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This article Darkest Pursuits is property of Phantom. This article cannot be edited by anybody except for those who are collaborating with me.

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"Even the brightest of lights possess a shadow..."
—Tagline

Part I

Preparation

A fine day? It sure was, weather wise anyway. On the other hand, serious discussions had been going about by the Central 46. Not one, not two, but four major criminals had escaped the grasp of the Soul Society, and had currently been plaguing the World of the Living and possibly Hueco Mundo! It was evident that these corrupt old men didn't wish to spare their reserves for such a menial - though important - task. So, who do they choose?

Well that would be me, actually. Tsubaki. A mercenary-for-hire. The highest bidder? They take the prize, of course. All of my allegiance would be dedicated to earn a day's keep. Obviously; this mission was no less, nor any more any other mission. I looked at the lot of them. They were all haggard, stupid and gossiping old men who did nothing but discuss pathetic politics and other things I didn't care about - but they did.

"Mercenary Tsubaki? A.k.a, "Hikuyū"?" One of the old men ask me. Obviously I had to respond accordingly, "Yes, that is me. Do you have a job for me, Central 46?" They eyed me carefully, as if they were perverts or something. Though then again, considering where I was, it wasn't much of a surprise. "You are hereby ordered to hunt down, and retrieve Kenji Hiroshi, Kazuma Nishiki, Kusaka Kori and Ino Hiroshi. Do be warned, they are each individually very powerful individuals. However; you have no assistance from the Gotei 13." They declared as if it was certain I was going to fail. Then again, I heard of these four before. Ah well, looks like I'll have to resort to dirty tricks, again.

And then I left the area quietly, without a sound, leaving a wind rustling in the entire stadium. Well, that's what the guard told me anyway.

Veiled in Kidō to hide not only his physical form but spiritual pulse as well stood Kagura, a Shinigami of the 7th Division. As much as the Central 46 claimed to be all-seeing nothing could be farther from the truth. This man had sat in on their meetings up till now unseen and unsuspected by all.

"Kenji Hiroshi... So you resurface at last?" Perhaps he should make the girls mission a little easier? "Yes, perhaps I will. And I know just the man for the job." Kagura's smile went unseen as he beat a hasty retreat to make the preparations.

The Hunt

Kenji was at his ease as he walked through the city. He tended to avoid the main roads simply because he had a tendency to watch the buildings and not the road. He'd been hit once or twice by cars already. He'd even made the local news once! "And Anika told me to keep a low profile." But when did Kenji do as he was told?

"You're late."

Kenji looked up to see Ino waiting for him at the opening to the main road and the bridge leading to the other side. She had her arms crossed and looked to be fed up of waiting. So he injected a little more speed into his step.

"Sorry! I got lost again. Where's Kusaka and Kazuma?"

"Haven't seen them in hours."

"This...is an interesting sight..." Tsubaki thought to herself, as she disguised herself as an ordinary woman living in the Human World. The attire suited her quite well actually. It was a simplistic school uniform, quite popular in the Living World. Though she hoped that it suited where she lived. It was a red jumper with a yellow tie, a black skirt, stockings and a white dress shirt underneath. She also held a rather pretty fan with her. Though she obviously coated it with poisons beforehand, she couldn't take risks with this assignment.

Tsubaki was contemplating on her next step. She couldn't simply...go up to them, could she? She needed a diversion, a way to lure them into a trap. A trap they could not resist. "Of course...the power of wealth does go very far, does it not?" Tsubaki then walked off into the distance, of course not without leaving a small hint of her existence behind. Now, if the couple were as clever as she thought they were, this was going to be quite the assignment.

"I have many preparations to begin..."

Kenji crossed the bridge half-walking and half-dragged by Ino, who was growing steadily angrier by the second.

"Why are boys never on time!? You have watches! Or are you telling me you're brains haven't grasped time yet?"

"Mt brain is busy telling my ears to bleed, so time is not in my thoughts right now." Kenji whispered. His ears weren't the only thing bleeding then. Ino left an imprint of her fist on his nose for his trouble.

...Meanwhile...

Kusaka stood on his tiptoes to get seeing over the crowd of people. He could see the bridge in the not-too-far-off distance where they where supposed to meet, but Kazuma escaped him.

"Where is he...?"

This was fantastic! The first time he'd been trusted to watch after Kazuma in a big city in a while and he looses the little shit. Ino was going to kill him for loosing him.

"When I find that little...!"

...Elsewhere...

Kenji couldn't shake the feeling. He didn't know why he was so alert to his surroundings: Ino was talking in his ear and his nose was throbbing. He should be anything but alert! Yet there that gut feeling was. That instinct that meant life or death... He could feel a pair of eyes drilling into his back.

...In the blissful evening...

Tsubaki's entire outfit changed, rather dramatically at that. She wore her standard costume, as opposed to the high-school disguise from before. It appeared that her preparations were complete, and she was capable of going on with the assassination. She could afford no errors here. It had to be all completed, in one single go.

"On my command, the lot of you will attack the couple passing by." Tsubaki whispered, and after hearing an affirmative from the others, Tsubaki simply waited. Timing was crucial at this moment, and the mercenaries she hired...she simply hoped they were of some good. "Go."

Four of the ones furthest from Tsubaki immediately began their assault, drawing their blades and attempted to surround the couple in a square formation, whilst another two began an aerial assault with the same strategy. "According to this...they should break out and move either forward or backward..." Tsubaki calculated the errors in her plan, and immediately began to revise a few contingencies.

"I need my payment, and nothing more. A few petty lives aren't of my concern."

Kenji's soul left his Gigai in a flash of electricity and katana flashed free of its sheath in the same instant! "I knew something wasn't right!" He pivoted on the balls of his feet and then leapt backwards whilst drawing his wakizashi. One of the attackers from above had his sides cut open, though Kenji caught the full meaning of this plan too late. "Shit! I'm completely open!"

"Kenji!"

Ino tried to move forward but was similarly cut off by her attackers, two of whom boxed her in, forming a wall between herself and her companion. "Tch! Is it the Onmitsukidō? Or the Collective Vices!?" She drew her Zanpakutō and held her ground, hoping that Kenji wasn't took out.

"They're questioning their identity? Great. I can use that as a diversion." Tsubaki noted at the situation, it looked like Ino was in some trouble. Though limited, the usefulness of these mercenaries was quite fulfilling. Now, her primary target, Kenji Hiroshi, had fallen aback just as expected. Upon covering a certain amount of distance, a patchy layer of surprisingly greener would be stepped on Kenji. As he did so, several wire strings would spring out from the grass, attempting to constrict and cut him with great force.

As that occurred, Tsubaki noticed Ino was fighting back the mercenaries. "Kidō? Tch." Tsubaki moaned slightly, and ordered the mercenaries to fly backwards through a simple, subtle telepathic connection. "Now, throw them!" In just under a second, the armbands on each mercenary came flying off, covering themselves with spiritual energy as they were about to combust in a single, potent explosion.

... Across the Bridge...

"That's it! I give up! To hell with the little brat, I surrender. His will supersedes...!"

Kusaka turned immediately as an explosion sent a shockwave through the air! A good bit across the bridge they where supposed to meet at earlier rang, as a sphere of flame reached towards the heavens like a gripping hand.

"... mine."

He didn't have to guess. He knew immediately: Kenji was somehow the cause of that explosion. "The idiot! We're supposed to be keeping a low profile!" He ejected himself from his Reīssen-made Gigai and turned his gaze towards the opposite side of the river, but something made him turn back. A battle cry that was close and familiar...!

"Kazuma!"

Kusaka rounded the nearest corner at speed and hurled himself bodily into the Garganta mere moments before it closed shut behind him! He ran through the Dangai like a man possessed, keeping his eyes ever on the assailant before him who had Kazuma slung over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes!

"When I get my hands on you...!"

...Across the Bridge...

Ino knelt behind the remnants of a hastily prepared Kidō barrier, though it had only dealt with a small degree of the blast. The ground around her was charred and a blanket of smoke had been thrown up. "Kenji!? Are you alright?" As the smoke cleared she got her answer. Kenji was held firm by strands of wire, suspended above the ground, blood dripping from where his skin was pressed.

Tsubaki immediately utilized Kyokko to hide her location, and jumped down from the height she was in. There was a small rustle, but nothing that couldn't be dismissed as the hastening of the wind. "There we go..." Tsubaki headed towards Ino first, beginning to prepare a spell that would allow her to be restrained effortlessly. Little did she know, she couldn't use two spells at once! Kyokko was dispersed, and Tsubaki was in awe for a moment.

"Damn it!" Tsubaki thought, and quickly drew her sword, hoping to be capable of parrying any attack that came her way.

Ino spied the woman immediately but was hesitant. Should she attack her or help Kenji? If she did the former she could potentially end this right now but risk injury to Kenji. "And I'm not sure what type of weaponry she's using." In the latter case the battle would be prolonged but Kenji would be safer overall. "There is only one option really." Instead of targeting the woman Ino sent several Byakurai flying towards Kenji, which cut through the wires holding him.

"Thanks for the assist, Ino!"

He fell to the floor and immediately twisted around with both swords drawn, his aim to bisect the woman who had imprisoned him! He dropped into a low stance as he approached, his senses blinded by rage.

Tsubaki retained calm above everything else. She noticed him approaching at blinding speeds, and all she could do was block - though in vain. Immediately she kept her blade vertically from her, pinning it to the ground just in time to temporarily keep the two blades at bay. Though struggling, she soon allowed her blade to glow a bright blue; giving it more cutting power than usual.

Upon regaining her balance from the debilitating strike, Tsubaki propelled herself upward using the force from her sword. Immediately she used the flip to get above the Hiroshi; picking up the sword and holding it in a Kendō position, she attempted to use a powerful slash across his torso to defeat him in a single strike.

"The Visored did tell me to keep my powers low-key." He thought, smiling.

Kenji threw up a smoke cloud via Sekienton. Obscured as he then was, even if only momentarily, he brought his hand to his face. His spiritual power spiked briefly and with that extra surge of power coursing his veins he slashed upwards, diverting Tsubaki's blade and her, to the side. He then returned his second hand to his face and his spiritual power returned to normal, just as the smoke cleared. The action was performed quickly enough that few not in the know about his powers would be baffled as to what he just did.

"Ugh!" Tsubaki was blown aback by the sheer force of the attack. "How did his strength increase so suddenly?" Tsubaki gripped the air before her. This man wasn't nearly what she expected. But according to records, he had acquired Hollowfication powers. "Were those what I think they were?" Tsubaki thought, and quickly used a burst of Shunpo to hide her location.

"I'll have to rethink my strategy. Ino is a skilled Kidō master, and Kenji is a masterful of Zanjutsu with Hollowfication. Simple strategies won't work here..." Tsubaki had no time to think though, and decided to use indirect combat instead of direct combat. Immediately, she threw a number of spirit-seeking missiles that were attracted to Kenji's strong spiritual power.

In the meantime, she also utilized various Kyokko-laced explosives and spread them across the battlefield, waiting for their timers to tick off. As she did so, she took out the large supply of Wire String she had, utilizing her great skill in Shunpo in order to traverse across the battlefield, secretly placing the string where appropriate while the couple's notice was with the missiles.

"He's too angry." Ino noted as she scanned the battlefield quickly. "As I thought. She's using Kidō to hide something, but as he is now, Kenji won't be paying any attention." So it was up to her to not only watch her own back but Kenji's as well...

Kenji busied himself with the missiles, giving little thought to anything else. "What is she playing at?" He thought, confused. "She didn't even seem surprised...!" Had the Collective Vices discovered him? Or worse! Had they discovered Shinji and the others!?

BOOM!!

A plume of smoke alerted Ino to her enemies plan, too late. Kenji stepped on something as he Shunpo'd away and an explosion threw him forward, towards the missiles!

Land Where Hollows Dwell

Kusaka burst through the Garganta just as his opponent did and Shagetsu sang as he freed him from his sheath! Blade parted skin, an arm went flying and Kusaka leapt up to catch Kazuma in his free hand, before landing on the ground in a low stance.

"You really are more trouble than you're worth."

"Bite me." Kazuma replied, grinning. "Where are we?"

"Good question."

"Eh?" Vincenzo thought, as he sensed two looming spiritual powers from a small distance away. "Newcomers? Hm...they feel like Shinigami. I might have to take a closer look..."

Vincenzo immediately cloaked his spiritual power, transforming himself into a small swallow to do so. He was expressing solely Hollow reiatsu, and because it was such a minuscule amount, he could easily pass off as an 'infant' Hollow. Flying throughout the sky, he noticed that there were two men. One had blond hair, and the other had long, flowing black hair.

"Hm...these must be the Shinigami that the man was talking about...I should remain close by and inspect them before trying anything..." Vincenzo thought, remaining in the sky where there were no clouds, as to not be seen.

All they could see was sand. Sand, sand, tree, more sand, tree, sand and a big ass sand dune! If they where at a beach it might be a good thing but as it stood right now Kusaka couldn't help but think he'd came out somewhere far away from anywhere you'd want to be in the first place.

"Okay, this right here?" Kusaka said, pointing. "Is fucking ridiculous."

"Uh, Kusaka?" Kazuma asked, eyes darting from right to left.

"I... know I've seen this place before. When was it? Was it uncle Tadashi? Or Garian? No that's not it..."

"Kusaka!"

"What!?

"We're in trouble. A lot of trouble!"

In the time Kusaka had been muttering to himself he and Kazuma had been surrounded! Everywhere he looked stood an assortment of Hollow. A snake with a mans torso, a spider-like thing, flyers with arm-like grippers on their wings and all manner of thing in-between man and beast.

"... We're in trouble all right." Kusaka confirmed, gulping. "We're in Hueco Mundo."

"Hahahaha. These two are amusing. I might have quite a bit of fun, especially after that darned Winter War..." Vincenzo mused, but decided to stay back. It wouldn't hurt to see how these two fared against these Hollow, after all.

Kusaka took a quick glance at his opposition before his face showed a smile. He knew just how to deal with this!

"Guard, Shagetsu!"

His Zanpakutō transformed into a scythe with a long chain held in his free hand. "Time to cut loose! Kazuma, stay down!" He struck the closest Hollow and lodged Shagetsu in its chest, before giving a mighty heave! He pulled the chain taught before spinning in a wild, wide circle, impacting Hollow left and right. Before finishing he vaporized the Hollow stuck on Shagetsu with a Reīssen blast.

"And that, Kazuma, is how you kill Hollow."

"You only killed one." Kazuma pointed out.

The younger Shinigami then dropped his own thread; which was glowing with an orange hue. "Hadō #12. Fushibi, a Kidō net and Hadō #31. Shakkahō." Kazuma explained, smiling. An explosion rocked the sandy dunes and, in his disbelief, Kusaka was left speechless! There wasn't a single Hollow left.

"Kidō Expert, eh? Looks like it's nearly my time to shine..." Vincenzo thought to himself, as he gracefully descended to the ground. He did so behind one of the many scattered, large red poles left in Hueco Mundo after the Winter War.

Immediately, he reverted to his original form. Though a few feathers remained, it wasn't a big deal. He walked out of his hiding place rather slowly, revealing himself to the newcomers who had just beaten hundreds of Hollow.

The second he did so Kusaka was struck with the mans spiritual pressure and immediately put himself between him and Kazuma, to prevent the youngster from feeling any ill effects.

"That's...! Another one of those Arrancar, eh? Great. I hope this one's about as complete as the last one."

Kazuma narrowed his eyes. He looked past Kusaka and immediately wished he hadn't. The last time they'd met an Arrancar -- no matter how incomplete -- almost ended in disaster. Kenji had been nearly killed and Kusaka had been so severely injured that he hadn't fought seriously afterwards for weeks!

"Put up a barrier." Kusaka ordered, tone serious. "Don't lower it for any reason. Understand?" Kazuma obliged.

"So concerned? They must have met an Arrancar before." Vincenzo immediately discerned from their reactions. "Either that, or they're being overly cautious. But from what I'm gathering, that kid is the weaker of the duo..." Vincenzo didn't want to think too much, believing that they'll find an opening, so he immediately started...blabbering?

"Yo! You two seem to be lost, and cautious. Is something up? Or are you accidental visitors?" Vincenzo asked the two, blurting out questions like a machine gun. "Though I must admit, you dispatching all those Hollow was quite impressive. But kiddo, I don't sense too much spiritual power from you. You sure you're not tired?" Vincenzo knew that he couldn't carelessly face these two. So he needed to get a grasp on their emotional states, prior to entering combat.

Kusaka spared a quick glance back at Kazuma, whom gulped nervously. "He isn't ready for this, dammit!"

"Spiritual power? I could be hiding it, you know." Kazuma managed to say. "Spiritual power isn't everything."

"Yes it is, sadly. Between two spiritual beings a battle comes down to spiritual power. He who pushes harder wins. That's one universal truth of battle." Kusaka noted, hesitant to put it to words. "And you just appear out of nowhere, ready to render aid? I don't think so. It wouldn't surprise me if you had something to do with this. Say, that Hollow? The one whose arm I deprived him of before he tucked tail and ran?"

"Eh, which one? There's so many in this place that I can't remember them all individually. But I am good at memorizing Shinigami and Humans. Dunno why, they just seem like more fun than boring ol' Hollow. You know what I mean?" Vincenzo began talking, again. Then again, he loved talking, so it didn't matter too much.

It was then Kusaka started walking forward. He wore his usual scowl and the wind sent his hair billowing out behind him.

"You're hiding something." He said at last. "Don't try to bullshit a bullshiter. I know when someone tries to pull the wool over my eyes. I've seen it before: your lot can command lesser Hollow." His confidence was growing. "Why else would one kidnap my friend here and drag him to Hueco Mundo, conscious to boot? It'd make more sense to knock him out at the very least. Yet here we both are. What's your game?"

"I think I've got a fair notion." The explosion that sounded before he'd left. "Divide and conquer."

"Ah my. We have a clever one. Looks like it's my time to shine, then?" Vincenzo remarked, and began to grin quite nonsensically. "I don't know about what exactly is going on, but I've been ordered to kill you both. So, shall we begin?" Vincenzo's spiritual power created a small shroud around him, and he exerted reiatsu that caused the sand around him to shake.

"Entertain me, why don't you?" Vincenzo commented, before making a wave motion with his hand, causing the sand in front of him to rise as a large wave attempting to batter both Shinigami.

Kusaka's scowl deepened. "Kusariōu,"

He began spinning Shagetsu in wild, looping arcs, which began to give the impression of a hurricane! The winds increased and began to howl as the chain intervened with the sand. It was pure defense achieved through pure brute-force! But the tip of that scythe was beginning to glow.

"Reī..." the energy turned violent, threatening to leap away. "... ssen!"

The sand dispersed as Kusaka pulled the chain taught firmly. An energy wave colored black with purple specks shot forward like a bullet from the chamber, its target one long-winded Arrancar!

Vincenzo's eyes were left speechless! But he couldn't stay still. He had no means of blocking that hellish technique, so he quickly made a side-step in an attempt to avoid the technique. Of course, with Vincenzo's speed this was quite easy, and with a burst of Sonido, he was capable of avoiding the large energy wave, not without seeing its repercussions on the sand.

"His spiritual power...its impressive. Those chains will cause my sand to become useless...unless..." Vincenzo began thinking, and immediately drew his sword. "Close combat appears to be the only way!" Vincenzo thought, considering that the chain was away from the Shinigami right now, he had one strategy in mind.

Immediately utilizing his superior speed to cover the gap between him and the Shinigami, Vincenzo used his hands and grappled on the chain that was away from his opponent; proceeding to pull him in as he prepared a horizontal bisection from the man's waist.

Kusaka showed the only sign of happiness thus far he smiled! His enemy pulled im in for close quarters combat, but as he flew, Kusaka sealed Shagetsu. The chain disappeared from his enemies hand and the scythe that had been far away returned to his hand as a katana, which Kusaka promptly used to block his enemies slash! Both parties slid across the sand away from one another.

"Not bad," Kusaka complimented. "But dodging my Reīssen the way you did implies that it's dangerous."

"You'd think so, wouldn't you?" Vincenzo smirked, as he gripped his left hand and turned it into a fist. "A blast that week could easily be cancelled out with a simple Cero. Sometimes I wonder if we are the more ruthless species or not." Suddenly, within the barrier that Kazuma made, sand shot out from the ground and caused it to wrap around Kazuma. Therein, he caused the sand to harden, shooting the newly made sand needles towards Kazuma's eyes.

"AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!"

Spiritual power left Kusaka in waves! He released Shagetsu with a roar more befitting a beast and sent that scythe hurtling with such ferocity that it completely shattered Kazuma's barrier! He then moved towards his student via Shunpo, bearing the needles himself, in order to retrieve him. Blood seeped from wounds on his arms and back but Kusaka showed his own injuries little mind.

"Kazuma!?"

"... I can't..." He whispered, disbelieving. "I can't... can't see...!" Fear laced his voice.

"We'll get you to Ino! She'll fix you up."

But how he was going to do that he had no idea. He wasn't quite sure how he was going to get out of Hueco Mundo. "Fucking bastard! I have no healing skill myself. I doubt even Ino could fix this!"

Something snapped in Kusaka then.

"... Are you proud of yourself?" His shoulders where quivering with rage. "I'd be if I where you. After all, it's been a long time since I was this pissed off. The last time it happened I put an entire Onmitsukidō squad to the sword! What do you think I'm going to do to you?"

Vincenzo felt the surge of spiritual power and his eyes spread wide open. "This power...it surpasses mine by leagues and bounds...what have I awakened?" Vincenzo thought to himself, almost in desperation. He held his sword, but immediately began charging a dark green Cero to fire at the currently rampaging man. He couldn't afford to die here!

Kusaka completely enshrouded Kazuma and himself in a spinning energy shroud born of the Reīssen, without an opening at all for the sand to enter. Kazuma was suspended safely in the center clutching his eyes, but even as he did, he was reciting incantations. The Reīssen was spherical in shape and Kusaka opened a small hole near Kazuma's left hand, from which a stream of spiritual energy soared! The sphere spun wide of the Cero's path and Kusaka promptly left its safety, promptly closing any holes.

"I'll give you fair warning, Arrancar. I'm not taking any prisoners!"

Kusaka surged forward like a gun bullet! He drew his scythe back with his right hand, with the left holding the chained portion. The look in his eyes where wild, destructive. Pained. Right now Kusaka wasn't a guardian as he so often claimed. He was an avenger and the blood-lust of the Kori clan was coursing his veins like liquid fire. The sheer desire to cut radiated from Shagetsu visibly. It wanted to kill, to main, and Kusaka was the instrument of that destruction!

Vincenzo's eyes were absolutely horrified. He could not fight a being of such murderous intent...could he? Immediately he attempted to block as best as he could, releasing his spiritual pressure in an aura that caused several waves of sand to blast themselves at Kusaka, hoping to at least deter him slightly so he could prepare for his next trick.

As he jumped to one of the mighty pillars using his powerful Sonido, Vincenzo muttered within the brief safety of the pillar, "Disperse your Wings, Trague Volver!" Instantly, a dark green aura of spiritual energy shot out as two wing-like apparitions surrounding him. Upon their dispersal, Vincenzo's form changed rather dramatically. He gained dark green eyes and hair, akin to the color of his spiritual power, as well as a more sharpened face and youthful visage. He was also surrounded in elegant black cloth, which at some points is then transformed into feather-like apparitions, especially at his arms. Furthermore, chains are also seen surrounding Vincenzo, though they are levitating in the air.

Kusaka's senses where bombarded first by a sudden increase in spiritual pressure from his enemy and then by a second he didn't recognize! Before he could wholly turn to defend himself from the sand or this new arrival, Kusaka had his side opened!

"What the...!?"

He could do nothing to stop the sand then from overwhelming him and whatever defenses he had earlier laid. The only thing that stopped death was young Kazuma throwing up a shield instinctively which, sadly, soon broke.

"Kusaka!? What's happening!?"

Then silence...

"Well met, Vincenzo." The new arrival said. "I appreciate the opening you made for me. Our Master will be pleased."

Depths of Despair

Kenji stopped dead in his tracks! He could've sworn that Kusaka had just... "No. No, no, no!" The cry was more Hollow than Human and the mask that fell about his features permeated the air in a dark energy that was and wasn't Kenji.

At the moment of the scream, Tsubaki was overwhelmed by an extremely powerful force of spiritual energy. It was so dark...rough, even. It felt like a Vasto Lorde had descended upon the Human World. But Tsubaki quickly gained her composure, and allowed her mind and energy to flow freely once again. She focused herself properly, and understood he had lost all sense of perception. Tsubaki took the advantage, and immediately began to formulate her next plan.

She decided to target Ino. Ino was a deadly opponent in regards to Kidō, but she was also Kenji's greatest weakness at this point. With Kusaka supposedly dead, she could use the distraction to immediately begin an assault on Ino, whilst luring Kenji further.

From her pocket, she took out a number of grenade-like weapons, each she threw onto the ground, A thick aura of blue smoke enveloped the vision of both Ino and Kenji. The grenade, in fact, was supplied by an unnamed man she contracted with, and worked to disrupt the formation of reiryoku in the air, briefly halting Ino's Kidō. Using this to her advantage, she descended down into the battlefield once again, immediately drawing her black Bokken and attempting to incapacitate Ino with a swift strike to the back of her neck.

Tsubaki's plan worked. For the most part. Kenji was indeed less perceptive than he was usually, but at this moment in time he was being driven by something else: his passion. Kenji relocated himself, putting his body between Tsubaki and Ino, with Zanpakutō wreathed seemingly in dark blue fire! He impacted the floor with a wild swing, roaring "Jitsugen" in the process. The result was immediate. The depression caused by the initial strike soon exploded in a spherical blast of dark-blue light, expanding outwards!

"Idiot...!"

Ino could only do one thing and it would attract the notice of the Gotei 13 the Central 46. But Kenji had taken the choice out of her hands. It was either this... or something even worse. She employed two forbidden Kidō spells simultaneously to halt time in the immediate area, before then warping him and the impending attack elsewhere, leaving herself behind, drained and weakened.

"Now... where were we?"

"In the midst of perfection." Tsubaki responded callously, as she immediately resorted to her Hohō prowess in order to effectively evade any chance of Ino attacking her. Immediately, she stabbed her Bokken to the ground, using it as a distraction as an afterimage formed from where the position at which she stabbed it. A mirage of sort wrapped around Ino, appearing from multiple angles before finally sending a knife-hand to Ino's abdomen, hoping to end the conflict therein. After all, even Tsubaki had a limit.

The spell had left her drained. Too much so to offer little more than pointless resistance. She could barely stand after all and Tsubaki's blow meant she didn't even need to do that anymore. Ino went limp as her eyes shut...

...Elsewhere...

Kenji touched down in an expansive wasteland with a bright sky overheard, though he only stayed around long enough for his senses to tell him to move. His Jitsugen tore through the rocks like a drill and Kenji flash stepped himself to safety. Realization soon dawned on him.

"She sent me here!?"

WHACK!

Kenji was sent flying with little hope of stopping himself! He smashed into a rock formation before yet another WHACK sent him hurtling down to the ground.

"Snaggle-toothed bitch!" Kenji roared.

"It's Hiyori!"

"Oi oi oi!" A voice echoed from behind Hiyori, revealing a lanky man with short-blonde hair in a semi-formal attire. Pulling Hiyori by the ear, he exclaimed, "Don't be mean to him! Can't you tell what's just happened? Idiot!" Shinji disregarded Hiyori and left her alone.

Going down to where Kenji was on the ground, he squatted and began to whirl his hat. "So what's wrong Kenny-boy?"

"I'm gonna kill her!"

But whether he meant Hiyori or the assassin he'd just tangled with wasn't clear. He was busy shaking his fist at Hiyori however, while she stuck her tongue out at him.

"Ain't it obvious!?" Hiyori exclaimed. "He got his ass handed to him! Didn't you!? I knew you weren't ready to be running off."

WHACK!

"Shut up, Hiyori." A large man with spiked black hair said.

"What's the deal, Love!? That hurt!"

"Ha! Good to see someone finally putting you in your- OW!" Kenji hit the floor again. "Kensei, what gives!?"

"The lot of you, stop it!" Shinji exclaimed, finally taking the aura of a leader. "If you can't feel the residue spiritual pressure running off Kenny-boy, then let me point it out to you. He just came back from deep, deep shit. So the lot of you shut yo' traps and lemme listen." Shinji's aura of goofiness came back again almost instantly, "So, 'sup?" He looked at Kenji in the eye, with a sparkle of seriousness in its goofy nature.

Kenji stopped mid-complaint. It wasn't just Shinji. Love, Kensei, Mashiro, Lisa and Rose where giving him the eye too. And they weren't pleased. Even Hachi looked worried!

"Okay," the younger Shinigami conceded, "I messed up. Big time."

Kenji relaid the events of the day, ending with how he wasn't sure what had become of Kusaka or Kazuma, but certain that something had befallen them.

"What about Ino?" Rose asked. He still managed to look uninterested.

"Don't know! Probably captured. If I hadn't lost my temper...!"

"Well isn't this just perfect." Lisa stood, leaning on a wall as she listened to Kenji's rambles. "Someone's plotting things. Who? I dunno. But, it's something big. So, Shinji, what are we gonna do?" Lisa asked, nonchalant in her question.

"Messed up big time dude." Shinji patted Kenji on the back, and forced him to stand up by his collar. "So, we have a few new objectives, ay? Get back Ino, locate Kusaka and Kazuma. Haah, what a fuss. Kenny-boy, you're repayin' for this." Shinji groaned, and then began to contemplate. "Any idea on where they went?"

"No, but I soon will."

Kenji still had plenty of contacts in the Seireitei. If he put the word about to Anika Shihōin that he needed help then she'd locate them for him.

"Buts what's the point? I'll probably mess up again, only worse this time. I don't-"

Kensei hauled Kenji over and lifted him aloft by the throat! "Are you going to cry? Well!? I won't waste my time on spineless cowards! You either find the resolve... or I kill you. Decide quickly!" Kensei's grip only tightened...

"Get... off... me!"

Kenji ripped his hand across his face and broke the former Captain's grip, but before he could lunge at Kensei to attack, Hiyori had broken his mask with a slap from her sandal!

Giving a karate chop down Kenji's head, Lisa's stern facial expression came to light. "Are you stupid? What are you? A pussy? Stop being so timid, otherwise you'll become nothing more than garbage. Don't give into despair against an enemy, Kenji. Overcoming your despair is the first step to overcoming your enemies."

"You can stop with the philosophy now, Lisa." Shinji interrupted, before telling Kenji off. "Don't take out your petty anger on us, Kenji. We've got a simple task that you're over-complicating. We'll go in, rescue them, and come back. All we need to find is where and when." Shinji paused, before continuing. "Either we contact your friend Anīka, or we get some clues ourselves. Which is it?"

"Kenji goes to Soul Society." Kensei interjected, turning his back on the others. "It makes more sense until we know what we're dealing with. Aizen's still trying to find us."

"Leave it to me! Hachi, I could use a lift, if you don't mind?"

The mountain-like man roused himself before clapping his hands together. A yellow light surrounded Kenji and when he again opened his eyes he was standing in Northern Rukongai, right outside the house of the woman he intended to meet.

"What trouble have you gotten yourself into now?"

And all of a sudden Kenji had this sinking feeling. "Maybe I'd have been better off with Shinji and the others. I forgot how easily annoyed Anika is." He gulped and prepared himself for a beating that;d transcend all others...

Next Story > Darkest Worlds

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