger in this form, and that tail gives him another striking point. He hasn't even used any powers. He sighed as he realized what he needed to do. Byakuya called the sakura shards back to form his zanpakuto blade. Then, facing his opponent, he turned the sword toward the ground and released it.

"Bankai; Senbonzakura Kageyoshi."

The zanpakuto sunk into the ground and disappeared as towering blades rose from the ground in parallel rows before shattering into innumerable sakura blades. Byakuya threw his hand out toward Ichigo as the Hollow roared. The blades immediately followed his direction and descended on Ichigo like a wave.

Ichigo opened his mouth wide and wordlessly fired a cero from his jaws. The red beam screamed forth and pushed the wave back long enough for Ichigo to sonido away. He reappeared behind Byakuya with a soft boom. But before he could strike, the sakura blades closed between the two.

The captain had not even turned to face him.

He clawed at the wall of blades in anger, trying to push through but only succeeding in getting his hand sliced up. The cuts healed fast but it burned through his energy. With a glance he saw that the wave was coming back toward him quickly. He jumped away and fired another couple cero to blast the wave back.

Kill that snobby douche!

I'm trying! Ichigo growled back at his Hollow as he continued trying to dodge the sakura blades. Once he had led them far enough away he sonidoed back to Byakuya to make another attempt at piercing the shield. He rained punches on it, charging a bala at each fist and releasing them just before impact. His punches gave the attacks more momentum without his fists ever hitting the blades. He could see the wall giving and denting but he couldn't break through before the wave returned. With a growl of frustration he dodged away again.

Inside the barrier the captain was calmly deliberating. If neither of us change our tactics this battle will take some time to finish. I will win by attrition, but by then the others will be here and I can't afford to wait that long.

Ichigo was trying to find an opening when he saw that the sakura blades had stopped chasing him. Instead they were converging back on Byakuya; swirling down toward him like a tornado. He recognized this technique. It was dangerous but this is the best chance he would get, Ichigo realized.

"Shukei: Hakuteiken, Senbonzakura Kageyoshi."

The sakura blades came together around Byakuya, forming into a solid white katana and a pair of wings linked by a halo rising from his back. Charging most of his remaining reiatsu into his claws, the Hollow faced his opponent. The two shared a single thought.

Time to finish this.

They both charged toward the other and met in a flash of white and dark red. Blood spurted from both and they swayed on their feet. Ichigo had a deep cut from his hand, down his arm and across his chest while Byakuya had claw marks scoured across his.

"You have more power left than I thought, if you were able to survive that." Byakuya's voice was calm and level, though strained from pain though he tried to hide it. Ichigo gave a slight growl in response.

"Not enough..."

The echo to his voice faded along with his Hollowified form just before he fell.

Byakuya approached the boy as blood began pooling beneath him; the white blade and wings dissolved back into the pink petals of his bankai which dissolved into reiryoku as he walked. He raised his now sealed katana before bringing it down in a swipe.

Blood spurted from the cut Byakuya made on his own leg.

Dazed but still barely conscious, Ichigo stared up at the captain in confusion.

"You hurt my leg and managed to run away. I couldn't keep up due to my injuries." Byakuya turned and began walking away from Ichigo with a slight limp, pausing after a few steps to say one last thing.

"You saved my sister when I could not. Now I am letting you live. We are even now boy. Do not expect me to let you go next time...I would advise you to run now, if you still can."

Struggling to stay conscious, Ichigo watched Byakuya shunpo away.

We lost, King. Now what?

We run...I guess...


A/N: I think that went well.

Kidding.

Probably.

Anyways, tell me what you think. A lot happened this chapter. All those fights came to an end and I'd like to hear what you all thought about them. Only got a couple things planned for next chapter so I need to sort some stuff out before I can write it so no estimate on that. Could be next week could be a few months from now. Again, reviews matter so review if you want more! The more detailed the better!